Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The Song That Never Ends

Apparently, this is going to be an annual occurrence. That is, me complaining about the BCS and showing you how great it would be with a playoff system. But what am I supposed to do when they keep putting this crap in front of me and asking me to eat it. In the last five years I think the BCS has actually "worked" once, and that was last year. But just realize, it only "works" if we finish the season with only 2 undefeated teams.

I'm going through this tired act now as opposed to after this weekend's conference championships because I'm almost positive that if there was a playoff system, especially with 16 teams, the conferences would get rid of that game so fast it would make your head spin. They wouldn't want to saddle one of their best teams with another loss, which is really all a conference championship game would accomplish at that point.

Now, I've tweaked the plan just a tad. Let me reiterated it for you here. You know, because I'm nice and it's the holiday season and all. There will be 16 teams. Every conference champion receives an automatic bid unless (Tweak #1) they have more than 4 losses at which point an another at large team would be added. I think that would ensure that one of the low-end conferences doesn't get a 6-5--or like the year North Texas won the Sun Belt with a 5-6 record-- team in. Conferences would be limited to no more than 3 teams. At large bids would be determined by a BCS like poll. Now a look at what this year's mythical college football playoff would look like.

OK, sorry, I actually wrote the first three paragraphs without even looking at the standings and knowing that with my new 5 loss rule, that the Sun Belt champion would not qualify with a 7-5 record. Luckily for Notre Dame, as they received that last available at large bid. Also, I should mention that I had to just pick a winner for the SEC and MAC for their conference championships are actually needed to provide a clear cut winner.

  • 1) Ohio St. (Big Ten Champ.)
  • 16) Ohio University (MAC Champ.)
  • 8) Boise State (WAC Champ.)
  • 9) Arkansas (At large)
  • 5) L.S.U. (At large)
  • 12) Rutgers (Big East Champ.)
  • 4) Florida (SEC Champ.)
  • 13) B.Y.U. (Mountain West Champ.)
  • 3) Michigan (At large)
  • 14) Georgia Tech (ACC Champ)
  • 6) Louisville (At large)
  • 11) Oklahoma (Big 12 Champ.)
  • 7) Wisconsin (At large)
  • 10) Notre Dame (At large)
  • 2) U.S.C. (PAC 10 Champ.)
  • 15) Houston (Conf. USA Champ.)
So there you go. The first round would feature some great games, plus you get that all-Ohio 1 v 16 game. You get to find out if Boise St.'s for real and if the SEC is really all that. Oh, and the team left looking in? The team who would be complaining the loudest? Well, the next at large team would be #11 Auburn, but they would already be ineligible under my rules because the SEC has 3 teams in. So, the next eligible team that wouldn't get in would be #14 Virginia Tech. What's my point? My point is that instead of arguing if the #2 or #3 team is the better choice to play for a national championship we would be debating about #10 through #15. That would be better...wouldn't it?

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I'm tired of the rectangles

Today's post will be about politics...sort of. I'm sure I'll disappoint all of you out there who think I'm some kind of true blue (or is it red) Nazi Republican who worships at the foot of Karl Rove, but it's not gonna be that kind of post. Oh, and by the way, if you do still think that about me, you need to pay more attention. But on that note, before I move along (just because I like to give the people what they want), last Tuesday I was at a gathering to watch the election returns. As it became apparent the Dems would indeed win the day, and that Nancy Pelosi would subsequently become (man this is hard to type) Speaker of the House; I started in on my "Nancy Pelosi couldn't think her way out of (enter large open-ended receptacles here) joke series." If you're wondering why I would think such a thing (I mean, other than it's the truth), well luckily I had a blog back in July of 2005. Just read this. For extra entertainment, read the comments. Yes, "at least she's not running the country." Nancy Pelosi, the best reason yet to keep Dick Cheney alive by any means necessary.

Anyway, the actual topic of this post will probably interest no one, but when has that ever stopped me. I mean, I write I blog for like 0.73 people. NBC has a new show this year elegantly titled Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. It's a show that has a litany of stars but the reason I decided to give it chance was that Aaron Sorkin would be writing it. His two previous TV endeavors of note were Sports Night and West Wing and I enjoyed them both. I mean, if he's entertaining enough to get me to sit through 8 years of liberal crap, he must have something, right? Well, what I expected was an inside look at how the entertainment industry works, kinda like Sports Night but with jokes and satire instead of homers and touchdowns. What I quickly realized and now feel ready to confirm is this is just a vehicle for Sorkin to espouse his political views. If I may be so bold, this show is more politicized than West Wing.

My exhibit today will be two conversations during the course of the show. The first between the show's fictional head writer (Matt Albie) and the female star of the show (Harriet Hayes) who happens to be a self proclaimed evangelical Christian...so Aaron has is foil. A seemingly smart, level-headed, and well meaning foil, but a foil nonetheless. What you need to know is that the Harriet character was asked by some publication her thoughts on gay marriage. Oh, you should also be aware these two characters are involved in one of those on-again off again relationships. I think you're supposed to believe that Matt is madly in love with Harriet. Now the conversation:
Harriet: You honestly think I'm a homophobe?
Matt: Harriet, I can't...
Harriet: You honestly think...
Matt: Yes, yes I do. And you know why? Cause, you are. Now go to work.
Harriet: I said the Bible says it's...
Matt: Yeah, yeah.
Harriet: Don't "yeah, yeah" me. And seems to me every Democrat on a ballot answers the same question by talking about civil unions and leaving it up to the states and not wanting...
Matt: I don't need any reminding that my party is full to brimming with panderer and mediocrity.
Harriet: What's wrong with civil unions? And why shouldn't we...
Matt: Because there's no way to get to the end of that sentence without saying that homosexual love is something less than heterosexual love. And watching you trip all over it makes me want to hit you in the head with Liberace.
You should probably also know that the quote that Harriet made is: "The Bible says that homosexuality is a sin. It also says 'Judge lest ye be judged'". I not here to even raise issue with the debate itself, even if I don't think it was handled in a way I like. It's what I think the tone and direction of the conversation exposes. If I'm correct, homophobe means "a person who hates or fears homosexual people". If someone accused me of being a hater, and not the cool street lingo sort, but an actual person who hates someone else without real knowledge of them, I would not have used some political rationalization. I might want to know why they can't see the difference between a religious belief and actual rancor. Also, if I had accused someone of such a grievous offense and they responded with some justification of political viewpoints I would say, "I'm not talking about politics, I'm talking about you." I've heard that one of the main problems Democrats have with religious conservative voters is that they can't separate their faith from their politics. But what we see through this fictional exchange is that Aaron Sorkin and those championing his cause suffer from the same malady.

The second exchange occurs between the same Harriet Hayes character and the supposed head of the network's entertainment division played by Amanda Peet (Jordan McDeere). The issue here is derived from Harriet's participation with a group called "Women United Through Faith". I'm assuming it's like Promise Keepers for women, which might actually exist, but what do I know. Oh, also Harriet supposedly has a side career as some sort of Gospel/Christian singer. Because of the flap that Harriet's quote caused, she's being encouraged to not take a part these W.U.T.F. events. That should be all the set-up you need.
Jordan: You have 6 concert appearances scheduled with them around the country on 6 consecutive Mondays.
Harriet: Yeah.
Jordan: You shouldn't be appearing in front of groups that oppose gay marriage.
Harriet: Are you censoring me?
Jordan: Don't put it like that.
Harriet: Give me another way to put it.
Jordan: Harry...
Harriet: I grew up with Women United. I was a teenager when my mom died and she asked them to look out for me and they did.
Jordan: Harry...
Harriet: I don't agree with everything they believe in, but I don't believe in everything you do either... doesn’t' stop me from working for you.
Jordan: I understand...
Harriet: I do "Crazy Christians", I do "Science Shmience","Cheeses of Nazareth"...
Jordan: "Cheeses of Nazareth"?
Harriet (smiling): It's Matthew's latest. Cheddar, Gouda...all from the holy land. "Cheeses of Nazareth".
Jordan: That's a little funny.
Harriet: Yes, it is. They all are. I saying they are, so why can't I go out...Young girls attend these events. They admire me. I'm in a position to show them that Christianity has a nicer voice than Ann Coulter's.
Jordan: Carol Channing has a nicer voice than Ann Coulter's....

