pic of the week 8/18-8/24

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Providence Stadium in Guyana

For many MLS sides, qualifying for the CONCACAF Champions League is one of the ultimate goals each season. The competition provides a chance to test themselves against the best sides in the region, play in some of the most storied venues in North and Central America and — if they can actually win the whole shebang, a feat no American club has yet managed — an opportunity to play in the yearly Club World Cup. But it’s important to remember that not every ground and opponent an MLS side might be drawn to face is exactly worth all of the hype.

Take for example Portland Timbers’ first round opponents in this season’s CCL: Guyana’s Alpha United FC. Already an oddity in CONCACAF due to the fact that the country is technically in South America, Guyana is also a country where cricket is the first love. And despite Alpha being the three-time reigning champion of the Guyana National Football League, they play their matches in the Bourda Cricket Ground.

However, the stadium itself didn’t meet CONCACAF standards, and thus they have to play their matches at the newer, larger and more modern Providence Stadium. Which is pretty ironic, considering Portland play their home matches Providence Park. Yet despite the upgrade, it still featured a humongous dirt patch — used as the cricket’s bowling and batting area — smack dab in the middle of the pitch. And as the picture tweeted out by Portland owner Merritt Paulson shows, it made for quite the rough playing surface. Luckily, the Timbers still managed to pull off a 4-1 victory in spite of the sub par surface they were forced to make their CCL debut upon.

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i want: adidas predator instinct 94

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Adidas Predator Instinct 94

Back in 1994, twelve-year-old me was fascinated with all things World Cup. My parents were awesome throughout the tournament: driving us up north from Ohio to Detroit, purchasing tickets to the games, letting me watch way more TV than I was normally allowed so I could watch the others we didn’t attend. They were even cool enough to purchase me the now infamous denim kit so I could look like my hero Cobi Jones. The one thing they refused to spoil me? The amazingly futuristic boots that had their own tent at the games and were being trod about on the pitch by some of the game’s biggest names: the original Adidas Predators. And rightly so, as no 12-year-old needed a pair of boots that cost $150 — which in 2014 dollars is a now “normal” $240. But that didn’t change the fact I wanted them, and badly.

Fast forward to 2014 though, and the folks at Adidas have given me a chance fulfill my childhood dream by releasing the Predator Instinct 94. One of three retro-inspired boots released by the German athletic giants to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Predator line, all of are built on the line’s latest incarnation, the Predator Instinct. I like them all, but these stand out from the pack if for no other reason than my inner 12-year-old is screaming at me to pick them up.

CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT  |  soccer.com

an interview with professional soccer social worker lawrence cann

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Street Soccer USAIt’s not an infrequent occurrence to hear someone describe soccer as their life.

For many that I know — myself included — that’s a fairly accurate statement. I run a soccer website and spend a majority of my free time watching and taking in the beautiful game. My sister and her husband are both college soccer coaches. A fair few of my friends make their livings training and working for youth clubs. And a privileged few of my acquaintances actually pay their bills by playing the beautiful game.

But it’s a rarity that you ever hear someone talk about how soccer has saved their life. Unless, that is, your name is Lawrence Cann.

Lawrence Cann is president and founder of Street Soccer USA, a non-profit that aims to “improve health, education, and employment outcomes for the most disadvantaged Americans by using sports”. Working most frequently with homeless youth and adults, the program currently operates soccer-based programs in sixteen cities around the country.

Probably best known for the team they send to the annual Homeless World Cup, SSUSA’s biggest project every year is actually the domestic Street Soccer USA Cup. At that, all sixteen cities in the program send a representative squad of program participants to take part in a national tournament.

And as it just so happens, the 2014 edition of the Street Soccer USA Cup kicks off this weekend in San Francisco.

So to help get a better understanding of everything that the SSUSA program and their annual big event does to help the disadvantaged across the country, I spoke with the Lawrence Cann to get the low down on how they’ve managed to use soccer as a vehicle for social change.

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you wanna talk about progress?

