Soccer….Family Style


Why the Good Clean US Soccer Fans Might NOT Want Mexico in the World Cup
September 14, 2013, 6:34 am
Filed under: FIFA, International Soccer, US Soccer

Steve Davis of NBC Sports ProSoccerTalk wrote a post about how Americans, who are wooping it up at the delicious concept that Mexico might not make the World Cup, might take care what they wish for. His premise is that Mexico losing their perennial powerhouse status might provoke FIFA to knock CONCACAF from 3.5 World Cup qualifying berths to 3. It’s not a bad point, but I’d like to propose that we are better than this.

We need to stop thinking about CONCACAF as US vs Mexico and a bunch of minnows, maybe a few guppies. Look at our table right now.  It’s not the US killing it, and the rest of the rabble slogging it out. (Hang on a sec, I am enjoying the US sitting pretty with 16 points with 2 games left. Let that wash over you, Americans. It is so sweet….OK, now back to it). Costa Rica is hot on our heels at 15 points. The Ticos are typically more likable than our usual rivals, and in case you weren’t paying attention, they didn’t squeak out a 1-0 W against the mighty, mighty US last week, it was 3-1. Yes, we had an off night, and yes, Ticos were doing their best to step up (down?) to Mexico’s level, drowning out our anthem and faking injury that resulted in our Matt Besler sitting out his next game on yellow card accumulation, but Costa Rica looks like the business, and that is good for CONCACAF. Honduras has a respectable 11 points, and Panama is tied with Mexico (yeah, let that sink in too). Hey! Remember last round of CONCACAF qualifying? Who looked promising? Jamaica beat the USMNT at the Office for the first time, and Mexico was coming off an Olympic Gold medal. CONCACAF just got real, kids.

Now is not the time to sit in the corner, gnawing our fingernails to a nub wondering what we will do in the post-Mexico world. FIFA clearly had Mexico’s interests in sight, or why would they be punishing Costa Rica for things that are weak imitations of what Mexico likes to pull at Azteca? The smart money thinks this is less about punishing Costa Rica and more about desperately trying to give Mexico an advantage when they play them in October.

Do we really think Europe started wringing their hands when Italy and France got sent home after the first round of the 2010 World Cup and England could “only” tie those blasted Americans? Were they concerned about the demise of their region, that they would lose berths? I doubt it. I’m not making the argument that CONCACAF is the new Europe, but that we have to keep our heads and get a sliver of confidence that more teams becoming competitive in our region is a good thing. Things change, I personally believe our region is strong than it has ever been, and that’s not the time FIFA starts messing with it.

And there’s this: what’s annoying to US Soccer fans about Mexico? Mexican-Americans who live here, are American citizens, but don’t support the US. So as we watch Mexico crumble, Americans, you should take care what you wish for. Be classy. I didn’t see racism at our match, but I heard about a few incidents that leave me less than proud. Did you enjoy Mexicans rubbing their Olympic win in our face after we bombed out embarrassingly early from that tournament? NO, we did not. So be better. Be an ambassador to American soccer. If Mexico doesn’t make the World Cup, use it as an opportunity to welcome Mexicans looking for a team to support to our American Soccer family. I know it’s a stretch, but try it. I delivered an American Outlaws scarf to one of my buddies who supports Mexico when I returned from Columbus….a tiny bit taunting, but followed up with an invitation to watch with us. I know….eternally optimistic, but if Mexico is out and the US does what I think it can under my hero Klinsmann, this could be a very interesting year to be an American Soccer fan. Don’t waste it worrying about FIFA and a half a berth.

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Beating the American Outlaws Stereotype
September 12, 2013, 12:11 pm
Filed under: Supporter Culture, US Soccer | Tags: , , , ,

girlCLAre there any real journalists left out there? I understand when MassiveFC writes a blog without getting comments, but when a “journalist” like Mark Zeigler starts tweeting things like “All those cheers you hear on TV are not spontaneous. A guy is on a mic with speakers telling people what to chant, and when. #contrived” and “@PCHartwell @AmericanOutlaws Guess it’s the sausage factory deal.” it makes me wonder if anyone knows how to actually write something above the blogosphere fray where people hear rumors and race for pitchforks and torches.

