Monday, May 30, 2011

Conflicted but Satisfied--UCL Final review

Going into the game, I felt the following: conflicted (read my preview post); confident that MUFC would score at least one goal; and worried for FCB in regards to the pitch, which tends to play and heavy, and the travel plans, which were changed due to the ashcloud again.

The conflict inside me affected more than I thought it would. After getting all of my housework done, I took a shower and got ready to go to the bar. I had decided to go jersey neutral, so I was then left with a decision of what to wear. I settled on a blue oxford button up, which is crazy because I never, ever dress up, but there I was in a dress shirt and jeans.

In the weeks leading up to the game, a lineup had materialized for United. Chicarito would lead the attack and trouble the backline of the opponent; Rooney would be able to have some space to attack and would help the center mids; Valencia and Park would work the wings in both directions; and the partnership of Ferdinand and Vidic would be rock solid in the middle. The only debates were whether O’Shea or Fabio would start and whether Carrick would keep his spot. Berbatov wasn’t going to start (turns out he didn’t even make the bench), and Nani was a question due to his defensive weaknesses. The lineup that had gotten them this far, including huge wins in the EPL and Champions League against Chelsea would be the team that would face FCB, and was a team that I was sure would score.

The New Wembley has been less than spectacular. The field cuts up and the players look like they are playing in quicksand. I felt the slow surface might be factor, especially if the game became a dog fight. This would hurt MUFC, but at least they would be used to it. As for FCB, while the Nou Camp pitch has hand some issues this season, it is always slick. Travel plans usually don’t factor into game prep, but in this case, it was a key item of analysis. Barcelona travel to away games the day of in the league. Except for a crazy trip to Osasuna earlier in the year, this works for them. For European games they arrive with one day to spare. Due to the ashcloud, they could not fly and wanted to avoid a train ride, so they flew in on Tuesday. Taking a team out of their routine was a concern because Pep is very meticulous in his preparation and execution. Plus he preaches comfort, letting players stay at home for as long as possible, so being cooped up in a hotel for several days had to be a touch unsettling.

After all the hype and potential issues and words written, the game kicked off and it was simply 2009 all over again. United harrying and pressing and making FCB uncomfortable. Valdez quick reactions saved the proverbial bacon and allowed the Blaugrana to finally settle in after about 20 minutes. The absence of Puyol was noticeable, as Mascherano struggled in possession and team shape. From there, tika taka took over, with Messi committing half the United team, passing to Xavi who slipped in Pedro, and he opened the scoring with a composed finish. Vidic and Evra were ball watching and did not react to the danger. One day I want to put together a goal compilation involving Vidic. Seems like every goal scored has him sliding at the last second as the goal keeper is beaten.

United responded quickly and decisively. Amazing interplay led to Giggs finding Rooney and he fired in a shot, which gave VV almost no chance. Game on. Halftime came with FCB in control but frustrated and the Red Devils teetering. Carrick looked lost, never venturing very far from Vidic and Ferdinand. Valencia was almost invisible and balls over the top to the Little Pea were wasted, either because they rolled to the keeper or he was offside. In my halftime phone call to Erik, I said if the second half starts as the first half ended, there can only be one result.

FCB were majestic in the second period. Their intricate possession kept United at arms length and resulted in an exquisite finish from Messi as no one closed him down. Moments before the goal, I told a fan at the bar that FCB had control in the first half but were not dangerous. Stay organized and focused, and if Messi beats you from 25 yards, which he rarely does, you have to live with that. Then he fired the ball in and there was no way back.

Ferguson was forced into a change when Fabio pulled up in jured, and moved Valencia to right back and brought on Nani. The sub made sense; bringing on an attacking player and going for the equalizer. But questions remain why Berbatov was left completely off the team sheet and why Anderson did not come on. Surely Anderson for Carrick would have been better than Scholes. The problem with Nani’s introduction was that Nani’s first touch was a turnover that led to Villa receiving the ball and hitting a shot of such power and accuracy that even Messi fell to his knees in admiration and exultation.

