Posts Tagged ‘Soccer’

Movie Review: 30 for 30: Soccer Stories

Title: 30 for 30: Soccer Stories
Production Co:ESPN Films
Country: United States
Language: English (and other languages in interviews and archival footage)
Genre: Documentary | Sports | History

In preparation for this year’s World Cup tournament, I watched this series of ESPN films about football/futbol/soccer on Netflix. They all touch upon themes beyond sports and into the realms of politics and human drama.

Title:Hillsborough
Release Date: April 15, 2014
Director: Daniel Gordon
The feature-length documentary tells the story of the 1989 FA Cup Semifinal where 96 supporters of Liverpool FC were crushed to death, and the ongoing story of survivors and family to find justice. I knew a fair bit about the disaster coming in, but the film filled me in on some startling details. For example, the Hillsborough stadium had experienced crushing incidents at previous games. Then there is the extent the police went to slander the victims, ranging from the coroner’s unprecedented decision to take blood alcohol samples from all of the dead (including children) to editing and sanitizing over a hundred reports written by police officers on the scene. The documentary features interviews with survivors, family of the dead, police, and legal experts as well as television and close-circuit camera film of the events of the day. One deficit of the film is the use of dramatic reenactments which are confusing and unnecessary (for example, the story of some police officers playing a cruel hazing prank a few weeks before the match and leading to the transfer of a police chief experienced with crowd control did not need to be acted out). Of all the films in the series this one is the most effective and a must see although very disturbing to watch.

Rating: ****1/2

Title: The Opposition
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Director: Ezra Edelman and Jeffrey Plunkett
Another disturbing film where politics intrudes into sport focuses on the Chilean national team attempting to qualify for the 1974 World Cup. When the democratically elected government is overthrown by Augusto Pinochet, Chile’s national stadium is turned into a prison and torture camp for those deemed dissidents by the new regime. When the USSR boycotts a qualifier game, the Chilean team is forced to participate in a farce of scoring a goal against no opposition in the same stadium. The United States, for supporting the coup, and FIFA, for turning a blind eye to the human rights violations in their midst, come off looking very bad. It’s all very grim, and it feels like this story deserved more than 22 minutes.

Rating:***

Title: Maradona ’86
Release Date: April 22, 2014
Director: Sam Blair
This is more of a traditional sports documentary focusing on Diego Maradona’s magnificent performance at the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. A divisive figure, he’s able to capture the appreciation of the world in these games. The documentary excels in its use of archival footage to tell the story, especially the clips from Argentina and the poetic descriptions of Maradona’s goals.

Rating:***

Title: Ceasefire Massacre
Release Date: April 29, 2014
Director: Alex Gibney and Trevor Birney
In 1994, Ireland won a surprising World Cup group match over Italy in front of a fervent crowd of Irish-American supporters in the Meadowlands of New Jersey. This great moment for a perennially poor team came after qualifying in a game over Northern Ireland, earning respect and admiration for the team across the island. But during half-time of this World Cup match, a bar in the tiny of Loughisland was targeted by Protestant terrorists, who opened fire killing six and wounding five. Both stories are interesting, but seem tenuously connected, even as the documentary suggests that the players learning of the massacre affected their play in the rest of the tournament.

Rating:**1/2

Title: The Myth of Garrincha
Release Date: April 29, 2014
Director: Marcos Horacio Azevedo

Mané Garrincha, knees bent by childhood illness, should not have been a professional athlete, but turned out to be an unpredictable and entertaining goal-scorer. He gained great fame from leading Brazil to World Cup Championships in 1958 and 1962. This documentary has a “Behind the Music” feel as it goes into the effect of the “price of fame” that manifested in Garrincha in severe alcoholism and the public turning against him when he marries a samba singer who had been married before. He died bankrupt and alone in 1983, but his funeral turns out to be another big change in public perception as there’s an outpouring of affection for the forgotten hero.

Rating:**1/2

Title: Mysteries of the Rimet Trophy
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Director: Brett Ratner

This is the weakest of the bunch, a hodge-podge of stories of people trying to steal the World Cup trophy (well, some are successful as it is still missing to this day). It feels like a cheezy History Channel doc from the 1990s, complete with archival footage of parading Nazis.

