Month – June 2014

Eddie Johnson: Postmodern American Athlete

The Seattle Sounders continue their dominant run through Major League Soccer, dispatching Eastern Conference-leading D.C. United one-nil.

Team Rave Green looked great despite short rest and missing starters. Former Sounder Eddie Johnson looked… not so great. It is somewhat painful to see Eddie have such an off year. Sure we was a cancer and a narcissist, and he is potentially to blame for the team imploding down the stretch, but, and maybe this seems insane, I’ll admit it: I love Eddie Johnson.

Eddie Johnson has swagger. He is the archetypal American athlete: supremely talented, hyper-confident, playing with anger and a chip-on-the-shoulder. Think Kobe Bryant or Larry Bird. Over the past two seasons, Eddie made MLS feel like a mainstream American sport. Whether or not this is a good thing is debatable. But it helped some fans access and relate despite the foreignness of the game.

Eddie brings to the league something that I, as an American sports fan, feel MLS severely lacks: the postmodern American athlete. There’s a showmanship, a confidence, that is inherently American and Eddie, at his best, personifies that. He has the meta-awareness of the spectacle, the showbiz of the sport that most postmodern athletes have and the throwbacks and muckers don’t. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are both great, but they’re just soccer players. Like Butkus or Chamberlain before them, they don’t break the fourth wall. Jordan started it and T.O. ignited it. Hell even Mario Balotelli acts more American than American soccer players. MLS needs more Richard Shermans and DeSean Jacksons. As American sports fans, we speak that language. The flashy jock is a trope we can follow. We get it.

It was fun to watch Eddie dominate in Rave Green. In 2012, I watched a grainy feed of a US Open Cup game against the San Jose Earthquakes at Kezar Stadium. Helluva game. The Earthquakes were dominant that season, and we were defending our USOC Championship streak. The game was tense, but the feed was crappy and I was mighty confused by the fracas after the final whistle. Later I read that Eddie had thrown a punch at an Earthquake and my first reaction was HELL YEAH! Screw the Goonies and Lenhart and that cheap SJ crap. Eddie did what I, in an id-engulfed, soaked, primal rage, wanted to do. He punched fools, crowed about it and scored goals. Lots of goals.

Plus Eddie had a redemption narrative of the proud man humbled and pulling himself out of mediocrity. He was reinventing himself a la Roy Halladay or Drew Brees, so there was a lot in him and his story that was a relatable for American sports fans. Unfortunately, he jumped that narrative and became the stereotype, he became a T.O.

Eddie’s attitude was always a problem. Fredy didn’t like him. Hahnemann didn’t like him. In some bonus footage from Levy Films’s American Football Blu-Ray, Eddie, after a nil-nil draw against RSL, storms into the locker room complaining about not seeing any crosses, blaming the team for not feeding him and settling for the draw. This was tame, as his antics became more flamboyant and selfish and culminated in Columbus last year with the “pay me” celebration. That was vintage T.O. circa 2005, some straight-up team chemistry cancer. But he got we wanted, the man got paid.

Unfortunately, Eddie is a shadow of his former glory. He isn’t scoring goals or making headlines, but I always love Eddie Johnson because he played hard against the Timbers. He killed those Limberdicks and loooved doing it. Eddie always played big in big games. Do I think he played hard for the team? Hell no. He didn’t hustle for team, crest or city. He played for his ego and his stats, to quell the demons in his brain. He played for himself, for that mythic wound to his ego and identity that forever threatens to swallow the most talented and fragile athletes.

Taking a Short Break

Ahoy there Raving Readers! I hope you can all exhale after that thrilling defeat to Germany earlier today because you’ll have to do without your favorite blog for a short while. I am taking a break for the next few days to escape to the internetless world of Belfair.

Actually Belfair has the internet. I once went to a Starbucks there at 9am, bought a banana and an Americano to watch a bootleg stream of the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Tampa Bay Bucs (Nick Foles’s first win in Midnight Green!!) during the abysmal 2012 season.  My wife’s family has a little house out side of town on the shores of Hood Canal (which is neither a hood nor a canal, discuss), and we’re vacationing for a few days.

Belfair does have radio. My wife and I will catch the Sounders-DC United game on an old solid state, wood-paneled White-Westinghouse AM/FM radio (the item is proud of both its solid state and AM/FM capabilities as both are emblazoned on the thing). But I’ll miss tweeting and blogging about the Sounders’ trip to the lesser Washington to face Eddie Johnson and DC United. I’ll be back Monday a post, promise.

