Thursday, August 10, 2006

Inhuman Interest

Reading through Brent's last post should give those of you who are new to the site (all, 1...2... 0 of you) a fairly good sense of our different characters.

I'm not so much as optimist or idealist as much as a daydreamer who fantasizes about a utopian society devoid of such banal, asinine ninnies as Skip Bayless and the equally loathed Bill Simmons (along with 99.5% of the sportswriters in North America), and then gives voice to those daydreams.

Brent is the man who reminds me that, oh yeah, we live in the real world. Where Bayless / Simmons and all the other blathering idealogues are granted prime-time access to the mainstream public and those who accept various points of view are contained within their small niche blathering incoherently about the blathering idealogues that they dislike.

Though I sadly agree with Brent's assessment of our proudly polarized society (where (according to the master polarizer, Stephen Colbert) a house divided against itself is called "a duplex") I would like to provide what I think is an explanation of the dearth of Soccer columnists in the U.s.

It's not merely the mundanity of "Chivas V.s. Real Salt Lake" (which, in my opinion, is perhaps the most innapropriate name for a team since the Utah Jazz) it's the desperation with which we turn to the sports page these days.

It's a shock and awe journalism world now and you can see it clearly in the sports page. Either it's a scandal (steroids, Maurice Clarett, Terrell Owens announcing that he hates Tuna Fish and thus creating fodder for 9,000,000 articles in the next three weeks) that goes under news, or a goopy, supercillious, sepia-toned, up-from-hardship tale (the kind that NBC specializes in cramming down your throught during the Olympics) that goes under human interests.

Soccer, in the U.s., lacks that panache. They go and they play the game. No one's doped up (how could we tell?), no one's staging a holdout or presenting themselves as a dynamic presence, and no one has a Hortio Alger story because (so far) American soccer has been built on the suburbs. This is not to say that such stories don't exist (soccer's omnipresence in Europe and Africa shows just how common scandals (match fixing, team swapping, etc.) and goop (rising stars, new acquisitions, etc.) can be popular). But, with nightly press conferences held after every game and live remotes from practice fields discussing pulled groins in the middle of July, these stories are so readily accessible in other sports that it takes a top notch writer to bring the Soccer stories to life.

And when's the last time America produced a top notch sports writer?

Monday, July 24, 2006

Changing Tact

As the most perceptive of you have no doubt noticed the heading and description of this blog has now changed. With the World Cup over one must move on, but in what direction?

*Stay with Soccer?--Not when the three authors of this page live at great distance from intense rivalries and passion (Unless you count Chicago V. LA or Goa V. Dehli) with even fewer opportunities to watch soccer on a regular basis. (Law Student/Grad Student/English Teacher...these are not the careers designed for cable subscriptions)

*Broaden our range to all sports?--Possible, but again, unless there's a rabid audience out there for commentary on Cricket/hopeless college programs think again.

*Broaden our range to all topics, just so long as we can bicker about them?--Now there's an idea we can get behind.

Conveniently enough I've just read a book that could start debates at least between ourselves and perhaps among others as well. How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer is superbly written, eloquent, charming, personal and intelligent. It chronicles the development of socer aorund the world and it's relationship to the new global culture exploring the struggles of hooligans, the corruption of leaders (including a prediction of the fall of Juventus/AC Milan before it happened), and the opportunities now afforded to Africans, Arabs and Americans.

It's the last one that I want to mention. Foer mentions that the class/culture struggles in the U.s. can be traced (in part) to a schism between Liberal/ Yuppie/ East & West Coast/ Elitest/ Smug/ Globalized/ Soccer Fans, and Conservitive/Red Neck/ Fly over Country/ Down home/ Countryified/ Insular/ Fans of everything else. This is a simplification of course, but it's an interesting point (and besides, this is a blog, simplification is my bread and butter).

I read this and became befuddled (a nice change from my normally fuddled state), I've always lived in "Fly over country," and I like to think of myself as down-home, countryified and an Uber-fan of all things baseball/College basketball. But after thinking about it, I am hyper-liberal, upper-crust and so Gloablized that I'm part of an outsourcing of teaching positions. So naturally there's a middle ground.

So my question, veering from Soccer to everything else is this: "Can those of us with dual personalities (Red Staters with liberal beliefs and standards/Blue Staters with traditional beliefs and standards) bring harmony based on what we know and understand about both sides of the issue or are we doomed to be fenced in by Barbara Striesand on one side and the ever expanding mustache of Denny Rehberg (R-MT) on the other?"

Put it another way: "If the Moderates challenged the extremists to an atheletic olympiad who would win?" Given of course a moderate team of: Jon Stewart, Joe Biden, John McCain (maybe) and 80% of the populace against left-wing radicals led by: that white guy in College with dredlocks and a 5 foot aura of funk around him and 80 % of Hollywood, and right-wing radicals led by: The honorable Rev. Falwell and the 5 foot aura of funky bigotry around him and of course Denny Rheberg's stache.


Wednesday, July 12, 2006

3 AM

So, living in India (Cricket hotbed of the world) I was surprised to find that they are just as stunned at the growing popularity of Soccer as we are in the states. Thoguh perhaps, the shouldn't be.

I was in the last throes of jetlag, semi-conscious and completely haggard when I was invited by a few native Indians who work at my new School to watch the match (at midnight local time), naturally I said yes. We were joined by two brits and later went over the match in detail with Canucks, Aussies and Kiwis (people normally obsessed with hockey and rugby).

Nevertheless there was just as much passion, joy and dismay at Zizou's jackassedness at 3 AM in a tiny town in India as there was on the Champs d'Elysses or at any Italian Piazza (except for maybe Mike).

Sure it would have been great to see Les Blus pull it off, but I'm just jetlagged enough that I'm happier to focus on fans and our glee than on the actual match itself.

Much love to all

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

And then there were two...

Two snooty, vaguely irritating European countries vying for Soccer supremacy (PINCH ME!).

All in all that was some pretty exhilarating futball to see during the semis. And though most of Germany/Italy was a snoozefest, the final surges by both sides where extremely dramatic. Meanwhile, the shockingly clean calls issued by everyone's least favorite Uruguayan (the same one who hosed the US against Italy) allowed France and Portugal to play open and free. Sure there were moments of absolute terror for anyone rooting against the Flopper's Final (i.e. any moment the ball went towards Fabien Barthez) but by and large this has been a set up for some (hopefully) fantastic final matches.

Sure, there were still moments that were, quite simply, UG-ly. Sure it was hard to hear Dave O'Brien talk about Odonkor's "flaming red boots," and the 45 second close up on Frank Ribery was completely overkill. But those fleeting seconds are easily forgotten when you watch Zidane continue a magical run towards retirement and when you savor the Italian team's reenactment of Ceaser's death every few minutes.

And in true world class tournament fashion 7 beloved friends and I tore our hair out diagramming every possible match to arrive at finals that included neither Italy nor France, my beloved friend Jeff said quite simply and plainly: "France." That was his one pick, nothing more and nothing less, just "France." So ladies and gentlemen, take it from my pal the Air Force pilot and repeat after me: "Allez les Blus!" Allez Zizou! Allez Henry! Allez Ribery!


Sunday, July 02, 2006

Say it ain't sew, Zizou

On a day when old Golden Balls (age 33) calls it quits as captain of the England Team, when Cafu's (age 38?) dream of captaining his third World Cup Champion dies and on a day when Jesse Orosco (age 7,230) only struck out 2 in his semi-pro league, let us give a tilt of the beret and a swig of the Cabernet to Zizou.

I have a long-standing man-crush on Zinadine Zidane, ever since his electricfying performance in the 1998 world cup final, he's been the one player in the world on who's game I tried to model my own. His composure in midfield, the way he holds his position and excells at all the little things. I've always aspired to play that way. He was the best player on either field in Germany yesterday, and he should be something special to watch the rest of the tournament.

I think he will gracefully call it quits whether they win the world cup or not, he's not going to pull an MJ. But still, it's kind of sad to see him go when he's dominating games like this.

Whatever he decides to do after the tournament is ultimately immaterial, because the next two games he plays will be what matters. Enjoy them. *silent tear*

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A River Runs Through this Post

A river of absurdly unnecessary metaphors, but a river never the less.

In order to concur with my Norman Maclean-esque friend I have to point out a few things for everyone sitting back in horror at the prospect of an all Euro final four, and all those gasping in pain at the absence of Brasilia.

It became pretty clear within 90 minutes that the Brazil we had all come to expect in World Cup play had stayed home, sending animatronic recreations to Germany in their place. It was like watching the Walt Disney Hall of Presidents, jerky, static and completely unlike their real life counterparts.

