Moving Shop (Update your bookmarks)

Well, it finally happened. Someone extended an invite to be a contributor to a multi-pundit blog, which gives me a chance to get out of the sole proprietor gig I’ve been doing for the past year or so. Call this a dream come true, my shot at getting out of the “feed-the-beast” grind that is hosting a one-man blog. (What can I say? I dream small - y’know, aim for the ceiling, slip on the way up and fall on that plate smeared with ketchup and so on.)

In all seriousness, I’m looking forward to moving to a new space, one where I’ll feel more comfortable posting less often and, hopefully, better. Can’t say for sure I’ll even stick to the less often, but it feels like the opportunity is there. And I’ll leave it to all y’all to pass judgment on the “better.”

As happens every time I shut down a space I’ve operated for a while - even the several ruthlessly destroyed - I feel a bit conflicted about moving on. I’ve done some decent work here, flirted with some nifty editorial concepts, and so on. I mean, do you remember that one time? Yeah, me too. That was so great! Ah, memories...getting a little choked up....a minute....please...

It’s time to mosey. Unless something changes, or some weird kind of inspiration strikes, this will be the final post on It’s a Simple Game. The site will hang around as a testament to its own existence, but this should be it.

Look for my future jottings at Center Holds It - and do check out the “about” page on that site and marvel at The Simpsons' ability to make you smile even as it mocks the game you love...those were the days, right? (By the way, some guy rated the top five all-time Simpsons episodes; for what it’s worth, I think he did a hell of a job. I think the show went stale a couple years back, but, damn, was that a brilliantly funny show.)

Well, good night Sweet Blog. We’ll always have the day I discovered video.

Hope to see you soon and please update your bookmarks.

New England Muggles Overturn Wizards

Ah, my first Harry Potter headline...(cough..cough...nerd!...cough).

Last night’s MLS Primetime match-up suggested at least one thing about the Eastern Conference race: the New England Revolution holds the better hand. Add a win on Saturday/Sunday (forgive the vagueness; I’m forcing myself to go on memory) against DC United and the Revs look a lot like the early favorite for the Eastern title.

Good we have to endure another Houston Dynamo/New England MLS Cup. Ugh...chasing that chilling vision of the future from my head...gimme a minute...

Like it or not, the Revs looked good and solid last night (and I’m OK with that). Even if one believes (as I do) that the visiting Kansas City Wizards had the better of the first half, the Revs’ back-three-plus-Matt-Reis limited them to long-range shots on goal; a corner or four or five got the ball in the area, but there wasn’t a lot of penetration. More impressive, though, was the reappearance of New England’s oft-forgotten “passing game”: for the first time in a while, the Revs managed the ball well and with some measure of patience.

But it was the inability of the Wizards to defend as high as they normally do, particularly as the game went on, that defined this game; Shalrie Joseph picking up the ball, turning unimpeded, and abruptly keying the Revs from defense to offense serves as the relevant image. ESPN’s on-air crew noted another piece: the frequency with which either Steve Ralston or Khano Smith enjoyed wide-open spaces on either flank. By the end of the game, “Here come the Revolution” sounded every minute or so, speaking to the siege of KC’s defensive third.

The Wizards, however, retained the aspect of a valid challenger: the Revs held only a one-goal lead for most the game and, in spite of their general attacking advantage, they didn’t put produce that many clear-cut chances. In the earlier part of the game, KC bunkered New England in their end; that’s something, even if they couldn’t break them down. By the second half, the Revs - led by Michael Parkhurst and Jeff Larentowicz - either disrupted the majority of chances before the second pass, or forced defenders to charge far upfield in search of new openings, but the Wizards had enough chances - not to mention one near-miss I mistook for a goal - to pick up a result. They’re good enough for the post-season, no question - unless they don’t keep their heads.

And so it goes: the Revs continue as a contender thanks to the combination of being hard to beat while possessing the personnel to capitalize on a few openings. A great example of this comes in the person of Ralston: at the tail end of one of his worst games I can recall, he plays a perfect ball to Adam Christman, Revs score, game over. At their best, the Revs are just lethal like that.

Some other more specific, yet random observations:

- Michael Parkhurst really does kick ass. So smart, so unflappable, so capable...more on this later.

- I’m finally getting Jeff Larentowicz: even if he’s a little limited going the other way, he’s a fairly capable destroyer.

