RSL Cup blog taking a long much needed break

I've been a fan of Real Salt Lake since it joined MLS and took to the field in 2005, and I've been a fan of MLS since it began in 1996.

However, over the past couple of years, and especially the last several months, I've began to see the ugly underbelly of this sport. Most likely it has always been there and I was just too naïve to see it, but I cannot not see it anymore.

I'm taking a much needed break from the sport of soccer. I may or may not be back. I may or may not update this blog, I don't know. It would be a shame since I've had it up and running for almost 10 years, but the fun I once had just isn't there any more.

Hopefully you fare better.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Madrid revels in Barcelona's exit

(by Sid Lowe 4-30-10)

When the final whistle went, the bar erupted. Through the raised fists, the smoke and the bodies hugging each other, you could just about make out the television screen as Inter manager Jose Mourinho sprinted across the Camp Nou, celebrating what he would later describe as "the most beautiful defeat of my life."

Immediately, the volume of the TV was turned down and the club's anthem burst out from the speakers, to a huge cheer. Soon, everyone was singing along; the perfect relief from the tension. It had all been worthwhile. A mile down the road, fans were spilling into the city's central square, waving flags and diving into the fountain. Passing cars and mopeds tooted their horns.

But this was not Milan; this was Madrid. The song booming out was not C'e solo l'Inter and the square filling with fans was not Piazza del Duomo. The song was Real Madrid's anthem, Las Mocitas Madrilenas, and the square was Cibeles, Real Madrid's spiritual home -- the fountain where they celebrate their triumphs. The fan busy telling TV cameras it was the happiest day of his life -- "Well, after the birth of my kids" -- was a Real Madrid supporter. And he wasn't alone. The newspaper declaring "Thank You, Mourinho" the following morning was not Gazetta dello Sport but Marca, whose cover, like that of its competitor AS, splashed with Mourinho's victory dance.

On Tuesday, Mourinho insisted that for Inter Milan reaching the Champions League final was a dream while for Barcelona it was something completely different -- an "obsession." There was a simple reason: This year's final will be at Real Madrid's Santiago Bernabeu Stadium and Barcelona fans couldn't imagine anything better than winning the European Cup at their rivals' home. As far as Mourinho was concerned, it was the where rather than the what that motivated them, obsessed them. "It is," Mourinho concluded, "anti-Madridismo."

Gabriele Marcotti: Mourinho masterful for Inter

In the Spanish capital, they applauded Mourinho for hitting a nerve -- for introducing Mr. Nail to Mr. Head. With the aid of a sledgehammer. The truth hurts, they laughed. Mourinho had hit Barcelona right where it smarts most -- just as he did by playing in Madrid-style all-white and having Judas himself, Luis Figo, the former Barcelona idol who joined Real Madrid, sitting alongside him on the bench. Mourinho knew how to really get under their skin. After all, he had spent a year at Barcelona in 1996 as Bobby Robson's translator. He knew what made them tick. Better still, he knew what made them sick.

And, they said, what makes Barcelona sick is Real Madrid. They call it Madriditis. For years Madrid fans have claimed that Madriditis revealed Barcelona's inferiority. They claimed that Barcelona fans were more obsessed with Madrid losing than their own team winning. Madrid would never do that, they said; Madrid only cared about winning: the hatred, the bitterness, the anger, was all one way. Madrid just laughed at Barca and their pitiful ways. You just can't help being terrified of us! They were, above all, anti-Madridistas, the ultimate proof of an incontrovertible truth: Barcelona was a small, petty-minded club carrying a colossal chip on its shoulder.

Maybe so. But Wednesday night showed that so is Madrid. Rivalry cuts both ways. The moral high ground is built on sand, quick to crumble. "I'd like to think our fans will return to Cibeles to celebrate our successes," Real midfielder Xabi Alonso said the following morning. In his normal calm manner, Alonso had nailed it -- even if he didn't mean to. He'd like to think that way -- and with a solitary point separating Real and Barcelona at the top of the La Liga table, it could yet happen -- but for now celebrating Barcelona's failure would have to do. For now, fans of the team eliminated at the first knockout round of the Champions League would have to gloat over Barca's semifinal exit.

The obsession that surrounded the final was felt on both sides of the divide: If Barcelona was obsessed with getting to the Bernabeu, Madrid was similarly obsessed with the fear of Barca doing just that. The final had been set to be the ultimate humiliation. Some newspapers started to attack former Real Madrid president Ramon Calderon for requesting the chance to host it in the first place. More than ever, Madrid fans were desperate for Barcelona to lose and here they were celebrating their failure like it was a triumph of their own.

