I was so intrigued with England’s reaching the semifinals of the Women's World Cup, wondering if the Lionesses could really make up for the red cards of idiot boys like Beckham and Rooney? The sin and the splendor of Maradona? The missed PKs and the fumbled shots?
Does women’s soccer have anything to do with men’s soccer? Not sure.
Now the Lionesses have contributed their own bit to England's soccer history, giving up an own goal in stoppage time in the semifinal against Japan Wednesday night.
I’m an American with an Irish passport, and me mum was born in Liverpool -- and I have loved the Azzurri since 1982 -- but this had nothing to do with nationalism or patriotism.
Caring just a little bit about England in footy seemed akin to a baseball fan rooting for the Red Sox for decades, or rooting for Cleveland in anything. Just get it over with. Now it goes on and on.
The start of Wimbledon reminded me of national complexes I have known – going to London in June and seeing head-hanging in cricket, rugby,tennis and particularly in soccer.
Ah, yes, England once won a World Cup. The best sports documentary I have ever seen was about the 1966 World Cup – England beats West Germany! At Wembley! Every four years, the “green and pleasant land” goes through agonies I remember from my tormented childhood as a Brooklyn Dodger fan.
I thought about English football disasters I had witnessed:
On June 30, 1998 David Beckham petulantly kicked Diego Simeone of Argentina and got himself kicked out of a round-of-16 match. England lost the shootout. (Of course, Simeone developed the staggers from the minimal contact, but what was he supposed to do, man up?)
On July 1, 2006, Wayne Rooney stomped on Ricardo Carvalho of Portugal for a red card and then stupidly shoved his Man U teammate Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal in a quarter-final match. (Of course, Ronaldo took a dive, but who wouldn’t?) England lost the shootout.
Any England fan can supply dozens of other gaffes in major internationals. I was hoping the Lionesses would be unencumbered by past horrors of the male variety and could overcome the spirit and deft passing of Japan.
Instead, Laura Bassett stuck out her foot to try to stop another Japan fast break, and she deflected the ball to the underside of the crossbar.
I'm thinking of own goals -- poor Andres Escobar of Colombia against the USA in 1994, the immortal Nicola Caricola, formerly of Juventus, poking in an own goal in the very first match for the MetroStars, thereby setting up a Ruthian Curse for that franchise.
John McDermott, in the Comments below, recalls being there when Franco Baresi, my favorite defender of all time, made an own goal for AC Milan. Occupational hazard for defenders. But in stoppage time -- of a World Cup semifinal?
Turns out, the American soccer coach Jill Ellis was exactly right. It did not matter what number was assigned to her formation; what counted was the way the players created their chances.
For the first time in this Women’s World Cup – their fifth match – the Americans showed imagination and teamwork.
Amy Rodriguez dribbled. Kelly O’Hara ran. Tobin Heath lashed left-footed free kicks. Morgan Brian distributed the ball. Where have these people been all our lives?
The result was a 1-0 victory over China Friday night in Ottawa, leading to a semifinal with Germany on Tuesday in Montreal.
I have to add that the energy and cohesion was not merely because Ellis had the wisdom to bench Abby Wambach, thereby allowing Carli Lloyd and everybody else to exploit the spaces and attack on their own.
As Laura Vecsey wrote on foxsports.com:
"’Freedom,’ is what Carli Lloyd said was the difference, though why that freedom to just play has been so hard to drum up remains a curious problem.”
That “freedom” was partially mandated by the absence of Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday, both ineligible because of two previous yellow cards.
Rapinoe is probably my favorite player on this team – independent and athletic, fun to watch – although those young defenders have been a revelation. Still, in the stolid American attack Rapinoe had been taking on too much responsibility. With Rapinoe and Holiday sitting in the stands, their teammates busted out of that 4-4-2 stereotype.
They were not preoccupied with putting the ball near Wambach’s historic dome and they did not watch Rapinoe trying to do it by herself. They found space and they called upon their own talents. Freedom.