Yes, we end with the obligatory shot at Ann Coulter. I can't be sure this entire episode wasn't written just for that one line. But I must raise a question, do teenage girls know who Ann Coulter is? Maybe a few teenage boys...maybe, but girls? And if your were asked to name the female spokesman...sorry, spokeswoman for Christianity. How many days would we have to sit in a quiet, empty room before Ann Coulter's name came to mind? Basically, what I'm trying to say here is that despite the fact that I really enjoy pretty much everything Aaron Sorkin has ever done, this act is getting tiresome. We get it that you don't like conservatives, Christians, or any combination thereof. It's kinda like the rock group who's 4th album is just like their first. Or maybe it's like my Mark Rothko experience. I really liked the simplicity and the colors but after a while I just got tired of the rectangles.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The Greatest Game in the History of Ever

So the next day was game day. A game we had been looking forward to the entire trip. Truth be told, I think we might have made the trip if we were told this was the only game we would get to see...o.k. maybe just Bryan and I would've, but you get my drift. Before the game, though, we thought we'd try to get in some more sight-seeing. For this we headed to the town of Speyer. We wandered around town aimlessly (I didn't even have a map so don't try to pin this one on me) and after seeing the sites ( or at least what we thought were the sights), Bryan had to sprint for a bathroom and we found a lovely outdoor cafe at which to have lunch. In retrospect, I fear this was a completely wasted trip for I'm fairly confident we saw nothing of what your supposed to see when in Speyer. But honestly, I don't care. We did have the experience of a waitress causing us to arrive at the site of game 2 hours behind schedule, but that's gonna happen when your in a country were 3 quarters of the people who claim to speak English are actually lying. No biggie, though. We still arrived in Kaiserslautern a good three hours before Italy and the U.S. would square off.

Of course, that didn't stop us from more aimless wondering and wasting of time until we had to frantically find something to eat and make our way to the stadium. That was partly because of the city in which we found ourselves. Having this game in Kaiserslautern would be like having the Fiesta Bowl in Waco. I'm not saying Waco's not lovely, (that would require a completely separate post) I'm just saying holding a sporting event that is going to draw as many people as live in a city is asking for trouble. Honestly, we didn't have a whole lot of trouble other than wondering what we were gonna do with three hours and getting packed into tight spaces with lots of people for no discernible reason. Enough of that, though.

We made our hike to the stadium, and I do mean hike. It was approximately 2 miles from the bottom. "What bottom?", you say. That would be the one from which you must ascend to the stadium because it was built on Betzenberg Mountain. Great for the view...but uh... well let's just say we almost had to enlist a sherpa guide to carry Lisa all the way up. But we got there, through security (I'm still waiting on the dinner that guy owes me) and to our seat with about an hour to spare. Early enough to watch Ghana put the finishing touches on a 2-0 win against the Czech Republic via jumbotron that would turn Group E upside down and give the U.S. team and supporters actual hope founded on probability instead of fantasy. With that knowledge in hand, or in mind I guess, the cheering of the U.S. fans was geared up a notch. Keep in mind we're still 60 minutes from kick-off. Even so, the rollicking good times continued right up until the start of the game, including the the 15,000 person sing-along to Born in the USA which the was played over the stadium P.A. to my amazement. I've never really been that big a fan of "The Boss", but being in a foreign land with your fellow patriots will get you out of your comfort zone. Just so you're aware, the Germans haven't come up with anything better to play at sporting events but tired old American pop/rock. Also, a little heavy on the disco, but I digress.

So the game begins (finally, you say). You know what, I could go into a detailed blow-by-blow but if you wanted that you could just go here or here. As I said before, there is nothing like cheering for your native land, especially when you're in a different country on the world's biggest stage. I was a lunatic. Jumping up and down like a fool. The chanting and singing by US supporters never stopped. News reports claimed that it was a pro-American crowd in attendance that night, but I can tell you first hand we were outnumbered 2 or 3-to-1 by Italians. Even when Italy scored, it seemed we stopped long enough to take a breath and started right up again. It was just odd that the atmosphere was controlled by Americans while the Italians could do nothing but sit on their hands and try to figure out what was wrong.

When the US scored to tie the game, I'm not sure I've ever been happier, ever. It's odd how emotionally involved one can get at a game. But I was in, baby, all in. And when that ball hit the back of the net (right in front of me, by the way) I went nuts. Jumping, high-fiving strangers from 5 rows away (one of the odd advantages of being tall) ,waving my flag in the air...like I just didn't care...good stuff. I should also mention at this point that the seats we were in were on a aisle. And by aisle I mean a 18 inch-wide space between the seats for some steps. On the other side of this "aisle" is where the US section ended and the Italian section began. Lucky me. This arrangement of fan juxtaposition provided some interesting opportunities. For instance, around the 60 minute, when the US had been playing a man down for the half and yet were still controlling play and taking most of the offensive chances, it gave me occasion to witness some 50 year-oldish Italian who no doubt knew more about soccer 30 years ago than I ever would curse his team and hang his head in defeat. From this vantage I was also able to see if Italian chicks are really that hot. I could have done that, but I didn't. Finally, it allowed me one-on-one interfacing with my Italian counterparts. (Possible Hooliganism Warning here) The interface in question came after yet another Italian player hit the ground in an attempt to draw a card from the referee, commonly referred to in the sport as diving. This resulted in a ,shall we say, a negative reaction from US supporters and possibly even some of the players. I rose to voice my displeasure. At the same moment, a fan from the country that looks like a boot rose and turned around to debate us, I guess. Our eyes met, he frowned and shook his head to let us know we had no idea what we were talking about. Usually I would try to avoid confrontation. I thought about that fact that his fellow countrymen greatly out numbered me and my countrymen and that they were much more familiar with fascism. But I did not go quietly into that good night, I never broke the stare. I rose my hands above my head and placed them on top of each other, like a Olympian on the high dive. I then jump and simulated such a dive, not once, not twice, but three times. He then gave me the look of man who just figured out who had shot his beloved hound and nodded and smiled as if to say," I see you, and you will pay for your iniquity." I nodded and smiled in reply as if to say," I wanted to be seen and relish the opportunity to altercate with you on this or any other subject." And that was that.

In the end, the game was a tie. One point in the standings for each team, but one that saw an unbelievable effort from the US squad. One that now stands as possibly the greatest game ever played by a US team. It should also be noted that it was Italy's only game of the World Cup that it did not win. The main point I want to make is that the atmosphere in the stands that day is not something I'm sure can be duplicated in the U.S. Maybe college football, but that's the only thing that would come close. I left the game physically and emotionally drained. Not drained enough to make one last attempt at WAL, but it was closed. And so was our time in Heidelberg.

Monday, August 14, 2006

The Beauty of Heidelberg

So we left out of Dusseldorf on the train to Heidelberg via Mainz and Mannheim. Sure Bryan had us get off the train in Mainz for no reason, nothing like giving up your seat and toting your luggage to the platform just to hurriedly get right back on the same train. Fun times. Anywho, we eventually got to Heidelberg and our hotel...just in time to try to figure out where to eat lunch...happy day. Luckily, this time we found a serviceable place near our hotel. Sure we made the block twice before we went in, but why must you dwell on the negative. It was your basic bar with a restaurant mixed in and the food seemed to meet with everyone's approval... among other things. The place was called WAL. I don't know... and I wouldn't mention it except that it played a role in several of our days in that fair berg.

