Honored as always to be talking about World Cup on National Public Radio.
And here’s me in Newsweek on flopping!
Honored as always to be talking about World Cup on National Public Radio.
And here’s me in Newsweek on flopping!
As always it was a great honor to be on National Public Radio, this time talking about the art of flopping in the World Cup. Apparently cheating is the international language.
To listen click here.
Me & Alan Black on NPR with the inside skinny on World Cup 2014. Can America escape Group o Death? Hell yeah!
You know how you can feel someone staring at you? That’s what Gwen was feeling. It was the first day of soccer practice, and there’s someone staring at me, Gwen thought. Then she turned around and caught him. And he didn’t look away. Neither did she. Deep blue. I’ve never seen eyes that deep and blue, Gwen thought. She dove into them and swam around. He was almost smiling. Not quite. And the way he looked at her. Like he wanted something from her. Something important. And when Gwen closed her eyes to go to sleep that night she saw that look. Hungry. Blue.
He was the New Coach. He was about her brother’s age. 22-ish. He was a serious soccer guy. Legs thick. Brown. Even when he was standing still, the muscles in his thighs looked alive and pumping. Gwen found herself staring at them. His legs. Gwen found herself. He wore paper thin t-shirts from Brazil, Ireland, Germany, Mozambique, and Mazatlan. Where he’d been. Playing soccer. Kissing beautiful exotic women. At least that’s what Gwen found herself imagining as she stared at his lips. Pink. Always just about to smile. Gwen had only had one boyfriend, and when he kissed her, he jammed his mouth onto hers hard, and it hurt. So she broke up with him. But she found herself staring at New Coach’s lips and imagining putting her lips on them sweet and soft. Hungry. He had curly brown hair and a crooked nose from when he broken it. A scar over one of his blue eyes. Where did that scar come from? Gwen wondered.
Gwen stared at her naked body in the mirror in her girly room surrounded by all her girly things, and she couldn’t quite figure it out. Six months ago she was skinny. Her dad called her beanpole. It was like someone had pushed a button and her beanpole had sprouted into a woman’s body. She couldn’t quite believe her breasts looked. Two woman’s breasts. Brown buttons and a round, crazy, curvy, handful. Gwen kept looking at those breasts, trying to figure them out. Whose breasts are those? They looked beautiful to her, like a painting in a museum. But they didn’t seem like hers. Someone would be by to claim them any minute. That strange new fullness between her legs. What was that all about, Gwen found herself wondering. Everything felt so full. And so empty. Gwen just couldn’t put it all together. It puzzled her, and it scared her, and it made her very curious. She felt like she had a new Christmas present, but someone had forgotten to put the batteries in. She kept staring at it all, head slightly tilted, confused, wandering aimlessly in her eyes.
He looked at her like he knew exactly what to do. The first time, before she even knew he was the New Coach. A couple of times every practice. That almost smile. Those hungry blue eyes. He knew.
And now he was coming over. He would be there any minute. Gwen still couldn’t believe she’d gotten up the nerve to ask him. She hadn’t told any of her friends. Which was very odd, because Gwen told her friends everything. She didn’t even tell Tara. And that made Gwen very nervous. She had decided to wear her new jeans and her favorite Clyde Frazier t-shirt to show him how much she didn’t care that he was coming over when her parents were gone for the weekend. Oh, yes, gone for the weekend. Gone, gone, gone.
Gwen had waited and waited for the right moment to ask him, and finally after practice on Thursday, he had run some extra sprints, and she had run with him, straining to keep up with those thick brown legs, her muscles burning, shirt soaking, panting, burning, blood boiling in her head, wet, legs on fire, his almost translusent thin t-shirt from Italy sticking to the ripples of his skin. When they were finally done she collapsed and he stood over her, looking down at her, almost smiling, breathing deep and blue, and she could not get her breath back. Couldn’t catch it. Her breath. And those strange new breasts were heaving. My God, thought Gwen, I have breasts, and they’re heaving. “How ya doin’, Gwen?” he asked, and the way he said it was like he knew. Did he know? How could he know? How could he not know? And her whole inviting him over speech that she had rehearsed so meticulously had just flown out of her head like mallards flying south for the winter, and she lost the power of speach. “Uh… well,” she sputtered like a backfiring engine, “I’m… you know… uh… good… and I was wondering…” Gwen was picking up steam now, getting her land legs under her, “Yeah, I was wondering if you’d like to come over Saturday and watch this soccer video I got for my birthday. It’s really cool. It’s the hundred greatest goals of ’98.” And he had looked at her for the longest time. Just looked at her. My God he’s looking at me, Gwen thought. He’s gonna tell my parents. Or no, even worse, he’s just gonna laugh at me, I mean why the hell would the New Coach wanna come over to my dorky house. Oh Jesus, what a moron I am, Gwen found herself thinking. And then he said, “Sure, how about fivish?” And then she said, “Yes”. And her mind was screaming, “Yes, yes, yes, my God, yeeeeeeeeeeees!”
Now he was coming. She slipped on her favorite Clyde Frazier t-shirt without a bra over her brand new breasts with the nipples that she had no idea what to do with. And just the thought that he was on his way and she was wearing her favorite Clyde Frazier t-shirt with no bra made them come to attention. And for some reason, she now reached not for her new jeans, but for the plaid skirt. Not her jeans. The plaid skirt. And she put it on. And she looked at herself in it. Looked at her legs. Tanned. Freshly shaved. And she slipped on her thin white underpants. And then, as if it were perfectly choreographed, just as the white cotton nestled into place, the doorbell rang.
