The Soccer Profs

An educated view of the 2006 World Cup

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Railhawks wear down Battery

Railhawks wear down Battery, scratch out third consecutive win

Cary, NC

May 19, 2007

The Carolina Railhawks soared into third place in the USL-1 at the expense of the visiting Charleston Battery. This was the third consecutive, and third ever, win for the fledging ‘Hawks. It was “Hawai’ian Night” at SAS Soccer Park, and so it was fitting that native Hawai’ian Kupono Low lei’d the ball into the goal from the penalty spot in the 39th minute. It was a deserved goal, borne of the creative work of midfield dynamo Connally Edozien, nurtured into fruition by the zip of Carrieri and pushed into the world by a terribly clumsy challenge by Karalexis.

Edozien was ostensibly paired up top with Trinidadian Kevin Jeffries, so it may have come as a surprise to see the former collecting the ball sixty five yards from goal to begin the Railhawks attack. While the French could have used head coach Scott Schweitzer’s tactics in 1940, the 4-1-4-1 formation left Jeffries alone to chase through balls, one of which he nearly caught up with in the 15th minute. Despite their tactical handicap, Carolina cobbled together stretches of possession throughout the opening stanza, forcing the Battery into improvised and decidedly awkward defensive postures.

The Railhawks looked particularly dangerous on the wings, with Carrieri and the recouped Johnny Steele making right back Lee Sandwina look lamely pedestrian. Steele, just back from injury, ran his mouth as much as his legs in the first half and following a moment of brilliance where he turned two defenders in the box on the juggle, he was booked by referee Erich Simmons for unsportsmanlike conduct. The ‘Hawks benefited from Steele’s consistent service from dead ball situations, something they desperately lacked in his two-week absence.

The only opportunities that the Battery could muster came from the inability of an improvised Carolina defense to clear their lines. Anthony Maher, who had been instrumental in Carolina’s recent wins as a forward, was inserted at left back while Caleb Norkus was flipped to the right. Their persistent loss of possession presented Charelston’s King with some precious attacking gems. Gordon Chin was the most industrious Battery on the pitch, running around, through and over the ineffectual Brightwell in center midfield.

The penalty was a well earned and deserved goal, for Carolina had been on the attack for most of the half, Edozien dominating the ball and making good use of width. The pace of the Carolina wings was simply too much for Charleston and while no clear cut chances fell to Jeffries, he was enterprising and effective in possession. The first half performance was as binary as the scoreline, Hawks (1) and on, Battery (0) and off.

In lieu of a full commitment to attacking football, Carolina are always spoiling for a fight. The slightest provocation turns their 4-1-4-1 into a spiraling of Hawks, talons reaching for eyeballs. Their collective distemper goaded the Battery into life early in the second half, center back Sandwina lurching forward to flash a 25 yard shot past McClellan’s left post. Not long after, Low received a sharp kick in the face from Alvarez releasing a schizophrenia of Hawks loose on the pitch (that’s actually a collective noun for Hawks!). The Carolina coaching staff threw more arms in the air than a room full of Pentecostals, righteously indignant invective ringing in the 4th official’s ears.

Now that they were concentrating on fighting instead of playing soccer, Carolina lost much of their first half initiative, granting the visitors long spells of possession that they contrived to turn into a brace of missed chances. By refusing to give the ball to Edozien, blatantly ignoring their anemic central midfield and forgetting about the substitutes’ bench there was always the feeling that Carolina were going to drop two points into the trash. If not for the stalwart central defending of Sanfilippo and Dombrowski the scoreline wouldn’t have been too different, just enough to draw attention to tactical blunders and give Charleston a valuable road point.

From the other bench, Anaheuser sent on Bennett for Vercollone to provide width and pace, and then changed a forward and midfielder in search of the equalizer. Carolina continued to make things difficult for themselves, refusing possession, clearances and organization in one movement. By the 75th minute, the game had lost its flow but it was such a perfect night for home grown professional soccer that the 4,462 fans could hardly complain.

