Monday, March 31, 2008

Las Madres de Futbol (Soccer Moms)

For the longest time I could never really quite understand why there are so many soccer haters out there, but then I guess I starting looking at the sport from a different viewpoint. As a front office employee, I can't get emotional during the games. I have to remain professional. Now that I am refereeing soccer games, I realize how difficult officiating really is and how many whiners are out there. I realize- that there really is a lot to hate.

I blame the moms. (Not my mom, of course). Soccer moms are either too nurturing or too demanding. They yell, scream, carry on, and act like fools. In any case, they deserve a big super-sized serving of the Just Shut Up Award.

Soccer has a funny way of explaining the world, it is a sport that is a microcosm of the larger social issues in our everyday world. I refereed a game that put a rich, white club against a poorer,blue collar Hispanic club. Both teams possessed talented players and moved the ball down the pitch well, but the second the boys from whitey-tighty'ville went down a goal, the game might as well have been over. They hung their heads down, pointed fingers, and all in all gave up when the going got tough. One kids whined about every call that didn't going in his teams favor. Meanwhile, the Hispanic team kept scoring goals. They had faced and overcome adversity before- at home, in their lives off the soccer field.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, I refereed a girls game later that day that was a make-up and had no influenced whatsoever on advancement to the state cup tournament. One of the moms acted in such a way that probably would have gotten her escorted out of Robertson Stadium. All of her ranting and raving was in Spanish, so that's probably what kept anyone from saying anything. Regardless, it was annoying.

I can go deeper though. That evening, there was a watch party at a soccer pub to watch the Dynamo's first regular season game against the NE Revolution. A mother was there with her two daughters. The mother appeared to be inebriated and was teaching her daughters soccer drinking songs. (YOU'LL NEVER BEAT PAT ONSTAD! YOU'LL NEVER BEAT PAT ONSTAD!) It's 7:30 pm, do you know where your daughters are?

So all you soccer moms out there, do your soccer playing kids a favor and keep your mouths shut. You're making the game look bad.

Friday, March 28, 2008

MLS 2008 Preview

It is the eve of Major League Soccer's 12th season and there are several questions out there that need to be addressed. The only way I see it appropriate is to look at them team by team. So here we go and I'll try to be as unbiased as possible.

Houston Dynamo: As MLS's second only back-to-back championship winner, the 2008 edition Dynamo are the team to beat this season. As last year's cup winners, the Dynamo have already been tested in the Pan Pacific Cup and the CONCACAF Champions Cup. So what you will about the PPC, but I give props to the league for trying something new and trying to extend its brand to areas of the globe that aren't targeted much by other leagues. The CONCACAF Cup continues to be of importance as the young club continues to gain credibility amongst the large Hispanic/Latino community in South Texas. The Dynamo also play in Super Liga against the best clubs from Mexico. The main question here is: can a squad with so many older players already stay healthy over the course of such a marathon season? Despite its depth every where else, the team still needs a true goal scorer with a knack for finding the back of the net.

DC United: The club of our nation's capital continues to be the class of MLS both on the field and in the front office. The signing of DP Marcelo Gallardo fits in well with DC's already South American heavy roster. DC is expected to do well in the CONCACAF Champions Cup and be in contention for the Supporter's Shield once again. I'm all about teams signing the best players they can afford, but does anyone else feel that DC has gone overboard on the Latino players? After all, part of the genesis of forming the league was to help develop American players. Maybe that's just me.

Chivas USA: Fantasy Chivas as I like to call them remains L.A.'s best team despite the fact I hate having two teams in one city. Their financial support from their parent club allows to not have to worry about issues facing other clubs. Chivas field another strong squad led by skipper Brad Guzan who always has an eye on the league's next young prospects.

NE Revolution: The Revolution has been to the MLS Cup 4 out of the last 6 seasons. Does MLS have it's own version of the Buffalo Bills? Scotsman Steve Nicol beefed up his team in the back, but the loss of Pat Noonan to Europe thinned out the attack. The clock is ticking for the Rev's to have a legitimate shot at the title.

Chicago Fire: A lot has changed on the Fire roster from the days of Pole Peter Nowak and the current days of Mexican Cuauhtemoc Blanco. Blanco continues to take MLS to new levels with the Hispanic fan base, but can he stay fit and healthy to endure a season where is expected to be a trivial part of the attack on a regular basis? He has to be if the Fire wants to be a contender instead of a pretender.

