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Random Soccer Notes: 2011 World Cup, US Open Cup, and Relegation

[ 8 ] June 28, 2011 |

USA 2-0 North Korea.

I watched the first half on line, then the ESPN page crapped out on me.  The US did not look great in the first half, but according to what I’ve read, they settled down in the second and took control of the match.  The Koreans have a ready excuse of course; part of the side were struck by lightening on June 8, which allegedly caused this 2-0 defeat three weeks later.

The US Open Cup (the American version of the FA Cup) has its third round proper beginning tonight.  It’s a misnomer to call it an “open” cup, however.  Whereas the English FA Cup is a true open competition, including all teams from the top nine tiers of the pyramid as well as selected teams from the 10th tier, the US Open Cup has a complicated qualifying system based on leagues / tiers in the American “pyramid“.  To wit, the MLS only has eight entrants in the Cup, with the top six sides automatically qualifying based on the league table, the rest go through a mini-tournament to qualify for the remaining two slots.

In effect, the tournament is limited to 40 teams (contrasted with the 762 who entered the 2009-10 edition of the FA Cup).  While there are also four qualifying rounds for the English cup, they’re not seeded nor based on a number of slots per league / division, although the higher divisions enter the competition in later rounds.

That said, the competition still does produce interesting matches, like tonight, the Seattle Sounders (who are the current cup holders and have won it the past two seasons) face the Kitsap Pumas of the USPDL, the fourth tier of American soccer.  They don’t have to travel far, as the Kitsap side are based in Bremerton, WA, just across the Puget Sound from Seattle.

Finally, River Plate were relegated from the Argentinian top tier for the first time, breaking a 110 year string in the top league.  They have more top flight championships than any other team in Argentine soccer; it would be analogous to the New York Yankees being relegated to AAA.  (I’d say Manchester United, but they were relegated in 1974).  This has not quite been met with the approval of their supporters.

Pointless Provincialism, Olympic Soccer Edition

[ 20 ] June 22, 2011 |

I briefly flirted with writing about this, but what’s the point?  By all accounts, including that of the PSNI, the UVF started it, and the “dissident Republicans” shot back.  Whatever.

London (and England, and even a bit of Wales) is hosting the 2012 Olympics.  Normally, this wouldn’t pose a problem to the host nation aside from bleeding out vast amounts of cash for limited material benefit.  The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland aren’t a normal nation, however, when it comes to soccer.  For historical reasons, FIFA recognize the “home nations” of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland as independent entities for international purposes.  This extends to the rule-making body; with eight votes, the International Football Association Board sets the rules of association football.  The home nations have four of those votes, FIFA the other four, and six votes are required to effect any rule change.

This anachronistic arrangement would be analogous to the Basque Country and Catalonia having their own international sides, or Quebec, or Bavaria, or Utah.  Furthermore, unfortunately for the UK, the IOC doesn’t play by those rules.  For the UK to have a representative soccer side at the Olympics, it has to be under the rubric of “Team Great Britain”.  Team GB want to have a side at the Olympics for the first time since 1960, and will draw players from England, Scotland, Wales, and NI.

Which, logically, has pissed off three of the four home nations.  Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are fearful that their inclusion in an aggregate Team GB could, possibly, cause FIFA to question their autonomy.  It doesn’t matter that FIFA have repeatedly stated that this would have no effect on the virtual independence of the home nations according to FIFA; these wee nations are jealous of their footballing autonomy.

I have no problem with this quaint arrangement.  David Goldblatt argues in his excellent The Ball is Round: A Global History of Soccer Football, nations, especially small nations, expressed themselves in an international context via soccer.  International soccer became a symbol, and identity, of the nation.  Goldblatt uses Uruguay as one of several examples, arguing that Uruguay as a nation-state had little logic beyond great power machinations (analogous to Africa) thus it relied heavily on success in soccer as a symbol of the nation (and some success it was: World Cup winners in 1930 over Argentina and 1950 over Brazil).  This can be readily generalized to the home nations.  Lacking any of the institutional infrastructure common to the nation state (until 1998 not even a “national” legislature), Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland look to soccer (and with the former two, rugby union) as symbols of their ersatz independence.

I understand why they’re jealous of this autonomy, and I don’t want my Welsh, Scottish, or Irish friends back in the UK to read this as an argument against said autonomy.  It’s not.