The New Coach was here.
Gwen opened the front door, and sure enough, there he was. The New Coach. Almost smiling. At her. Hungry. Blue. Just like she remembered him. In a paper-thin faded t-shirt from Monte Carlo with red shorts over his large brown legs. And then she was inviting him in, and getting him orange juice, and they were talking, and they were sitting on the couch. Gwen was sure they were talking, because she could hear the words, and she recognized her voice. Talking. And then he asked, “So, where are your parents?” and Gwen heard herself saying, “Oh, they’re away for the weekend,” with an air of casual off-handedness that didn’t fool anyone. The information sat there for a long time, and Gwen thought New Coach was finally going to give her that smile he had been almost smiling since the first time she caught him looking at her. “Really…” he said, and he stared at her. And he didn’t smile. Almost smiled. But didn’t. But my God those eyes are blue, Gwen found herself thinking. Gwen found herself. Thinking about how blue and hungry those eyes were.
“So, where do you wanna watch the video?” Gwen asked. “Anywhere,” said the New Coach. “How about up in my room?” slipped out of her mouth, and once it was out there was no taking it back. Gwen was doing everything she could not to hyperventilate and grab him and say, “Don’t you know what’s going on here? Don’t you know I invited you over here? Why are you just sitting there?!” But she didn’t. “Sure,” he almost smiled, “let’s go up to your room and watch the video.” And something inside Gwen clenched. She didn’t know what it was, but it stole her breath, and it brought the blood to her big new nipples under her favorite Clyde Frazier t-shirt, and they felt like a pair of electric buzzers ringing the doorbell in her furnace.
He is sitting next to me on her girly bed in her girly room, on this Saturday afternoon, with her parents gone, gone, gone. Here we are, Gwen thought. In my room. On my bed. The video is on. Goal after goal crashing into the net. Hugging. Screaming. Kissing. Crowd going crazy. And his thick brown leg was so close to hers she could feel the heat coming off it. And then Gwen suddenly became aware of his hands. My God, she thought, they’re huge. His hands are huge. He has huge hands. His huge hands are so close to me, Gwen found was thinking. And the longer Gwen sat there not watching goal after goal being rammed home, with him not touching her with those huge hands of his, the more confused Gwen became. Why is he just sitting there? Staring. Like he was staring the first time she caught him staring. Before she even knew he was the New Coach.
And the longer Gwen sat there, the more she realized that she was the one who wanted something from him. She was the one who wanted something. Really important. It wasn’t him, it was me, she thought. I’m the one that’s hungry. Maybe he’s hungry, too. Is he hungry? He’s not watching the goals anymore.
“GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!!!” came erupting every thirty seconds on the soundtrack. He’s almost smiling, Gwen thought. He’s not going to do anything. He can’t. It would be creepy if he did. It’s my move, Gwen, thought. Oh my God, it’s my move.
“Uh, I’ve… well, the thing is, I’ve been having some, uh… problems with my lower back, and I was wondering…” The sentence just seemed to perish there. It just seemed so cheesy and stupid. “What were you wondering?” he almost smiled. And now she was sure he knew. He had to know. He knew. But if he knew, why was he making her go through all this. Asking him. Oh, God, I am just so bad at this, Gwen thought. And the longer he sat there not doing anything with those huge hands and those thick brown legs and those pink lips and those blue eyes, the tighter she got. Wanting. Goal after goal. The crowd going wild. “Well, uh… I was wondering if you could… stretch me?” she asked.
“Sure,” he almost smiled.
She was on her back. On her puffy rug in her girly room. And he was standing over her. He’s standing over me, Gwen thought. He bent down and his legs were so close. Huge hands were touching her legs, freshly shaved, and he was staring into her so blue, his voice soft and hypnotic and hungry.
“Breathe,” he said. And she breathed. “Deep,” he said. And she breathed deep. “Let it go, Gwen. Let it go.” She didn’t know exactly what he meant by that. What was she supposed to let go? How am I supposed to let it go, Gwen thought, when I don’t even know what it is.
On her back he pulled her right knee up into her chest, then turned her so her right knee went across her body, stretching her torso, pushing her right knee down on the rug by her left hip, his huge hand spreading strong across the outside of her thigh, the other above her right chest.
“Breathe…” he said, “Deep… let it go, Gwen. Let it go.” And she breathed. Deep. Gwen found herself letting it go. She found herself. I’m breathing, Gwen thought, and I’m letting it go. He stretched her, deep into the big muscles in her back all the way into the inside of her, whoosh, a deep spinal relief. Then he stretched her left leg the other way, and the tight unloosening with every breath. He grabbed under her calves with those huge hands, and he pushed her knees into her chest, so she rocked on her spine. Totally exposed. Gently he pushed while she breathed, his weight pushing into her, one huge hard on her lower back just above her white underpants. Hard. Pressing.
“Breathe Gwen,” he said. “Deep.” And she breathed deep and he pushed against her a little harder. Pushed. Against her. She could feel it really letting go. Gwen felt warm. A wet. She wanted to give him something important. She wanted to give it to him. And she wanted to take it.
