Monday, December 30, 2013

Favorite Songs of 2013: Songs 1-10

And the conclusion. Or the beginning, depending on how you want to look at it.

1. Young Fathers by Typhoon.

"When you're young you have …
You have your whole life before you,
everyone will adore you,
grow up, you'll be an astronaut.

(Or anything you want).

What goes up, goes up in flames.
And now your choices surround you,
indecision confounds you.
And you're pacing around the place.

(Shows you everything you're not)."

It took a really great song to knock what is now #2 off its perch. And this is it.

2. Humiliation by The National.

"All the L.A. women;
Fall asleep while swimmin'.
I got paid to fish 'em out;
and then one day I lost the job.
And I cried a little.
I got fried a little.
Then she laid her eyes on mine,
and she said 'Babe you're better off.'"

My favorite song from when I first heard it this spring until … White Lighter came along. The above stanza is my favorite from any song all year, still.

That's The National's Matt Berninger, as he makes his way
through the crowd during the encore of their show at
The Filmore in Charlotte. Yep, he was that close.

3. Chocolate by The 1975.

"Run run away from the boys in the blue.
Oh, my car smells like chocolate.
Now think about what to do,
think about what to say,
think about how to think.
Pause it play it, pause it play it, pause it."

The video looks like a London-esque version of West Side Story. But the song has to be about very non-1950's drug use.

4. Time to Run by Lord Huron.

"I've no regrets.
I will not ask for your forgiveness.
Lower your defense,
run away with me and it'll all make sense.
I did it all for you,
don't spurn me after all I've gone through.
No time to rest,
gonna find me a life, baby, way out West."

What exactly did he do for her that makes him have to run?

5. Pompeii by Bastille.

"And the walls kept tumbling down
in the city that we love.
Great clouds all over the hills
bringing darkness from above."

Pompeii as a metaphor for our current cities/civilization? Or just one in particular (London? L.A.?). Whatever, it's a really catchy song.

6. Unbelievers by Vampire Weekend.

"See the sun go down.
It's going on down, and the night is deep.
Want a little light,
but who's gonna save a little light for me?"

One of the irreligious songs that I referred to in my first part of the list. Hard to see this song as anything but an indictment of organized religion. But it's a great tune, and certainly has some validity to its assessment.

7. Holy by Frightened Rabbit.

"While you read to me from the riot act
way on high, high.
Clutching a crisp new testament,
breathing fire, fire.
Will you save me the fake benevolence?
I don't have time
I'm just too far gone for a telling,
lost my pride."

I promise it is coincidence that this song follows Unbelievers, other than the fact that they were among my favorite songs this year. Still, the lyrics and particularly the video of Holy suggest that it may not be directed against the Church. Check out the "bible" in the video - it's got FR's "Pedestrian Verse" symbol on it.

8. The House that Heaven Built by The Japandroids.

"It's a lifeless life with no …
fixed address to give.
But you're not mine to die for anymore,
so I must live.
Born of a bottle from
heaven's hand.
And now you know,
and here I am."

Actually the best lyrics are Oh-oh-oh-ohohohoh-oh, but that doesn't translate too well. Amazing that just two guys can make this much noisy great music.

9. Goodbye by Rocket & The Ghost.

"Hide yourself behind the stairs.
Set the fire to your daddy's chair.
For me.
For me."

I honestly don't know how I first came across this song (perhaps on BIRP), but obviously I like it a lot. The group reminds me of Seryn, who graced the list in 2011.

10. Lightning Bolt by Pearl Jam.

"Always something and never nothing.
Isn't that the way we're taught to be?
Flipping through the worn out pages,
and stages when you knew not who to be …
'Til the lightning strike sets you free."

Eddie Vedder, sans ukulele, can still rock.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Water's Fine

U.S. Soccer ran an on-line "tournament bracket" asking fans to choose their "best moment" of the first 100 years of soccer in the States.

While admittedly the results were overly-weighted to recent events (the Men's team's third place finish in the 1930 World Cup - it's best ever - only made the third round), the fans seemingly tended to voting for "best moments" (as the competition suggested) rather than team achievements.

I voted in most of the rounds, but it wasn't until after I cast my vote in the finals that I realized that both finalist moments were ones about which I had previously written posts.

In fact, they were posts with a similar theme, and were similarly … well, gushy about soccer in general and the men's and women's teams in particular.

The winner? Abby Wambach's goal at the death in the 2011 Women's World Cup quarterfinal against Brazil to send the match into overtime. It was that goal that I waxed poetic about in a post that was based on the theme that began with the other finalist, which was ...

Landon Donovan's goal, also at the death, against Algeria in the 2010 Men's World Cup which sent the U.S. into the round of 16, and soccer fans across the States into a frenzy not seen before for any soccer match of any kind. That post, too, was based on the wisdom of Delmar in Oh Brother Where Art Thou? and his invitation to partake of the waters of salvation.

Did Wambach and Donovan redeem soccer in the U.S.? Well, in retrospect, perhaps not completely. After all, the men lost their next game to Ghana in 2010 and the women lost in the World Cup final to Japan later in that tournament.

Wambach's perfect header.