Mr. Zeigler, while it’s clear you have your bias against American Outlaws, have you done any work to see what’s actually going on out there? If you had, you might have seen this group of women at the AO Chapter Leaders meeting. That’s not all the women who are Outlaws. Those are the chapter leaders who were in Columbus. There are many righteous women in American Outlaws, and you insult us when you stereotype AO as a sausage fest.

Now back to your lackluster reporter skills. Did you do any research on the backstory of the capos, or were you inadvertently throwing fuel? Maybe catch up a little…first, Massive wrote about a supposed Seattle takeover, which was a piece with more emotion that whole truth, which prompted me to tell people to step up or go to their rooms. There’s certainly an intelligent discussion to be had about capo vs no capo, in fact, @ClevelandGooner and I already had it. When you talk about the frat boys being off key, you should know that you are insulting some of the finest men who support US Soccer, men that I have traveled around the world with, and men who deserve more credit than your playground bully sniping about being on key. Had you bothered to leave the press box and do your job, there was a story to write here. It goes like this: ***EDIT I AM SWITCHING TO THIRD PERSON BECAUSE IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE A FAKE ARTICLE….

song sheetAfter all the debate about capo vs no capo, the American Outlaws were ready to go with their first attempt at blending the noise level you can get from mic’d capos with the spontaneity of Columbus in section leadership. The plan was in place, capos stationed around the stadium. Song cards with truce plans to share the stage between AO and local supporters were distributed. A last minute security alert nixed the plans for capo stands, which was fine with AO Des Moines’ capo Tanya Keith. “I’m used to capoing from the section, so this is more comfortable for me.” But Keith would not be comfortable for long. The speaker system set up and tested pre game failed to convey the sound from the North End to the South end, leaving the South End capos to work out plan B on the fly. Keith’s children, ages six and ten, who often attend games dressed, got the crowd fired up by running up and down the South End with an American flag. When asked if this was her first cap, daughter “Wonder Woman” told the shocked fan “This is my 23rd cap, and my brother’s 14th. It’s my third #dosacero match. Dos a Cero is the nickname supporters have given the quadrennial 2-0 beat down of Mexico, and clearly, even the children understand the importance of the match.

The South End’s capos did their best, coordinating with the North End, who could often be heard clearly without speakers, when they could, allowing organic Columbus-style chants to fill the void. Once Keith finished her first half obligations, she sprinted to the North End at halftime to try to coordinate a plan for the failed speakers. She arrived just in time to see Eddie Johnson’s first goal hit the back of the net and explode the Nordedecke into a riot of sound, smoke, scarves, and red, white, and blue. Keith said “Once that happened, I was too superstitious to go back to the South End, and we were so loud, it was the best I could do to help out my family and friends back on the South side.” Anyone who has traveled to all the qualifying matches has to admit, Columbus lived up to the folklore, once again delivering an amazing fan experience, and a Dos a Cero mythology so strong, it even blocked a late game penalty kick attempt by new Seattle Sounder, Clint Dempsey. Keith summed it up, “I love traveling the US following and supporting this team. People see us capos as people who spend the game with our backs to the field, and they don’t get it. We watch the game reflected in the faces of our fellow supporters. They tell us when we need to turn around and watch the field. When I feel the energy coming out of the stands from a crowd like Columbus always brings, it’s the best natural high I know.”

Soccer fans will note, nothing is forever. Azteca was once the most fabled, unbeatable, home field advantage perhaps in all the world. We have seen the beautiful diversity of supporter clubs in America as we’ve traveled following World Cup Qualifying and Gold Cup this summer, from the consistent quality product of Seattle to the crab cakes and pit beef of Maryland. But as long as the Dos a Cero wall continues to stand at Crew Stadium, Americans know where their home field advantage is for US vs Mexico, right here in Columbus, Ohio.

***

Drops capo mic.



I Remember in Gratitude

I woke up around 9:30 this morning with the sound of supporters chants echoing in my head and thought about where I was twelve years ago that moment compared to where I am today. I was filled with gratitude for the lessons I learned that day. There’s no way I would be waking up in Columbus with my two beautiful kids, basking in the afterglow of an epic night of soccer, had I not woken up on 9/11/01.