The last five minutes saw a bevy of chances fall to the Railhawks as Charleston pushed forward. Carrieri and Fusilier (on for Steele) made good use of the increased space on the wings to get behind the defense and deserved at least one goal between them. The crowd held its breath through four minutes of extra time and released about three metric tons of carbon dioxide on the exhale.

As a fifteen hundred cars started their engines, Railhawks’ pundits roosted in the corners of the stadium to count Carolina’s goal tally over six games. It took most of them one finger short of a full hand, others insisting that two goals against Chivas USA be included. The optimists insisted on counting goals conceded, using the same number of fingers to reach their tally. The optimists will be hoping for low scoring games on the upcoming road trip, where three points from three games will mark a successful west coast adventure against Seattle, Vancouver and Portland. For those who favor attacking soccer, not what Eduardo Galeano called two mouths yawning at each other (0-0), the hope is that these three points will come from one game, most likely against Seattle, with the hope for a fourth point against Portland.

The Railhawks now sit fourth in USL-1 on nine points from 6 games, while Charelston drops to tenth. The first stanza of the Southern Derby is complete, with Carolina taking huge flaps of the wing towards hoisting the cup, if such a thing indeed exists.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Carolina Railhawks pluck Chivas USA, 2-0

Carolina Railhawks pluck Chivas USA 2-0, earn first victory

Chris Gaffney
Cary, NC
May 8, 2007

In front of 5,205 rain-soaked fans, the Carolina Railhawks of USL-1 defeated Chivas USA of Major League Soccer with first half goals from Phillip Long (’29) and Anthony Maher (’39). The first win in the Railhawks’ short history came at the expense of the Los Angeles-based outfit that fielded a second string team with a combined wage bill of $457,000 ($41,500 average).

A burst of rain just before kickoff livened up the immaculate grass at SAS Soccer Park and signaled a damp evening for the pro-Chivas crowd. Chivas USA is the sister team of Deportivo Guadalajara (aka Chivas), Mexico’s most successful and popular team. With tremendous appeal in the Triangle’s Latino community, thousands of fans came to the stadium dressed in Chivas gear. Though undoubtedly disappointed that Mexican national team idol Claudio Suarez was not in the starting lineup, he did spend time before the game signing autographs.

The rain had no apparent ill-effect on the Railhawks who were playing in their third match in five days. Having failed to score in the previous 349 minutes of play, the locals took less than one hundred seconds to threaten the Chivas goal with former New England Revolution player Connoly Edozien forcing Burpo into an early diving save.

Chivas replied in the 5th minute, Lopez slashing a tempting ball across the box which required a timely intervention by Carolina’s captain San Filippo. As the rain lessened, the pace of the game quickened and Philip Long, making his first start in the center of midfield released Anthony Maher who flashed his shot across the visitor’s goal. Carolina’s Edozien continued his run of excellent form and was able to open up spaces through midfield with ease.

The weather and the play was to turn somewhat rougher, the skies opening up just before Chivas’ Kleijstan was booked for a late tackle on Stokes. The pain of the challenge did not prevent Stokes from tidying up in the back throughout the half, although his retaliation in the 25th minute did not go unnoticed by the 4th official, earning him a booking.

Following a ten minute spell in which nothing much and everything happened, an apparent Carolina goal was disallowed for offside. The momentum was turning in favor of the home team and it was only slightly surprising when Philip Long made the most of his coach’s selection and a poor clearance by the Chivas defense to lash a left-footed blast into the bottom right corner of the goal in the 29th minute. The sense of relief amongst the home supporters was palpable and put an end to hours of attacking frustration.

The lack of quality in some of the Chivas players was apparent, with Burling and Lopez looking overvalued at a combined salary of $30,600. Carolina pressed their advantage while the throwing of John Deere hats into the crowd proved that people of all cultures love free stuff that they don’t really need.

Chivas did not take kindly to the initiative taken by Long, and began to kick back a little too literally in the 31st minute. In a violent sequence which oddly saw Carolina’s Kupono Low receive the only booking, a contested ball led to pushes and grabs and kicks, bringing both teams into a melee on the sideline.

Chivas appeared to be riled up, but could not find a way through the Railhawks’ well-organized defense – Stokes and Dombrowski bottling up the middle of the field with pace and precision in the tackle.