But they certainly excited more people than just me about our national teams and soccer in general. And arguably set the stage for the women's 2012 Olympic triumph and the men's resurgence under Jurgen Klinsmann. I can still remember going crazy in my family room, with my son and a co-worker who had ditched work to watch the game.  It was kind of like this:

And their reemergence in the poll allows me to say, one more time, "C'mon in, the water's fine."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Favorite Songs of 2013 - Songs 11-20

The list continues, with a repeat from this list, a repeat from the last two years, and a Ferris Bueller reference.

11. San Francisco by The Mowgli's.

"I've been in love with love.
And the idea of
something binding us together.
You know that love is strong enough."

First repeat artists on this year's list (foreshadowing). These guys and gals are infectiously good-natured and fun.

The Mowgli's at Bonnaroo.

12. The Southern Wind by Eliza and The Bear.

"When it feels like
love has passed you by.
I won't go and tell you how
to live your life.
You got a lion's heart.
You got a lion.
You got a lion's heart.
You got to find it."

A little bit of Of Monsters and Men a little bit of Freelance Whales. But, as far as I can tell from the video, no Eliza.

13. Shake by The Head and the Heart.

"Even if it was a mistake, I can't forget your face.
Even if it was just a day, you won't forget the one
who's making you shake."

Another great song from this talented group, which appears on the list for the third consecutive year.

14. The John Wayne by Little Green Cars.

"You know it's your neglect;
it's the reason that I'm so obsessed with you.
And when I asked you your name, you said
John Wayne
and I guess it's true.
'Cause then you shot me down
and I
doubled over and I hit the ground right in front of you."

A plaintive (and little bit creepy) love song.

15. Best Day of My Life by American Authors.

"I howled at the moon with friends.
And then the sun came crashing in.
But all the possibilities;
No limits just epiphanies.

A little bit too poppy, a little bit of a fun. rip-off, but hooky as heck.

16. Here Comes the Night Time by Arcade Fire.

"They say heaven's a place.
Yeah, heaven's a place and they know where it is.
But you know where it is?
It's behind the gate, they won't let you in.
And when they hear the beat, coming from the street, they lock the door.
But if there's no music up in heaven, then what's it for?"

My favorite song (so far) on the new album Reflektor.

17. I Had Me a Girl by The Civil Wars.

"I had me a girl;
Like cigarette smoke,
she came and she went."

Apparently Joy Williams and John Paul White hit on the perfect name for their brief, brilliant collaboration, which seemingly has ended rather acrimoniously.

18. Some Place by Nick Waterhouse.

"Don't expect you to
understand it.
Not much … tryin' to speak, well
Can't help tryin' to
say it again.
Am I sounding too oblique?"

Rockabilly song in the vein of previous list resident J.D. McPherson. Awesome video.

19. Thrift Shop by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

"They be like oh that Gucci, that's hella tight.
I'm like, Yo, that's fifty dollars for a t-shirt.
Limited edition, let's do some simple addition.
Fifty dollars for a t-shirt, that's just some ignorant b……."

I've heard it described as a "novelty song" but it strikes me more as a parody. The onesie rocks. And if I have to give you a language warning for this one, you've lived under a stone for the last year.

20. Default by Django Django.

"Why don't you hand it over,
time is up, you've had your shot.
Gather once again,
disasters in the end,
it's like a default."

Another act I was fortunate enough to see at Bonnaroo this year.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Favorite Songs of 2013 - Songs 21-30

This year marks the fifth that I've posted on Facebook my favorite songs from the past year, and the third that I've posted about them here.  As with the previous years, these are songs released in either 2013 or 2012. A few of the songs and artists appear on some real music critics' lists, but I assure you that no offense is intended by including them on mine as well.

21.  The Man Who Lives Forever by Lord Huron.

"They say we're all gonna die, but I'll never believe it.
I love this world and I don't wanna leave it.
Say that death is a deal that you cannot refuse.
But I love you girl and I don't wanna lose you."

Missed out on them twice: first when the album was released late last year, the second when they were at Bonnaroo and E was saving us seats, but my brother and I stayed camped out for The Mowgli's. Trying to make up for it now -- a great song.

22.  Call Me by St. Paul & The Broken Bones.

"This ain't the heartache
that I thought I knew.
This ain't the party
that I thought we'd do."

Some blue-eyed soul for you, courtesy of my brother who introduced me to the group. Blue-eyed soul is one thing, but that voice coming out of that person? Very cool.

23.  Don't Swallow the Cap by The National.

"I have only two emotions,
careful fear and dead devotion.
I can't get the balance right,
with all my marbles in the fight."

I think I've seen just about every song from the standout album "Trouble Will Find Me" on one top songs list or the other. This is one of my favorites.

24.  Dim Lights, Thick Smoke by Dwight Yoakam.

"You're drinking and dancin' to a honky-tonk band.
When you left your lovin' family life, that's right back were your ran.
So go on and have your fun, but you won't always look so smart.
When some day that lonely bar room breaks your honky-tonk heart."

I cannot explain my longstanding love of Dwight and his music. And I will not try.

25.  Gasoline by Alpine.

"There's ... a light I've found in your eyes.
That ... I've never found in mine.
I know I ... I could never ever show you.
But there's always night time."

