Interview with Allyson Latta

Saturday, December 15, 2007

It Wasn't Me!

Every team in the NFL is capable of beating another team at any given time. I believe it. But I'm wondering how it feels now for the teams that are left to play the New England Patriots. I'm sure the Giants aren't rattled but are the others sleeping at night? Especially if there just might be a little bad blood between one of them. If there's one thing we've learned about the Patriots - don't add fuel to the fire, man. Just, um, keep your thoughts to yourself - you know, for the team! Did the Jets notice who the Patriots went after in last week's game against Pittsburgh? They annihilated the Steeler's Anthony Smith for opening his mouth a little too wide. Sure the Steelers, like every team, should go to battle expecting to win, but not every team exercises revenge quite like New England. Brady thrives on it and in tomorrow's match-up against the Jets I think we're about to see how Belichick does too. I'm sure the Patriots are foaming at the mouth, like the big bad wolf awaiting little red riding hood's arrival. Come on in boys, welcome to our turf. Now, what was that you said about illegal taping, Mr. Mangini? I can hear the hypothetical answers now, Oh, that, oh yeah, it wasn't me. I didn't say that. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Too late now buster - you're on your own. So when the Patriots come out onto the field, guys, just run the other way!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Camaraderie

Every year the NFL takes its blows on and off the field. This year has been rattled with the incredibly sad death of Sean Taylor and the fall from grace of the Falcon's quarterback Michael Vick. The last two weeks have been emotional on many levels. I think what moves me the most about the NFL's players, coaches, et al is the incredible support they have for one another. They hit the field week after week battling the shit out of each other yet rally together like one huge incredibly loyal family when the chips are down. Taylor's fellow Redskins must be beyond sick over what happened, but what amazes me is that during that time there was no segregation between teams. Two weeks ago, in every game, every player paid homage to their fellow athlete; the number 21 on the helmets, the fingers to the sky when scoring, and Baltimore's Willis McGahee almost single-handedly taking on the Patriots, playing the game of his life for his old college teammate. It was incredibly moving, incredibly sad, yet heartwarming - admirable.

Even at last night's Atlanta vs New Orleans game, despite Michael Vick's charges, his fans, his teammates, his coaches, the Falcon's owner and on showed their support for their fallen hero. There's not too many organizations, communities, individuals that would do that, especially in this day and age. It takes a special group of people to be able to look past certain actions, to offer support and second chances; whatever one's views of what happened are. It's a huge testament to this sport and to its players who, amidst dealing with what they do off the field, enable the show to go on.

Friday, November 30, 2007

The Bird of Prey

Need I say more. There's no other cornerback like Green Bay's Al Harris. For years I've been drawn to Green Bay for the legend of Vince Lombardi, its heart and soul Brett Favre and the killer instinct of Al Harris. For a few years it seemed like there were only two players on Green Bay. On the offence Favre and on defence Al Harris. Now both key players have a team and Harris is as lethal and driven as ever. The guy never stops moving. Never misses a beat. Like he has eyes in the back of his head, he swoops in on his kill when he's out of their range and he's on them when they're out of his range. He creates big plays out of nowhere. In last night's game against Dallas, he was everywhere that he could be. Lurching, stretching, flying through, over and above the likes of T.O. and the rest of the Cowboys stellar offensive weapons. Even losing Favre didn't rattle this team's constitution, they are a team, one for all and all for one and Aaron Rodgers proved his strength. Comforting to know they've got a QB in the wings who can really play. But the man on the field that never stops working, scoping, attacking for a second, like a hungry falcon, Mr. Al Harris. Lethal.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

The Dream Job

The thing I love about sports is that it is a meritocracy. One gets ahead based on merit. If you're good - you play. Unlike writing, art. If you're good it doesn't really matter because it's not so black and white. It's too subjective and those in power affect your destiny based on personal taste, politics, the market and numbers. So no matter how original or great your work is, how well you hone your craft, how many books you have out, if you're not writing the right thing, telling the saleable story, then the powers that be dismiss you, even if the 'people' like you. Shades of socialism - oh yes. I should have been a wide receiver. I'm fast, agile and disciplined and being in the writing business all these years, I can handle a hit or two. But being a wide receiver wouldn't be my dream job. No, being one of those guys on Rogers Sportsnet's televised talk-radio shows, that's my idea of a dream job. You go to work in jeans, sip Tim Horton's coffee all day and talk about sports. They sit around all day, in jeans, drinking coffee, talking about sports and get paid for it. There's not even the pressure of being an on-air TV personality because really they are on the radio being filmed, podcasts. The camera is like a fly on the wall. Hair and makeup aren't an issue. They just have to talk, and talk, and talk all day about sports and get paid for it. Now that's a dream job. How do you get that job? I love to talk about sports, look good in jeans - are you hiring?!

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The Brady Trail

As my mother and I drove past Buffalo yesterday, I felt an incredible force. Inexplicable, almost like I imagine standing upon an empty battlefield feels. Long after the fighting is over, the impact of the battle remains. Then it hit me and I said to my mum, "The Patriots were here on Sunday." Like she knew exactly what I meant she said, "Oh my, how did that go." "Not good," I said. "Not good." She shook her head, "Poor Buffalo," she said. We went quiet, the sky darkened and it began to rain.

Now as a huge Indy fan, I don't like to harp on too much about how frighteningly good the New England Patriots are this season. How when Brady steps onto the field he is Robocop meets the Six Million Dollar Man, his arm flinging the ball like that arm was made of steel and his receivers, or whoever catches the ball, are magnetic. The ball soars directly into their guts, all they have to do is wrap their hands around it. Frightening. And it makes me sick when I hear certain analysts, mainly Canadians, say the Patriots should have stopped scoring, let up on poor ol' Buffalo. Jesus, what professional football player or coach in their right mind would say, okay guys, I think we've scored enough points, lets drop a few balls, throw a few interceptions, put the Gatorade boy in as QB. If Buffalo were up 56-10, would they quit doing well, just so New England could feel a little better?

In a Brooklyn hair salon last week, I flipped through gossip magazines while my sister had her hair flat-ironed. I filled her and the hairdresser in on all the latest gossip. Heath Ledger left Michelle Williams for ex-supermodel Helena Christianson. No! they said. Oh yes, I said. And other sundry shite. Then I said, Oh no! Tom Brady was spotted arguing with his supermodel girlfriend Gisele Bundchen in a Boston Starbucks. In unison, Lily and the hairdresser said, Whose Tom Brady?! I was shocked! The quarterback for the New England Patriots, I said. Oh, they said and asked if Brad Pitt's really leaving Angela Jolie. I shook my head and continued to read about how poor Brady's struggling to keep his high-maintenance supermodel girlfriend happy while longing to be with his son who lives in L.A. with his ex, actress Bridget Moynahan. Most men would be wrecked by such a tumultuous personal life; the kid, the ex, the supermodel girlfriend who dumped her Victoria's Secret contract to spend more time with her best-quarter-back-ever-in-the-history-of-the- NFL boyfriend (so say the experts), but not Tom Brady. He wraps up every minute detail of his troubled personal life and he packs it into that silver and blue uniform each week and he goes out there and he whips it and whips it and whips it into the end zone, time after time after time and he doesn't stop until the game's over and he trudges off the field like the warrior he is, goes back to his personal life and fuels up for the next game. I closed the magazine and nodded my head - so that's how the bastard does it, get all messed up with a couple of dames, get all amped-up over it then let that frustration out on the football field and rock the NFL's world - very clever.

My mother's tender voice shook me from my reverie. "How's Peyton doing?" she asked. "Okay," I said. "They've lost a couple of key players." When I looked back into the rear view mirror, I slowly felt the Brady Trail disappearing like the Buffalo skyline as it was swallowed by clouds.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Draining the Football Pool

I'm not a quitter. A procrastinator, complainer, oh yes, but I don't give up, usually. While travelling last week, incessantly I checked my email for week ten's picks. Saturday night, Sunday morning, still nothing. I arrived home, nothing. I didn't receive last week's picks. Missing a week in a pool is a huge impediment. It's virtually impossible to catch up, unless the gods grant me all my wishes and from here on out I ace every single game including the Superbowl. Impossible. So I withdrew from my football pool. I quit. Not out of spite, or even because I'll never win, but it seemed like the perfect time to shed myself of the unhappiness being in a football pool brings me, the constant disappointment and the inability to watch the games for the game's sake. Today I did that, when the score said Indy 13, KC 10, I didn't think, oh no, they didn't cover the spread. I thought, yay, Indy won. And that happened with every game. I celebrated wins and losses for the pure joy of seeing a team I prefer win or lose. I watched the day's games with the monkey off my back, with emotion, not counting numbers, checking the spreads and my football pool print out. Today, I enjoyed the game of football for what it is and for that I don't mind being a quitter.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

By a Nose

It's taken me a few days to recover from the Colts' loss to the Patriots. I've avoided reading media analysis, listening to interviews with Manning and his teammates, Dungy's comments. I've been reflecting quietly, replaying the second half in my head. The Colts rounded the bend in good finishing position, then in the last leg they lost the lead, physically changed their gait, their composure, lost their stride. Was it Marvin Harrison's absence, too much confidence from their first half victory? Or was it Reggie Wayne's slippery hands, the Patriot's ticked-off defence and Brady's wicked competitiveness that turned the entire game around? I suppose it's all of those things and more. In the end, they had a good race and only, really, lost by a nose. No roses draped around their necks. As a fan it's a bitter defeat, but hell it wasn't the Superbowl and it's time for me to get back on the horse. When Manning meets Brady again, he'll show him what the Colts are really made of. And they'll race through that finish line by at least a furlong!

