Stoking American Soccer

Soccer, as football is called here in America, has come a long way in the 50-plus years I have been on this planet. And just as its popularity has grown in the United States, so has the level and sophistication of the media coverage it receives.

Of course, as with all growth and progress, there has been some pain along the way. And we have certainly seen pain on the field (the collapse of the NASL, for example), as well as pain in the broadcasting booth (a competitive game being bumped by ESPN in favor of a college softball tournament, for example).

But things finally hit that nexus of American insanity last month when, during halftime of a Major League Soccer (MLS) match, former United States Men’s National Team (USMNT) player and current Fox Soccer commentator Alexi Lalas unleashed a tirade of criticism aimed directly at current USMNT players.

The Backstory
Now, to be fair, the USMNT has been struggling to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. US Soccer, which manages the USMNT, fired coach Jurgen Klinsmann late last year, after suffering two losses in the qualification process. Klinsmann was replaced by Bruce Arena, who earned considerable success as an MLS coach both before and after his previous stint at the helm of the USMNT.

Following Arena’s appointment last November, the USMNT has managed 2 wins, 3 draws, and 1 loss in World Cup qualifying. It’s worth noting that the two teams which the USMNT lost to under Kilnsmann in this round of qualification, Mexico and Costa Rica, are the two most competitive sides we traditionally face at this stage. With Arena in charge, the USMNT played both of those teams again, losing one game and drawing the other. To put this marginally better performance into perspective, of the six points available from playing those two teams, Klinmann’s side earned none while Arena’s earned one. In other words, we’re sucking ever so slightly less.

Those results, compounded by underwhelming draws against Panama and Honduras, have left the USMNT in a perilous position when it comes to qualifying for the 2018 World Cup. We currently sit in fourth place, thanks to goal differential, which means we would need to win a two-match playoff with either Australia or Syria to advance.

The good news is that our final two games – the first of which is tonight, at 7:00 PM, on ESPN (unless, of course, a college softball game goes into extra innings) – are against the two weakest teams: Panama, who we previously drew with, and Trinidad & Tobago, who we previously beat. And since Panama currently sit in third place, which is a direct qualification spot that doesn’t involve an additional two-game playoff, getting the full three points from a win in that game is critical.

The Double-Standard
Alexi Lalas has a reputation for speaking his mind. And he was very critical of Klinsmann from the moment the German World Cup winner was appointed to head the USMNT in 2011. While some of that criticism was fair and well-placed, much of it was not. Despite a slow start, Klinsmann put the USMNT in front of uncharacteristically tough competition as he prepared us for the 2014 World Cup, where he led the team to an impressive Round of 16 exit against Belgium in extra time.

But Lalas was far from the only pundit critical of Klinsmann. In fact, there seemed to be an ugly faction in the US soccer community who felt that “foreign” coaches should not be welcomed here (perhaps reflecting a microcosm of the xenophobia that propelled El Trumpo into office). And that was compounded by the fact that Klinsmann tapped a number of dual nationals for the team, players who were born overseas to an American parent, which has become a common practice among many of the more successful European national teams.

Since Arena took over, the majority of the US soccer media have been exceedingly soft on the American coach, cutting him plenty of slack. Perhaps because he had led the USMNT to what many consider its highest achievement, a 1-0 loss in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals to Germany, who went on to lose to Brazil in the final. Personally, I consider the USMNT’s best achievement to have been in the 2009 Confederations Cup, where – under coach Bob Bradley – we lost to Brazil 3-2 in the final after beating Spain, who went on to win the World Cup the following year, 2-0 in the semifinals.

Even after our last two results – a loss to Costa Rica and a draw with Honduras, which left the USMNT’s qualification in peril – Arena and his team received only muted criticism. Had Klinsmann still been at the helm, it’s likely that the press would have been attacking him ferociously from every angle.

The Rant
All that changed last month when Lalas, seemingly out of the blue, laid into Arena and the entire USMNT in his on-air rant. He named names. And when he didn’t, he said it was because they weren’t even worthy of calling them out by name. You can see a clip of his tirade here.