I’m breathing. Deep. The breath eased out. He lifted her lower back up ever so slightly. She flexed, opening. Gwen looked and she saw it outlined against his thin red shorts. Hard. She breathed and the breath eased out of her. He moved his enormous thumb so that is was pressing firm gentle and hungry against her white cotton panties, fitting perfectly against her, the tip of his thumb on the tip of her and Gwen felt herself stick to her white underpants, hotly and wetly, she couldn’t help herself, didn’t want to help herself, she pressed into his thumb, and she sighed hard and she shivered and she shook, and her muscles contracted around his thumb, like she was trying to suck on it.
She smelled him. Smelled sex. It was filling up the room. The smell of wanting.
And now she spread her legs apart. Reached for his skin and felt it through his thin t-shirt. Moved him a little so now instead of his thumb pressing against her she felt something pressing against her, sliding along her wet with the rhythm of their breath.
“Breathe Gwen,” he said, only this time it was a whisper in her ear, as he leaned onto her, laid his chest on her chest, bodies melting into each other. Where does he end and where do I begin? Gwen found herself wondering. And she breathed. Deep.
His tongue landed on her lips. It surprised her. Took her breath. Sucked on her lip like a hungry calf his breath warm sweet. She pushed into him. Wrapping around him. Hard. Sliding up and down.
Gwen shivered a shudder she shook. Deep inside her belly somewhere. His huge hands slipped under her, pulling her into him, slowly and slowly. Then she felt his hungry. How hard and deep it was. She put her hands on his back, rippling with heated muscles, sweet to the touch. And she wanted something in her mouth, so Gwen reached out with her mouth and felt his neck on her lips, slightly moist and so hot. She sucked. His skin. In her mouth. He moaned a shudder he shook. She pushed against him. Pushed.
Gwen wanted to be full. Of him. Her new body wanted. She was hungry. For his hunger. That thing she saw in his blue eyes the first time she caught him staring at her. Before she even knew he was the New Coach. She couldn’t help herself. Didn’t want to help herself. She pushed into him with all her strength.
Suddenly her shirt was off and his shirt was off. And now it was skin on skin. She thought they might might burst into flames. Wet now. With sweat sweet warm. His breath on her strange new breasts, only they don’t seem quite so strange now, they’re hot wires, wired with heat, right into her wet, in her belly somewhere, deep as he sucked on her, licked her moan to the bone. That was me, Gwen found herself thinking. I was moaning. That was me. She pushed the outside of her wet against him again, sliding up his hardness, and then slowly back down. And he pushed against her, squeezing with his hands under her, pulling her slowly up and slowly back down, muscular, undulating with hunger. Gwen was swept away into that blue. She wanted to be filled with his blue.
“Are you sure?” he whispered. Gwen was never more sure of anything in her life. She pushed against him harder, trying to will him inside. She grabbed his, hard the soft hot rock flesh, pulling him in with a strength she didn’t know she had. Thinking yes. He slid off her underpants. She lifted herself up to help him and clenched and she could feel the wet coming on, and the feel of his hands on her skin sliding down her, over her calf off the end of her big toe. And then suddenly he didn’t have any clothes on. She didn’t know exactly how he did that, but suddenly he was so incredibly naked.
As she pushed up and sucked down, grabbing at him with her wet, she felt herself climbing waves washing over her, through her, a rope ladder that went from her wet through her belly, shooting through her heart, growling through her throat, springing from her mouth, out her eyes, his blue right at her tip, his hard, hot so big so he looked at Gwen, he’s looking at me, Gwen thought, all that blue hunger.
“Are you sure?” his pink lips asked. Gwen felt the wet welling and breathing, she let it go, the hard of him, his huge hands, her new breasts pressed to his chest, his mouth, his blue she knew the first time she caught him before she knew how much he wanted she wanted, breathing. Mouth to mouth Gwen pushed with all her might into him with all her might, Gwen pushed into him deep as the deep blue sea and the clear blue skies, swallowed him and grabbed him and pulled him into her and squeezed him as his hard so large and hot filling her she holds him there inside her wet she squeezes shivers shakes, lava flowing through her core to the root to the stem, a melt, giving it to him, taking it from him, letting it go. She made a sound she never heard before as she pressed him into her, a growlhowlgroanmoan to the pagan a tremble a rock steady, a rolls a thrust. He’s trying to hold back but he can’t, she doesn’t want him to, I don’t want you to hold back, Gwen thought, I want all of you, and she’s deep, deeper, deepest, riding, and he’s trembling trying to hold back but he can’t, he can’t, he can’t, and she’s sucking him into her, squeezing and riding a love goddess letting it go bathing in his blue swimming in his blue. He tries to pull back but she grabs him and wraps her legs around his hard his thick brown legs grabbing his skin with him deep deep inside into his blue inside her hungry from the very first time when she first caught him staring before she even knew he was the New Coach wanting something very important from her, the huge of his hands the pink of his lips, the soft of his blue as he explodes shouting screaming into her letting it go, shiver shake shudder into each other into into into each other’s breath. She understood her new body, her wet hunger.
Gwen smiled into his blue.
Finally he smiled.