Jurgen-KlinsmannThree years ago this week, the hiring of Jürgen Klinsmann as the new US men’s national team head coach was to be a watershed moment in US soccer history. The German legend was charged with taking a plucky, overachieving American side and turning us into a dominant force in world football.

In his introductory press conference, Klinsmann took the bull by the horns. He pledged not only to help take US soccer to new heights, but also promised to help define and proliferate a new style of American soccer.

“[We want to play] a more proactive style of play where you would like to impose a little bit the game on your opponent instead of sitting back and waiting for what your opponent is doing and react to it… We want to start to keep possession, we want to start to dictate the pace of the game, we want to challenge our players to improve technically in order to keep the ball”

But despite helping the US to escape a Group of Death containing the Cristiano Ronaldo-led Portagal, long-time nemesis Ghana and tournament champions Germany, not to mention pushing a Belgian side many fancied as Brazil 2014’s dark horse to the brink… those words have proven to be the noose by which many have tried to hang Klinsmann.

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With Jürgen’s three year anniversary of taking charge of the national team passing this week, the US Soccer Facebook page asked fans to weigh in on the German’s progress thus far.

As of the time of publication, nearly 2600 responses had been fielded. A decent number of them were positive and supportive. But an overwhelming majority of them weren’t.

It was an echoing of the sentiments expressed by many in the wake of the elimination by Belgium in the Round of 16. Too, many of the complaints submitted actually were hollered after the original roster announcement prior to the World Cup when Landon Donovan was cast out in the cold.

“We aren’t any better or worse than when he got here.”

“What happened to the offensive game he promised?”

“He is the reason we didn’t go farther in the [World Cup].”

“There has been no progress.”

A veteran internet user, I should have known better than to go to the comments. While there will always be grains of truth among the mire, it was mostly filled with naive and baseless drivel. Those complaints would be easier to ignore if it weren’t for the fact that they were inescapable. Anti-Klinsmann tirades were voiced on my favorite podcasts, Reddit posts were littered with the same thing, and of course they were all over Twitter, too.

And while I understand everyone’s frustrations at not advancing further, believing that Klinsmann has done a poor job during his tenure in charge is just way too far off base to let go unchallenged.

Where to start? How about with the noose of a quote that everyone keeps trying to hang Klinsmann with.

Yes, he committed to attempting to bring in and define a new American style. It was to be an offensive style of play based on possession. But while everyone is willing to hem and haw over how his side at the World Cup decidedly did not play in that fashion — thus “breaking his promise” — they also outright ignore entire portions of that very same press conference. For example:

“If you play Brazil or Argentina, you might [have to] play differently than maybe a country in CONCACAF.”

What Jürgen so clearly stated here was that, depending on the opponent, it might not be possible to play the way he desires to. If you try to play possession-oriented football against Spain, they’ll likely boss you off the pitch. If you try to take it to the Italians and fail to finish, they’ll probably exploit the one mistake you make on the counter. Even the best sides adjust their standard game plans against top opponents; the Netherlands did so three times in this tournament alone.

Furthermore, adopting a new identity isn’t something that will happen overnight. In fact, doing so in the three years Klinsmann has been at the reins is pretty much implausible as well. And low and behold, he even addressed that point in that press conference as well:

“Barcelona was not born in the last couple of years. It was born, the style of play now, in the early 90’s through Johan Cruyff. It took 20 years for that moment today that we see and all admire. Expectations are always based on what was built over the last 10-15 years.”

Translating that, it would be foolish to think that Jürgen could simply declare “WE’RE PLAYING OFFENSIVE FOOTBALL STARTING NOW!” and then do so with this current crop of players. They were all brought up in the old systems that played to various different ethos and mentalities. This World Cup was evidence of that fact.

Now, I would argue that Klinsmann was attempting to make small tweaks in the direction he wants to take the national team in the lead up to this World Cup. We saw the US men playing in more of a 4-3-3 set up in the tune-up matches, a formation geared towards offensive, possession-oriented play. But as I explained in my defense of Michael Bradley immediately after they were knocked out, that entire Plan A went out the window when Altidore went down because there was no like-for-like in the US pool of players who could slot in to those shoes. Plan B had to be different because of the tools Klinsmann then had at his disposal.

