The XI: NBA Players on the Pitch

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The XI: NBA Players on the Pitch

Every year in October and November, as another #USMNT campaign comes to an end and meanwhile NBA season cranks up, my mind wanders to the  overlap between a 90 minute soccer player and a 40 MPG basketball player.  There are a ton of similarities in the games (spoken from the perspective of very mediocre high school dual sport achievement) in spacing, passing and defensive positioning- not to mention conditioning. Other than the glaring obvious height differential between the best athletes in each sport, it's easy to imagine alternate universes where the best NBA players are instead the best soccer players.

Just for fun, and with two huge caveats below, it's time to imagine a 2014 NBA Players on the Pitch roster.

The caveats:

There are no national allegiances (i.e., this is not a USMNT)

And there is little reflection of actual soccer background for any of the players below- though I'd welcome any points in the comments. Instead we'll make a single assumption- namely, that instead of a lifetime of 5 on 5, our guys have played a lifetime of 11v11, and their corresponding ball handling or shooting touch on 94 feet would roughly correlate to 120 yards. In other words, a tiny assumption that shooting touch and ball handling would translate from hoops to the pitch.

With that, here's the lineup and the rest of the 18:

GK: Anthony Davis

CBs: Joakim Noah, Anderson Varajao

Outside Backs: Andre Iguodala and Kevin Love

Outside Mids: Goran Dragic, Lebron James

Center Mids: Chris Paul, Jimmy Butler

10 Shirt: Russ Westbrook

Striker: Steph Curry

Bench:

Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki, Shawn Marion,  Manu Ginobili, Kyle Lowry, John Wall, Lance Stephenson

In camp: Serge Ibaka, James Harden, Kawhi Leonard

 

The Spine:

I'm building this team around two complimentary centerbacks that I've wanted to see on the court on the same team. Bonus: they're already equipped with soccer ready hair.  The Sweeper- Joakim Noah- is a rugged Defensive Player of the Year with a win-or-go-home mentality and constantly improving offensive arsenal.  And the stopper brings savvy positional defending, great passing and underrated midrange scoring.  Let's see if Anderson Varajao's pick-and-roll play translates to set pieces in the other half.

They'll play in front of backstop Anthony Davis- a 6'11" athletic freak who just demands an important role on the field. Since we're still trying to figure out how basketball skills translate to soccer, it's possible that training camp will show us to shuffle these three around, and try the gloves on Noah or Varajao. Pretty sure you're not scoring on this 21 foot wall unless you have Ronaldo, Rooney and James. The obvious issue is speed out of the back, and my homer (huge Cavs fan) of Varajao could easily be overturned by sliding the left midwinger back to the most important position on the field, the offensive-minded centerback.

We're going with a 4-5-1, and our trio of center mids are arranged by their defense to offense balance.

Jimmy Butler is an top notch defender (a top guard in defensive win shares, if we're looking at the advanced metrics) and tough two-way player who we'll try to plug into the Jermaine Jones role; minus the penchant for red cards, Kyle Beckerman may be a better analogy. Just ahead of him, Chris Paul serves as the true point guard - a Michael Bradley, not flashy but a heady, efficient, accurate playmaker (the league's highest assist rate - by a lot), and an advanced metrics winner (#6 in total winshares). We just know we'll win more often with him at the point.  And the playmaker, the 10 shirt, will be Russell Westbrook.  The highest usage rate in the league, explosive passing or scoring.  His hand injury won't slow him down around the 18.

Up front, we're going with the lone striker, fearless and high percentage gunner Steph Curry.  An assassin finisher and surprisingly efficient defender- not something USMNT fans are used to seeing from the top of the formation.

The Rest

With the spine set (and likely alterations noted) our strategic wings and backs will include:

On the right, Lebron James (outside mid) and Kevin Love (back) are going to pair up as a fast forward threat, as they're learning to do in Cleveland right now.  Love will get to the other end line and use his outlet pass acumen to lob crosses in to Curry, Westbrook, or his midfield partner James, sneaking into the box in waiting.  Love isn't going to be as rugged an outside back as I like, but he'll pluck every rebound off the posts or out of the air that Noah and Varajao don't nab.  James is the ideal midfield compliment to Love, willing to hang back if needed to cover Love, an explosive scorer from anywhere, and fit enough to cover the entire field well beyond stoppage time. Let's face it, with him in that spot, the offense could very well run through the right flank.

The left side is held down in the back by All-NBA Defender Andre Iguodala, an international veteran and the consummate role player in a star studded lineup.  Goran Dragic, a lefty and high PER, emerging two-way player, gets the unlikely nod over fellow southpaw James Harden in midfield.  Safe to say Paul George would get a start in one of these spots if healthy.

Bench

Lance Stephenson: Gives you an irrational confidence (credit Bill Simmons) guy who can defend (a top-2 guard in the NBA in defensive win shares) but also score off the bench. He could start in place of Butler, too.

John Wall: A likely half time or 60 minute sub to jumpstart an offense from the wing, with his end-to-end speed, in the way that Klinnsman used Deandre Yedlin in the World Cup.

Kyle Lowry- the backup with a similar rationale to Chris Paul, and more equipped to run the full 90 as he chews up minutes in Toronto.

The bench is bolstered by a quartet of savvy veterans with championship DNA and an international flair to their games that has to - HAS to - situationally translate to key contributions in the latter stages of big matches.

Kobe (for the ice in his veins), Dirk (an all-time true shooting percentage legend and the most prolific international scorer in the NBA's history), Ginobili  (lefty playmaking and underrated defense), and Shawn Marion with his savvy two-way play and ability to cover the Messis and Ronaldos of the world.

Serge Ibaka, Kawhi Leonard and James Harden. These 3 guys are in camp and, on our Klinnsmaniest of days, probably make the roster over the Kobe, Manu and Dirk. Leonard is clearly going to explore for a bigger role in the future on our Players on the Pitch roster.

Quick note: Who's the backup goalie?  Throw gloves on any of these guys and their going to accel with their great hands, lateral quickness, and demand of excellence.  I'm probably going to ask Lebron to slide in first if Anthony Davis goes down. If in camp Lebron's Howardesque vocal leadership proves necessary from between the posts, Davis gives way to LBJ. Kawhi Leonard could also be seen as the goalie of the future- though slightly older than Davis. May inevitably Davis becomes a stopper, Leonard the goalie.

Who knows how this lineup would fare compare to the USMNT, 2014 edition.  There'd be a ton of athleticism on the pitch. And we'd get to see how it translates from one sport to the other.

 

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#soccermakers III: In focus with Mike Janosz

The third edition of #soccermakers is weeks late and hopefully not too short. Mike Janosz has long been the favorite  US Soccer photographer of fcearth. We met him digitally in 2008 (via Facebook) and have stayed in touch as his photography career- which encompasses not only soccer as a photographer and editor for International Sports Images (ISI) but also surfing and more- has progress. Read on to hear how he's evolved (and share your #soccermaker stories here.) And you can check him out on the web here at Michael Janosz Photography and at JanoszPhotos.net.

Where were you in 2008 with your soccer photography?

