Jesterly Challenge Month – November 7th

Mark Bialczak asked me write about the best sports game I ever played, no matter age, place, or team.  Give it a read and let me know how I did in the comments.

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Can I get a definition of “best” please?  Best in terms of my performance, or enjoyment or the team’s result, or…?  And then can we talk about “game?”  Is that a physical game or a video game or…?

I once took control of Manchester United in the FIFA ’99 game on my original PlayStation and scored 45 goals against Arsenal in 15 minutes of play.  I have to say, that sure felt great.  I don’t remember how many hat tricks Solksjaer, Yorke and Beckham had, but I never grew tired of hearing “Solksjaer scores!”  I do suspect, however, that isn’t really what you wanted to hear about.

Just last week, in a pick-up game of volleyball, four a side on beach sand, I had the most fun playing that I’ve had in a long time.  I had one massive jump serve ace on game point.  I had a couple kills.  Maybe one block?  Maybe none.  It wasn’t my best offensive or defensive game ever, but there were a ton of long rallies and the games were all really close.  Even though I’ve played better on other nights, it felt great to have that much fun.  Again, however, perhaps that isn’t what you want to hear about…

When I was very young, in my first or second season of recreational soccer, hosted by my city’s parks and recs department, I scored a hat trick.  I was never a striker in the true sense.  I had lungs and endurance and could run the length of the field and find open teammates to pass to and never get tired, but I lacked that instinct to just shoot the ball.  I don’t have an exact number of how many times I’ve scored in all the years I played soccer, but I know it is a relatively small number.  That game, however, something clicked and I took the opportunities when they came and scored one goal after another.  I remember how amazing it felt, I remember how great it was to see the pride and joy in my dad as he congratulated me afterwards.  But, the memory is hazy at best and I’m not sure I can actually remember the game at all.  Perhaps what I think I know of that game is merely just from the many retellings over the years that followed.

My senior year of high school I finally made it onto the varsity soccer team.  I had told myself during the condition and tryouts before the season that if I didn’t make varsity I was going to quit rather than play JV again, but I’m not sure if I’d have kept that promise to myself.  I loved game then, and still do now, even if I was never very good at it.  I’d lost my endurance by the time I played in high school, but had enough knowledge and experience that the couches kept seeing some value in putting me on the field as a striker.  Which, I never understood because I didn’t score goals.  In four years, I scored one.  It came on a corner kick and after bouncing around in the box the ball landed at my feet and I poked it in.  it was  a poacher’s goal, but I was no poacher.  It felt great to final score, though.  That elation didn’t last long because we ended up losing the game anyway.  And, I’d always felt at odds with my team, I had no friends there, and with my performances so the whole of my high school soccer career is tainted with disappointment and clouded by angst.  So, again, perhaps not what you are looking for.

Last week I played “soccer” with the Little Prince.  It started as passing the ball back and forth, something he is still trying to figure out and do with accuracy and consistency.  Then, after more successful passes than we’ve ever had before, a whole four, his attention was pulled away and our game evolved into something like Calvinball.  Other balls were introduced, and random things in the garage were turned into hoops, and other things were turned into safe zones.  There was laughing and giggling, running and throwing, points were scored in random increments and for various reasons…  This is, I suspect, exactly what you wanted to hear about.  It was fun.  It was great.  It was wonderful.  It was the best sports game I’ve ever played, so far.

come on lads!

Am I sports fan?  What does fandom mean to me?

You obviously haven’t been paying attention…

So, we’re going to sit here and sing “Glory, Glory, Man United” until it sinks in.  Wait, hold that thought, I need to go get my jersey, scarf and beanie for the full affect.  And, yes, I do wear those when I watch games on TV.  Because how else will the team now I’m supporting them?

Paraphernalia is meaningless though… Any casual fan can pick up a jersey and throw it on to watch the games.  Any casual fan can pick up the songs and chants and incorporate those into their daily lives.  But, I am not a casual fan.  I will wake up at 4AM on the weekend to watch games live.  I could record them and watch them at a more reasonable hour… but live is so much better.  That’s where the magic is.  No mere casual fan would do that.

