The Beautiful Game’s Breakthrough?

BRITAIN SOCCER LEAGUE CUP

Will your kids grow up to be fans of this guy? (AP Photo/Tom Hevezi)

When I was a kid, I remember waking up in the morning, long before my parents and older sister were awake. I’d quietly creep downstairs, not wanting to wake anyone up so I could sit and enjoy the living room TV by myself, for as long as possible.

I was up early, 6, 7 am. I was young, so I didn’t stay up late the night before.

I would get downstairs, turn on the TV and pour myself a bowl of cereal, unless I knew my mom was making pancakes or waffles later.

I struggle to remember the names of the shows I watched back then. There was one where kids would play arcade games against each other on Nickelodeon.

Another involved some sort of yellow, cat-like creature.

God knows what these abominations of television were actually about. But I was up watching them, sure as hell.

As I got older my tastes changed. There were less cartoons and more sports. I turned on ESPN in the mornings and watched reruns of SportsCenter over and over again until noon, when ESPN switched to other programming.

Hell, on Sunday mornings I actually sat through the Sports Reporters on a weekly basis. And I didn’t even try to shove sharp objects through my ear drums.

Oh, how innocent and stupid I was.

Starting this year, after the economy went in the crapper and Setanta Sports’ profits did too, ESPN got the rights to broadcast English Premier League matches in the US. Now, every Saturday morning on ESPN2 there’s an EPL match shown live.

Because England is five hours ahead of the US (on the east coast, six hours ahead here in Austin), these matches are shown early in the morning. For instance, my beloved Tottenham Hotspur take on the scum of Arsenal this Saturday, and the match starts at 8 am. Others start as early as 7 am here.

Not a lot of adults are up at 7 or 8 am on the weekends. And if they are, they’re just getting their eyes open. But you know who is up at 8 am? Kids.

If there’s ever a time that soccer is going to “make it” in the United States, or be something close to mainstream, it’s starting now.

A common theory was that kids grow up playing soccer and eventually these kids will become adults who like soccer. Not true. I know lot’s of people who played soccer when we were kids and none of them made it to high school before they gave it up. They all moved on to more popular American sports like football, basketball and baseball. (Note: in Texas, no one plays hockey. The only people in Texas who do play hockey aren’t actually from Texas.)

But kids today can turn on ESPN and see a professional soccer league full of arguably the best soccer players in the world, first thing in the morning. That’s what’s going to help soccer make it big in the US.

Before, it was harder for kids to catch European soccer here in the US. They would either need access to Sky or Setanta Sports, which only come on satellite packages. On the off-chance that they actually had satellite service, there were so many other channels to compete with, that soccer was hard to find.

The other option was watching on Fox Soccer Channel, which is usually only available on digital cable packages. And then, there were many other channels for FSC to compete with.

UEFA Champions League matches have been available on ESPN for the last several years. But kids most likely didn’t get to watch any CL matches because they are shown on weekday afternoons, when kids are in school.

If there’s one thing that keeps kids playing the main professional sports in America (baseball, basketball and football), it’s seeing their favorite players on TV several nights a week. Why follow a sports if there’s no one in it for you to look up to?

On Saturday morning, little Johnny can wake up and watch Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney bang home two goals, and then little Johnny will want to go to his YMCA soccer match and do the same. Or he can go out into the yard and kick his soccer ball off the side of his house for practice or play with friends who watched the same Man U match. Little Johnny’s got someone to emulate now.

Adult sports fans may never come around to soccer. But kids today are going to be watching the best of the best ply their trade in the world’s most popular game, before adults have even stepped out of bed.

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The Texans Season is Over… Here’s to 2010

I’ve been holding out hope that the Houston Texans would turn their season around and make the playoffs after opening the season with a 2-2 record. That they were simply going through some early season struggles. They did start last season 0-4 and still finished 8-8.

This is their year to make the playoffs, right?

That was before they came back from a 21 point deficit against the Cardinals, only to throw an interception that was returned for a touchdown and fail to score when they had 2nd and goal at the 1 yard line.

Now?