Europe came calling, as it does when soccer talent rears its head. So Landon Donovan went to Germany, where soccer is a religion, played with a rare combination of technical brilliance and cutthroat Hunnish brutality. He struggled mightily, never able to fully display that he had the game, but perhaps more significantly, the balls to compete against the big boys. Sure, the pundits posited, Landycakes can shine in the minor-league caliber MLS, but he doesn’t have what it takes to make it in the real world of big boy soccer.
Then came David Beckham. This international mega-uber-superstar brought his traveling circus to Hollywood, and joined Donovan’s team, the LA Galaxy. Yes, Beckham is in the twilight of his career, but he is still one of the greatest benders of the ball in the known galaxy, and of course he brings his celebrity cachet and the star power of his anorexicish, ex-pop singer wife in tow. From the beginning, according to all sources, there was friction and tension.
According to Donovan, Beckham didn’t take his new job with the LA Galaxy very seriously. Becks was a terrible teammate, and not much of a man. Instead of kissing the hem of the garment of the English superstar, Landon Donovan stood up in front of the world and told his truth. It became international news, shots heard round the world. In fact, it created such a furor, a book was written about it, and there’s rumors of a Lifetime movie in the works. Eventually, a truce was hashed out, and everyone agreed to play nice. But people started looking at Landon Donovan differently. He had become, by standing up for himself and his teammates, a leader of men. Then Landon Donovan received an invitation from English club Everton to play a guest starring role for a month in the stretch run of the English Premier League, one of the very best in the world, studded with international superstars.
Landon Donovan didn’t just play well — he was brilliant. In fact, he was voted the player of the month for Everton, and became a huge fan favorite. It was quite remarkable to listen to the freakishly English crowd break out into chants of, “U-S-A!” when Donovan would rampage. That brief month spent running roughshod over some of the best teams in the world seemed to prove to the international soccer community, and perhaps to Landon Donovan himself, that he had the skills, the flare, and yes, the testicles to compete against the best and the brightest.
Then came South Africa 2010. After a tentative, Landycake-ish performance against the English, the US found itself in dire trouble, down 2-0 to the aggressively Eastern European Slovenian team, in danger of getting bumrushed on the biggest stage there is in the world of sports. This is when Landon Donovan took the game by the scruff of the neck, and hoisted America up onto his suddenly Superman-sized shoulders. He came steaming in from the right flank with the ball at his feet and took it right to the hole. When no one stopped him, from a sublimely ridiculous angle, he fired a cannon shot so hard over the hapless Slovenian keeper’s head, that it singed the poor fellow’s scalp. The ball thundered into the roof of the net, a majestic, monumental, world-class and game-changing goal.
That was the beginning of the beginning for Team USA. America came storming back, and except for the dastardly call by the evil Coulibaly of Mali, they would’ve won handily. But of course they didn’t win handily. And they still needed a victory over Algeria, who suddenly looked every bit a quick, tricky, skillful destroyer of dreams. Sure enough, after yet another travesty of a referee’s decision, denying the US a much-deserved goal, all seemed lost. Seconds sped by with shocking speed. Suddenly, 90 minutes was gone. Four minutes of extra time were now whipping past faster than humanly possible. American fans were gagging on the foul fetid breath of failure belching into their faces.
Then suddenly the ball was in the hands of a player, at this World Cup, who has grabbed the mantle of Best Goalkeeper in the galaxy, Tim “T-Ho” Howard. And there was Landon Donovan sprinting for all he was worth up the right side of the field. T-Ho threw a 60 yard bullet that would’ve made Tom Brady proud, hitting Landon in perfect stride. And there it was, 3-on-1, with Donovan pulling the playmaker strings. He drew the defensive in, laid off a sweet simple ball to Pussycat Altidore, who slotted the ball in front of the goal, where Clint Eastwood Dempsey whacked it as hard as he could. And then the soccer gods beamed down their love upon Landon Donovan, and they rewarded him for all his hard work and suffering. The ball landed like a gift sliding down the chimney on Christmas Eve.
Instead of panicking, disappearing, or choking, Landon Donovan stepped up and made history. He snatched sweet victory from the hoary clutches of defeat, as Americans from Wall Street to Alaska, Hollywood to Bangor, Miami to Minnesota, erupted in full throated roar: “Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooal!!!” And thus Donovan became Landon the Man.
Hello friends, this is me on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition talking about David Beckham, MLS, & making soccer sexy in America http://www.npr.org/2011/12/11/143532077/whats-major-league-soccer-without-beckham
Smith, a very cool website for writers to check out and get published on.
Weekend Edition was a gas as always, love talking soccer with Liane.
David Henry Sterry on Huffington Post.
The Glorious World Cup makes the front page of the Huffington Post
USA. Ghana. South Africa. With ex-President Bill Clinton, rock star for the ages Mick Jagger, and newly crowned NBA champion Kobe Bryant among the approximately 1,000,000,000 watching, the dreams of a nation collided headfirst with those of a continent. America was hoping that the glass slipper slid on and fit perfectly, and that they would be belle of the ball, dancing from the Sweet 16 into the Elite 8. Ghana was the last hope of a continent that in hosting this event for the first time in history, hoped to show the world the new face of Africa, steeped in tradition, but evolving into the new millennium. USA brought massive momentum following their death-defying last-second escape from Losers to Winners against Algeria. The Black Stars of Ghana were most recently beaten by Germany. The last, and only, time these teams met, was in the World Cup four years ago. Obviously many of the players, and the venue, had changed. But for Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and many of the stalwarts of Team USA, they wished to wash down the bitter taste of that tainted defeat, when many on the team felt they did not step up and grab the moment by the throat as they should have, and they were robbed by yet another diabolical and dastardly referee’s decision. But all that was ancient history, as America and Africa squared off. Winner lives to fight another day, loser crawls home with their tails between their legs to a depressed nation.