3-1 up with 20 minutes to go, the game slipped away from a United short of ideas, energy and poise. Ferguson learned from two years ago but it didn’t matter. His team simply isn’t good enough. Maybe if Fletcher had played, he could have won the center mid battle; maybe if United could have been rewarded from all of that early pressure; maybe if the team had concentrated during the key moments.

Maybes but no matter. We are in the presence of greatness, the greatness of Pep and Messi and FC Barcelona. After a night’s sleep, I awoke with this thought: this Barca are this generation’s AC Milan. I was too young and unaware to witness the wondrous Rossoneri teams of Sacchi and Capello, who were in charge of Van Basten, Rijkaard, Guillt, Baresi, and Desailly.

From 1987 to 1996, these teams accomplished the following:

*5 Scudetti in nine seasons, with 2 second place finishes, including a 58 game league unbeaten streak

*1 Coppa Italia Runners-Up

*3 European Cup/Champions League titles and 2 more Finals

Now look at the achievements of FC Barcelona from 2005-2011 (Rijkaard/Guardiola):

*5 La Liga titles, including 3 straight La Liga titles, with points totals for the last two in the 90’s.

*1 Copa del Rey title, with a semi in 2010 and a Final appearance this year.

*2 Champions League titles in the last three years, 3 in the last six and in at least the semi-finals the last four years.

What can the Blaugrana accomplish in the next three or four years? In a word, everything. Their team is in their prime, with replacements only needed for Xavi and Puyol, and the youth team continues to generate talent with money available for a big name if needed. The club is poised legendary greatness, and. in the end, I wanted FCB to win because, in 10, 20, 30 years, I want everyone to look back and remember a team that was wonderful to watch, a team that brought joy and excitement to the European stage, a team that deserves a spot in the pantheon of historical giants.

My conflict going into the game was alleviated by the quality and energy of the game. Chances at both ends, a better performance by United, a clinic by the Blaugrana, and dazzling goals from the star players. In the end, the best team won, and seeing Abidal lifting the cup after having a cancerous tumor removed just months ago was an emotional finale to a great match. Bring on next season as FCB try to match four straight league titles of Cruyff’s Dream Team and go for another sextuple.

Friday, May 20, 2011

In Your Ear-5.24.11

The xx, XX

After coming across a couple of songs from this group, I checked out the full album. Not sure how to describe the music. At times dreamy, at times pulsing, at time electro-pop. I didn't really pick up any new tracks, which was disappointing. The album wasn't horrible but it's the sort of thing that is great background music but nothing that's gonna get you four or five stars on your iTunes.

Fav tracks:



Night Time

Black Keys, Brothers

I finally listened to the latest album from the Black Keys. I picked up the Live at the Crystal Ballroom DVD over the holidays and loved it.

This album starts strong (especially Everlasting Light and Howlin’ for You) but fades towards the end (in the fine tradition of modern music). Some of the tracks really grab you and have an energy that can't be ignored, but for the most part it seems muted somehow. It’s worth a listen and great for chillin out on the back porch with a beverage.

KEXP podcasts

Wow. What can I say about the latest ones I’ve listened to? I can't bring myself to delete them from my ipod because I just to listen to them over and over again. The hit all types of music and make me wish I had time to track down these bands and really search out music. Alas I don't have that sort of time, so I'll take whatever they give me while trying to break free from my ingrained playlists.

Here are some amazing tracks to find:

Episode 235

The Hundred in the Hands—Pigeons

PS I Love You—Facelove

Episode 236

Steve Wynn & The Miracle—Resolution

Episode 249


1. Charles Leo Gebhardt IV - Teach My Heart

2. The Cute Lepers - Noisy Song

3. Beach Fossils - What A Pleasure

4. Craft Spells - Party Talk

5. Crystal Stilts - Shake the Shackles

6. Moon Duo - Mazes

7. My Goodness - Blackout Baby

8. The Kills - DNA

9. Yarn Owl - Seashell Wind Chime

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Strip Club—Feature Dancer Edition

France 98 was the first World Cup that I watched extensively, even more than USA 94, which was in my home country, because that summer I was living with my parents, had no job, and basically woke up and watched double and triple headers during group stage. It was heaven.