- That KC was limited to outside shots wouldn’t have mattered so much if more of them looked like Jack Jewsbury’s slicing shot, the one time I thought the Wizards had actually scored. Unfortunately, most the Wizards’ shots went stratospheric.

- What has happened to Carlos Marinelli? He’s like a magician whose deck of cards spilled out of his sleeve. Here I thought he was going to be huge for the Wizards. He may yet, of course, but the Revs sure as hell had him figured.

- Eddie Johnson, Eddie Johnson, Eddie Johnson...what the hell to think, right? Early in the game, he pops the ball to an opening and lashes a quality shot past Avery John; the rest of the game, he gets stood up and....that’s it. He either dropped the ball miles back to a KC defender, or got the ball picked off in making the attempt. Makes one think it’s too easy to get into his head and frustrate him. Johnson needs to correct that.

- Speaking of forwards, Pat Noonan: dang, I like that cat. I like the subtle difference to his game, that little thing that sets him apart from other strikers. Now that he's fit again, I'd really like to see him in the National Team pool to see whether his schtick works in the Bigs.

- When Khano Smith is on, he’s pretty damned fun to watch. I’m tempted to call that 70-yard breakout run, which ended with a great shot on goal and a solid save by KC ‘keep Kevin Hartman as the game’s turning point.

- Speaking of Hartman, LA was friggin’ dumb to let him go. He played a great one last night. Near as I can tell, he gifts the opposition about two goals per season, but is otherwise remains one of the league’s best.

What Is Beckham?

"David Beckham's not here just to play soccer," said David Flores, who wore an England jersey and made a five-hour drive from San Antonio with two friends. "He's here to sell the league. He should have come with the team just to wave to the crowd and everybody would have understood."

"I understand why he's not playing," Jessica [Anderson] said. "But he's making $250 million to be an ambassador. Why can't he sit on the bench?"

- LA Daily News, 7.31.07 (LINK)

Not to get all existentialist on you, but what is David Beckham? A player? A commodity? Or, as Jessica Anderson put it, an ambassador? Just to throw out two answers to those questions, along with another question: not yet; yes; and, well, should he be?

To begin, there’s a kind of genius to Jessica’s point. With the fallout continuing (even Perez Hilton is getting in on this one) after the Galaxy’s (wise) decision to let Beckham stay at home for the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Superliga tie against FC Dallas, she asks a fair question. How many people went to see FC Dallas in the same spirit as they would cruise Rodeo Drive - e.g. rubber-necking after stars? If just seeing the man is enough, what’s the harm in sitting him on the bench and letting him wave, sign autographs, etc. - even if he’s not playing?

Dammit...more questions...time to move to answers.

I think we can judge Beckham as a brand - e.g. a commodity - at this point: he has been a success, even allowing for the short-term disappointment in Dallas. And with outlets as weird as Access Hollywood and Entertainment Tonight helping to build the brand with a series of fluffy-happy pieces (caught another one last night; don’t ask...OK, we hadn’t switched to Jeopardy yet), that success looks set to continue. But that dives headlong into a familiar question: does that kind of press have Anna-Nicole-style stamina, or is this more of a Paula-Abdul-on-pills flash-in-the-pan?

Given how the size, and, more significantly, the nature of the hype, I’m even beginning to wonder if Beckham even have to play all that well; I mean, will people fascinated by his connection to TomKat even grok when he’s phoning it in? But, I do believe that, at some point, Beckham has to do what he’s here to do - e.g. play the game. At some point, even total ignorance of the sport among the relevant slice of the population won’t cover the fact he’s just standing and waving at the crowd. I mean, even Paris Hilton feels compelled to record a single, right? In some ways, then, I think the ambassador thing is a road traveled for only the shortest distance...and I think, with this weekend’s game in Toronto, we’re as far down there as we want to go.

Turning to the player theme, there’s something about the pressure for Beckham to play that rides the ridge of off-putting and tilts a bit to the alarming side. The day he played in the friendly against Chelsea, a shift in the kind of commodity he was occurred: he went from “brand” to slab of meat. My “mind’s ear” heard echoes of “Dance, Monkey!” That’s kind of the scary side of all this. There are times when I see how Beckham is constantly surrounded by unfamiliar humans doing interviews and photo shoots or being generally pawed, ogled and photographed by the hoi polloi, when I think he’s heard the voice telling him to dance so many times that the response is automatic. He’ll never live up to expectations, so it’s probably lucky that he won’t have to - though that assumes I’m correct on that.