At that time I was fully involved with International Sports Images (ISIphotos.com) covering every LA Galaxy & Chivas USA home match; and high school soccer was huge for me at that time and has expanded even more today. US Soccer had recently instituted its Mens Development Academy Program as well, which my boss asked if I would be interested in covering which of course I was so excited about. Four times a year the Academy would be and be assessed by all the US Soccer people and we were there to document it.

What is the backstory for your work on the local soccer scene?

It started with MaxPreps, a high school sports website, high school stuff but was just a hobby. But I just loved soccer!

And how about for the US Soccer scene?

At that time I hadn’t really shot much US Soccer stuff, as I was the low guy on the totem pole at ISI. Many of the guys (and gals), for whatever reason, weren’t available to shoot so the Managing Editor asked if I was up for doing some traveling covering the Development Academy events and that’s when everything opened up for me and my soccer photography really took off and it jumped to a new level. I began working closely with some of the best soccer shooters in the world working for ISI. They taught me everything about lighting, portrait & headshot photography. It was awesome! I think about about all the guys & ladies that have passed through our Mens & Womens National teams from the youth level all the way to the Senior squads. For me this has been mind blowing because I’m a huge fan first of all! I could go on & on and on; I feel so blessed.

What's your soccer background and how did photography become a full-time opportunity?

I never ever dreamed of doing photography full time as a job. My photography began when a friend asked me to take pictures of he and his friends surfing back in 1976. On the way to the beach that day I asked to see the camera I was going to use as I didn’t have one then. He said “Camera? there’s no camera; you’re going to learn to surf!” That day my life changed forever.I had started playing soccer in 1969 when our little town of La Mirada, California began forming an AYSO league. There were about 15 or 20 of us, of all different ages. I was a nerd. My mom suggested to maybe give soccer a try. I was hooked. The Chilean family that presented me the game were my heroes. I finally found something I could connect with; I thought I was great. But in reality I wasn’t that good at all. I tried out for a few club teams but back then my mom didn’t want to drive me as the clubs were about 25 miles away.

During this time I was the water boy for the local college soccer team, Biola University. One day walking across campus, I heard someone yell my name. I looked over and it was the Biola college mens team captain. He was a student teacher (Spanish) at the time. He told me he was the crosstown rival's soccer coach and asked if I could transfer to play for him. It was my senior year of high school and I thought that it wouldn’t be feasible and my parents probably wouldn’t let me anyways. Well, the next morning I was called into the principal's office and there was mycoach, my principal and a counselor telling me that CIF had made provisions for me to play soccer across town while continuing to attend La Mirada. My parents were totally for it. My mom would be pick me up at lunchtime then drop me off at the other school. Needless to say my senior year was so much fun. I met some great new guys from the other school and little did I know at the time those guys were into surfing as well. I made All League,...My coach then is the man behind the SoCal Seahorses 

I wanted to play college ball so I tried out for UCSB but didn’t make it. But I did play a handful of games under Sigi Schmid when he was coach of the LA Aztecs Jrs. Surfing was my new found love and after I quit playing for him that was it, just surfing.

One thing about surfing & soccer though, everywhere in the world I’ve been to while surfing & photographing surfing, I’ve lived in some of the smallest fishing villages with no running water or electricity or light bulbs, the one thing we had in common was football/soccer. Soccer/football is truly the world’s international language. I may have not understood a word of their language but we all spoke football.

After all my travels I ended up working in my families plastic products (audio & video manufacturing) business for over 25 years. (After the family business failed) I didn’t know what I was going to do but it’s been over 15 years now. I found part time work here and there doing odd jobs. In the last 8 to 10 years (photography) has turned into a true career profession. Everything I owe to ISI and John Todd and my wonderful wife who has supported & backed me throughout this time.

What has been the biggest eye opener for you as you've gotten deeper into your soccer coverage?

Traveling with the Seniors Men’s squad this last Hex round was an eye opener, getting to go Central America on the team's private plane was way cool. Another might be is the staggering difference of play from the Academy & Club level to the Mens first teams is crazy. Another eyeopener: many of the boys & girls and coaches as well that I’ve shot over the last 10-15 years are now getting married, having babies and starting families. So I’ve turned into a maternity and wedding photographer.

How are things going for you right now in your soccer work  and what are your plans looking forward?

Right now is a tough time to be solely a sports photographer. I think because I have a few notches it’s really helping me succeed. Another thing I’m very proud of is John (Todd) has made me Photo Editor at ISI. I’ve been able to see all our photographers’ shoots that I get to edit, and all the incoming images from all over the world from our sister & partner companies such as Back Page Images Of UK & Europe and MexSport from Mexico & Central & South Americas.

Last year the (now) OC Blues FC from the USL Pro  asked me to be their team photographer again, (and I'm) covering the MLS with the Galaxy and Chivas USA teams so that will keep me busy (since I am) continuing editing & shooting for ISI as well as expanding my team & individual high school photography business.

Mike is an inspiration to us.  Check out his work in any forum that you can. Meanwhile we'll look to get an update from him soon.

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#soccermakers II: Terry Kegel Shows Us Reasons To Care

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#soccermakers II: Terry Kegel Shows Us Reasons To Care

For our second #soccermakers story (share stories here!) we'll revisit one of our favorite soccer storytelling inspirations, Terry Kegel.  I first met Terry in 2009 and asked about the launch of his documentary,I Speak Soccer.  A teacher in Seattle, Terry continues to get people involved in the story of soccer as a unifying language and experience.  While we caught up with him in early June to find out how he's made the most of the last few years since the debut of his film, it turns out he was busy organizing the inaugural West Seattle Cup, which he hosted for the Emerald City soccer community a few weeks ago. (Check out West Seattle Cup highlights on YouTube and the Cup's Facebook page here. More info about it later in the interview!)

The thing that Terry has now told us twice is one of the best and most powerful ways I've ever heard put into words about the impact that #soccermakers like him are having through soccer.

"We have a responsibility to teach our kids more than how to pass the ball.  We need to teach them to be interested in knowing that person receiving their pass."

Read on for Q&A with Terry:

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When did you start working on I Speak Soccer and what was your original vision or motivation for it?

The idea for I Speak Soccer came out of my experience in 2001 playing pickup with a bunch of mostly African immigrants in a small town in France.  I was fascinated with the simple power of connecting with another human being through a common passion.  That connection sparked an intense curiosity to learn more about my new teammates.  How were they similar?  How were they different?  Then, the more I traveled, the more this exact same experience repeated itself.  Connection through soccer, curiosity about differences.  Connection through soccer, curiosity about differences.  With soccer as my language I traveled the world for the next four years, building connections, exploring differences.  The experiences wove together and began to tell a more general story about two aspects of soccer that are most beautifully apparent in its pickup version: cultural diversity and community-building.  I was inspired to become a sort of advocate for that perspective on the game.  The film, I Speak Soccer, was my attempt at expressing that perspective.

What was your biggest take away from the experience of making your film?