Rating:*1/2

Title: Barbosa: The Man Who Made Brazil Cry
Release Date: May 6, 2014
Director: Loch Phillipps

The goalkeeper for Brazil’s 1950 World Cup team, Barbosa was unfairly blamed for the loss to Uruquay at the Maracanã in Rio. Like Garrincha, he lives out his life treated as a villain in Brazil, but unlike Garrincha is a gentle soul who never deserved any reprobation. It’s an interesting glimpse into the 1950 World Cup and it’s long-lasting after affects, although I still have trouble buying into the mourning that continues over this loss in Brazil when the country subsequently won five World Cups (and counting).

Rating:***

World Cup Round of 16 Rooting Interests and Predictions

After an exciting round of group play, the knock-out rounds for the 2014 World Cup begin today.  Below I’ve listed the teams I’m rooting for and the teams I expect to win (not always the same) for each game.

28 June 2014

Brazil vs. Chile

This is a tough call.  I have a soft spot for Chile and they acquitted themselves well in group play, but I’ve always liked Brazil and it would be tragic if the host nation exited the tournament this early (especially after having to endure all the corporate, government, and FIFA corruption).  That being said, I expect Brazil will have no problem winning this game and probably advance at least to the semifinals.

Supporting: Brazil           Prediction: Brazil

Colombia vs. Uruguay

Colombia is one of the most exciting teams in the tournament with the most feverish fans.  Uruguay did well in group play, but aren’t going to go far without their bitey star Luis Suarez.  Colombia is an easy team to support and pick for the win.

Supporting: Colombia         Prediction: Colombia

It’s interesting that four of the five remaining South American teams are essentially playing for one semifinal spot.  I expect that Brazil will advance from this group of four, but the Brazil versus Colombia quarterfinal has the potential to be an exciting match.

29 June 2014

Netherlands vs. Mexico

Mexico is our biggest rival, but I’ve been swayed to their side this World Cup for several reasons:  CONCACAF regional pride, the performance of goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, the exburance of coach Miguel Herrera, and their exciting style of play in a tough group.  I adopted the Netherlands in 2010 as my team to support after the US elimination (mainly because I had just visited Amsterdam that year), but the karate chop performance of the final kind of took the bloom off that rose.  Still, the Netherlands look like a dominant side that may advance all the way to the final again, and will be hard for Mexico to beat.

Supporting: Mexico          Prediction: Netherlands

Costa Rica vs. Greece

Costa Rica’s team is the surprise of the tournament, giant-killers in what should’ve been the toughest group.  It’s hard not to like Los Ticos.  Greece are also surprise members of the final 16.  However, they haven’t shown a lot of skill in the group stage.  I expect another Costa Rica win.

Supporting: Costa Rica     Prediction: Costa Rica

An all CONCACAF quarterfinal would be a thrilling thing, but I expect that the Netherlands will progress to the semifinals from this group of four.

30 June 2014

France vs. Nigeria

I tend to root for the underdogs, so I have to favor Nigeria here, but France is looking like one of the top teams in the tournament, so I don’t have much hope for the African side.

Supporting: Nigeria         Prediction: France

Germany vs. Algeria

Algeria is the other surviving African team who’ve drawn tough European competition in Germany.  I’ll root for Algeria, but expect Germany to make it at least to the semifinal.

Supporting: Algeria          Prediction: Germany

There’s an opportunity for an all-African quarterfinal coming out this group of four, but it’s more likely that European neighbors Germany and  France will meet to decide a spot in the final four.

1 July 2014

Argentina vs. Switzerland

I’ve not been impressed by Argentina who  won a weak group by basically holding out for a Lionel Messi wondergoal.  On the other hand, Argentina has enough talent that should be able to advance as far as the semifinal without breaking much of a sweat.  I haven’t got much of a sense of Switzerland, but I’ll be rooting for them just so that USA would have a more potentially beatable side in the quarterfinal, should it come to that.

Supporting: Switzerland       Prediction:  Argentina

Belgium vs. United States

Sure, Belgium is a dark horse to win the World Cup, and sure they won all three of their group matches.  Sure, the United States has struggled and only just made it out of group play.  But Belgium played in one of the weakest groups, while the United States faced down three challenging opponents without ever throwing in the towel.  I believe that we will win.

Supporting:  United States       Prediction: United States

While I think that the United States can make it to the quarterfinal, Argentina is the prohibitive favorite of this group of four.  Still, Iran held Argentina scoreless for 90 minutes, so maybe someone can pull of a miracle win.