Through the Perilous Fight: USMNT Escape Death!!!!

The USMNT persevered through the perilous fight against a heavily-favored German squad. Despite the 1-nil loss, the Stars and Stripes are through the Group of Death and nothing else matters. We’ll probably face Belgium, maybe (and it’s a loooong maybe) Algeria in the Sweet Sixteen. Can we win? Sure. Do I care right now? Hell no.

Go eat some red meat (or Field Roast), drink a Budweiser (or Coca-Cola or non-fluoridated water), listen to some Elvis (or Beyonce or Bon Jovi or Victor Jara), or whatever makes you feel ‘Murican! July 4th came early. USA! USA!

USMNT vs Germany

Okay. No more hype. No more hyperbole. In the immortal words of a great American, “Just win (or tie) baby.”

(But if you need some patriotism and swerve and enjoy intelligent yet heavy-handed ideological rap, this oughta pump you up.)

Bold Prediction: The US needs a result. Germany needs a result. I have no idea what is going to happen.

Seattle Sounders Dispatch Pesky San Jose Earthquakes

The Seattle Sounders rocking their Pitch Black kits prevailed over the obstinate San Jose Earthquakes in a penalty shootout in the US Open Cup. Though the culminating shootout was decisive, the 120 minutes of the game were a doozy. San Jose played well. Lenhart flopped often. But through it all neither the Sounders nor their supporters flagged.

It was a privilege to be at Starfire for this game. From applauding the once (and hopefully) future Sounder Fredy Montero to when the crowd went dead silent for every penalty a Sounder took, I look forward to saying I was there when. Starfire is a magical pitch.

The Sounders advance to face the Portland Timbers July 9th in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup. Seattle welcomes Portland to the Tukwila Slaughterhouse. I cannot wait.

US Open Cup: Seattle Sounders vs. San Jose Earthquakes at Starfire

Your Seattle Sounders face the physical (to put it nicely) San Jose Earthquakes in the constricting confines of Starfire Sports complex tonight at 7:30pm. Mrs. Ravinggreen and I had a blast at our last game there and snatch up the chance to attend this match.

The Sounders don’t lose US Open Cup games at Starfire (15-0 with a 42-8 goal differential). However the Earthquakes prefer smaller pitches (such as their home pitch at Buck Shaw Stadium) as the tight space allows them to play their preferred smash-mouth style of soccer. The last Seattle-San Jose game featured a B team from the Earthquakes, but they should field a much more competitive side tonight.

Bold Prediction: The voracious home fans are too much for the floppoons from the South Bay. Sounders depth proves the difference as Seattle prevails 3-1.

Will the USMNT be Haunted by Manaus?

I didn’t have a solid match recap after the USMNT-Portugal fixture. I was emotionally gut-punched and not really in a mood to delve deep into the game. Luckily a solid soccer writer from across the pond took an objective view of the game, and our boy DeAndre Yedlin got a glowing review:

Yedlin was one of the squad selections some commentators thought might be more about 2018 (and yes, the as-yet-unused Julian Green belongs in this category), but what was key about his introduction was that it was not as a young player brought in for fresh legs and a competent body to gain experience in an already determined game. He was thrown in at 1-1, in the belief he could influence the attack.

The verve with which he did so was Yedlin’s own of course, but even those who sneer at Klinsmann’s tactical nous acknowledge that the man knows how to motivate. The young players he has brought through, and even some of the older fringe players in whom he has demonstrated trust, are arriving on the field primed with self-belief. It’s a self-belief that’s mirrored by the coach’s own and it’s nothing new. But more than the squad are listening now.

Graham Parker of the Guardian was also much more forgiving of Michael Bradley’s performance, while I am firmly in the  “he’s stunk for two games” camp:

Bradley’s direct influence waned after half-time, but still to the USA’s advantage. William, unlucky not to start as defensive midfielder, but missing out on Portugal coach Paulo Bento’s preference for experience over youth, was introduced to counter the threat of Bradley. While he didn’t man-mark him it was a pro-active decision from the Portuguese, for whom Bradley’s name will have been high on every scouting report.

Bradley is still not having the degree of influence he might have been expected to have, and he lost the ball in the lead-up to Portugal’s equaliser (finding few options from his equally tired team-mates when he was caught in possession), but his presence and the need for opposing coaches to address it is creating time and space for others.

Parker’s last major point is about the toll of playing in the Amazonia hothouse of Manaus. If you are a USMNT fan and hoping for a result against Germany, this analysis is frightening:

As England limped out of the World Cup against Uruguay, then Italy drifted listlessly to defeat against Costa Rica, it was hard not to see their sapping opening fixture in Manaus as an extra man for their next opponents.