I’m not sure whom I would replace to get Rapinoe back in the starting lineup, but her gall and skill will be needed against Germany. The victory over China was a template for this U.S. team. The younger Americans have been let loose
This season is seriously dragging. The lost weekend in Atlanta did nothing except make me long for the return of Daniel Murphy – on defense.
The quickness, the agility, the intuition, the hands, the smarts.
Plus, he hits.
Murphy is due back from injury soon, the Mets say, and David Wright, who knows, but the parade of infield horrors in Atlanta only served to blot out some of the rallies and pitching of nearly half the season.
So much suffering for so many fans. Bad teams. Mediocre teams. Day after day.
Maybe it’s a sign of bad spring weather, or too much time on my hands, but I have been enjoying the Mets for nearly two months, pretty much ignoring the Yankees and all the other baseball on the other channels. Just the daily soap opera of one team.
But now it is getting very old. Eric Campbell watched a runner score before throwing to first. He looked the runner home! Dilson Herrera and Wilmer Flores failed to cover second on a steal. And Ruben Tejada regressed again.
In case you missed it, here were the absolute highlights of the past weekend, as emphasized by the Mets’ broadcasters, and who can blame them.
Friday: After the ominous sight of Jeurys Familia clutching his hamstring, the Mets said it was only muscle soreness.
Saturday: After the contact at home plate, Travis d’Arnaud’s elbow was not shattered, merely hyperextended.
Sunday: In the fifth inning, Wilmer Flores hit a single. This meant the Mets would not be no-hit again.
This was the good news. Monday’s good news is that the Mets are off. I can watch the United States in the Women’s World Cup in peace.
Maybe Daniel Murphy, now known as Leather, will be back soon. At least he is intense.
Just the other day, we were driving on one of those old roads in Queens when I spotted Kissena Park.
“My father used to take me rowing there,” I said.
My father could not swim but once in a great while he would take his oldest child to the modest lake in the park.
Also, just the other day, one of our children was clicking in a Stanley Cup game, but scrolled past “The Third Man” – the zither music, Orson Welles smirking in the shadows.
“My father and mother took me when I was 10," I said.
It is one of my great memories of childhood, being judged mature enough to handle the villainy and mystery and politics of that epic movie.
The hockey could wait; we pretty much stayed with "The Third Man" right through the final scene in the cemetery.
My parents taught me to spot the creep factor in Nixon and McCarthy. They taught me the calling of journalism.
My father went off to work six or seven days a week to feed our family. I also knew that he liked working.
As busy as he was, sometimes he found time to park near the railroad main line to watch trains racing toward the city, installing in me the chill of the outward bound.
Sometimes on a Saturday we parked by LaGuardia Airport and watched the airplanes and listened to Army or Notre Dame football games on the car radio.
He also took me to Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, and made sure I rooted for a team with Dixie Walker and the next year with Jackie Robinson. He taught me to root for the good guys.
He drove me out to inspect the college I would attend. He had never gone, but made sure I did.
I know this: I never thanked him enough.
When we were privileged to visit Cuba in 1991 for the Pan-American Games, a couple of state translators knew our country, its culture, its movies.
Ziomara and Tessie spoke English as well as we did, although they had never left the island.
They called Merrell Noden “Robert Redford” not only for his handsome face,I think, but for something good inside him, something they sensed, from Redford’s movies and his persona. It was a compliment to him, maybe even to us.
I hung out with Merrell and Alex Wolff from Sports Illus- trated, a couple of Princeton guys. Somebody else griped about the food one day and one of them, can’t remember which, dryly noted that Cubans had one egg a week while we were eating protein every meal.
I slowly realized that Merrell’s love of track and field came from his own running ability at Princeton and later at Oxford. He never told me about his high grades, his love of Shakespeare, but he did brag on his wife, the artist, Eva Mantell, whom I got to meet back in New York.
I wish I had kept in better contact as they moved from the city to Princeton, to raise their children, Miranda and Sam.
I picked up SI the other day and discovered that Merrell, the strapping athlete, had died of cancer at 59.