I suppose this song is another of those that I like that is close to a guilty pleasure. But like it I do.

26.  Super 8 by Jason Isbell.

"Well they slapped me back to life
and they telephoned my wife,
and they filled me full of Pedialyte.
Some are guts, some are glory,
it would make a great story,
if I ever could remember it right."

Life, love, and near-death in, yes, a Super 8 motel in Bristol.

27.  The Valley by The Oh Hello's.

"We were young when we heard you
call our names in the silence.
Like a fire in the dark;
like a sword upon our hearts."

Wikipedia says The Oh Hello's are a Christian band. If so, they provide a counterbalance to some of the irreligious songs on the list, including the next one.

28. Late March, Death March by Frightened Rabbit.

"As we walk … through an hour-long pregnant pause;
No grain of truce can be borne.
My bridge is burned .. perhaps we'll shortly learn,
that it was arson all along."

Veteran list followers won't be surprised by my inclusion of FR, one of my all-time favorite bands.

Frightened Rabbit at The Filmore in Charlotte.

29.  Open Ended Life by The Avett Brothers.

"Let's find something new to talk about;
I'm tired of talkin' 'bout myself.
I spent my whole life talkin' to convince everyone
that I was something else.
And the part that kinda hurts is
I think it finally worked …
and now I'm leaving."

Another regular denizen of the list. Not overly impressed by the new album as a whole, but this one is vintage Avetts.

30.  The Great Divide by The Mowgli's.

"I've gone to meet my maker.
And when I find what I was made for,
this soul of mine will finally find some peace.
So I will smile, and I'll see you there."

The first of several acts I was fortunate enough to see live this past year. The Mowgli's really seem to like each other and have fun making music.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

"Put Me in Coach"

Following on the heels of my recent post on participation trophies comes this news from some of the fine folks at the Kanawha County Board of Education: it is considering a policy that would mandate playing time for middle school athletes.

Presumably suggested with the best of intentions by Board member Becky Jordon, the as-yet (and hopefully to remain) unspecific policy would apparently require all middle school athletes to receive at least some playing time in every game.

After receiving initial, and almost completely unanimous, opposition to the idea, Ms. Jordon attempted to explain the "thought" process behind the proposed policy but just dug herself a deeper hole. The explanation is so inexplicable that it deserves ample re-quoting.

"Jordon says the sixth- through eighth-grade is a fragile time for students, and some coaches are too hard on young athletes. That can be detrimental to their future success, she said.

'I think this has been misunderstood. Yes, there are a lot of young athletes that work really hard, and they deserve the right to play more. I just feel like it needs to be fair. I'm not saying take the superstars out of the game, but you know what? Give everyone a chance,' she said. 'We have some coaches that don't always treat everyone fair, . . . and often times there are hurt feelings.

I can promise that, if a kid sits on that bench all through middle school, they will not attempt to be engaged in high school. We know the kids that are most involved are the most successful,' she said. 'It's not just about bullying. It's an awkward age. There isn't a person that can say middle school was a great time. If we can make a minimal step to make kids feel better about themselves, we should.'"

While, at least as it was initially reported, it appeared the proposal would require equal playing time for athletes, Ms. Jordon either never made that part of her proposal or abandoned it. But the idea that a Board of Education (particularly one faced with budgetary difficulties following the recent resounding defeat of an excess levy) should be looking over the shoulder of every middle school coach in the county to "give everyone a chance" is almost as absurd.

Heaven forbid that 12, 13, and 14 year-olds learn that everything isn't "fair" or that everyone doesn't get "a chance." We should make them feel "better about themselves" even if it is at the expense of more talented, or, even worse, more dedicated teammates. 

Not to mention the aside that "I'm not saying take the superstars out of the game" raises two serious questions: (1) why not? If participation, not excellence, is the mandated goal of Kanawha County now, why should the gifted get special treatment?; and (2) who exactly is going to determine which players are the "superstars"? Surely not the coaches, Ms. Jordon doesn't trust them enough to make decisions about playing time. 

Perhaps the Board should spend its time, energy, and precious little funding to set up a blue ribbon panel to decide, on a school-by-school and team-by-team basis, exactly who the superstars are that are entitled to Board-sanctioned special treatment. And while they're at it, I guess they need to set up a second panel to determine which of the athletes has "worked really hard" enough to warrant playing time.

It also says something about Ms. Jordon's view of athletics and the school system when she asserts that "if a kid sits on that bench all through middle school, they will not attempt to be engaged in high school." Maybe they shouldn't be "engaged" in sports in the first place. Or, how 'bout they decide to be engaged in something they have an aptitude for, say debate, or chorus, or robotics, or a mathematics competition, or theater, or wood shop or metal shop (I'm probably showing my age here -- do they have wood shop or metal shop in middle school these days?), or even a job after school? 

Of course, Ms. Jordon's proposal also completely disregards the value of Team and being a member of a team (even if you don't play much or aren't particularly good) about which I have written before. As I always told my players, there are six or seven McDonald's all-Americans sitting on the Duke basketball bench every year, but they practice every day and they're as much a part of the team as anyone.