Was his criticism fair? Not really. Was it over the top? Of course. But Lalas wasn’t necessarily trying to be fair. And being over the top is sort of his job as a pundit.

Here’s the thing about Lalas, though. He’s actually a smart guy, and quite astute. Many have treated this as the rambling lunacy of an angry man who, like a large swath of our nation, has come completely unhinged. I beg to differ, though. I think this was a calculated move by Lalas to anger and thereby energize the current USMNT. Given this string of lackluster performances by what is unquestionably the most talented squad we have ever fielded (which makes our recent run of results all the more frustrating) and the critical nature of our next two games, I think Lalas was willing to stick his proverbial dick in the meatgrinder in hopes of giving the USMNT something to rally around.

This, of course, is the same sort of thing that the US military and college fraternities try to achieve with practices like boot camp and hell week. They use a perceived threat, which is typically a well-orchestrated artificial annoyance, to bring a group of people together, forming the bonds you only get when confronted by an external adversary. Lalas is the drill sergeant, the pledge master, and he just got in the face of everyone on the USMNT, creating an external adversary that will hopefully draw the team together in time to win their final two games. And for that, I thank him.

We won’t know if Lalas’ rant was effective until we play the final two games of our qualification campaign, with Panama tonight and Trinidad & Tobago on October 10th. And we may never know the extent of the damage it has done to Lalas’ relationship with the USMNT players, coach Arena, and US soccer in general. But the one thing that is already clear is that Lalas approaches his role as a commentator the way he approached his role as a USMNT defender: with passion, tenacity, and a commitment to victory at any cost.

Dear Donny: An Open Letter to El Trumpo

Dear Donny:

Remember how you said you wanted to make America great again? Well, that’s exactly what these kneeling athletes are doing. Like you, they are trying to make America great again. They are calling attention to what they feel are some of the shortcomings of our nation, areas in which can and should improve. Specifically, they are understandably alarmed by the seemingly endless string of police shooting of unarmed black men across America, and the incredible absence of justice on the behalf of these victims, as well as the overall racial injustice and inequity that has plagued our society for far too long.

Now is that disrespectful to our nation and its symbols? Is it any more disrespectful then you saying that America is no longer great, a claim on which you based your entire campaign?

Is it any more disrespectful than when you falsely claimed that the President of the United States – your predecessor, a man who won the popular vote, twice (the first to do so since FDR) – wasn’t even born in America (like two of your three wives), despite indisputable evidence that proved he was indeed born here?

Is it anymore disrespectful than claiming that neo-Nazis and the KKK, people who proudly denounce most of the ideals our nation holds sacred, are on equal footing with those Americans who showed the courage to defend those ideals?

Is it anymore disrespectful than claiming that a decorated war hero, who was tortured after his plane was shot down during battle, defending America’s freedoms in a war that you dodged, claiming that (despite being active in sports) you suddenly had “bone spurs” (a condition which, miraculously, “heeled” itself as soon as the war ended)?

And what about disrespecting the Presidency by spouting endless lies, especially the really sad ones that everyone knows aren’t true? Isn’t that disrespecting America in a far more intentional and impactful way than a handful of protesters silently taking a knee in a league you claim doesn’t have much viewership anyway?

I never understood the blind loyalty that people like you have to our nation and its symbols, until I realized that it’s neither loyalty nor blind. You are the first to bitch, moan, and protest whenever there’s something about America you don’t like. You know, like that time you tweeted that the President shouldn’t be talking about football when “our country has far bigger problems!” But when someone questions the things about America that you happen to like, then you immediately hide behind the flag and pretend that they don’t love our country, that they are disrespecting it, because they happen to be raising a concern you don’t share. That’s how cowards like you operate. You act like everything that comes out of your mouth is the only thing that matters, and whenever anyone questions you or dares to disagree with you, you cry out that they are either espousing fake news or claim that they don’t really love America.

You are the worst kind of hypocrite, Donny. Whenever an American says something about our country that you don’t like, you say shit like, “America, love it or leave it.” Yet you think it’s perfectly acceptable to criticize the country when there’s something about America that you personally don’t like, such as same-sex marriage, reasonably affordable healthcare, or high-placed government officials who use private emails while in office. Oh, wait, strike that last one.