That said, not participating in the Olympics under a unified Team GB is just silly.  FIFA have made it clear over the past three years that a one-off Olympic team will not undermine the autonomy of the home nations.  The squad itself, consisting of 18 players, will be a U-23 squad save for three players without age restriction; in other words, not a full international side in any event.  Soccer matches will be hosted in Scotland and Wales in addition to England.  The English FA have the written approval of the three other home nations to select their players, which itself is meaningless, as legally according to the IOC the English FA have the right to choose any player eligible to play an Olympic sport for Great Britain regardless.  Furthermore, in rugby union the four home nations combine quadrennially to form the British and Irish Lions, who tour southern hemisphere nations.  Last I checked, the autonomy of neither the English, Welsh, Scottish, nor Irish RFU has been questioned as a result.

Finally, for the players from Wales, Northern Ireland, and even Scotland, the 2012 Olympics might represent the only opportunity that they have to play in a serious international tournament.  Scotland on occasion have a chance to qualify for tournaments, and nearly did so for Euro 2008, but the last tournaments Scotland participated in were the 1998 World Cup and the 1996 European Championships.  Northern Ireland has only participated in the World Cups of 1958, 1982, and 1986; the only ever appearance of Wales in a major tournament was the 1958 World Cup.  In qualifying for Euro 2012, Wales are doomed already, while Scotland and Northern Ireland find qualification highly unlikely.  Indeed, the current bright hope of Welsh soccer, Gareth Bale, said last month:

“I want to play in the Olympics. I think it would be a great experience.  You see it with the British and Irish Lions in the rugby, they come together as a unit and play against other countries. It’s great and there’s no reason why that can’t happen with the football.  At the moment Wales haven’t qualified for a major tournament in I don’t know how many years so it would be nice to play in one against the best countries in the world.”

Or, one might adopt the attitude of former Scotland manager Craig Brown, who said in 2009:

“If there is an insistence on having UK representation, why not allow all four teams to compete?  Football is already a special case in the Olympics because it discriminates by only allowing players under 23 to compete, so why not allow the four sides from the UK?”

Because, until Alex Salmond passes a referendum on Scottish independence, Scotland isn’t quite a real country, yet?

USA v Spain

[ 11 ] June 4, 2011 |

For something a bit lighter.  It’s good that the USMNT are playing Spain immediately before the Gold Cup campaign, which is of far greater importance.  As the ESPN article suggests, the US will be rotating and resting their key players in this friendly, thus do not expect a result similar to the last time the US played Spain, the stunning 2-0 victory in the Confederations Cup from two years ago.

FIFA Shenanigans (Again)

[ 25 ] May 29, 2011 |

It appears that Sepp Blatter’s cunning ploy succeeded.  Mohamed Bin Hammam has pulled out of the race to serve as FIFA President, leaving the field about as competitive as a number of US House seats (though Blatter himself is now also under investigation for corruption).  Refreshingly he didn’t pull out to spend more time with his family, but rather to prevent the sullying of the FIFA name.

However, in the wake of Chuck Blazer’s apparently well evidenced and documented allegations last week, FIFA still have some ‘splaining to do.  Tory MP Damien Collins has launched the charmingly named “International Partnership for the Reform of FIFA“.  As its blog suggests, this is an embryonic organization.  It’s not clear to me just what leverage such a body, or the politicians from among Germany, Australia, and the United States that constitute it, can have to encourage or force reform of FIFA.  The most effective play that they can make is trying to convince member associations to leave FIFA and set up a new governing body.  This is a long shot at best, though Collins has not rejected such a move.  The mere threat of withdrawal may convince FIFA to reform from within in order to save its role in the sport, especially if one of the regional associations (e.g. UEFA) goes along.

With Bin Hammam out of the way leaving the election uncontested, I doubt there will be any substantive reform from within; indeed I fully expect Qatar 2022 to go ahead as insanely planned.  Likewise, any movement for reform brought on exogenous to FIFA lacks the leverage necessary to effect change from without.

I hope I’m wrong, but optimism eludes me.

In other soccer news, there was a small match in London yesterday, where Barcelona owned Manchester United.  I didn’t shed a tear, but then I’d root for the New York Yankees against Man U.

FIFA. Corruption. Qatar. Elections.

[ 5 ] May 25, 2011 |

Chuck Blazer weighs in.

I still believe that this is an admittedly risky tactic that Blatter is using to ensure his reelection, and once that’s secured normal business will resume (FIFA is not corrupt!  How dare you imply otherwise!) but there remains an outside chance that Qatar will be stripped of the 2022 World Cup.

FIFA to take a Mulligan?