One of the most rewarding responses to my film that I ever received came via email.  I actually wrote about it in our last interview:

"I got an email the other day from a mother who had seen the film with her son.  She said her son, who plays on a select team, asked her to walk him over to the local park to join a pickup game where a friend of his plays with his Latino friends.  They didn’t speak English but they welcomed him right in.  She said the film really changed his perspective on soccer.  This is what excites me about soccer in America.  I want to help open up the eyes of our youth players to the depth of soccer.  I want to help them wake up to the potential of this sport.  I want them to realize that they speak the most well-known language on earth, and that represents so much potential for connecting with people across other barriers.

This is a movie about soccer, but more than that, it’s about travel.  I think of travel as interaction across borders.  Those borders may be political borders halfway across the world.  Or they may be the less talked-about borders of race and class within your hometown. Soccer transcends that.  I think we have a responsibility to teach our kids more than how to pass the ball.  We need to teach them to be interested in knowing that person receiving their pass.  In a country that really struggles to make these connections across differences both internationally and domestically, soccer represents such amazing potential."

Where was the single coolest place you visited and was there anywhere you want to stay!?

Brazil!

Where were you with the film a year later, during the 2010 World Cup? Did you go to South Africa?

The film premiered on Hulu (free) the week before the 2010 World Cup kicked off, so we got a lot of attention online.  It was great to reach a wider audience and spread the message of pickup to balance out all the other soccer hype that US media was suddenly hungry for at the time.  And we were able to make over $4,000 through Hulu views.  100% of our profits are donated to Right To Play so I was excited that not only were people able to watch the movie for free, but their doing so had a real positive impact for children on the other side of the world.  That felt good.

I did not go to South Africa.  I went to Brazil to watch it on TV with my friends. 

What's the latest for I Speak Soccer? 

We've just relaunched our Facebook page in hopes of getting Hulu to put it back up this summer (we need some social media attention to convince them it's worth it), www.facebook.com/ispeaksoccer .  Currently, the film is available for streaming (in the US and internationally) for a small fee-the links are on our website.

Your perspective as an elementary school teacher- has that influenced your outlook on being a soccer educator in this country!  Feel free to comment on that if you want.

I am a Kindergarten teacher.  Learning and community-building are so fundamental to my profession, and to me.  I truly believe, cliche or not, we are better together.  As my experience making I Speak Soccer taught me, it all starts with connection.   The more interconnected, the stronger the community.  Now if I can strive for that in my classroom community, why shouldn't I be striving for that in the greater community: my neighborhood, my city, my country, my world.  As I look beyond the idyllic walls of a Kindergarten classroom to the "real world", I see polarization.  It's a recipe for disaster.  And it's been exactly that: disaster after disaster after disaster.  When individuals or groups of people in our midst feel hurt, insecure, misunderstood, or unacknowledged, the whole community loses.  In the end, we are all impacted.  Because in the end, we are all on the same team.

One thing I love about pickup soccer is its fluidity.  Teams are constantly reforming.  As the game drags on, players come and go, and teams reorganize to make it work.  In formal soccer, when we put on that uniform and we hire that neutral party to resolve conflicts, we focus on our differences and actually distance ourselves from knowing the other team.  They are the opponent, the enemy.  They are different from us.  That is a human tendency and it happens off the field as well.  When we over-emphasize our differences and label others as "opponents", we distance ourselves from fellow community members.  At best, this shows up as ignorance; at worst, hatred.  For me, the solution is a rediscovery of what connects us and a realization that we are all in this together.  It is important to acknowledge and learn about our unique differences, but ultimately, we are better together.  This was my message in I Speak Soccer and it continues to be my message in my classroom and in the West Seattle Cup.  

Was there a moment over these past five years where you knew you'd follow up with other cool soccer stuff?

You're gonna think I'm just saying this, but in all honesty, last year I was rereading the interview we did in 2009…actually that very same quote:  "We have a responsibility to teach our kids more than how to pass the ball.  We need to teach them to be interested in knowing that person receiving their pass."  Suddenly those words kinda slapped me awake.  As so often happens to Americans who return home after some time abroad, I quickly fell back into my routine, comfortably isolated from the rest of the world.  Rereading that quote woke me up to who I'm committed to being in the world and how soccer can support that mission. 

So you were inspired to take on a massive new soccer project?

In June, billions of soccer fans from around the world celebrated the kickoff of the FIFA World Cup, arguably the most popular international sports competition.  Soccer writer Simon Kuper calls it “the moment when the planet becomes a family.”  We believe in the unifying power of this simple game.  What an opportunity for our community!  It is our responsibility to capture this moment and take an active role in sharing this opportunity with our children.

As parents, coaches, and educators, we know our children and we know the challenges they face.  A child’s journey towards adulthood follows a meandering path that weaves between two principal questions: who am I? and who is on my team?  Identity and Community.  Children need our support in reaffirming their identity and building their connections with a community.  The alternative is unacceptable.  Shame, loneliness, ignorance, arrogance, apathy, exclusion, hatred, violence: these are real threats to a healthy community, threats to our children’s future.  It is up to us to create a new future, to create a community built on respect and teamwork.

The West Seattle Cup is a co-opetition, a combination of competition and cooperation.  Competition is a powerful motivator; it is what makes games fun.  However, as our children’s role models, we believe it is our responsibility to guide them to always see the bigger picture.  In the end, with all our wonderful individuality, we are more alike than not.  The more we interact, the more we realize that partnership is possible between any two individuals.  Even between “opponents.”  Suddenly, our concept of team expands and we genuinely feel a greater sense of community.  

Whereas fears about differences typically stagnate and impede conversation and connection, the West Seattle Cup will encourage an acknowledgement and celebration of those differences and, at the same time, it will inspire a discovery of common purpose.  

What was the format of the tournament?

The West Seattle Cup brings together teams of elementary-age children and their parents representing different countries to participate in a World Cup-style soccer tournament.  Each child and parent, or intergenerational partnership, registers together for a country team with which they choose to identify.  For some, their identification might be based on their recent emigration from a particular country; for others, their connection might be more indirect, through relatives, friends, or travel.  The 32 teams, made up of 448 children and parents, will represent the diversity of our experiences as a community. 

In the weeks leading up to the tournament, each team, led by a captain, comes together in a manner of their own design.  This might be a soccer practice, a service project, a dinner potluck; in the spirit of community-building, it is self-determined and therefore will look different for each team.  Through whatever forum they choose to unite, the team must complete these two requirements: all team members must meet in person at least once and all children, with the assistance of their parents, must prepare a 2-minute presentation about one aspect of the country they are representing.  For example, the child might present information about the country's people, location, language, history, culture, or government.  Or, he or she might share a personal anecdote as it relates to that country.  The preparation for this presentation will necessarily involve meaningful conversations between parents and children, which will promote identity exploration and encourage intergenerational understanding.

On the morning of the tournament, all teams (children K-5th grade with their parents) gather together for a meeting and warm-up.  Once play starts, there will be two small fields hosting games simultaneously.  Throughout the day, each team plays three games.  During the five minutes preceding each game, intergenerational partnerships from opposing teams spread out around the field and sit down in foursomes.  For example, a Nigerian child and parent sit across from a Cambodian child and parent.  The children exchange presentations, teaching each other about their countries, with the assistance of the parents as necessary.  The strength of a diverse community depends on its people’s willingness to acknowledge and learn about each other’s differences.  This kind of generous and humble listening is the foundation for any future cooperation across those differences.

