Bummed

 

I replaced the ROWDIES license plate on my truck today with a generic plate. It made me sad to take the old plate off. I used to enjoy being a fan so much, but the new owner ruined that experience for me. I never liked sports very much before I started following the Rowdies, But soccer felt different. It was exciting, it was fast-paced, it was fun to watch. It seemed like there was a better ratio of nerd:meathead than other sports. It was fun to sing with the supporter group. It was fun to cheer and make noise. I loved running into people at the tailgate, I loved going to Crowley’s after the game.

Little by little, it all vanished. I left the supporter group because of the pervasive sexism and the attitude on the part of the leadership at the time that something was wrong with me for objecting to it and trying to do something about it. The games became excruciating to watch when the current coach took over. Crowley’s closed down. Although that was unrelated to the team, the fact that I was introduced to the place because of soccer meant that the two were intertwined in my mind.

Watching soccer on television isn’t the same. I don’t get the same charge that I used to get being in a big crowd. Honestly, what I really liked was not the game itself, but the socializing. The regular party atmosphere. I think if you could tailgate before a play, I’d get season tickets to the theater.

How Keylor Navas Cost me my iPhone

Where’s my wallet?

I pat myself down. Did I put it in a different pocket? But of course not. Those dudes in the Panama kits who were jumping and pushing and singing, “Olé Panama.” They weren’t celebrating. They were picking my pockets.

My passport. $300 in local currency. My iPhone.

All gone.

Cabrónes!

Carolyn and I are leaving the CONCACAF World Cup Qualifier between Costa Rica and Panama at the Estadio Nacional de Costa Rica in San Jose. Carolyn finds someone who speaks English—Juan, one of the stadium vendors. He guides us to the police substation. I explain in broken Spanish that I’ve been robbed, and Juan fills in the gaps. The police sympathize, but can’t do anything. I hadn’t expected they could. I only want to file a police report so I can take it with me to the American embassy in the morning to replace my passport.

Then Juan has a brainstorm. Holds up his iPhone. “Can we track your phone?”

Of course! I log into “Find my iPhone” on his device. My phone is still in the Parque Metropolitano, on the other side of the stadium.

The policeman’s eyes light up. “Vamonos!” he says, and points to a four-seat pickup truck. He and his partner jump in the front. Carolyn and I in squeeze into the back with Juan, who holds his iPhone over the front seat for the cop in the passenger’s seat to navigate.

My phone doesn’t move as we careen around the stadium. Can we get there in time?

We halt in front of a set of moveable, metal barriers with about two feet of space between them. The cop orders a security guard standing nearby to move them.

He refuses. I don’t understand what he says, except for a name.

“Keylor Navas.”

“They won’t let us through,” Juan says. “Keylor Navas is coming out soon.”

We can’t get through because the Costa Rican keeper dawdled in the shower?

The cop isn’t any more impressed with this obstruction than I am, but the guard won’t relent.

Donde esta su supervisor?” the cop demands.

The feckless guard calls over to a woman wearing a yellow security shirt. Then he looks at the cop, and drags one of the barriers to narrow that two-foot gap.

Pendejo.

Supervisor saunters over. The cop explains the situation. She shakes her head.

“Keylor Navas,” she says.

The police officer shouts at her. The only words I understand are, “panameños,” “robaron,” and “gringo,” but I get the gist. Some Panamanians robbed this American. Let us through.

“No. Keylor Navas,” she repeats, and walks away.

We have to find another route.

The cop throws the shifter into reverse, whips the steering wheel to the right, and stomps on the gas.

WHAM!

Did we just… hit something? The cop doesn’t care. He shifts into first, starts to pull away. Supervisor and Señor Barricade run over, waving their hands and shouting.

We’d backed into Supervisor’s parked car.

We have to get out. “Another car is coming,” Juan tells us. It arrives, lights flashing. We pile into it. Away we go. My phone is moving. It’s leaving the park. Slowly. Are the thieves on foot?

Maybe, but traffic is horrendous, creeping along slower than a walk. We’ll never get there, I think. There’s no way the cops can get through.

Wrong. They hit the sirens and the horn, and drive as though a murder scene awaits. We straddle the center line between two rows of cars doing their best to pull over to either side. We pass cars with inches to spare. I white-knuckle the chicken handle above the door. Carolyn refuses to look up.

Juan is grinning ear to ear. He’s having the time of his life.

Aquí! Aquí!” he shouts. The driver pulls onto the curb. There’s a man walking by, talking on his phone. He’s wearing a Costa Rica jersey. Definitely not one of the dudes who mugged me.

I say, “That isn’t the dude!”