The cliche is that a team works like a well oiled machine. The only problem with using that cliche in soccer is that machinery doesn't do the beautiful game justice. Poets do not use drill presses. (Though, you might want to check with Brent (the real poet) on that one).

So the Hall of Brazilians survived Croatia, Australia and Japan (an average though not challenging dead eyed tour group) but it was clear that they were aging. In need of a visit from "imagineers" as it were. Their flaws failed to impress the rascally Ghanaians who wreaked havoc like toddlers in the Magic Kingdom until nap time came and they went to sleep. But it held no power over the disaffected French who sat back in teenager form snobbily dismissing all the squeaking hinges. (Are you sick of that metaphor yet?)

My point is, Brazil is not in the semi-finals because (as Brent pointed out) they didn't play well enough to earn a position in the semi-finals, neither did England (or flop happy Portugal for that matter, but that's for an angrier post). There's still some beautiful football to be played, and in order to have that happen in this World Cup (as it was in most others) you have to trim the underperforming teams down until the best remain. We still have to excise the malignant, collapsing tumors from Italy and Portugal, and make do with a fairly frustrating French side, but we still have California Klinsi and the Huns to root for.

So raise a glass of whatever you're sipping on to the fine tuned, German-engineered scoring ma...chine...DANG IT! Well, cheer for them anyway, and try to come up with a better descriptor of their playing style (I'll buy you candy).


Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Down goes Frazier! (I mean Elin)

It's time for a pre-quarterfinals updating of our standings, with a major shake up in the works. (4 points for each quarter final team correctly predicted)

Name [Previous Pts./QF Teams/New point totals]
Brent McCafferty --70/5/90
Elin Ljung --74/3/86
Simon MacKenzie --61/5/81
Matt MacKenzie --56/6/80
Ben MacKenzie --60/4/76
Bruce MacKenzie --57/4/73
Brandon McCafferty --53/4/68
Krista Johnson --52/4/67

And just like that Elin Ljung's reign of terror is OVER! Long live our new despot, Brent McCafferty! Sadly, Elin's run in the pool has come to a very sudden conclusion. All of her remaining predictions for semi-finalists through champion have been eliminated. On the other hand, Brandon McCafferty may be near the bottom of the standings but he still has all of his semi-finalists remaining, and he's at the top of St. Olaf College's Most Eligible Bachelor list, so feel free to congrulate/mock him accordingly.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Elite-ish Eight

With another round in the books and the numbers cut in half once again, I have to sit back and marvel at something.

Sports without upsets stinks.

That's probably the reason I get fired up when the Pirates beat the Cardinals. That's why I sort of stop watching March Madness after the first weekend. Once things go as planned it's a little disappointing.

In 2002 we were 180 minutes away from South Korea Versus Turkey for the World Cup (180 very long, unlikely minutes, but still). We had Senegal and a shocking run from the U.s. it was fun to watch the unexpected.

So, naturally, it's less fun when "traditional powers" win their way through to the quarterfinals. It's easy to predict that Brazil/France/England/Germany/Argentina/Italy will be in the quarters. Any layman can do that. It's far more entertaining to root for a Ukraine/Ghana final.

The most inspired and entertaining sides I've seen this year are gone (except Argentina). Spain went from five halves of brilliance to toast (again) in 10 minutes. Ecuador started with 4 goals and none allowed and then seemed embarrassed of their success and ran to their own third to hide (only Germany and England wouldn't let them). Australia soared for 11 minutes, and then staggered around like a dingo following a liter of Fosters.

And oh, Ghana. How I love thee. How much Fufu have I eaten? How much Hip-life have I heard? How many times have I remembered cabbies and cops, professors and students yelling and screaming "Black Stars! Black Stars are sooooo Goood!" They out-Braziled Brazil for close to 30 minutes today, winning balls, getting great attacks built up, crossing the ball with authority and playing with a flair that Brazil themselves seem to have left in Rio. Then their coach was tossed, and they spent the second half showing flashes of greatness, but also showing fatigue. They lost by a bigger margin than any other team in this round, and yet they probably played better soccer than several winning teams (England/Portugal/Italy/Ukraine).

It might not be as entertaining or exciting the rest of the way, but we'll always have the memories of the great and exciting sides (and we also still have a chance at getting huckleberry shakes out of Brent, which is certainly something to root for).


Sunday, June 25, 2006

An open challenge

Having just finished with the tragedy and triumph that was Portugal V. Holland, your friendly neighborhood impish writer (the one who always tries to look on the bright side of soccer) has been rendered as speechless as a teenager in the presence of Jessica Alba, or Mother Theresa in the presence of Abu Gharaib, or Dennis Miller in the absence of his "Dictionary of Obscure References."

I always like to compliment what's good and upstanding, and "neat-o" (as my mother says) about soccer. After watching this last match, I'm having trouble figuring out precisely what is "neat-o" anymore.

It wasn't the record-tying 16 yellow cards.

It wasn't the hamfisted acting of the Portuguese side (the worst since Ashton Kutcher first stumbled in front of a camera).

It wasn't the offensive inaptitude of Dirk Kuyt (in a performance not even worthy of an MLS contract).

It wasn't the poor sportsmanship, or crude "challenges," or embarrassing time wasting tactics.

I can't think of anything beautiful that sprung from this dirt clod of a game. There's nothing left to do now except try and erase it from my mind and take a shower before Italy/Australia. Honestly, if anyone can think of something beautiful, enjoyable or worthwhile from this game, let me know...I'd like to hear what you think that might be. Heck, I'll even buy a huckleberry shake for whomever comes up with an appropriate answer.

Happy hunting,

Saturday, June 24, 2006


So here now are the final standings for the group stage of the MacKenzie Low Budget World Cup Pool
Remember 3 points for a correct score, 1 for a correct result, 0 for an incorrect prediction and -100 for being Montenegran.

Name [C.S/C.R./I./Points]
Elin Ljung --9/25/14/52
Brent McCafferty --10/18/20/48
Bruce MacKenzie --7/20/21/41
Ben MacKenzie --8/16/24/40
Simon MacKenzie --5/22/21/37
Brandon McCafferty --3/24/21/33
Krista Johnson --2/24/22/30
Matt MacKenzie --1/27/20/30

So Congrats to Elin for winning this stage of the pool, though you have to credit Brent with a major comeback cutting a once insurmountable lead down to a scant 4 points. Best of all this is only one part of the pool (cue the dramatic twist music).
We now move into the knockout stages where you get two points for every team you had in the sweet sixteen that actually made it, four points for each correct quarterfinalist, six for each correct semifinalist, eight for each correct finalist and 10 big fat points if you called the winner. Sadly, Krista and Elin have already lost their champion in the Czech Republic which means it's still, very much anybody's game. Here's the standings WITH points for Sweet Sixteens.

Name [1st Round Pts./Sweet 16 teams/Points]
Elin Ljung --52/11/74
Brent McCafferty --48/11/70
Simon MacKenzie --37/12/61
Ben MacKenzie --40/10/60
Bruce MacKenzie --41/8/57
Matt MacKenzie --30/13/56
Brandon McCafferty --33/10/53
Krista Johnson --30/11/52

And just like that Matt's back in the hunt. He has the most in the sweet 16 and all of his quarterfinalists still standing. However, Bruce, Elin and I are each down 3 quarterfinalists and at least one semifinalist (painful). The door is wide open...much like the Swedish defense (or lack thereof).


Friday, June 23, 2006

The best of the rest

So, at last we turn to the final groups and the final first round matches and the final retrospective look at the teams that have been and those that will be.

Least Likely to Succeed--
South Korea: Catching lightening in a bottle for the second consecutive cup was a lot easier said than done. And when your number one goal scoring threat sits on the bench for most of every match it's a lot harder to score. That said, you have to like the fact that South Korean fans have quickly become one of the most rabid breeds in the World (and yet, without the violence so common to countries other than the U.s.).

Togo: Like sands through the hourglass, so are the days of the Togolese national team. The Sparrow Hawks scored one goal in the first half of their first game and none afterwards. They were by no means embarrassing, but they were by no means among the best teams in the tournament either, so that's kind of sad. Hopefully they'll enjoy the glory of returning as national heroes...oh wait, that doesn't happen in oppressive regimes! I forgot.

Tunisia: The hard luck African side that always shows up and always goes home without a win. This was supposed to be the year, but the Carthage Eagles looked a lot more like the Carthage Cubs, and are going home early (according to Cubbie tradition).

