Wednesday, July 13, 2011

All the World's a Stage. Especially the Pitch.

The whole night reeked of archetype. And, unfortunately for Sporting KC, the archetype places David as the firm victor over Goliath. 

The crowd was excited for this match-up. We were in the quarterfinals of the US Open Cup, 3 victories away from our first piece of silverware in 7 years and a birth to the growing CONCACAF Champions League. Plus, we were matched up with the only remaining non-MLS team. We could prance into the semi-finals! 

Just like the Crew did into the quarters.

The Kickers are no joke. They play solid, disciplined defense, which is absolutely vital, if you hope to upset more talented teams. Richmond's defensive 4-4-1-1 spoiled wave after wave of attack and even sprouted a few dangerous counters. Sporting put plenty of shots on goal, but Richmond never allowed more than a half-chance at goal. It certainly helped them that Sporting, especially Teal Bunbury, seemed to lack that killer instinct. Players seemed to be trying to score the perfect goal at times rather than simply trying to score. When the referee blew for halftime with the match still scoreless, things looked troubling both on the pitch and on the horizon.

A storm brewed in the distance. Thunder. Lightning. Huge downpours. A chance of hail and maybe even a tornado. It was going to be destructive. It was going to ruin our Open Cup dreams. It was more than just a little rain. It was a tragedy on its way to Livestrong Sporting Park. 

After 20 more minutes of scoreless play, the storm stopped the game. Lightning was in the area. The game was delayed for an hour and a half. For 90 minutes, fans worried about the worst possibility. Sporting rued missed chances. And, the Kickers went down to the brook and found 5 smooth stones to slay the giant. The symbolism was not favoring us and we could all sense it. That ugly sense of foreboding that seemed inescapable was attacking our spirits and it wasn't a welcome feeling.

Read the rest of the article on The Pursuit of Victory here.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The (Seemingly) Forgotten Cup

In the process of learning some of the history of the Beautiful Game, I was reading up on the Cup Winners' Cup. It was a fascinating competition put on by UEFA from 1960-1999. The winners of the domestic cups in each country were allowed to compete in a straight knockout tournament. In effect, it was an extension of the domestic cup tournaments taken to the international level. 

But it extended not just the format, but also all the exuberance and anxiety that comes with a knockout tournament. It was all or nothing. No wishy-washy round robin format. You won or went home. It didn't matter if you were Barcelona and they were Slovan Bratinslava (1); you still had to go out and win the game. The Cup Winners' Cup filled us with thrilling tales of underdog victories over European giants. One of the most notable was MTK Budapest's overtaking of Celtic in the semi-finals of the 1963-64 version of the tournament. Celtic took a comfortable 3-0 lead into the second leg, but Hungarian giants, but relative minnows in Europe, stormed back to win 4-0 in Budapest to go to the final against Sporting Clube de Portugal, who they pushed to a replay that they lost 1-0. 

Cup competitions are one of my favorite things in the world of football. The FA Cup was absolutely thrilling this year. Leighton Baines' amazing equalizer that pushed Everton's 4th Round replay with Chelsea into penalties was only topped by Reading's victory over that same Everton team in the next round. Leyton Orient's late strike from Jonathan Téhoué to force a replay against Arsenal was stunning. The Manchester derby in the semi-final was a superb match that could be looked back upon as the first signs of a slow changing of the guard in the city. The rest of the cup tournaments had just as much excitement. Cristiano Ronaldo's header in extra-time of the Copa del Rey final was one of the few beautiful moments of the series of Clásicos. The Coppa Italia, Coupe de France, Taça de Portugal, and the rest of the cup competitions contained some of the greatest games of the season.

Which is why I was so stunned when only 4500 people showed up to Livestrong Sporting Park on Tuesday night for the Lamar Hunt US Open Cup match against Chicago Fire PDL. And that was one of the higher attendances amongst the 8 games that night in the United States' cup competition. It confounded me as to why American audiences were not interested in the competition. 


Read the rest of the article here on The Pursuit of Victory.