Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What dreams have come

Something a little different on the blog today. Normally my posts are rife with links and quotes, letting people far smarter and informed than me tell you what's what. This time, though, it's just me wibbling on about remembering dreams -- a post I've been meaning to write for some time. If that sounds interesting, read on past the jump. If not, check back later as it's an international week so this place will be heavy on soccer.

Friday, May 24, 2013

My eyes!

Oh, West Virginia. How could you?

This does nothing to dispel pre-existing notions about West Virginia or college baseball. Unfortunately, the Mountaineers are in the process of crushing TCU in the Big 12 tournament, so America will be subjected to these monstrosities for at least one more day.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

New York state of mind

Jurgen Klinsmann must be one of the luckiest SOBs to walk the Earth. Just when his latest fit of message-sending resulted in Landon Donovan being frozen out of the US national team -- a team that includes the non-playing Michael Parkhurst, Brek Shea and Stuart Holden, among others -- and threatened to overshadow the run-up to three crucial World Cup qualifiers, a shoe that's been levitating since Major League Soccer's inception in 1996 finally dropped.

MLS commissioner Don Garber achieved one of his longest-held goals on Tuesday as English club Manchester City and the New York Yankees announced they had agreed to create an MLS franchise that will play in New York City starting in 2015. America's top-flight soccer league already has a team in the area in the form of the New York Red Bulls, but NYRB plays well outside the city in Harrison, New Jersey, and has struggled to attract fans despite a glittering new stadium and several high-profile signings. Having long coveted a team located in the Five Boroughs that can draw on the city's ample ranks of soccer fans, Garber and MLS have their wish.

There are still issues to resolve, of course, with one of the most pressing being where New York City FC (NYCFC to its friends) will play. A proposed stadium in Queens faces continued resistance from both local groups -- who oppose handing over more public parkland on which the stadium will be built -- and the New York Mets -- who want more than $40 million in compensation in exchange for allowing people attending NYCFC games to use the parking lots at Citi Field. Manchester City (whose ownership group is led by Sheik Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family) and the Yankees already face a $100 million expansion fee to join MLS, and replacing the parkland and soccer fields taken up by NYCFC's new home will heap an estimated $90 million on top of any costs incurred in building the stadium. Then there's the not-inconsiderable task of navigating the murky world of New York politics, a process that vexed even well-known entities like the Yankees and Mets as they tried to secure new stadiums.
To build a home for the team, the city, the league, Manchester City and now the Yankees must win over half a dozen community boards, the city planning commission, the City Council, and potentially state and federal agencies — a process that will take months, if not years. Some of the constituents oppose ceding parkland to a foreign billionaire.
“We’re not even talking about an American businessman who made shrewd investments,” said Peter Vallone Jr., a city councilman from Astoria. “We’re talking about a sheik born with a silver spoon in his mouth, and we don’t need to hand him parkland on a silver platter.”
Getting big projects built in New York can take years, especially sports sites that often become fodder for critics of the use of public resources for wealthy team owners. The Mets and the Yankees each spent nearly a decade lobbying for tax breaks and public subsidies before they poured a combined $2.3 billion into their new stadiums, which opened in 2009.
It's perfectly understandable for people in Queens and the surrounding area to be wary of the NYCFC stadium landing in their back yard. The funding for these kind of projects almost invariably comes partially (if not wholly) from public money, an extravagance that's hard to justify amid a faltering economic recovery and persistent unemployment. There's the problem of the city appearing to hand a sweetheart deal to a baseball franchise valued at $2.3 billion and a soccer club whose owner's pockets are so deep they make the Mariana Trench look like a wagon rut. Then there are those in New York who are outraged that the city and MLS are doing business with a group that has such close ties to Abu Dhabi, citing concerns about the emirate's human rights record and continuing ban on homosexuality. Workers' rights are a bone of contention in that part of the world, especially with Qatar receiving the 2022 World Cup and Abu Dhabi and Dubai enjoying rising influence on the club level.

More interesting, though, is the reaction from MLS supporters. There is the expected pushback from Red Bulls fans, but there also appears to be a line of thinking that NYCFC's arrival is somehow bad for MLS. That may sound silly, and it could certainly be so, but there is also a kernel of truth that's worth exploring.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Hail Portlandia!

I like to consider myself a free agent when it comes to most sports. Being a sportswriter for more than a decade helped tamp down my fandom, and I find it difficult to generate an interest in cheering for teams with which I lack much of a connection. As I've written before, my interest in University of Nebraska-Lincoln sports is almost entirely sociological (i.e. seeing how the people of my home state react to the football team's fortunes), I ceased caring about the Chicago Bulls when Michael Jordan left (for the last time) and the Chicago Cubs will never win anything again (ever).

That just leaves the US national soccer teams, and it's doubtful I'll cover them anytime soon. I did go to Kansas City Wizards games during my last stay in Omaha, but that was as much because of the novelty of having a Major League Soccer team in relatively close proximity as any great love for the Wizards. If anything, I'm more of an MLS fan than of any one team -- I've stood with Wizards supporters in the Cauldron, but I've also stood with the River Rats (Colorado Rapids), Section 8 (Chicago Fire), the Inferno (FC Dallas) and La Norte (DC United). More than anything, I just want MLS to succeed and continue to be a driving force behind the rise of American soccer.

That's what I thought, at least, but lately my head has been turned. For a club that's only been in MLS since 2011, the Portland Timbers have quite the impressive operation. New coach Caleb Porter's fast-paced, attacking approach is certainly easy on the eyes. More impressive than that, though, is the community-minded behavior of the club and its fans. Earlier this month, the Timbers played a scrimmage against 8-year-old Atticus Lane-Dupre and his team, the Green Machine, to help fulfill cancer-stricken Atticus' Make-A-Wish request. This was no mere kickabout on the practice field -- more than 3,000 Timbers fans showed up to cheer on the Green Machine, which beat Portland 10-9 with Atticus scoring the winner in the waning moments. I know the Jack Hoffman play is pretty popular around these parts, but this one is just as hard to watch without getting at least a little choked up.

As if that wasn't impressive enough, this past weekend the Timbers Army put on this display as part of their support of International Day Against Homophobia (HT Joe My God):

On the same day a match in Italy – one that happened to involve United States national team midfielder Michael Bradley's club team, AS Roma – had to be momentarily halted because of racist chants aimed at opposing AC Milan players, the Timbers Army chose to spend their Sunday afternoon taking a stand against another sensitive social issue in the sports world: homophobia. The 5,000-person section used roughly 4,500 colored cards to create the display, according to Timbers Army 107 Independent Supporters Trust board member Abram Goldman-Armstrong in an e-mail exchange with MLSsoccer.com on Monday.
"The Timbers Army has had a 'zero-tolerance for intolerance' policy since its inception in 2001,'" Goldman-Armstrong told MLSsoccer.com. "Our display in honor of the International Day Against Homophobia demonstrates our commitment to making certain all people are welcome at the beautiful game, on the pitch and off of it.
"As the language San Jose's Alan Gordon used to attack captain Will Johnson shows, homophobia is still a real issue in North American sports. As supporters, we must do our best to show that there is no room for such bigotry in our sport. Sunday's display is an indication of that sentiment."
Curse you, Portland! Curse your big hearts, your tolerance and your Voodoo Doughnuts! Leave my wishy-washiness in peace!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Nerd fight!

What happens when you get Neil DeGrasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Dawkins, Brian Greene, Bill Nye and friends in the same room to talk science? This.