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Zen and the Art of Football Maintenance

All I have to say is the Colts vs the Patriots. The ultimate match-up, the pre-Superbowl. Manning vs Brady. It makes the hair on my arms stand on end. Makes me think of the movie Gladiators or Braveheart or Apocalypto, great fight scenes, lots of drama, emotion and no matter where one's loyalties lie, someone's going to lose and it's going to be devastating either way. I've been dreaming about it. The Patriots have been extremely lethal this season, slaughtering the Redskins 52-7 last week, the week before that they beat the Dolphins 49-28. Despite the Dolphins self-pity media banter how would they have handled the Redskin's 52-7 defeat or one of the more touted teams, Dallas' 48-27 defeat. It's all relative and for the Patriots it's just another day at the office. Whether the NFL's patching up hurt feelings, broken bones, broken rules or terminations, nothing can change the fact that one of its undefeated superstars is about to lose. Tomorrow it's my team the Patriots are up against and in my dreams I hear warrior drums and everything's in slow motion. Brady strides onto the field in his silver helmet, robocopish stature and sturdy glare. Followed by the thundering cleats of his brilliant teammates and Manning's standing there in all his wizardry and lethal genius, his sly and tricky and equally brilliant teammates at his side and it's like Yoda vs Darth Vader. It's a toss-up whose mental strength and cunning is going to outdo the other. This weekend's game against the two power houses is going to be physically exciting but I think it's going to be the Zen of these two teams that will decide the outcome.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Bull Fight

How many superstars does it take to score a goal? Apparently twelve because the eleven Barcelona put on the pitch in yesterday's 0-0 Champions League match against Rangers were useless. Barcelona has always been one of my favourite European sides, and now more than ever with a stellar line up including the likes of Thierry Henry, Ronaldinho, Gio Dos Santos, Eidur Gudjohnsen,Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi, plus the former Dutch international Frank Rijkhaard at the helm. No strangers to goal scoring, how is it none of the superstar strikers put a ball in the net? Ranger's defence was good but really. Ronaldinho had moments of brilliance and came closer than anyone to scoring. At least he appeared to be trying. Unlike his teammate and usually great goal scorer Thierry Henry who was for the most part invisible, so invisible I wondered if he was slipping over to the Arsenal vs Slavia game and scoring goals for his former team. Talk about going from the ridiculous to the sublime - Arsenal beat Slavia 7-nil. Of the 8 Champions League games played yesterday, two really stood out to me. One for what did happen and the other for what didn't. One of Barcelona's newest stars didn't light up the pitch, and his old team Arsenal proved the show must go on and pretty damn well without him. No doubt Henry made the right move going to Spain's often dazzling side, however is sharing the spotlight with so many other stars going to put a damper on his flare? Rangers put up a good fight warding off Barcelona's tempered weapons. It reached a point where I was praying they would score. Barry Ferguson had a few good chances; if only his legs had been a bit longer. I wanted them desperately to take the bull by the horns. It would have been a sweet victory. So how many superstars does it take to score a goal? Probably only one, as long as the rest stay in the wings.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Vigorish

In my next life I want to be a bookie. I want to get into the head of the mysterious dude on the other end of the line. I wrote about one once, a story called Galloway, it's as close as I'll get to peeking into the psyche of one or a group of people who make my life miserable every week creating 'the spreads'. What is it that they know, Vegas knows? Where the hell do they really come up with these numbers, and why do I get more nervous with a 3.5 spread in a game like Indy vs Jacksonville than I do with a 16.5 spread in the New England vs Miami game? What do the bookies know that I don't know, are they assuming that Indy isn't going to crush Jacksonville, like I presume they will? At the end of the day do they toss a coin, is it more random than we think? Do they really sit around debating the complexities and conundrums of what's going on in the league; that great, young quarterbacks are dropping like flies but Favre's stronger than ever, that "New York wideout Plaxico Burress is on a record-setting touchdown pace despite missing practice for the majority of the year with a sprained ankle", or that Buffalo are second in the AFC East despite, well, everything? Do the guys in Vegas really like the game - do they have a favourite team, player, loyalty? Nah, as my old friend Galloway explained, "we don't do it for the love of the sport, we do it for the vigorish"!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

The Brady Bunch

In so many words, Chris Collingsworth said last weekend that this New England team is possibly the best side in NFL history. John Madden said it was far too early to make such statements. Is it? I'm a diehard Colt's supporter. However, like in the other football, I've always had players and teams that I admire and respect. I suspect its comparable to many things in life, the heart, the intellect, the psyche, the gut, have their own opinions, favourites and I think it's healthy to be open minded and possess the ability to appreciate all things on many levels - which says nothing and everything. My gut told me that there was no way that Brady was going to repeat last season. He's far too competitive, stoic... There was no way Belichick was going to have a fair to middling season. He's far too competitive, stoic, creative, intelligent and plain old stubborn to let anyone prove him wrong. There is physical strength witnessed every game in football, part of the reason I enjoy it, the hitting, the running, the cunning. However in many sports the mental element takes over, intelligence sure, but the spiritualism, a Zen thing. In Brady's case, that's some mind driving his team forward. He's got all the weapons, sure, sure, the great coach, the bankroll of receivers, running backs, defense, special teams. But I think Brady, in all due respect to the artistry and genius of P. Manning, is the Trojan that's making and is pulling this side together,like Chris Collingsworth said, to be one of the best teams in NFL history. It kills me, it really kills me to say it, however...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

The Dog

Standing in the video store the other day I felt a little like I do before choosing my football picks - this could go either way. I've been more than disappointed lately in the state of new releases. It seems that movie makers in the last few years are obsessed with 'the twist' and overcompensate by adding too many. So when I think the film has reached its climax, when the first twist is introduced, I'm completely numbed when another appears and another and another. I grappled with my choice and opted finally for 23. At my video store if you rent an A flick you get a B flick for free. I grabbed a film I'd never heard of called Undertow, thinking that if I don't get around to watching it so be it, it was free. Now here's where picking videos is like picking football teams. The A film, the favourite, should be the better film and the B film, the dog, the loser. However, like every Sunday or Monday night during NFL season the dog could kill the favourite. Some weeks I take the dog, others the favourite and it's still a crap shoot. 23 was hammered by Undertow. The dog won hands down. 23 starring Jim Carrey and Virginia Madsen is just another one of those films attempting to do too much. It had too many plot twists, week dialogue, so much confusion and jumping around. Much like last week's Dallas vs Buffalo game - unbelievable. Undertow starring Dermot Mulroney and Josh Lucas, released in 2004, was remarkable. Great story, acting, intensity. The kids Jamie Bell and Devon Alun stole the show. And director David Gordon Green maintains all the things that Hollywood has long since forgotten. Undertow is like a really well-written short story. It had conflict, focus, was concise,not too many characters, smooth plot line and full of impact. I won't go into what the story is about but I'd recommend it based on how well it was executed. Keep it simple, go for the jugular. This week in my pool - I'm taking the dogs.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Urlacher in a Dark Alley

I awoke in a sweat last night. Look around, quivered. Shook my head and laughed a little. It was just a dream meeting Brian Urlacher in a dark alley - just a dream and one of my biggest nightmares. After watching football for practically twelve hours every Sunday, it's not unusual that I dream of the sport. Often I'm suited up in the Colt's uniform, helmet, pads and all jumping up and down, a pea in the end zone, begging for Manning to throw me the ball. But he never throws me the ball and I argue with him on the sidelines. He towers over me, pats my shoulders and shakes his head like I should just know that he's never, ever going to throw me the ball, but I'm a good decoy. I lurch around my bed as I rush around the field in the dream, wake exhausted and refrain from telling too many people that practically every Sunday night I play for the Indianapolis Colts when I sleep and the guys on the team, they like me, they are sweet but I still don't get the ball.