A whistle signals the end of these conversations, players stand up, and play begins.  The game consists of two halves, the first organizes players by country teams.  Players experience the challenge and excitement of intergenerational teamwork, unified by a common cultural identity.  At halftime there is an important switch, reinforcing a flexible concept of team. The second half organizes players by generation teams, for example, Nigerian and Cambodian children versus Nigerian and Cambodian parents. The two parent captains, one from each team, work together to coach the children and maintain an organized and fair game for all.  During this half, players experience the challenge and excitement of cross-cultural teamwork, unified by a common generational identity.  With each smile, pass, goal, and high-five, players feel connection and community, and, together, we realize that we’re all on the same team.

As an extension of the on-the-field activities, the event hosts a museum of displays and a presentation of performances in the space between the fields, which will celebrate and teach about our cultural diversity.  Each team will host a tent where written versions of the children's presentations will be on display along with pictures, food, music, and other artifacts about the country.  There will also be opportunities for live performances and cultural presentations on stage throughout the day and during the mid-day ceremony.  Taking a break from the action on the field, participants can take advantage of these different opportunities to interact with their neighbors and learn about the world.  

How will the tournament benefit the broader community?

In addition to directly engaging the 448 players who participate on the field, the West Seattle Cup will bring together the broader community in a variety of supporting roles.  On the sidelines, fans will cheer on their team, contribute to cultural displays and presentations, and learn from the displays and presentations of other teams.  Local businesses and organizations will pool together their resources to donate uniforms and equipment.  Volunteers will work together to provide logistical support in the running of the event.  These supporters, coming together to produce the event, will necessarily experience their own version of the tournament's mission of creating teamwork.

All participants in the West Seattle Cup, whether players or supporters, will become empowered leaders in our neighborhood.  The experience of expressing individual identity and discovering cross-cultural and intergenerational connections will inspire the kind of leadership that creates a productive and healthy community for all.  These leaders, drawing upon this expanded sense of teamwork, will go on to forge new personal friendships and initiate cooperative professional projects, which will serve as examples to peers of a new way of living in a diverse community.  

And how did it go?

it was not your traditional soccer tournament with winners and losers.  The winner was community.  We had a "Community Scoreboard" and this was the final tally:

  • Conversations For Understanding: 485
  • Goals Scored Together: 453
  • Ignorance: 0
  • Polarization: 0

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A huge thanks to Terry for taking the time to talk soccer. More video about this year's successful launch at WestSeattleCup.org.

-jr

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#soccermakers I: Mike Herman & Compton United

This is the first of hopefully a many-part series on #soccermakers: people doing interesting and important work, making things, leading worthwhile organizations or non-profits, creating content and telling stories about  The Beautiful Game.

(If there's someone we should spread the word about out, tell us!)

To start, we reach back to one of our favorites- in fact, arguably the first Soccer Changemaker we met as fcearth, back in 2008.  Mike Herman launched Compton United in 2006 (it was featured on FSC in 2009) and has been leading an organization with a dual focus on the sport and developing (and graduating) student athletes.  He's always taken time to share his stories with us (like when we shared his take on mentorship two years ago) and we'd love to shine a little bit of light on his incredible work.                            

You can follow Mike on Twitter or visit ComptonUnited.com.

When did you start Compton United and what was your original vision or motivation for it?

We created Compton United Soccer Club to fill the void of quality, sanctioned youth soccer programs here. There was a lot of soccer in the city (and talent), but no programs to take advantage of the future opportunities that the sport offered. These were only unaffiliated, profit-motivated leagues. I believe that opportunities such as these shouldn’t be denied to someone simply because of where they live.

The catalyst for all of this was Ramiro. He was 5 when we moved here, and we got to know his family very well. In fact they became family (and still are). Ramiro was an extraordinary soccer player. He excelled all the way through high school, on the field and in the classroom. He was accepted academically to several different universities, but really wanted to continue to play soccer. His school and coach did nothing to help their players get to the next level—more than likely they had no real university contacts.

I saw this and became frustrated as to why the urban Latino (some African-American) players who had incredible talent were essentially locked out of the college recruiting and US Soccer system. I started asking a lot of questions. I learned players, especially in Southern California, need to play with a club to have access to these offerings. I also found out that the clubs were only in the suburbs, because families there had the resources needed to travel and pay coaches and trainers. I believed that Compton could have a world-class soccer club and facility, produce some top-notch talent, and become a model that for American urban soccer.

So after a year of searching for someone to do this, I finally started it myself.

What has been the highlight for you in running the club- visiting the Whitehouse, etc.?

The highlights have really been seeing the positive change in the players lives. For example, Luis started with us at around age 12. He was a hot-tempered, loud-mouthed player with a lot of skill but was a horrible teammate. He was doing poorly in school and his parents were struggling with him. Through the influence of the club and the emphasis of being a leader on and off the field, we began to see changes. After some time he became a team captain, turned around his grades as well as his attitude, and made an effort at home. He really excelled in our leadership development program where we had pro players from the Galaxy and Chivas USA come and mentor a select group. He really bonded with two Chivas players. Their mentoring was a very significant part of his turn-around and ability to now play in college.

What has been the most rewarding aspect, or even moment, of running Compton United?

I’d say the same thing, seeing positive change in the player’s lives. We cared about soccer, of course, but we cared even more about how they were growing up and who they we growing up to be.

Also, I’m proud of our 100% high school graduation rate within a district that averages a 68% graduation rate.

What has been the most challenging aspect of running and growing your club and attaining such successes as a 100% graduation rate?

By far, the most difficult thing has been a lack of a home field or place to practice. We have been working on this issue since our start in 2006, and it became more and more frustrating as time passed.

Since then, we have had almost 2 million dollars in soccer facility projects slip through our fingers for a number of reasons; primarily people seeing soccer as a nuisance and apathetic city and school officials. Compton is now approaching 70% Latino, and there still is not one soccer field in the city. We have practiced mostly in our local city parks where the fields are horrible, full of gopher holes, a lack of lighting, etc.

What have you noticed about the change and growth of soccer in this country? Has it directly helped Compton United?

David Beckham really helped us in this! Soccer has always been significant in our neighborhood, but as Beckham came to LA, more Angelinos were introduced to the sport. I then saw increased interest in the club from within the city, as well as other communities.

You mentioned that your most recent class has now finished high school. What are the next steps for you and for the club?

We are struggling. I have not taken on or started new teams due to the lack of a facility. So we have no teams right now. When the time is right we will start a new group of younger teams and focus on recreational soccer with a heavy mentoring aspect and see if it naturally progresses to club soccer. Most of our older guys are now in college and I have focused on them for the last two years. I really need a Spanish-speaker, preferably with at least some college soccer experience to step in and lead this new CU era. I know the potential is still huge with many more “Luis’” and “Ramiros’” that need this program, It is very frustrating seeing nothing happen at this point.