So really, the man’s commitment to changing the US style of play is one that is a more of a long-term goal. Klinsmann spoke at length in that press conference of the need to make vast changes in the youth game to achieve that goal — both at academies across the country and in the youth national team system. At the earliest, 2018 in Russia is where we should see the fruits of those labors start to come to fruition.

Klinsmann and Julian Green

julian green’s presence in brazil helped to lay the groundwork for what could come in the future.

Perhaps ironically, before the first ball was even kicked in Brazil this summer, people were already complaining that Klinsmann was focusing on 2018 too much.

Based on the youthful selections he made, the masses were enraged how the manager appeared to be writing off 2014. Which was a bit harsh. Given the hand we were dealt in the first round, most fans had written them off too. Few supporters or pundits actually believed we had the talent to make it out of a group that featured heavyweights like Germany, Ghana and Portugal.

And yet we did.

However, when Klinsmann “abandoned” the new philosophy of attacking and possession to make a run at actually getting out of the group — a tactic that achieved that feat and proved the doubters wrong, no less — everyone hung him out to dry. Once out and no longer just satisfied with the prospects of “just” advancing out of the Group of Death, many went and moved the goal posts on him.

Did they prefer he stick to his guns and get battered, or did they want him to play to this squad’s strengths and a chance to advance? Style over success? Aesthetics over glory? It was a damned if you do, damned if you don’t scenario for the German.

Ultimately, Klinsmann chose the later of those variables. And luckily, it worked out.

We advanced out of a group most countries wouldn’t have, we bled in youngsters who will likely feature in four and eight years time in a system likely to be more offensively-oriented, gained a larger following, and gave the sport a boost it wouldn’t have obtained otherwise.

If you ask me, that’s absolutely progress.

And that’s ignoring that Klinsmann and his staff have also instituted a massive change in our youth set up. Working with — and identifying — the 15, 16 and 17-year-old kids to imprint with the new style of thinking that is necessary to achieve a stylistic change require a total rethink of our approach. They’re the kind of changes necessary for changing the team’s style over a period of time that is far more viable. He’s pushed through a new national training center in Kansas City that heavily focuses on coaching this new style. The new training center also helps to lay the groundwork for the technical skills necessary in that system with a slew of futsal courts. He’s also helped to establish a broader and more comprehensive youth academy system that will implement them as well.

That’s progress, too.

And yet still, a sizable chunk of American fans think Klinsmann has done nothing for our national team, running him through the ringer for a partial quote. They choose to ignore the level of difficulty of the things he’s achieved. And they only care to look at a portion of the bigger picture.

So if you’re one of those throwing the man under the bus for a perceived lack of progress, make sure you open your eyes a little wider and remember that progress isn’t always a matter of wins. And just in case you’ve forgotten, there have been plenty of those, too.

in review: campo retro’s brasil ’14 collection

the germany brasil ’14 shirt by campo.

World Cups have an uncanny tendency to bring out the patriot in us all.

Predictably, that has a knock on effect, impelling many of us to open our wallets to outfit (word choice?) ourselves in the latest team gear to show our allegiance. We wear them to show our patriotism, that we belong and that we’re united in the cause of supporting our boys.

But picking up the latest kit isn’t the only way to show that we care. Many pull out their old kits, too. For some, the old kits represent a hipster-ish desire to show how long they’ve been devoted to the cause. For others, and old shirt can represent a good luck charm, hearkening back to earlier moments of glory. And yet for others still, an old shirt might be their favorite look for their favorite team. Fashion, of course, is in play for many of us too… myself included.

Yet for those who want to rock a retro kit as a fashion statement — but lack one — options are often limited. Acquiring old shirts can be an expensive endeavor, not to mention the pickings are slim. So for those who want to go the retro route for representing their team, but don’t want to spend a fortune to do so, where should they look?