As the half moved into its final stanza, the local support found their voices and were rewarded by some enterprising play between Edozien, Carrieri and Maher. Edozien won the ball in midfield after more sloppy exit play by Chivas, released ex-UNC Chapel Hill standout Carrieri down the right flank. His hopeful ball was met with Maher’s sliding right boot and skipped over Burpo’s hand which was desperately reaching for his left post. Two nil, and finally some luck had come Carolina’s way.

The first half ended with a booking for Carrieri after stepping on a Chivas player and a brief attacking flurry which John O’Hara handled with relative ease in the Carolina goal.

In a sporadic downpour, Edozien continued to be a creative menace in the second half. The ill temper of the first half also continued, with Maher and Thomas locking horns in a slow and brutal dance in the center of the park. Despite (or perhaps because of) the aggression of the visitors, Carolina did not look interested in relinquishing their advantage. Joey Worthen slid in from left midfield to flash a Carrieri cross just wide, and in the 56th minute Edozien again turned provider, his centering pass deserving a better response from a lunging Maher. It wasn’t long before things turned ugly again.

In the 60th minute, Low was adjudged to have (magically?)drawn down Merlin on a breakaway and received his second yellow. The ensuing discussion led to more fisticuffs yet no more bookings. Chivas, now up a man and clearly angry, could not muster a shot on goal nor get behind the Railhawks’ stalwarts in the center of the park, Stokes, Dombrowski and Sanfilippo frustrating attacks at every opportunity. Carolina changed Edozien, Long, Maher, and Carrieri for Fusilier, Abolaji, Jeffrey and Cephas– Jeffrey receiving a stomp on the backside following a tackle from behind in the 84th minute. More shirt grabbing and tussles ensued.

Carolina were unlucky not to score their third as Fusilier was released into the box by Cephus in the 88th minute, his shot banging off the base of the post and skidding across the goal mouth. The unexpected result left Chivas coach Predrag Radosavljević (Preki) screaming for more than one minute of time to be added by the referee. He bustled his team into the bus without talking to the media.

Carolina head coach Scott Schweitzer was predictably pleased with the result crediting his players for working hard for each other: “If we continue to do the right things for long enough, playing our style, the goals will eventually begin to fall. We’re still learning a lot about what we need to do as individuals and a team and I think we’ll be much improved this weekend in Atlanta.”

Carolina (0-3-1, 3pts) are currently ninth in the USL-1, Chivas USA (2-3-0, 6pts) eighth in the MLS. Carolina travel to Atlanta this weekend to take on the Silverbacks in a rematch of last weekend’s game which they lost 2-0.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Match report: Duke v American

Match Report
NCAA Division One Men’s Soccer

Duke University Blue Devils (3)
American University
Eagles (1)
Box score at
September 1, 2006
Koskinen Stadium

Duke University

Durham, NC

It is a truism in soccer that there are levels of talent and organization that stymie even the most determined efforts to win. American University has a decent pedigree and some quality players, but it was clear that on this Friday night contest in the lingering shadow of Hurricane Ernesto, that the eighth ranked Blue Devils could only beat themselves. However, it took a few minutes for this to become apparent.

The opening five minutes of the match revealed a frenzy of attacking moves as both defenses struggled to adjust to the wet field conditions, which contrived to accelerate and brake the ball like an octogenarian driving a taxi. It took just two minutes for the American #11 (Larry Mark) to connect with a Sal Caccavale to put American into an unexpected lead. The shock was so great for the American #10 that he lost his footing as he ran in ever tightening circles, quickly turning the home fans’ disappointment into mirth.