However, you are right, I’ve never been to Manchester.  I’ve never been to Old Trafford.  I’ve never gotten to see my beloved Red Devils storm the pitch in the flesh.  One day I will.  That’s the best I can do for now.

In the meantime, while I’m saving my pennies and waiting for the prince to get a little older, I’m going to say scream sing call out “LA” and if you could please provide the appropriate response of “Galaxy” that would be fantastic.  Ready?  Here we go:

LA!

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Hmm… I couldn’t hear you… but I’m going to assume that’s just because I’m too far away and not because you didn’t loudly and proudly shout it out, and definitely not because you didn’t even open your mouth and say it at all.  You wouldn’t do that to me.

My hometown team, the LA Galaxy, formerly of David Beckham fame, are my go-to source for local soccer, football, footy, what have you.  I wear the jersey and the scarf and the beanie.  I know the chants and the call and response routines.  I go to the games and get lost in the frenzied madness and excitement of that atmosphere – there is nothing like being the twelfth man.  Even the queen has a jersey and comes out to the games, my enthusiasm, my fandom, has rubbed off on her.

And the little prince?  Let us not forget about him!  He already has a jersey style onesie, and he will wear it well…. as soon as he is big enough for it.

Come on lads!  This isn’t just a kick-about.  Get it up the wings, get those passes snapping in faster, get it in the box!  Shoot the ball!  I want to see that net bulge!  I need those goals.  I need those three points.

I’m a three points junkie!

And when your team lets you down…

throw a coin at the opposing team… ?!  Okay, we’ll come back to that.

Sunday was derby day in Manchester: United vs. City.  Blue hosting Red.  2nd against 1st in the early league standings.  So, pretty much epic on all fronts. 

Last year City won both derby matches, including a victory of monumental proportions away to United at Old Trafford that could be argued handed them the league, since they ended level on points but ahead on goal difference at the end of the season.  (My heart still hurts a little thinking about that game.)

To continue on my theme of not really doing a full review of anything, here are my comments on the game:

Wayne Rooney was immense.  Showing up at the right time for the second goal.  Creating good space for himself on the first goal.  His vision, his tracking back, and every other aspect of his game were spot on (except for a few passes that didn’t come off quite as he (and the rest of us) had hoped they would.)  He was the man of the match, without a doubt.  His 10 derby goals are a testament for what he has meant to United and what he will continue to mean for the Red Devils.

That’s kind of all I want to say… but, since that doesn’t seem like enough, here are some extra tidbits:

It was good to have Valencia back on the right side, and I hope with some more game time he’ll get in a few better crosses in the coming games.  Ashley Young had a great game and it’s not often I find myself saying that.  I have a bit of a man crush on Robin van Persie.  And, if it wasn’t him, then it would probably be Rafael.  It’s too bad that someone didn’t step in front of Yaya Toure’s shot because if that hadn’t resulted in a goal, David De Gea’s two saves right before that would have been contenders for save of the year.  Zaboleta’s goal was fantastic.  There isn’t much I like about Samir Nasri, but I find myself strangely fond of his right foot this morning.

Okay, that pretty much wraps that up.

What?  Really?  Okay fine…  The officiating:  Yes, Smalling handled the ball.  Yes, Evra should have been awarded a PK.  I still think Young was offside.  Yes, the ref should have given Toure the advantage when he was on a breakaway rather than halting the play to hand Rooney a yellow card.  It pretty much all evened out.  Pretty sure the game would have ended with the 3 points going to United even if all of the above had been called “correctly.”  Argue with me if you want.

Okay, now, that pretty much wraps it up.

Wait, what?  Oh, yeah, I guess I should explain the title of this post.  You are correct, my team didn’t let me down.  So, what am I talking about?  In the 92nd minute, after Robin van Persie had scored the winner for United, a City fan threw a coin out of the stands that struck Rio Ferdinand in the face, opening a gash that forced him to come off the pitch to get the blood cleaned up.