Turning from Beckham “The Whatever the Hell He Is” to what he means to Major League Soccer after he’s gone, one effect already seems in place - though it’s fair to question the extent to which Beckham served as cause. Does anyone remember a year with as many new, mid- (think Juan Pablo Angel) to high- (think Blanco) interest players coming into the league? In a sense, those signings are the red blood cells of professional athletics: it’s the low of a mediocre season trumped by the high of seeing the next New Hope for changing things embodied in this forward or that midfielder. That’s what keeps people coming back: the little changes in personnel, tactics, etc. that promises, if not better things to come, something different at least. Maybe Beckham signing opened the door for all those signings. Maybe Beckham’s less of a player, a commodity, or an ambassador, than he is a lure - though not in the sense I had once believed.

Then again, maybe it was the designated player rule that did all this. I mean, look at all the friggin’ green cards in this league. Maybe all it took was a means of avoiding a massive pay-cut for the apparent appeal of living in the States to pay off.

Any thoughts on this?

Superliga: Semis and Non-Aggression Pacts

We now know the semifinal pairings for the inaugural edition of the Superliga - the LA Galaxy will host DC United, while the Houston Dynamo picked up a tasty rematch against CF Pachuca - but, for whatever reason, I'm still sitting here pondering alternate realities.

Did the possibility of Club America and Monarcas Morelia playing to the required result to see Morelia through to the Superliga semifinals occur to anyone else? Y’know, a bit of Mexican solidarity in a tournament against Los Gringos? As a few noted, this was entirely possible, especially with DC United’s loss to Houston.

Things didn’t turn out that way, of course. But if you’ve ever played Risk and decided to sacrifice yourself in order to gang up on the player a) for whom you and another player share a deep hatred, or b) against whom you are excessively competitive, I’m confident you understand the impulse.

Ah, the way this would have recalled the “squalid non-aggression pact” between Austria and West Germany in the 1982 World Cup (you'll find a brief, unsatisfying discussion in the "first round" section here; I think I picked up "squalid non-aggression pact" from the World Cup 1982 video).

Would it have been sleazy? Yes. Would I have quietly applauded? Yeah...but that’s probably because I can’t think of a game of Risk, Monopoly, Hearts, etc. in which I didn’t play in this same spirit.


NE Stadium Talk: Pull the Trigger, Bob

A lot of people have flagged talk of the New England Revolution getting a new, soccer-specifc home, but I've got a thing or two to add. The location, the “bedroom community” of Somerville, strikes me as a great one, especially given that they’re talking of placing it on the Charlestown-side of Somerville 'cause, if I'm not mistaken, that makes it more central still to Boston-proper. Not only that, but, unless it’s quite a ways north of the T's Red Line, it shouldn’t be bad for mass transit (I can’t speak to driving because, in all my years in Boston, I never once owned a car).

There’s also a kicker to consider: I can’t think of shittier stadium experiences than my several trips to Foxboro. There is no worse soccer venue, or sporting venue in general, that sucks worse, harder, or to less pleasurable effect. Depressing as driving past the last restaurant several miles before the stadium proved to be, it didn’t hold a candle to stepping out of the car in a gigantic parking lot in the middle of the fallow fields of bum-fuck New England. People bashing the proposed stadium in Hillsboro, Oregon have no friggin’ clue how much worse it could be. (For you Portland-metro people out there, I’d put Foxboro on par with building a Portland team’s stadium dead-center between Gaston and Carlton.)

Add the omnipresent stadium security - whose attentions somewhat amazingly detected a guy pouring an airport bottle of booze into his gigantic, over-priced Coke - and you have a completely oppressive atmosphere under a mid-summer sun with 90% humidity. The entire experience featured a long car ride to what amounts to a fucking awful theme park with one ride - and on the days the Revs didn’t play well, the ride fucking sucked. Nothing else to see, nothing else to do - just go there, tail-gate if you’re lucky, catch the game and go home. And the mascots for the damn park are anal-retentive security guards. Rah, rah.

All in all, barring something totally squirrelly about access - and we’re talking totally - a stadium in Somerville would not only vastly improve on Gillette, it could very well be one of the more successful facilities in Major League Soccer.

Pull the trigger, Bob.



Sometimes, good things should simply be shared and appreciated.

The Night Superliga Became Super (Video +)

The only bad thing to say about last night’s eleven goal barn-burner between FC Dallas and the Los Angeles Galaxy in Frisco, Texas was that it would have been better had this been a Major League Soccer (MLS) team facing a Mexican club. After that, it’s all pretty happy....well, unless you tally up the injuries large and small picked up by FC Dallas players. Or if you’re a fan of competent defending.