Less than two minutes later, mirth gave way to exuberance as Duke equalized through 
Spencer Wadsworth, who slotted home Mike Grella’s neatly crossed ball. The goal signaled that
Duke were not taken aback by the young Americans’ early foray into their territory and for the
following fifteen minutes Duke dominated possession although at times they seemed nervous with
the ball at their feet. The seeming ease with which Duke controlled the game came to an abrupt
end in the 24th minute when Mark fired off the Duke post against the run of play. The sound of the
ringing crossbar spurred Duke coach John Rennie into action, substituting Charowski for Vidiera
in the 25th minute. Within 90 seconds, Charowski sliced forward from his central midfield position
to combine with Wadsworth and Grella for the second goal. The move was a thing of beauty,
shifting from the center to the right wing and then a long crossfield ball played neatly on the
floor that gave the American keeper no chance and Grella made no mistake.
Grella’s form has
been outstanding in the first three games of the young season, and with his flowing tresses and
dynamic moves, he is one of the more entertaining and devastating strikers in the ACC.
As American sensed the game ebbing away from them, they withdrew a striker into
midfield in order to stop Duke’s ravages. The back line stepped forward to compress the field,
but Duke is nothing if not expert in sending the midfield line flying forward in attack. With
the skill and pace to compete with the best teams in the nation, it was no surprise when the
Blue Devils hammered home their third goal of the half on 40 minutes, 38th minute substitute
Chris Loftus making his coach look like a genius for the second time in the half. Though they
appeared to be out-classed, American nearly halved their deficit in the dying moments of the
half and only a goal line clearance spared the Devils’ blushes.
The second half featured none of the great drama of the first, but was dignified and manly in
the pursuit of it. On a wet, chilly night the sound of leather against leather and leather against
human flesh combined with the throatiness of post-pubescent young men to create a sense of
urgency on the field, if not in the stands. Both teams did their best to maintain the pace and
creativity of the first half, but the goals for the night had been tallied and the crowd wandered
home, damp and content.
               Duke next take on South Florida University in the championship game of the Duke Classic on Sunday at 7:30pm. 
Chris Gaffney


Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Previewing: What's next?

So with the World Cup over, we're figuring out how to keep this going. Just like the pros on the pitch, we're resting up and moving around to some new cities.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

It's all over, including the shouting

The World Cup ended a mere 11 days ago, yet it already seems so far away. I suppose this is the human tendency to see the past as something that has already happened, the future as undertermined. I tend to agree, yet the case of Zizou's headbutt will not let me rest at night. It's as if I can see it happening tomorrow as easily as it did on the 9th of July, 2006. Here are some of the more puzzling questions for me:

Did he do it just because he snapped or was it a deliberate, absurd act of petulance intended to make us all scratch and shake our heads?

What could Materazzi have possibly said to the greatest player of his generation to intentionally deny himself the Cup?

How different would our feelings be if it weren't such a beautiful act of violence?
What if he had really destroyed Materazzi's face, like that guy in Fight Club (the debate as to Materazzi's beauty aside)?

The headbutt must have hurt, but it really only knocked him to the floor. And here's the rub...Materazzi just walked into it, looking to the side and not straight ahead, as if daring Zizou to lay him flat on his arse. But as a pure act, it was admittedly pretty cool and might be seen soon at your neighborhood pub. If you're going to lay someone out in your last game in front of one third of everyone you'd better make it good, and in that Zizou delivered. What ever happened to no blood, no foul? Damn this Fair Play bollocks.

Why do people attempt to separate sport from other elements of life such as politics, morality, global economics or other integrated elements of our lives?

The ways in which FIFA, French, Italians and everybody else experiences, judges, moralizes or co-opts Zizou's headbutt, describe as much about the individuals and groups as the act itself. Writ large, the World Cup, Zizou, and everything that is associated with that moment cannot be extracted and understood in brief. The construction, production and consumption of that moment continues as you read and I write this. The anti-racisits got their piece of Zizou's action, the immigrants got a slice and the French made themselves feel ok with violence again. Materazzi got a world cup winners medal.

What would have happened if he hadn't done it? Would France have won?

Unlikely. Buffon is the best goalie in the world. Barthez is a skirt-sniffing poodle-walker who lost his moustache in the locker room. Trezeguet would have taken a penalty anyway, Zidane might have missed, Buffon's save having already defeated him.

