Choosing an EPL Team

Sportswriter Bill Simmons has a great new column on choosing an English Premier League team to support.

The season starts on August 19; I shall be rooting for Arsenal, as ever. (I had a 24-hour layover in London in January of 2001. First thing I did upon arrival: took the tube to see Highbury, the Arsenal grounds. It was closed. I couldn’t enter for a tour. But I saw it in person.)

(Thanks to Miles B. for the tip.)

My Story on World Cup Supporters in Thailand

English World Cup Supporter

I have a story in today’s IHT/ThaiDay about international World Cup supporters here in Bangkok. I tracked down some Germans (easy), some English (also easy), an Italian (not so easy), and an Argentine (quite difficult). I tried to capture these fans’ hopes for what their squads might accomplish over the coming days. A snip from a part that I quite enjoy:

If Germany wins the title on July 9, will the Germans celebrate in any special manner? A Bei Otto patron named Klaus pipes up, chuckling. “If Germany wins, we will sit here and drink beer like Germans,” he says. “We will not dance in the street. We are not Dutch.”

US Soccer: Postmortem Analsysis

US Soccer: A Postmortem

A few of you have asked me to weigh in on the US national soccer team’s dismal performance at the World Cup. The American squad, it pains me to note, lost two games, tied one, scored only two goals (one of which was an own-goal gifted to them by the Italians), and generally stunk up the joint. In my estimation, they were among the five or six worst teams in the tournament. This after making the quarterfinals in 2002.

What went wrong?

Read this excellent post on the New York Times’s World Cup blog to find out. I agree with nearly everything here, except that in assigning blame for the US team’s dismal showing, I’d argue it had more to do with the quality of the American players in relation to our opponents than it did with US coach Bruce Arena’s tactics or the dubious penalty against Ghana that sent us crashing out.

90% of the US team’s problems involve where the players ply their trade: I love the idea of the MLS, but it ain’t doing our national team any favors. It simply isn’t good enough a league; our players aren’t improving by playing in it. When Landon Donovan, supposedly the best American talent, chooses to stay at home rather than push himself and play in Europe, then we’re in trouble.

There’s an amazingly ridiculous idea spreading through the Web at this moment. It holds that the US team’s demise can be attributed to the sport’s “suburban” roots in America — that American footballers aren’t physically tough enough to play against international competition.

In a recent New Yorker column (not online), the normally excellent Jeffrey Toobin claims that the US team last to the Czechs due to “a lack of mettle.” Completely false. We lost to them because they were better than us. Way better. More skilled, not stronger or meaner. See Zachary Roth’s scintillating takedown of Toobin’s thesis on the wonderfully informative and entertaining TNR World Cup Blog. I’m saddened to see the likes of Jason Kottke, one of my favorite bloggers, echoing this simplistic and wrong-headed sentiment. He quotes David at Hello Typepad as saying that what we need in America is better athletes playing soccer.

I agree, but his suggestion that Terrell Owens would make a good striker is simply absurd. T.O. weighs (at least) 226 pounds! Yes, he’s fast, but if there were a physical advantage to being that large and muscular — heavier than any international outfield player in the history of the beautiful game, as far as I am aware — don’t you think that would have happened by now? (I will admit that I have, in the past, argued that Allen Iverson would make a world-class goalkeeper, however.)

[Deep breaths, Newley. Deep breaths.]

Some other links you should know about:

— Yes, the US national team player Clint Dempsey — aka “Deuce” — is a rapper.

— And also: indeed, Jurgen Klinsmann may be the next US coach.

— Don’t miss the NYT’s World Cup blog on the inane ABC and ESPN US soccer broadcasters.

— Dave Eggers’s hilarious essay about soccer in America, which appeared in The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup, has been posted on Slate. Read it. The best part comes at the end:

But until we do win the Cup—and we have no chance this particular time around, being tossed into the Group of Death, which will consume us quickly and utterly—soccer will receive only the grudging acknowledgement of the general populace. Then again, do we really want—or can we even conceive of—an America where soccer enjoys wide popularity or even respect? If you were soccer, the sport of kings, would you want the adulation of a people who elected Bush and Cheney, not once but twice? You would not.

— Austin Kelly has an interesting World Cup blog, though I find his argument that diving is good for football less than compelling.

— Later today: Germany takes on Argentina in the quarterfinals — just might be the match of the tournament. If you don’t watch this game, you’re dead to me.

That is all.


Back in Bangkok

So. I’m back in Bangkok. SC was fun. DC was great. The wedding on Cape Cod was fantastic. And now I’m back home in the Kingdom. Wow — that was a whirlwind two weeks in Amurica, that much is certain.