American fans were praying to the soccer gods that their team would not dig themselves another premature grave from which they would be forced to claw their way out. Many were dismayed to see that Ricardo Clark, who looked so slow at the beginning of the England game, had been inserted into the lineup by coach Bob Bradley. And sure enough, Clark tried to dribbled past a physical, feisty Ghanaian. That may work back in the States, but not at the World Cup. Ricardo got stripped bare, left naked clutching at then air. Prince Boateng attacked the American goal like a hungry lion smelling blood. Again looking like they’ve been heavily sedated, the American defense did not react quickly enough. As the shot rolled in slow-motion toward a suddenly statuesque Tim Howard, the hearts of American soccer fans plummeted, plunging perilously as a sick sense of déjà vu froze their souls. It seemed almost impossible, but America had somehow done it again. Fallen behind practically before the game had even started. But there it was. The ball in the back of the American net. The scoreboard read: Ghana 1 – USA 0. There’s a certain kind of person who cannot function until they are under extreme threat. At first you think it’s an accident. But when you see Team USA cut their own fingers off over and over again, it begins to seem pathological. You want to grab them by the shoulders and shake them. Like that would help. You want to send him to therapy. Like that would help. Then you realize there’s really nothing you can do. It’s their problem, and they have to figure it out, all by themselves. Just like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.
Like a kid who gets unexpectedly bitch-slapped, America looked stunned. Passes weren’t connecting, tackles were clumsy, heads not quite on straight. Ricardo Clark, trying to make amends, rushed in with a rash, hacking tackle. Yellow card. The defense looked too easy to pry open. And when Altidore finally did get a chance, he snatched at it crudely, instead of taking it smoothly. At the half-hour, Coach Bradley proved what a big man he is, and admitted he was wrong. He brought in Maurice Edu and took out Ricardo Clark.
At finally, in the 35th minute, Ghana’s defense revealed its own weakness. Dempsey found himself cruising in at the top of the area. He threaded a gorgeous pass right into the path of new boy Finley. And there it was, staring him right in the face, the beautiful open goal. All he had with slide t into the opening. The only things stopping him were: 1) Ghana’s large and most excellent goalkeeper, Kinston; 2) His own ability to seize the day and write his name in the history books. Sadly, from America’s perspective, he was able to overcome neither of these obstacles. The golden rule in soccer, as pundit Alan Black reminded us recently is, “You have to take your chances.” Ghana did. America didn’t. It was that simple.
Then, as happens so often in soccer, and indeed in life, in the flash of a blink of the wink of an eye, Ghana had gone from the attacked to the attacker. Jay DeMerit, as he is want to occasionally do, swung mightily at a ball and completely whiffed. And there was Ghana, barreling in on Howard. This time T-Ho represented, pulling off yet another world-class save.
Suddenly it was halftime, and if you were an American fan, you were wondering if you had already used up your last Get out of Jail Free card. You can only cut your nose off so many times before you spite your face. Alcohol was consumed in mass quantities by Americans everywhere. For in their hearts they believed that this team was a new incarnation of the Cardiac Kids. Never give in, never give up never say die.
Sure enough, after another great substitution by Bob Bradley, and barely a minute in, Feilhaber has a wide open look at goal. But his heavy first touch prevented him from going down in American history. And again, Kinston was huge in the Ghana goal, and once again he saved the day. But this seemed to spur team USA on, and they started pelting Ghana with everything they had. Chance after chance they created, but Africa is last Hope proved how big, skillful fit, fierce and physical they really are. Still, they did look ripe for the plucking. Of course the more you put out up front, the more exposed you are in the back. And this is what makes single elimination World Cup soccer so exciting. Because every time Ghana came streaming up the field, it looked like they would score.
And then finally it happened. Clint Dempsey made good. With a beautiful little flick of the tip of his boot, he skated by the center of the Ghana defense, only to be scythed down with cruel brutality. Up stepped Landon The Man Donovan, looking for all world like a gunslinger in an old-fashioned Western. As a nation held its breath, Donovan did what he does. Scores big goals. Admittedly, with perhaps an inch and a half to spare, but in the record book, it won’t show that this penalty bounced off the inside of the post before going in. History will record that Landon Donovan became the leading goalscorer in America’s World Cup history. USA 1 – Ghana 1.
USA seemed transformed, and if you watched carefully, you could actually see their balls growing by the moment. They started winning 50/50 balls. Defending with sharp hardness instead of tentative anxiety. Ghana’s cage looked rattled. And suddenly, Altidore was fed the kind of pass that had been largely absent in this game. But again, he did not seize the moment, and his heavy touch betrayed him. He put the ball too close to the massive Kinston, who came out and extinguished the fire. Then he stroked through a very nice pass to Michael Bradley, who was having yet another splendiferous game, clogging up the arteries defensively, and moving forward with dangerous alacrity. Bradley couldn’t quite score, but you sensed that it was coming. In the 80th minute, Altidore went off on another of us crashing runs, held off the clutches of the Ghanaian defender, and had a clear-cut look at goal. Problem was, he was tumbling at the same time, and it just wouldn’t fall right for him. In some ways, this is the story of the game.
