DJ WATCHES SOCCER – WEEKEND OF MARCH 12TH

GAMES I WATCHED

EVERTON V CHELSEA (FA CUP QUATERFINALS) It was 1995 when I first saw Everton, as they made their famous FA Cup run, which ended in them winning the trophy over Manchester United. I can’t even remember how I saw it – it was too early for Fox Sports World, so somewhere in the cable TV world somebody was showing English football, but for the life of me, I can’t recall who. All I knew was how thrilled I was to be seeing English football.

Those were the days of larger-than-life players like Duncan Ferguson and goalkeeper Neville Southall. Southall, a huge mountain of a man who looked about as much like a professional athlete as I do, was one of the last players who eschewed the low BMI, chiseled-body aesthetic for more of a Sunday-league beer-drinker kind of look. I loved him for that, and his command of his area combined with a complete lack of fear. Ferguson was the kind of player who seemed like he might just be packing a switchblade in his socks, and was what you could most kindly call a “live wire”. He is now a bench coach for Everton, and still looks like one of these days he could get in as a late substitution if push came to shove (and if the rules allowed for such things).

Thus, I’ve always had a soft spot for Everton, which was only made softer by their penchant, in later years, for employing great American players like Brian McBride, Tim Howard, Landon Donovan,and Joe-Max Moore.

So, I was pretty happy to see them in the 6th round this year, and even if I didn’t have an abiding affection for the team, I’d have rooted for them anyway, as I would root for the German side in the movie Victory before I’d root for Chelsea.

Romelu Lukaku lived every players dream of destroying a team that got rid of him only a few years earlier, scoring a brace and further cementing his god-like status for the blue side of Liverpool.

If I lived in a jurisdiction that allowed sports gambling, I’d have immediately run out and placed a bet on Diego Costa not seeing the end of this game, following an early yellow card. It was just as surely going to result in a dismissal as dusk results in darkness. I’d have bet the vast DJ Walker empire on this inevitability. Sadly this empire consists of a few books, the computer I’m typing on at this moment, and two automobiles both made in the 90s. But still, I’d have felt safe in the risk. Two-nil to Everton.

NORWICH v MANCHESTER CITY I’m not a Norwich fan per se, but they are the favorite team of Stephen Fry, who is one of the fine people of this world, so I like to see them do well, if only for his sake. I can’t quite love them though, because I (admittedly irrationally) cannot abide the green/yellow combination in any sports uniform at any time. I’m confident there is a deep-seated psychological reason for this aversion that years of intensive therapy could eventually draw out, but who has time for that?

Manchester City have decided to mail-in the rest of the Premier League season and concentrate on the Champions League. Good luck with that, fellas. A more disinterested side you’ve rarely seen than City today. The entire payroll of Norwich could probably support maybe a third of City’s starting 11 today. But this game is all about heart rather than cash, ideally, and today saw a Norwich side that is just barely hanging on to hopes of staying in the Premier League against a collection of disinterested gajillionaires who were trying not to get hurt before Tuesday’s 2nd leg match with Dynamo Kiev.

No goals, but a huge point for Norwich. And somewhere, Stephen Fry smiles. Good enough for me.

 

ORLANDO CITY v CHICAGO FIRE In the interest of full disclosure (like you care), I watched the condensed version of this match on MLS Live, as it took place on Friday evening and I was in bed by 8:00 that night, because I’m old and a full day of teaching 7th graders with a collective raging case of Spring fever wore my body and soul down to a nub.

Still, I’ll watch any game with Brek Shea involved. Like Dax McCarty, he’s a guy that FC Dallas never should have let go. Sure, you can’t deny a kid the opportunity to go to Europe and try his luck, and it would be immoral to do so, unless you come up with a European sized contract in order to keep him. So I understand why they let him go, but I cannot understand why they didn’t welcome him back with open arms when he came back. England was not kind to Brek, and you can call him an underachiever if you want, but I think he’s a quality player and he’s fun to watch. I like him and want to see him do well. He’s only 26 – he can still be a star for both club and country. Plus, he’s an artist, which you don’t see in professional athletes every day.

Speaking of Brek, Chicago went a man down after Michael Harrington tried to ruin the poor guy’s chances of having more children with a kick just north of the twig and berries region of the anatomy. Orlando City couldn’t capitalize however, and could only manage a 1-1 draw. Cyle Larin, who is the exception to the rule that American college soccer can’t produce goal-scoring professionals (see also: Wondolowski, Chris), continues to score like a madman. David Accam, probably the least-famous Designated Player in the league, continues to shine for Chicago.

Memo to the Orlando front office: I know that you know the artificial turf at the Citrus Bowl is ugly. This ugliness is not ameliorated by covering it in purple and silver metallic confetti. A word to the wise is sufficient.

FC DALLAS v HOUSTON DYNAMO What a disaster. I was watching this on MLS Live, then had to pause it just after the first Houston goal. Then when I was able to resume the game, it had jumped to live action, and I saw the score was 4-0. I can barely make myself continue. How can this be the same team I watched last week?

I forced myself to go back and watch. It was not fun. First of all, because of the limitations of the app when using Chromecast, I had to watch on the iPhone instead of the TV. Annoying, but doable. In fact, as I type these words, I feel ashamed about complaining about the fact that I can watch a soccer game ON MY PHONE. It’s essentially a miracle of technology, and I’m whining about it. The stupidity I feel about this first-world idiocy is only compounded by watching Matt Hedges score an own goal to make it 2-0. Excuse me while I get another beer. I’ve a feeling I’m going to need it.