Speaking of, if you haven’t seen the highlights, they’re well worth the gander. Though people made anxious by loose marking and nearly-free headers would be wise to skip ‘em.

Naturally, any game that cranked out goals in patches produces a slew of talking points, not least because, as Dan Loney wrote, this one had "everything but defense." But nothing is getting attention like Landon Donovan’s “throat-slashing” celebration after scoring the Los Angeles Galaxy’s fifth goal. One doesn’t have to travel too widely to find a range of opinion, from Buzz Carrick’s shocked and appalled, through Sideline Views’ toleration, to MLS Underground’s salute to controversy (and there’s more chatter still in the comments field).

As for me, put me in the "half-Carrick" camp: shocked, but not appalled. My wife can attest to the fact I was shocked; my jaw, literally, dropped when I saw it, not least because I remember the hub-bub this, um, practice created in the NFL. I suspect Donovan will get fined and I’m OK with that too; the league ought to support correct behavior, at least to a point (one that shouldn’t, as I see it, extend to calling the refs idiots when warranted). In the end, though, I’m also not all that bothered; I don’t care about the little publicity it generates, questions of class, etc. Fine him and any other player who does the throat-slash thing (and, while you’re at it, ditch the fine for taking off the shirt) and move on.

Turning to the game, though, several points of interest abound, not a few of them dealing with the long-term implications of either team surrendering five or six goals. Potent as Dallas’ offense may be - especially with Carlos Ruiz looking like he’s getting warm over the past few games - but an LA revival won’t take place with a back four playing that loose. To use Arturo Alvarez’ two goals as examples: the first, a free and clear header, speaks for itself, but the second, which went past a defensive bunker with no less than three baffled defenders as a forward guard, well, that was just pathetic. Seeing as the other three were only marginally better, and seeing as LA allowed 25 shots on goal on the night, let's just say the Road to Success runs in the opposite direction.

Going the other way, last night seemed like Dallas’ answer to the vote of confidence in their defense offered in yesterday’s post on which teams will make the playoffs. Clearly, Dallas is where faith goes to be utterly destroyed, if not defiled.

On a more positive, and LA-centric, note, one has to wonder if this win won’t be the kind of catalyst for LA that the Columbus Crew’s dramatic 3-3 tie versus the New England Revolution turned out to be for the Ohio team (I mean, look at what followed). That’s a big question at this point and, unlike early this season, we should have our answer shortly. Turning to Dallas, this only looks like the same script amplified; this team can score and win, but can they stop being their own worst enemies? That’s no small question either. In fact, there could be an MLS Cup riding on it.

US @ Azteca: The Right Kind of Friendly

Hallelujah. We're finally playing Mexico in Mexico.

As much as I appreciate all the money we (or rather Soccer United Marketing (SUM) and the anointed venue) pick up by playing them States-side, I think we all know by now what happens when the U.S. plays Mexico on U.S. soil (let's just say two goals seem to get scored by one team).

To take this one step further, I want Mexico to host next year's Superliga. Hell, alternate the thing. I'm sure SUM can arrange the situation to see they keep getting their slice. Ditto with the CONCACAF Gold Cup: rotate that thing around the region to any country that can so much as sorta support the event. It gives the host country something to go nuts about and, judging by the stadium in a place like Puntarenas, it'll be pretty damned exotic in the right climes.

Here's the thing: it may be true that there are "no home games" for the U.S. Men's team (Yanquis) - and, it's possible that even Major League Soccer (MLS) clubs aren't the focus of adulation during the Superliga (can't say; haven't seen a friggin' game yet) - but the permanent home-field thing the Yanquis and MLS clubs have enjoyed in recent years won't make our players any tougher or better. Consider the, um, "challenging locales" in which we'll wind up playing as "quality multipliers" for our CONCACAF opposition; the sterner competition now won't hurt us later in any case.

And there's nothing wrong with sharing the wealth either...


EJ Love

If you're an American soccer fan, odds are you've voiced some level of frustration with Kansas City Wizards' forward Eddie Johnson's occasional struggles to be all he can be.

But if you can read this story without pulling for the guy, well, you have no heart. Or you might be Satan. After reading this, I'm to the point where I'd keep fielding him for the U.S. Nats till something better comes along....and I'm not seeing that happening any time soon.