By about the 85th minute, most American fan stopped breathing. An eerie silence settled over the entire country. They were hoping that the ball would be rifled into the Ghana net. And praying the sanctity of their own goal would not be violated.
As the overtime started, USA looked confident, as well they should have, considering they were much the better team in the second half. But of course, this is Team USA. Just when their fans feel good about their team, and about themselves, they stick their heads in the toilet and flush. A simple looking ball up the middle of the defense, two American defenders against one Ghanaian attacker. Sluggish, lumbering, uncertain, DeMerit and Bocanegra were undone, and the next thing anyone knew, the ball was whizzing over Tim Howard’s head, nearly ripping a hole in the back of the net.
Heads fell into the hands, eyes rolled up in heads, and disgusted sighs flew out of American mouths. They’d done it again. It’s as he if they were Pavlov dogs, and hearing the referees whistle to begin play, had been conditioned to fall sleep. Ghana 2 – USA 1. If you were an American fan who saw the glass as half empty, you were thinking: America had finally gone too far, betrayed themselves once too often, all was lost, failure inevitable. If you saw the glass as half-full, you were thinking: Well, now we’ve got them right where we want them.
They ran, legs weary, they hustled, hearts exhausted, but Team USA had put themselves under the gun once too often. Suddenly there were but 15 minutes remaining in America’s World Cup. Unless, of course, there was one last rabbit to be pulled out of one last hat.
Sadly, there was not. Try as they might, and they did try mightily, USA could not overcome their own inability to start games, and to take chances when they created them. And in the end, they could not overcome Africa and Ghana. Yes, America can certainly hold their heads high. They showed they can play. But they were also, in the words of Landon Donovan, “a bit naïve.” At this level, in the galaxy’s hottest spotlight, you cannot test the soccer gods too often. Eventually, if you lean hard and long enough on your own sword, you will fall upon it, and you will perish. American fans will thank this plucky underdog of a team for all the amazing heart-palpitating thrills. Just as next time around, in 2014 in Brazil, they will demand more.
Colin Powers, our man in South Africa, tells it like it is about the English.
I interview Missoula’s own Gary Stein in South Africa.
The Cup has debuted with some tentative, tetsing first steps for the most part. A win in game one is nice for a nation’s prospects; a loss can be completely damning, however. And so, the war of attrition format of the tourney encourages conservatism in the early stages, keeping your head above water, hoping for a stumble from one’s group mates, and then capitalizing when the math presents an opportunity. Unfortunately, this system has produced its fair share of duds across South Africa (with nerves, the ball, vuvuzellas, etc also serving as excuses), but expect round two to witness more aggressive tactics as sides have a clearer picture of what they need for advancement. Playing not to lose won’t cut it this time.
Livest scene I’ve seen so far of the tournament was for Australia v. Germany. White, southern hemisphere, former British colonial objects kinsmen that Oz and South Africa are, there was a massive and typically boisterous Aussie turnout in Durban. With rugby and cricket rivalries so prevalent in each countries sporting culture, there has long been an extensive exchange of ex-pats and traveling fans orienting a holiday trip around a variety of sporting contexts. The WC proved no different, and Oz did not disappoint as they hoped to build on the recent momentum of the Socceroos in challenging Aussie Rules Football, Rugby, and the Thorpedo for the mantel at Outback Steakhouse. The vuvuzellas have added decibels to every atmosphere, including the fan zones, but there was a different buzz in the early goings because of the partisan nature of the scene.
Unfortunately for Paul Hogan’s people, they were blitzkrieged from the jump by the typically efficient and calibrated German attack (although I should try to come up with better adjectives than the truisms listed above which have described German people since Bismarck’s Prussia). Ze Germans moved the ball with precision, quick and efficient in exploiting the gaping spaces left in the midfield by the deer-in-the-headlights Austrlians. Schweinsteiger’s maturity in the central midfield role particularly stook out to me as it was his direction, timing, and rhythm that keyed their cohesion going forward. In 2006, the Bayern Munich man seemed to be another talented player trapped within the mindset of style before substance, cheeky touches before subtlety and focus. He was a far different player last night, an essential development for the Ballack-less German team.
Within a few minutes, it was clear the Aussies lacked the athleticism and pace to successfully play the scrappy underdog role (a la the USA against superior talent), and the raucous crowd was soon silenced by a thunderous strike from Lukas Podolski. The Polish turncoat (like front-man partner Miroslav Klose) continues to shine for his ‘nation’, though he has yet to really establish himself at the club level. Sports are all about situation and opportunity. The World Cup is no different. When outgunned in the skill department, you need to win the physically, fitness, and work-rate contests. No such luck.
The Aussies had very limited options going forward, and though the dynamic Tim Cahill has always been a favorite of mine, the imposing German defense seemed to bother him throughout. When he was eventually sent off on a dubious decision by the referee, the Australians’ fate was sealed.