Last night after watching Urlacher pummel Green Bay. I couldn't get that mammoth shaved skull and dark, seething eyes out of my head and one of the last things I remember saying before going to bed was, man I wouldn't want to meet Urlacher in a dark alley and I wouldn't want to be playing for anyone's O-line when they're up against him after a few weeks of losing. I can almost hear his feet thundering and heart pounding, when he leaps out of nowhere onto the likes of Brett Favre, Bubba Franks or Charles Woodson. He's omnipotent when perturbed,when his team's not up to snuff. He can turn any game around, nostrils flaring, eyes bulging. That's when all his moves appear slow motion and the grounds must start shaking with every one of his lunging steps. I wouldn't want to meet him again in a dark alley,conscious or not, or on the line of scrimmage, but I sure as hell would have wanted to be on his side in last night's surprising game at Lambeau field.

Friday, October 5, 2007

A Bye Week

The guys at work come to me for a lock-in. Come on Alex, they say, I need a lock-in for this week. And for the past three weeks I have given them who I believe is a shoe-in to win. Last week it was New England to beat Cincinnati, which a couple of them nodded their heads to in that skeptical way, a slow nod, more like a rocking of the head, and took Cincinnati anyway. I don't know why they ask me because despite being correct on picking New England last week, and the Giants, Buffalo and Indy, I was completely crucified by every other one of my picks. I am sick of waking up on Tuesday mornings feeling like a complete and utter loser. I did not want to bet this year, play the pools, pro-line, for all the reasons that I am experiencing now. One of my work mates hands me this week's sheet for the pool he coerced me into joining, the one he won last week, and he says he needs my picks by the end of the night. I'm not doing it this week, I tell him. Shocked, he asks me why. So I explain to him that I have no clue who to pick, no feel for who the hell is going to win. I don't know, I say, I don't know. I'm at a loss. Statistically Arizona should not have beaten Pittsburgh last week, there's no way KC should have won and Cleveland...And another thing I tell him just because certain players are injured does not spell loss, the player that comes on for them could be the next best thing, look at Edwards for the Bills. So the injury list means nothing to me, an injury could unleash the unsung hero of a team. No, I tell him, I'm not doing the pool this week. I feel like a pebble under Shockey's cleats. I need a bye week, I tell him, to get back to purely enjoying the games, not being bummed because a team didn't cover the spread, not watching with a pro-line ticket in one hand and the other hand covering my eyes. I need to don my Colts hat, have a beer, enjoy myself, the banter, speculate, celebrate and grow back to my normal size.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

The Grevious Angel

I'm a late bloomer. I know. Discovering uTube and the music I can listen to and watch through it is like Christmas to me. The music I like to listen to though, I discovered a long time ago when I might have been too young to realize its significance. But what I realize watching utube is that the artists that effect me, that are still alive, I want them to know how much I love them. Emmylou Harris for one has been a huge influence on my work and Gram Parsons, who unfortunately is not around. So much so I wrote a story about them that was published in my first short story collection Pull Gently, Tear Here called Keeping It All In Tune and they were the impetus for me starting a band when I couldn't bear to do anymore poetry readings. The first song we learned was The Grevious Angel, and it was Steve Earle's music that I listened to the whole time I wrote my first and second books, along with Johnny Dowd's tunes, and the Verve.

On uTube tonight I watched endless videos of Emmylou, and Steve Earle, and Gram Parsons and Emmylou and ultimately what really hit me despite her uncanny beauty was the absolute genius Emmylou Harris is. She is by far the unsung hero of the music world. Sure, sure, she is recognized as great but she is unlike any of the other singers out there. Not only in her angelic vocals, her untouchable charm and un-selfconsciousness; she is as special and gifted as the other someone who recognized her talent from the get-go, the Grevious Angel himself.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


Ha, ha. It makes me laugh, the excitement that surges through my veins as Sunday approaches. The adrenalin boils and I'm gripping all the slips of paper from the multiple pools I've entered despite swearing I wouldn't participate at all this season. This week feels a little less hard than attempting to make last week's picks. But nothing is written in stone and each week I'm beginning to see more and more parallels between golf and football. Ultimately, being a Colts fan, it's Manning's artistry that I admire and that makes me nervous. It always has,even when I watched him play college ball. I know he's great, accomplished, talented, surgical, studies, studies, studies like I know Picasso is all those things and Manning like Picasso approaches the canvas makes the first brush stroke then completely deviates from convention and as beautiful as the outcome is, the execution makes me nervous. No huddle, the clock ticking down, down, down. However, I believe the Colts against the Broncos in Indy should be no contest. So my money's on the artist and his multiple weapons to completely deconstruct Denver.

Kids get away with murder

I just finished reading a review of my husband's new book Black Rabbit and other stories. Reviews are reviews and as writers we take the good with the bad - as writers we have to, on every level. But there's a specific aspect of this review that rankles me. The stories in Black Rabbit at times depict a reality that many a reviewer may not relate to as they tap away on their laptops in the comfort of their cushy homes, after eating a meal, drinking a cool glass of healthy milk. In our society there are certain members of it who like to deny that shit like what graces the pages of Sal's book doesn't happen or that it happens and the perpetrators learn from their mistakes or are punished for them or somehow without support systems, healthy families, financial stability turn over a new leaf and become socially acceptable human beings - unfortunately some people's lives aren't like that and kids do get away with murder. The system is set up that way. Certain writers are effected by what goes on around them more than to them. For many, expressing this effect on the page is a way to exercise the demons and injustices of life, of the unfathomable events that are happening all around us and although fictional the honesty, the truth of the matter, is what prevails. Imagine if Jerzy Kosinsky or Isaac Bable wrote idealistic versions of The Painted Bird or The Red Cavalry - imagine if we all wrote what people wanted to hear, imagine if the world became fully devoid of empathy, and honesty, and ultimately imagination because after all what is a story? Kids, people, get away with murder and unfortunately so do reviewers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Hey Ladies!

On my flight back to New York yesterday, the Italian Women's soccer team were on the same plane. I would have assumed that they were on their way to China, via JFK, except that Italy didn't qualify for the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup in China. Had I not gathered from the conversation the flight attendant attempted to have with them that they spoke little to no English I would have asked them a slew of questions. Of course my immediate reaction when I saw the team dressed in blue T-shirts and shorts board the plane was a superstitious one, OH, My God, I'm flying with a soccer team. The team might also be superstitious because compared to the amount of them that were checking in, only half were on my flight. However, the flight was perfect and superstitions are, well, just that. But it did get me thinking about the upcoming Women's World Cup. I've become familiar with many of the US and Canadian national team's players over the past few years and for the most part the women's national teams from those two countries have stronger sides than the men's. It's in the statistics. The US have weapons in their forwards Kristine Lilly, Natasha Kai and Abby Wambach and break out of the gate on Sept 11 against Korea DPR, who I have no doubt will be packed with their own ammunition. Canada's side is full of players who already play for MLS clubs and USL sides such as the Vancouver Whitecaps, New Jersey Wildcats, Toronto Lynx and Ottawa Fury, they include striker Christine Sinclair, defender Melanie Booth and forward Rhian Wilkinson, to name a few. They kick off on Sept 12th against Norway. In my gut, I foresee Canada and the US in the finals, be it quarter, semi's or the big 'F'. It all starts on September 10th. Should be high calibre play, another great event to fill up the old sports calendars with.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Great Dane

is what Manchester City's Kasper Schmeichel's dad Peter Schmeichel was affectionately known as. That and probably Manchester United's greatest goal keeper. It looks like that greatness runs in the family because Man City's young goalie was the star of the show today against the Gunners. Man City didn't get any balls into Arsenals net but Schmeichel prevented a hell of a lot of goals against Man City's. Arsenal had hundreds of chances to score but just couldn't get the ball past the rugged Danish goalie. The play of the game though was when Arsenal were awarded a penalty kick, hmm, funny how they always manage things like that, Fabregas looked more than confident when he hammered the ball and certainly joined the rest of his team in looking stunned when Schmeichel easily saved it. Stellar. Fabregast got his revenge in the 80th minute and walloped the first goal against Man City since the beginning of the season past the disappointed Schmeichel. One out of say ten, sure isn't bad. Not to be outdone, in the dying minutes of the game Schmeichel joined his team in the Gunner's penalty box and almost headed a corner kick into their opponents net. Then ran back to the other end of the pitch to pick up his post. That's some well-rounded player. They lost 1-nil to Arsenal but under the leadership of the infamous Sven-Goran Eriksson and with the 'Other Great Dane' in net, Manchester City's future look's quite bright.

Speaking of bright futures, oh, guess who is at the top of the standings now - here's a hint - Chelsea!! Hurrah!

Monday, August 20, 2007

To Bet or Not To Bet...

That is the question.