His friend and colleague, Richard O’Brien, delivered the eulogy, reproduced on Jack McCallum’s web site. It is definitely worth getting to know him better.
Tuesday is Bloomsday, celebrated all over the world, the 111th anniversary of June 16, 1904, the single day (and night) when James Joyce’s “Ulysses” takes place.
It is my favorite book -- life through the sad and knowing eyes of a wandering middle-aged Jew, Leopold Bloom, who carries a pack of troubles around Dublin. People still care; The New York Times' book review carried two thoughtful essays on "Ulysses" last Sunday.
I read the book every five years or so. Picked it up the other night and came upon a group of men arguing about “Hamlet” and whether it really matters if we know who Shakespeare was. I cannot remember ever reading it.
I learned to love this book – and “learned” is the vital word – in the spring of 1962, when I decided to take one graduate course, the novel, at Hofstra, just to keep my brain alive.
Our first child was born during that semester, and so were the Mets, but “Ulysses” is clearly the third leg of that memorable trinity of experience.
The professor, William D. Hull, spent three weeks on “Ulysses,” imitating the voices of Bloom and his wife Molly and young tormented Stephen Dedalus and all the Dubliners. To this day, I love the Irish accent whenever I hear it. I always thought Dr. Hull was Irish or English but I just looked him up – and he was born in South Carolina.
Dr. Hull escorted us to the pubs and coves and hospitals and shops of a bustling city, letting us in on the puns and archaic language – agenbite of inwit, Kentish Middle English for “backbite of remorse,” as Dr. Hull translated it. (My friend Bob Waters at Newsday claimed to have named his dog ch. Agenbite of Inwit.)
After three weeks roaming Dublin with Leopold Bloom and Dr. Hull, I had written in ink in the margins of many pages, something I have never done since. I never took another course, as a blessed family life and career took over, but those weeks with Dr. Hull have stayed with me.
I have celebrated Bloomsday only once, taking our son David to Symphony Space in 1982 to hear Colleen Dewhurst, that vital earth mother whom I once interviewed, read Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. They are celebrating it again on Tuesday, alas without Dewhurst.
When my wife and I finally got to Dublin in 1993, we wandered to some of the sites in “Ulysses” and I took out my grandmother’s birth certificate, good enough for my Irish citizenship. That seemed the least I could do, to honor Joyce and Bloom and Dr. Hull, who passed in 1984. I hope other people treasure a course the way I do this one.
Even in this techno-world, when things hop around, Bloomsday is best experienced from a book with thick bold print, including letters that would be on my family coat of arms, if I had one -- KMRIA. Happy Bloomsday.
I’ve been enjoying the top end of the Women’s World Cup in Canada, particularly the two draws – Germany vs. Norway and United States vs. Sweden.
My sense is that the players are operating at a higher technical and tactical level than in the legendary era of the great American team holding off Linda Medalen, police-officer/captain of Norway, and the Chinese squad that seemed like the future but wasn’t.
The players I have been seeing can swing the ball from side to side in ways I don’t remember from the 1996-99 era of Akers-Lilly-Hamm and the rest. They know how to widen the field, find a seam, push a ball upfield through traffic.
Watching the Eurohooskies and the Yanks grappling in tight space also tells me they have been working on their WWF tactics necessary in the scrum.
It has been a delight to watch Megan Rapinoe take off on angled romps – clearly the most compelling player so far. She is quoted as saying she is doing her Messi impression, but I would compare her more to Cristiano Ronaldo. She’s got more pizzazz than Messi, or you could call it ego.
Sometimes Rapinoe holds on to the ball too long, missing a teammate, but then again she scored two goals in the opening victory. There is room for ego in this sport. Rapinoe seems to have a dash of Keyshawn Johnson, the receiver who was heard to say, “Just give me the damn ball.”
It’s funny. Before the World Cup, Rapinoe was recuperating, not discussed as a factor, but she is the engine of this team, so far, backed up by energetic younger players named Johnston and Klingenberg and Press and Sauerbrunn.