Wednesday night was a relief. As one newspaper cover put it: "Cibeles can sleep easy." Madrid has avoided the shame, the horrible prospect of watching Barcelona celebrate in its stadium, defaming its temple. Now, Madrid can wallow in someone else's success -- now, it can make Inter's its own.

Quite literally. Because while the presence in the final of the outstanding stars of this year's Champions League, Bayern's Arjen Robben and Inter's Wesley Sneijder -- both ditched by Madrid last summer -- remains a little embarrassing, at least Barcelona isn't there. Better still, Madrid's man is. For much of the Madrid-based media, the last week has not been about Inter or Barcelona, but about Madrid, the center of the footballing universe. For them, this wasn't a Champions League semifinal; this was an audition.

And Mourinho has passed with flying colors. The headline on the front of Marca could not have put it more clearly. "Mou, you have earned it," the cover said. "Your place in the final. And your signing for Madrid."

If Madrid does sign Mourinho and, better still, if it can either announce the signing or strategically leak it before May 22, it will be the perfect PR coup. Suddenly, it will have bought its way back into the final. If Inter then win it, Madrid will have won it too. Mourinho will be the perfect man for the job: He won the European Cup and he beat Barcelona. Something Real Madrid couldn't do for themselves.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tampa Bay and Miami logos

Tampa Bay Mutiny 1996 - 2001

Miami Fusion FC 1998 - 2001

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

(more to come)

Monday, April 19, 2010

Toronto FC, Yoda banner

[yodavoice]The most creative banner in MLS it could be.[/yodavoice]

Thursday, April 15, 2010

RSL supporter groups logos

The Loyalists
Rogue Cavaliers Brigade
Section 26
RSL Monarchy
Frank Castle Brigade
La Barra Real
The Royal Pride
La Union Real
Ultra Salt Lake
Royal Army

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Inauspicious start for AC St. Louis

( 4-10-10)

AC St. Louis' debut got off to an inauspicious start when it couldn't produce a picture ID for Manu Kante and it played the first 31 minutes of its game at Carolina with 10 men until Kante returned from the team hotel with it. By that time, the RailHawks led on a pair of goals by Maltese striker Etienne Barbara and held on for the 2-0 win.

“He can offer us a lot because he’s a threat with his pace but also he’s so strong that he can hold the ball up,” Carolina coach Martin Rennie said of Barbara. “And as you could see tonight, he can finish. He only had two chances, and he took them. So that was good.”

The surprise of the weekend was Austin's 2-0 win over 2009 USL-1 champion Montreal on goals by Lawrence Olum and Jamie Watson.

Former MLS star Christian Gomez played for FC Miami in its 1-1 tie with Rochester, but the other notable signing from MLS, Steve Ralston, did not play for AC St. Louis.

Attendance was poor on the opening weekend of the new D-2 Pro League. The four games averaged 2,700 a game.

Ten Years Ago: The Curse of Caricola

( 3-5-06)

Frankly, we're a little tired of the Red Bull logo gracing the front page of MetroFanatic. Ok, we're very tired of it; and who knows how much of bull we will see in the future, so we are starting a new feature, dedicated to the MetroStars' 1996 season. We already covered some aspects of it in Obscure Metro Files and Ten Best/Worst, but this feature, Ten Years Ago, will take a closer look at that inaugural Metro season, the season that made many of us Metro fans. We start with the events of April 20, 1996: The creation of the Curse of Caricola.

On that fateful day, the MetroStars, coming off their opening day 2:1 loss against Los Angeles, were playing their first home game ever, against the New England Revolution. Over 46,000 people showed up for the Metros' first home match; most of them had no idea who most of the players were; surely they heard of Tony Meola and maybe Peter Vermes, but Andrew Restrepo? Jeff Zaun? Edmundo Rodriguez? Nevertheless, Metro was their new team and they cheered for the name, cheered for the shirt, cheered for 89 scoreless horrible minutes. Face it; there are some people who wax poetically about the level of play in the league's early days, but it was mostly... crap, with substandard players and tactics in most of MLS. Yes, there was that special player or two, like Carlos Valderrama or our own Roberto Donadoni, who would arrive two weeks later, special players who could produce spectacular moments, but those were few in horrendous matches, and it is this horrible play and player selection that turned away many of these 46,000 from attending future games... But let's not go on a tangent, because 89 minutes into this match, the 46,000 are glued to their seats, oblivious of what will come (be it in the next minute or in the next ten years), many of them not even knowing that a tied MLS game would go in a shootout... And as the seconds tick off the clock, Metro defender Nicola Caricola attempts to clear a deflected Darren Sawatzky cross, and the ball goes the other way, into the Metro net, past the never-expecting Meola. And that's it; the few seconds left tick away, the clock hits zero, there is no injury time in MLS, and 46,000 leave stunned, as the dagger of Metro failure get stabbed into their heart for the first time. For some, the last. And the Curse of Caricola is born.