With the NFL season just around the corner, I'm sitting on the fence - Do I rejoin the football pool, play Proline, both, one or the other, neither? Last year was the first year I joined a pool. I was excited, full of hope. Then found myself on the edge of the couch, fingernails in mouth, desperate to cover the spreads - to win the weekly pool. All in all I discovered it took the pure joy out of watching the games. Week after week, I stressed over the spreads, studied US Today's Friday NFL pages, the weeks I went the other route and simply went with my gut, still I came up short. One week I tied with some guy and we split the winnings. It was not satisfying. I joined a pool to alleviate my previous year's obsession with Proline. Thinking that it would still satisfy a need to compete and be able to really get involved in the season more so than just being a passive yet passionate observer. Proline just about killed me. I'm no stranger to obssessive behavior - it's the highs and lows that feed my craft. However what I discovered about Proline was that the thrill was never realized, no matter how knowledgable I became and I rarely enjoyed the weekend games because I was too concerned with my picks, never letting the little slips of paper out of my sweaty, trembling hands. One Sunday I had to attend a christening. I didn't want to go. Shoved past the burly guys in the Seven-Eleven to grab my pencil and spreads sheet, ignoring their scrutinizing stares and attempts to peek at what I was scribbling down. I arrived late to the christening and during the reception that followed I kept leaving and coming back a little more agitated than the previous time I disappeared. A concerned relative approached with a glass of wine and asked if I was okay. I nodded, grabbed the wine. She leaned close to me and asked if I had taken up smoking. Smoking, I said, God know. And I asked her why. She stepped away from me. Well, you keep on leaving, she said, anxiously, like a smoker. Like a smoker, she said, or worse. Worse, I thought. Downed my wine, then choked, choked because it hit me and the laughter rose up from my gut before I had a chance to swallow the wine and I slapped my knee then her back and she started laughing without knowing why. I'd been leaving to run to the radio in my car to check the football scores, my Proline ticket. I never told her the truth, it may have seemed like the something worse.

This year, I think I'm going straight, no betting. It'll kill me, but I want to get back to observing the purity of what's unfolding on the field. I want to be unaffected by what I think and allow the outcomes not to bring me down. This year I don't want to start my week, which is always Tuesday this time of year, feeling like a loser. Because there's nothing worse than having 9 out of 12 teams correct on a ticket, or lose the weekly pool by 1 to a dame that doesn't even like the sport. This way I can concentrate on the Colts, the progress of other team's new coaches, players, revel in the unpredictable nature of the game, drink my beer and relax.

Next year, I might befriend a psychic.

Friday, August 17, 2007


I have always wanted to like the Bills. There is something about them, great players, superb coaching staff - what happens to them? I talked to a pal of mine today, a Bill's fan. He told me that the Bills were playing a pre-season game tonight. Great, I said. Oh, I don't know, he said. What, I said. It's the Bills , he said.

I froze for a minute, just a minute, then it all came very clear to me. My eyes widened and I said, "dude, I know what your team's problem is."

He cocked his head and he said, "Oh, yeah?"

And I said, "Yeah. It's the fans."

And he said, "what?"

I stopped listening to sports radio because of the Buffalo Bill's fans. They are/were the most unloyal fans a team could have. Like picking a daisy - we love you, we love you not, we love you, we love you not - the adolescent love of the team is, well an adolescent love of the team. The team is great, has the potential to be great and when I listen to the radio, to the guys I work with, the well-buts, the excuses, it dawns on me that this team's problem lies not in its merit but in its support.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Ready, Down, Set...

I know, I know most die-hard NFL fans say they don't bother with pre-season games. Then who makes up the roughly 60,000 fans filling the stadiums during these games - movie extras? Granted that by the third quarter when the third string players are hitting the field more and more empty seats appear, but really who doesn't sneak a peek at the game at some point during its duration. For me it's even to hear the voices of my favorite commentators; the eloquent Al Michaels, vivacious John Madden and the Monday Night crew with good ol' Tony Kornheiser, full of his usual wit and vault of obscure knowledge and the newest addition to Monday Nights the funny, intelligent, knowledgable and articulate Ron 'Jaws' Jaworski, held together by the solid commentary of Mike Tirico. So it's not just what's happening on the field that excites me about the burgeoning NFL season but what goes on from the broadcast booth during the game and in the pre-game shows. All the drama, personality,and wisdom coming from above.

I can't help but watch the pre-season games to get that pre-season glimpse at the fellows I've come to know and love throughout the years,even if they are pacing the sidelines or relaxing on the bench, be it Manning, Brady, Hasselbeck, Alexander, Reggie Bush, Champ Bailey, Pennington, Harrington - whose presence I'm looking forward to seeing more of this season. And the new breed, even if none of these players who get a taste of the game in pre-season ever set foot on the field again, it's exciting to know whose hiding in the wings, and reassuring based on the nature of this physical game. I lasted through most of the 49ers vs Broncos game. The speedy 49ers with the return of Alex Smith appear to have a very promising chance this year. Thus far it's been the most exciting game to watch.

The bottom line is it's almost here, the countdown to the season opener is under way. I've stocked up the beer fridge, the snacks, I'm strengthening my vocal chords, reading up on my rosters and stats and placing Kleenex on the coffee tables because the incredible shit that happens during an NFL game - 80 yrd touchback returns, last minute interceptions, Brett Favre moves, Peyton Manning moves...damn-well moves me to tears!

How do we ever get from February to now?

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Lady Sings The Blues

Well a 3-2 win over Birmingham City at Stamford Bridge was a great start today for Chelsea - they have not had a home defeat in the Premier League for 63 games. And even though they were without John Terry, Frank Lampard donned the skipper's armband and they were out of the gate with flying colors - a sign of things to come, no doubt.

I suppose I was a bit premature in saying that I thought this year would be Rooney's pinnacle one for Man U. Poor kid hurt his ankle and limped off the pitch against Reading today. Despite the bevy of other great players remaining, I was a little underwhelmed by the match. The bottomline, I really wanted Reading to win.

Arsenal beat Fulham much to my chagrin and Liverpool beat Aston Villa. Well, at least Chelsea made a victorious debut. Here's to the blues.

My heads been in Spain the last little while though. I'm immersed in a brilliant biography of Pablo Picasso, thrilled about Henry leaving Arsenal for FC Barcelona and of course my favourite wonder kid starting this year for Barcelona along side Henry and the boys - Giovani Dos Santos. They play in the friendly the Franz Beckenbaur Cup this Wednesday against Bayern Munich. Another mid-week fixture on the 15th, Chelsea play Reading. This time I do not want Reading to win and will be singing for the Blues.

Speaking of singing the blues and running with the bulls, Toronto FC's 3-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls was a tad of a hammering. Altidore was in fine form today for the Red Bulls scoring two goals against the rattled Toronto club in the second half, adding on to Juan Pablo Angel's first half stunner. The red card only added insult to injury.

Ole! The fun and games has just begun!!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Like being woken from the dead, last night's chance channel flicking that landed on the pre-season game between my team the Indianapolis Colts vs the Dallas Cowboys brought all my senses alive. What a feeling! There they were my boys led by their man Peyton Manning. Though he wasn't playing when I finally discovered the game he held court on the sidelines just as effectively as on the field. Ah, the burgeoning NFL season. In that realm of things, only one other thing exhilarates me as much - the other football season - the Premiership, and it gets underway tomorrow.

There's nothing like waking up to Saturday morning football on the telly. The sound of the crowd, the commentary, the players, the play - ah, it brings back so many weekend morning memories for me - hard boiled eggs on a bun, tea and football. Tomorrow's games aren't as significant to me as Sunday's. Except of course Aston Villa vs Liverpool, Villa being the last English side my dad Graham Leggat was affiliated with as coach of the youth side before we packed up and left for the Toronto Metros here in Canada. Villa will always hold a place in my heart because at one time they too were part of our family.

Sunday my club Chelsea open against one of my Dad's other old clubs, Birmingham, and the last place I lived prior to hopping the Atlantic. As the season unfolds you'll see how every team ties into my upbringing in one way or another. I don't hold much of an allegiance toward Birmingham despite the family connection and I get the feeling that even though Chelsea played relatively well against Man U the other day, that they'll be in fine form Sunday against Birmingham City and should have no trouble beating this side. Especially to prove something after three of their penalty kicks were saved by Man U's stellar goalkeeper Edwin Van der Sar. I don't think that's ever happened before, not even by ex-Liverpool and England's old national team superstar goalie David Seaman, who personally I thought was great.

Sunday, the dreaded Manchester United play Reading. I think Man U will crush Reading. Too many superstars, so much adrenaline, fire, the list goes on and on. Unfortunately for the rest of us, I think this will be Rooney's pinnacle year, which is frightening. As a team, they are always frightening - bastards. Speaking of which, the same day the Gunners take on Fulham, the real family team for us, next to Aberdeen and Scotland International, many a Craven Cottage story has been imbedded in these ears, in this heart. I wish my Dad was playing for them Sunday. Can't help bringing to mind the time he scored three goals in three minutes for Fulham, still holds the hat trick record, granted that game was against Ipswich on Boxing day in 1963, not Arsenal, one of the teams, like Man U, that I was born to loathe, despite liking many of their individual players along the way; the now departed Thierry Henry for one. Losing him, another strike against Arsenal as far as I'm concerned. (My cousin Paul's a supporter so for that I try to make allowances!)That said, I hope Fulham crush Arsenal on Sunday, and that the ref is on Fulham's side.