CCHS team at the State Finals in 2008. Many of the players
shown had worked for three months to get there,  froze their butts
off for two hours, and never got in the game. Ask them if they
think their State Championship plaques were worth it. 

But there is no capital "T" in team if everyone gets to play and only the "superstars" play more than the rest. Just show up and play, lest your feelings get hurt and you come to realize at 14, rather than at 18 or 19, that we are not all the same and that life doesn't hand out either participation trophies or playing time. 

"Put me in coach, I'm ready to play." 

Takes on a whole new meaning when followed with "no, I mean you have to put me in. It's my turn. Ms. Jordon says so."

It's only fair, right?

Sunday, November 10, 2013

We Make the Rules

"We must picture Hell as a state where everyone is perpetually concerned about his own dignity and advancement, where everyone has a grievance, and where everyone lives the deadly serious passions of envy, self-importance, and resentment."

C.S. Lewis

An open letter from the Miami Dolphins:

Jonathan Martin didn't get it. And neither do you.

It's not that we're above the law. It's that we make the law, we are the law. An entirely different ethos applies here -- we decide what's wrong and what's right, even what's black and what's white. Envy, self-importance, resentment? Those are the qualities we were told we should build our lives around, ever since we were recruited to play college ball starting in the ninth grade, since we lost or won our first big game.

That you will never understand is a given. You in your comfortable La-Z-Boy, watching us risk our health every Sunday, not knowing if the next hit might end our careers. We gave up on you a long time ago. Sure, we depend on you to watch so that we can earn what we do playing a game, but we don't live in your world or live by your rules, and don't want you meddling with ours.

Jonathan, he could have been different from you. He had the ability, the physique, the strength to be a part of our world. But he wouldn't follow our law. He didn't join in the locker room pranks. He wouldn't help pay for a trip he didn't go on. 

And so Richie got the word (even though he probably didn't need it) to come down hard on Jonathan. To bring him into the fold. 

But Jonathan still wouldn't give in. Sure, he nodded his head and smiled sometimes, hoping Richie would stop. He may have even made a half-hearted attempt at joining in some dirty jokes or playing along with some racist comments. But he still wasn't one of us.

Even when he decided he had enough and left, in the middle of the season, we might have let him come back. We'll let outsiders hang around for a while, if they're really good or we really need them. But then Jonathan broke the biggest rule of all: never, ever, let anyone in that world know what goes on in this one.

Jonathan at the NFL combine, back when he thought
he wanted to be part of our world. (photo from

And by doing that, maybe Jonathan, for the first time, understands the rules. Crap stays in-house, no matter what. If you have a problem, you work it out by fighting the guy who's causing it, even if he too weighs over 300 pounds and has a long history of "character issues" up to and including the possibility that he is a sociopath. 

You don't go running to your agent or to the media. Even if you can't take it anymore. 

Because, once you do, you're never, ever getting back in. Because, once you do, you will understand the lengths we will go to to protect our code, our rules, our world. Even if it means our black players  explaining that Richie is really more black than Jonathan. Or that everyone under 40 uses the n-word all the time now; that it's not derogatory any more, it's a term of affection. Kind of like "Bro" or "Dude" in your world. Or easier stuff like that Jonathan never fit in, was stand-offish and quiet and not quite as manly as the rest of us.

It hasn't been easy to do, especially that whole Richie as an honorary black guy thing. But we did it because if we didn't there'd be no end to it. No end to your trying to impose your rules in our world.

The only funny thing these past few weeks (well, other than that honorary black guy thing)? When Jonathan's agent said that he's looking forward to playing football again. Not in this universe, pal. Not in Miami or the 31 other locker rooms. We live by our rules, not yours, not your agent's.

And our rules say welcome to Hell Jonathan.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Earning It

About this time every high school soccer season, I'd begin thinking about the awards that we coaches would give our players at our season ending get-together.

I had a tradition that, every other season, I would find a toy, token, or object that fit each player and her abilities, attitudes, or interests. Sometimes they would be obvious, sometimes not. They were always meant to be fun, even if they were occasionally a little ambiguously mean.

The superstitious player who wouldn't abandon her soccer boots at the end of the season, choosing to use duck tape on them instead, received a big roll of tape for the next year. The elegant winger who ran like a colt and cursed like a sailor was given a Princess Leia doll with a tiny bar of soap in her mouth. The player who consistently "forgot" to bring her running shoes to practice got another pair of her very own for the next season.

I sometimes wonder if any of them have kept those knickknacks, which weren't huge and gaudy like the dozens I'm sure they had been handed at the end of every soccer, basketball, and softball league in which they had participated when they were younger.

Ever since our son, E, first brought home a "participation trophy" from soccer when he was four years old, I have been opposed to youth leagues that award them. Trophies should be won, not handed out like Halloween treats. When an athlete, at any age, earns a trophy, she does so knowing that her team excelled -- or at least was better than most -- not just for showing up.

Fortunately, E got it at an early age. As competitive as he was, it didn't take long for him to realize that trophies won were much more valuable than those provided for participation. And I never gave the participation trophies much more thought.