With the US having had to chase a game in the jungle for the best part of an hour, and with Portugal stricken by injuries, it is equally hard to imagine that the extra day’s rest Ghana and Germany will have before the final Group G games, coupled with a much more benign location and travel time for their second-round encounter, will not play a part in determining the outcome of the group.

I am scared, I’ll admit it. Maybe as a lifelong Philly fan, I am conditioned to pessimism.  I look back at that Portugal game, up a goal with 30 seconds left…  those are the games that come back and bite, like a zombie. In seven game baseball series or Settlers of Catan, letting an opponent hang around is always a bad idea. Always kill the wounded animal. Yes we still control our own destiny (to truck in sports clichés), but we blew the chance to eliminate a variable. On Thursday we really need the Stars and Stripes to dig deep and earn that result.

There are No Moral Victories in Soccer

Clint Dempsey, DeAndre Yedlin and the USMNT drew Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal 2-2 yesterday to keep all teams in the World Cup’s Group G alive. Ugh. The draw stings. We were 13 seconds away from winning. 13 seconds from clinching a berth in the knockout round. 13 seconds from proving the doubters wrong and fulfilling a dream.

There are no more moral victories in US soccer. We went toe-to-toe with a storied European club chock-full of superstars. We were the better team but only drew. If it was 2002, we’d be happy with this result. We’d be plucky Americans taking potshots at the world’s best. But it’s 2014 and we want to be one of the world’s best.

I am too emotionally exhausted to get into match recap specifics. Quickly: I love Jermaine Jones, who figured he’d be the lights-out midfielder for the Stars and Stripes? Conversely, I am perplexed by the play of Michael Bradley, his play the last tow games has been indecisive at best. I’m proud of the Rave Green. Yedlin didn’t shrink, but played great on the big stage and Clint Dempsey is on a goal-scoring tear in Brazil. The Sounders did the flag proud.

My bold prediction was 13 seconds to being correct, a stunning win over Portugal… Group G is complicated, we are guaranteed nothing and the scenarios are many. But we SHOULD still advance. Even Nate Silver says so.

In the Jungle, the USMNT is a Tiger Burning Bright

The USMNT faces Portugal in Manaus today in the biggest day in United States World Cup history, since last Monday.

I am not impressed with Portugal. It is a great brand name, an old European power with a star-studded roster, but they are not a great team. They had a rough qualification campaign and have yet to really impress on the international stage. I was swinging with confidence even before our result against Ghana, calling for a win against A Seleccao.

Now Portugal is in bad shape. They be a dangerously wounded animal, or they may be pulling a less scandalous “France 2010” by flaming out of the tournament amid injuries and suspensions.

The Group of Death is becoming a knock-down, drag-out cage match of death. I was hoping for some clarity with Germany as the Tiger and Ghana as the lamb, leaving only us and Portugal to battle it out for the second spot in the Knock Out Round. However Germany’s inability to ice the Black Stars complicates our Group. At least three teams will still be alive after today’s game, and possibly all four if we can’t get a result. The United States must play well against Portugal. It is cliché, but we control our own destiny.

Bold Prediction: I have already predicted a win against Portugal. I am gonna get saucy and push my luck. Behind a stellar attack spearheaded by a revived Michael Bradley and a creative Fabian Johnson, the Stars and Stripes control the match. Seattle Superstar Clint Dempsey poaches a goal to ice it, and the Yanks win 3-1

USMNT Hopes Germany Wins and Hope Solo Gets Arrested

The USMNT’s World Cup destiny is entangled with today’s Germany-Ghana game. The Yanks are cheering for Die Mannschaft to beat the Black Stars and knock them out of the tournament. Of course we still need to take care of our own business against Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal tomorrow, but Germany can help us out by clearing some room at the top.

Not so Bold Prediction: The Ghana team manager has the squad running late to the match in Fortaleza due to a soiled timepiece. Germany cleans Ghana’s clock, 3-1.

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In other news, Hope Solo, keeper for the NWSL’s table-topping Seattle Reign, was arrested recently on two accounts of domestic violence.

Ugh. This hurts. The Reign’s stellar undefeated streak is under siege. Seattle is currently on an East Coast road trip while missing players due to international call-ups (Solo included). The Reign persevered 2-nil against Boston on Thursday, but play a very difficult Western New York Flash on Sunday. The Reign are both classy and talented, and I wish them the best while weathering this storm.

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