FC Dallas: The Hoops parted with Carlos Ruiz which despite criticism was a step in the right direction if you ask me. FCD definitely still has an identity crisis as it tries to market its brand to suburbanites with players none of them have ever heard of. Mom, can I get another orange slice please? Does anyone else think the location of Pizza Hut park is absurd? From a performance-on-the-pitch perspective (alliteration): FCD has no room for error.

New York Red Bulls: I'm all about commericalism in sports, because its how I make a living. I'm all about jersey sponsors and big time investors, but actually naming the club after an energy drink is right up with FCD building its stadium 35 miles from the city that bears its name and wonder why no one comes to your games. Some one tell RB that just because you know how to sell caffeine- that has no bearing whatsoever on your ability to operate a successful professional soccer club. Personally, I thought it was shady that Juan Carlos Osorio took the Chicago gig just to kill time until the NYRB job became available. Now he's in the hot seat to get results and prove he's every he says he is. Former natty team captain Claudio Reyna either needs to start playing or start looking at real estate in Fort Lauderdale.

Kansas City Wizards: God Bless the late Lamar Hunt for being such a big investor in MLS and keeping it alive during those first few tough seasons financially. However ... naming the team the Wizards, playing in the Chief's stadium, then going to a minor league baseball park! WTF! Thank God you guys have a great stadium and commercial development project on the horizon because for the longest time it seemed guys could do nothing right. Boss Curt Onalfo strengthened up the back line, but was veteran Nick Garcia worth a first-round draft pick? Will his other moves pay off? The Wizards franchise does have post season experience, but only time will tell.

L.A. Galaxy: Despite it's on-field performance and never ending drama between GM Alexi Lalas and head coach Ruud Gullit, the Galaxy are still considered to be the league's most important franchise for reason (or should I say player) and one reason only: Mr. David Beckham. Becks has generated more publicity for the league in the past 10 months than in its first 10 seasons combined. Sellout crowds where ever his team plays, endorsements, jerseys, etc. There has been an interest in our domestic league that had not existed until now. But despite all the PR and commercial benefits, at the end of the day- it's about results and winning championships. Becks will never silence his critics unless he helps LA bring home a trophy. This year, the Galaxy could be the most exciting to watch or the most horrific.

Columbus: The Crew used to be the pride of the MLS with its gem of a "soccer specific stadium" that was the first of its kind in American. But historically, this team is just flat out bad. The team is completely dependent on one player- Guillermo Barros Schletto- and coach Sigi Schmid continues refusing to play young players.

Colorado: Didn't the Rapids create some unique partnership with Arsenal a while back? If so, you'd think they might have a little bit better of a team- a team worthy of the great venue it plays in. Hopefully the Gomez combo of Christian and Herculez will provide a much needed spark on offense. If nothing else, play former Hoosier Jacob Petersen.

Real Salt Lake: RSL is my sleeper for the 2008 season. I think they will do far better than most believe. Former MLS standout Jason Kreis has hand-picked his squad and what better way to break in that new stadium than with a playoff run?

San Jose: The Earthquakes couldn't get a stadium deal done in round 1, why do they think they can pull it off during round 2. The defense for the resurrected Quakes is solid and will things close, but if you like watching games with a ton of goals- this isn't the team for you.

Toronto FC: TFC is without question the most financially successful club selling out season tickets entirely for 2008, but the fans deserve to see a winning club and in all honesty their roster looks exactly like it did a year ago.

Congratulations on Seattle getting a team for '09 and Philly for '10.

St. Louis- you're next!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

March Madness and Sport Adultery

Growing up in Indiana, the month of March was always a special time. The land began to thaw from the previous winter, the snow melted and the green grass tops popped through. Club soccer practice kicked off on slushy fields and you go outside without a heavy jacket. But the month of March meant one thing in the Hoosier state: basketball. Whether it was the IU Hoosiers, Butler Bulldogs or Purdue Boilermakers; or the local high school team, every resident had their eyes glued on the basketball team of their choice. The story of the '07/'08 Indiana Basketball team was one of peaks and valleys. Ranked in the top 25 for most of the season it seemed the Hoosiers were back in the national spotlight like in the days of Branch McCracken and Robert Montgomery Knight. After one too many phone calls, coach Kelvin Sampson was fired and the team began a gradual downward spiral. We were one and done losing to Arkansas in the first round. A talented team with a top in-state recruit Eric Gordon played a tough season for nothing in my opinion. Regardless of the loss, I still found myself glued to the TV set pulling for the other teams I like to see do well like Butler and Louisville. Basketball, like football in Texas, is a part of our culture. It's the farmer's son who practicing his jump-shot long after the sun has set on a beat up rim and backboard nailed to the side of a barn. It's the packed gymnasium on a cold January night and all the streets and shops are empty. Call it just a stupid game. Call it what you will.

