Thursday, July 30, 2009

Puerto Rico Islanders 1 Toronto FC 0

Figure it out.

On the way to yesterday's first leg of Toronto FC's CONCACAF Champions League qualifier against the Puerto Rico Islanders, I overheard one of the many scumbags* who scalp in and around BMO Field tell a potential seller, "I'll buy your tickets if the price is free. No way I'd pay a cent for these tickets."

I think he knew something we didn't.

Toronto FC did their patented Huff and Puff Show, hurling speculative crosses, celebrating the Running of the Fullback, passing to the man in empty space to hold possession even though that empty man usually ended up being Carl Robinson in the holding role. And while the Islanders got stuck in in a way reminiscent of the big v. small matchups in the FA Cup, they hardly parked the bus in front of goal. Toronto FC should have found a way through. Once again, they couldn't.

I'm noticing things about this team. Vitti still takes three touches too many and doesn't make the key pass obvious even to the weird sweary six year-olds two rows in front of me. De Rosario and Brennan seem to do most of the brain work on the pitch, and Wynne is losing his ability to cut inside. Chad Barrett is a really nice guy. And Carl Robinson is not a good anchor man. If he's the engine of TFC's attack, he's more moped than Maserati at the moment. He gave away possession on key plays more than once. Cronin might be a good try to replace him in the role.

In any case, July is to Toronto FC as March is to Aston Villa. Murder Month. Cummins lip-biting routine on the touchline is getting old. Figure it out please.

*This word replaces a choicer one I'd like to use for these particular people but this is a family fun blog.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

MLS in the UK

No one likes us, we do care.

My recent trip to England revealed a few interesting tidbits of info, c/o of some seasoned overseas football writers with whom I had a nice stout-soaked chat. Perhaps the most interesting was the revelation that it is near impossible to watch a full, live, 90 minute MLS match in the UK.

This is extraordinary when one considers how many British journalists/broadcasters/pundits feel comfortable passing judgment on a league it turns out they've not been able to watch with any regualrity. That, according to a press release by ESPN, is all about to change. ESPN will be showing live MLS games in the UK beginning in August.

I have long been an advocate for easily-accessed European football on American television screens. La Liga, the Premier League, and Serie A all available to bored sporting neutrals on a Saturday morning on a basic sport cable package channel can only help break down many North American myths about the Beautiful Albeit Boring and Fake Injury Prone Game. North American Exposure might also help wrest MLS from MLS fans, those insular nerds who do things like blame Beckham for responding to familial insults and hurl beer cups at linesman before going home to flood the internet with false Designated Player rumours. A fresh, young, American audience knowledgeable about football and not willing to wait for Garber to slop his league through ill-advised franchises in small soup midwest cities playing football on covered gridirons can only be good for North American club soccer.

I also think regular, live European exposure to the league will be just as beneficial. The UK will see what the fuss is about with Yankee Doodle Soccerball. Players will get a better sense of what travelling overseas will mean for their careers, cutting down on the "I didn't expect the quality of play to be this high" meme among MLS newcomers. And MLS will be suddenly accountable to an international audience, and over time with good investment and careful, well thought-out measures for player development and domestic growth, capture some overseas viewers tired of the top-heavy, bigger-takes-all European league system.

Or not. Time will of course tell. But football has always been a game played silently on a green pitch surrounded by a wall of noise. It's high time we let stop the bullshit and let MLS speak for itself, live via satellite.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Galaxy "Hardcore" Should Get Over Themselves

Sometimes you pass through the turnstile into an altogether more unpleasant life, and Beckham's return to MLS has been very unpleasant indeed. The release of Grant Wahl's book, which I turned down an offer to review due to a lifelong passion for not reading anything with the word "Beckham" in the title, has been perfectly timed with Beckham's contractual obligation tour, i.e. playing for the LA Galaxy exactly as long as it takes to negotiate a move back to Milan (at least according to the Guardian).

Needless to say, the "hardcore" Galaxy support section, that noxious, conflicted anglophile element de rigeur in any MLS club, felt the need to shout out loud what was already obvious to everyone for the last two years: that Beckham is a very rich man playing for a substandard club in a middling overseas league, largely for self-interested reasons. If they were stupid enough not to know it when he signed, they know it now.