The third goal comes on an utter failure to clear the ball out of danger, leaving Rico Clark an open shot. Anybody but Rico, come on.

The fourth on another failure to clear the ball. This is painful. I’m skipping the rest of the first half and going live to the second half

Miracles happen every day, one lives in hope, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over . . . I’m coming up with every possible cliche I can think of to steel myself for this. I’ve followed this team since 1996, making the drive from Oklahoma City every single time I could scrape up the money. They’ve given me lots more heartbreak than joy, but I do love this team. Maybe it’s a good thing I live in Tennessee now, else I’d probably be watching this live, having made the drive and then sat on a bus for hours on end getting to Houston, all for the privilege of watching my team get thrashed. The whole “watch on my phone” things seems even more fortuitous.

Bringing Castillo off in the 59th minute seems like tipping over one’s King in a chess match. No disrespect to Tesho Akindele, who is terrific. Of course, at the end of last week’s game against Philadelphia, Castillo was stretchered off and it looked bad. So even seeing him on the field this week is encouraging, and I suppose it’s wise to give him an early rest.

Speaking conceding, that’s it. Life’s too short, and I’ve got “Antiques Roadshow” on the DVR. If Dallas makes a miracle comeback in the last 15 minutes, I’ll gladly flagellate myself for my lack of faith. Gladly.

OTHER GAMES I WATCHED

I couldn’t bear to watch any more MLS this weekend. Watching my guys get thrashed sucked all the enthusiasm out of me for domestic soccer.

Fortunately, it was an FA Cup weekend, so I got to see great upset and an honestly played, entertaining draw.

Paul Scholes was quoted as saying it wasn’t good enough for Manchester United to come 4th in the league but win the FA Cup. “Arsenal do that”, he said. This is a burn which will require a 55-gallon drum of aloe vera for the Emirates stadium. In response, Man U failed to beat West Ham, and Arsenal crashed out against Watford. Pundit power in full effect.

ARESENAL v WATFORD (FA CUP QUARTERFINALS) Watford, the favorite team of Sir Elton John (who was at one time, I believe, a part owner), are pretty safe in the Premiership on 37 points, so this is all just frosting on the cake for them. They played a typical game for any overmatched side: defend like hell and try to make something happen on the counter attack. Their two goals, though, were gifted to them by Arsenal failing to clear their lines. The goals were quality, don’t get me wrong, but they weren’t exactly on the counterattack, either. Some days things just fall into place.

Arsenal, who are never, EVER going to make up a two goal deficit against Barcelona Tuesday, are pretty much done for this year. At this point they’ll be lucky to qualify for next year’s Champions League.

Which brings up a topic that kind of sticks in my craw. Why would you call it the “Champions” League when a team can qualify by coming in 4th? I understand the answer, which can be summed up in one word: money. I get that. But instead of diluting the quality in order to wring every last penny out the thing, would it be so unreasonable to go back to the good old days (I loathe to refer to 1991 as the “good old days”, but there you have it) and limit the competition to, say, I don’t know, THE CHAMPIONS of each European league?

Because, let’s face it, diluting the quality of something to wring every last penny out of it sums up most of what’s wrong with western civilization. They call it a Champions League and we watch, knowing good and well it’s no such thing. UEFA could start a revolution for good simply by acknowledging they’ve been greedy, and going back to an honest, pure format. Sure they’d lose money, but is that the worst thing in the world? It’s not like they’re going to go broke. Sponsors are still going to back up dumptrucks full of money to the front offices of the clubs, people are still going to pack the stadiums and watch on TV. So you make a half-billion instead of a billion. Help us out here, UEFA, do the right thing.

While you’re at it, scrap the Europa Cup, which nobody cares about, and bring back a Cup Winners Cup. You don’t even have to give me credit for the idea. I’ll be happy to pretend you guys did it out of goodness of heart and the hope of a better future for our children. Make it happen.

MANCHESTER UNITED v WEST HAM (FA CUP QUARTERFINALS) Manchester United are just a skosh away from being really good. Martial, Memphis and Rashford are nothing but upside for them, and they have the best goalkeeper in the world. And let’s face it, they’re probably going to win the replay and the FA Cup. But still, the best scene of the weekend was Dimitri Payet hitting the free kick and then running to celebrate while the ball was still on the way past DeGea. It was very Steph Curry. It was fun. The whole match was fun. I love the FA Cup.

MISCELLANY, EPHEMERA, AND TRIVIA

I know many of you are wondering, “Hey, DJ, how is the Warren County Middle School soccer team doing?” Well, I’m glad you asked. After a hard-fought season opening  scoreless draw against Harris Middle School on March 4th, the Pioneers dismantled Coffee County 8-0 Tuesday last, with a hat trick from FD de Santiago, a brace for John Jackson, and one each for Ayden Guearara, David Castro, and Josiah Jackson. And lest you think coach Matt Jackson has all his eggs in one basket, I must point out that the JV won later that evening by a score of 10, yes I said 10,  to zero.

I’m not filling out a March Madness bracket, as I haven’t watched an entire college basketball game since I saw Keith Van Horn and Tim Duncan square off in Winston-Salem back in the late 90s, but if you’re a longshot kind of bettor, put some money on UT-Chattanooga to upset Indiana in the first round. You can thank me later.

 

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