A few pics for your viewing pleasure. A and I watched England beat Ecuador 1-0 last night. My heart wept for Ecuador. But England were the better team. You have to hand it to Becks. He may be a metrosexual (or would that be machosexual?) with frosted hair but when push comes to shove, he can step up and blast a free kick under circumstances that would make lesser men wilt.

Anyway, we took in the game with about 1,000 fellow Thai and English supporters; it was broadcast on a big screen at Central World Plaza in downtown Bangkok. Here’s a pic; not the greatest of images, but still.


A monsoon rain battered us during the last 20 minutes of the game and the whole place flooded, lending a suitably manic atmosphere to the end of a manic match (for those of us — and by that I mean, in sun total, me — rooting for Ecuador).

And, finally, apropos of nothing: one more pic of Sammie, my family’s new seven-month-old golden retriever puppy. Is he not a good looking fellow, even when he’s pouting?


Thailand’s Contributions to the World Cup

Adidas's Official World Cup Game Ball

I’ve got a couple of stories in today’s International Herald Tribune/ThaiDay about two contributions Thailand’s making to the upcoming World Cup (despite that the fact that the country’s national team didn’t qualify for the tournament).

First, Adidas is manufacturing the official game ball (pictured above) in Chonburi province. And second, assistant referee Pratya Permpanich is the only Thai — and one of only four Asians — who will be officiating the games. Here’re more photos from my visit to the game ball factory.

World Cup Ambush Marketing, Thai-Style

German Sausage Flavored-Chips

I recently purchased these potato chips at Bangkok’s Big C. (Big C is a Thai hypermarket, sort of like Wal-Mart but with an open-air meat section. Thailand has several hypermarkets, such as French-based Carrefour and Tesco Lotus, a UK/Thai joint venture.)

Anyway, I saw these chips and I thought, in this order:

1. Wow — World Cup ambush marketing! (The lack of official sponsorship, the ball with Adidas-esque markings, etc.)

2. German sausage flavor? You better believe it. I haven’t tried ’em yet but I have high hopes.

Two Blogs of Note

Here’re two blogs you need to be reading:

1. The Sartorialist. New York City man-on-the-street fashion photoblog. Sample image:

Spotted in NYC

2. Kasey Keller’s blog. The US national team goalkeeper reflects on the squad’s preparation for the world cup.

Sample text:

The mood is the camp is really high. Everyone is confident we can achieve something this summer. Our aim is to do better than the quarterfinals of the tournament. The success of Greece at Euro 2004 gives everyone hope. That such rank outsiders could actually win the competition is a big boost for dark horse teams everywhere. The World Cup is a little different though. There are so many games you need to win against so many great sides. But you never know. The US is ranked fourth in the world right now. That may or may not be an accurate assessment based on our current form. But it’s up to the twenty-three guys in Bruce Arena’s squad to prove that fourth is an under estimation rather than an overvaluation.


The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup

A special person recently gave me a special gift: “The Thinking Fan’s Guide to the World Cup,” a collection of football-related writings that includes contributions from Nick Hornby, Eric Schlosser, James Surowiecki, Jorge Castaneda, Dave Eggers, and many other influential thinkers.

The book’s introduction, by co-editor Sean Wilsey, perfectly encapsulates the heady mix of anticipation, nervousness, and exuberance I feel as the opening match of World Cup 2006 Germany approaches (the tournament commences on Friday, June 9).

Here’re a couple of passages that I found especially poignant:

The world of the World Cup is the world I want to live in. I cannot resist the pageantry and high mindedness, the apolitical display of national characteristics, the revelation of human flaws and unexpected greatness, the fact that entire nations walk off the job or wake up at 3 a.m. to watch men kick a ball. There are countries that have truly multiracial squads – France, England, the United States – while other teams are entirely blonde or Asian or Latin American. There are irritating fans: ‘USA! USA! USA!’ (Blessedly few.) There are children who hold hands with each player as he walks onto the field. National anthems play. Men paint themselves their national colours and cry openly at opposing victories. An announcer shouts ‘GOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLL! GOL GOL GOL!’ on the Spanish language channel. A Slovakian tire salesman, an Italian cop, or a German concert pianist – having passed the official fitness tests and psychological examinations – will moonlight as referees.


The joy of being one of the couple billion people watching thrity-two nations abide by seventeen rules fills me with the conviction, perhaps ignorant, but like many ignorant convictions, fiercely held, that soccer can unite the world.


Kobe Drops 81 Points on the Raptors

Are you kidding me?

Extreme Russian Street Gymnastics

Parkour is a sort of gymnastics of the street. Check out this video for an insane example — straight outta Russia.