Anyway, it seems during a recent Milan-Galaxy friendly, some Galaxy fans made their anger known by saying very rude things about Beckham's family. The Guardian quotes Galaxy fan Ricardo Vigil, 28, from Los Angeles: "So Beckham comes over here, he starts saying, 'Come down here, come down here', so our guy went down there. He called out one of our guys. He instigated that. We boo a lot of players – they don't come out and challenge our guys. We're just here as fans." Fellow fan Eric Lewis adds this unconvincing note of support: "He shouldn't have done that, it was dumb. The guy was inebriated, Beckham should have known that. For a player to call out a fan is ridiculous."

Ah yes, the fan immunity card. Apparently Becks just wanted a handshake and for the man to "calm down," not "come down"-oh those funny English accents!-but it doesn't matter, the "hardcore" fans have spoken. Heap your abuse, hooligan-lite "Riot Squad", but you were duped first when some of you swallowed this snake oil two years ago. So why not stop the "you don't love us" naivete and see this for what it is: the introduction of a talented midfielder at a time in the season when the Galaxy are only five points off top spot in the Western division? That the man is an empty, celebrity shill hasn't seemed to have prevented him from sending in a decent cross or two in the past. Why would it now?

Friday, July 17, 2009

I'm in England

on a non football related research mission (see photo). But thank god for free wifi - the blog will go on (or maybe you view that as a bad thing, you smelly jerk). I'm going to try to visit Ashton Gate for a preseason BCFC friendly but no promises. Otherwise, it's bullshit as usual, a la mode. I'm also going to try to get to London this week, so any Londoners want to drink 3% pull tap Real Ale in some pretentious Brixton hangout, feel free to email me. Regular posts resume tomorrow!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

A Letter from BMO Field - Annotated

Liquor Arrest on Queen West near Simcoe Street (circa 1917)
Photo Credit: Crime and Punishment in Canada

-Dear [Mail Merge Field filled with an enormously large Excel file of Toronto FC season ticket holders]

Earlier this week, the Alcohol and Gaming Commission of Ontario (AGCO) served BMO Field with a one-game suspension for a violation that occurred in May 2008.

-Some background: Ontario and Toronto in particular have some very deep-seated Victorian-era moral issues with alcohol. At one time in Toronto, liquor stores were staffed with old men who looked like police officers. You had to go to a kiosk in the middle of a barren white room to find a list of the booze you wanted to buy, which would have a corresponding code number, and your job was to write these codes on a piece of paper and slip it to the guy behind glass who dressed like a cop.

Our bar rules were even weirder; passerbys were not allowed to see other people drinking lest they get overcome with the urge to get shitfaced and abandon their job and loved ones, so pubs had to have curtains over the window. You could only order one drink at a time, and you weren't allowed to dance. You had to sit at the same table with your drink for the duration of your stay in the bar. These rules persisted until the 1960s (!).

While Ontario has since liberalized its liquor laws, the burden of responsible alcohol consumption is still on bars and private sellers.
Hence the AGCO's ruling against BMO Field below.

As a result there will be a suspension in alcohol service at BMO Field on Saturday, July 18 during the Toronto FC versus Houston Dynamo match. During the match, alcohol cannot be sold, served or consumed anywhere in BMO Field.

-While we don't know exactly what happened last May, it was likely a 'pass-off'—a 20 year-old buying their 18 year-old friend a beer (the legal age in Ontario is 19)—intercepted by a AGCO inspector at a Portuguese club friendly (not a TFC game). Despite the inherent difficulties in policing the actions of 20 000 spectators, BMO was adjudged responsible.

We kindly advise both you and your guests to arrive early to the game on July 18 to ensure you are able to get to your seat prior to kickoff as there will be extra security checkpoints in place. Gates will open at 11:30 a.m. and game time is at 1:00 p.m.

Please note that there will be bag checks and pat-downs at all gates for this game. There could be a longer than usual wait time at the gates.