Pulling into work on 9/11, where I was supposed to spend the day selling and designing office furniture systems (that’s cubicles, to you civilians). Instead, I spent a few hours in shock in our conference room in Des Moines, watching the news, praying my family and friends back home in New York, New Jersey, and DC were OK. Slowly, details rolled in…my father wasn’t on an ill fated early flight from Logan. Friends emailed. My cousin got out of the Pentagon safely.

I gave up working around 10 AM, with the thought that not one single person cared about the miles of panel systems destroyed that day. My work was meaningless. There was no point to it ever, certainly not that day. I drove through downtown Des Moines, cowering under our tall buildings that I can’t call skyscrapers, but that fact didn’t stop them from piercing the bright blue sky so it bled out sunshine on Iowans who seemed oblivious to our world crashing down around us. I wanted to scream at them, shake them from their zombie state of Midwestern security. Instead, I went home and sobbed until my husband came home to sit with me at the Blood Bank. We waited there for hours, mainly because it was a refugee camp for Easterners in Des Moines diaspora. I couldn’t be alone, but had to be somewhere I could still take the phone call from my mom, phoning me at 7 PM Eastern to tell me she was still at the school in Montclair, NJ, where she was a teacher. She’d been with the elementary school kids waiting for their parents who couldn’t call, and may never get there, who were walking home from the City because that was the only way to get out that day. The last child had been picked up at 7 PM, and my mother could finally release all the emotion she couldn’t show to her students. Her grief poured out in a raging flood that tore through any composure I had, but my fellow refugees just nodded in understanding, put a hand on my shoulder, shared their stories from home with me.

My new world started to crystallize there, seeing that there was a community for me in Des Moines, and that that community would get you through the worst moments of your life. We finally went home and sat in front of horrifying news of the day, I felt a clarity settle over me. My life needed to change, radically and swiftly. This would be my personal judgement day, and what I brought to the world was found wanting by my own accounting. That just wouldn’t be acceptable for one more day.

I turned to my husband and said “I think we should have kids.” He swiveled his head away from the carnage on the screen, and with amazing restraint at the shock of my seven year established position of kid-free happiness making an abrupt about face, he said “Okay….” not at all revealing that he, in all likelyhood, had a mental institution ready on speed dial.

I explained that while we didn’t know details, it was pretty obvious that there were some pretty awful people in the world. We wouldn’t be able to impact getting rid of those people, but certainly, we were capable of raising a few kids who may not cure cancer, but would tip the good guy/bad guy ratio in our favor. He agreed, suggested we see if I still felt that way in a couple weeks, and low and behold, 13 months later, our beloved Wonder Woman (the supporter formerly known as Betsy Ross) was born.

During those 13 months, I resigned my position and started doing community work, first with the Des Moines Marathon, then with the Stadium Foundation, then with my own company. And I decided my life would be focused on things I cared about: family, work that was meaningful, and soccer. I met someone this weekend who, when I introduced myself, said in shock, “You’re Tanya Keith? I’ve heard of you.” This is a phase I hear more often, although it is still strange to me, particularly when delivered with a tone that adds layers of ambiguity in exactly what reputation precedes me. He clarified, “I heard you’re a force of nature.” How’s that for my next business card? “Tanya Keith, Force of Nature.”

This soccer trip with my family, with all of you, who told me so many great stories, seeing that beautiful game, that ended in another dos a cero moment for us to share, it all happened for me because of the person I became twelve years ago. Maybe it takes an unspeakable tragedy to get clarity about your life, but I hope not. I try every 9/11 to evaluate (convenient that it comes in the season of atonement for my JewCrew buddies and I) if my life is authentic and meaningful. I try every year to not get lost in the sadness of what we lost, but in gratitude for the lessons I learned and the place I was delivered to by those lessons.

Last night, the energy and love for US Soccer that poured out of Columbus was even more healing for me than the game they hosted last year. I love being in any supporter section, but last night in Columbus was something special. In the mist of goal celebrations’ beer, smoke, and sheer unadulterated joy, the Nordecke elevated me to something I can only describe in Charles Boehm’s new word: it was #DosaCeroazo.