Has this irony been expressed anywhere else?
Materazzi ( a notoriously violent defender) questionably takes Abidal down in the box, Elizondo blows his whistle, penalty. Zizou chips audaciously off the underside of the bar, 1 - nil. Ten minutes later, Materazzi rises above the French defense and equalizes with a powerful header, one one. In the first extra time, Zizou is let free into the box and heads beautifully, much like the headers that won the Cup in 1998, but Buffon, who had been going the wrong way, extends his right arm, twisting, and somehow parrys the ball out for a corner. I can see the ball, in the past, going into the net. In the future when I see replays, I will see Buffon make the save. Fifteen minutes later, Zizou lays Materazzi out. In penalties, Trezeguet hits the bar, Italy hit all five and 500,000 people gather in the Circus Maximus to celebrate.

Two days later, the team for which eight of the Italians play (Juventus) was found guilty of match fixing, stripped of their last two titles, taken out of this year's Champions League, relegated to the second division and given a thirty point deficit. Their coach jumped out a window during the World Cup. They will not be playing in Serie A again until at least the 2009/10 season, costing them multi-milllion Euros for years. This is the biggest candal in European football for many, many years and has major implications for the whole league and structure of Italian soccer. Along with "La Veccia Signora" Lazio and Fiorentina went down to Serie B with seven and fourteen point deduction respectively, and AC Milan, the team owned by recently outsed Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, was handed a 44 point deduction from last season, which keeps them in Serie A, but out of Europe. They will also start this season with a fifteen point deduction, making it unlikely that they will be playing in Europe until 2008/9. Berlusconi has not yet managed to rise above the filth and will likely face criminal charges.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Out there: Why did he do it?

Zidane isn't talking, not even in Paris, so it's leading to all sorts of guesses and shady sources. The consensus: It was provoked by "a serious comment."

Some media outlets are reporting the interpretations of one lip reader. But it appears there is a rival lip reader, who pegs it to Zidane's sister and coarse words. Another report flushed out more from the first lip reader report, saying it was death wished on Zidane's family, including his seriously ill mother. The Times of London report sums it all up pretty well.

A possible transcript and translation here, including another death theory, linked not to family but a beloved coach.

Terrorist or son of a terrorist was the verdict from the New York Times, with help from Zidane's brother and a cousin. However the Italian defender Materazzi, who was lifted out of his shoes, denies that. Apparently, Zidane has apologized to his team -- and is bound to speak up soon.

Reviewing: The layman's view

After a great tournament, the final featured all that was wrong with soccer. And not just deciding the match on penalty kicks. France clearly dominated the match, in all but putting the ball in the net. You can certainly argue that Zidane's penalty kick wasn't a penalty, but there were a couple of others not called that certainly were. Italy's offense packed it in shortly into the second half. They had two dominant players on the field in keeper Gianluca Buffon and defender Fabio Cannavaro. But after that, it was all France.

But as arbitrary as PKs are, these were the most arbitrary: Not one stopped by a goalie, the only miss bouncing off the crossbar. It seems like settling the NBA finals by playing a game of horse -- and deciding the winner only when one ball rolls off the rim. Thirty minutes certainly isn't enough of extra time, not for the final.

And then, the headbutt. It certainly seemed like quite the mystery from watching FIFA's feed. But man, what a replay. There was no doubt about it. But for all of the attention, it detracts from the mediocre nature of the game's play, pinning the blame on Zidane and distracting from the built-in problems that drained this game of power and drama. If only Zidane's header -- the one in the first OT, not the second -- was the shot we were talking about.

It amazes me that Italy can celebrate at all. What did they do to win? They just waited the game out.

The tired, the sad, the livid, the lonley and the loved

The Tired: My nomination for the most tired team of the tournament goes to Brazil. Parreira came back with Anakin Skywalker's stunt double (Zagallo) to direct a side that had nothing but parasitic bugs wandering around the flanks and horns of the tournament favorites. By contrast, Ronaldo and Adriano looked nothing so much as like a pair of sacred bulls wandering the markets in India, swollen testicles banging off produce, vacant stares at passers-by, immune to both criticism and praise. Since their quarterfinal exit, the Brazilians have been partying like never before, and why not? If the USA, Ecuador, Costa Rica or 21 other teams had won four games on the trot and lost to France in the quarters, they would be partying too. Imagine if Arena had pulled the Yanks to within a nose hair of the semifinals? We'd be dancing in the street. But Brazil was capable of so much more that everyone feels a bit cheated. The burden of expectation was released with the loss to France. Who can really claim they are Brazil's historical rivals in football?