Saudi Arabia: For all the complaints about Saudi Arabia's involvement in U.S. national affairs, I have to say, watching them stick it to a lazy Spain in the second half of today's match. Watching them string together passes and work as a unit, I'm willing to offer them a percent stock of U.s. Soccer if they're willing to teach us how to stay offensive in international situations. (Well...International SPORTING situations, we're plenty offensive in international situations already)
Most Likely to Succeed (except, not really)--
Switzerland: Big ups to the pacifists of the Cup. Even if they were a little bloodied today, even if they got a goal that shouldn't have been, the fought hard and survived match-ups with two great sides, and most impressively of all, they're the only side left not to surrender a goal. They could do well (they won't, but they could).

Ukraine: From disaster following a 4-0 loss to delight following two straight wins to escape the group stage it's been a major turn around for the Ukraine who have suddenly discovered a cake walk to the quarter finals so easy that it might as well be run by the United Church of Freebies.

France: Well, at long last Simon and I were treated to David Trezeguet actually playing soccer. And while he wasn't vital to the win over Togo, it was nice to see France finally play as we expected them to (if only for 30 minutes). Now they get Spain, and now they get to be rocked all over again.

Spain: It was nice to Spain finally play as I expected them to: lazily. Granted, they were already through. Granted, they could have put Ferdinand the bull on the field, let him sniff flowers and the Sons of the Desert probably still wouldn't have scored. Nevertheless, it was the poorest half of soccer that I've yet seen from Spain (it won't be repeated again, though if it is, there will go the hottest team in the cup).

It's on to the Sweet Sixteen and our Cinderfellas have been whittled down to Ecuador (with a good chance against an ailing and sporadic England), Ghana (with little to no chance versus Brazil), Australia (ditto versus Italy) and The Ukraine (see the afore mentioned walk of cakery). Brent listed the teams likely to win, and much as I love huckleberry shakes I'm obliged to admit that I doubt I will receive one. Still, it's a glorious game and I'm just happy to still be watching it all.

Much love to all of you winners, losers and substitutes who never got a chance,


Thursday, June 22, 2006

Don't call it a deathknell

Another day, another eight teams finished with group play, and another drastic over reaction by American Sports Journalists.
"We stink!" "We're lousy!" "We have no talent!" "We can't play with the best teams in the world!" "We have to overcompensate for our lack of knowledge about this game with blind prejudice and increased volume!!!"

But if I may, please refer to the title of this post, a paraphrase of the late 20th century American philosopher, LL Cool J. This overeactionary attitude seems to be the sensibility following today's games, but rather than recite the vapid statements of Jackassitude that emanate from Sports Journalists today, let's fondly remember and admire the eight teams finished today.

In memoriam--
U.S.A.: Let's get the big boys out of the way first. We had one problem this World Cup (well two if you include the magical sprites that caused Rezak's Pimpong's collapse in the box this morning) a lack of urgency. Fall down by one goal to the Czechs, and suddenly you begin to wither, deferring to the point of calamity. Then you fall down farther and farther. Go up a man versus Italy and just knock it around until Mastroeni gets carded. At the end of the day it was philosophy that did us in, but it shouldn't be used as an indictment of our abilities on the pitch. More players are going abroad, and still more will follow. The game is growing in importance and being debated in corner bars and living rooms around the nation. We'll come back from this, and if we can finally get a little gift in terms of our group we should have a good chance of going farther the next time around.

Czech Republic: Ouch. Hard as it is to believe, the U.s. is not the most disappointed squad in Group E. The 2nd ranked Czechs collapsed like a flan in a cupboard (thanks Eddie Izzard). True they had no world class striker for the better part of three games, but still, going down without a goal in their last two matches is just plain harsh.

Japan: Watching the first 35 minutes against Brazil today it was clear what made Brent ooh and ahh over them. They have great creativity and chemistry, creating chances and capitalizing on mistakes. Then it became clear why they didn't go farther: they make bigger mistakes that other teams capitalize on. Tough luck, but they should be better in the future.

Croatia: As ever, the Croats are dead to me. Flipping to their match I still managed to see one tackle, one high kick and one hand ball (all in the box) that weren't called against them, thus making their match with the Socceroos much closer than it deserved to be. So once again Croatia, congratulations, I remember when I once only vaguely disliked you, but once again you are deader to me than Mr. Belding's acting career.
In Action--
Italy: Back in business and ain't it grand. The Azzuri are fashionable again and just in time for the summer season (they still flop more than a John Steinbeck euphemism, but that's not always a bad thing).

Australia: Phew! I thought the Socceroo's were finished during their battle with the dirty dirty Croats, but trust in Guus to get them on ahead. Their lack of genuine scoring panache still means they won't go father, but it's a big day in Australia.

Brazil: It took a goal from Japan to wake them up but it finally happened, and the boys from Rio finally looked like the side we all thought they would be. (And that was without Cafu/Adriano and a handful of others in the game.) And once again, big ups to Fatty for moving into a tie for first place on the All-Time World Cup scoring list (why don't you have a slice of celebratory cake?)

Ghana: I admit, I was awfully conflicted during the Black Stars match with the U.s. And honestly, I'm a trifle peeved that they won on a cheeky penalty. It's not to say that they wouldn't have won or advanced anyway, but this just gives everyone a reason to overlook them as a talented side and takes a lot of the glamour out of winning against one of the best teams in the world (which, the U.s. is). (Sadly, without Essien in the next match it's already chiming midnight in Accra.)

Tomorrow we set the final two matches in the second round. Spain tries to continue their impressive run against Saudi Arabia (good chance of that happening), while the Ukraine and Tunisia have a play-in game. Meanwhile South Korea and Switzerland have the same fight to get into round two (though a draw would probably mean the controversial drawing of lots), and if you have a soul in your heart you've got to be rooting for Togo to upend France just to save us all from Monsiuer Lamey McGee's idiocy in the Second Round.

Finally, let me just say this: keep watching and cheering during this World Cup. The absence of our home side means little to nothing in contrast with the great teams, players and storylines that march forward. And if ever you doubt that the United States is a soccer country, take solace in this fact: we are concerned enough with soccer to be debating it in major news papers, online, on television, on networks not even devoted to sports. When Steven Colbert gives in to the fever, you know you've got something that appeals to the masses. Better still, we are clearly NOT the New York Yankees in some facet of the worldwide landscape. We've been bested at something, and there is nothing we like better than a comeback. Of course Mr. Cool J would rather we didn't call it that either.

High Hopes

Quickly, I just wanted to say this level of hope, and interest in our national team is unprecedented. I'm watching the USA-Ghana game at a Northwestern Bar called O'Toole's, where the Italy-Czech Republic game will be split screened. It's almost like waking up in a different country.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Musings from a silent state of mind (or, mouth, at least)

Okay, after having my wisdom teeth pulled this morning I can't talk (and apparently I'm four teeth dumber). Given my predilection to rambling regardless of my audience's interest (or lack thereof) this is quite a blow to me.

Of course there's always one forum where ignorant, self-righteous blabbermouths can speak without fear of rebuke: Around the Horn! Since I can't go there, this blog will have to do.

Conveniently, silence lends itself to a better appreciation of the game (as well as the brilliance of Captain Wonderful aka John Harkes). Sadly, after being knocked out for the morning games and recording the unimaginative splendor of Netherlands V. Argentina for Matt today appreciating the beautiful game was easier said (or rather thought) than done.

But with eight more teams making plans for the weekend, here's a look back, ahead and askance at each team's World Cup.

Ready for a LONG Weekend--
Ivory Coast: Brent's right, this is a talented side that was stonewalled in their group. A 3-2 win today was more than deserved, it's practically a constitutional right. Life, Liberty and Didier Drogba! Bravo Tommy Jefferson!

Serbia & Montenegro: Okay, so the Famous Four flopped. I won't make excuses and I'm sure they won't either. After all they have to go back to Belgrade (site of the ever popular Girls Gone Wild: Balkan Beauties).

Iran: For all the hubbub and falderal surrounding their political and social strife few teams fell as flat as Iran. Now they have to go back to their oppressive regime and wait to trot out septuagenarian Ali Daei in 2010.

Angola: Say what you will about the team that was supposed to be the weakest in the entire field. This is a team that surpassed everyone's expectations. Getting not just one, but TWO points and staying alive until the last day should be enough to smack around everyone who said they didn't belong.
"Ummm, yeah...I'm going to need you to come in on Saturday. Oh, and ah...Sunday too."--
Argentina: The one team that look as good as we all thought Brazil would. Well, up until the dentistry at least. Still, smiles don't win world cups, hand ball goals do, and Cup winning hand ball goals is a category Argentina continues to lead.

Mexico: After a great first half v.s. Iran it's been a downward slide up to, and including, Omar Bravo's shanked PK today. Don't get me wrong I like El Tricolors but it's just not going to happen. (Lots of luck, but you need more than that to beat Argentina)

Portugal: I'd say something nice but I've only watched one of their matches (tuxedo fitting/trip to Portland/wisdom tooth removal). guys wear maroon, huh? Good for you!