The cops jump out of the car, anyway. Stop the man on the phone. Demand he hand it over. Behind him by about ten feet are three other men, apparently not with him, also not the dudes, but the cops stop them, too.

What have you done with this gringo’s wallet and phone?

“That’s not my phone,” I shout. “Those aren’t the dudes! Esos no estan los hombres!

The cops say something to Juan. “Call his phone,” he tells Carolyn. She does. Nothing. Because that isn’t my phone, and those aren’t the dudes.

Juan zooms in on the Find my iPhone map. My phone is on the other side of the street, maybe half a block up.

The cops jump back into the truck. We can’t get across the street, because a low, concrete wall separates two directions of gridlocked traffic. Sirens wailing, off we go again. I’m certain we’re going to ram someone. We find a gap, make a turn. Make another. At one point, I think we were going the wrong way on a one-way street. But we reach the spot on the map. We park on the sidewalk, and everyone gets out.

Traffic creeps by, but the locator for my phone doesn’t move. Carolyn calls and it goes right to voice mail. The thieves have turned the phone off. But maybe it’s still here. Maybe they saw the police coming, and threw it away. We start looking around.

We’re in the parking lot of some other Costa Rican law enforcement agency, and the agent on duty is not happy to see a gringo crawling around, looking under the cars. He and the driver cop exchange a terse conversation. From the tone, I gather that cooperation between the two agencies is not exactly strong.

We have to leave.

I’m not getting my stuff back. The cops feel almost as bad about it as I do. They really wanted to catch those Panamanian thieves for me. The least they can do, they say, is take us back to our hotel.

Back into the police car we go. In this traffic, it will be at least an hour.

But the cops aren’t waiting for traffic. Lights. Siren. Make way, make way. We have to get these gringos back to their hotel. Once we get out of the traffic jam, we race down side streets as if lives hang in the balance.

At the hotel, everyone gets out. The driver cop shakes my hand.

Lo siento mucho, señor.”

Juan translates the rest: “We feel bad. We tried everything we could. If we could have gotten around the stadium, but…” The cop sighs.

“Keylor Navas,” he says, and shrugs. “Keylor Navas.”

Rowdie No More

Last weekend was the last Rowdies home game for the 2016 season. It was also the last one I’ll attend, at least while the current ownership is in place.

Carolyn and I have been Rowdies fans since 2011, and season ticket holders since 2012. Last year, after the atrocious way Edwards treated Thomas Rongen and Farrukh Quraishi, and the dismal results on the field, we weren’t certain we would renew our seats. It wasn’t until the day of the renewal deadline that we decided to give it one more year. We liked Stuart Campbell personally and hoped he could succeed as head coach. And we would never have such phenomenal seats—front row next to the Rowdies bench—again.

It didn’t take long for me to feel like a sucker.

Off-season signings were mostly uninspiring, and once the season started, it was clear that the team wouldn’t succeed. The star striker, Heinnemann, managed to find the next only four times. Freddy Adu, arguably the team’s best player, rarely made the bench, much less saw action on the pitch. The only bright spots were the signing of Joe Cole and the acquisition of Diego Restrepo. But Restrepo didn’t play a minute, in spite of starting keeper Matt Pickens’s objectively awful performance throughout the season. Joe Cole’s valiant effort wasn’t sufficient to make up for duds like Heinnemann, Vingaard, and Michael Nanchoff.

The atmosphere in the stadium was also disappointing. The introduction of a brass band—the “Loudies” was supposed to supplement the chanting and singing of Ralph’s Mob. They were only supposed to play when the Mob was silent. But that arrangement evaporated. The Loudies started playing whenever they felt like it, sometimes while the Mob was in mid-song, drowning them out with one of the four or five pieces that made up the band’s entire repertoire.

And our phenomenal seats turned out to have a serious drawback.

During the 2014 season, we complained that people were allowed to walk in front of us while there was play on the field. Eventually, a new rule fixed the situation: no entry through the midfield tunnel after five minutes into each half.

This year, though, that went out the window. Edwards likes to sit behind the Rowdies bench (the better to give his laughably bad advice to the coach during the game). He not only allowed but encouraged his guests to parade past us any time they felt like it. The sentries couldn’t say anything about it without losing their jobs. When we said something, we’d get at best a goofy smile and a shrug, but no change in behavior.

At the final game, I said something to Edwards when he marched past. “I didn’t pay a premium to have you and your guests walking in front of us all the time.” His response was a snarling, “That’s the way it’s supposed to be,” and, “Maybe I’ll give you different seats next year.”

He can go to hell.

I’m done spending money on this team. Edwards gave us a crappy product on the field and a lousy game day experience in the stands. Next year won’t be any better, with the Rowdies moving to USL so they can play a bunch of MLS II sides. No thanks. I can get a lot better value for my money elsewhere.