Others, however, have given them great consideration, and have concluded that we may well have poisoned a whole generation into thinking that they are entitled to anything and everything, including a trophy for mere attendance.  In a recent op ed piece in the New York Times, the author cites psychologists and psychological studies that conclude that participation trophies are counterproductive. "Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, found that kids respond positively to praise; they enjoy hearing that they’re talented, smart and so on. But after such praise of their innate abilities, they collapse at the first experience of difficulty. Demoralized by their failure, they say they’d rather cheat than risk failing again."

I think it's a little too easy to blame the awards themselves to any great extent, but perfectly legitimate to blame what they represent: a generation of parents (yes, you baby boomers) that failed to discipline their children when they misbehaved and failed completely at the honest, objective analysis of their children's abilities and the understanding of the value that sports and teamwork can impart, even in the absence of athletic skill.

As you might imagine, there are many stories that I could tell about dealing with unrealistic or misguided parents advocating for their children (often to the child's horror) with regard to athletics. But to do so at this point would be both futile and equally selfish on my part.

While the author of The Times article starts her article with the premise that if the youth league your child is joining hands out participation trophies you should "find another program", that's easier to do in New York City than Charleston, West Virginia. And, in some ways, it's just a further abdication of a parent's responsibilities. Isn't it more of a teaching moment, when their kid brings home that first shiny trophy that is the same as one that every other child received, for the adults to point that out, that, while participation is fine, excellence is better?

They will get it. E certainly did. While he lives in Richmond now, his room at home is still stuffed with various reminders of his athletic achievements: a state track relay championship medal, plaques from state tennis championships, a first-team all-state soccer plaque, even trophies from basketball and soccer tournaments won ten or more years ago. But those participation trophies? He banished them to the attic long ago.

Participation trophies - where they belong.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ascendancy It Is

I kept telling myself "it was only a friendly. It was only a friendly."

On two occasions this summer, after the U.S. Men's soccer team's big win over Germany and its shocking come-from-behind triumph over Bosnia-Herzegovina, I reminded myself of just that. After all, in the midst of UEFA qualifying, those countries may have treated the games as warm-ups, an opportunity to allow their reserve squad players a taste of international action.

But the mere fact that the Americans won both matches, in which they likely would have collapsed two years ago, or even earlier this year (remember the game against Belgium a week before the one against Germany?) made me think that something big was brewing with the national team.

Back in January, I wrote about how this was a cross-roads year for both the U.S. Men's and Women's National teams, as well as women's professional soccer in the U.S. Feast or famine; make or break. A year of ascendancy or disaster? is the way I put it.

While the Woman's national team has done just fine under new coach Tom Sermanni, and the jury is still very much out with regard to the new women's league, the answer for the Men's team is clear: ascendancy it is.

The improvement shown against two of the best squads in Europe in the friendlies was borne out in the remaining matches of CONCACAF qualifying as the Americans, after a serious misstep in Costa Rica (which was clearly the second best team in this Hex), steamrolled Mexico and Jamaica and then stunned poor Panama, on the cusp of kicking Mexico to the qualifying curb, with two extra time goals in the final qualifying match.

Graham Zusi celebrates his game tying goal in Panama, the dagger
to the heart of its qualifying hopes. (photo from

While some pundits wondered post-match about the wisdom of pursuing an in-game strategy that kept Mexican hopes alive in the World Cup (with their loss to Costa Rica in the final match and what seemed like a imminent win by Panama over the U.S. Panama would have traveled to New Zealand and back for a playoff and Mexico would have been sent home to lick its considerable psychological and monetary wounds), I'm glad that the team and Coach Jurgen Klinsmann saw fit to play hard and go for a win in their last competitive match before next summer's World Cup.

And least we forget, while Klinsmann is now being hailed as a savant and savior, it wasn't too long ago that his leadership and tactics were being seriously questioned. But first with those friendlies, then with the wins over Mexico and Panama, Klinsmann has show a deft touch with substitutions and the ability to get the most out of his players, especially those that he does not put in the starting 11.

Klinsmann's leadership strengths discredit the idea that the U.S. should have "thrown" the Panama game. That thought is completely contrary to the way that Klinsmann is going about the job of building a different soccer psyche in this country, and that is not the lesson that he would have wanted his players in Panama City to take away from that match.

Instead, the Americans flew back to the U.S. full of confidence, convinced that they can win any match, at any time, with any 11 players on the pitch.  Whether that will bear out depends a lot on what countries it draws into its group in the World Cup (and it might get ugly)(you could waste hours keeping track of all the possible permutations using the draw simulator here). Nonetheless, that confidence will be there when they step on the pitch, somewhere in Brazil against an unknown opponent in June 2014. I can't wait. And I don't think they can either.


Monday, September 23, 2013

How Cool Is It That ...

How cool is it that ...

The son of a former major league baseball player is now an established veteran of Major League Soccer?

That MLS can now afford to bring one of the best American soccer players back to play in his prime?

That the undisputed home of the U.S. men's team is in Columbus, Ohio, a city dominated all day, every day except once every four years, by American football and is the residence of a fairly miserable MLS team in recent years?

That the "home" of MLS is the Pacific Northwest, where there was no MLS club six years ago?

That many MLS clubs now play, or at least attempt to play, dynamic, passing football rather than the long ball and hoof it game that dominated the game in the U.S. for most of its formative years?