Netherlands: A little more creativity, a lot better passing and Herr Robbens back on the pitch should be all they need to dispatch Portugal. (Plus they wear Orange which is much cooler than Maroon).

Tomorrow is, at last, a serious showdown day, with the Azzurri in good shape to beat the Czechs. If they do, any result between Ghana and the U.s. will make me happy as it guarantees one of those teams goes to the next round. Brazil should be able to knock off Japan, and all the Aussies need to do is pull a draw against the goal-less Croats to move ahead. I may not be saying much, but as long as there's cup action to come, and a world wide information superhighway to gobble up my unimportant ramblings, I'm a happy man.


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Onward football soldiers!

The Sweet Sixteen has started to take shape, with two matches being officially set for Saturday and Sunday and four teams beginning to pack for a somber flight home devoid of comely stewardesses. As Brent has already seized the mantle of predictor in chief, I hereby stake my claim as Retrospectator General (mostly because, like Momar Ghadaffi, I look good in epaulets).
Going Home--
Poland: Ah the Polacks. That oh so trendy pick to cruise into round two behind Germany, leaving an outclassed Costa Rica and a befuddled Ecuador in their wake. Woops! Turns out they can't score unless they're tripping the keeper in the process. Artur Boruc's brilliance against Germany (for 92 minutes anyway) not withstanding, it's disappointing.

Costa Rica: Dear Paulo Wanchope,
Welcome to the wonderful world of national icon-hood.
B. MacKenzie.
P.s. Don't worry about those 22 other guys on the plane ride home with you. You know, the one's sobbing and stuff. Not your problem.

Paraguay: I told you at the beginning of the cup that they were a solid defense backed by a potent offense, and they proved me right. Sure, it took until the third game and they now need to revamp the lineup significantly before 2010, but I was kind of right.

Trinidad & Tobago: This has to be the saddest result possible. After a draw that made everything seem possible, after stone walling England for 75 minutes. After becoming the beloved underdog of the world, the Soca Warriors are going home. In last place. With zero goals to their credit. Sure Yorke might be back in the Premiership, and yeah Hislop can now have a field at Howard University after him. But this has to be the loudest thud after an opening bang that I can remember.
Heading on--
Germany: Okay, so I'm often down on the chances of the home side, today turned me around. They are, in fact, quite good. And will waltz on to their weekend showdown with the Swedes humming a happy tune and basking in the reflected glory of Miroslav Klose, the slicing, scoring, striker made with precision German engineering.

Sweden: The Huns second round opponent have looked sloppy at best and lucky at worst. Though they still possess a potent attack and unbelievably talented strikers, it's clear that they have remained close thanks in large part to keeper Andreas Isaksson. He's been bested only twice, and save the miracle volley from Joe Cole he might have put the Meatballs in ahead of England. (Still, I doubt they get past Germany)

Ecuador: While Brent abhors their uniforms, I have been greatly impressed. Who knew Marathon was in the soccer business? The colors are...oh, wait, this is about the team. So, anyway. I was ready to applaud Ecuador all the way to the Quarters, until their bout of "Which way do we go, George, which way do we go?" today against Germany. Though I love Little Christian Mora in net, the lack of punch and indeed effort for Ecuador today shows how much Carlos Tenorio and Agustin Delgado drive the squad.

England: So somehow the Three Lions cannot stop the Swedes. There may be all kinds of reasons thrown out there, but for my money, it's the distraction of the bikini team. I mean...Zatlan in a two piece is just plain HOTT. They've been profoundly inconsistent and seem more and more to be tied to Wayne Rooney, awaiting his epic destruction of all other forces. But with Owen out for heaven knows how long and Rooney still getting back into form, they'll need their defense to step up to stop Ecuador. (They'll do it, but I have to build the drama a little right?)

Tomorrow we'll see a telling match between Argentina and the Netherlands, a beatdown (hopefully) from Ivory Coast to Serbia, a showdown between Portugal and Mexico and little ol' Angola with a chance, yes a chance, of making the second round (all it takes is a win against Iran, and a Mexico loss by a couple of goals). Actually, YOU'LL see those things, I'LL be drugged up after wisdom tooth removal, so who knows what I'll see?

English Boys and Swedish Meatballs

Before reading this post, you must sing its title to the tune of the chorus of the Arctic Monkeys' "Bigger Boys and Stolen Sweethearts" and if you haven't heard the Arctic Monkeys go patronize iTunes or steal it off Limewire if you feel contrarian or cheap at the moment. Note: if you feel both contrarian AND cheap that means that you feel Scottish.

So disappointing to see the Soca Warriors fail to make the second round today, but finally England looked like they should have looked from the start of the tournament. At least until Gerrard came in. Can we finally say with certainty that Lampard and Gerrard cannot be on the same field for the same team at the same time? No matter what any manager tells them they both want to play the attacking midfield position, creating chances and missing 40-yard shots by three feet. Both play that attacking midfield role expertly with their club sides and create some of the most breathtaking goals in the world. They are enabled to create via the confidence they have in their defensive center midfielders Xabi Alanso (with Gerrard at Liverpool) and Claude Makalele (who wrote the treatise on playing defensive center midfielder with Lampard at Chelsea). Gerrard is too good to be on the bench, but so are Juninho, Lionel Messi, Robinho and Eddie Johnson. With Hargreaves playing a very solid D-Mid, Gerrard and Lampard should platoon as attacking center mids. If one plays 70 minutes of their next game and the other plays the last 20 and they switch back and forth, can you find a downside? Less confusion and an immediate infusion of skill, creativity, heart and speed. Soccer always runs through the Center Midfield, if that Center is confused about its role, unsure of itself, or simply overmatched it (and its team) will probably loose the match. Lampard for 70 minutes, Gerrard for the last 20: killer. Either that or bench Golden Balls (that's what they call Beckham in the UK) and put Gerrard on the wing, but since Sven will never do that, the platoon idea is the best one to go to.

Also, after that bizzare injury to Michael Owen in the opening moments of the match, we should be able to see what's so special about Theo Wolcott. At least we would if England's manager weren't so wedded to the idea of Frankenstien playing alongside Wayne Rooney (who looked fantastic today, along with Man of the Match Joe Cole). Not only is Peter Crouch ineffective, he's only been effective by cheating. Check this out:

In German with handy spotshadow:

In Marcello Balboian with the aftereffect:

the best part about what Balboa says is that the defender isn't even looking for the ball, which is hard to do when Isaac Asimov's wet dream is attempting to wrench your head off, with its titanium claws clutching your dreads. I found this thanks to the NYTimes World Cup Blog which has been excellent all tournament.

So now imagine Gerrard and Theo Wolcott, readying to be subbed in in the 65th minute of England's match against Ecuador which at that point is tied 1-1, that's a pretty dynamite combo. Throw in Aaron Lennon for Beckham and that's a killer sub pattern for the rest of the tournament.

So who's the Swedish Meatball? The England Coach. He won't do it. I wish he would, but he won't. If by some miracle he reads obscure soccer blogs he will have downloaded the Arctic Monkeys and stopped caring. Oh well.

I think that if they play as a team, Sweden can beat Germany. As long as their 6'6" Keeper stays in position, their defense is solid, their team can play coheasively and in Ljunberg, Laarson and Ibrahimovic they have three of the best players in the world. That might also be the reason that they don't beat Germany. Read this excellent article in the English version of Der Spiegel if you want to know more about three more possible Swedish Meatballs:,1518,422335,00.html

Finally, a limited rant at the low expectations our broadcasters have for us.

Is it just me or did Melberg score the second goal for Sweden? Laarson did the Airplane and he's recognizable, so Dave O'Brien called it Laarson's goal, but it seemed on the fourth replay that the guys manning the replay machine tried to make it as obvious as possible, slowing the replay down dramatically as Melberg's white Nike touched the ball as Laarson's gold Adidas missed it. Of course it was never mentioned because Marcello was breathlessly mentioning that England's streak of not beating Sweeden since 1968 would continue. That is the second or third time I've seen the reply guys lob a softball to the guys in the booth that could have resulted in some much closer analysis only to have them wiff it. What is going on here? Are you telling me that there's no meeting after the game where the replay guys have their say? Can't ESPN fix this? It's clear that the only commentator who would have caught that would have been The Big Y. Tommy Smyth, too bad the others aren't taking his example.

Regarding that useless stat about England not beating Sweden since 1968, I think it satisfied the only three people who care about stats like that: a guy I go to law school with named Hallerz, Joe Buck and the American producer of the World Cup coverage who is in charge of feeding the broadcast team stats that are meant to have historical weight to make the game more accessable for casual American fans.