-Regarding checkpoints, I think the problem won't be as much fans sneaking in liquor as it will be fans loading up at home or at the pub prior to kick off, ye olde English method. Long waits and pat downs aren't really fun, so expect small scale skirmishes, crying children and a smaller than normal gate. Not a good situation.

We regret any inconvenience this may cause you and your guests and we appreciate your understanding in this matter.

-Well, quite frankly I don't understand. I've never seen an LCBO shuttered for unwittingly selling alcohol to minors (trust me, this has happened). And apparently 20 000 fans can be cut off due to some pissant 18 year-old (was he fined, and the passer-offer? Banned for life from BMO?), but it's the individual responsibility of the problem gambler to avoid Ontario-approved casinos?

While I tend not to drink at TFC games (beer in the sun = bad)
I'm a big fan of personal responsibility. I think small businesses should be allowed to sell beer and spirits, I think bar owners should share responsibility for certain alcohol violations. No, I don't think the sky will fall, children will suddenly problem drink, and we will devolve into a Moscow-like booze cauldron. BMO Field wouldn't serve alcohol if TFC fans didn't want it. It's time we had a long look at the AGCO's current mandate, which regards customers as simple dupes and private booze sellers as evil irresponsible jerks who will pour booze down the Rule of Law's throat when given the chance. I think we're all grown ups here, don't you?

Sincerely, Bob Hunter,
Executive vice-president, Venues and Entertainment
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

-They're so rich none of this really matters.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Aston Villa agree £12m fee for Middlesbrough's Stewart Downing - Guardian Headline

Aston Villa's new signing Stuart Downing in action (post op).

Aston Villa have agreed a fee of around £12m with Middlesbrough for their winger Stewart Downing. Downing is currently recovering from surgery on a fractured bone in his foot, and is unlikely to be ready for competitive football before October at the earliest, but it appears the Villa manager Martin O'Neill is now keen to complete a deal this summer, rather than waiting until January as had previously been suggested.

Martin O'Neill: Morning Gareth.

Stuart Downing: Sorry? I think you mean Stuart. Or Captain Stubing as my mates used to call me.

MON: Oh, yes, of course. Stuart. Right. So, how do you fancy wearing the number 6?

SD: Uh, that was Baz's number wasn't it?

MON: Was it?

SD: Look, Mr. O'Neill -

MON: Call me Martini! That's what GB used to call me.

SD: - Barry's name is still on the back of this shirt.

MON: Interesting. That reminds me, I'd like to show you your new wardrobe.

SD: Wardrobe?

MON: Yes, the clothes that you'll be required to wear as part of your contract. You did read it didn't you Gareth? Ah, here we are, let me just open this suitcase.

SD: Um. Right. These shirts all have Barry's name and number stitched on the breast.

MON: Hmm, yes. And you'll find they're a bit dirty on account of the fact that our dearly beloved Gareth Barry threw them out of the hotel room window during negotiations before he left—*ahem* excuse me, something in my eye I think—the club.

SD: Er, okay. I'll put these on later. So are you going to show me the training facilities?

MON: Yes, just after your pre op appointment.

SD: For my ankle you mean?

MON: No my dear Baz. Reconstructive surgery for your face! We need you to have a fuller, more manly jaw line.

SD: Oh my god, no.

MON: And I have JUST the model photograph. It's signed and everything! You can study it to perfect your new signature! Gareth? Where are you going Gareth? Security! Oop, now we've got you, thank you gentlemen!

SD: My god, please no!

MON: You see? It was always meant to be! Now let's go make you beautiful, my lovely Gareth Barry. That way we can be together for ever, and ever, and ever and ever and ever-


MON: -and ever and ever and ever and ever


Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Weirdest Summer Transfer Season Ever?

Manchester City: Tears of an insane clown

Back to the football for the moment; what is happening this summer? Fred (mostly Fred) and I have been writing fake transfer news for the Onion Bag in anticipation for the usual dead headlines among Europe's Super League of Extraordinary Non-Gentlemen, but the 'Real' news thus far has been Real Madrid and Manchester City being involved in every single transfer in Europe.