My good friends at Campo have come to the rescue once again, and they’ve done so this summer with an extra special line of retro shirts specifically for the World Cup.

The Brasil ’14 collection. Continue reading

we’re bringing the world cup to fountain square

myself and the rest of the saints media team will be on hand for this summer's biggest soccer event in cincinnati.

myself and the rest of the saints media team will be on hand for this summer’s biggest soccer events in cincinnati.

The wait is finally over. 2014: the summer of the World Cup. We made it!

Well almost… though we are less than two months away from the big production kicking off in São Paulo on June 12th. So while the long wait for the return of the world’s single most popular sporting event is nearly up, the next question becomes: where are you going to watch it?

If you’re not lucky enough to count yourself among those who are heading to Brazil to catch the matches in person — sadly raises hand – finding a place to watch with your fellow fans is a near necessity. And for that reason, you might find it useful to take a look at the WSOTP Soccer Pub Atlas, which could help you to find the closest of 270+ soccer bars across the United States and Canada.

But if you happen to be anywhere remotely close to Cincinnati for any of the US Men’s National Team matches this June, you might want to clear your calendar…

WSOTP - Cincy Saints - Fountain Square Flyer WhiteWSOTP - Cincy Saints - Fountain Square Flyer Black

Alongside the Cincinnati Saints, 3CDC and Hoist Rapid Hydration, Wrong Side of the Pond is pleased to be hosting World Cup Watch Parties for all three of the US Men’s National Team’s first round matches on Cincinnati’s famous Fountain Square!

After some wrangling with FIFA and ESPN to gain approval, the Saints Media team are pleased to be bringing soccer to Fountain Square for the first time on a scale like never before! And hopefully soon you’ll start seeing the WSOTP-designed posters above popping up around town to remind you to come down this June.

So what can you expect from the events, aside from being able to watch the US side take on world powers Germany, Ghana and Portugal on the Square’s 627-inch — or a little over 52 feet — Fifth Third Video Screen? Beside taking in the matches with hundreds (thousands?) of your fellow soccer fans, you’ll find drinks from local breweries to cheers with after goals, food you can scarf down to calm your nerves, appearances from Saints players and staff, activities for the kids, gear giveaways, live recordings of the WSOTP Podcast and more! Further details will be announced as we get closer to the first of the three dates, so be sure to stay tuned.

While it’s an optimistic goal, I know we would love to make this the largest gathering of US supporters in the country during the World Cup this summer. So grab your closest friends and make the trek down to the city center and take in a match with the Cincinnati Saints, 3CDC, Hoist and Wrong Side of the Pond and maybe help us set a record or two!

Click here to peep the official press release from the club, and be sure to check out the video announcement — starring myself and my fellow Saints Media Team members — below!

i want: hurley phantom national team boardshorts

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Hurley Phantom US National Team Boardshorts

With summer fast approaching, many here in the US are turning their thoughts to warmer summer activities: going to the beach, heading to the pool, or catching some waves. But for those of us who are a bit soccer obsessed, the imminent World Cup in Brazil will force us to put many of our summer plans for fun in the sun on hold for our love of football. However, surfwear company Hurley are trying their best to combine the best of both worlds.

Through a partnership with Nike, Hurley are dropping three pairs of their cutting edge Phantom boardshorts inspired by the soccer national team kits of three of the Big Swoosh’s most iconic sides: hosts Brazil, one-time winners France and of course, the US Men’s National Team. Accompanying shirts and hats will also debut with the rest of the collection on May 1, 2014. So whether you’ll be on the beaches of Rio this summer or rooting for your side from your favorite seaside tiki bar, you’ll still be able to support your national team in style.

CLICK HERE IF YOU WANT  |  hurley.com

an interview with professional goal guardian kofi sarkodie

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Kofi Sarkodie Career ProgressionWhen it comes to interviews, if you look at my track record, it’s pretty clear that I’ll talk to just about anyone from the game of football.