So who was Nicola Caricola? The 33-year old Italian defender spent four years with Juventus, and also played for Bari, Genoa, and Torino. He had spent some time with Italian youth national teams, but never progressed to the senior squad. Married to a model (don't we all just love foreshadowing), he decided to come to New York and the MetroStars. Caricola played just one year for the club, abruptly retiring during the 1997 preseason. He never removed the stigma of that own goal from his name; in fact he also deflected a Galaxy shot into the Metro net in the inaugural match (it was not counted an own goal), and had another one in a July loss to the Rapids. Amazingly, he was not as bad as many remember, and this very website called him the tenth best Metro foreigner of all time (which says more about the quality of Metros' foreign signings than anything else). Caricola played the sweeper role with great success, and linked the defense with the offense like few, if any, have done for Metro since. He scored two goals into the correct net himself, one against Dallas, and one on a remarkable long bomb against Columbus that remains one of the best goals in Metro history.

But the Curse remains. For even ten years after that own goal, the Metros are still without a domestic trophy (for who can forget, on this two-year anniversary, the 2004 La Manga Cup!) And every time a late goal is scored against them, or every time a Metro player mistakenly puts a ball into his own net, the Ghost of Caricola rises from the swamp, and Metro fans -- those who remember -- shriek in horror at that memory. The Curse of Caricola lives.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

May you live in interesting times

(by Alex Sharratt 5-10-06)

Football sucks.

That's a nasty way to open, but after witnessing the conclusion to The Worst Season Ever, it had to be said.

Consider this: five of the six major European leagues have already been won by the same clubs that took the title in the previous season.

Chelsea, Lyon, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and PSV all kept hold of their championship titles with matches to spare - and Juventus are in pole position to make it a clean sweep when Serie A concludes next weekend.

And the deeper you scratch, the more unsavory the statics become.

Lyon's success was their fifth successive Ligue 1 title. PSV have now wond the Eredivisie four times in the last six years, Bayern have celebrated the Bundesliga title for seven of the last ten seasons. Juventus stand on the brink of their fourth championship in five years.

Meanwhile, in Greece, Olympiakos have now won nine of the last ten Alpha Ethniki titles. In neighbouring Turkey, Fenerbahce stand on the brink of their third-successive Super League triumph.

Hardly an inspirational set of facts.

No, something's rotten here.

European football is drowning in its own self-importance, and the fans have become too scared or lazy to throw the game the life jacket it so desperately needs.

Instead, we sit at the poolside, fat and bloated after gorging ourselves on a super-Size diet of bland and tasteless football, remote control resting on our swollen bellies, flicking from mind-numbing championship to another.

Sniff, sniff, sniff. But how did all this happen?

It happened because football has been stolen from the fans by a deceitful, shadowy cartel of money-mongers and the most humiliating thing of all is that they did so right under our noses.

While we gazed with open mouths and wide eyes at the circus freaks parading in front of us, we didn't realize that they had an army of shifty little cronies walking amongst the crowd, picking our pockets.

Childish naivety is the only excuse we can offer; our brains were too fried from the free candyfloss and root beer to notice what was really going on around us.

I feel like I've finally awoken from a five-year blackout, and this past season has been one long and dirty hangover as my throbbing head tries to work out what happened.

Those circus acts, those freak of finance, didn't really roll in to town to help us; they weren't really here to enrich our lives.

No, my friends, far from it. They are here only to make themselves feel important; to wheel and deal and whirl and twirl and play games with each other in their sandbox world.

This sleazy cloud of bloodsuckers has taken everything and given us nothing in return. They have truly bled European football dry.

The result is Condition Red. No. perhaps more frightening that that, Condition Beige.

But I am a drowsy man, and these twice-told tales are certainly vexing my ear.

Perhaps the World Cup will prove to be the first dew on a bright new dawn.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Fans essential to Union's inception

(by Jeff Carlisle 4-9-10)

With the Philadelphia Union's first-ever home match set to take place this Saturday against D.C. United, the sense of anticipation is reaching a crescendo for Union fan Bryan James. But rather than worry about the state of the club's back line, or whether the Union attack will break through for the first goal in team history, James has something else on his mind: His fellow fans.