Book Review: Distant Corners by David Wangerin

Author: David Wangerin
Title Distant Corners: American Soccer’s History of Missed Opportunities and Lost Causes
Publication Info:  Temple University Press (2011)
ISBN:  1439906300
Summary/Review:

A sequel of sorts to Soccer in a Football World, Wangerin’s history of soccer in the United States, this book is a series of essays focusing on particular places and times in American history when soccer flourished.  If there’s a unifying theme of book is the inevitable quote from a contemporary to the effect that soccer’s rise to popularity in the United States is just around the corner.  The negative that can be taken from this is that they were all wrong as soccer remains a niche sport in the country, but the positive is that it shows just how much of a history of the game there is in the United States.  Wangerin explores this historical periods in search of a distinct American style of play that can be built upon as the game continues to grow in the US.  

Topics covered by the essays include:

  • tours of the US by Pilgrims, Corinthians, and other English teams to attempt to popularize association football at a time when violence and deaths were sullying gridiron football in the early 1900s.
  • The creation of a national federation (now the USSF) and the National Challenge Cup (now the US Open Cup).
  • Thomas Cahill, the man who, under better circumstances, would be remembered as the father of American soccer.
  • The success of Penn State’s soccer team in the Depression Era under the leadership of Bill Jeffrey.
  • Leagues in St. Louis create a distinctive St. Louis style of play
  • The Oakland Clippers, champions of the renegade NPSL in 1967 and one of the top teams in the first year of the NASL in 1968, flounder in their attempt to play outside the league against top international competition.
  • 1979, the pivotal year of the NASL.

Recommended books: Once in a Lifetime by Gavim Newsham and The Grass of Another Country: A Journey Through the World of Soccer by Christopher Merrill
Rating: ***1/2

 

Photopost: Boston Breakers versus Portland Thorns FC

On Sunday, our family went to see the Boston Breakers play a soccer match against the Portland Thorns FC.  My toddler daughter Kay didn’t last long and after about 20 minutes or so my wife had to take her to a playground.  But my son Peter and I stayed to watch the entire game even during a rain shower in the final minutes.

Things started well with an early goal by Lianne Sanderson for the Breakers, but overall the team played sloppily failing to connect on passes and leaving goalkeeper Ashley Phillips exposed to attacks by the Thorns.  A great number of fans in attendance were there to see the Thorns superstar player Alex Morgan with a subset actively cheering for the team from Oregon (including a handful of supporters holding Thorns’ scarves through the games).  They were pleased to see Morgan even the score in the 23rd minute.

The Breakers were able to hang on until the rain began to fall and in the 87th Morgan made the assist for Melana Shim’s game-winning goal.  A disappointing performance by the Breakers, but a fun game with a good vibe in the sellout crowd.  This is the first time we’ve attended a Breakers’ game since their move to Dilboy Stadium in Somerville which is more intimate in seating than Harvard Stadium, but a running track makes the playing field feel very far away.  The Afro-Brazilian drummers who play during the game were at the far corner behind the goal, but I think would help the atmosphere if they played closer to the stands (in fact, there’s plenty of room on the aforementioned track).  Anyway, I need to get my butt in gear and go to more games.

More details on the game from New England Soccer Today and the Boston.com Corner Kicks blog.

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Open Streets on the Avenue of the Arts: Circle the City

Bostonians enjoyed easy access for walking, biking, skating, playing and more on the outbound lanes of Huntington Avenue on Sunday, July 14th thanks to the Circle the City Open Streets program.  Thanks to Walk Boston, I was able to participate in the event reviving my Boston By Foot Avenue of the Arts walking tour.  A small but curious group joined me on the 90 minute walk from the Christian Science Center to the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum.

After the tour, I met up with my wife and kids to take in more of the activities.  My son Peter was drawn to the Super Soccer Stars activities at Northeastern University and happily played soccer with the coaches and rotating cast of children for about three hours.  I had little trouble convincing my daughter Kay to be my copilot on a bike ride up and down the Avenue of the Arts.  We enjoyed the Boston Cyclist Union’s demonstration cycle tracks, listened to a drum circle, watched dancers, heard a loud synthpop duo, rode alongside marching bands, and got high fives from passersby.