That day was basically spent resting in the room while watching games, with a sojourn out to get dinner and watch the game. I believe on the way back I had my first gelato of the trip. I would have gelato approximately 83 more times before we left. After all, it was only a euro, and that's if you wanted two scoops. Let it be known that I was mocked when I made it known to the traveling party I wanted gelato. "I don't want any gelato," said one member, "I only want ice cream." Their tune would change, oh yes, it would change.

The next day started out with a fun trip to the laundrymat. Four and half euros seemed a little steep for one load of laundry, but what are you gonna do? Besides, you'd be surprised at the amount of clothes you can stuff in a washer when each run is that pricey (Approximately six days worth). So after all the clothes had been folded we headed out for another fantastic (strike up the fanfare...) walking tour! Sure, we had strolled by many of the destinations on said tour the previous day, but we had yet to see them in their proper order so as to build that perfect historically dramatic climax. Ok, that never happened, (heck, I don't even know what that means) but I was trying to be a glass-half-full-guy. Anyway, like I said, walking tour.

I'll admit we didn't adhere completely to the guide book. I'm still trying to figure out why anyone would be interested in the German Packaging Museum. I'll just stick to the highlights. Of course, I should begin with the main attraction of the town. The Schloss, or castle to you and me, it's quite impressive. Remember this picture? It's got 8-foot-thick walls and the largest wine barrel the world has ever known. See what I mean?They also had this cool fountain of some mythical deity. I'm going with Neptune. By the way, if you check out the picture closely, you might see yours truly in the frame (really, there by his right hand, you might have to squint). Oh, I almost forgot. We rode up to the Schloss in a funicular. I tell you this because it's really fun to say funicular and I find that word doesn't make near enough appearances in my world. Go ahead, say it a couple of times, slowly, and enjoy the rest of your day.

We winded our way through town, dragging Lisa along, making all sorts of empty promises of when the tour might end and how great the payoff would be. We crossed the Atle Brucke (Old bridge, that's where the pic of me with the Schloss in the background was taken) and I thought, "While we're here we might as well go see the Philosophers' Path; it's just right up these steps." What I didn't know: there were approximately 18,000 steps, and this it not because they didn't want it to be that steep. Dear Lord. Plus, once we got to the top we realized that there was actually nothing up there. Sure, we got some great views of Heidelberg. But that's all. Well, except for the shirts soaked in sweat. Bonus. That was pretty much it for that day unless you count the 4:30 dinner and watching some soccer games, which you don't, so shut up.

Day 3 in the Heidelberg, the day of infamy. Ok, not really...well, maybe. Ok, no...I've decided definitely not. Except possibly it was. Anyway, this is the day we had conceded to Lisa as (booming announcer voice) "The Day Which Souvenirs Shall be Shopped For and Possibly Purchased". But before we did that we thought we'd take a boat ride on Neckar (Neckar! I don't even know her). Heading over to the boat we had hoped to stop at a market to pick up some water only to find them closed, odd for a Thursday at 10:45 am, but you know how unreliable those Germans are...oh wait. We ignored it and got on the boat. It was indeed a lovely ride, look how much fun Bryan and Lisa are having. More castles were seen (Honestly, they're kinda like Starbucks over there). Anyhoo, the ride was three hours round trip with a short stop at a quaint little town to turn around. We disembarked there (I have no idea what the name of the town was), and our quick stroll revealed all of the shops and most of the restaurants were closed. It was about 1:30 pm. Folks, we have a developing situation. As I mentioned, the plan all along was to begin the great crusade known as "The Day Which Souvenirs Shall be Shopped For and Possibly Purchased" as soon as we returned, but the truth of our plight began to slowly set in on the ride back. When we arrived back in Heidelberg all hope was vanquished. The shops were shut up tighter than a...well...stuff that's not open (note: metaphor censored in reaction to possible perusal by parental types. Hi Mom!) Anyway they were closed. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. OK, I might have just trailed behind my traveling companions chuckling, but I dare you, NAY, demand you to prove it...that's what I thought.

In an odd turn of events we had no plan B. Oh, and we also had no idea why everything was closed. We only had three German guide books with us but there was no mention that June 15th was the day in which capitalism takes a nap. Thanks for nothing Mr. Fodor! So we headed back to the hotel and watched some soccer. In case you are wondering, out of the 48 first round games I feel confident we saw some or all of about 35 of those. We were there for the World Cup after all. Oh, I forgot to mention, the previous night Germany had played Poland in the late game (9pm) and won. This set off a city wide celebration that resulted in random screaming, yelling , fire works and car horns. Keep in mind that was merely a first round win. Sure, it basically ensured that Germany would advance, but still. Annoying yes, but it's not everyday you get to experience something like that. When I finally dozed off at about 1:30 am, it was because I had finally become immune to such noise. But, back to the day at hand.

We went out, had another lovely dinner and afterwards decided to head back to our new favorite (my first ever favorite) watering hole for some libation and maybe dessert. Sure we had already had a couple of drinks at dinner (Bryan might have had more) but we're in Germany, dammit! The rest of our night would probably have been completely uneventful (you might think it was anyway) had it not been for what we encountered when we were seated. The waitress. There was nothing special about her except she was possibly one of the most fetching females I had ever come across, much less working at some spare restaurant in some spare German town. The odd part was, she didn't seem to know that she was beautiful, or if she did, it made no difference to her. If I believed in love, I might have fallen right then.

I'm not telling you this so you'll know I saw a pretty girl in Germany, that's not news. What is news is the circumstances would result from such an encounter. As we were sitting enjoying yet another game and yet another hefe (aka hefeweizen) we observed some other American with his teenage son ask the waitress if she would pose for a picture with said son. Despite her befuddlement, she relented. Stupid Americano. Anyway, Bryan and Lisa began their usual petitions that I should talk to her. They accused me of being afraid. All the normal browbeating. I'm pretty sure this is sport for them, because you know, there's no reason not to talk to a busy waitress in a town you'll be in approximately 48 more hours who barely speaks English and has already been hassled by male tourists from the U.S. That's a recipe for success if I've ever heard one. Of course, every time she came to the table Bryan wouldn't let me get a word in edgewise. So, when he had the brilliant plan (no it was not brilliant, but German beer was involved) to let me order the dessert, who am I not to go along.

So the waitress returns to the table and Bryan informs her we would like to order dessert. We had already decided we wanted two portions of the apple streusel (Germany, remember) . You might be thinking, "I thought he was going to let you order?" That's what I was thinking. I'm pretty sure that's what Lisa was thinking. Well, Bryan thought it, too. Unfortunately, like I said , he was already half way through ordering. "Yeah, we like to get some dessert", he says. And then he realized..."The Plan!" So in order to prove for all his exceptional couth, what does Bryan utilize as the ultimate smooth segue? He immediately, mid-sentence stops talking, bows his head like the preacher just asked for extra invitation time, and points at me. That's right, he tucked his little head and pointed. I look at the waitress (who must have thought the Americans were nuts), look at Bryan with a shake of the head, and order the stupid streusel. The most amazing part is that he had the gall to blame me as we left the restaurant of not making the most of my "opportunity". By the way, she was able to tell us that apparently everything was closed because of some sort of Catholic holiday. Where's separation of church and state when you need it?