I am filled with gratitude, US Soccer loving nation. I hope you are all out there, being a force of nature in something you love, with people you love.



Columbus, Night Before
September 10, 2013, 3:43 am
Filed under: Supporter Culture, Uncategorized, US Soccer | Tags: , ,

My car got towed tonight. I’ve never been towed before, in twenty plus years, and I must tell you, it pretty much sucks. Particularly when there were no posted signs that I was parked in a tow zone, and the impound fee was $135.00 cash. Are you kidding me, Columbus? So I took photos of the completely faded out sign that once said “Tow Zone” and began to plot my revenge on all parties involved. Fortunately, I took a break to call my husband.

Here’s the cool thing about my husband: not only is he totally cool with me taking off a day early so I can hang out with all these crazy soccer fans here while he stays home to work an extra day and get the kids one more day of school, he’s also pretty great in a crisis. I texted: “My car was towed. $135. I’m pissed.” He wrote back “WTF?” I emailed a photo of the bogus sign, then called him. Now, he could have made me feel bad about not being more careful, (although seriously, the signage was TERRIBLE) or other things I’m sure husbands do every day of the week when their wives get towed.

But he didn’t. He asked “Well, how was the rest of your day?” I said “I dunno, it was good.” He pressed, “Tell me what happened.” So I told him about driving with our friend Ryan from AO Iowa City, and how we went to the pep rally and had got to see so many old friends. I told him that I finally got to meet Frankie Hejduk, one of my all time favorite players, and how cool Frankie was to talk to, in addition to his crazy antics on the stage with Allen Hopkins and Brian McBride. While in Seattle this Summer, we’d hung out with Allen and realized that one of his good friends from high school was one of our good friends from college. Somehow, knowing he was Sarah’s friend made it all the more silly for me, watching him try to get Hejduk to stop telling stories long enough to move the program along. And McBride, every time I looked at him, it was like a time machine back to the 2002 World Cup, watching him blow our minds with what the US might achieve. So cool to hear him speak, and watching him laughing with Frankie, standing up front with my Riot Girls Amy and Trista.

Then I told him about seeing Monty, Kaela, Andy, John, Tai, and so many others of our friends from the Korea and other trips at the first meetup of Sammers SC. Monty is starting Sammers SC as a new supporter club for grown ups. I don’t know where it will go, but they were tweeting about walkers and canes, but we’ll still out sing you at @SammersSC today, and that kinda cracked me up. Plus, I love seeing those guys.

Next, I told Doug, I went to the AO party, which was insanely packed and loud, but also full of all sorts of people I was excited to see. I got to introduce one of the AO LA guys who gave me a ride to AO Rally, to one of my favorite guys in his new state of residence, Minnesota. Neal, a Minnesota 1st Volunteer and traveling supporter, gave Richard some ideas on where he could watch games, and then they began discussing my honorary memberships in Minnesota 1st and AO LA, while a few friends from AO RVA walked by (another one of my honorary chapters).

I went outside and got a hug from Alexi Lalas, said hello to Grant Wahl, and talked to John Harkes. Rob Stone was there, and was very excited that I was from the Des Moines, Iowa chapter. He talked with me about Iowa vs Iowa State game that he’s covering next week. Charles Boehm came up to me, and said he liked my blog (is there anything better than I writer you like saying they like your writing? I don’t think so).

Then, to top it all off, as Rob Stone was walking out, he saw me, said “Des Moines,” hugged me, and said “You’re beautiful.”

Wait….scratch that. Because THEN, to top all that, Fran and Max showed up at my hotel as I was writing this post in the atrium. They brought ribs, which they got through some contrived story of how they helped a guy with a broken down rib truck. Max and I shared the ribs while we talked about AO, politics, and supporter culture. Such an excellent end to what was really a great day.

So, I’ve still got a $135 set back, but when you consider it as collateral for the amazing experiences I had hanging out with soccer fans, players, writers, bloggers, and broadcasters, it seems like a bargain. Thanks, Mr Tanya, for pointing that out to me. (But yeah, I’m still fighting that fee in the morning). For now, thanks for making my day awesome, soccer friends.




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