My problem is this: there's no connection between that stat and the current teams. Did the England players lay their hearts on the line to beat Sweden for the first time in 38 years? Did Sweeden say before the game, "Ok we win or we draw, there's no way were letting them beat us, ya?" Did either of them even know about that stat? I'm going to guess that even the casual American fan demographic doesn't care about historical stats becasue for the same reason.

I'm a casual hockey and NBA fan and I can't stand stats like: "the Carolina Hurricanes' coach has coached two game 7's, won one and lost one" (With DIFFERENT TEAMS). Or: "no Eastern conference team has given up a 3 games to 2 lead over a Western Conference team in the NBA finals after loosing the first two and then winning three straight." I'm guessing this all stems from stats like "The Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series since JP Dellacamra was just a twinkle in the eye of Satan and a Circus Acrobat named Venta the Voluptous."

But, a franchise's history has no bearing or relevance for current players. It does for long-standing fans, but for the most part these stats are negative and only cause those long standing fans more pain. Meatballs at ESPN, I'm watching...and I'm hungry.

On a side note, since I'm in Chicago I figured I'd just throw in the fact that the Cubs haven't won a world series because they suck. The team owners know that they don't need to field a competitive team because wrigley is enough of a draw in itself that at this point they could field the entire cast and crew of Two and Half Men (including the little kid), and still sell out the season to their Big-Ten frat and sorority based drunken bufoon fan-base:

Freakin' Meatballs.

Eating Edamae while wearing Pajamas,

Monday, June 19, 2006

Nostradamus was a chick?!?

It seems that way following 16 more matches and yet more domination from the Swedish sensation (I assume she's at least part Swedish) Elin Ljung

Here's the standings for the MacKenzie Low Budget World Cup Pool after the second matches
Name [C.S/C.R./I./Points]
Elin Ljung --6/19/7/37
Brent McCafferty --5/14/13/29
Bruce MacKenzie --5/13/14/28
Ben MacKenzie --5/12/15/27
Simon MacKenzie --2/18/12/24
Krista Johnson --2/17/13/23
Brandon McCafferty --2/16/14/22
Matt MacKenzie --1/18/13/21

Crazy good, no? Elin has not missed a single result in 3 groups (A, C, D) and has only really struggled with one (Group E, where she let her patriotism get the better of her (but we all did, so she's excused)). Meanwhile Brent, Bruce and I went on runs this weekend thanks largely to a strange run of 2-0 matches. Matt once again trails the pack, but, he remains on correctly predicted score away from jumping back into things.

Once again two things to keep in mind as we launch into the final raft of matches before round two
Worst storyline of the last matches: France...lousy, lousy France. If you're looking for comedy call up Simon and ask him to portray the French coach for you. "Trezuget? Treza-who? Golly! Bon juwer! Jeesh!" ah, typing can't do it justice. Trust me it's a blend of Jean-Claude Van Damme and an annoying 3rd grader...high comedy.

Best storyline of the last matches: Ghana finally, mercifully, pulling an upset. I know that having lived in the gold coast and having seen the Black Stars play live that I might be biased, but you've got to love the excitement surrounding a team that played well against Italy and really outclassed the Czechs. It also led to this conversation between Brent and I on Saturday morning.
Ben: "Dude!"
Brent: "I know."
Ben: "I can't believe they're going to do this."
Brent: "I know."
Ben: "Dude..."
Brent: "Yeah...?"
Ben: "They're going to crush the U.S."
Brent: "Oh, yeah."
I will post any trash talking e-mails from my Ghanaian friend Kwasi, just as soon as he sends one.

Here we go Black Stars, here we go!


Thursday, June 15, 2006


Oneupsmanship at its worst...

When Brent tries to combine blogging and ranking things it leads to sobs and cries from the nether regions of the blogosphere. But, never one to let Brent claim sole credit for irrationally foisting his opinion on everyone I set out to accomplish something even more daring. Writing a blog and ranking MEANINGLESS things.

There may be value in insight from a man with a wealth of soccer knowledge at his fingertips, particularly when he illuminates the murky underbelly of World Class Soccer (though if you rub the underbelly of World Class Soccer its tail will wag with glee). There is, however, no value at all in a man with no knowledge of the difficulties of soccer commentary ranking the ESPN soccer commentators. Yet, that's precisely what I'm about to do.

Ranking ESPN's broadcast teams:
4th--Glen Davis and Shep Messing--Harsh, irritating and vaguely moronic. These are two announcers broadcasting from Bristol Connecticut and it's pretty clear that they are suffering from a five second delay. It's like watching the game on mute with your buddies and having them call the game for you. They're not telling you anything you don't already know and, what's worse, after ninety minutes of your buddies yaking you're ready to bludgeon them with congealed ranch dip. Such, is my loathing of Shep Messing.

3rd--Dave O'Brien and Marcelo Balboa--Matt likes these guys and I find them tolerable for the most part. O'Brien is a pretty fair baseball announcer and he's getting his feet under him in terms of soccer. Balboa's pretty intelligent and can offer enlightening comments from time to time. That said, Balboa is also the most negative announcer on the broadcasts and if I hear him talk about "a professional foul" one more time I'll be flying to Germany with my congealed Ranch dip arsenal in order to flail him.

2nd--JP Dellacamera and John Harkes--I actually like Harkes quite a bit. He's intelligent and offers deeper insight into the game than every other color commentator on the crew. The only reason they merit 2nd place is that Dellecammera, the most commonly used soccer announcer in the US remains unctuous and vapid falling into the trap of fixating on one thoroughly unimportant detail when all I want to hear about is the flow of play and who's passing to whom.

1st--Tommy Smyth--There's someone else who broadcasts with Tommy, but it doesn't really matter who it is, because Tommy Smyth (that's Smith, "wid' a 'Y'", as Tommy would say) really is in a class by himself. He doesn't fixate on one thing, flowing along with the game, offering some insight and some comedy alongside it. He develops good banter with whomever he's calling a game with and will usually get excited over the same things that have you on the edge of your seat.

(As long as I'm ranking things here's something else I've been wanting to say)
Least Favorite Player of the Cup: Michael Allback, Swedish Forward. He's come in to two games now, he's had great opportunities in each and he seems to be allergic to finishing. Matt's column about "What Makes a Striker" should be required reading for Allback. Matt could easily finish the chances this guy has had. Heck, my dog with lumps on his stomach could finish the chances this guy has had...and he's a dog...with fatty lumps on his body (which makes him the Ronaldo of the dog world).

Favorite player of the cup (because I do like being Mr. Positive): Christian Mora, Ecuadorian Goalie. This isn't for his talent (though two straight clean sheets isn't shabby), or for his leadership. No, this is because he looks like an 8 year old boy at the county fair. He goes to every game with Ecuadorian flags on his cheeks, it's as if his momma had sat him down in front of a chain smoking, mulleted carnie and asked for a little face paint, then led him onto the field promising McDonald's after the game. So Christian Mora I raise my Happy Meal toy to you, long may your face paint last.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Ladies night...

Here are the standings for the MacKenzie Low Budget World Cup Pool
*3 points for correctly predicting the outcome and score of a game [C.S]
*1 point for correctly predicting the result of the game (win, lose or draw) [C.R]
*0 points for incorrectly predicting anything (including Otto Pfister's return to the Togo national team) [I]

Name [C.S/C.R./I./Points]
Elin Ljung --3/10/3/19
Krista Johnson --1/10/5/13
Ben MacKenzie --1/8/7/11
Brandon McCafferty --1/8/7/11
Simon MacKenzie --1/8/7/11
Brent McCafferty --1/7/8/10
Bruce MacKenzie --1/6/9/9
Matt MacKenzie --0/9/7/9

Look at how thoroughly we're getting thrashed guys! Elin delivers with three big calls for Ecuador, England and Argentina and Krista remains as thoroughly consistent as anybody else. Meanwhile, Matt may be down in the standings but he needs just one correct call to vault up the leader board into third place.

Biggest surprises (to us): NO ONE picked a draw between Trinidad and Sweden, though Krista, Simon and Bruce were brave enough to call for Trinidad wins. Only Elin had Australia beating Japan (I called a draw and everyone else had Japan). Only Simon thought Saudi Arabia would hold Tunisia to a draw, everyone else had the Carthage Eagles trouncing the House of Saud.

Easiest call: Brent, Bruce and I all picked up 3 points for Holland's 1-0 win over Serbia and Montenegro. Brazil and Germany got everyone 1 point.

Stay tuned for Brent's 32 team power rankings, and remember it's not about who wins and loses a friendly World Cup's about who can talk the most smack about the others.