I’m ready to dive into the college football season and scout possible draft picks. When your team is down a touchdown with 40 seconds left in the game, has 2nd-down-and-goal at the one yard line, and can’t convert on three straight plays, I think it’s okay to start looking towards next year.

That man is awesome.... on third down. (Wesley Hitt / Getty Images)

That man is awesome.... on third down. (Wesley Hitt / Getty Images)

It’s tough to root for a team that gets beat in more aspects than they win. And that’s exactly what the Texans do. They look good because they can put up a lot of points in a short amount of time. They’re sexy. I don’t trust a sexy team just like I don’t trust a sexy girl without getting to know them.

Sexy will win you a few games, but it won’t give you consistent success. You just never know about them.

Well, I’ve gotten to know this girl.

Ground game

Houston’s running game is a weakness. Steve Slaton is a big-play back and fantasy all-star, but he can’t carry a running game. He’s not big enough. He’s sexy (there’s that word again), but he can’t pound the ball and grind out yards. He’s only averaging 46.2 yards per game in his first five games this season. His biggest game was against Jacksonville (ranked 19th in the league against the run) when he ran for 76 yards.

Houston needs to find a power back to pair with Slaton. He’s shown that he’s an excellent third down back because he can catch balls out of the backfield and has learned quickly how to pick up the blitz, but he’s not an every-down back. Slaton needs someone else to take some of the pounding for him. Chris Brown just ain’t cutting it.

In the trenches

Unfortunately, it’s not just this year. The Texans franchise started off on the wrong foot. The best way to build a team is from the inside-out. Taking offensive and defensive linemen and building a foundation where you can add skill position players later and have long-term success. Houston made little effort to build from the inside, other than taking left tackle Tony Boselli with their first pick in the expansion draft. Boselli never played a down for the team because of injury. No argument here, that was the right move. But they’ve spent too many high draft picks over the years on skill players while neglecting the foundation.

Look at the New England Patriots, would Tom Brady be the quarterback he is today if he hadn’t played for the Patriots? No way. He was forced into a starting role because of injury to Drew Bledsoe and thrived because he was protected by the best offensive line in the league and had one of the top defenses to keep them in games. His running backs that season were Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk. His receivers were Troy Brown and David Patten. Canada has more weapons than Brady had.

In 2002, the Texans made quarterback David Carr their first draft pick ever, taking him first overall in that year’s draft. It was the sexy pick (le sigh). Who was the very next pick? Defensive end Julius Peppers, who has 73.5 career sacks in his eight seasons in the league. Then they took tight end Bennie Joppru in the second round of the 2003 draft and defensive end Osi Umenyiora was taken 15 picks later.

It’s easy to point these things out after the fact, but dang it that’s the point.

Aw, hell.

Aw, hell.

Houston’s front office needs to focus on two things for the offensive and defensive lines: talent and depth. The defensive line has talent, but it’s short on depth. And they can’t stop the run. The offensive line lacks both talent and depth, save for a couple of spots, like left tackle Duane Brown. Houston should spend at least one of their first, second or third round draft picks on a lineman every year. That way, you’ve got a steady stream of talent and youth coming in. Young guys will come to camp every year in a position to compete for playing time. And not just practice squad-talent, legit difference-maker talent. If, say, Amobi Okoye leaves for whatever reason, you’ve got someone ready to step in and take their place.

Secondary Concerns

The secondary is perpetually a problem for the Texans. The team has had a make-shift secondary since its start. Dunta Robinson is the only blue chipper they’ve put in the defensive backfield (And oh-by-the-way, pay that man his money. He’s shown that he’s recovered from his knee injury and that he’s one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Sign him to a long-term deal today, before he bolts in the offseason for the Colts).

Houston has no excuse not to spend a first or second round pick this year on a ball-hawking free safety. Year after year they neglect to find a difference-maker to play that role. And it shows. Even with the pass rush the Texans have, they still can’t defend the pass.

Head coaching

I’d say that Gary Kubiak won’t last the entire season, but I’m pretty sure he’s already been taken out like Joe Pesci in Goodfellas. Mike Shanahan is unpacking in his new office as you read this. I’ve seen very few teams come less motivated and make fewer in-game adjustments than a Kubiak coached one.