Solid result for America the other night. I watched the match over at the incredible Durban Fan Zone on South Beach. The only properly warm weather city in the ongoing South African winter, this Indian Ocean terminal has that laid back vibe of all temperate coastal spots. The racial composition is probably the most diverse I’ve seen in South Africa with a very large Indian population mixing along side the more central players in South Africa’s ethnography. Fan zone was jumping, and the early poke by freshly minted Captain Steven Gerrard provided the exact inauspicious beginning I was hoping to avoid.
That said, there is something about the English football mindset that simply does not project the same authority and dominance as the other fixtures amongst football’s top dogs. Arrogance and entitlement is expressed in calling their football governing body the Football Assocation (as opposed to every other country which calls their’s in one wording or another the German Football Assocation, the Brasilian Football Association, etc) are some of the guiding forces in their founding mythology. Originators of the sport, they still feel a superiority and ownership of football despite the nature of the game allowing for an indigenous and cultural redefinition of it in every place it gets established. With the Premiership the top club league in the world top to bottom (although that may change with financial problems at Liverpool and Manchester Utd as well as increasing income tax rate in the UK possibly driving big name players to Espana, Italy, etc), they can puff out their chest a little further.
However, competing with the smug self-absorption that their sensationalist media so propagates is also an underlying and inescapable feeling of fatalism. As Dempsey’s relatively innocuous try from the top of the box trickled past yet another English goalkeeper unprepared for the world stage, there was a pre-2004 Red Soxian grown of inevitability. The deepest stream of consciousness of every English supporter runs something like this: ‘Of course they would fuck up. They always do. Why the fuck did this have to happen against those loud, brutish Americans? Those new money charlatans? Bloody hell. Not on Maggie Thatcher’s watch. Tea, crumpets, rain. Tea, crumpets, rain’
The moment something ominous appears on the horizon, the narrative in their media, fandom, and perhaps within their team (though I think Capello is well-suited to reverse this confidence issue), becomes not a considersation of how to surmount the trouble, but how and in what painful manner they will be sunk this time around. Can there be any doubt of the result if England is to find themselves in another penalty shoot-out come the elimination stages?
Amurrica had its moments, controlling the first half in my humble and somewhat unnuanced opinion. They had it taken to them after the break but the defense and Timmy Howard held strong through the particularly forceful efforts of the man affectionately referred to as a synonym for the ass-balls connector in the male anatomy. However, while we are a squad more than capable of punching above our weight and capitalizing on counter-attacks against more gifted sides, we are not yet of the ability to really dominate the action and create from our own ingenuity against teams below our level. We negate and are opportunistic. Can we be positive? Thus, we must be very weary of both the Slovenians and Algerians.
All that said, I like our swag right now.
Definite chill in the air in Cape Town for Italy and Paraguay, the type that gets my nose running and shining in beautiful pinkish-red. Rain soaked the city in the morning and again broke through the heavens during match-time with temperatures somewhere in the 40s.
The Azzuri actually played a bit more aggressively than I anticipated. Nonetheless, their spacing and link-up play in the final third missed the beat all night, with the ultra-quick rain soaked pitch perhaps playing a role. They’re a ‘professional outfit’ in the fullest sense, a squad that always puts themselves in position to catch breaks when it matters. They gave the Cape Town crowd something of a better show than the Vichy did on opening night, but there does seem to be a void in the ‘talismanic’ playmaker role (favored word of British soccer announcers). Chances are they won’t beat themselves, but can they beat their opponents? Paraguay gave it an honest go and certainly had their fair share of chances, the 1-1 draw probably being the deserved result despite holding a lead into the 2nd half. The group is for the taking.
Interestingly, even after his stellar performance in the Confederation’s Cup last summer and his rising profile in La Liga, the American born Giuseppe Rossi was not included in Marcello Lippi’s Italian 25, the unfortunate reality of competing for a spot for one of the world’s elite. Shit, we’d welcome him back warmly if FIFA would allow. Anyway, he has displayed that rare goal-front machismo in the past so necessary for a nation’s hopes, and those finishing instincts may be missed for a team that is the very lifeblood of The Situation, the Jersey Shore, and everywhere hair-gel and graphic t’s reign supreme.
North Korea located their World Cup base camp in the most impoverished township I have seen to date in all of South Africa: Timbesa, a densely populated spot on the outskirts of Johannesburg. It’s a fairly incredible place, a shanty-town of corrugated tin shacks and port-a-potty bathroom facilities balanced by a network of food stalls, barber shops (by far more barber shops per capita than I’ve seen anywhere in the world, by the way), open-air tent set up banking centers, and cell-phone services (some of which probably of the black market variety). A huge tent on the periphery of town serves as church hall, and the streets teem with life every time I’ve passed through. Perhaps the most striking feature of the neighborhood is the immaculate, uniformed dress of the school children (a universal truth across South Africa), and though it might be an overstatement to identify that propriety with the larger sense of community pride the people feel in their dwellings, that thought recurred to me on a number of my journeys there.
Nevertheless, at its core the place is still devastingly poor. Many of the folks that have accompanied me out treat it somewhat like a zoo, locking the doors the moment the threshold of the hood is crossed and then gaping in patronizing wonderment at this slum-dog society, trying to store as many images as they can to immediately regurgitate it in a somewhat heroic narrative of adventure over a few beers at dinner later that night. A few comments will be passed on the unfortunate sadness of this reality, scape-goats will be discussed, whether the Afrikaaners of the past or the corrupt leadership of the present day, and with these words spoken, hands and consciences are wiped clean to enjoy another evening in the wonderful affluence of Sandton, Joburg’s gem of a suburb. I don’t know that I’m that much different; I just don’t talk as much, and I’m cool with walking around in those kind of neighborhoods…but I digress.
