Turd of the Week #11

Trivia of the Week: What do Germany and England have in common with Kazakhstan and Zambia? (Answer below)

Quote of the Week: “Anywhere I’ve played, I’ve been tested and understood what’s been banned. Random testing isn’t so random when you’re a long-haired freak.” (Alexi Lalas, KC Wizards defender)

You can always count on Alexi for a good quote, even if you can’t count on him to stop a good forward.

Sissy Fight of the Week: The German Soccer Federation (DFB) banned Dortmund keeper Jens Lehmann for three matches for pulling the hair of Hansa Rostock midfielder Timo Lange in a Bundesliga match won 2-0 by Rostock last Saturday. No word if Lange retaliated by slapping and scratching Lehmann.

You don’t need to be the star star-gazer at the psychic hotline to know what’s coming next …


U.S. Women’s National Team head coach Tony DiCicco has released defender
Jen Grubb and midfielder Laurie Schwoy from residency training camp, which
has been underway in Orlando, Fla., since January and will end in late
May, as the USA team heads into final preparations for the 1999 FIFA
Women’s World Cup. Grubb, who will be a senior next fall at Notre Dame,
and Schwoy, who will be a senior at North Carolina, both remain part of
the Women’s National Team pool and will see time with the U.S. Under-21
National Team for the rest of the year. DiCicco has brought in three
“floaters” to train with the team until at least April 17, with the
possibility of those players being added to a roster for a match in team’s
continuing Nike Road to Pasadena tour. The three “floaters” are defender
Samantha Baggett, midfielder Justi Baumgardt and forward Natalie Neaton.


I smell a lawsuit in the air …

Hooligans of the Week: Nigeria, site of the ongoing World Youth Cup. Police clashed with fans who rioted after the Nigerian U-20 team lost 2-1 to Paraguay, it’s second defeat in two games. Nigerian coach Tunde Disu, fired within an hour after the game, needed a police escort through the can and bottle throwing throng. And this after spectators at previous games were warned to beware of urine throwing Nigerian youths. (How do you throw urine, piss in your hand?)

“They couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn at this …” Award: Sepp Blatter was spreading it kinda thick, heaping loads of praise on his Nigerian hosts during a World Youth Cup press conference, when the power went out.

Stat of the Week: The Chicago Fire drew 27,311 to their cold, rain-soaked home opener — one thousand more than baseball’s Chicago White Sox, which only drew 26,243. (The weather for the Fire’s game was bad enough that the White Sox would have at least had a rain delay.) But you won’t see that context provided by the mainstream sports press, because every sports reporter is at heart a baseball geek. Not just a baseball fan, but a geek. Oh sure, sports journalists will report extensively on other ‘major’ sports like football, but deep down in their heart of hearts they are baseball geeks. A geek in the same way that Trekkies are Star Trek geeks. It’s what they live & breath and all they think & dream about. They even look alike: fat, pasty-skinned, poor grooming habits, unathletic, never get laid. In other words, like Paul Gascoigne. If another sport even crosses the sports journalist hive conciousness, it is basketball — which also has its fair share of sports journalist geeks. (But at least Marv Albert gets laid, even if he has to wear women’s undies to do it.)

Trivia Answer: They all failed to make the second round of the World Youth Cup. Bwah-ha-ha-ha! (Kazakhstan and Zambia are countries, not the sound you make when you sneeze and an Italian opera singer.)

Last night I watched the Dallas-Miami game. It was a dreary affair with more holding, pushing, pulling, tripping, lunging and grappling than your average pro wrestling bout. And it ended in a crapshoot.

MLS continues to foist the lunacy of the crapshoot on American soccer fans. Last week’s six MLS games resulted in five shootouts, including the inept Wizards being gypped out of the point a draw normally earns. (The Wizards scored their first goal since soccer was played with severed ox heads.)

The five MLS games I have personally viewed have ended in four crapshoots. (Attention advertisers! None of which I watched.) Just as I am being punished for the sins of a past life, MLS fans all over the country are being punished by Doug Logan for their transcorporeal transgressions.

SoccerTimes only received one e-mail supporting the crapshoot. That’s alot. I’ve seen none. What I have seen are anger, angst and frustration. “Shootout format deserves it right between the eyes” was the title of another message. A DC United fan wanted to take the omnipresent “Eliminar El Shootout” banner hanging at RFK Stadium one step further and simply eliminate Our Doug, begging, “Fire Doug Logan … please … now … please, before I shoot him.”

The truth is, as Sporting News columnist Jerry Trecker wrote, “Most Americans don’t care about soccer with or without the shootout … Yes, other places have tried tie-breakers, but let me remind you that Colombia, Japan and Paraguay all have abandoned the ‘must have a winner’ approach.” In Columbia the shootout has reverted to more socially and morally acceptable means like Glocks and Uzis.

The crapshoot is only slightly less dangerous.

Some self-centered folks say the crapshoot is painful to watch. What about the poor players? Not only is the crapshoot painful to watch, but it is painful to participate in. Just ask Eric Wynalda, who blew out his knee in a crapshoot last year, or Cobi Jones whose Special Purpose was squashed in a shootout last week. Both injuries were a direct result of MLS inexplicably allowing keepers to come off their line on shootouts, instead of having to stay on their line as the world does when it absolutely cannot resist using going to PKs. In fact, MLS rules encourage keepers to come off their line, because keepers who do so are much more successful against the on-rushing kick-taker. Hmmm. The force of two objects, both moving 20 mile per hour, colliding head on is … worse? Yes, it is. And so are the injuries.