I'll admit that I've been a fan of soccer teams other than MLS clubs for a long time. Blackburn Rovers, Celtic, Barcelona, and now I am grudgingly becoming somewhat of an Arsenal fan as I have convinced myself that it will be years, if ever, before Rovers make it back to the Premier League and I want a club to root for in the Premiership.

But I think many American soccer fans, later to come to the game than I, are doing the MLS and American soccer a disservice by ignoring MLS in favor of the EPL.

There is no dispute that the level of soccer in MLS is still not equal to that of the top European leagues. Or some of South America. Or even (not yet) the Mexican League. But it's gaining. And it's our league.

American soccer consumers have been duped, first by Fox, now by NBC, into thinking the Premier League is the be-all and end-all of professional soccer. And I'll admit, that I am among that number and continue to be, because I've followed the highest (and lesser) levels of soccer in that league for close to 20 years now.

But we confuse the hype with the play on the field. And confuse the Premier League with English soccer. Let's face it, England long ago stopped being the center of the World's game. Except for the huge infusion of cash by foreign owners of EPL clubs, which brought it back to prominence in the 1990's and the early part of this century.

Four of the last five UEFA Champions League winners have not been English clubs. In the past 20 years, Spanish clubs have won six titles, Italian and English four, German three, and French, Dutch, and Portuguese clubs one each. And while I don't have the time or inclination to examine the rosters of each club, my uneducated guess is that, with the exception of Manchester United's 1998 roster featuring Beckham, Giggs, Scholes, Keane, etc., the English clubs that won had more "foreign" players than those from the other countries had.

This post didn't start out with the intention of bashing the Premier League, its clubs, or its fans. Especially not its English fans, many of whom have followed the same club, through thick and thin, for generations. 

But American soccer fans have a certain obligation, I believe, to grow the game in this country. And the only way that can be done is with a strong domestic professional league.

I took this picture at a Sporting Kansas City match in 2012.
I wasn't supposed to end up right next to the field while trying
to find my seat, but took advantage of the situation.
Yes, MLS has its definite flaws. And the quality of play, while improving, is not up to that of the best leagues in the world. But it's getting better, and it's feeding more and better players to our national team.

So, go ahead and watch the Premier League on Saturday and Sunday mornings. But watch the MLS too. Or better yet, go see a game in Columbus or DC. It's a great experience. And it's real football.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Looking Back

I've been stuck in a rut with writing my next post for over a month now. 

I started one about Ryan Braun's half-hearted explanation/apology and how it reflected what a bully he is, particularly with regard to the sample collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr., about whom and his suspected biases he went on at great length in his "I'm innocent" press conference in 2012, but who only merited the following in his admission of guilt: "I sincerely apologize to everybody involved in the arbitration process, including the collector, Dino Laurenzi, Jr." when Braun finally fessed up and admitted to cheating this summer.

But I have grown bored with Braun and his ego-centric behavior, and, frankly, bored with my loathing of him.

I began another post about my prediction at the start of the year that this was a seminal year for the status of soccer in the U.S., from the Men's National Team, which was largely in turmoil and not playing particularly well at the time, to the Women's National Team which was trying to adjust to Life With(out) Pia, to the new women's league and where each was at now. But work and vacation got in the way, and I decided to wait until after the U.S. v. Mexico matches (the women this week, the men next week) to proclaim my current judgment on those issues. (But here's a teaser - Sydney Leroux is good.)

The third one that I started and never finished is the one I regret the most not completing. It celebrated the achievements of two friends, one a coach, the other a golfer. The coach achieved this June what he had long deserved - the right to call himself a State Championship coach. I considered him one of my closest coaching colleagues at Charleston Catholic, and I intended to recognize his achievement, not just in winning a championship (finally), but in always doing things the right way as well as his success in mentoring several generations of athletes, which far outweighs anything he or they will ever accomplish on the field.

Catholic players celebrate their state championship
(photo from WVMetroNews).

The other friend is a far better golfer than me, but had never had a hole-in-one (although he did have a double eagle - an "albatross" - which is a far more difficult and rare achievement) before making his first ace late this year. I would have held him up as use an example of how good things come to those who wait.

But that post, too, went unpublished as it seemed that timeliness was important and ultimately unachievable.

Then today I had an epiphany of sorts as I listened to an NPR interview with Trent Reznor and realized that I am closing in on the 100th post of this blog that began with a whimper more than three years ago.

Reznor spoke in the interview of the changes in his perspective and his music; from the angry but "meticulous" noise of Nine Inch Nails to that of his new album which is much more melodic and at times downright mainstream. He also talked about writing about what he's feeling, what he believes in, and how he wants his music to sound at any particular time. And about trying not to care about what his fans (or former fans) may think.

I appreciate what Reznor is saying. When I first decided to write a blog, I admit it was largely self-promotion (or "business development" as lawyers like to say). I did, though, have enough self-awareness to realize that if I started another employment or internet law blog I'd soon lose interest and hate the idea, the writing, and the idea of writing.

Where I differ with Reznor is that I do care about whether anyone reads my posts and what they think about them. Unlike Reznor, I'm hardly a recognized member of this particular community. And just as importantly because it would be pure narcissism to write and not care whether my readers enjoy, or at least give thought to, what I write.