Are you going to Brazil this summer for the World Cup?

I WISH! Our club guys wanted to go, and I contemplated it. But I’m still gun shy about our failed trip to the last World Cup in South Africa. Our players worked hard, and we raised all the money needed apart from the airfare. Then as time continued, airfare went through the roof, and we couldn’t raise the rest. We lost a bunch of money in non-refundable deposits.

But I’d give almost anything for that to happen.

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7 Fearless Predictions for World Cup 2014

It's here, finally, the day of the World Cup, when the world turns its attention to Brazil for the biggest sporting event there is.

Here are seven fun predictions about what we'll see over the next month or so. Weigh in below with yours!

The Country of the Future finally becomes the Country of Today, gracefully. 

Sure there are serious issues to debate. It's never a unanimously agreed upon, dumping a couple billion dollars into stadiums with a serious shelf life in an emerging country that has big issues at hand- like education and healthcare.  But a nation pursues the World Cup to showcase itself.  It's a once in 40 years proposition at most.  So even though we can expect protests right up to and probably through the tournament - and we'd never advocate sweeping the serious socioeconomic issues under the rug, even for a month of best-face-on-putting - here's saying Brazil will play one colorful, stylish, aspirational and safe host to the worldly bunch flying in as we speak. (real time update: it's a work in progress hours before the first kick).

Flopping will not be a story.

A year before South Africa 2010, I was worried it would be.  Such an easy critique for the very casual fan tuning in once every four years- the amount of pandering for the whistle and time stalling tactics that can take place. But is it my inner optimist, or is this problem gradually taking care of itself?  (Maybe not.)  In a week where Dwayne Wade was fined (again) $5k for an Oscar-caliber overreaction in the NBA Finals, this isn't soccer's problem alone- nor is it going to make big headlines at the copa.

Brands will have a field day. So will emerging media.

ESPN and Univision aren't the only ones bringing the World Cup to you.  Nike and adidas, Coke, Beats, Degree, Twitter and Bud Light and so many other brands are delivering notable content, too.  (Favorite so far- this by ESPN and the American Outlaws.) And for deeper coverage and analysis, you can stick with mainstays like ESPNFC and the Sports Illustrated team...but you can compliment your coverage with a slew of other great outlets. But...

ESPN will be missed, dearly, and they'll remind us why.

Best wishes to Fox, and kudos for cozying up to ESPN to learn the ropes this time through.  And kudos to Grant Wahl & Co. at Sports Illustrated for doubling down in a big way this time through. But from the moment Bob Ley signs off in Sao Paulo, the mothership will be missed. Big time. They've committed to football over the years- never more than the last few months.  The supplemental content is incredible. The dual nod (stateside) to the TWO most followed teams here (including Mexico) is impressive.  And their reach- inserting plugs for World Cup content in all their digital touchpoints- can't be matched.  So sayonara and thank you, for now.

Eastern Europe and (Northern) CONMEBOL Represent Well

Equador. Colombia. Croatia. Bosnia & Herzegovina in its first World Cup. Here's saying one of these nations will rise eyebrows with a deep run, on the collective efforts of their rosters, mishmashes of players in South American and top flight Euro leagues alike.

Tim Howard will reassert himself as the world's best GK, and then articulately be humble about it.

Forcefully vocal, directing the young back line of the USMNT defense, Tim Howard is all class. Coming off his best of 12 years in Europe and backed by another of the world's top netminders in Brad Guzan, Tim Howard is a cut above. The better he plays, the more realistic the opportunity for the USMNT to escape the Group of Death.  In 14 days, he'll leave the world scratching their heads, saying, "Damn. He is the greatest GK on the planet, right now."

Billions will tune in.  Others will stay outside and play.

FIFA projects 3.2 BILLION people watched a minute or more of the 2010 World Cup.  Others point out that this is fewer than half the people on the third rock from the sun- and there are  at least a few hundred million more football fans out there. Maybe they're stuck in a cubicle or on a farm field or don't have a TV. Maybe they'd rather play 3-a-side in an alley or on a beach. 

Regardless, the world is watching and playing right now. So take a day off, or several. Its only once every four years.

-jeff

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A Ball of Bags: Relaunching fcearth

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A Ball of Bags: Relaunching fcearth

 After a youth of playing, coaching and supporting soccer in the US, something happened about 6 years ago. I took it to a new level and  I became obsessed.

Not in the Nick Hornby Fever Pitch, crazy for one jersey sense (although that later happened for me with these guys).

Obsessed with what more I had to learn about the reach and meaning and impact of the world's favorite sport.

I've told the story before, about balls made of bags. The first part was about a young US Soccer youth pool player who was adopted by a US family, following a youth spent in Zambia playing football with a ball made from stuffing plastic bags together to form a sphere. The second was when I told my coworker - a brilliant tech analyst of Brazilian and Japanese descent -  about the first.  He told me that he had also grown up - in Brazil - playing football with balls made of wadded up plastic bags.

I realized the power that soccer has- because of it's global reach and near-universal obsession- to unite people, educate them, inspire them. I realized how much more I had to learn, and started reading every book, watching every documentary, following every soccer project.  There are many, and one thing we hope to do in the coming weeks is to shine a light back on all the incredible #soccermakers out there- people creating writing, photography, film, commentary, magazines, community building, fundraising, gear and more- about and through the beautiful game.

Thanks to a a bunch of factors - from a sneakily, steady, strong national team to generous coverage by ESPN to, let's hope, it's organic obsess-ability - our national interest in the sport has never been as high as it will be this next month. Much has changed since fcearth first attempted to capture soccer as a sporting reflection of global culture and passion, during our quiet launch in 2008. Gobs of of great books, blogs, pundits and programs have emerged to offer colorful, comprehensive, data-driven, or anecdotal accounts of the game, at all levels, beyond the final score.

The US Men's National Team  is a timely reminder of the cross-cultural change of soccer in this country alone. Our head coach is a German. One former head coach - a Serbian who has taken four other countries (Mexico, Costa Rica, Nigeria, China) to the World Cup - is an ambassador to Qatar's program to host the 2022 World Cup.  Another former US coach lead Egypt nearly to a World Cup berth while also participating in organized demonstrations for peace, and is now coaching in Norway. And yet another coaches a club who shares a sentimental home field with the national squad, proudly defending his longtime star, unceremoniously cut from the current incarnation of an American  roster that includes as many men born in Germany as in California. Not to mention, of course, the rich cross-cultural stories of the 7 dual nationals on our national squad, as well as the global travels of the other 17 dudes.

Yet in many ways, nothing has changed at all. Soccer still transcends languages, borders and cultures more totally than almost any human activity - at least any that inspires tears of anguish, swells of national/club/neighborhood pride.

Since millions of American youth- on top of hundreds of millions internationally- play and consume the sport, it continues to offer an unbelievable reflection on the confluence of world cultures.  Nowhere else - from the pitches of working class London or Rio or Brooklyn neighborhoods to the splashy and controversial temporary stadia of World Cup venues, do classes and languages and cultures and lifestyles clash not only to camp and train together, but to compete in the same jersey, whether for the short run of a tournament or the duration of youth.