[ 29 ] May 23, 2011 |

This hasn’t really been picked up by the media, but according to Prost Amerika Soccer, FIFA is entertaining the possibility of overturning Qatar’s sensible victory in hosting the 2022 World Cup.  Slightly more here at The Guardian.  Of course, refusing to rule out a re-vote is likely a ploy, given that current FIFA chief Sepp Blatter is being challenged by Mohammad Bin Hammam, from . . . Qatar.  Bin Hammam was “heavily involved in lobbying for his nation to win”, hence if corruption existed, he was likely aware.  Anything that tarnishes Qatar’s bid conveniently undermines Blatter’s opponent.

The 2022 selection vote was between Qatar, the USA, South Korea, Japan, and Australia.  Presumably a re-vote would exclude Qatar, and neither South Korea nor Japan ought to receive much attention as they recently hosted it in 2002.  Among the existing bids, it would be between the US and Australia; with Australia only receiving one vote in the first round of voting, the USA should be favored.  A new entrant or entrants is possible, but with 2018 being held in Russia, a European bid would be ruled out (sorry, England).

Blatter, shockingly, is on record as denying that corruption exists in FIFA.

In soccer news not involving corruption, the rise of AFC Wimbledon is good story.  I’ve been loosely following their rise since their founding in 2002.  After five promotions in nine seasons, AFC Wimbledon are now in the Football League proper, promoted to the fourth tier of English soccer.

UPDATE (5/24): Qatar play the “disgruntled ex-employee” card to dismiss the allegations of corruption, pointing out that said allegations are “completely unsubstantiated and false”.  Of course.

Random Jetlag Blogging

[ 9 ] January 12, 2011 |

I arrived back on the island where I am currently based “yesterday” morning (January 11).  I slept seven hours “last night”, awaking at 11pm (GMT).  I lecture in two hours or so.  I’m sure it will go well indeed, once I work out just where and when I am.

While the social science on a relationship between what passes for political rhetoric in the USA and the events in Tucson is understandably mixed, it is safe to say that the right wing are not the victims.  Unless, of course, you’re Trent Humphries, co-founder of the Tucson branch of the Tea Party International, who believes that “The Democrats are using this opportunity to bludgeon their opponents.”

Oh, if only we were that organized.  It shouldn’t take too much political moxie to work out that the best way to approach this if you’re on the hard right is to point out that Tucson was a senseless tragedy, that violence has no place in society or even politics, and maybe that some on the right have turned the rhetoric up perhaps a little too high on the inflammatory scale.  What you wouldn’t want to do is claim that you, too, are victims.  But at least he recognizes that guns are likely taking a back seat in politics for the time being: “I’m pretty sure that for a little while yet you won’t be seeing any politician holding an AK-47 or an M16. I’m pretty sure that’s going to go away, and the last place that would go away is Arizona”.

An AK-47?

In this review of the right blogosphere, the narcissism stretches far.  (h/t John Emerson and Mark Devlin).

UPDATE:  I was wrong.  It’s really all about Sarah.  ”Blood libel” will henceforth enter the lexicon.

In different news, USMNT center back Oguchi Onyewu has moved on loan from AC Milan to FC Twente Enschede, the defending champions of the Dutch Eredivisie (and also located right across the street and rail line from my old office at U. Twente).

Random Sports Catch-up: Cricket, Plymouth Argyle on the Rocks, and UW

[ 4 ] December 29, 2010 |

I’m recently “returned” to Oregon from a week + in Kitsapland, hanging out for five days with my partner’s family, followed by an impromptu three-night stand with my fleet of cousins.  The latter was a non-stop holiday gala with excellent food, political debate, and, oh yeah, soaked with alcohol of all sorts (and at all times).  Beyond my phone I was well off the grid, literally, figuratively, metaphorically.

As predicted in Revelations, England retained the Ashes for the first time in 24 years in imperious fashion.  This now seems so long ago.  Whether or not this is a sign of the promised apocalypse I can’t say, but as the sun is currently shining in Portland, Oregon, I’m not making any long term plans.

In my other home, the third tier “professional” soccer team, Plymouth Argyle, are insolvent.  In American sports, this wouldn’t matter; when was the last time a major league baseball, football, or basketball team was allowed to go bust?  In Britain, it can, and does, happen; the most recent example being Scottish club Gretna FC who folded in 2008.  Argyle need at minimum something around £750,000 by February to pay their tax bill to the Inland Revenue, otherwise they appear to be done.  Indeed, Argyle face three concurrent “winding up orders” and require between £3 and £4 million by February to clear their immediate debts.  The board is in chaos, the staff (including the players) haven’t been paid on time for the second straight month, gates are significantly down from last year due to their relegation to the third division and their (charitably) mediocre play in said division, are under a transfer embargo by the league thus preventing them from so much as retaining a decent player on-loan from Chelsea, and they will certainly be forced to sell their two best players this January in order to possibly stay afloat.  In addition to selling off their best players, thus enhancing the probability of a second successive relegation, there’s talk of selling the stadium to property developers.