So, no retrospective as we near another landmark (the two I did near the first and second anniversaries of this blog are among the least read of all my posts -- I'm a little slow but I come around eventually). But an acknowledgement that I've found topics that have kept my interest for almost 100 times now and the hope that occasionally they've done the same for you.

Now if you'll excuse my I've got a black t-shirt to put on and some NIN to listen to ...

Monday, July 29, 2013

On Second Thought

While I like to think I'm right most of the time, I will admit to my occasional mistake. And I may have been wrong about Landon Donovan.

When Donovan was left off the U.S. Men's National team roster in May, I posted that the Donovan era was over. But his demise, like that of Mark Twain, may have been exaggerated.

Not that I think I was wrong that the team is no longer Donovan's (which was the gist of my post). It is clearly Jurgen Klinsmann's now, having claimed its first trophy under his leadership and, ironically, due at least in part to his dismissal in the last minutes of the semi-final and ban from the sidelines for the final ("he cares! he really cares!!"), along with two sublime substitutions that resulted in a goal from the entering player within his first minute on the field.

But I may have overstated the lack of influence that Donovan could have on the 2014 squad and its chances for success, now that he is all but certain to be in Brazil next year. His performance at the Gold Cup and Klinsmann's reaction to Donovan's effort certainly suggest that he will be in the team and will be looked to for significant contribution.

Where and when that contribution will come is what Klinsmann has to figure out between now and next summer. Donovan played either a withdrawn forward (or a "number ten shirt" as Fox Soccer analyst Brian Dunseth annoyingly and repeatedly feels compelled to say) or as an out-and-out forward at the Gold Cup.

The problem is that while Donovan did indeed wear 10 on his back in the Gold Cup, that spot on the preferred U.S. roster is now owned by Clint Dempsey, and barring either injury or a shocking downturn in form, it is what and where he will be in Brazil. Similarly, Klinsmann prefers playing with one true forward and Jozy Altidore is the clear front runner to start there a year from now. Besides, while Donovan was occasionally creative as a forward, he is not a target player up front.

Donovan has played on the wing for club and country, but Klinsmann seems to prefer outside mids with speed and who will defend better than Donovan. So that leaves Donovan with the role of "super sub" at any of these positions, which seems suitable at this point in his career. While Klinsmann repeatedly says there are no guarantees for positions on the squad or in the starting line-up (and we have no reason to doubt his word at this point), it would be a surprise if Donovan is in the starting 11 against America's first opponent in Brazil. But after the Gold Cup it would not be a surprise, if the U.S. has a successful run, that Donovan will be a part of it.

Other than Donovan, the players who in my view helped their chances of making the squad for the World Cup were Kyle Beckerman, Michael Parkhurst ("rah! rah! Wake Forest rah!"), and Brek Shea. 

Beckerman, the dreadlocked defensive center-mid (his hair has its own Twitter feed), may have been the most consistent and most vital player for the Americans for the entire tournament. He bossed the game defensively and started attacks from the back with smart passing. While Jermaine Jones seems to have forged a good understanding with Michael Bradley in the midfield, he still has not overcome his penchant for at least one rash challenge per match which, given FIFA's yellow card rule, is problematic.

Beckerman, his hair, and defender Tony Beltran acknowledge
U.S. supporters after the win over Cuba in the Gold Cup.
(photo from Deseret News)

Parkhurst was solid defensively and showed good ability to get involved in the attack. While no doubt that offensive role will be more limited against the much higher level of talent that World Cup opponents will provide, he established himself as a useful player at right back, as Steve Cherundolo's understudy if nothing else. And while Shea's play was spotty, there's no denying that he was in the right place at the right time to score the two biggest goals of the tournament for the Yanks.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Two Americans

They are both quintessentially American.

One was the best in the world, probably the best that's ever been, at the very least for a single decade. He is a perfectionist, driven, ambitious, full of avarice and hubris, and impossible to ignore, love him or hate him. He had the reputation of always being at his best on the big stage.

The other is undoubtedly the best there's ever been at approaching the game from the "wrong" side, both literally and metaphorically. He is a swashbuckler, a gambler on his chosen field of play, but a family man off, who has overcome personal adversity and family medical crises to maintain a flourishing career into his mid-40's. He had the reputation of never being able to contain his daredevil game to comply with the strict limits imposed by the powers-that-be that control those big stages.

Both are admired by most if not most all golf fans, but either one or the other is genuinely embraced, never both by the same person.

The difference between the two was driven home this morning in the space of a few minutes. The first hit a bad shot, used the Lord's name in vain (on a Sunday, although admittedly he professes to be a Buddhist). The second hit a bad shot, after which his caddy apparently apologized for recommending the wrong club. He, however, said it was his fault, blaming the artisan, not the tool.

I can comprehend why those who are Tiger fans are so. He is the sporting Andrew Carnegie, a golfing robber baron who epitomizes why we are admired and disliked throughout most of the rest of the world.

For me, I'll take Phil. Even if he hadn't won today.