Abby Wambach is a niche player now. I thought she was coming in for a late header Friday, but her real aim may be drawing a foul in the box. She’s been watching the male strikers, who go down easily to juke the referee.
There is nothing wrong with learning from guys who are bigger, faster, stronger, and play a game that has been evolving for many decades. The other day I read an essay in the Times proposing lowering the basket in women’s basketball. This is totally nuts, because the women’s game is appealing as it is now – rare dunks, but much more power and elevation and gutsiness than a decade or two ago. The men’s game has become a dunkathon, with muscles. Raise their basket. Maybe that sport would be more watchable.
Soccer is still a sport of frustration and patience and trial and error, and once in a great when a footballer like Rapinoe takes a romp. Jogo bonito, personified.
I keep looking for good reasons for carrying around a rectangular gizmo that feels like a manhole cover, while pecking with the edges of my fingers.
The other day I found a reason. I was walking in my town near the train station and spotted a woman my age in some modest distress. It was a warm day, and she had just gotten off the train and could not find her dentist's office.
Maple Street? I have lived here over 40 years, and I walk and drive and ride my bike all over town, but sometimes the names of back streets elude me.
Get out of the sun, I suggested. I can find it.
I hauled the thing out of my fanny pack, and lunged at the microscopic keys with my thick fingers. Many mistakes later, I discovered that Maple Street was one block long, one block away. I drive on it all the time.
The lady was fine, just lost. She thanked me and began walking at a brisk pace to keep her appointment. I had just amortized some chunk of the price and the frustration of learning all the codes and tricks and mysteries of this fad.
Next time I can truly justify my obsession, I will pass it on.
(Written on an old-fashioned traditional laptop, just like my grandmother and grandfather used.)
It is still the beautiful game, despite the stunted, amoral people who run FIFA. The headquarters will be fumigated, but the sport prevails, still capable of spontaneous beauty. .
Don’t confuse the larceny of the executives, now exposed by the American – American! – justice system, with the talents exhibited in front of the world. Americans used to observe the violence in the stands and streets and blame it on a sport in which ten players cannot use their hands. Now they know better. And their legal system is dredging up the real problem with the world's favorite sport. .
The game belongs to the Messis and the Iniestas, the Moratas and the Pirlos, the sprites and playmakers who make a ball do tricks. The game belongs to the young men and women who would play like the world stars. Far too many so-called leaders in FIFA have apparently kited revenue that belonged to the children of the earth.
But the game will go on, with the men taking a very brief rest from the ruinous schedule approved by FIFA. The women take over for their World Cup, under way in Canada.
The Champions League final in Berlin on Saturday was a fitting way to end this tumultuous season. In the morning, I heard from friends all over the soccer diaspora, gearing up for the game. Most of us figured Barcelona, with its three wriggly forwards and all those weapons behind,would win the title. What’s not to like about Barca?
Still, my wannabe Italian made me lean toward Juventus, even after watching La Vecchia Signora getting all kinds of strange calls from referees in far too many 89th minutes of Serie A over the years. With no personal favorite club in world soccer, I found myself rooting for Juve's charismatic keeper, Gigi Buffon, and its stoic bearded midfielder Andrea Pirlo who makes better passes and free kicks than just about anybody I have ever seen. I confess this to friends who root for Roma and Fiorentina and AC Milan and all the rest. Mi dispiace.
Then they played the game, with Barcelona performing the weave offense like some old-time basketball team in the black-and-white newsreels. Remember, this is the sport that was maligned, a generation ago, in the United States for its reliance on feet. Iniesta and Messi and the rest control a ball with their feet better than I peck away on my strange new iPhone. They wore down Juve, and won, 3-1.
Now, while the lads take their mini-vacations, the women play on artificial turf -- an insult from the home office in Zurich. Who got paid what for that decision?
By some strange form of FIFA bureaucracy, Sepp Blatter still works out of the Zurich bunker while FIFA seeks new leaders who can be trusted with the world sport. There is no lack of charisma and skill. Soccer’s deficit would seem to be honesty.