The next day we headed to Stuggart for a little day trip. We had timed it so that we would be there the same day as a World Cup Game between Holland and the Ivory Coast. At one point
we had foolishly thought we might be able to find some tickets and attend the game. That is, until we arrived. The game was at 6 pm. We got off the train at 10:30 am. This is what the main square (or Schlossplatz) looked like 7 ½ hours before the game. Yeah, we weren't getting any tickets. So we hit the State Gallery, which conveniently was undergoing renovation that required two-thirds of it to be closed. Still, there was good art that I have now seen. So there's that. We took another short walking tour of the city (walking tour!) , made some failed attempts at shopping and headed back so Lisa could take another stab at "The Day Which Souvenirs Shall be Shopped For and Possibly Purchased". I recall it being wholly unsuccessful, but we (she) tried. Actually, Bryan and I might have been in a bar watching a game, but that's neither here nor there.

This was our last free night in Heidelberg as the next day we had a game to attend. I'll give you three guesses where we went for some drinks after dinner. Good job. What's that? No. She wasn’t there.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

I got your Dussel right here!

So we embark on our 2nd long train ride of the trip, from Brussels to Koln, or as you might call it Cologne, which would eventually lead us to Dusseldorf. We were heading to Dusseldorf for an actual game. Yes, 5 days into our “World Cup Trip” we were finally going to see a game. Before that though, there’s something related to our train ride of which I must inform you.

You see, a day earlier, before we left for Brugge we stopped at the ticket desk to make a reservation for the train to Koln to ensure we got on the right train to arrive at the right time. We request the reservations and the gentleman at the desk checks to see that they are available and finds that they are. He then asks for some sort of payment, at which point I pulled out my credit card. It had been previously decided I would pay for any such expenses and we would settle accounts when we returned home. I handed him my Capital One Mastercard, because you know, they don’t charge those ridiculous international transaction fees that some of the other companies do. He took a quick look at it and said,”I cannot accept this.” We were all somewhat dumbfounded because he had already assured us they took Mastercard. I knew I wasn’t over my limit, so what was the problem? “This card has not been signed,” he said, and he handed it back. I took it, mulling over my fate and my options. It was at this point that a member of our travelling party made his first grievious error of the trip. He decided this would be the best time to debate a Euro on procedures for rendering payment and fraud protections. “We cannot accept any card that has not been signed by the holder.” I think at some point he also mentioned that they must pick their cards up at the bank and must sign them before they leave. But what you care about is what Bryan said next. What he said was…as I stood there slightly confused and wondering if any of my credit or debit cards were signed…he said, “In America they tell us not to sign the back so people ask for I.D.” At that point, my chin hit my chest and air was expelled from my mouth (I don’t know whether it was audible or not). I knew it was coming, you know it was coming, but Bryan didn’t appear to see what was coming. What came was this, “Well thankfully sir, we are not in America.” I looked at Bryan as it made impact, he was brieftly staggered but fought through. Oddly, the man behind the counter had no problem taking the card after I signed it right in front of him. I'm guessing he was in some pool to see who got to deliver that line first that day, and I’m guessing he won. Even if there wasn’t a pool, he still won.

So we arrive in Cologne after a very enjoyable ride with some lovely scenery along the way. We finally encounter World Cup crowds and World Cup atmosphere. We saw a group of American fans dressed as the Harlem Globetrotters and toting something that played the accompanying music. They were at every game… we could not get away from them. Anyway, the train to Dusseldorf was full of people, mainly U.S. fans to the point were you were happy to find a place to stand where you were only touching 3 people. Of course, I found a seat, but that’s a different story.

We got to Dusseldorf. Found Bryan’s friend who used to be a exchange student of his parents. She helped us find our hotel. We found lunch (Hello Turkish food!). We walked along the Rhine. Then we went back to the hotel and headed for the game. It was about then that we realized we shouldn’t have tarried so long at the Rhine. Our 35 minute train ride, even with the crazy—though nice—German ensuring us every 5 minutes we would make it on time could not arrive fast enough. Once there (the game was actually in Gelsenkerchen, a suburb of Dusseldorf), we had to get to the stadium. No easy task when thousands of other people are going the same way. We got to the stadium and through security and found our seat apporximately 90 second before the game started.

About our seats. For this game we had four. At one point we thought we might be met by a friend of Lisa’s but that didn’t happen. That was lucky for me because even though I had four consecutively numbered seats in the same section, one was across the aisle that featured a barrier down the middle of it, no less. With the extra seat I was able to sit with my friends and watch a rather lackluster defeat…

Even so, it was an amazing experience. I’ve said it before on this blog but just in case you missed it I’ll say it again. There is nothing like a big time (or even moderately sized) sporting event where one of the teams is representing your country. People in costumes, girls in very patriotic bikinis, continuous chanting and cheering , it's almost sensory overload. Especially when you mix in the world class athletes.

So they lost. It sucked. And then we had to get back to the train station. No easy task. The trams and buses were completely overloaded and who knew how long the wait would be for one we could actually fit in. So we started walking. In hindsight, this might have been a mistake as the stadium was actually about 2 and half to 3 miles from the train station. We walked and I realized my foot really hurt. We kept walking. About 30 minutes in we arrived at the entry and exit to fan fest. (Don’t get me started) They had a bus stop there but usually by the time the bus got there it had already been filled way up the road. There was some discussion about whether we should wait or not but I just stopped walking. Luckily, some guy running the stop decided that a bus headed to the stadium should stop and pick up the handful of us waiting there. So we got on a completely empty bus, thank God. Oh, as we were about to enter the bus, Mia Hamm, star of the women’s US team and spokesman for all women’s sports walked by. She seemed really intent on not being noticed and I let her be. Not that I could have thought of anything to say anyway.

As I mentioned in one of my posts from Germany, the ride back was actually quite fun as I sat with some English and Scottish guys and we talked about all American sports. One of them was convinced that John Stockton of Utah Jazz fame had a nickname equal to that of his Mailman Karl Malone counterpart. I had to sadly report that I knew of no such nickname. Also seated with us was a girl from Tyler…Texas…what are the chances?

We finally got back to the hotel and me to my crap bed, which was actually one of those that fold out chairs that you see in hospitals. I slept, though. For tomorrow we would finally start enjoying Germany on a whole new level.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

What so hot about Belgium?

Our first extended train ride led us to our second stopping point in Europe, Brussels. The train station was a short walk to our hotel, and we pleasantly discovered everything else was a short walk from our hotel. Bonus. One of the things close to our hotel, in fact, right outside the door, was "the restaurant-lined rue des Bouchers". It's always comforting when you find that the street with all the restaurants mentioned in the travel guide is right there. The only problem with the rue des Bouchers is that with so many restaurants so close together, the competition for diners creates this sort of carnival barker atmosphere with each establishment having their own "salesman" acting like he's your long-lost best friend and about to give you the greatest deal ever. Bryan went ahead and went with the guy who promised us free beer. Shocker.

So, we're at this mainly seafood place. We're in Brussels. So it seems obvious what to order, right. Of course, I did. I ordered the mussels. Prepared in garlic sauce I believe. Who really knows, the menu was in French...as was the waiter. My travelling buddies ordered...Italian food? Yeah, I don't know. But my mussels and pommes frites were tasty. Next on the list was to find the waffles we had heard so much about. And find them we did. The first waffle I had that day came topped with cream and chocolate sauce and to even compare this to Hershey's would be an insult to the entire country...we were in Belgium people! After one bite the only thing I could think of was when I could get my next one. While walking around in a epicurean induced haze we stumbled into the Grand Place. And I can make no argument, there is very few places on earth more grand than that.

After a respite in the room to finish our waffles and watch a game we headed back out on walking tour #2 of the trip (Yea Walking Tours!) This one shockingly lead us back to the Grand Place where I succumbed to the pressure of a local custom by "rubbing the bronze deathbed sculpture of Everard 't Serclaes". You run your hand along the length of the female sculpture and then that thing on the top. It's supposed to be good luck. Word's still out on whether it worked or not. From there we made our way to the Manneken-Pis...yes, the peeing boy . It was here that we began to take note of an apparent European custom that seems to be their version of a bachelors and bachelorette party. We found groups of people where one, presumably the bride or groom, dressed in some sort of costume accompanied by other members of the party that were attired in matching t-shirts usually identifying the betrothed couple. Here at the Manneken-Pis I believe we saw the bride and groom parties accidentally run into one another.