On Friday night I watched the Arkansas-IU game with an IU buddy I met down here. At the BW3's in Midtown, I met another IU Class of 2007 grad who works for the Rockets. It's always good to meet a fellow Hoosier- especially one that works in the sports biz.

A friend of mine, frustrated with my diehard sport loyalty, asked (borderline screamed) at me: "John, can't you cheer for just ONE Houston sports team! You live here after all!" In my usual smart ass way I told I cheered for the Dynamo, but they pay me so it's different. I told her that I'm a one-team kind of guy- like the way a loyal husband should be with just one woman- his wife. My team may be a little down, but I cannot commit a term I fabricated called "Sport Adultery." I refuse to bail on my teams I've pulled for my entire life just because I live in another part of the country. So here's to you, Houston Texas. I will not cheer for your indoor football and baseball teams nor your lousy NBA team just because I live here.

My job been brutal lately working a lot of long hours and with nothing much in return. The Dynamo hosted its first meaningful game this past week- a CONCACAF Champions Cup game against Guatemala's CSD Muncipal. Thank goodness this game was not our official MLS season Home Opener that we're pushing so hard. We had horrible ticket operations and logistical issues. On top of all this, the sales team as a whole is struggling to make quotas and goals. Despite our utmost efforts, management threatened to take away people's jobs last week. This rubbed me the wrong way of course and put a lot of things into perspective. I know for a fact there is something in Major League Soccer that I am meant to do and be successful at. I just don't know what that specifically is. I was willing to give ticket sales a try- just so I could get started.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

22 Days of Rodeo

First off, I apologize to my dedicated readers for the lack of posts lately. In all honesty my life has been pretty boring and you haven't missed out on much until recently. I've been working my ass off to not only sell as many tickets I can for the Houston Dynamo, but mostly to keep my boss off my back.

Anyways, yesterday I made my debut at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo and I have never before experienced anything like it. For almost the entire month of March, the city of Houston in engaged in daily rodeo, carnival, livestock show and the biggest names in country music. Since my arrival in September I heard rumors of how huge and extravagant the Houston Rodeo is. I couldn't wait. As much as I wanted to be there every single day of the event, I had to pick and choose for monetary reasons.

I picked March 15, the day Brad Paisley was scheduled to perform after the rodeo competition that day. So immediately after the Dynamo season ticket holder event took place that day, I changed into my wrangler jeans, put on my cowboy hat, and jumped on the metro rail to Reliant Park. I met up with some friends from my church class and right away upon my arrival I bought a Bud Light and a BBQ turkey leg. I was more excited to see some real cowboys compete. The fact that Brad Paisley was performing afterwards was an added bonus. I fell in love with rodeos when I was a ranger at the Philmont Ranch in Cimarron, NM and I hadn't had my fix for well over a year. I decided that could definitely compete in the calf-wrestling competition. Basically a cowboy chases down a calf on his horse,jumps off and rolls the calf onto his back for time. Bull riding is the most respected event, but a little too insane for my tastes. I played rugby, so I've brought down my fair share of large, dumb animals. The concert was incredible. Paisley played several of my favorite songs and there is nothing more fun than rocking out to country music.

Once we got out of the stadium, Lauren and I were on a mission to find some deep fried food. This effort forced us to enter the carnival area with all of the carnies out to get your money. We had to be cautious. I decided on deep fried Oreo cookies, which I didn't think was possible, but they pulled it off and were quite delicious with powdered sugar sprinkled on top.

Lauren and I met up with more friends before going into The Hideout. The rodeo turns the floor of the old Astrodome into the giant dance floor. I was a lone cowboy amongst several young women so I had my work cutout for me keeping them all entertained and guaranteeing they all got their fair share of two-stepping on the dance floor. I would dance with one for a few songs, get a drink, then dance with another for a few songs. Very tiring work. Things started to die around 10:30 pm but Lauren and I weren't done for the night so we went to country music club Whiskey Creek in Midtown for more beers and dancing. By 2 am, I was exhausted, dehydrated, and covered in thin layer of salt from all the sweating I had done.

All in all my first Houston Rodeo was awesome and I'm trying to make it out for the last weekend to see the championship series and Brooks & Dunn on March 22.