Ah, the history, the comaraderie, the football life - both of them. It's been a long dry off-season, even though the U-20 tourney was superb - hail the oasis, the light at the end of the tunnel.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous

I spent the last week in New York City visiting family, roaming the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan, seeping up inspiration from President Street to Carnegie Hall and spending my evenings with a cold beer bought from the corner store working on new writing. My feet ache but my mind's rejuvenated.

[An aside, I was hoping that New York's Red Bulls would have been playing while I was there, but no such luck. Altidore and the dudes were in between games. In a couple of weeks they'll be playing against the L.A. Galaxy, I'll be interested to compare scenarios.]

After spending hours in MoMA moved to tears by Jackson Pollack and beyond tears to the metaphysical by Picasso's work, I had an overwhelming sense of a real melding of passions and self. And it was in the first paragraph of Patrick O'Brian's biography of Picasso that I picked up at the MoMA bookstore that summed it up for me. He wrote, "For even the strongest individual is indelibly marked by the culture in which he is brought up; even the loneliest man is not an island; and even Picasso carried his cradle with him to the grave. 'A man belongs to his own country forever,' Picasso said."

Now, what is she talking about, you may be asking yourself. So how shall I put it. When it comes to art it's in me, when it comes to football, it's in me. Part of my culture, my heritage, how I was brought up. And football certainly is its own culture; a lifestyle, not unlike being a writer, it's a way of life, just part of who you are. So when the Los Angeles Galaxy came to play Toronto FC today in Toronto, it should have been about two clubs, the city's club, the city. Football was the working class sport, work all week for the game at the end of it, the reward, the outlet, the comaraderie, and respect for the players, and the sport. Today's excitement could have begun in a pub prior to the game with your mates, your team's colours segregating you from one side of the pub to the other, or depending on the rivalry separate pubs altogether, discussing the game, the players, the possibilities, the standings, the stakes. And the fact that one of England's great players is now part of the Galaxy is a really exciting factor. Beckham is exciting despite the hype, his hollywood celebrity - he's a great footballer. If you respect the game and its players to have Beckham over here in the MLS is huge. Some may say he's past his prime, well yeah, most players are at his age, that's why they make a move such as this, but he's no less great when it comes down to it. The fact that he's not fit, is part of the game, there's no shame in it. He's still part of the team. And I must say that for ninety minutes of play the most exciting moves in today's match were by David Beckham; composed and well-dressed in a black suit, white shirt and red tie he strode across the pitch and took his seat on the bench. His facial expressions intensified as the game commenced, hands held to his lips, eyes steely and darting, feet sockless and agitated like they were playing, brow furrowed, observing and pondering every move made during the nil-nil match. The football savvy and panache that injured Becks exuded from the bench was far more exciting than what happened on that field. To watch a player who knows the sport from the inside out, from birth, watch a game as it's being played can teach the critics, the boo-ers, and even the good fans a thing or two about being a great footballer, and teammate. "For even the strongest individual is indelibly marked by the culture in which he is brought up; even the loneliest man is not an island...'A man belongs to his own country forever.'" I think because of all that we're pretty lucky to have him over here, on or off the bleeding pitch.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Young Americans

Well, it didn't take long for USA's U-20 star Freddy Adu to get back in the news. Looks like Portugese side Benfica are courting him with big numbers and the deal is almost sealed. If all goes well, Benfica will certainly have a new lease on life because not only will they have the dazzling Adu but the dangerously crafty Argentinian player Angel Di Maria and Argentina's Andres Diaz. Now that's some triple threat. Although Adu and Di Maria didn't get a chance to play against each other in the recent U-20 tournament held in Canada, they are no strangers to the other's feats and capabilities - it's one thing to play against each other, to play on the same team could prove quite thrilling, and I'm sure many of these youngsters would rather have the likes of a Di Maria and an Adu on their side opposed to battling it out against them. On the other side of things Jozy Altidore is holding his own for the Big Apple's Red Bulls, although he just couldn't get the ball in the net during last week's match against Chivas USA, nobody could, not Altidore, Juan Pablo Angel or John Wolyniec, three forwards and no luck. Sometimes that's what the ball does, adopts a mind of its own; hits every part of the goal, posts, crossbar, the goalie, outer-sides, corners and top of the net, but just can't seem to find its way into the back of it. Speaking of backs of things, I think it's going to be a long time before we see the backs of many of the latest U-20 players. News on Mexico's Gio Dos Santo's should be filtering in soon enough and the latest on Argentina's stunner, Sergio Aguero.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Never a Dull Moment

I was feeling a sort of post-partum depression with the end of the U-20 World Cup but the beauty of the football world is that there's rarely a dull moment. In less than a month from now on August 11th the official season begins, English, Scottish, then Seria A, Bundesliga et al - on August 18th the FIFA U-17 tournament gets underway in Korea, and Beijing hosts the FIFA Women's World Cup in September . Ah, the beautiful game.

Trades, rumours, and all that are happening across the Premiership. The most interesting one to me thus far is about Gabriel Heinze's threat to leave Man U for Liverpool. This brings me back to the strange dichotomy of liking certain players but not their clubs. I've always liked Heinze as a player, can't stand Man U by birth and Argentina, well I think I've stated my case before - it's in the statistics. Heinze is one of those modest, lethal players; perhaps the modesty's adopted from the British end of things and the lethal comes from being an Argentinian national player - that innate talent. Now Sir Alex Ferguson is hoping that Heinze, whose taking legal action against his club, will make the "right" decision and remain with the almighty Manchester United. However, I think it would be a great move for the left back(defender) to move to a team where he can actually do something. Heinze's talents have been nullified with Man U over the past couple of seasons and fresh off a good show of things in the Copa America tournament, Heinze seems fit and ready, in his prime, perhaps a little tired, but ready to make a fresh start in the new season. A new side would be good for the young Argentinian that will only get old too soon if he remains with Manchester. Time will tell, but here's hoping he gives Man U the boot!

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Goals, Goals, Goals

Last night Toronto FC played a friendly against England's Aston Villa, no coverage, that I could see. I flicked and flicked and I flicked channels in an effort to find something about the game and eventually after wading through what seemed like the entire MLB's highlights,finally highlights from the soccer game were shown.

Toronto FC's popularity has taken off like a bullet and in the sold-out match against Aston Villa, they held their own it seems by coming back from a two-nil deficit to tie the game, then allowing two more goals against them in the end, but hell what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger. For those of you that think soccer is generally lacking in goals - the 6 scored in this game must have whet your appetite. The highlights didn't satiate my desire to have seen the entire game, however, I should just find a way to see them in person, soak up the atmosphere and chant an anthem or two.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Villa's warm-up show

I went online in a desperate attempt to obtain tickets to the Aston Villa friendly against Toronto FC Wednesday night at BMO field in Toronto; a club I have yet to watch fully and completely but look forward to taking in. MLS, Los Angeles, Hollywood entertainment shows etc have been blind-sided by the arrival of Beckham but I find it so much more exciting that the Galaxy hosted a friendly against my favorite side Chelsea on the weekend and tomorrow Aston Villa will be on the pitch against Toronto FC and then on to play Columbus on Saturday. I think these friendlies can do more for the game in North America than the arrival of good ol' Becks. I like Beckham, I do, despite the fact that he played for Man U, a side I was simply born to abhor, that's the way it is for Chelsea supporters. I think Beckham is a master at what he does, sets up goals, drives the perfect corner kick, free kick and was a superb skipper, fair and generous, but he's not a patch on experiencing a full-on Premiership side, even if they are going to be a little rusty. If Aston Villa plays their starters tomorrow night it could be an exciting match. The team has an excellent mix of Danish, Czech, Irish, Scottish and English players, and the ex-Man U midfielder Cameroon's Eric Djemba-Djemba could be on the verge of a comeback year, could it start here. Many of the Villa players are familiar with their Toronto FC opponents and it should be a good game for all involved.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Agony and The Ecstasy

When the tears spilled down the pained faces of the young Czech players after yesterday's final against the almighty Argentina - my heart broke. Before I knew it tears soaked my face. The Czechs put up a good fight and played strong, clean football. In the first half Argentina exhibited shades of their histrionic play against Chile but quickly realized it wasn't going to work against the controlled and steely will of their European opponents, not to mention the ref and the entire FIFA organization, the cops, you know, and in the second half played the skillful game they are lethal at and renowned for.

The ecstasy that must have surged through the Czech's veins when Martin Fenin walloped the ball past Romero in the 60th minute of second half play was quickly shut down when Sergio Aguero took advantage of sailing past the Czech defenders, who were momentarily resting on their laurels, and swooped the ball past Petr into the back of the net. Aguero caught the fans, and practically everyone else on the bloody pitch off guard. That's the Argentinians for you. Shockingly, and not, even Aguero's goal was superseded in the 86th minute when Mauro Zarate stealthily sliced the ball, sending it soaring like a meteorite, an apparition, right through the goal keeper. I almost died. I think a lot of people on and off the pitch must have dropped their jaws and almost died. To my extra surprise, in response to the winning goal former goalkeeper and CBC broadcaster Craig Forrest made a comment that went something like this, Petr has just let down his country, all those watching from home, his mother, his grandmother, his sister, the entire nation. I have to ask you, Craig, would you have been able to save that comet, that bullet, that shooting star? I don't think so and I think Petr's mum, his grandmother, his sister and his country recognize there was no shame in preventing that goal from getting into the net - like I said before -that's the Argentinians for you.