It was here that I made my first major error of the trip. Up until this point I was the one always stuck with being the "obvious tourist goob" by having to guide our walking tour while carrying the book. I had grown weary of the thing and passed it on to Bryan. After 30 minutes and about a mile and half, I realized we were no closer to the Palace and its accouterments that was our goal. So, I took the map back, never to be relinquished again. Oh, there was also some sort of Turkish festival going on while we were there. They were parading these things down the street. I have no idea...

We did a little more walking and finally ended up at the Royal Palace. We headed back through the Parc de Bruxelles. Thought we saw a topless chick, but I had to assure Bryan that it was a dude. We grabbed some dinner as we watched some more soccer and plotted where to get our next waffle. And get it we did. Except this time, I thought some ice cream might be an excellent addition. It was, but I gotta tell you, eating a waffle covered in ice cream and heated chocolate sauce on a paper plate with a plastic fork while walking through crowded streets is not the easiest thing to do. We got back to the hotel and some poor teenage girl was forced to ride the elevator up with us while we toted our food. Oh, the elevators were kind of tiny, so she seemed quite relieved to get off.

The next day we had decided to take a side trip to Brugge. A quaint little town filled with historic churches and canals. Kind of like Amsterdam, but smaller. We did the obligatory canal boat ride , not bad. Hit a disappointing museum that was partly closed for construction. Had a big argument over lunch (shocker). If you believe what they tell you, we saw the blood of Christ and a Madonna and Child sculpture by Michelangelo at two different churches. It's really hard not to be impressed by the churches there. Not just the size and architecture, but what's inside. The church with the Madonna also featured numerous paintings bigger than a wall, and all pre-1700. Here that would be fodder for a noteworthy art exhibit. There it's just some stuff they hung on the church wall. This day we tired quickly (it was quite hot) and decided to head back to Brussels. We missed the 4:30 train by about 45 seconds. The next one was at 5 pm. Bummer. And then it was 30 minutes late. Real bummer. Then the 5 o'clock and 5:30 train arrived at essentially the same time. And then we made one of the worst decisions of the trip when we chose the wrong train. Wrong being the one without air conditioner and vastly slower than the other. Our 50 minute train ride turned into about and hour and half.
Bummer doesn't begin to describe. Nothing like hours of marinating in your own sweat. Look how happy we were to arrive back in Brussels. We went straight to dinner, another patio with the game on. I think we had to watch Mexico win (bastards). Then we headed off for our (sadly) final waffle run of the trip. This time without the ice cream (you CAN have too much of a good thing), but everyone was still quite pleased with the way things were going. We walked back through the Grand Place one last time and that was it.

Oh, one last thing. Possibly the best feature of our hotel was the breakfast. Both the food--that featured hot food and chocolate croissants(the greatest baked good ever)-- and the view. See picture. I'm pretty sure no one has something like that outside their breakfast nook (Yes, that is the Grand Place in the background).

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

I AMsterdam...

Yes, finally. So, the trip I took...that long and arduous journey, well, it began in Amsterdam. Technically, I guess it began in Dallas with a connection through Chicago, but you know what I mean... Amsterdam.

A couple of things first. One, this was only my second time to go overseas. And a reminder for those of you not following along or with short memories, I was going to Europe for the World Cup and staying something like 16 days. So a long trip is what I'm saying. Thirdly (heh, that's a funny word...is it a word?) --and this may the most shocking part of trip-- my traveling companions consisted of two people...who happened to be married...to one another. Pictured thusly, that's Bryan and Lisa. Let me first say this was not the original plan, but what are you gonna do? So, I embarked on this "adventure" knowing I would be in the longest continous state of third-wheelness I, and maybe the world, has ever known. Luckily for me (or not really) I'm used to it, but I digress. So we've got this trip, we've got this World Cup, we've got this potential tenseness at ever turn with the added bonus that no one in the party has ever been to mainland Europe. Let the wackiness ensue!

And it did...depending on your definition of wackiness, of course. We arrived, like I said, in Amsterdam. After making our way to the main train station with minimal difficulties (cough!) we got our first sight of the European sun and the outdoors. Our response? What the...it's freaking hot! (Possible theme) After following and checking weather patterns we had come to expect (and packed for!) cool weather (65-80 degree highs) instead that day in Amsterdam it was about 85. Yea for us. Anyway, upon arriving at our hotel we discovered one our first truths about the Dutch. They like their stairs, they like them small, and they like them steep. Of course we were on the top floor (5th, approx), about 76 steps, not that anyone was counting. Also, like the rest of Europe, not all that big on air conditioning. Moving along.

I'm sure your wondering what we did in Amsterdam, but it's all kind of a blur. We only had two days in Holland, you know. The first day, after dropping our luggage at the room, we headed out to find some food and see what we could see. Ok, let me tell you what I did see. In the short (cough!) walk to our hotel, and in the walk to our aventual dining spot, I made some observations I will share with you now:
1) Amsterdam is a city with numerous canals and is very beautiful. It's really a shame it's a 10 hour plane ride away.
2) There are a lot of freaking bikes. Everybody seems to be on one and there's a million more just waiting to be used.
3) And most disturbingly, all the chicks are hot. And by disturbing I mean not disturbing in any way, shape, or form. Ok, I recognize that this "observation" is really an impossibility, but I'm just saying that it was shocking the number and frequency with which you would encounter a female of exceeding beauty. One would walk by me as two more rode by on bikes. Waiting on my table, selling me my croissant, next to me on the train. They were everywhere!

At lunch that day I vocalized this "observation" to my traveling buddies and was immediately taken to task by the more feminine of two, I was told that it was a little too early in the trip (3 hrs.) and I had too little sleep (5 hrs. in the last 48) to be making such bold claims. I heeded those words and cooled my jets. But, nothing I ever saw dissuaded me from my original statement. In fact, after an additional day of observation someone (cough! Lisa) stated that I was, in fact, wrong because for every hot girl that wheeled by on a bike, two less attractive lasses could also be witnessed. With that I whole-heartedly agreed...that if having 33% of the female population being hot was wrong, I did not want to be right.

After lunch, we walked around (Walking tour!), got hot, got cranky and returned to the hotel for a nap. We awoke and had an odd experience. Bryan and I both looked out the window and realized we had no idea what time it was. And by that I mean, we weren't sure whether it was still day 1, or if we had slept all the way through to day 2. After checking our watches and realizing we still had 5 hours of day 1 left, we headed out again. As we sat outdoors at a café that night it was then that we realized a couple of things. First, it was 10:30 pm and showing no signs of getting dark. Second, Jason was having his first beer...ever (A Heineken for those of you keeping score at home).

We all were surprised that no one had thought to mention this earlier. I mean, out of all the books and travel guides and websites and stupid travel shows I had used to prepare for the trip you would think at some point someone might have mentioned, "Oh, by the way, It doesn't get dark until like 11:30." But no, nothing. And then imagine my surprise the next morning when I awoke at 5:15 (because the stupid jet-lag, I presume) but think it's 9:30 am because the sun is already so high in the sky! Notice: the picture to the left was taken from my hotel room at 6:00 am. Does that really look like 6 am to anyone? I'm just saying a little advance warning would have been nice.