Monday, June 12, 2006

Heartbreaking Normalcy


If you read Brent's post earlier today (and shame on you if you didn't), you probably noticed the vague hinting of expectant disappointment. Sure, we love soccer. Sure, we're patriotic. Sure, we want our national team to do as well as they possibly can. But deep down, even as the studio crew proclaimed that the US could (or would) win their first match, I'm pretty sure most American soccer fans knew this was going to be tough.

And it was. The left side collapsed like an 8 year old's Lincoln logs and Jan Koller giggle of a header made it 1 nil. 'Gooch tried to clear it away and we got a shot to the nuts from Rosicky (metaphorically speaking) making it 2 nil. By the time the last goal went in my whole house was staring blankly at the screen trying to force the Yanks forward. Zombified by the dullness of Landon/Demarcus and co. there was nothing else to do but wait for the smack down to be over.

But then it all started again. Matt, his fiancee Julia and I all had lunch at a Ghanaian restaurant and for the first half all was going well, we could survive without a goal, just so long as Italy remained impotent. We could survive with Kingston trying to play midfield, just so long as the defense kept slicing out balls with a veterinarian's precision. But a savvy play off the corner chilled the whole crowds spirits, and the Italian sensibility of "Hey! I go do what you want, I'm going to stand in the backfield and smoke and just wait to stop you outside the box" deadened a lot of real hope. And when it seemed that a foul in the area would bring on a PK, Ghana didn't get it. And when it seemed like another foul in the area would bring on another PK, Ghana still didn't get it. And while Africans and scruffy Americans were muttering about Juventus and match fixing Italy got another goal and the untrained eye saw the cream rising above the chaff.

It was a heartbreaking day. Especially for those of us romantics who dream of a New Soccer World Order. A place where Asia and Africa and North America can whip Europe and South America on any given day. A place where Iranians and Tobaggoans and Ghanaians and Ivorians and Australians and yes, yes, even Americans can reach out and nearly grab the greatest trophy of them all. But it's all so heartbreakingly normal. The powers that be survive, and the powers that could be are denied. I'm just too fond of dreaming to wake up to reality. Now if you'll excuse me it's only 13 hours until South Korea plays Togo and I'm going back to idealism.


A Newspaperman's Field Day

In his last post, Ben spoke about the inability of World Cup color commentators to resist making puns from foreign player's names. It's no surprise, then, that they are absolutely LOVING the Czech Republic. Let's take a look at just a few of the homonymic gems ESPN has produced in the last three days:

-Reality Czech
-Gut Czech
-Baggage Czech
-Czechered Past
-This Is One Czech The United States Hopes WILL Bounce
-You Better Czech Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
-Don't Let Your Mouth Write A Czech Your Ass Can't Cash

The list goes on and on, but the point is this: We're actually getting more interesting headlines in the World Cup than we do day to day, because writers finally have the opportunity to write about teams they don't cover year-round. (As opposed to, say, the Phoenix Suns. After you've done "Sun Setting On Phoenix Squad" or "New Suns Rising In The West" about 20 times, it begins to feel somewhat repetitive.) Bottom line: Thank you, World Cup, for giving American journalists a chance to concoct new, punchier headlines.

But enough about media coverage...did anyone watch the Japan vs. Australia game this morning? After about 80 minutes of the match I was ready to declare Japan one of the two best teams I've seen thus far in the tournament(along with Holland). They possessed the ball like Brazilians, never played wishful British longballs, and halted every offensive buildup by the Aussies. Then, in a span of only eight minutes, they turned into Havarti cheese, letting Cahill in for two strikes and Aloisi in for another. Much as I love goal-minded soccer, Ben was right to pick strong defensive teams to advance to the later rounds of the tournament. Japan had a superlative, possession-based offense, but, as predicted by Nakata two weeks ago, they let in some of the most inexcusable goals in the Cup. Unless Japan imports the backline of Serbia and Montenegro, they're done, and I'm calling it right now.

Hopefully I won't be saying the same about the United States in two hours. With kickoff just 30 minutes away, I have dozens of question about our team, not the least of which is this: Will DeMarcus Beasley in any way best, or even match, his play in 2002? Of late he's played great defense, but he seems to lack confidence going forward, and his wing has produced essentially nothing in the last few friendlies. Though I never thought I'd say this four years ago, or even two months ago, I would feel much better about a United States lineup that includes Bobby Convey on the left rather than Beasley. All you DeMarcus Beasley-lovers out there may now commence stoning me with small rocks.

In closing, because I love ranking things, I'm giving my take on the strength of the teams that've played thus far, from worst to first (and, yes, thanks to the magic of Meghan Cook's Tivo, I have indeed watched every minute of every match):

9. Angola: Before the Cup began, most people picked Angola as the weakest overall team, and, despite my love of African soccer, I have to agree. They just don't seem capable of scoring one, let alone multiple, goals. Moreover, despite the fact that Portugal only scored one goal, Angola gave the Portuguese about 6,000 chances.

8. Sweden: I already wish I hadn't picked Sweden to take group B. They play the kind of soccer I absolutely hate: drab, lob-it-over-the-top-of-the-defense-and-hope-someone-runs-onto-it nonsense. If Cantona's admonition of "Joga Bonita" ("Play Beautiful") is to manifest itself in Germany, we need this Swedish side ousted as soon as possible.

7. Japan: Like I said above, I think they're done, cooked, finito.

6. Trinidad And Tobago: If their defense is "shaky," their offense is downright apoplectic.

5. Paraguay: They play a Brazilian style of football, but without any of the Brazilians' skill.

4. England: They could (and should) improve, because they have more talent than anyone in the Cup besides Brazil and Holland, but right now they look discombobulated and uncertain of what they're doing. Without Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and David Beckham (i.e. their midfield), they'd've lost the match against Paraguay and probably wouldn't make it out of group play. As you can see, I'm not a big fan of ANY of the teams in group B.

3. Australia: They've got goal-scoring ability, and, though they play really ugly soccer, I would enjoy seeing their goofy fans for another round or two. If Tim Cahill stays healthy, it might happen, too.

2. Germany: Sure their defense looks lethargic, but I see them scoring at least two goals a game from here on out. When Ballack comes back, they'll be even better, though not quite as good as....

1. Holland: I am LOVING my championship pick right now. Though I realize Holland only beat Serbia and Montenegro 1-0, consider the fact that the Serbs hadn't given up a goal in about 700 minutes of qualifying play. The Dutch possessed the ball with superb skill, and if I had to pick the 11 players with the best first touches thus far in the Cup, I'd take the Dutch starting 11 (van der Saar included). Viva las naranjas y, en algunos minutos, viva Los Estados Unidos! Hasta luego!

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Jai Lewis, Shaq, the World Series...and soccer

So at the close of day 2 in the World Cup at least one thing has become painfully obvious.

In an attempt to make soccer more accessible to mainstream America, announcers are comparing it to any other popular American Sport. For examples consider the following gems from today's commentary.

J.P. Dellecamera (on Trindiad & Tobago): They're like a 16 seed beating a One seed, eh John (Harkes, co-commentator). [Harkes says nothing] Yeah...just like that. [Harkes says nothing] Trinidad & Tobago, just like George Mason [Harkes gets back to the game].

Shep Messing (on Didier Drogba): Argentina's playing, like, a box-in-one against Drogba to keep him away from the goal. Just like the Mavericks put on Shaquille O'Neal in the NBA Finals.

Shep Messing (in the 61st minutes of Argentina's win): This is like, the seventh inning of a World Series's...important.

So the World Cup is JUST LIKE all sorts of I wonder, when the Super Bowl's broadcast in foriegn countries do those announcers make similies to soccer?
"Tom Brady completes a pass and the receiver goes streaking down the sideline, just like if David Beckham had played a through ball to Michael Owen...right? Right?"

Big ups to Trinidad! (And consolations to the IVC, Henrik, Zatlan and Freddy)

Day 1: What we learned...

Opening match day is always a time to celebrate. A time to come together. A time for giant inflatable balloon creature manufacturers around the world to cheer! Also...they play some soccer.

Such was the case yesterday, and here are a few things to take away from the matches.
1) Germany likes the long kicks (and they do it pretty well). Witness: 40 yards of blistering speed from Herr Fringes. Witness: 20 yards of back breaking arching doom from Herr Lahm. Witness: Jurgen Klinsmenn dancing about like an idiot on the sidelines.

2) ESPN likes using foriegn players names as puns. KLOSE Encounter. KLOSE Call. KLOSE One. Put some friggin' KLOSE on! (wait, that last one wasn't used).

3) Minnesota theme parks have a surprising number of Ecuadorian immigrants. I watched the second game in a restaurant during a field trip to Valley Fair (I assume noone was injured during that time). All the waiters/bus boys/off duty park employees would halt whatever they were doing to watch any chance that went towards the box. After one goal it was a mad house, after the second passersby came in to see exactly how a roller coaster sized yell could come from a dingy dining hole. Long story short, I enjoyed that game, a lot more than I thought I would.