Rather than say “love it or leave it,” why not simply try to change it, try to improve it? That’s all that these protesters are trying to do. And I’m guessing that’s what drove you to run for president, as opposed to your child-like need for attention. After all, if you didn’t like the things that were happening in this country, like these athletes who took a knee, you could have packed up trophy wife #3 along with the rest of your mildly retarded clan and fled to Nambia. You know, love it or leave it, eh?

Where would our nation be if we Americans didn’t protest against the injustices of the world, including right here at home? That’s what has made this country so great. Not a cheap cap with a slogan that did well with focus groups in rural Alabama. Speaking out against injustice is more American than apple pie. In fact, it’s our patriotic duty as Americans to tackle society’s wrongs.

And why are you so upset at people taking a knee during the national anthem? After all, that song, and our flag, are merely symbols of who we are, and how we conduct ourselves. Both were adopted long after ideals like liberty and justice for all. And isn’t that what our flag and anthem represent, things like the right to free speech and equal justice regardless of the color of one’s skin?

Since you are always quick to threaten to sue or imprison those who disagree with you, I assume you agree that our flag stands for the the rule of law. If so, then why are you disrespecting it by suggesting that these protesters be punished for taking a knee? After all, a smart guy like you must know that the United States Supreme Court ruled that Americans do not have to stand and salute the flag (West Virginia State Board of Education vs. Barnette). Does this mean you don’t believe in the rule of law either?

Ask yourself this: what’s more important, the national anthem or the right to free speech? If you say that national anthem, not only would you make a better North Korean (where worship of national symbols is compulsory) than an American (where, as previously noted, worship of national symbols has been deemed voluntary by the Supreme Court), but you are also betraying your ignorance. The anthem represents free speech, so clearly what the symbol represents is more sacred than the symbol itself.

If you could be honest with yourself for a moment (I know it’s scary, after seven decades of incessant lies, but try to be brave for once in your life), do you think that the real reason you are upset with these people is because they have different views than you? Views that are hard to address, even for a competent leader, let alone someone like you? Or maybe it’s because you are still sore about the NFL giving you the cold shoulder all those years ago?

The truth is that America was founded on protests. Historically, we have always been a people who have rebelled against loudmouth leaders telling us what we can and cannot do. Hell, you can trace it all the way back to the Pilgrims and the Boston Tea Party. Though, I suppose if you were around then (come on, buddy, you’re not quite that old), you would surely have told the King to lock them sons of bitches up.

But let me stop right here, though. I’m sure you haven’t made it this far through the letter – not even if it was burrito night in the West Wing, leaving you with plenty of time on the toilet and little else to do. After all, I know you aren’t a big reader (all those words, and so few boobies!) and have the attention span of a 4 year-old meth head.

The bottom line is that you aren’t going to listen to a word I have said. Just like you won’t listen to the protesters (well, except for those “fine people” marching alongside the local Hitler Youth in West Virginia). I’m sure that by the time you wandered into the second paragraph of this letter, you had already dismissed me as an enemy of the state.

However, on the off chance that you did make it this far (perhaps you have run out of toilet paper and even the Secret Service are pretending they can’t hear you), let me leave you with this thought. If you really are so concerned with whether or not people respect our flag and anthem, then maybe you should focus on giving them more reasons to respect these symbols…and our nation as a whole.

You may stand during the national anthem and salute our flag, but if you do not honor and support the principles and ideals they represent, then you are disrespecting those symbols – and this country – far more than any of these protesters. And it has become painfully clear that you do not, in fact, support the principles and ideals our flag and anthem represent, including the freedom of speech, the rule of law, and justice for all. In fact, you seem to be more interested in the symbols of America than the principles and ideals they represent, which makes you the worst kind of American – a false patriot.

Disrespectfully Yours,

A Kneeling Patriot

How Dumb Is Donny Trump?

Donald Trump stood before representatives of the entire world at the United Nations last week and confirmed what everyone had already suspected…that the man is a complete moron.