We had scheduled a little trip to Haarlem for the next morning to see Corrie Ten Booms's Hiding Place. That simple task provided it's own drama when we arrived only to find that the "Museum" only employed one person, so calling ahead might have been better, but we talked our way in (after a 2 hour wait) and were rewarded with a very insightful experience. We returned to Amsterdam to hit some art museums. You might just want to skip the Rijksmuseum until they're done with the renovation, but "The Night Watch" was really cool. The Van Gogh Museum provided much more bang for the buck.

We then tried to find a place to both eat and watch the opening game of the World Cup. This was a far more difficult task than we ever imagined. And it really didn't ever get easier as the trip went on. If it was a game of any import, it seemed you had to get to a place an hour or more before it started. And we never did. This night we ended up a burger place (Dutch burgers are for crap!) and then moved to a bar for the second have. A quaint old place were a bunch 40-50 somethings who knew each other hung out at the bar while us and another couple of similar demographic intently watched the game.

After the games and a couple a more beers, we decided that 11:30 on Friday would be a good time to hit the infamous "Red Light District". In actuality, we had been told this would be the worst time, but whatever. For everyone out there not familiar with the significance of light colors or Sting, that means it's where the prostitutes do their business. Business seemed to be okay that night. Now, a couple of the things. I had been under the impression that these girls were really not all that much to look at. In some cases that was true, but not in most. These were on the whole, attractive women. There were various reasons I did not want to have sex with these women, one being that I wasn't married to them and two being that they were PROSTITUTES!, but in most cases three would not have been because they were ugly. We were probably there only a total of ten minutes. We did a pretty good job of staying out the way and to the fringes of the crowd to avoid any direct interaction with what someone in the traveling party referred to as "the whores". But as we were heading out of the red light district, I made what apparently is a grievous error. For the briefest moment...no more than half a second...a nanosecond really, I made eye contact with one of the ladies of the night. I then abruptly turned my head and kept walking. As I walked I heard a loud knock behind me from the general direction of the aforementioned...whore (cough!). I inquired to those with me who were trailing behind if that was I thought it was, and they confirmed that, indeed, the woman had thought it useful to knock on the window in hopes, I guess, of re-gaining my attention. Alas, we were long gone on our way back to the hotel. Besides, I had to pee. They charge to use the restroom in Holland so it had been awhile.

One final thing, even though we were only in Amsterdam for about a day and half, we were propositioned for drugs, and I mean hard-core stuff, no less than four times. Or at least one guy in our party was...care to guess who? (Cough! wasn't me.)

Ok...so let's see. We had hot chicks, beer, whores, and drugs. All in all, not a bad couple of days.

Monday, July 10, 2006

In Retrospect...

Ok, this is lame...but it's also a warning. Soon and very soon a blog near you will carry outdated news and coverage of someone's trip to a faraway land. Included will be lots of bandwidth hogging pictures and stories of stuff you don't care about. Yes, I realize this entire site is filled with stories you don't care about, but that only gives me pause not a full-out reason to quit posting.

Tease Part 1: Possible post titles...
Dutch Chicks are hotter
Why does my stomach feel like that
What soccer game?
German Chicks are hotter
The gayest thing ever...even with the World Cup exemption
Just because I'm talking this loud doesn't mean I'm drunk
Doocey Von Duetchey
Who knew they had German nookie girls?
Just pick a restaurant already.

Tease Part 2: Pictures...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Big Fat "I´m Sorry"

Ok, so you know I was out of the country for my mom´s birthday. Thus, I wasn´t able to attend any "party". I also, sadly, failed in an attempt to call. I did try. But our hotel only had one phone (yeah, you read that right) and for some reason it wanted a code I could not supply (and no, it was not the international code). So, I´m a failure. Part 2. I woke up this morning (Monday) and realized that yesterday was Father´s day. I´m pretty sure this marks the first time (I hope it is) that I missed both my mom´s b-day and father´s day. A couple of excuses which I´m sure you will swat out to half court: 1) I was the only member of our traveling party to realize we had missed father´s day. 2) I didn´t forget that it was Father´s day, I forgot that it was Sunday. I´m willing to admit that that´s probably not the best alternative, but it´s amazing how quickly you lose track of the days of the week when you´re a)in a different country and b) not going to work. They all run together. I´ve had to ask at least a half-dozen times already, "What day is it?" It´s not funny except for the fact that it is. Except for my dad, who obviously deserves more. For that I say," Happy Father´s Day!" and submit this as my formal apology. Dad, I´m sorry and I love you, even in Germany.

In other news. Last night we watched the Australia v. Brazil in a "braühaus" with a lot of Australians. Always, fun. Tonight we watched a game at a Biergarten in the Englisher Garten. I´m not saying I had a bier, or a beer, or a braü, but I will say that the chicks seemed to get hotter the longer we stayed. Can anyone explain that?

Oh, gelato is readily available here for less that a dollar a scoop. So I have at least one new habit...mums the word on any others. I must go now. Once again, I expect sonnets in my honor. Note the counter at the left for when to tune into US v Ghana. I´ll be there, the least you can do is watch.

God bless and remember...what is it?

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Hello again

Honestly, I don´t know why I do this for you people. I´m in some internet "cafe" in München (that´s Munich to the rest of us) sweating to death (see previous a/c comment) for you. If you´re reading this you should take time to write a poem about me...or maybe a song. Preferably of the "love" variety, folks.

So anyway, If you didn´t watch that Italy game I must never talk to you again. OK, maybe not, but that was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, sports or otherwise. If your saying what´s so great about a 1-1 tie, well tell me that to my face when I get back and we can trade harsh words. Things I can now cross of my "Stuff to do before I die list". Taunt an Italian at a soccer game and watch him have to just stand there and take it... Ok, it´s just one, but it´s a pretty big one if you ask me. I´m sure there are other things but they just doesn´t come to mind.

As always, I´ve got nothin and my hour is about to run out, plus the guy next to me just lit up a ciggy. Hello? Looking for oxygen here.


Farky, World adventurer...and soccer hulligan.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Hello from the other side of the world

OK, first things first. That game on Monday sucked to high holy. Does it greatly decrease the possibility of the US playing more than 3 games? Uh, yes. But that doesn't necessarily mean they´re bad. We knew it would be a tough group and a European team doesn´t get to be ranked second in the world (Czech Rep.) by accident.

Now on the other things that I´m sure no one really cares about (except maybe my mom --more on her later). Everything´s been pretty good so far. The hotels have been tolerable. The heat...eh buddy. The week before we left, the highs over here were in the 60´s. We´ve seen nothing below 85. And in a continent that thinks air conditioner is something you use in the bathroom after losing that bout with Turkish food (We did and I did), 85 is pretty freaking hot.

Amsterdam was pretty cool. The food´s awful and the whores are a little pushy (that probably deserves more explanation than I have time for right now), but it´s a fine place, though I don´t what I would have done had we spent a third day there.

Brussels? Also, excellent in it´s own way. I have one word for you: Brussels Waffle with cream and chocolat sauce. Ok, it´s more than one but, in reality, sonnets and epics should be written about such things. Let´s just say I averaged more than one per day we were there.

Germany´s been great so far. Despite the result of the game, possible one of the most enjoyable times I had so far was on the train ride back when I sat with 3 Brits and a Scot and talked soccer and every other American sport they could think of. I don´t know if it´s just the accent, but why their ability to make me laugh was actually quit painful.

In the celebrity siting arena: Mia Hamm walked right by me after the game, possibly talking to Nomar.

Well, as you can see, no matter what continent I´m on I still got nothin. Plus, I only had a couple of minutes and this keyboard has crayz German stüff on it.

Oh, as for my mom, it´s her birthday today. So, put out you flag and call and wish her a happy birthday.