Although I didn't see the third place game, I was happy to hear that Chile, despite missing many of their key weapons, played a respectable game of football and ended the tournament on a good note - afterall they were not the only culprits in the debacle on and off the pitch in the game against the equally guilty Argentinians, the officiating and on and on. And Austria, the solid football side they are, also missing a couple of their important defenders, did so well in their final game, in the entire tournament.

I'm sad it's all over. The final was bittersweet to me. Deep down, due to my personal issues with the Argentinian side, my English roots, all that, I desperately wanted the Czech Republic's U-20 side to win. They were a pleasure to watch, a great example of a solid European side - they were charming. If this is the sign of what's to come in that country's national team, in all the participating countries teams in this U-20 World Cup, the next World Cup's emerging national squads are going to give the power houses a real go of it. How exciting - bring on the new breed!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I did it my way

Tomorrow four teams battle it out for fourth, third, second and first place in this absolutely brilliant FIFA U-20 World Cup. As a newish Canadian, despite emigrating from soccer territory years ago with my soccer family (well football to us, really) and after all the work my dad has done for the sport in this country, it was huge to me that Canada was host to this world class event. I kept humming something while thinking about what to write in this post and figured I'd leave it up to the man whose song came to mind - old blue eyes. My Way puts many things into perspective for me and mine, and the tourney I've experienced up to now. And I'm sure all of the teams - U.S.A., Mexico, Canada, Uruguay, Nigeria, Gambia, Zambia, Costa Rica, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Congo, Jordan, Korea DPR, Korea Republic, and New Zealand, and the third place challengers, Chile, Austria, the final contenders, the Czech Republic and Argentina - players, managers, refs and all, will agree ...Mr Frank Sinatra take it from here:

And now, the end is near;
And so I face the final curtain.
My friend, I'll say it clear,
I'll state my case, of which I'm certain.

I've lived a life that's full.
I've traveled each and every highway;
And more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Regrets, I've had a few;
But then again, too few to mention.
I did what I had to do
And saw it through without exemption.

I planned each charted course;
Each careful step along the byway,
But more, much more than this,
I did it my way.

Yes, there were times, I'm sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew.
But through it all, when there was doubt,
I ate it up and spit it out.
I faced it all and I stood tall;
And did it my way.

I've loved, I've laughed and cried.
I've had my fill; my share of losing.
And now, as tears subside,
I find it all so amusing.

To think I did all that;
And may I say - not in a shy way,
No, oh no not me,
I did it my way.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught.
To say the things he truly feels;
And not the words of one who kneels.
The record shows I took the blows -
And did it my way!

MAY THE BEST TEAM WIN, my friends, and congrats to all of those that fell before us!!!

Friday, July 20, 2007

When the Beautiful Game Turns Ugly

Local darbies have been breeding grounds of dirty play for decades; whether it's between London Premiership teams like Arsenal/Man U, the Scottish contingency, Celtic/Rangers, or on a grander scale, neighbouring nations - trouble awaits. Last night's match between Chile and Argentina was no exception and when the ref spilled more fuel on the fire everything exploded. It was no fun to watch these untamed players go after a win by attempting to break legs, ankles, take unnecessary dives, rolls, grab the ref, push each other about and have tantrums. The calmest most mature player on the pitch was Argentina's solid goal keeper Sergio Romero. Like colts these young men are only half-broken at this stage in their careers, a few more solid trainers on their backs and they might, just might, be reined in.

I've been told that the numerous times throughout the years that these countries have played against each other, Chile has only beaten Argentina three times. Whether this statistic relates to the full national team or the half-pints, there is something to be proved. Uruguay exhibited similar behaviour on and off the pitch with their loss to the U.S. but the geographical triangle of South American teams - Argentina at the top, Chile to the left and Uruguay to the right - are not only fighting on the pitch for football supremecy but to distinguish themselves one from the other, to create their own identities. Argentina have done that - hence the drive and rivalry brewing in Chile's boots. Chile have great players. Medina, for one, seemed disheartened, like all he wanted to do was play the game, do what he does best, get the ball in the net and his teammates, Suarez, Vidal, Sanchez, Godoy, to name a few were letting him down. On the other side, the Argentinians were no saints. Yacob was the timebomb we've come to know him as - but channelled his fire into the net with a beautiful goal in the 65th minute of the second half, and Moralez sealed the deal with a sneaky goal in the 93rd. But it's not so much how it ended but how they began, twelve minutes into the game, Di Maria scored a wicked goal that sailed past Chile's overly-dramatic goal keeper Cristopher Toselli and all tempers rose their ugly heads. I think the ref lost control of this game very early on and attempted to get it back the wrong way. FIfA's fair play banner was not gallantly swaying in the wind last night. And what happened off the field is not even worthy of discussion - it's stuff like that that gives football a bad name, and when it's off the pitch, it's not about the sport anymore.

In the end, the best team won. Now it's all about the South Americans against the Eastern Europeans - two different styles of play, mindsets, cultures, history, that all come to life on the pitch. If Argentina display their ability to play any kind of football be it controlled, unleashed, or both, they should put on a good show against the Czech Republic's strength, creativity and drive. I have a feeling, or I hope, this match, the final, will be a battle of skills not tempers.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Not Knowing

At this point in the tournament, I feel like anything can happen. I'm sure that for most people the money's on Argentina to win over Chile and move onto the final against the Czech Republic. However, who knows - anything can happen. Chile are not oblivious to what they are up against tonight and they didn't get this far without being the tricky, passionate team that they are. Sometimes the not knowing is more disconcerting. I'm very anxious, just to see what unfolds. What I do know, I think I can safely say, is that tonight's game will possess a lot more bells and whistles than last night's match between Austria and the Czech Republic - both literally and figuratively. It's almost down to the final in this very satisfying U-20 World Cup and I'm still reeling from the quarter finals; between Austria beating the US, and Mexico losing to Argentina - that game was like a great story that just resonates with you for days, maybe weeks after. I better get over it, and prepare myself for what's to come. Tonight's game should be one of technical wizardry and passion - look out for the fireworks.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Lights, Camera, Action...

Tonight Austria play the Czech Republic in the first of the semi-final games. At this point I have no clue who will take this game. Both teams have their subtle and not so subtle weapons. I'm curious to watch what unfolds, with no preconceived notions. This game for me will be like going to a movie. I like some of the actors but have no clue about the story line, the end is completely unpredictable, and the directors could be the deciding factor in the shows overall effect. So, lights, camera, action...

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Survival of the Fittest

There are obstacles and then there are locked doors, brick walls, bridgeless waterways, jail cells, quick sand, all things that hinder one from moving freely, and ultimately prevent one from progressing, reaching a destination or achieving a goal. Barring the metaphors, in today's Argentina vs Mexico game, Mexico not only met their match, their match superseded them on many levels. They shut them down and wore them down, like a crafty predator does its prey. Argentina completely took over in the second half and defended their jewel of a goal, disabling the frustrated Mexican side. Dos Santos couldn't get in goal position if he tried, surrounded by blue and white shirts at every turn. All of Mexico's opportunities were used up in the first half, and that sneaky goal by Moralez in the remaining seconds of the first half must have sealed Argentinian coach Hugo Tocalli's strategy for the remainder of the game; hang onto the lead and prevent the Mexicans from scoring - it worked. The Argentinians were sturdy, strong and cunning. With the likes of Aguero, Moralez and feisty Yacob, who was yanked off the field at one point by his coaches and given a talking to, Mexico's opponent were simply too well prepared, too well coached and too powerful. Their confidence on the field is inherent - it's in their football genes, natural. Their predecessors, their ancestors, these boys too are so familiar with competing in and winning championships, they pull the astroturf right out from under the other teams feet. Despite my visions and hopes, if Mexico were finally destined to lose to someone, there's no shame in losing to the likes of this Argentinian side. They put up a good fight but just couldn't make a move. It won't be the last of Dos Santos,Barrera,Vela, Guerrero etc. Of all the future superstars we've been exposed to in this U-20 World Cup and future fixtures for their respective national teams, Dos Santos' career is one I really look forward to following. I can't wait until he meets Yacob, Moralez, Mercado, Benego and Aguero again. Because you know all these players are going to be kicking-off against each other on numerous occassions for the next, oh, ten years or so, at least.