Adebayor to Manchester City? Carlos Teves to Manchester City? John Terry to Manchester City? Why do I envision their board chairman to be a psychotic clown in the Stephen King mode, or at least a crazed gambler picking cards at random from the 2008-09 Premier League Almanac? Can you envision these players on a club together? The same club with Shay Given in goal and Mark Hughes on the touch line?

The hilarious thing is Man City is spending REAL money, as opposed to their odd Spanish transfer market bedfellows, Real Madrid, who apparently thought Europe would leap for a chance at Nistelrooy's or Saviola's signature (the latter got a wopping €5 million to play for Benfica). Next season looks to be absolutely absurd, and therefore tons of fun. One more reason to avoid 'Other Sports' what with their salary caps and money sharing provisions. Pfft to that.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Other Sports: Part the Fifth - Car Racing

What we all came to see

Though 'Other Sports' is by far the least popular series in AMSL's history, I'm obliged to forge on if only to remind myself why my ten month addiction to one sport is in fact, healthy, and to be encouraged among young people and the infirm.

So with that I go to the car racing games, Indy, NASCAR, Formulas 1 through 10. Unless you're drunk at four in the morning and sitting in front of a Super Nintendo with Mario Kart jammed in its maw, racing is to be avoided at all costs. As Guardian Sport's Sean Ingle recently admitted: "F1 leaves me utterly cold. There's the race to the 1st corner ... and then 90 minutes of whiny tedium. The dullest sport of all?"

Which is to say, yes, yes it is. But it's a common mistake to leave off at F1. We had an Indy car race here in Toronto this weekend. I managed to avoid the sound of a giant bee hive buzzing through my brain for forty eight hours by taking a trip to the country side. For those left to watch the exciting finish with everyone's boyhood hero, Dario Franchitti, winning the Indy Car Hubcap or whatever they award they give out for driving someone else's machine the fastest, I believe this CBC Online comment sums up the city's general feeling to motor sport:

"Good it's over. Now hopefully they will re-open the Exhibition grounds and roads that were closed."

This should be the event's slogan next year.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Other Sports: Part the Fourth - Canadian Football

"And anyone forthwith who is ignorant of the meaning of
a 'rouge' is will have their citizenship revoked and shall be
forever expelled from the land" - British North America Act.

We have a version of American football, which we call Canadian football. It involves one less 'down' and the field is bigger or something, but at the end of the day is still a bastardization of rugby and a pox on all things holy and true.

That said, CBC Sports ran this headline this morning: Eskimos drubbed in Montreal again, which to my mind sounds like the city has successfully repelled an attack from hordes of Inuit attempting to take back land on behalf of the Iroquois. Seinfeld and the Simpsons have both made jokes about it, which makes it a legitimate sport. Watch at your own peril.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Other Sports: Part the Third - Baseball

"Touch 'em all Joe."

A word of warning: this could get...emotional.

It may surprise you to learn that I love baseball. It's not anything to do with the hilarious chaos of an error-strewn inside-the-park home run, the clockwork of a perfectly executed triple play, or the rare stealing of home plate (which when witnessed live will cause you to choke up with its simple deceit, like a nymph deigning to rob Zeus himself).

No, I love baseball because baseball introduced me to the euphoric, almost hallucinogenic high of watching a team from your home town win. Like really fucking win. Twice. Torontonians will talk about 1992, 93—the consecutive seasons when the Blue Jays won two World Series titles—for the next thousand years, likely because they will never be repeated. No one really remembers what 1967 felt like, the last year the Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup. And the Grey Cup, as venerable as it is, is an all-Canadian trophy. Canadians like beating Americans. It's in the water we drink. And winning the World Series, the highest trophy awarded to followers of America's Pastime, was liquid acid to the Canadian psyche.

I will never forget them. John Olerud, Roberto Alomar, Pat Borders, Dave Winfield, Joe Carter. My God, Joe Carter. He was, simply, my hero. Carter's 1993 World Series-winning homerun, the homerun that jostled The Shot Heard Round the World out of its place a bit, was beyond magic. When I saw it I accidentally jumped on my friend's dog's tail. I ran outside, twelve years old, waving a giant Canadian flag on one of Toronto's many leafy sidestreets. I believed, sincerely believed, this would happen every year, forever, as long as I had my being. But it was not to be.