Trump tried to make four main points in his speech before the UN General Assembly: 1) The United States is strong and successful; 2) America cares about America first and foremost; 3) Therefore we no longer care what form of government other countries have because ultimately we respect the sovereignty of each and every nation; and 4) The United Nations and all the “good” countries around the world need to help the United States to change or at least control the governments in charge of the “bad” countries around the world…namely Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela.

Let me address each of these individually. First of all, regarding the power and status of the United States, there is no news here. America has been the richest and most dominant nation on the planet since before Donald Trump was even born…with a silver spoon embedded deep in his quivering rectum. Of course, the reason he led off with this is because he would like to take credit for all of it. But one thing Donny never learned over the years is that no one respects or admires the rich and powerful who constantly remind everyone else how rich and powerful they are. That’s just dickish.

As for this America first stuff, that’s also a bit silly. Yes, the people who lead countries tend to act in the best interest of their country. Or at least what they think is in the best interest of their country (or, in Trump’s case, simply in their own personal interest). Like America’s affluence, this also goes without saying. Yet, coming out and saying it – and doing so before the UN General Assembly, a body created to protect the interests of all people, regardless of their nationality – was tantamount to telling the rest of the world that it’s now every nation for itself. And telling the rest of the world that they’re now on their own not only encourages nations like China to try and fill the void in global leadership ceded by Trump on behalf of the United States, but it also encourages the rest of the world to turn to nations like China for leadership and support now that they no longer can count on the United States.

It’s particularly interesting that Trump has opted to go this America first route so forcefully. Sure, it plays well with his base, but he may be the first President of the United States who doesn’t actually believe it…or at least practice it. Since he took office, the man has continually placed his own personal interests ahead of our nation’s, just as he has throughout his entire career. His biography should have been called Trump First, because that’s how he’s lived his life. And it should be obvious by now that he only became President to enhance his own personal brand and endless ego, not the welfare and interests of his fellow Americans.

But the real news is Trump’s claim that America now respects the sovereignty of other nations, regardless of what type of government they have. That’s in stark contrast to American foreign policy going all the way back to the end of the 19th century, with the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars and the Boxer Rebellion. Rightly or wrongly, we have always taken an active interest in what form of government other nations have, often ignoring matters of sovereignty simply to ensure that the nation and its resources are available to serve our interests. In fact, we didn’t care if some of them shunned democratic values or neglected human rights, as long as they served our interests (just ask Manuel Noriega, Ferdinand Marcos, or the Shah of Iran). And this stance also contradicts the doctrine that led us into the Cold War, with the domino theory that one nation embracing a communist or socialist government anywhere in the world posed a direct threat to the safety and security of the United States.

Of course, this all flies in direct opposition to the final point Trump tried to make. If we now respect the sovereignty, the right to self-government, of all nations, then how can we oppose the sovereignty and right to self-government of certain nations, such as Cuba, Iran, North Korea, and Venezuela? Like so much of what comes out of Trump’s mouth, it makes no sense.

Furthermore, after telling everyone at the United Nations that America’s priority is America, and basically saying that every other nation is on its own, to look after their own interests first and foremost, Trump then called for the leaders of other nations to join him in a cooperative effort to make the world a safer, better place. Specifically, he asked other nations to help the United States and its allies deal with potential threats from nations like Iran and North Korea. If China takes Trump’s advice and thinks of China’s interests above all else, then they certainly aren’t going to help reign in North Korea. Which must have left the Chinese delegation wondering not only what the hell Trump was talking about, but what exactly the United States wants from them.

Unfortunately, this isn’t just about Trump making an ass of himself on the global stage, and thereby making America look uncharacteristically stupid. His ignorance and ineptitude could very likely have real and painful consequences for our nation, and the world as a whole.

Looking at the big picture, many of the problems we currently face are global in nature, such as climate change, energy, overpopulation, terrorism, the need for new antibiotics, etc. If every nation were to listen to Trump and focus on the needs of their own nation, then that weakens the opportunity for humanity to collectively work together to solve the myriad of challenges we face now and in the future.