So, lets see how Argentina handle their geographical neighbours, Chile. It could be interesting - it's always interesting.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Then There Were Six

It breaks my heart when a team that exhibits so much promise gets knocked out of a tournament such as this. What today's Austria vs U.S.A. game reminded me of was that not all team's weapons are blatent. There are many different styles of play on a pitch, and we've witnessed at lot of panache in this U-20 World Cup; entertaining sides like Mexico, Argentina, Japan, Chile, Brazil, Nigeria, Uruguay, Costa Rica and on - fancy footwork, speed, agility, cunning, passion, and flare. However, teams such as Poland, Scotland, the Czech Republic and Austria bring a whole different style, discipline, strategy and physical element to the game. Austria are strong, structured, reserved and lethal in their surgical, almost mechanical approach. Though not present in this World Cup, Germany is a prime example of this method that stealthily wins championships. Austria has modestly marched their way to the top of this mountain and could very well be placing its flag at the peak. The Czech Republic though a little less controlled play a similar game. It takes one killer striker to hit the field for a team like Austria to nail a securing goal, then the rest of the team takes over again defending the lead - Hoffer is Austria's cannonball. He's deadly, accurate and enviably consistent. Unlike Altidore and Adu and the rest of the U.S. side that run and run and run and run and shoot and miss and shoot and score and run and run and run and run...the Austrians defend and defend and defend and send on Hoffer and score and defend. There's barely a bead of sweat apparent on their brows. They're not as exciting to watch, as memorable, but they march on, never veer from the path, have a mission and successfully complete it, like ants, and that's admirable.

I have followed and been behind the U.S. team from the start of this tourney. I love their enthusiasm, skill, professionalism and the incredible progress they've been making since hosting the World Cup, on the major scale, just over thirteen years ago. I envisaged an U.S.A. vs Mexico final - today half of that vision dissipated. I still see Mexico there though. Spain is gone. The Czech's move on. Nigeria always pose a threat. Chile has proven their toughness and Argentina loom like a dark cloud over my brightly lit dream of Mexico beating them like a pinata. I anxiously await Dos Santos and the rest of the Mexican crew hitting the pitch again and showing us what they can do! Whatever happens in tomorrow's quarterfinal matches, one thing is certain, we're heading toward a paradoxical final.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Luck of the Draw

I have a love/hate relationship with the Argentinian side. Gabriel Batistuta has always been one of my favourite players - if not my favourite; Argentina has been England's nemesis on more than one occasion in World Cup play and when I'm rooting for my national team a segment of my loyalty lies with my birthplace England, another with my folk's birthplace and my dad's former national team - Scotland, and of course there's my loyalty to the country whose soil I live on, Canada - it's a fine balance. Usually, it's England I'm behind and I have sat in the stands amidst good-natured Argentinian fans at World Cup events of the past and watched them kill my team. They are sly and fast and often far too bloody good. They have dominated World Cups, both U-20's and the big guys, since before many of us were born. In short - they frighten me and in yesterday's game against Poland, Argentina's youth team were no exception.

Last night's pitch was full of eleven sturdy Polish players and eleven Diego Maradonas. The ball was an extension of the young Argentinians' sweeping feet, which at times didn't even seem to be touching the ground, they appeared to communicate telepathically, eyes never leaving their target and it all seemed so effortless. Whose feet move that fast and skillfully other than perhaps Barishynikov's, Secretariat's, or Muhammed Ali's - Maradona's, Batistuta's. Frightening. And doesn't it figure that the nemesis is playing one of my favourite teams in this competition, the dazzling and seemingly unstoppable Mexican side. Sunday's game, Mexico vs Argentina is going to be a final in itself, and sadly one of the two most spectacular teams in this U-20 World Cup will be heading home trophy-less. That's the luck of the draw.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

From the ashes of disaster...

...rise the roses of success!

USA's game last night against Uruguay had my blood boiling,and my tone of voice reached a level that drove my poor dog into another room where he hid beneath a desk and quivered. He's not a small dog. I hurled pillows at the television screen and bit off what little fingernail growth I had until my damn fingers bled. A few minutes into the game I said, wait a minute, as well as a predictable style of play presenting itself on the opposing team, I thought, this ref is going to be responsible for the U.S.A.'s demise. Overcoming practically every obstacle imagineable on the field, except for a penalty or red card amazingly, the U-20 American side rallied together like the pros they are turning out to be and proved there is justice!!! There's nothing worse to me than when a ref turns a blind eye to an offending team, we see it in the Premiership with teams like Arsenal on a weekly basis, sorry Gunner's supporters but one has to call it as they see it. The more I watched the young Uruguayans step on opposing player's feet, punch players in the ear, elbow them as they ran by, and fall to the ground from a whisper, I thought I was going to lose my mind. Somehow, with the loss of Altidore to a filthy challenge that wasn't even called a foul, the U.S. hung on and Michael Bradley, their consistent work-horse on the field, achieved what he deserved, personal, and his team's, victory. Uruguay are undeniably talented and I looked forward to watching them but at this stage in their game they are a deadly mix of too much testosterone and South American anguish. The poor losership at the end of the match was the icing on the cake, proof that Uruguay's U-20 side ended this competition just where they belong - on the plane home.

As far as the officiating in the dying moments of an incredible performance by a bruised and exhausted U.S. side, half of the team were handed yellow cards for looking at their opponent the wrong way - so if the ref couldn't help them lose in the round of 16, he'd effect their security in the games to come. The beauty of it is - I don't think it'll make a damn difference to their success. I'm wary of premature predictions but among many things I think the Uruguay game did for the U.S., despite buffing up their injury list, was make them even stronger. I think Austria's luck might be about to run out.

The Spain vs Brazil game was a mix of absolute brilliance and absolute dullness - a game of extremes. In the end the stronger side won and for that I was very pleased. Players like Adan, Bueno, Capel, Pique, Garcia and Adrian put up a great fight for Spain against a tricky and skillful Brazilian side; it took 3/4s of the game for the Spanish side to reach their peak but when they did, they exhibited their shifty footwork, creativity and bravery on the field - ending so aptly with the matador's stance.

I believe that Japan would have been better off nailing a win prior to going to penalty kicks,easier said than done, however, they have yet to master the old one-on-one with their opponents. They played so well throughout this competition, though. They should be thrilled with their performance. As for the Czech Republic - I can't wait to finally see them play a game.

Tonight, Portugal play Chile, Argentina play Poland, Zambia play Nigeria and Mexico play Congo. I prefer Chile over Portugal, Argentina over Poland, Nigeria over Zambia and Mexico over Congo. I have to admit Mexico are my favs, along with the Americans. Right from the very first whistle in this competition I loved the look of the Mexican side. I'm nervous and emotional and think I better drop the dog off at my parent's.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

One Wrong Move

We've reached the first elimination round of the U-20 World Cup and I'm getting nervous. One wrong move and 4 of the best teams in this competition will be going home. The 3 games I'm really excited about in today's match-ups are USA vs Uruguay, I've yet to see Uruguay play in this World Cup but if history has any bearing on their performance, it should be a tough game, for both sides. Spain vs Brazil - again, have yet to see Spain play and I hope I get to see them today because I love the way the Spanish nationals play. I've watched Brazil and still think they're a little green, individual talent abounds, but their team work has yet to be mastered. And Japan vs Czech Republic - I've heard the Czech side are very strong, and I've witnessed Japan be dazzling and then not-so-dazzling, so I'm not sure how predictable their performance will be. How they play seems to depend on how the other team plays, so if the Czech side is going to give them a fight, I think they'll rise to the occasion. Austria vs Gambia is one game I'm not biting my fingernails off about, but hell it could turn out to be the one to watch.

My money's on USA, Spain, Japan and Gambia. I think I'll need a pint or two through this round!!

Then, tomorrow's another story.

Monday, July 9, 2007

It's not whether you win or lose...

It's how you play the game!!

In the last twenty minutes of the Canada vs Congo match all hell broke loose - why did it take that long for the fire in our team's hearts to start burning? As painful as it was to watch goalkeeper Asmir Begovic's large gloved hands come flying up to touch the ball while he was at least ten feet out of the penalty box - the event itself brought the Canadian team to life. The red card - the goalkeeper sent off in the dying minutes of Canada's last game - their last chance to show us what they are made of, what we're made of. When little, fair-haired, Jonathan Beaulieu-Bourgault donned the make-shift goalie jersey, mammoth gloves and stepped between the two daunting goal posts, I thought, Oh my God, now what are we in for. Then something happened, he took control of the game!!! Stopped a few incredible shots on goal, exuded passion, drive and guts and a healthy desperation that catapulted his entire team to life - suddenly they were attacking, shooting at the net from close range, scrambling for the ball, working together as a team, fighting for a win, fighting for anything, the anguish on their faces began to show, they were trying. The rain-soaked fans came alive, the bleeding ref came to life and the Congo had a game on their hands - I ask you, should this side of our national team not have been evident from their very first kick-off on their country's soil!!?