I love baseball. But because I loved it so much, so intensely, I knew after the 1994 season, the baseball strike, I would never love it the same way again. I can still watch it and feel the way I did when I was ten years old. I smile with recognition at short stop plays from youth ("Tony'd caught that"), the abuse poured on the right fielder by half drunk crowds, the dead confidence of a pitcher walking off the mound who has struck out three in a row after giving up a couple of basehits on no outs.

But no one who puts on a Blue Jays shirt can ever be John Olerud, with his .400 average and his scarecrow batting stance, no one will have the ancient wisdom of Paul Molitor, the jheri curls of George Bell, the accent of Roberto Alomar. No one who puts on a Blue Jays shirt will ever be Joe Carter, the man who made a twelve year old kid feel like a king for a day, the man who introduced to him the fleetingly rich glory of games played in the sunshine.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Other Sports: Part the Second - Cricket

So where do I write in my net income?

Good Lord.

Rob Smyth's Ashes MBM: "What an over from Mitchell Johnson! Four balls in a row were superb and culminated in the big wicket of the captain: the first was a leg-stump yorker to Strauss that should have been given LBW; the second was a bouncer that hit Bopara; the third was a slower ball that Bopara, duped completely, drove just over mid-off; and the fourth was a vicious bouncer that followed Strauss, took the glove and looped gently to Clarke in the slips. That is modern fast bowling of the very highest quality."

WHAT? I remember what an over is (six knuckle balls), and I know LBW stands for Lyndon Baines Wicket or something like that. I think I may even know where Clarke is if he's over in 'the slips,' even though it sounds like some sort of prewar foppish hangout in West London. God, this is hard. Canada won their second Gold Cup round everyone! Let's all watch that instead. Come on, who's with me?

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Other Sports Series: Part the First

So here goes; Alexei Kovalev has signed for the Ottawa Senators. He was the only reason I really really enjoyed the Montreal Canadiens in the past few seasons, even when he was a lethargic, self-regarding dick, perhaps mostly because he was a lethargic, self-regarding dick. I'll never forget his first round playoff goal when his helmet came off and suddenly it was 1972 and he scored on a backhanded shot that was beautiful.

Senators GM Bryan Murray has been quoted as saying he'd like Kovalev to score 30 plus goals next season, which is like me saying I plan to make 80 Gs singing countertenor this year, so good luck with that Bryan. Anyway, seeing him in a Senators shirt will evoke the same feelings as seeing Barry in Man City blue (leave me alone, football!); nausea mixed with regret and resentment.

PS: Ok, there are some other ways to beat the soccerless summer blues: EPL Talk has a mighty fine retrospective on the Legends of English Football, and so far no Stuart Pierce so all is well. Yesterday they did Stanley Matthews who is of course most famous for playing one season with Toronto City. Enjoy!

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Soccerless Summer

Anyone watching the Gold Cup? Sure you are Canada fans, and you diehard footballistas who can't make it three weeks without something, anything, live and on grass and no hands. And then there's MLS, which for Toronto FC fans hardly gets the pulse racing considering our club is on the road playing in such exciting locales as Salt Lake City and San Jose.

But for us normals, this summer is football free. Sure, there are some last minute chunks of football transfer nonsense that refuses to flush, but who cares when most of the big transfer crap went away with a whoosh as soon as Ronaldo went public with his Real move.

What is Scott Murray whingeing about? Football has stopped, finally, if only for the next month and a half. I watched tennis yesterday. I checked how many games back the Blue Jays have fallen in the AL East. I watched a skit on cricket. Other sports are quietly nestling in the alcove of my brain. While I'm sure they'll be noisily euthanized with the coming of the Premier League in August, it's nice to take a break. So for the next month or so, AMSL will take a fleeting interest in Other Sports. Stay tuned...

Friday, July 3, 2009

Sir Alex: "If I don't end Michael Owen's career for good, who will?"

Owen: Wounded and Scared.