British Open Champion
(photo from International Business Times)

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Bye Bye Roo

This post started out as a lengthy, bitchy explanation of how much I enjoyed my second Bonnaroo experience this past week and why I'm very probably never going back.

That draft, however, hardly reflected how much fun I had and that the Roo experience was overall a positive one. Plus it just seemed, well . . . old and grumpy. So instead, I decided to just hit both the highs and lows of the week to give you a little window into what it's like to be a Bonnaroovian.

Hi, Hi, Hi. Yes, Paul McCartney and his band played Hi, Hi, Hi during his fantastic Friday night show.  But the showstopper was Live and Let Die, which probably isn't among my top 50 favorite Beatles or Wings songs. Blackbird showed that Sir Paul's voice still has some range and Helter Skelter and Back in the U.S.S.R. completely rocked. "Epic" was how my brother described it. Just so.

Low. People with crap on sticks. Big sticks that they wave around and block your view with during a show. Part of the "look at me" shtick that so many seem compelled to engage in. Several times I wished I had a blow dart or bottle rocket ...

High? Even if you indulged in a pharmaceutical, Django Django and Japandroids back-to-back would Wear. You. Out.

Low. Bros and Sorority Chicks. More interested in talking about themselves, school, drugs, than about music. While music is playing. Take your cellphone picture, tweet that you're at Of Monsters and Men, then shut up and leave.

High. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. My brother has convinced me that I undervalued the performance immediately afterward, and I admit my admiration has grown over the week. Absolutely killed Love is a Long Road, one of my favorite Petty songs.

Low. Hula Hoops. Another part of the "look at me" crowd, people take hula hoops to shows, take up six times as much room as anyone else, and twirl them in their hands and on their torsos. I remain unimpressed.

High. Macklemore. A rollicking hour of fun both a 21-year-old and a 55-year-old could love. Highlight was Mack borrowing a fur coat from someone in the crowd to belt out Thrift Shop. And, yes, Ray Dalton was there. And sounds better live, believe it or not.

Low. Stoners who believe it's their right to shove their way to the front of the crowd, no matter how late they are to the show or how many people are in front of them.

High. Our fellow camper Jason, who came all the way from California for the show. Fascinating guy.

Low. The fat obnoxious Canucks who camped behind us.

High. JD McPherson. Straight up rockabilly fun.

Photo courtesy of me.

Low. Something called Delta Rae. No. No, no, no.

High. The National. Amazing live. And Kacey Musgraves, Dwight Yoakam, Jason Isbell, and, yes, Weird Al Yankovic.

High. The Mowgli's. At least three Nelsons will be surprised if they're not the next big thing.

Highest. The weekend spent with my brother and son, enjoying great music in the Tennessee sun. So long Bonnaroo. And thanks.

Monday, June 17, 2013

A Happy Father's Day

A great father's day present: your son driving 8 hours through the night to get you home to a hot shower, a real bed, and a loving, incredibly tolerant, wife/mother and over-the-top-happy-to-see-you Jack Russell Terrier.

An even better father's day present: a heart-felt card from one child and a cheerful text conversation with the other on "your" day.

The Best Father's Day present: spending an entire day sharing sunshine, huge rain drops, and great music from hip-hop only a 21 year-old should like (Kendrick Lamar), to hip-hop even a 55 year-old can like (Macklemore and Ryan Lewis), to a fantastic American band (The National), to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, with two of your best friends. One of whom happens to be your brother, the other your son.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Throw Away the Key

I admit it, Alex Rodriquez duped me.

At a time when others were perjuring themselves (Rafeal Palmerio, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens) or simply stonewalling (Mark McGwire), Rodriquez seemingly took the high road. He admitted that, while playing for the Texas Rangers, he had used PEDs. And I, for one, applauded him for his honesty.

Turns out, it was just a smokescreen.

Ryan Braun, on the other hand, I was on to all along.

Now Major League Baseball has a second chance to get it right with Braun and Rodriguez and all the other cheaters who were obtaining PEDs including testosterone and human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), from the now-defunct Biogenesis of America clinic in Florida.

It has apparently cut a deal with Tony Bosch, the founder of Biogenesis, to provide direct information linking many players to PEDs obtained from his "wellness clinic." MLB seemingly learned its lesson from the botched drug samples that were the basis of Braun's prior suspension and has been taking its time in investigating Biogenesis, its links to players and agents, and convincing Bosch (who previously denied that his clinic provided PEDs) that it is in his best interest, and perhaps only alternative, to name names.

One can only hope that they've gotten it right this time and that Bosch comes through with truthful information. And that the suspensions of Rodriguez and Braun and others who cheated will be severe. And that Braun and Rodriquez and others who will undoubtedly appeal whatever suspension are handed out will not benefit from some whacky arbitrator's imaginative decision.

Meanwhile, we wait with baited breath for the latest spin that Braun and his lawyers and agents, and Rodriguez and whoever is still clinging by their fingernails to his faded career and legacy, will put on the story.

What will Mr. Innocent come up with this time?
(photo from The Washington Post)
Braun's statement last night after the Brewers' game, after saying he would not address the issue: "The truth has not changed." To which one is tempted to reply: "Precisely. Just like the drug test results didn't change when they were thrown out on a technicality."