We hope to help fuel the conversation and share the stories about the culture of this sport- from roster snubs to jersey exchanges to dual nationalities to anti-flopping; from economics to linguistics to physical education (or a frightening, apparent lack thereof, when it comes to soccer in schools.)

Soccer has the power, obviously, to devastate- far beyond a 1-0 loss.  But it also has the power to unite people, connect them, bridge their differences forever.

In the coming weeks and months, fcearth will help to visually tell the story of how. We are a soccer gear and apparel brand with no gear or apparel (yet!), and we missed our goal of opening a pop up store / culture center on the streets of Rio or Manuas in 2014. That may have to wait until Russia in 2018.

But in the meantime, it's time to help share soccer through curating content, storytelling and our own projects. 

Here's to an incredible summer for the sport. Play soccer. Change the world.

-jeff

 

 

 

 

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Estadio Azteca

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Mexico City's Estadio Azteca- host of tonight's important USMNT World  Cup qualifier vs. Mexico- was built in the 1960s to host Club América  and the 1970 World Cup.  It has outlasted many American stadiums built  in the same decade; in Major League Baseball, only Dodger Stadium and  Oakland Alameda County Coliseum are still in service from the 60s  (notwithstanding, of course, Fenway and Wrigley.)  But Azteca is much  more on the scale of large college stadia, such as Michigan's Big House  (capacity: 109k) and Ohio State's Horseshoe (102k).  With American  reporters on the ground reporting that seat renovations seem to have  reduced Azteca's capacity, it is still listed as a 104,000 seat stadium,  putting it in the good company of 6 U.S. college stadia (Michigan, Penn  State, Tennessee, Ohio State, Alabama and Texas) that seat over 100k.

It may be tough to find as many US Nike kits in the stands tonight, but FCearth still optimistically projects:

US 2, Mexico 1

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Leadership & Assimilation

Soccer coaches at all levels value a few key factors when choosing their lineups and rosters: past and projected performance (of course), but also match fitness, chemistry, experience. 

As my high school coach once said- it's not just the XI Best players you want (he was talking hoops, so he said Best XII.)  But it's the Best XI- the best group of players that compliment each other.

Coaches of national teams get to take it a few steps further: Recent playing time and performance for club teams, experience in pressure situations like World Cup qualifiers or tumultuous away game environments, and even extraneous factors like travel logistics or international work permit issues.

The question is: what's the best way to weigh a player's total experience vs. recent performance vs. the logistics of assimilating him into the team? 

It's not just a National Team issue.  Imagine a State ODP team where 6 of the kids are from the same town, and another kid is sloughing 3 hours across the state for practice (like Clint Dempsey did in Texas). There's travel issues on top of peer to peer considerations.

So it's not surprising that ahead of tonight's US Men's National Team qualifier against Costa Rica in Denver, a huge fervor broke out when Sporting News reported that there was dissent and second-guessing among the US Men's National Team pool players (among others) and a lack of support of Coach Jurgen Klinsmann.

We're in the camp that argues that all the attention is a great sign of the growing passion for our national team in the US.  And we won't deconstruct the incident, since it's been done so well by many others.

But the leadership issue is worth diving into. Even though it has been a focal point of the week, the exclusion of 7-year US captain Carlos Bocanegra still somehow doesn't seem to have had enough of the spotlight.

SI's Grant Wahl focused on Bocanegra immediately, and recapped Bocanegra's immense contributions to the national team:

Wearing the armband isn't easy, and Bocanegra had it for the 2010 World Cup (in which the U.S. won its group ahead of England), the '09 Confederations Cup (beating Spain and reaching the final), the '09 CONCACAF Hexagonal (winning the group) and the '07 Gold Cup final (a win vs. Mexico), among other occasions. Bocanegra has never been flashy, but he has been a consistent and terrific servant to U.S. Soccer over the years, and I can't help but feel that this transition could be handled better by Klinsmann.


And yet...the USMNT heads into to two critical games (home vs. Costa Rica, and in Mexico City on Tuesday night) without the clear-cut most consistent, most stable contributor and on-field leader of the last seven years- dating back to the 2006 World Cup.
The relevant questions to ask yourself:
What's the value of recent playing time vs. someone who's fit from training (if not matches), and has such a body of work?  Players can maintain peak fitness today without matches (as they do when they are in their club offseason.)
In other words, what value would a leader of Boca's caliber have in being on the roster and traveling squad, even if not a starter?
And at a deeper level: How long does it take to assemble 24 individuals in camp and assimilate each one back into the team culture? 
USMNT had roughly a four day camp this week ahead of tonight. That's not a long time to get over travel schedules and weekend match fatigue- let alone get back in the rhythm of playing together.  Granted, both teams face a similar timeline.  But the logistics of getting the team together and on the same page in time for kickoff is not to be underestimated.
(Soccernomics has a tremendous chapter on how even top flight European clubs, until recently, would often pay huge transfer fees for top players and basically drop them off in a new city, with new languages, new fans, new culture, and almost no help getting adjusted.  They finally got smart and realized it was worth the relatively tiny cost to basically offer relocation assistance.)
Bring it all back home:
Clearly the questions above are loaded toward our opinion that a player of Boca's leadership caliber SHOULD be in the mix.  Simply put, we think it's worth a spot on a 24-man camp roster for someone who has been through what Boca's been through and done it all with sheer focus and class. To inject that kind of continuity and poise when you're lacking other vets (Howard, Donovan, Cherundolo). If not to start, then to help a young backfield and overall inexperienced roster assimilate to the pressure cooker of the hexagonal...playing a critical game on Friday night in the snow and then flying to the unfriendly confines of Azteca for an impossible Tuesday task.
This is less about questioning the strategy, and more about calling attention to the impressive task of gathering up a team from all over the world and bringing them together for a tremendously important game- a task that requires leadership.
Regardless, we're forecasting, along with the snow, an unexpected explosion of offense from our blazing strikers, and a 3-1 home win that gets this campaign back on track.

 

 

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Club dominance

Spring state cup season is open us and hundreds of youth club teams in 50 states will be descending upon their state championship tournaments.  Since 2006, Real Colorado (of Highlands Ranch, Colorado) has won 17 girls age group state cup championships- about a third of available titles!


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The First Ball

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Since we have a near-obsession with soccer's objet d'art, let's cover the first modern soccer ball.  History has claimed pig bladders, cow hide leather, and even skulls as the first soccer balls, reflecting centuries of sports that sort of resembled soccer.  But the modern soccer ball is generally credited to hard-luck 19th century inventor Charles Goodyear, who used his technique for vulcanizing rubber to form the first footie in 1855. (Yes, he for whom the tire company was named when it launched near the turn of the century.)  The sphere evolved to be inflatable, then stitched, though the general size of Goodyear's was adopted by the English Football Association as the standard in 1872.

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US Youth Soccer

Let's get right to it. According to US Youth Soccer, more than 3M kids in the US played organized soccer in 2010. That's about as many people as the entire population of Uruguay- which finished fourth at the 2010 FIFA World Cup. 