Happy Birthday, Mom.
Love you all.
I´m out.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Your Watching Schedule: Everyone set your alarms

Ok, I'm less than 24 hours from getting on a plane and look what I'm doing for you people. If you don't already love me, you might consider starting. First, here's a link to the World Cup TV Schedule. All times are in Eastern, that's an hour difference for most people I know. Oh, by the way, Germany is 7 hours difference if you want to give me a call I'm there. So besides the three US games, which you should watch for no other reason than to find out if I can do something crazy enough to get on worldwide television, what games to watch? I'll try to give you all the games I would be making time (and DVR space for if I weren't in Germany).

Here's when you should tune into for the US games:
June 12 U.S. MNT vs. Czech Republic 11:55 a.m. ET ESPN2
June 17 U.S. MNT vs. Italy 2:30 p.m. ET ABC
June 22 U.S. MNT vs. Ghana 9:55 a.m. ET ESPN

Other games? Anything with Brazil...sorry out of time leaving for the airport...really.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Your National Team: The Yanks go marching in...

As you can see by the newly added timer on the left, the time is near at hand. The U.S. National team will take the pitch against their first opponent, the Czech Republic, on June 12. I guess this would be as good a time as any to let you know who's who and what's what as far as U.S. Soccer goes.

Landon Donovan(Club team - L.A. Galaxy)
The 24 year-old midfielder is the best American player and should be the one to make this team go. He's the USA's version of Ronadinho, Totti, and Zidane. I'm not saying he's as good as any of them, but the potential is there (Ok, maybe not Ronadinho, but you know what I'm saying). In this version it would seem that for the U.S. to be successful, Donovan needs to be at his best. And if he plays the way some people think he can, he can be the best player on the field.

Brian McBride(Club Team - Fulham FC)
Brian McBride has become a respected striker in recent years as he has plied his craft in the English Premiership after transferring out of MLS. He's known best and most for scoring with his head off balls crossed into the box. He's a tireless worker who should start every game. Not spectacular, but very good and a good guy to have on your team.

Claudio Reyna(Club Team - Manchester City)
A mid-fielder, and the team captain, who is probably the US’s most respected player overseas. His job is to control the ball and hopefully dictate the pace of the game to the level coach Bruce Arena has decided. I've got to be honest, some might say that Reyna is our best player, but I don't see it. I generally want to ask the question, "What's he ever done?" I'm sure those people would say I just don't know what to look for. They may be right, but I'm not convinced. Either way, he's an important cog in the machine.

DaMarcus Beasley(Club Team - PSV Eindhoven)
In 2002 he was the X-factor. An ultra quick, super speedy winger opposing teams weren't sure how to defend. Time in Europe has developed him into a more all-around player, but he still has the ability to cause havoc. He might not be as important as he was in the last World Cup, but he's still crucial to the U.S. chances of getting out of the first round. Oh, and his small, real small. Beasley's listed at 5'8", 145. I might be willing to challenge both of those numbers in a court of law.

John O'Brien(Club Team - Chivas USA)
After spending most(maybe all?) of his career for the high profile Ajax of the Dutch league, O'Brien returned to the U.S. to play in MLS. The main reason is injuries. One after another, that caused him to miss most of the last 2 seasons. Healthy, he's really good. Landon Donovan has called him the greatest U.S. player...if he's healthy. And it's a huge "if". Most followers will be equally grateful and shocked should he make it through all three games unscathed. Oh, he's plays the midfield and has the ability to see the field and make passes few can...if he's healthy.

Kasey Keller(Club Team - Borussia Moenchengladbach)
As goalkeeper, and a pretty good one, Keller may be the one person on this team with the ability to single-handedly change the course of a game, this team, and maybe even the tournament. Some say that he's a top-five keeper in the world. I don't know enough to argue with them, but nothing I've seen from Keller would give me reason to consider doing so. A good goalkeeper can suck the life right out of an opponent because one spectacular save can nullify everything they've done right up to that point. Keller is big and strong, and at 37 this is most certainly his last chance to make a stand on the world stage. He may be the player I'm least worried about as the World Cup begins.

Eddie Johnson(Club Team - Kansas City Wizards)
First, I love this guy. It may have something to do with the fact that I watched him for the first 5 years of his professional career as he played for Dallas before being traded in this most recent off-season. Oh, and he's only 22. For all you math majors out there, that would mean his career began when he was 16. If things go they way I think they should, he should be playing up top (forward) next to McBride. He adds an element that few teams can boast, at least to this degree, and that element is speed. Speed, speed, speed. What I'm saying is, "He's fast." You will need to remember that that particular advantage does not always show up in the way you might expect. What is does do, is put a bit of fear into defenders for they know that should Eddie decide he wants to be by them, he can. The big question mark is can Johnson finish the chances his abilities provide. If he does, you're probably looking at the next (first?) world soccer star to emerge from these shores.

Oguchi Onyewu(Club Team - Standard de Liege)
"Gooch", as we'll call him, is a beast of a defender. Six-foot-four and 210 pound of muscle. To all us NFL fans that may seem pedestrian, but in the world of soccer it's somewhat extraordinary. Especially, since we're talking about US Soccer. He's another rising star who will try to physically dominate the other side's striker and hopefully not collect too many cards. It should be noted that because of his size, his fouls can draw extra attention from the refs. That's a bad thing, but a bi-product we're willing to deal with because of his obvious potential.

Bobby Convey(Club Team - Reading FC)
Convey has probably had the best year of any player at the club level as he was a vital cog in helping Reading earn passage into the Premiership from his left wing position. He's a fairly speedy guy who likes to take on defenders and hopefully create scoring chances. Convey's gone from someone on the bubble of even making the national team to a player that I think should be starting on June 12. Bruce Arena might not agree, but what does he know? This guy's not scared to challenge anyone, and "fearless" is typically a good quality when you’re getting ready to take on the world. If he doesn't start, there's a good chance he'll be the first off the bench should the US need an offensive spark.

Steve Cherundolo(Club Team - Hannover 96)
This is your starter at right back, another solid guy who continues to be more and more dependable. He can also make the occasional run up the wing to join in the attack and send in some nice crosses.

Eddie Pope(Club Team - Real Salt Lake)
Ok, time for a little brutal honesty. The guy scares the gravy out of me. It's not to say that he won't be good, he's just been a little up and down. At times he can look old (he's 33) and lost. Not good when you're supposed to be manning the central defense. Other times he actually can look quite good and in total control. Oh God, please let it be the latter.

Eddie Lewis(Club Team - Leeds United)
Four whatever reason, the US cannot develop a left back. Thus, Eddie Lewis, even though he plays almost exclusively mid-field for his club side, will be manning that position. He's a smart player with good tools, but he will be playing out of position so he could be short on some technical skills. Recent injuries (Hejduk and Gibbs) make Lewis even more vital than he was just weeks ago. Oh, because he is a midfielder his is quite capable of using his speed to add a player to the attack.

Clint Dempsey(Club Team - New England Revolution)
Clint is a young player (22) who could become quite important should injury befall one of the midfielders. Even so, the Texan (how many Texans have played in a World Cup?) is slick on the ball and brings a similar game to the pitch as Convey. I wouldn't be shocked if he found his way into all the games and maybe even started one.

Pablo Mastroeni(Club Team - Colorado Rapids)
Pablo is a defensive midfielder who would most likely be the first off the bench should the USA find themselves leading and in hopes of holding it. Some people might call him a "hack", and well...well he's our hack! So, I don't know what they're talking about.

Carlos Bocanegra(Club Team - Fulham FC)
If Eddie Pope is not the guy or falters, Carlos is more than capable to step in. He's been playing in the Premiership for a couple of years now, and his play has shown that he belongs.