I’m fairly passionate when it comes to football (soccer).  I will readily admit that I am a fan in the true sense of the word (fanatic) when it comes to my two teams: Los Angeles Galaxy and Manchester United.  But never at any point when I’ve experienced a frustrating and demoralizing loss (including a certain derby last season already mentioned above) did I think, “Hey, I’m very upset and I just happen to have this coin in my pocket, maybe I should throw it.”

Who does that?

where were you?

I was there when Landon Donovan hoisted the MLS Cup this afternoon…

I was there when Juninho borrowed one of the giant Galaxy flags and waved it in celebration.

I was there when David Beckham was substituted in stoppage time at the end of the second half to a prolonged standing ovation.

I was there when Beckham threw himself at the far post trying to turn in Robbie Keane’s cross.

I was there when Robbie Keane slotted home the third Galaxy goal and went into his sommersaulting routine, knowing he had just put the game out of Houston’s reach.

I was there when Landon Donovan sent his spot kick bulging out the back of the net to put the Galaxy in the lead.

I was there when Omar Gonzalez rose highest and slotted home the equalizer.

I was there while Josh Saunders came up with save after save to keep the Galaxy in the game.

I was there early, I was there late, I was there singing, and chanting, and clapping and screaming.

I am losing my voice, much to my wife’s immense humor.  Totally worth it.

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Adieu Beckham.  You are class.  You’re heart and your quality can never be questioned.  Thank you for the six years of memories and best of luck on your next adventure.

Donovan…  if you choose to walk away, I support that 100%, you need to do what is right for you.  But you will be missed.

Omar Gonzalez, you fully deserved the MVP today.  Thank you for being the general on that back line and cleaning up cross after cross after cross.

Robbie Keane, thank you, thank you, thank you!

Is it March yet?  I’m ready for the next season to begin now!

3 points the (extra) hard way

As the game started I found myself thinking, “We are going to give up an early goal…”

And for the 8th time this season (in 12 matches) we did.  90 seconds into yesterday’s Champions League group stage contest between Manchester United (England) and Braga (Portugal), the Red Devils’ defense was caught flat (again) and Braga took the lead.  This left United needing to get the 3 points the hard way.

But their play didn’t immediately improve.  Within 20 minutes Braga had scored again and the Red Devils found themselves two goals down; needing to get the 3 points the extra hard way.

As has been the case so far this season the offense came to the rescue of the defense (good interplay between Rooney and Van Persie and Kagawa) and a lucky goal by Chicharito and we were back in the game.  It’s not entirely fair to say that it was a lucky goal: Hernandez got into a good position, it was a fantastic cross, and the striker rose well to meet it and head it back across the frame.  But it was lucky because it went in off the body of the keeper who had done well to cover the space.

Then (another) lucky goal, this time from Johnny Evans, and the Red Devils were back on level terms.  Again it was a fantastic cross into a dangerous area and our defender found himself in a good position but a swing and a miss later and the chance seemed to have been lost.  A luck bounce of a Braga player found the ball back at Evans’ feet who had the presence of mind to prod it towards goal where the goal keeper saw it late and had no chance of stopping it from crossing the line.

Finally, the winner, was a deserved goal.  Another brilliant cross and Chicharito was on cue again to head it powerfully past the outstretched reach of Braga’s keeper.  It was the goal the Red Devil’s deserved based on their possession and attacking threat the entire second half of the game.

So, 3 points in the bag and 9 points out of 3 games so far in this year’s Champions League; leaving United in prime position.  That’s fantastic.  But questions are being asked of our defense, by an admittedly weak group, and so far we don’t seem to have the answers other than starting 3 strikers and hoping they can keep on form…

Will that continue to work in the remaining group stage games?  Will that work when we face stiffer competition in the knockout rounds?