Trump and his supporters clearly aren’t big picture thinkers, though. Yet his stupidity will also likely have some direct consequences that even they, despite their inability to see the big picture, should be able to comprehend. For example, with Trump openly denouncing the deal to freeze Iran’s nuclear program during his UN speech, why would North Korea trust America in any sort of agreement regarding its own nuclear ambitions? In fact, Trump has sent a clear signal to the North Koreans that a diplomatic agreement with the United States is no longer worth the paper it is printed on. And not only may that keep the North Koreans away from the bargaining table and busy building a nuclear arsenal, but – if Trump does indeed welsh on the Iran deal – then it wouldn’t take much imagination to envision the North Koreans selling their nuclear secrets to the Iranians. After all, if Trump destroys that deal, Iran will be free to pursue a nuclear arsenal, and North Korea certainly could use the money given the stranglehold we’ve placed on them with this latest round of sanctions. Besides, as Trump said, it’s every nation for itself these days. Including Nambia.

Life In The Big City

So I was in the express checkout line at the Whole Foods on Manhattan’s Upper East Side this past Monday, Sept. 11th. At the time, there were two female cashiers working that line. The lady handling my checkout was explaining to the other cashier that she was relocating to another Whole Foods that was closer to her home in Brownsville, Brooklyn.

The other cashier seemed surprised that my cashier lived in Brooklyn, and told her that a pregnant woman had just been shot in Brownsville. My cashier paused for a moment, as she was ringing up my bananas, and quietly said that she knows about it. And then, after another pause, calmly said that it was her boyfriend who had shot the woman.

Pauses aside, she said this so matter-of-factly that I assumed she was joking, in that dark sense of humor that New Yorkers know so well. The other cashier appeared to be shocked, though, and unsure how to respond. I looked back at my cashier, who seemed dead serious as she collected my cash before turning to the other cashier and adding: “that’s why I’m careful not to make him mad.”

Needless to say, I walked out of there a bit shocked myself. In fact, I was so disturbed that, when I got home, I checked the news to see if a pregnant woman had indeed been shot in Brownsville. Sure enough, a pregnant 19-year-old had been shot there on Sunday, twice in the head. Fortunately, after a long surgery, she and her baby appear to be doing fine.

However, the article said that the police were still looking for the shooter. I thought that if I could help them at least identify the shooter’s girlfriend, that might help the cops identify the shooter and get him off the street before he shoots someone else in the head.

With that in mind, I tried using the New York Police Department’s online tip form, but it worked about as well as you’d expect an online government form to work. So I called their tip line (1-800-577-TIPS), which worked surprisingly well. The officer who answered my call listened to this entire story before thanking me and explaining that they have already identified the shooter but have yet to apprehend him.

I felt better, for at least trying to do my civic duty. Still, I remained a little unnerved, knowing that I just conducted business with someone who showed little concern about dating the kind of person who shoots a pregnant 19-year-old stranger in the head…twice. In a city of 8 million, though, I know that statistically this sort of thing must happen far more than any of us would like to realize. But then I started thinking about what kind of world one must live in where dating someone like that seems perfectly acceptable – as long as you are “careful not to make him mad.”

And then I ate one of my bananas, which was delicious.

Thought of the Day: Sheeple

I love to hear people say the word “sheeple.” It reveals a lot about the type of people they are. These are the kind of folks who would eagerly pay $29.99 for Alex Jones’ Blu-ray on how to make an aluminum foil hat (for a good laugh, and quite possibly a good cry, watch John Oliver’s take on this blowhard, in which he mockingly uses the term “sheeple”).

Sheeple is a fake word, a made-up term used to describe people who blindly follow a false truth…something that is made up. It’s a hybrid of the words “sheep” and “people.” Yes, that’s how clever these people are.

And what’s really funny about it is that they are using a made-up word, which in and of itself is a false truth, to describe people who they believe are blindly following a false truth. The word is meant to mock others, but by definition it also mocks those who use it.

I think there ought to be a word to mock the people who blindly accuse others of doing the same stupid shit they themselves are doing, so I followed their example and made one up for it: “hypocridiot.” It’s a hybrid of the words “hypocrite,” for someone who criticizes others for that which they are guilty of, and “idiot,” which basically sums up the type of people who listen to these lunatics and blindly follow their nonsensical theories, clueless to the fact that they are the ones who have actually been duped.