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World Cup Origins

Today mark's the first of our daily attempts to give you an incredible, socially informative, culturally impactful fact about the game of soccer, each day from now until the launch of World Cup 2014 on June 12 in Brazil.

Have an awesome nugget of soccer culture to share?  Send it to jeff@fcearth.com  It can be about youth, college, club or national soccer...historic perspective, present-day players, coaches, lifestyle, languages or whatever.

 

From 1914-1928, FIFA regarded the Olympic soccer tournament as the world's amateur soccer championship.  But the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles would not feature soccer, so FIFA, under president Jules Rimet of France, decided to host the inaugural 1930 World Cup in Uruguay, selected as reigning champions from the 1928 Summer Games.  With 13 European and North and South American nations convinced to foot the travel bill to Uruguay, the hosts defeating Argentina 4-2 on July 30, 1930 at Estadio Centenario in in Montevideo.

Sources: multiple.

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On-field attitude & a country's culture

 

One of the better-written stories about new USMNT head coach Jurgen Klinnsman's deliberate effort to create an onfield identity for the US Men's National Team that somehow matches the culture of the United States of America, by Brian Straus of AOL Sporting News.

The money quote by Klinnsman:

“One of my challenges will be to find a way to define how a U.S. team should represent its country. What should be the style of play? Is it more proactive and aggressive, a forward-thinking style of play? Or is it more reacting style of play,” Klinsmann asked shortly after his appointment.


My initial thought: isn't it ambitious, or even wacky, to think you can change a national team's style of play to reflect the mentality of a country? Even if you have a year or so to do it, before the games start to (really, really) count again?

The answer: no.  Coaching a national team has some factors - time, friendlies, pools of players that occasionally get together for minicamps and a relatively small number of games per year - and one key mechanism that actually do make this possible.
That mechanism: player selection.  We need to remind ourselves that even in a top 10 global soccer national team, and even more so for a (for now) 2nd tier program like the USMNT, it is not abundantly clear who the XI best players - or even best XI players - are.  So the adage of playing the cards you're dealt is out the window.
With every little choice Klinnsman makes- from dusting off Jose Torres to where you position a Donovan or Dempsey to which U-20 athletes you begin to take chances with - you actually, deliberately forge an identity.  Straus reminds us of this in terms of the 2 best in the team:


The style born from the talents of Donovan and Dempsey indeed reflects a certain American mentality, which Klinsmann (a 13-year resident of Southern California) described as one that “never really waits and sees and leaves it up to other people to decide what is next.”

And with time to enact bigger-picture philosophies- like apparently emphasizing US-Mexican players or evangelizing soccer in, ahem, underrepresented parts of the country (like non-posh suburban locales), Klinnsman can set a tone from the top.
Here's hoping he's around more than one World Cup cycle to see some benefits of his new emphasis float to the top - while somehow NOT sacrificing what is currently the identity of the USMNT, the no-deficit-is-too-large, play-from-behind, scrappy, resilient persona the team took on during the road to South Africa 2010.

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Silly Season

Guest Post: Aaron Young

With some of the biggest professional soccer leagues in the world finalizing their squads this week, it got me wondering about how this frentic marketplace effects the average fan and supporter. Let me explain, this is what many English pundits call "silly season." Unlike most American professional sports where trades and salary caps regulate a teams personnel, soccer is dominated by transfer markets, where clubs buy and sell the contracts of a player at what is deemed fair market value for the player's services. Often time the media and fan base can have a large influence on who goes where or the terms of the deal.

This brings me to my point: why do we care? Are we so invested in a sport and their stars that our sole focus throughout the "silly season" is on the market? Do we really become the Wall Street traders of soccer? Yes and no. Fans and supporters do keep a close eye on "commodity trading," but more so the everyday fan and supporter care about the club and the promise for something better. Each year we all believe our club will win it all. Few actually do. Barcelona FC has recently become the exception to the rule having won every title it competes in. The reality is that putting our faith and hopes into clubs is much like the ambition to have a better life we all strive for. And through our obession of following transfers we somehow feel more in control over our own situation. While Americans have the opportunity reflected by the pursuit of the American dream, the rest of the world can see it in their soccer club's push for success; and it's during the transfer season when this becomes most transparent to each of us.

Editor's Note: I believe there is a third-level answer to "Why do we care (about silly season)?" that, as Aaron suggests, goes beyond obsession with our favorite clubs, and fascination with the trading of players as commodities.  The most intrinsic factor that compels us to football transfers might be that there is no cultural parallel for it in any other sport, labor market or maybe even sociology.  The idea, for example, of a 30 year old Cameroonian being sold by a global powerhouse Italian club for a reported 28M Euros to an obscure Russian club that commutes by plane to its own home games from the safer confines of suburban Moscow...it's so culturally mind-boggling that it at least adds a layer of complexity to our annual obsession with the transfer window.

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Storytellers: Breakout in Costa Rica

 

Author: Matthew Spitz, Founder & Editor, USFutblog

One of my favorite soccer memories came when I was living in a little Costa Rican town called La Paz. I was staying with a family down there and their 9 year old son wanted to have a soccer pass. So, we walked outside their shanty home to the dirt road street and started to mess around with the ball. Before I knew it our one on one pass turned into a 8 v. 8 street game. Kids just flocked toward the ball; it was really unbelievable. To witness first hand the impact soccer had in brining this miniscule community together was a crazy experience. I never realized the significance the sport could have until that moment. Pure bliss is the only way I can describe it, as time stood still. 

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A brief editorial: Grant Wahl and the FIFA Presidency

(Rarely has FCearth made any editorial statements about our sport and its global leadership, but the statements below definitely reflect the views of our company on a day in which Sports Illustrated soccer writer Grant Wahl officially bowed out of the FIFA presidency race.)


The saddest thing about Grant Wahl's candidacy for FIFA President- recapped here in a great Wahl story about his last 6 weeks of campaigning- isn't that he didn't secure an FA nomination.  Even if he had, he'll readily admit he likely wouldn't have won. 


And it's not that the USSF wouldn't nominate him- even though the United States might've had the best rationale.  I don't know what Sunil Gulati's relationship is with Blatter, but even if most large FAs fear political backlash in nominating an alternative candidate like Wahl, Gulati had the most legitimate basis for nominating Wahl; he could have said:

"He's a passionate American journalist who really has no chance to beat you, Mr. Blatter, so we can make a good faith gesture to a raucous US fan base that has supported Mr. Wahl- after all, we are the country that started this whole "Freedom of the Press" thing- and since you have nothing to hide in how you've manipulated, er, lead FIFA these last 8 years, then you'll actually look like a champ if you applaud USSF's hopeless nomination of its own journalist."

And the saddest thing isn't even the saddest and most conclusive sentence Wahl - after immersing himself in the merciless FIFA political muck for most of two months - wrote this: "...an outside candidate is doomed to fail in the world of FIFA politics, where the old men in the navy suits have all the power."  In other words, even our brilliant and independent scribe didn't find a glimmer of hope.