And while I’m more than happy to talk to any player from the professional ranks about their experiences, I have a soft spot in particular for players who hail from the state of Ohio. After all, I’m from Ohio myself. And on top of that, a substantial number of my readers and followers call Ohio home, too. So helping to shed some more light on the lives of those who come from my own backyard seems as much a duty as it does a privilege.

Luckily, Ohio has a pretty deep pool of players that populate MLS rosters. And one of the brightest among those that call the Buckeye state home is Houston Dynamo right back, Kofi Sarkodie. A product of Huber Heights — a suburb of Dayton — Kofi has represented the US at the youth level, won a national championship with the Akron Zips and established himself as one of the league’s best up and coming young defenders.

So with the Dynamo off to a blazing start to the 2014 season, this seemed like the perfect time to talk with Kofi to talk about his younger days here in Ohio, the importance of his close relationships with his soccer-playing brothers, and his career to this point.

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an interview with professional supporter massive city ffc

Massive City FFC (Photo Courtesy Manuel Zambrano)

Over the years, I’ve managed to arrange and conduct interviews with nearly the entire spectrum of people in the world of American soccer. From a number of players that entertain us on the pitch — including an Olympic gold medalist — to the club executives who run things behind the scenes to a guy who enables our social watching by running one of the country’s most recognizable soccer bars. These talks and discussions have given me lots of unique perspectives, shedding light on aspects of the game that I would have never thought about otherwise.

But as I was contemplating my next interviewee, I felt there was a glaring omission from across the spectrum of the American soccer experience: the fan.

Like all of the other important parties we’ve talked to above, the supporter is omnipresent within the sport. Soccer is dependent on its supporters to fuel its economy, whether directly through ticket or merchandise purchases or indirectly through television deals. We — myself included — are a vital cog in the world of football. And just like if you were to remove the players, the front offices or means by which we watched our teams play, if you removed the fans, the sport would quickly die.

But I knew I couldn’t interview just any supporter. It had to be someone who his peers could look up to, be inspired by, or strive to emulate. This fan would need to be a supporter that adds to and improves the experience of those who have the privilege of taking in the match with him.

Luckily, I just so happen to know one.

Allow me to introduce you to Justin Bell, better known by his online pseudonym @MassiveCityFFC. The founder of Massive City Football Fan Corps, Justin is hands down one of the most vocal supporters of the Columbus Crew. From writing and talking on the Massive Report, to leading cheers in Crew Stadium’s Nordecke to designing supporter gear, popular club imagery and tifos — including the spectacular “HOME” banner at the last Dos A Cero – Justin has played a significant role in creating the pop culture that surrounds and supports the Crew in Columbus and beyond.

And even more lucky, Justin was so kind to sit down with me to talk about his work, his time supporting the Crew, and his thoughts on the club’s future.

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pic of the week 2/3-2/9

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A pitch invader gets a very Brazilian celebration

Like the increasing trend of students rushing the court in college basketball, invading the pitch is becoming incredibly cliché. It used to be a unique event, but it happens so often anymore it hardly warrants attention. No longer reserved for just the obnoxiously inebriated supporter — though those guys still show up on occasion — we’ve seen pitch invaders ranging from political activists to thrill seeking streakers in recent years. And when it comes to celebrating supporters rushing out en masse, it sure seems like the standard for justifying the rushing the playing surface has diluted tremendously. The television cameras at the stadium have even been instructed to ignore them, so as to not promote more banal tomfoolery.

But last week, one pitch invader managed to transcend the cliché nature of the action and captured the world’s attention in the process. Seven year old Ayo Dosumu slipped away from his father and down onto the field in the immediate aftermath of the Brazil’s 5-0 dismantling of hosts South Africa. But before security was able to whisk him away, hat-trick hero Neymar scooped up the youngster, carried him over to his teammates who then proceeded to hoist the youngster up on their shoulders. And the world ate it up, despite the fact that little guy totally broke a bunch of rules in the process.

Cuteness counts for something, right? Let’s just hope this doesn’t provoke a rash of pitch invasions this summer with fans from around the world trying to recreate Ayo’s picturesque moment for themselves.