Despite scorching hot weather, it was a fun day out for all the family and something I’d love to see more often.  Before I get to the photos, I have two quick, mild criticisms.  First, the map and program didn’t seem to have enough helpful detail about the types of activities going on or even a good sense of where to find some things (for example, I think my tour may have had more people if they had a better sense of what it was and where to meet, but I also had this feeling looking for other activities).  Second, the stretch of Huntington from Ruggles to Brigham Circle felt like the activity tents were spaced far apart.  It’s also a less shady part of the road, unfortunately.  It didn’t seem too welcoming to pedestrian activity and I didn’t see many people walking here.  Maybe the activities should be grouped together more closely to lend it a better street festival vibe?

 

Cross-posted at my Boston Bike Commuter blog.

US Open Cup Soccer Comes to Boston

On Wednesday June 12th, the local soccer club the New England Revolution played a game on Boston soil for (I believe) the first time. The match saw the Revs face the New York Red Bulls in the Fourth Round of the US Open Cup.  If you’re not familiar with the US Open Cup, it is a knock-out tournament open to soccer teams from amateur levels to the lower professional divisions and on up to Major League Soccer similar to the FA Cup in England and the Copa del Rey in Spain.  This is the 100th year of competition for the US Open Cup which has a rich if overlooked history.

MLS teams like to schedule US Open Cup home games in alternate venues to allow a more intimate setting in front of fans who may not usually make it to their league games.  The Revolution wisely scheduled this match at Harvard University’s Soldiers Field Socceer Field.  Most Revolution games are played at Gillette Stadium, designed for NFL football for their roommates the New England Patriots, and located in the podunk town of Foxborough* about 30 miles southwest of Boston.  Both the field and cavernous stands of Gillette are ill-suited to soccer.  Harvard’s field veers to far in the opposite direction of being too intimate with seats for only 2,500 fans, but it is a good first step for the ultimate goal of having a professional men’s soccer team call Boston home.

A rainbow crossed the sky before the game and continued to reappear in the first half with the two ends of the bow appearing to reach from goal to goal.  The Revolution’s die-hard supporters groups marched in before the game and filled up a grassy berm at one of the goal ends where the lead the fans with rhythmic chants and flag waving.  Even some Red Bulls supporters came up to occupy the opposing end of the field.  All of this created a wonderful atmosphere for the enthusiastic fan’s in attendance, and most importantly the Revolution won an exciting game 4-2.  They advance to the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup versus DC United, which will be played Maryland on June 26th.  It was great fun riding the MBTA #66 bus home after the game on a bus full of happy Revs fan.  The team is now 1-0 on Boston soil.  Let’s hope we can do this all again.

Some more thoughts on the game from New England Soccer Today.

* Sorry to insult Foxborough, which I’m sure is a lovely town, but the stadium itself is poorly located with no access by public transportation and even auto access is along one road (US 1) that is several miles drive to the nearest interstate.  The NFL has wealthy season ticket holders, corporate interests, and lucrative television deals so they can afford to pretend it is still the 1960’s/70’s and turn their backs on the cities.  Professional soccer (like baseball, hockey, and basketball) needs to tie themselves with the resurgence and growth of the urban core as amply demonstrated by the successful soccer specific stadiums in Portland, Vancouver, Montreal,  Kansas City, and even Houston.  Seattle is even able to make it’s urban NFL stadium a big draw for soccer.  The Revolution or a new team in one of the lower divisions would be wise to settle into Boston and take advantage of an untapped market of college students, young professionals, and immigrant communities with time and money to spend.

 

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World Cup Qualifying – A World-Wide Approach?

The past week featured another round of qualifying games for the upcoming FIFA World Cup 2014 to be held in Brazil.  Under the current rules, the six association football confederations (loosely representing the 6 continents inhabited by humans) each conduct a qualifying tournament to determine which teams will represent their confederation.  The number of places in the World Cup Finals varies depending on confederation ranging from 14 places for UEFA (Europe) to 0 or 1 place for OFC (Oceania).

I got to thinking that perhaps it may be more fun and fair if for World Cup qualifying, the confederations were dispensed with entirely and qualifiers were played among national teams from around the world just as they play together in the finals.  The confederations are oddly aligned as it is with Australia, a continent in its own right, has been a member of the Asian Football Confederation since 2006 so they could play more competitive matches.  The South American nations of  Guyana, Suriname, and French Guiana do not play in qualifiers with their South American neighbors in CONMEBOL but instead compete in the larger Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football.  So why not mix them all up and create a world-wide tournament.