Brian Ching(Club Team - Houston Dynamo)
Josh Wolff(Club Team - K.C. Wizards) The only two players remaining that will probably see any significant playing time are the two other forwards, Ching and Wolff. I might be over simplifying to say that Ching would replace McBride and Wolff would replace Johnson, but that's what I suspect. They both bring similar skill sets to those they sit behind. There is some evidence to suggest that Wolff could start if Arena decides that match-ups dictated such a move, but I would be mildly surprised.

So there you have it, more comprehensive than anyone could have ever wanted. First, let me say that the prospects for the US moving on to the second round are probably 50/50 at best. That's not because they're not as good as last time--I think they're much better--it's just that they're first round opponents are quite stiff. If you need some encouragement, keep this in mind, a large portion of the players listed above (Donovan, Beasley, Johnson, Convey, Onyewu, Dempsey) are under the age of 24. This is not a team on the way out; this is still a team on the way up.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Players to Watch: Who are these guys?

The more I think about it, the more the idea of this post becomes silly to me. A soccer neophyte (me) writing a guide for World cup soccer games. But here I am and here you are. I will do my best to at least give you the heads up on those who anyone who considers themselves a soccer fan should recognize. That way, should you find yourself watching the World Cup you can impress others with your limited knowledge of the top players.


Brazil (Club Team - Barcelona)
Yes, he only goes by one name (it's oh-so Brazilian), and yes he's the ugliest man in soccer; but he's also considered the best player in the world. Typically playing an attacking midfield position, he's the one who will be making the incredible pass hoping to set up Ronaldo (see, one name) or any other numerous one-named Brazilian players. He's very hard to dispossess(take the ball from) as the ball just seems to stick to his feet. Oh, and he can score, too. Man, can he score.

Thierry Henry

France (Club Team - Arsenal)
He's French, so the last name's pronounced On-Ree. He's become the quintessential striker. A center forward who can score from anywhere and create chances all by himself. Some might question whether he plays his best at the international level, but you probably want to watch for yourself.

Michael Ballack

Germany (Club Team - Chelsea)
A hard working mid-fielder who's a monster in the air and got a pretty heavy foot. If he's scoring, though, the ball's probably just come off his head. He considered by many to be Germany's only world-class player (at least the only one who doesn't play in goal), but he was good enough to get them to the final game of World Cup 2002 before he was forced to miss it due to an accumulation of yellow cards. A player to be feared, even if he does look like Matt Damon.

David Beckham

England (Club Team - Real Madrid)
Surely, you know this guy, right? Here's how the BBC describes England's captain:"Clothes horse, gay icon, pop-star husband... oh, and a multi-million pound galactico with a golden right-foot who likes nothing better than delivering on the biggest stage." Truly, he's quite deadly on set pieces anywhere inside 40 yards(maybe more). But I feel I should take this opportunity to say to those who assumed that because he's the soccer player whose name you know he's the best. He's good, but he ain't that. His talent shows up most when taking free kicks and passing balls into the box to be headed by teammates. Not particularly fast or quick, just hard working and effective.

Francesco Totti

Italy (Club Team - Roma)
Totti is another of those offensive mid-fielders who, if things are going well, is the one who makes his team go. Quote:"Totti’s best position is in the hole just behind the two strikers, where his vision, passing and trickery are most effective. His shooting is excellent and his body strength also allows him to mix it with the toughest of defenders. Forthcoming opponents of Italy conceding free kicks around the penalty area do so at their peril." Enough said. He's good and his name is fun to say.


Brazil (Club Team - Real Madrid)
You might be saying, "But you already had one Brazilian." Yeah, well, I could probably put about 7 of them on this list. That should give you a good indication of why Brazil is ranked #1 in the world and expected to repeat as World Cup champions. As far as Ronaldo, considered one of the greatest strikers of all time, he's still not what he was before a flurry of knee injuries that many thought would end his career. Even so, he is still a big man who can move well and make multiple defenders look foolish on the same play. Despite the fact that he's only 30 and missed at least 2 seasons to injury, he's been FIFA World Player of the Year 3 times. He's real good; a player by which other greats of the game are measured.

Zinedine Zidane

France (Club Team - Real Madrid)
At 34, he's on the down-side of his career. It was thought that the last World Cup would be his international finale, but he reversed field and has decided to make one more go at it. A midfielder known for spot-on passes and dazzling goals, I guess it could be said he was Ronaldinho before Ronaldinho was Ronaldinho. It's generally accepted that at some point during every game he'll do something that makes you say, "Wow."


Spain (Club Team - Real Madrid)
At 28, Raul is already Spain's all-time leading scorer. The striker, who also serves as team captain, is already considered a legend. Yeah, that's right, a Spanish football legend before he's thirty. If he can't out-skill you (which he probably can), he'll out work you. He's one of the biggest stars of the game. That's why he only needs one name, too.

Juan Roman Riquelme

Argentina (Club Team - Villarreal)
Another midfielder who can pass like nobody's business (Does anyone else see a pattern forming here?). "Riquelme has always stood out due to his intelligence, outstanding ability to keep hold of the ball and fearsome shot." I really don't know what else to add. It's Argentina, who can tic-tac you do death with their passing, and he's considered the best of the bunch.

Ruud van Nistelrooy

Netherlands (Club Team - Manchester United)
Ruud, whose claim to fame is being the main man for ManU during their dominance of the early Oughts, will be playing in his first World Cup after Holland somehow failed to qualify in 2002. If he's not going well, the Dutch could be screwed, but he's still an elite striker on a team with a complement of world class players(i.e. Arjen Robben). I also hear the ladies really dig him, but I don't see it. Oh, I guess he's not the BMOC for ManU anymore, and that's because of...

Wayne Rooney

England (Club Team - Manchester United)
...this guy. This should tell you what you need to know: "Now 20, he is widely considered the finest natural talent in English football since Paul Gascoigne but where Gazza was 22 when he made his international debut, Rooney was already England’s most important player at 18...He appears to do things at a different speed to everyone." You should know that because of a recent foot injury, Rooney's presence in Germany is suspect. If you see him in this World Cup it will probably require England to advance past the first round, which shouldn't be a problem. He's young, he's brash, and a bit of a hothead. But he can score, and in bunches, even on the biggest of stages.

Pavel Nedved

Czech Republic (Club Team - Juventus)
A goal-scoring, playmaker of a midfielder (see what I mean) whose return after a momentary retirement from international play makes the Czech team even more formidable than they already are. Along side other elite players like Jan Koller, Karel Poborsky, Milan Baros, Petr Cech and Tomas Rosicky; expect the tireless Nedved to make his first (and last) World Cup appearance one he can be proud of. His first game will be against the U.S.A., so he's definitely someone to watch out for.

Cristiano Ronaldo

Portugal (Club Team - Manchester United)
A winger (midfielder) who creates havoc with his speed and skill; taking on defenders and making runs that force defenses react. There's a bit of flashiness and trickery in Ronaldo's game that fuels his youthful confidence.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Sweden (Club Team - Juventus)
The key word when talking about the Swedish striker is confident. As the picture might seem to indicate he has no problem letting his opponents know how good he thinks he is. Unfortunately for them, he also seems to have the goals to back it up. The young (age 24) Ibrahimovic brings both power and skill to the pitch (soccer word for field) and surely will be looking to prove himself on the world biggest stage.

Didier Drogba

Ivory Coast (Club Team - Chelsea)
This forward is a physical specimen. He's a premier scorer for one of the elite clubs in the world. Ivory Coast is a team to be taken seriously, in large part because of the presence of Drogba.

Michael Essien

Ghana (Club Team - Chelsea)
Essien is the biggest, and possibly only, star of team USA’s last first round opponent. A young midfielder who's just surpassed Drogba as the most expensive African footballer, he forces the action and scores goals. He is also the player U.S.A. must ensure doesn't beat them.

I'm sure some soccer expert will show up and tell you who I've left off and who I should have put on this list. Their probably right, but like you know.