Today, we get set for more valuable life lessons, and perhaps the secret to David Beckham's coiffure.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Picks for Everyone!!

Here now the predictions for everyone who has entered the MacKenzie Low Budget World Cup pool to this point:

Group A: Costa Rica (CRC), Ecuador (ECU), Germany (GER), Poland (POL

Group B: England (ENG), Paraguay (PAR), Sweden (SWE), Trinidad & Tobago (T&T)

Group C:Argentina (ARG), Holland (HOL), Ivory Coast (IVC), Serbia & Montenegro (S&M)

Group D: Angola (ANG), Iran (IRN), Mexico (MEX), Portugal (POR)

Group E: Czech Republic (CZE), Ghana (GHA), Italy (ITA), USA (USA)

Group F: Australia (AUS), Brazil (BRA), Croatia (CRO), Japan (JAP)

Group G: France (FRA), South Korea (SK), Switzerland (SWI), Togo (TOG)

Group H: Saudi Arabia (SA), Spain (SPA), Tunisia (TUN), Ukraine (UKR)

BRENT: Holland/Brazil/Portugal/Czech Rep
MATT: England/Argentina/Brazil/France
BRANDON: Portugal/Germany/Brazil/France
BEN: Brazil/Holland/England/Czech Rep.
KRISTA:Czech Rep./Brazil/England/Argentina
ELIN: Czech Rep./Hol/Sweden/USA
JEFF: *France as champions*

Most shocking pick:
BRENT: England goes nowhere and Sweden hits the Quarters
MATT: Sweden over Germany in the Round of 16
BRANDON: Poland into the Quarterfinals
BEN: Iran/Paraguay/Australia/Serbia & Montenegro all crash Knockout stages
BRUCE: The US takes home a medal
SIMON: Ivory Coast survives the Group of Death and makes the Quarters
KRISTA: Trinidad & Tobago beat Germany to get to the Quarters
ELIN: Brazil wins their group but doesn't make it to the Quarters

Best quotes so far:
Krista Johnson (Journalist--Hall, Montana): "I'm so excited for this thing I'm clearing the Tivo now."

Jeff Shehan (US Air Force): "I got to go with Zidane and the French team since I'm in France right now...even though they are stuck up ***s who wear berets, eat baguettes, and drink a lot of wine...j/k"

Brent McCafferty (University of Great Falls): "Angola, Czech Republic, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Serbia & Montenegro, Togo, Trinidad & Tobago, and the Ukraine are the only teams in the draw who have never lost a World Cup match. So, logically, you know the champion's got to come from that pool of eight."

Kwasi Gyasi-Gyamerah (University of Ghana): "Are you Americans ready for a sound thrashing at the hands of almighty Ghana while we make our world cup debut in the next couple of weeks? Did you see our friendly against Turkey? how about the 4-1 against Jamaica? Guys get ready for a repeat of the Jamaica dose."

World Cup! Hooray!!

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

DE-fense (stompstompstomp) DE-fense (stompstompstomp)

Admittedly, that's a rather banal chant, however, it is appropriate given what I'm about to discuss, namely: my picks.

My picks: 1st--Germany/2nd--Poland/3rd--Costa Rica/4th--Ecuador
Defense: Okay this is pretty simple to do. Germany's the host nation and that's usually good for two more wins than they actually deserve. Poland is in to prove that an average European side is still a little better than an average Central/South American side. Costa Rica misses out by one point because I North America's never sent three teams through the first round. Ecuador goes home crying because they've only won at home and, as I learned in Geography class. Ecuador is not Germany.

Group B
My picks: 1st--England/2nd--Paraguay/3rd--Sweden/4th--Trinidad & Tobago
Defense: England's pretty obvious, even without Rooney. As for Paraguay, they've added scoring punch (Roque Santa Cruz) to one of the best defenses in recent cups. A string of two straight second round qualifications should be stretched to three. And while Sweden didn't allow many goals in qualifying that's mostly due to Andreas Isaakson not the defense, and playing England/Paraguay is a little different from Malta/Iceland (more of that Geography paying off). And I dropped T&T to the bottom because bead based economies rarely perform well at the World Cup

Group C
My picks: 1st--Holland/2nd--Serbia & Montenegro/3rd--Ivory Coast/4th--Argentina
Defense: Holland's gelling well as a team and has eliminated a lot of older talent that bogged down past teams like France in '02 (also I like clogs). I'm trusting Serbia & Montenegro's defense (Dragutinovic, Vidic, Krastjic, and Gavrancic--dubbed "The Famous Four" by many and "Very Itchy" by me) which allowed 1 goal in all of European qualifying to continue the trend. Ivory Coast gets third based on a surprising draw with Argentina, while Messi and co. get whipped at home because after said surprising draw in the first match, they play tense against S&M and fall and before they know it they're limping home against the Dutch. (This is also influenced by my affection for Drogba's dancing and my distaste for dirty Argentines).

Group D
My Picks: 1st--Mexico/2nd--Iran/3rd--Portugal/4th--Angola
Defense: Welcome to the Group of Death Soap Opera: Angola, spurned by Roderick and 99% of the sporting world, plays Portugal first. In their last "friendly" 5 Angolans were sent off with Red Cards (largely due to scratching, clawing and evening gown ripping). I'm guessing there's at least one red and Portugal, battling demonic possession of their own, fight back to lose one of theirs or have a key player get hurt. Either way a team that's been bickering pretty regularly (see "Big Phil" Scolari V. Cristiano Ronaldo) will be playing on tilt against Iran, lose a shocker, then only manage a draw against Mexico, hence...Mexico and the whole cast of Destinos wins, Iran, to the embarrassment of world leaders, goes on, Portugal goes home and Angola runs off with Jett AND Blade in a season ending Shocker!

Group E
My picks: 1st--Czechs/2nd--USA/3rd--Italy/4th--Ghana
Defense: Ready for more Ben crazy talk? Italy, under scrutiny (betting scandal) stress (changing style of football) and the weather (defense not up to par) draws with Ghana, then do the same with the US and shuffles their way home losing to a Czech side that gallops through the 2nd group of death. The US is in the right place at the right time (sound familiar?) and Ghana takes three goals in three matches + one point from Italy as a moral victory and heads home happy.

Group F
My picks: 1st--Brazil/2nd--Australia/3rd--Japan/4th--Croatia
Defense: Brazil's in with ease and Croatia is dead to me...DEAD!! (If you don't like it, take it up with Davor Suker). Japan's lack of striking prowess means they come up short to an Aussie team led by wundercoach Guus Hiddink (his teams have made the semis in the last two world cups: Holland '98/South Korea '02). Bank on 90 more minutes of OZZIE OZZIE OZZIE! Oi oi oi! than anyone really wants.

Group G
My picks: 1st--France/2nd--Swiss/3rd--South Korea/4th--Togo
Defense: Aging, confused, bewildered France comes out of the gate with a draw and scrambles to pick up the pieces (succeeding where Argentina/Portugal/Italy failed). But the draw means the Swiss (who's midfield includes the always good on grass, Roger Federer) take an easy win over Togo and shut down in defense to stymie South Korea's attempt to sneak into the 2nd round. And poor Togo has the consolation prize of returning to a dictatorial regime...sooooo...that's fun.

Group H
My picks: 1st--Ukraine/2nd--Spain/3rd--Tunisia/4th--Saudi Arabia
Defense: Okay, I'm backing Schevchenko and his model-catching, strife-ending, goal-scoring, Chelsea-going hair cut to wrap up first place (continuing the tradition of great results for great hair (see: Jairzhino '70, Valderamma/Baggio '94 and Clint Mathis '02) including a big win over Spain in the first match). I'm resisting the temptation to add Spain to my list of improbable upsets so they sneak past Tunisia (happy to get their first win at the cup). Meanwhile Saudi Arabia...uh... yeah...they have a team...good for them!

Round of 16: Paraguay over Germany (stunner), Holland over Iran (easy), England over Poland (cruise), Serbia and Montenegro over Mexico (Great defense beats good attacking), Czechs over the Aussies (no more Ozzie!Ozzie!Ozzie! (oioioi!) mercifully), France over Spain (because I took French/not Spanish), Brazil over the Us (I'm patriotic, not stupid), Ukraine over Switzerland (Andriy's run continues)

Quarters: Holland over Paraguay (the madness stops), Czechs over France (because I took French, but I'm not stupid), England over Serbia and Montenegro (when Rooney comes back and enters folklore by beating the Famous 4), Brazil over the Ukraine ('dinhio over 'chenko)

Semis: Holland over Czechs (I'm picking blindly at this point), Brazil over England (safe route)

Consolation: England over Czechs

Finals: Brazil over Holland.