Houston was a sexy (NO! STOP!) underdog pick coming into the season. After going 8-8 last season, they were supposed to take the next step in 2009. This team was supposed to compete with the Colts in the AFC South.

Well, at least my fantasy team is 5-0.

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Chelsea v. Club America: Road Trip

It took me about a week to finally post these, but I’ve got media from the Chelsea v. Club America soccer match at the New Dallas Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

The two teams were playing in a preseason friendly in the lamely-named World Football Challenge.

A buddy of mine’s company that he works for and his dad owns has season tickets to the Cowboys, so he was able to purchase the seats for us.

We asked him to get the $50 seats for us and it turns out that his dad bought the lower level seats and paid the difference for us. The result was that we ended up sitting closer to the field than we ever will again for a sporting event at New Dallas Cowboys Stadium.

So the following is the pictures and a video of our night at the match.

Yep, we parked about a mile away. But it still cost us $20. Thanks Jerry Jones.

Yep, we parked about a mile away. But it still cost us $20. Thanks Jerry Jones.

If you look close to that red car, there's a middle-aged couple making out in the parking lot. Classin' it up.

If you look close to that red car, there's a middle-aged couple making out in the parking lot. Classin' it up.

We walk into the Stadium and immediately are offered $8 beers. Nah, I'm good.

We walk into the Stadium and immediately are offered $8 beers. Nah, I'm good.

This was the view from our seats. Luck doesn't even being to describe it.

This was the view from our seats. Luck doesn't even being to describe it.

If you hadn't already heard, this stadium is huge.

If you hadn't already heard, this stadium is huge.

Those two water bottles? $5 each. It's not from the fountain of youth, I checked.

Those two water bottles? $5 each. It's not from the fountain of youth, I checked.

You know, just watching some soccer in HD. How many Best Buy gift cards would I have to save to get that?

You know, just watching some soccer in HD. How many Best Buy gift cards would I have to save to get that?

Hey there's players out there warming up. Must be getting closer to kick-off.

Hey there's players out there warming up. Must be getting closer to kick-off.

Single-file lines everybody.

Single-file lines everybody.

For some reason Garth Brooks was there. And for some reason there was a coin toss. And for some reason Garth Brooks did the coin toss. Confusion all around.

For some reason Garth Brooks was there. And for some reason there was a coin toss. And for some reason Garth Brooks did the coin toss. Confusion all around.

It just ain't a soccer match without smoke in the stands.

It just ain't a soccer match without smoke in the stands.

In the end, Chelsea won 2-0 and won the World Football Challenge. That trophy is definitely going in their museum.

In the end, Chelsea won 2-0 and won the World Football Challenge. That trophy is definitely going in their museum.

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Memorial Day Miracle

Happy late Memorial Day.

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SXSW, Ron Artest and New Orleans

Things are slow at the SXSW headquarters right now. Painfully slow at times. I’d explain all the things I do during the day to make the time pass during the day, but I’m afraid somebody from work would read this blog and I’d get in trouble. We’re in a recession right now and I can’t afford to lose my job, despite how uneventful it is right now.

But on the up side, I’m not stressed and I’m sleeping and eating and doing things normal people do. So there’s that.

I’ve been watching a lot of the NBA playoffs when I’m not at work, in fact I’m watching them as I type this, and I’m frustratingly happy. I enjoy watching the NBA Playoffs, and the NBA in general. So that makes me happy.

 However, the officiating in the NBA right now is utter crap. It’s kind of like the NBA leaving a bag of flaming dog crap on our porch, ringing the doorbell, and watching from the bushes.

And Skip Bayless on First Take is the equivalent of us answering the door.

It’s not necessarily that they’re making bad calls (but they are), it’s that the calls aren’t consistent from game t0 game. A lot of times they’re not consistent from quarter to quarter. And whenever the game starts to get physical, a barrage of flagrant fouls are called. The vast majority of which aren’t anything close to being flagrant fouls.

And then Ron Artest gets thrown out.