UPDATE: less than 24 hours after writing this, a bid has been accepted for winger Craig Noone.  As he’s in his final contract year, and the bidding team is fellow League – 1 side Brighton, the transfer fee won’t clear the tax debt.

Matt Slater at the BBC has the most comprehensive overview on the causes of what could be the end of a 124 year-old club.  Fans have taken matters into their own hands by setting up a supporters’ trust, in part organized by my student and friend John Petrie.  Ironically, Argyle’s Devon rivals Exeter City were saved from liquidation in 2003 by a similar trust, so there might be hope yet.  (Of course, it should be noted that when Exeter City drew 0-0 with Manchester United in the 2005 FA Cup at Old Trafford, the £675,000 cash infusion from the 67,000+ gate did not hurt City’s chances of financial survival).

Back in April, I posted here about how Argyle were officially relegated following their 0-2 loss to Newcastle United at Plymouth.  I had experienced a couple promotion seasons in Plymouth, that was my first relegation season.  Now, being relegated following a match against Newcastle United, or even Huddersfield Town, looks a lot more enticing than experiencing a rare, entirely possible, liquidation season.

And finally, there’s the small matter of my alma mater, the Oregon of the North, playing in the much vaunted Holiday Bowl in San Diego against 17th ranked Nebraska, tomorrow.  I’m certain that Nebraska are all aflutter with the privilege and honor of playing Washington.  I’m equally certain that Nebraska’s 56-21 victory in the third game of the season has absolutely no bearing on the outcome of the bowl game.

Umm, go Huskies.

Hail to the Conquistador!

[ 6 ] July 11, 2010 |

Some fabulous work from the LGM readership; two teams in the 99.9th percentile:

RNK ENTRY, OWNER GROUP RND16 QTR SEMI FINAL TOTAL PCT
1 greller49 1A. Greller 22 20 24 32 32 130 99.9
1 tnpsc 1v. las vegas 22 20 24 32 32 130 99.9
3 I Sure Hope I Win This!D A Lempert 20 16 24 32 32 124 99.1
4 gj manateesb. junge 19 16 24 32 32 123 98.9
4 wang1870D. Sessoms 19 24 16 32 32 123 98.9
6 timeagan101 1T. Eagan 23 16 16 32 32 119 98.1
7 US CottagersD. Brennan 18 20 16 32 32 118 97.8
7 Jersey Burkers J. Theibault 18 20 16 32 32 118 97.8
9 wizardpeople 1D. Noon 19 16 16 32 32 115 96.9
10 Smarter Than YuoS. Fleury 21 20 16 16 32 105 94.5

A. Greller wins by virtue of having a closer “total goals scored” number. Excellent work. If Mr. or Ms. Greller would please contact me, prize delivery shall be arranged…

Oh, and congrats to Spain as well, I guess.

World Cup Challenge Standings

[ 2 ] July 5, 2010 |

Not that anyone cares anymore…

RNK ENTRY, OWNER GROUP RND16 QTR SEMI FINAL TOTAL PCT
1 johnbparker1 1J. Parker 19 24 24 0 0 67 99.7
2 greller49 1A. Greller 22 20 24 0 0 66 99.5
2 bobby lenarduzzid. loveland 22 20 24 0 0 66 99.5
2 tnpsc 1v. las vegas 22 20 24 0 0 66 99.5
5 PALGOLAKp mac 21 20 24 0 0 65 99.4
6 NJLandfill1 1K. Hannigan 21 22 20 0 0 63 98.6
7 paul8462 1P. Inselmann 18 20 24 0 0 62 97.9
7 Eccentripity 1E. Cerevic 22 16 24 0 0 62 97.9
7 The HypnotoadD. Raskin 22 16 24 0 0 62 97.9
7 bourbon renewalh. hjklhljkh 22 24 16 0 0 62 97.9
7 Europa05 1m. allen 22 16 24 0 0 62 97.9

Penalty Kicks

[ 19 ] July 2, 2010 |

As I’ve said before, I can’t stand important games being decided by any kind of penalty shooting, although true aficionados of football will tell me that the nature of the their sport makes them the least bad alternative and I admit I don’t really have a good answer. (For hockey, there’s no excuse.) Under these circumstances, though, the team I’m rooting for suffering the arbitrary loss isn’t nearly as bad as usual.

But, damn.

Oranje!

[ 10 ] July 2, 2010 |

The Dutch defeat at the Second Battle of Guararapes now stands avenged.

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