Sir Alex Ferguson arrived at the Manchester United press conference cradling a trembling, crying Michael Owen in a white towel. He had a message: "I've had enough of watching little Mikey here suffer. It's time to put him down."

Wiping a tear from his eye, Sir Alex continued. "I first found Michael limping around on one leg at St. James Park. He was bruised and battered and crying for the ball, but no one could find it for him. It's clear his pace has abandoned him forever and is not going to return. If I can't save him, I think we all know the humane thing to do in this situation."

Representative fors PETS, People for the Ethical Treatment of Strikers, applauded Sir Alex' move. "If poor wounded Mikey here gets picked up by Aston Villa, there's a chance he goes in the first team. It's cruel and humiliating to use him as a starter in a Premier League football match with the expectation he'll score. A move to MLS would ensure he'd spend the rest of his days rolling around on a filthy, soiled gridiron or plastic pitch. At Manchester United, he'll be well fed and well paid, then quietly smothered on the bench until he completely disappears. It's a very pleasant way to go under the circumstances."

Sir Alex hushed a crying Owen before explaining his desire to help other broken strikers. "Whether they're stuck in a chimney flue or considering a move to Portsmouth, I'd like to give them a peaceful home before wiping them out of existence forever."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Scientists Agree: Real Madrid Has Become a Dense Singularity

The Bernebeu as seen from space

A group of scientists gathered in Bern, Switzerland confirmed the science world's worst fears today: Real Madrid has become a footballing singularity, and appears to be drawing the heaviest nearby stars into a black hole located in the centre of the Bernebeu.

"Take the worse case scenario you could possibly imagine," explained Dr. Bronhoffer, with the University of Copenhagen, "and multiply that by five trillion. Then take a deep breath, because it's about five hundred billion times worse than that."

Dr. Bronhoffer, surrounded by concerned scientists and football managers from Serie A and the Premier League, carefully explained it would only be a matter of time before the brightest stars in Europe are wiped out under the mass of accumulated debt and hype. "If you are the chairman of a football club, our advice to is to move your stars to one of several designated underground bunkers/salt mines in and around Europe as soon as possible."

While we had some measure of hope when David Villa fluxuated on the edge of the crushing gravitational pull of what were are now calling the Florentino-Galacticos Singularity, news that Franck Ribery has disappeared into a mass of white has confirmed our suspicions that Real Madrid was much more dense than we had first calculated."

Dr. Bonhoffer took a deep breath before putting a hand on Sir Alex Ferguson's shoulder. "May Maradona have mercy on our souls."

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

You Can't Spell 'God' or 'Goals' without 'Go'

The Spoiler has found an interesting vid from the Norwegian league featuring two Bosnian Muslim players prostrating in prayer after a goal, only to be pseudo-sodomized by teammate Espen Nystuen.

The object of offense might be obvious, but am I the only one more offended by the preposterous notion that Allah the Benificent, the Merciful would give a Goddamn over a garbage strike scored in a lonely Scandinavian league? It's like Dani Alves signing himself, or those Jesus shirts at the end of the Confed/World Cup.

Can we all take Denmark Football Federation Secretary-General Jim Stjerne Hansen's reminder about FIFA Law 4 Decision 1 seriously? I disagree by the way with the Offside's assertion this is a 'tricky' seems to me irreligious in the extreme to suppose God is scoring goals for you, or that She even peticularly cares about one's success on the football pitch. A religious person might be thankful for continued employment in a field they enjoy, but to genuflect and sing Te Deums of thanks if your fax to Sales and Marketing goes through on the third try? No thanks...

Happy Dominion Day Fellow Colonial Subjects!

Bow down and worship your Queen('s cute-as-pie Canadian
representative , Michaelle Jean)

Celebrating Canada in the only way I know how, I took two minutes to amalgamate the only thing this website was ever good for: my series on the history of soccer in Toronto. Click here and the link on the bottom right to relieve the glory of my insane daily post rate in July 2008, when having a life in the small window of tolerable Canadian weather was considered gauche.

Can't Stop the Lies

Fred and I (well, mostly Fred) lie on a third party website. The Internet is a leading cause of evil.