Poor Ron-Ron, he just can’t catch a break. You run up into the stands and mistakenly beat the shit out of one douchebag in Detroit (when you meant to beat the shit out of a different douchebag), and all of a sudden everybody thinks you’re going to go ape shit whenever you commit a hard foul.

The refs just need to treat Ron-Ron like every other player on the court and call him the same. Unfortunately it looks like the NBA has created the “Artest Rules.” #FREERONARTEST

I’m going to New Orleans this weekend with the girlfriend.

I wanted to take some sort of vacation after SXSW was over, but I don’t have any money. So I decided just to take a long weekend and go somewhere not too far from Austin.

And being a young, relatively-healthy, recent college graduate, what better city to visit than New Orleans?

The answer: none.

So I scored a good deal on a hotel for the weekend and looked up some fun things to do there. I’d look up bars to go to, but I figure I’m going to end up a Bourbon Street anyway. And from there, I seriously doubt I’ll remember anything I pre-planned when it comes to bar hopping.

It’s going to be an interesting experience.

What Vegas needs to put odds on, is the amount of time I’m actually going to spend doing things after my first night at Bourbon.

Right now I’ve got stuffed planned for during the days. But I have a feeling after the first night, I’m going to wake up at 3 pm and order greasy food. Then I’ll probably take a nap until it’s time to go back to Bourbon.

As of right now, I’ve got about four things planned as daytime activities on Saturday.

Vegas has the over/under currently set at 1.5.

I’d take the under.

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Reggie Miller is inadvertently wrong

I was watching the Celtics – 76ers game last night on TNT and Marv Albert and Reggie Miller were calling the game.  When the issue of Ray Allen‘s suspension from last night’s game because of elbowing Anderson Varejao in his Brazilian twig n’ berries on Sunday, Reggie Miller adamantly claimed that the suspension was wrong because it was an “inadvertent elbow.”

Now I’ve had elbows for a long time, and I’ve gotten knocked down playing basketball many times before too. But I don’t think my elbow has ever “inadvertently” fired back that quickly into someone’s groin.

Who knows, maybe Ray Allen has a nervous twitch when he goes down on all fours.

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Putting the Shaq & Kobe stuff to rest, for good

Obviously a ton has been made over the last few years about the Shaq and Kobe… let’s call it a disagreement. The media hype about it died down over the last few months as Kobe Byrant elevated himself to the position of the best player in the NBA (recently overtaken by Mr. LeBron James) and Shaq was just trying to hold onto some of the limelight.

But with Shaq having a productive season and the Lakers positioned at the top of the Western conference, attention has been brought back to the “disagreement.” ABC even promoted the Suns / Lakers game Sunday afternoon as a “showdown” between Shaq and Kobe.

The worst part about the drama between the two is how it all was completely overblown by the media, and then systematically shoved down our throats. To be honest, I don’t even think they hated each other as much as we were lead to believe. Sometimes people who work together don’t get along. Some people’s personalities don’t align (although I doubt many people’s personalities align with Kobe’s). And sometimes some players don’t play well together.

It’s as simple as that. Kobe and Shaq didn’t have the personalities to be best friends. And both of them wanted to be the top dog. But because they played for the Lakers and had the huge L.A. media market and played for Phil Jackson, a coach famous for allowing huge egos to co-exisst, we were subjected to report after report about how they hated each other and didn’t get along.

But the NBA knew they had something when Shaq left L.A. and Kobe took over the Lakers. They could exploit this “feud” for marketing and advertising purposes. And exploit it they did.

Although I do think Shaq took advantage of it too when it became apparent that Kobe Bryant had become the better player of the too and it appeared that Shaq’s career was winding down. That’s how we get videos like this:

The NBA then exploited the Kobe-Shaq hugfest at All-Star weekend when they played on the same team for the first time in almost five years. Watch the video of Shaq and Kobe hold up the All-Star MVP trophy, there’s no way those smiles are real. With two guys that competitive, I can’t believe they honestly were that happy to share the award.

With the economy on the fritz and the NBA struggling, marketing and advertising dollars will be more important than ever. Hopefully we won’t have to deal with more media manufactured (yay alliteration!)  fueds from the NBA machine.

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