Our Doug tries to blow smoke up our ass, complaining that he can’t be held responsible for the crapshoot because it had already been implemented by the nascent league when he piped aboard in late 1995. Of course this does not explain why it has taken him almost four years to get rid of it. Having had plenty of opportunity to pull a Kevorkian on the crapshoot, Our Doug is now responsible for it. And thus his true feelings are revealed:

“Most casual fans and general sports fans favor games in which there is an outcome,” said Our Doug. “The casual fan feels happier with a result … The shootout is exciting to them.”

The casual ‘fan’ isn’t really a fan: he’s a minivan-driving, suburban white-guy soccer parent who only went to the game because his kids’ youth club scored free promotional tickets. (Come to think of it, just like RotMaster’s marketing honcho Jim Leahy who said, “The only way you could get me out to a soccer game is if my kids were to drag me out.”) The freebies dry up, or the kids grow up, and the casual ‘fan’ will be on the first tee quicker than you can say “five iron”.

If it is the case that the crapshoot is exciting to the casual fan, then we can assume that draws are boring to the casual fan. This would appear to be the reason that no other ‘major sport’ allows its regular season games to end in regulation time draws. (Basketball and baseball have no time limit, extending their game until there is a winner.) But we, the sports consuming public, should have options, not homogenization. Options are good, they allow people to choose what is most appealing to them. If you only have one choice, you have no choice. Our Doug is the Henry Ford of sports, except instead of offering us our choice of paint jobs, as long as it is black, we have our choice of sports, as long as there is a ‘winner’. If someone wants to see teams rewarded appropriately for their regulation time effort, they should get to watch a soccer game end in a draw. If they want to see a game played until there is a winner, they can spend a half hour watching the last five minutes of a basketball game, or watch utility infielders pitch a 20-inning baseball game. If they really have time to burn, they can attend a two-day cricket test match!

Our Doug hinted at allowing an overtime in post-season play, where last year’s playoffs were marred by four crapshoots in 14 matches. But the MLS slaves and their Disney Corp. massas pooh-pooh the idea due to “television time constraints”.

First, a 15-minute soccer overtime is indeed 15 minutes because there are no chronic ‘TV timeouts’, so two 15-minute soccer overtimes still would take less than one 15-minute NFL American gridball overtime, which typically consumes 45 minutes. And in the playoffs the NFL keeps playing these until someone scores. Second, if MLS followed the typical soccer home-and-away series format there would be no need for overtime unless both the tiebreakers — goal differential, then away goals — were even. If that was the case, then go to two 15-minute golden-goal overtime periods. And if the score is still even, and only if it is still even, go to FIFA-style penalty kicks — not the God-forsaken MLS crapshoot. This is a perfect example of the Law of Unintended Consequences: Making one ‘improvement’ ripple effects into problems elsewhere, which must then be solved, which ripple-effects into yet more problems that must be solved, ad nauseum. If we did it like the rest of the world, all would be milk & honey.

Our Doug concedes the draw, and the point that comes with it, is cherished in world soccer. But he has little patience for coaches who complain about getting no points after losing a shootout. “It’s just whining. How can you say you’re owed something from the standpoint of points if you don’t put the ball in the net? I object to this doctrine of entitlement.” It’s not soccer socialism, Doug-O, its soccer capitalism. Both teams get exactly what they earned: the same thing. A draw. One point each.

Many alternate point systems have been offered, but to paraphrase the wisdom regarding opinions, point systems are like assholes — everybody has one. To his minimal credit, Our Doug referred to the plenitude of alternate suggestions as “gimmicks”, but then quickly regressed to his usual level of mental aptitude by claiming alternate scoring systems only complicate matters for new fans. That’s like the pot calling the kettle black: How are most new fans going to understand the current scoring system — if they are even aware of it — when they don’t even understand basic soccer concepts like offside and advantage? (If you doubt this, go to some U-10 rec game and listen the parents squeal “Offsides!” [sic] every time their darling precious gets burned.) The only attractive alternative I’ve seen arrives courtesy of SoccerTimes reader David Compton: “Why not have a ring-toss or a dunk-tank instead: one player from each side gets five balls and a chance to dunk the other team’s coach? Hey, it would be exciting for the kiddos.”

The core problem is that you have business people, not soccer people, running soccer: “This is a wasted exercise unless MLS becomes a good business … We have to do things that would not be detrimental to us as a business,” said Our Doug.

Obviously it makes no sense to commit financial suicide (unless you planned ahead and greased the appropriate governmental palms). On the other hand to look at soccer in America as merely a business, and not a child to be carefully nurtured to adulthood, is an even worse mistake. Promotions, like alternate scoring systems, are gimmicks. Blaring music, pre-pubescent cheerleaders, and Beanie Baby giveaways are the crack cocaine of unestablished sports. The suits and bean counters get addicted to promotions and to cease doing the drug is to risk losing the casual ‘fan’. The promotions must be constantly pushed to obtain new ‘fans’ as the old ones drift away.

Baseball got to be ‘America’s Pastime’ the same way soccer got to be the World’s sport: By older generations passing their passion for the game on to their children and grandchildren. Building an appreciation for the beauty and fundamental simplicity of soccer is the long-term approach that creates life-long fans. (Francisco Marcos, whatever faults he might have, has done a solid job building up the USL.) The payoff may not be immediate, but it will be long term.

Doug Logan

Turd of the Week

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