This is not growth

It must be spring, because Bill Peterson is again making asinine comments about how fast the league is growing. As I pointed out last year, the pace of the league’s growth has been glacial from its inception, and it hasn’t gotten any faster.

Last season, we had eleven clubs. Two dropped out after the season ended: the Atlanta Silverbacks (who will field an NPSL side this year) and the San Antonio Scorpions. Two teams are joining at the beginning of the 2016 season: Rayo OKC and Miami FC. Puerto Rico FC will join mid-way through the season.

From eleven teams to eleven and two-thirds. Peterson says this is growing the league, “[A]t a pace that is very fast but manageable.”

This is not manageable growth. It is stagnation due to  mis-management. Allowing a team to join in mid-season was a bad idea when they let the Cosmos do it, and it’s a bad idea now. That’s aside from the questionable decision to add a team that will drastically increase the travel budgets for every team in the league, including some that barely made payroll last season. Meanwhile, we still don’t have the west-coast team that US Soccer requires, and Minnesota United will leave for MLS after this season.

Peterson was Traffic Sports’ pick for commissioner. I’d hoped that after it divested itself of its last team in the NASL, that the NASL owners would jettison the buffoon. Why do they keep this guy around?

 

Thoughts on the firings of Thomas Rongen and Farrukh Quraishi

I heard the news around 4 AM. I’d been suffering a bout of insomnia and was about to go back to bed, but then someone retweeted WFLA’s Dan Lucas, breaking the news.

I hoped it was a hoax, though I knew it wasn’t. Another reporter tweeted a screen shot of what would turn out to be the verbatim press release issued a few hours later.

There was no going back to bed. So please forgive me if these thoughts aren’t as coherent as they should be. I’m tired and deeply upset, because I think very highly of Farrukh Quraishi and like Thomas Rongen very much.

My reaction goes beyond anger at the injustice visited upon two men whom I admire. I’m also angry about what it means for the future of the team. We’ve had two coaches fired in the span of less than a year, both times in a very sleazy manner. With Ricky Hill, it happened while the ink was barely dry on a three-year contract and it seems like everyone else knew before he did. With Rongen, we had a press release leaked to reporters in the middle of the night.

In the press release, Edwards calls himself a “fixer,” but firing your coach in the middle of the night, with no replacement lined up, isn’t a fix for anything. And then in a self-serving, tone-deaf video released later in the day, Edwards said his vision is limited to one year because “I’m seventy and who knows if I’ll be around for 5 more years.”

What coach in his right mind is going to want to sign on with this team now? No coach can have confidence that he’ll be able to implement his system and have time to develop players. No coach can have confidence that his contract means anything. What kind of coach can we hope to attract? The message Edwards has sent to the coaching community is that he can’t be trusted.

The message will also be heard throughout the larger U.S. Soccer community, where both Farrukh and Rongen are widely respected. The Rowdies name, which Farrukh worked so hard to polish, has been badly tarnished by this incident. Coaches are not the only ones who should be leery of associating with this team. So should players.

And so should fans. The owner has admitted that he has no long term plans beyond immediate ego gratification. Not only does he have no respect for people with decades of experience in soccer, he has no respect for the fans. If he isn’t interested in building a lasting team, then why should we be interested in continuing to support his vanity project?

Growth so slow you can’t see it

In this article on the growing popularity of lower-division soccer in the U.S., North American Soccer League commissioner Bill Peterson is quoted as saying, “We are growing quickly… I don’t think it’s too quickly.”

He’s right that the NASL isn’t growing “too quickly,” but I take issue with the idea that it’s growing “quickly” at all. The league launched in 2011 with eight clubs. Four years later, there are only eleven. In 2012, the San Antonio Scorpions joined, but the Montreal Impact moved up to MLS the same year. The next year, the league gained the New York Cosmos for half a season, but lost the Puerto Rico Islanders. Two more teams joined last year, and one more this year. Next year, the long-promised Virginia Cavalry and Oklahoma FC are supposed to start play, but neither actually looks likely. Not only is this NOT “growing quickly,” it’s barely growth at all.

Figo’s FIFA Campaign

I’m fascinated by Luis Figo’s platform for his FIFA presidential campaign. Smaller national Football Associations are unlikely to vote for an openly reformist candidate like Ali bin Al-Hussein, because reform will reduce or stop the flow of cash to them. But Figo’s platform is not “end corruption,” but to reduce FIFA operating expenses and return funds to the FAs. I think that is a more likely path to peeling votes away from Sepp Blatter.

That said, I still think Blatter’s going to walk away with another four year term, and the corruption will only get worse.