Okay, as far as the ending goes I'm not happy with it...I feel like with everyone picking Brazil they're sure not to win. But I don't know enough about Holland or the Czechs, and England's too...Englandy...none of the Quarter finalists strike my fancy either and I'm not going back to stick Argentina/Portugal/Italy in here just because I'm not sure. So I'll take Brazil and then sit back and enjoy whatever final we end up getting.


Monday, June 05, 2006

What Makes a Striker?

I'll tell you this, Ronaldinho has it, and more.

Hi, my name is Matt, and I'm a choke-a-holic.

The problem throughout my time playing striker is this: I can't finish. Last weekend in a co-ed match, I spurned a gilt-edged chance for the 4th straight game. My friend Nick scored 5 goals in that game. I've scored twice all season.

I cut my teeth playing in the midfield and make a nice pass from time to time, but I've played more minutes as a forward than as a midfielder (thanks to my indie-guitar-waif frame and defensive ineptitude). When presented with a yard of space and a chance to score: I hesitate, I think, I try to place the ball around the keeper. Instinctually, I always have. It's not a totally worthless instinct, the same instinct that causes me to hesitate in front of goal affords the time to measure the proper weight of a pass out of midfield.

Ever since I started playing striker--and choking worse than David Brent during Comic Relief Day at Wernam-Hogg--I've found myself wondering how a true goal-scorer puts the ball in the back of the net on the order of 5(Nick) to 1(me). The question comes to this: is a true striker born or made?

Answer: Born.

The evidence supporting my argument for this answer is anecdotal, observational and dubious at best. If I were a real goal scorer, this would probably piss me off. I would probably think to myself, "Oi, I work damn hard to score my goals/develop my craft/kick ass the way I do/break my metataral" then I would think, "I'm going to put this Stephen Malkmus-wanabee ( into a dumpster."

However, the real-goal-scoring me would be wrong. The choke-artist me is right. No doubt goal scorers work hard, but everybody does. They've got something that sets them apart and in their practice and preparation it is sharpened. A striker is, after all, the "tip of the spear."

That something is an instinct. Just like my instinct to take a moment to evaluate my options, it's something that a player just has. A goal scorer has the instinct NOT to hesitate, NOT to think, NOT to try to place the ball around the keeper. The true goal scorer shoots and forces the keeper to make the save. Like Antoine Walker recieving a pass anywhere inside the opposing team's half a striker shoots first and asks questions later.

My list of the best strikers in the world: (1. Shevchenko, 2. Rooney, 3. Henry) is also a list of the three players I would argue have the most finely developed goal scoring instincts in the world. Van Nielsterooy is a poacher supreme, as are Crespo and Inzaghi. The Brazilians Ronaldo, Adriano and Robinho have the instincts as well but aren't quite at the level of the other three (at least, not right now.) If you watch any of the goals those three forwards scored in the just completed club season, I'd be willing to wager that the majority of the time they shoot without hesitation and force the keeper to try to do his job (unsuccessfully).

However, I think the distinction between these two instincts, is best expressed by two plays from the same player. The best player in the world at the moment: Ronaldinho.

His goal scoring instinct put Barcelona through to the quarterfinals of the champions league as the no. 10 beat three Chelsea defenders (including going shoulder to shoulder with England's pillar of defense John Terry and staying on the ball) and firing the ball low, hard and nearly directly at Peter Cech and into the back of the net. No hesitation at all (note his post-goal celebration above).

His passing instincts put Barcelona through to the final. In the semifinals against Milan, Ronaldinho held the ball from Genarro Gattuso, paused a moment and placed a deliciously weighted ball into the path of Ludovich Guiliy who (in a moment of pure goal-scoring instinct) fired past Dida to send Barcelona to the final.

The best player in the world has both instincts AND the ability to call on them as the moment dictates. Which makes him the best.

Thankfully we'll have a chance to see them all in a few days, on the worlds largest stage, and you can see just how right I am.

Again, Junior Mints are always appreciated.

(photo credit to, it is copyrighted by Getty Images)

Sunday, June 04, 2006


Why we're here

As you have seen from the first column dashed off by lead striker "Edamaepyjamas" (or as the rest of us know him, "Matt"), there is a typical presentation to be found in blogs. Whether they relate to the status of your relationship, your career or your politics you can certainly use this space, or any space to register your discontent with the world.

Which puts you in good company.

Witness: ESPN programming between the hours of 2-4 PM Mountain Standard Time (3-5 Central). (We're Montana boys who've spent time in the Midwest, perpetuating the great Missouri/Mississippi River Bias). Where the basic structure of programming entails: Two men yell at each other, one man yells at the screen, five men yell at each other, two men yell at each other.

Witness: Any "24-Hour-News" channel, which, at any moment now, may break away from pundits you've never heard of shrieking about something you don't understand to cover the actual news.

Witness: C-Span...or C-Span 2 ("The Deuce" to the kids)

However, being an out of the ordinary kind of guy, I'm happy to take on the "creating midfielder" role. Allow me to play Claudio Renya to my brother Matt's, Brian "Always a McBridesmaid, Never a" McBride. Allow me to float the cross in, to push the through pass, to, from time to time, wigout without warning. Mine will be the space with smiles and laughs and inappropriate nicknames for players I don't know, just waiting for my colleagues (and there will be more joining soon) to slam home.

Welcome to the Montanan Hooligans' World Cup Center. Where we don't scream incessantly, because we can't afford to.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Pre-Cup Thoughts

Every blog I've every read has been cranky. So here's my cranky blog.

I have several smoldering questions, only a few of which could be described as burning, running through my mind on the eve of the world cup.

1.) The most pertinent questions revolve around the response to the world cup among the actual populace of the US. Is it more or less popular than the media coverage it recieves would suggest? Is it equivalent?

There's no way to tell this without enlisting Zogby to throw down a few polls, but he's busy getting ready for the midterms, so instead you should just listen to me. The number of people who watch the world cup, or want to, in the US this summer will be the highest number in history. The investment the event will recieve from the network broadcasting it will be roughly equivalent to the investment the network will put into the WNBA playoffs. There will be no half-hour dedictaed studio show, though we will be treated to John Kruk's brilliant analysis of Phil Nevin's first week with the Cubs, as well as Skip Bayless, Woody Paige and Jim Rome doing their best Bill O'Reily impressions. My guess: one snydely presented highlight segment per sportscenter for the length of the tournament including: a.) one or two goals, b.) one or two fans who made incredibly poor wardrobe choices, and c.) one or two fouls/dives. This will be followed by a Tommy Smyth live shot sponsored by Coors, Miller Lite or the Home Depot where he answers two or three questions which will be marginally relevant to the interesting stories from the tournament (David Beckham's hair/wife is sure to make an appearance here) in his wee little accent and the anchors chuckle about David Hasslehoff. Only the best from the worldwide leader. If I'm right, you guys owe me a case of Junior Mints, deal? Deal. Blogging is awesome!

2.) Are the greater number of articles on about the world cup just an illustration of 4 years of growth for the company and in the technology?

4 years ago, if someone would have told you to check out their blog you would have a.) shrilly shrieked "How dare you!" and hit them with your purse b.) laughed quietly and smiled indicating you got the joke, the desparation in your eyes a dead giveaway of your social ineptitude or c.) pull a Josh Caldwell and walk away from the practice field crying because you suck so much. That's right I said it. Again, this is related to question number one, the special section on the website and the articles are a function of the technology and bleed-over from the soccernet site which is designed with Europeans in mind.

3.) Can the US make it out of their group?

Call me bold, call me un-patriotic, call me a dick, but I don't think they make it out. I'd love it if they proved me wrong, I'd be overjoyed, but from an objective standpoint this group is a far sight more difficult than Group D was in 2002, where we took second to South Korea after a shock upset of Portugal and getting waxed by the eventual bottom feeders of the group Poland 3-1. Anything can happen of course, but Italy the Czechs and Ghana could all shut us down. The biggest factor tipping the scales in my mind is the pressure. In 2002, these guys had nothing to loose, now in the brightest media spotlight they've been under (albeit a light powered by soft 60-watt bulbs instead of those shitty glowsticks they were using before) but nonetheless you're telling me they don't feel more pressure to prove to the country that soccer is a viable sport and to the rest of the world that 2002 wasn't a fluke? I hope I'm wrong but, I gotta go with steven colbert and go with my gut on this one. Donovan takes a dump in dusselberg and the US finishes either 3 or 4 in the group.

Happy Saturday,

Cranky Edamame-Pyjama Pants