Having been a huge soccer fan practically since birth, and those of you who live and breathe the sport will understand, there's an all-encompassing effect that comes with supporting your country's team, the beauty of World Cup events, of any sporting event - hockey, the Olympics, the world series. They bring the fans, the people, together on so many levels, the patriotism, the pride one takes in cheering their players on and those players more often than not are brewing with that very same pride when they hit the pitch, the ice, the field - ah, it's magic. So sure, it isn't whether our countries win or lose but for those ninety odd minutes that we're all there as one; emotionally, joyfully, faithfully and with so much hope - it's how they play the game.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The Skipper

Some games take time to assimilate, like some movies, books etc. You need time to mull over what happened before talking about it. I felt this way about the USA vs Brazil game. Ultimately, what I felt is that USA play like pros, this is the future national team, and they are playing like it now, almost more accomplished than their superiors, the old nationals. Brazil have so many talented players that have yet to hone their craft. They will be superb when they are ripe. Christiano Ronaldo (Portugal) and Ronaldinho (Brazil), were like some of these kids too at first, bubbling over with natural talent but not quite sure how to control it and apply it to the 'team'. Once they grew into their talent, yikes!

What USA have that Brazil don't, I think, is a great leader. Adu looks after his mates on the field. He's not a selfish player, for a superstar. They work great together and Adu has the ability to help make many of his teammates shine - like Altidore for example, a combination of great coaching, a great skipper, and strong experienced players is what's taking this team swiftly up the ranks. I think they stand a great chance in the round of sixteen.

I'm crossing my fingers for Scotland against Costa Rica tonight - it's going to be a strange match-up.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

To Use the Vernacular

With all due respect to the other commentators in this U-20 World Cup, the key elements that really made the Mexico vs Portugal game so brilliant were Mexico and Gary Bloom. There were two compelling narratives happening in unison. One on the pitch, made up of Mexico's thrilling ball control, foot work, skill, speed, joie de vivre and as Bloom so aptly put, incredible ability to read each other; and two, from the broadcast booth with Bloom's wit, poeticism, knowledge, genuine enthusiasm, and the football vernacular. I could have listened to that game with my eyes closed and enjoyed it just as much!

Mexico from the get go against Gambia exhibited a freshness, determination and skill that captured me instantly. Though I stated before, I have always liked the Mexican nationals for many of the traits that are present in the new breed. But this youth team are even more compelling, extremely talented and cohesive, a unit. Portugal had fleeting moments of brilliance, put up a good fight but appeared frustrated, exasperated, worn out. Mexico, though slightly breathless and drenched in sweat, maintained unbelievable ball savvy, control, determination and looked like they were enjoying every minute of it - all in a day's work. What a great game. Individual players like Dos Santos, the goalie Blanca, Hernandez etc were great but their ultimate gift, I think, is how they play as a team.

I had so much faith in Canada against Austria. It'll happen, in time.

Tomorrow - the outcome of the group of death!


Tonight at 7:30pm ET Canada play Austria. From here on out they better play with everything they've got, especially balls! Canada have a lot of weapons, there is no reason why they can't take on and stand up to Austria, who will be one tough opponent. I heard one broadcaster say that, "we don't expect Canada to win the whole thing". Yes, we do! Everybody wants their particular country to win, it's all part of it, whether they will or this point it's, almost, anybody's cup.

Darrin P commented on one of my posts that Canada are essentially greenhorns and that it takes time to develop a team. It's true, and tested, look at the U.S. side, thirteen years ago when they were greenhorns they hosted the World Cup, faced the best of the best in soccer boots, now look at them! Canada's U-20's are experiencing the best possible opponents in this competition and hosting The World, but I think we have to remember that the players themselves are far from greenhorns. 'Under-20' can be misleading. These so-called kids pretty much all play for top clubs, many of them are scouted at the ripe old age of 10 or younger. So yes, soccer itself is a greenhorn in this country but that's changing. My dad says it takes about thirty years to develop a great side, time and of course money. Over thirty years ago he came here from England as the first player-coach of the Toronto Metros. I'd say it's just about Canada's time to shine.

I'm also really excited about the Mexico vs Portugal game. I have always loved watching the Mexican national team, like Spain(which I'm so disappointed was not shown on CBC yesterday)and was really impressed with their U-20 side when they played Gambia. The new generation are a little different than their predecessors. I've got my eye on Giovanni Dos Santos and Javier Hernandez, strong players, both physically and mentally. And Portugal a real power house. This should be some game. I hope it's a steely ref or else look out for the red cards!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Is it just me or is anyone else completely frustrated with the lack of coverage on the U-20 World Cup games. Finally, Canada hosts a brilliant soccer event - the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the calibre of talent on these teams, a World Class event and we only get to see one game a day!? Granted maybe I don't have the right cable package, satellite or the box, but if I did, would it make a difference? There were four unbelievable matches yesterday, one was shown on CBC last night at 11pm, taped. Tonight the same thing, 4 matches, and an 11pm taped version of the Japan vs Costa Rica game. And an interesting match-up it was.

Also, I'm astonished that the U.S. team's brilliant win over Poland received little to no coverage on the U.S. stations. Haven't we been waiting for something entertaining, dramatic and spellbinding to occupy our television screens throughout this sports dryspell. Baseball can't satisfy all our cravings as we wait for the arrival of the NFL season, mourn the anticlimatic end to the NBA, the NHL and the Triple Crown! How lucky we are that we have a brilliant soccer event happening on our soil and the media is letting us down. No wonder the beautiful game has had such trouble taking off in this country! The fans are out there - feed us!

So Long, Farewell, Adu

Wow, now that the first game jitters in the U-20 World Cup are out of the way, the cream of the crop are unabashedly rising to the top! Brazil and Korea Republic played a world-class game against each other. I was on the edge of my seat throughout most it. Brazil started a little sloppy but with the end of the plank in sight, knowing they needed a win, they rose to the occasion. What skill these players exhibited on both sides. I think there was only one kid on Brazil's side that was marginal, but 10 out of 11 is quite something. Aside from the highly touted Pato - or the duck - I really like the looks of Amarol, Marcelo and Roberto. Pato wasn't living up to his hype in the first half, but he more than made up for it the minute the second half whistle blew. I think Brazil have found their stride, but Korea Republic are a force to be reckoned with. This is an exciting group.

I didn't see either of the high scoring games. Very frustrating that out of all the stellar games played yesterday only 1 was shown on CBC. Argentina beat Panama 6-0, and the USA, wow, a 6-1 win over Poland. Poland must have been flabbergasted coming off a win against Brazil! USA have built some national team over the last decade and if they have youth players like this, whoa!They could be one of the new power houses. Freddy Adu is something else - I think he'll even keep the spotlight off of Beckham for a while!!

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

The Kids are Alright

I was a little overwhelmed yesterday with three games in U-20 World Cup. It was so exciting. What I love so much about this is watching the new generation of players. For years I've been watching and have become very attached to the old school.

It's like following college football and basketball. You have the opportunity to pick out the stars of the future. I've followed the likes of Peyton Manning from college to the Superbowl. By the second round of this tournament individual players will start to identify themselves. Right now I'm watching the teams as a whole. I love that Portugal exhibited the calibre and finesse of their superiors, their role models. They were cut right from that mold, little Figo's and Nuno Gomez's, et al. They looked very strong, a little too strong for the inexperienced New Zealand. New Zealand show a lot of potential though. I think it's good that they started with such a tough opponent as Portugal.

More later, especially on the Mexico and Gambia game!!

Sunday, July 1, 2007


Okay, perhaps this is not the tournament where the postcards will arrive home before the Scottish players. The Japanese, like the Chileans and the Argentinians play like small dogs run - fast and close to the ground. All lower body, excellent ball control, speed, agility. Scotland and Canada appear gangly and awkward next to their opponents. Is it all physique effecting these games? Of course not. Part physique, part mentality, part passion and culture. What I love about World Cup soccer is all that; how a country's traits are representative in their players. Each player has their individual characteristics, skills, but the overall country's can be seen in its team. Scotland like Canada has a team full of skilled players, like England's internationals,(not its youth team), packed full of stars, pros, but when you lump them together, they can't seem to pull off the grand win. Is it representative of the country? Am I getting political? No. Just an observation.

Off to the second half of the Canada vs Chile game. I think Canada needs to stop thinking so hard and play with their hearts, like the Chileans; their passion and drive is channeled through those speedy feet, just where it should be, an eye on the goal helps too!

The future of soccer

I'm about to sit down and watch Scotland play Japan in the FIFA U-20 World Cup. These kids are the next Gaza's, Beckham's, Batistuta's, Zidane's etc. Of course, these teenagers are far from amateurs at this stage in their game. It's exciting that the whole thing is taking place in Canada. In jest, or not, my dad Graham Leggat says that in international play Scotland always make it home before their postcards. He should know, he used to play for Scotland! This tourney might be different, we'll see how they perform against the always-exciting-to-watch Japanese.

Can't miss the kickoff!