I particularly followed France, because a) they were the hosts and got tons of coverage; b) the US was having a nightmare (thanks Steve Sampson); and c) Juventus had several stars on the team, which gave me a natural connection.

Deschamps and Zidane were part of a fantastic cycle of Bianconeri teams which went to the Champions League Final three years in a row and reached the semis the year after before being rebuilt in 2001. Zidane was in imperious form, dazzling for both club and country. Deschamps controlled the midfield, generating service for Guivarch, Henry and Trezeguet, and protecting a back line that was already quite strong. The final was spectacular for the hosts, with Zidane famously knocking in two headers and Petit adding a third.

Two years on, the World Cup winners travelled to Euro 2000 in Holland and Belguim. I bought the entire tournament on PPV (those were the days) and watched nearly every game live. What a tournament. Spain's comeback against Yugoslavia, England collapsing against Portugal, impressive performances from Slovenia, Holland's demolition of Yugoslavia in the quarters, a fantastic game between France and Spain with goals of great quality and a tragic PK miss from Raul, and a gripping final, in which Italy had one hand on the trophy but couldn't finish the job. A goal from Wiltord forced extra time, during which Trezeguet scored a Golden Goal to win.

French jerseys have been hit and miss over the years. The mid-90’s kits were cool, if a bit shiny, and I hated the 1998 jersey, but immediately bought the Euro 2000 kit, which has become one of my favorites. I love this jersey because it is simple and clean in design. While the jersey is a little heavy and you have to wear Under Armor and you sweat like a dog if it's 70+ degrees, the best part is that you pop the collar and you are good to go.

The jerseys of the first decade of the 21st century have had some winners and losers, with the highlights being Euro 2004 (a hazy version of 2000) and World Cup 2006 (a pretty sweet adidas template). The kit for the 2010 World Cup wasn't too bad but was worn by a disaster of a team.

Check out for a sampling of jerseys from 1980 to 2010.

As for the current jersey, check it out at ( I really like it, with the darker blue and a very modern crest. The collar is the only drawback and I would have to actually put it on to judge that.

While France have been disappointing since Zidane led them to the World Cup 2006 Final, I’m hoping this latest generation can recapture the spirit of the 1998/2000 team. Blanc has the team practically in the Championships, and now they must find the right mix of players and the right mentality to make the knockout stages. Allez les Bleus.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Conflicted--A Champions League Preview

The stage has been set, and FCB and MUFC will play on May 28th in the 2011 Champions League Final. MUFC breezed through the semis, sending out a Carling cup side in the second leg to crush Schalke 4-1 on the night, while FCB survived four El Clasicos in 18 days to prevail 3-1 on aggregate, in a tie complete with playacting, moments of brilliance, red cards and conspiracy theories. Both teams won their first European Cups at the old Wembley (MUFC in ’68 and FCB in ’92); both teams have been at the forefront of domestic and continental competitions over the last 10 years; and both teams met in the final two years ago.

In 2009, I went off the grid and waited to watch the Champions League Final between Barcelona and Manchester United on replay. After work and coaching a local girls high school team, I settled down at my favorite pub and watched as FCB connected five passes backwards to Valdes, who kicked the ball into touch. The match started weirdly for FCB and for me, and, while it got better for the Blaugrana, it never improved for me.

I didn’t know who I wanted to win the game, in a match that went back and forth, United have a couple of early chances. But then E’too popped up and clipped the ball over Van de Sar, and suddenly it was 1-0 FCB. Usually when Barca score I’m pounding the table, internally screaming my head off, yet at that moment I was conflicted. Manchester United were going after back to back League and European Doubles, which would have been an amazing achievement, while FCB were going for a historic treble under first year coach and former player Pep Guardiola. I follow both teams, with United being my first love, and Barcelona being my current girlfriend, and Juventus, the chick I call up in the middle of the night.

Two years ago, Ferguson got it all wrong, marooning Rooney on the left where he never got involved and sticking Ronaldo up top where he was not quite as dangerous. The midfield never came to grips with the game and the defense could only hold out for so long. However, I think United are in a better position to win this time around. They are more organized, Rooney has found a position behind the striker and Valencia and Nani are quite the tandem on the outside. This team does not blind you with their star power, but as a unit they are quite good and squeeze the most out of the individual parts.