My thoughts on the world-wide approach to World Cup qualifying is that it would provide several benefits:

  • Dispense with the somewhat arbitrary number of places awarded to each confederation allowing places in the finals to be earned through qualifying competition.
  • Allow nations with weaker teams to increase their level of competitiveness by matching up against some of the world’s best national teams.
  • On the other hand, the higher ranking teams may use matches against minnows as an opportunity to test younger players under tournament conditions.
  • Increase cultural exchange and international awareness among football players and supporters.
  • Standardize the number of qualifying matches played.  Currently, depending on the confederation, a national team may play as few as 8 matches and as many as 24 matches in qualification rounds, plus intercontinental playoffs for teams that did not qualify directly.  My proposal would have each team that makes it to the finals playing in 12 or 18 games.
  • Extend the drama and tension of the World Cup by having it build up over a two-year period of tournament play with the number of teams winnowed away until the 31 places for the finals are filled.

There are 209 member nations in FIFA.  With the host nation automatically qualifying, that leaves as many as 208 national teams fighting for the remaining 31 spots.  My proposal below works on the premise that all 208 national teams will be participating, although historically the greatest number of teams to enter qualification was 205 for the 2010 World Cup qualifying rounds.

Initially, I considered that the 208 teams could be drawn into 52 groups of four for the first round of qualification.  Then I considered the possibility of high-ranking teams getting eliminated by other high-ranking teams early on while weaker sides advanced from less competitive groups.  So for the round of qualification, some of the best teams in the world will have a bye as is already the common practice in the early round(s) of confederation-based qualification.

FIRST ROUND BYES

32 national teams will be granted a bye from participating in the first round.  The byes may be awarded to the top 32 teams in the FIFA World Ranking at the time qualifying is to begin, or they may be given to the 32 teams that participated in the previous World Cup finals, or some other methodology agreed upon as fair by FIFA member nations.

FIRST ROUND

Up to 176 teams may participate in the First Round of World Cup Qualifiers.  They would be drawn into 44 groups of 4 teams each.  Within the groups the teams play a double round robin (home and away against each opponent in the group) for a total of six games.  The top two teams at the end of group play advance to the second round while the remaining teams are eliminated from qualification.  To determine the order of teams in their group they will be ranked by points,then  goal difference, and then total number of goals scored.  If two or more teams are still equal on all three criteria then they will be ranked on head-to-head points, goal differential, and total goals.  If teams remain tied and it affects what team may advance to the next round then a one-game playoff will be played at a neutral location.

SECOND ROUND

The 88 teams that advance from the First Round and the 32 teams that received first round byes come together for a total of 120 national teams.  These teams will be drawn into 30 groups of 4 teams each.  In this round the top 30 teams will be seeded based on the current world rankings prior to the draw. Once again teams will play a total of 6 matches in a double round robin.  The top two teams of each group advanced to the third and final qualifying round.  The same ranking order and  tie breakers described in the first round apply.

THIRD ROUND

The 60 teams that survive the second round will once again be seeded into 15 groups of 4 with the top 15 teams seeded.  Similar to the first two rounds, the teams play a double round robin within their groups for a total of 6 games.  The top teams from each group advance to World Cup Finals.  Third place teams may have one more chance in a playoff for the final spot.  The same ranking order and  tie breakers described in the first round apply.

PLAYOFF FOR THE 32nd SPOT

With 30 teams qualified joining the host nation, one last spot remains in the 32-team field.  The 15 teams that finished third place in their groups will be ranked according to their performance in the second and third rounds combined (12 games total), with the top two teams (using the standard criteria for ranking and tiebreaker( advancing to a playoff for the 32nd place in the World Cup Finals.  The playoff would be a simple two-legged home-and-away tie determined on aggregate goals with away goals, extra time, and then a penalty shootout used to break any draws.

***

And so we have our field of 32 teams winnowed down from 209.  I’d think as each round progresses the tension and excitement would build leading into an exciting finals.  What do you think?  Would this be a fair and entertaining way of determining which national teams participate in the quadrennial event?  Or would it be bogged down by unbalanced matches between top ranked sides and minnows?  Would UEFA and CONMEBOL dominate the qualifiers and shut out the other confederations entirely or would we learn that the world is more competitively balanced than we ever imagined?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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