The Sad: Luis Figo. A dead ringer for Corporal Klinger, Luis Figo has aged as gracelessly as a cheese casserole. When he gets tired of dribbling in circles, he falls down. When he falls down frequently enough, defenders hit him harder and he falls down some more. Exuding a look of incredulity when things don't go his way, and that of a petulant turd when they do, Figo still does some good from time to time and his assist in the third-place game was spot on. The last of the "golden generation" of Portuguese players to grace the international stage, Figo got further than any of them, and perhaps this is why he looked so tired.

The livid: What's it like to headbutt an Italian?

The lonley: Wayne Rooney and Bruce Arena. Wayne Rooney because no one wants to hang around a psychopath, and Bruce Arena because no one wants to be around a sociopath.

The Loved: Juan Roman Riquelme, Pirlo, Ghana, Shaka Hislop, Ze Kalanga

The ugly and the beautiful: Tevez, Ribery, Melberg, Torres, Swiss referees

Zizou haiku

Oh Zizou Zizou,
What did that tall Italian
say to you, Zizou?

Something about your
receding hairline or
your African roots?

Or was it more like
va fangulo negro da
costa da Algiers.

Or did he utter:
"How are your wife and my kids?"
Materrazi, pah!

Whatever it was
Would you be so kind as to
let us in on it?

The world was here, there
while you threw down your crown, there,
Italian grounded.

Can we see justice
in what you did at the last?
I hope there is, oui...

Monday, July 10, 2006

Confusion and finality

The lingering feeling of the 2006 World Cup final will undoubtedly be one of confusion. Can there be any logical explaination for Zidane's headbutt? Even if Materazzi, who is known for violent behavior, did provoke Zizou with the most vile and odious of insults, with 10 minutes left in the last game of the World Cup, in the last game of a glorious carreer, why, why, why get sent off for violent behavior??? Like most of the rest of the world, I wanted France to do well because of Zidane and his un-merry band of un-French French. With the exceptions of Barthez, Sangol and Domenech the French team were either products of French colonial endeavors or from the lower strata of French society. We could take comfort in not rooting for the French as such but for the individuals that may or may not have represented or identified with the nation (state). But Zizou's reaction to Materazzi gave the Italians the tactical and moral ground to claim their victory and fourth trophy. Given Barthez' weak-chinned, no-lipped, frog-legged performance throughout the Cup, there was no chance that Italy could be beaten in penalties.

The game itself was stagnant and chippy throughout with only 71 minutes of actual play out of 120. Though France produced more scoring opportunities, the 4-5-1 allignments of both teams produced a tedious and tensionless to and fro that was consistent with many of the games throughout the Cup. There is something wrong with the beautiful game, and the 2006 World Cup will likely be remembered more for the prevalence of red and yellow cards -- and for Zizou's violent reaction -- than for its football. There will be millions of words split in the coming years about rule changes. We will all be justified in expressing nostalgia for more free-flowing football. How we get it will probably necessitate a movement beyond the post-modern condition -- that is to say, we need some perspective and some (un)common sense.

Now that the Cup is over and we begin to sit our our hands waiting for Euro 2008 qualifying to pick up in the fall, the reminiscing can begin. There are so many talking points that have been brought up in this blog and elsewhere that merit attention and it is my hope that this will become a continuing forum to wrestle with some of them. I am going to take great pleasure in turning off my TV, letting my emotional world return to normal and making progress on life's other works. For now, I still need time to digest yesterday's drama. After pledging to name my first born Zizou, I have decided to go for a cat instead. It will be far easier to explain the inexplicable that way.

Future thread suggestions:
U.S. Americans and soccer - the world doesn't need U.S.
Global production of soccer talent
The World Cup as megaevent - the proliferation of profit
South Africa 2010 - the logics of hegemonic homogeny
John Harkes, Bruce Arena and the geography of the banal
Tactics and tosspots or why the 4-5-1 ruined June 2006
Mediated myocardials
The best and worst of the 2006 World Cup