Under normal circumstances – whatever they are – one of the best qualified people to take over the disgraced power called FIFA would be Sunil Gulati.
Gulati, 55, is in the prime of life, an international-minded economist who teaches at Columbia University.
He is as American as apple pie (or vegetarian samosa.)
He has been active in soccer, in FIFA, forever.
And that’s part of the problem.
I hasten to add that I have known Gulati since the early 1980’s, when I stood with – sometimes between – Paul Gardner and Sunil Gulati, as they conducted a wind-blown seminar in the bleachers at Columbia (great teams back then.) It was like standing between Jefferson and Hamilton at the Continental Congress. A rookie could learn a lot.
Gulati has done just about anything in soccer – played it, refereed it, volunteered, and moved up the ladder to currently president of the United States Soccer Federation and member of the executive committee of FIFA. He is a lifer, smart and progressive, international in family, international in knowledge.
Gulati has also lived and worked in the same organization, the same town, as Chuck Blazer, the extravagant long-time FIFA bag man right out of a Paul Simon lyric. (“Fat Charlie the Archangel/ Slipped into the room….Sad as a lonely little wrinkled balloon….” -- Crazy Love, Vol. 2)
Soccer’s Fat Charlie the Archangel is singing his own sad little tune in court in a wheelchair on Wednesday. I have no reason to believe there is anything he could say about Gulati, who most recently cast a most prophetic figure by openly voting for Prince Ali of Jordan when Sepp Blatter still appeared to have the power to crush yet another opponent like one more june bug.
When it counted, when the world was watching, Gulati cast his career on the side of reform and change. He sent one more signal to the world that FIFA was even worse than it appeared.
(In the current paperback revision of my soccer book, “Eight World Cups: My Journey Through the Beauty and Dark Side of Soccer,” with a new chapter on the 2014 World Cup, I write about Sepp Blatter: “By the end of 2014 it seemed clear that, in some cosmic way, FIFA had been found out.” End of blatant plug.)
FIFA has indeed been found out, most importantly by Loretta Lynch, that already legendary attorney general. Fat Charlie the Archangel and the Warner Brothers are singing. Mud is going to be flying for a long time, people turning on their colleagues. This is Elmore Leonard territory – not about truth but about what desperate people claim to be the truth. Goodness knows what's out there. Logic says FIFA cannot afford to move ahead with any insider running it.
(Michel Platini? Quelle blague. What a joke. This silky footballer, now a jowly insider, promised to vote for the U.S. for 2022, but then backed Qatar, which soon became France’s best new football friend.)
However, to name an American as head of FIFA, with the 2018 and 2022 World Cups gurgling in there like a bad meal, would only stir up the hornet nests of Putin and the Qataris – sounds like a doo-wop group, but far more troublesome.
The United States would love to be part of a North American World Cup in 2026, stretching from Toronto to Mexico City. Far as I know, this is Sunil Gulati’s idea, told to me in a friendly chat in his office a few years ago.
If FIFA cannot consider an American, that is a shame because the U.S. has a great supply of executives who could run soccer more cleanly than Blatter and the Goniffs (another doo-wop group) have done.
From the past generation, I could name David Stern, Peter Ueberroth and Dick Ebersol as sports people of vision and intelligence and honesty. Mitt Romney restored credibility to the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. Goodness knows there are corporate executives of multinationals that sponsor the World Cup who could run FIFA without the third-world bribery and threats that kept Blatter in power.
Prince Ali of Jordan is the nominal favorite, given his challenge to Blatter. He has many strengths. But I have now written 750 words about FIFA and have not talked myself out of the possibility that the American insider Sunil Gulati could also run this shamed organization.
Anjali was looking deep into Cupcake's eyes..
Cupcake was looking somewhere else.
A lawn chair, matter of fact.
Isn't that how life is, really?
"You're just seein' things through a cat's eye, baby."
---49 Bye-Byes, Crosby Stills & Nash, 1969.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.