Anyway, it is somewhat funny and fitting that North Korea would select such a place to provide one of the few windows their nationals are afforded to the outside world. ‘Well, this is capitalism, boys. This is what happens without the prudence of the Great Leader. Without him, who has just finishing shooting a score of 25 for a round of 18 in golf, such a fate would befall us all.’ They won’t be television any matches live back in the land above the 38th parallel, only deciding after the fact if the team’s efforts are worthy of broadcast. Who knows, maybe they will just pick fifteen random people out of a crowd, give them yellow t-shirts, and announce the match-up as if it is Brasil v. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
P.S. anytime you need to emphasize the democratic nature of your country in your naming of it, you’re probably compensating for something.
Twice this past week I have flown from Durban in very early hours of the morning. Twice I have stopped into a convenience store on my way to grab a Vitamin Water (yes, Vitamin Water is now internationally ballin’). Twice I have been greeted by the soothing melody of R. Kelly’s hip-hopera ‘Trapped in the Closet’ on the store’s sound system. I can only hope they are playing the entire breathtaking saga and an interminable loop.
World Cup 2010 week one, and much has been revealed. With so much more to come.
It’s humid but pleasantly warm in Durban, the heat a welcome embrace in the wake of Cape Town’s night time chill. The stands of the beautifully designed and architecturally exquisite Moses Mabhida Stadium are empty beyond the eclectic collection prepping for tomorrow’s clash between Germany and Australia. Some volunteers are busy labeling seat numbers, others doing their best to look menacing in security capacities, a task betrayed by their kind smiles and readiness to pound it out when I’ve walked by. Elsewhere, FIFA personnel are swarming about configuring their cameras and all that jazz, while some Australian media are in tow to snap a couple photos and hope for something mildly interesting to transpire and give their match day preview stories something beyond the generic and recycled.
I am here because I stumbled upon what can only be the residue of divine favor. In the early hours of a May, New York morning, I received a phone call from a cousin I hadn’t had much interaction with in recent years. Now, these random confluences of circumstance do pop up from time, inevitable when you have over fifty first cousins. Indeed, my mother’s family, where she is one of eleven children, embodies the stereotypical ethos of an era in Ireland well before the crass modernity and narcissism of the Celtic Tiger, an era when the Catholic Church reigned with ultimate authority, Priests didn’t touch little children (or at least didn’t get caught), and birth control was a heathen’s luxury. Anyway, without drifting too far into historical polemics and the reasons why England could be blamed for all Ireland’s woes up until this recent economic disaster (maybe that too), I have a very big family. Furthermore, this over-achieving family of impoverished, agrarian heritage has begotten a generation of children spread across the economic landscape, one of whom has ascended to become a big man in turf studies and preparation. It was this cousin who phoned me, inquiring if I would like to come out to South Africa on his company’s dime to lend a hand in testing out the pitches, provide fodder for humor because of my Americanness (yes, most Europeans do still seem to think we’re all stupid and Bushian and gun-toting and God fearing and ‘lacking in subtlety’), and help out in an assortment of ways as young people without any established craft or skill-set are known to do. Nepotism is pretty cool when it’s in your favor, I must say.
As is such, this job has provided incredible access to the country of South Africa as well as World Cup operations and politicking from an angle that may or may not be somewhat interesting depending of course on the reader. If the social and racial dynamics of this vibrantly evolving nation is not your bag of tea, well, shit, good thing there are 10,000 media people covering the event who can probably provide something more to your liking. If the size of Thierry Henry’s ass (sorta big, he looked a little out of shape but he’s a big dude in general up close), the inner fat kid that Yohan Gourcuff’s style of running reveals when within shouting distance, or the unanimous distaste of the boisterous Cape Town crowd for French Manager Raymond Domenech also bores, you needn’t waste any more time with me. That being said, because of this j-o-b, I have been afforded a somewhat clandestine vantage point through which to observe the comings and goings and inner-workings of the Cup and all its surroundings (including a standing sideline position at a number of matches). Self-involved and self-important as is the fundamental and underlying nature of my generation, I figure I should write about this and share my perspective, wonderful observations and the other elements of egoism that come along with it. At least I am also self-aware.
With that as my introduction, I’ll jot down a few points purely from the football side of things before later getting on into the remarkable and pulsing energy of Soweto, the destitution/communal pride dichotomy of the Tembisa township, the breathtaking fortress style gentrification of South African society, the fear and fear-mongering of many visitors and the white establishment, respectively, and the different thoughts I have collected from a number of people on where this country is going and where it has been.
It was a glorious day on Sunday for the Glorious World Cup when the glorious Liane Hanson interviewed me and my partner in crime on black. She was absolutely the pro’s pro. I’m afraid I have a bit of a radio crush on her at this point.
World Cup predictions: Group G
World Cup predictions: Group F
World Cup predictions: Group E
World Cup predictions: Group D
World Cup predictions: Group C
World Cup predictions: Group B
World Cup predictions: Group A
World Cup Group H