Or more specifically, the Sons of Ben, an independent Philadelphia supporters group of which James is the president. Much like Union head coach Peter Nowak, James is intent on making the best impression possible this weekend at Lincoln Financial Field. But though Nowak will be worried about the 18 players on his game-day roster, James' focus is on the 2,000 or so Sons of Ben who will be among the expected crowd of 30,000.

"For 1,500 of these people, it's going to be the first time that they've actually come out to an event," James said via telephone. "While we've had 500 or so come out over the years to games and viewings, for the rest of these people, it's going to be like 'You guys are really standing for 90 minutes? Oh, OK, I think I can do this. And what are the lyrics? How does this song go?' I'm more worried about us stinkin' than the team."

Such fretting seems typical Philadelphia, but if the group's track record is anything to go by, James needn't be concerned. Back in January of 2007, after floating the idea on some message boards, James, along with friends Andrew Dillon and Dave Flagler, founded the group over lunch at a Philadelphia watering hole. Rather quickly, the idea became a movement, and membership swelled into the thousands, as did season-ticket requests. And though the process of landing an MLS expansion team has plenty of moving parts, the momentum they generated played a huge role in the city's bid "to form a more perfect Union."

"The Sons of Ben were a critical element of our success in acquiring the team, because they sent a message to the other owners in the league and the league itself that Philadelphia was going to be a well-supported market," said Union CEO Nick Sakiewicz. "That speaks very loudly because when you're up against other cities to be the 16th team, we were able to point to a group of people that we didn't have anything to do with who were supporting MLS in this marketplace."

Along the way, the Sons of Ben attended all manner of events in a bid to hone their edge. In the summer of 2007, they caravanned up to the Meadowlands for an MLS match between the New York Red Bulls and the Kansas City Wizards. Their sole purpose? Heckling Red Bulls fans, of course. One hundred of them attended the 2007 MLS Cup, even though their team was still nothing more than a gleam in their collective eye.

Back on March 25, about 70 members were able to cheer their team on for real, making the cross-country trek to Seattle for the Union's inaugural match against the Sounders. In between renditions of "Diving Montero" (an ode to Seattle forward Fredy Montero sung to the tune of "Guantanamera"), they watched their side fall 2-0. On Saturday, the rest of the group will get to join in while noting how far they have come.

"It was like a pipe dream three years ago," Dillon said. "Now, thinking that two days from now I'm going to be walking into the Linc and watching the Union play, it's surreal. You could push me over with a feather right now."

Yet the group realizes that the ante has been upped. The intense rivalries that Philadelphia has in other sports with cities like New York and Washington, D.C., look set to replicate themselves in MLS. According to a United spokesman, more than 1,000 fans are expected to make the trip north. The irony here is that prior to Philadelphia being awarded an MLS franchise, many members, James among them, supported D.C. United.

So will there be any conflicting emotions Saturday?

"If they still had the players who I really liked when I was cheering for D.C., the answer would be 'Yes,'" James said. "The Ben Olsens, the Marco Etcheverrys, Eddie Pope, even Mario Gori, they're long gone. I don't even recognize the guys that are on the team now except for Jaime Moreno."

There will be stumbles to be sure. Already disagreements have emerged over how best to incorporate the Mummers, who host a parade every New Year's Day in which various groups compete against one another by playing music and dressing up in outlandish, Cirque du Soleil-like costumes. The plan is for one group of Mummers, called the Polish American String Band, to add to the atmosphere by performing inside the stadium. Dillon isn't sure he wants to listen to the group "for the whole 90 minutes." James counters that incorporating the Mummers will make for an atmosphere that is unique to the city.

"Music and guys aren't antonyms in Philadelphia, and that's why I think soccer is going to work here," James said. "The guys that are Mummers are union workers, guys that do labor trades all day, and who also happen to be skilled musicians with the passion to rehearse full skits for a once-a-year kind of deal. The fact that the Eagles are one of the few NFL teams that has a fight song; it's always been a musical celebration town with a very passionate fan base. All of those traditions are going to merge very well, and end up really surprising people with how well soccer does in this town."

Chances are that any issues that arise will become secondary as kickoff approaches. The group is sponsoring an informal, bring-your-own tailgate, as well as a pregame party at a local bar. The Sons of Ben will then convene to march into the stadium, but not before engaging in a little practice for the newcomers. Then once inside, the singing and chanting is expected to continue for the entire game.

James said, "For a lot of people, I'm sure they're going to be reaching for water, beer, soda -- or cough drops."

If that's the case, then such fervor will make for the best kind of first impression.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

How Osasuna saved RSL

(text coming soon)