The saddest thing is UEFA's apparent bloc plan of continuing FIFA's status quo.  According to an unnamed "official from a World Cup-winning FA" that Wahl met with, UEFA President Michel Platini (of France) plans to run for FIFA president in 2015, when Blatter has said he won't seek yet another term.  In the meantime, all 53 European soccer nations- representing the most powerful, collectively wealthy, and best represented FIFA region and a full 25% of ALL FIFA nations- is apparently paralyzed in fear of supporting ANY opposition to Blatter.

Fear. Leaders of soccer nations are utterly afraid of...well, themselves, basically, and would sooner throw away FOUR years (a full World Cup cycle, 2 Gold Cup cycles, a collegiate career, an absolutely critical time period in the era of digital media and political transparency) than do what's right and open up FIFA, saving it from an, abysmal legacy of corruption and secrecy. They would rather bide their time for a chance to continue the tradition of secret ballots, locked documents, mysterious payments and ridiculous leadership than make a change, ensuring that soccer's most powerful and global governing body maintains a laughable disconnect with what actually happens when 22 men or women throw a ball onto a field and play. 

I wish I could convince my favorite college journalism professor Ted Gup, former Washington post investigative report and author of CIA bestseller The Book of Honor, to dive in and report the hell out of what goes on in the clouded world of FIFA.  But more importantly I hope that Grant Wahl doesn't give up and that he, or someone with equal care for the sport, steps up to defeat the long line of stuffy suits that hold this office. 

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Storytellers: Eating Fries with People From All Over

Story by: Aaron Young

Years ago, there use to be a pub on a college campus (which for the sake of anonymity will remain anonymous) that we use to drink at. It was a small, cramped place. But it was ours. The pub was the hub for all the soccer players, fans, and aficionados on campus. From undergrads to masters and PhDs, we all came together to share stories. Some came from Barcelona, others from Liverpool. We spanned the globe, with Argentinians, New Zealanders, Chinese and many others. But what brought us together wasn't the beer or the questionable food, but soccer....

The stories of our father's teaching us the game, and mother's consoling us after loss were prevalent in almost any conversation. What made these experiences unique and colorful were how different we all dealt with the same issues and that at the end of the day, playing or being a part of a community that embraced us for who we are was all that we needed.

I'll always remember a friend from Barcelona telling me to stop eating fries because it was bad for me, and a Liverpudlians and a Münchner then stuffing their face with the fries and telling the Catalonian...."This is how you eat fries!" The bond we share is based on soccer, the memories we have are based on coming together, as one global soccer community. It's what binds us...

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Storytellers: The Power of Mentorship

Submitted by Mike Herman

President, Compton United Soccer Club

I was standing in my garage amazed. Just three hours ago this place had been a disorganized mess – bins teeming over with used cleats, boxes of t-shirts and donated uniforms cluttering the floor, dust and soccer balls wedged in between it all. But now, after just a few hours of steady work, the place had been transformed into a tidy, organized, workable space. And Luis’ beaming smile testified that he had done it all himself.

I was smiling too, and not just because of my newly tidied garage. In the few years I had come to know Luis, I was seeing changes in him. His life was slowly being “reorganized” and put into place. We were seeing him become the kind of “space” where God could work as well.

When I first met Luis, he was struggling – at school, with his family, and with himself. He was a talented soccer player, often leading his Compton United team in scoring. But CU is as much about excelling OFF the field as on – and Luis was not doing that.

Like many teens, Luis’ most obvious problem was his attitude. He was a likeable kid, as long as things were going well. But when his teammates played below his expectations, he yelled. When the refs made calls he didn’t like, he argued. When teachers made decisions he didn’t agree with, he rebelled.

When Luis joined the club, he had the opportunity to spend time with men who were willing to invest in his character as well as his playing ability. His coaches and I put in a lot of time with Luis – hanging out, talking about life an soccer, digging into topics like anger and attitude – and yes, even cleaning out garages. Changes were slow but Luis was growing. It was clear that he was full of leadership potential.

In 2009, Luis was chosen as one of 4 guys to be a part of our most intense leadership development program – the Crash Elite. These 4 students, chosen because of their outstanding leadership potential, were placed in mentoring relationships with the pro players that volunteer with Compton United. (One of my main objectives for my chaplain work with the professional LA teams, Chivas USA and the Galaxy, was the recruit Christian players to work alongside our guys. The Crash Elite is the program that we created as a result!) Throughout the MLS season, the Crash Elite players meet weekly with the players (currently Justin Braun and Micheal Lahoud) for a private soccer training sessions. After those sessions end, the players take the boys out for dinner, where the mentoring really happens. Over a sandwich they discuss life, faith, school, relationships, future plans, college, girls, soccer, and anything else that comes up!

It has been during this period of time we have seen the most growth in Luis. His grades have shot up, his attitude at home has changed. He builds up his teammates and controls himself from yelling at the refs. He has become a very positive role model.

Several years ago, college was never on Luis’ radar. Now he actively participates in our College Advisory Group and is making plans to apply for college after he graduates high school.

As Luis wrote about his time in Crash Elite, “As each day passes and I am learning new stuff from Michael and Justin, I see them not just like professionals or friends – I see them like family. I know that if I ever need good advice about school, house problems, or family problems, Michael is the perfect guy. Now if I need advice about girls, soccer, or forward skills, Justin is the perfect guy. Being with them has changed my life. They taught me how to respect women, everything takes time, don’t hurry thru things, and always listen to my parents and take care of my family.”

It is evident to all of us that a new Luis is emerging. His grades have shot up, his attitude at home has changed (as noted by his parents!), and he’s active in our College Advisory Group as he makes plans for his future. He has become a leader among his teammates, building them up on the field and controlling himself with the refs. He has become a very positive role model for all of Compton United.

*Please support Compton United Soccer Club and Mike Herman's tireless efforts to improve the soccer and life experiences of youth in his community!

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Organic Invented Fields

Arguably one of the reasons soccer has become the world's game, is it's accessibility. All you need is some space and something roundish, and the game's fluid nature can adapt to your local geography and architecture. We found a beautiful set of photos that.

O Campo is a photography series by Joachim Schmid, concerning irregular Brazilian football fields. These organic invented fields are resulting products of vacant/waste lands together with a rising demand for playgrounds. A pure example of contextual urbanism, where the built existing context is the one who fixes the rules.

As the photographer states: the desire for playing the game has clearly surpassed and ignored the limitations of natural topography and FIFA’s laws.

[all images> joachim schmid photographing brazilian football fields via multicipios brasil]

+ Via Deconcrete

 

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Pitch:Africa. A Water Harvesting Initiative

The architects Jane Harrisson and David Turnbull, of New Jersey’s Atopia Research Inc., have found a new solution to Africa’s acute water shortage that also capitalizes on the continent’s latest sporting craze. Two years in the making, Pitch:Africa is a low-cost football (soccer to Americans) stadium that doubles as a rainwater harvesting and distribution system.  A cheery blue, semi-permeable polymer playing field allows rainwater to seep through and pool in cisterns. Considering that parts of Africa receive between three and six feet of rain in one season, this can add up to over a million liters of water a year. The water can then be passed through a ceramic filtration system, to be used for a variety of purposes.Read more....

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