FCB swept all before them in 2009, dominating MUFC on their way to a historic treble. Some of the players have changed, especially in attack (Villa and Pedro), and this time they should have a first choice defense as opposed to Rome where it was held together with tape and string. The blaugrana probably peaked just before the New Year and are not hitting the heights of earlier this season. Their possession is still quite impressive, but they have been lacking in finishing and have had defensive frailties exposed to a certain extent.

Now two years on, I am faced with the same quandary. United have ground out results on all fronts and are on the cusp of an amazing return. They are not super sexy with CR7 running around or Rooney and Tevez buzzing around creating havoc. Barcelona, in the meantime, could add to their legacy, winning a second European Cup in 3 years to go along with three league titles in a row. If they win at Wembley, it would be 6 major trophies (League, Cup, Continental) out of 9, plus two Spanish Super Cups, a European Super Cup, and a World Club Cup.

The game is still a couple of weeks away, and it will be hard to watch it as a neutral. Right now I’m leaning towards FCB, only because I want history to remember this team. Next year they will challenge the Dream Team for four titles in a row, and if they have a second Champions League to go with four straight semi-final appearances, they may go down as the best Barcelona side ever. United’s run has already been undermined. Weak league, a lame defeat to City in the FA Cup and a less than impressive run to the Final (Marseille—blech; Chelsea—underperformed; Schalke—crapped the bed)

This pinnacle of club football should be an enthralling afternoon, but already it feels muted. Part of that comes from what Soccernomics would call being a polygamous fan. Gone are the days when it was one fan, one club for life. Here I am “devoted” to several teams, my emotions and time splintered instead of deeply rooted in one team. Maybe by gameday I will have to come to some sort of peace about the game. If not, I’ll just have a couple of pints and hope there is a footballing spectacle on show.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Feature Presentation--Checking in


Tom recommended this movie and I finally checked it out. What a film. Basically it is supposed to be a dramatic re-enactment of the 2000 Presidential Election, and Spacey, Leary, Begley, Dern and a host of others give riveting performances. The focus of movie is in on several characters and their philosophical struggle about how to pursue their respective candidate’s rights at that moment in history, and if even half of the movie is true, then this country has really hit the skids. Ten years on, no one seems to reflect on this incident, and by no one, I mean me.

Anyway, check this out tonight. A tense drama with a cutting edge.

Michael Jordan to the Max

During my recent illness I was looking for something short and low impact. Decided to rewatch this documentary of Jordan’s last playoff run. I was a big Jordan and the Bulls fan during the 90’s, despite living in Metro Detroit. I witnessed first hand the Jordan Rules and the roadblock to success that were the Pistons.

Any presentation of Jordan talks about several things: his competiveness; his PR savvy; and his incredible work ethic. The movie documents this as well as reflecting on his High School and College career, the first three peat, and his time in baseball after his father’s death. The film makes you confront the fact that, despite all of Jordan’s success, the Pacers and the Jazz almost took them out that year, showing that the line between success and failure is razor thin.

If you like basketball or sports based drama, you will definitely enjoy this.

Jordan Rides the Bus

Continuing in the theme of remembering Jordan, this film looks at Jordan’s time pursuing his dream of playing baseball. Based on the interviews with those associated, it seems as if he had kept at it, he may have had a shot. Again, his work ethic was unmatched, as was his determination. Terry Francona was particularly complementary in his comments. But I’m a little skeptical that a man in his early 30’s, who had not played baseball in 15 years could be an every day player. I don’t put anything beyond Jordan but this would have been damn near impossible.

The film is extremely well done, showing sensitivity around the death of James Jordan, taking time to ponder the craziness that surrounded Jordan in his months with the Barons, detailing the daily struggle of being a baseball player, and getting the impressions of media, contemporaries, and baseball people.

Watching the two films back to back was quite surreal as if I was transported back to the mid-90’s in an instant. I would recommend this.