Tuesday, June 24, 2008

US @ Barbados

Well, by know you all probably know that we produced a 1-0 result after a complete snoozefest of a match. Some may be disappointed that the majority of the young players in the squad failed to play with the energy and passion that one would want to see in a player looking to make his case for continued selection in the side, but being there in person, I can assure you that these were extremely difficult conditions for anyone to care at all.

First, the match did not matter. Barbados has never scored against the United States and they would have needed to knock in 8 more goals than us on Sunday to even force extra time. It was simply not going to happen. As I previously mentioned, Barbados population is less than 1/10 of a percent of that of the United States. Check out the Barbados FA's website - www.barbadossoccer.com - they are openly looking for players.

Second, the match was played at the Kensington Oval: a first-class cricket grounds. While the groundskeepers did a marvelous job of concealing the cricket pitch (the strip between the wickets), there was nothing they could do to minimize the huge space between the touchline and the stands. To play on a pitch like that must have had the boys reminiscing over their days playing youth soccer in vast parks and soccerplexes.

Third, the ball the Barbados FA used was completely subpar. It resembled something you would find in a drugstore. While the Bajans did a much better job of pressuring our players in the center of the pitch, they left the flanks wide open and Heath Pearce and Drew Moor could handily afford to advance far up the touchlines without fear of risking a serious counterattack. The only problem was that every time we attempted to play a long ball to one of them or to cross the field, the balloon of a ball would get caught in the mild gusts of wind and completely die.

It is difficult to disagree with a lot of the criticism that the team has been receiving over the perceived lack of effort, but seriously, let's be real and recognize that we go through the round without injury and with just one yellow card.

The Kensington Oval itself is a pretty spectacular facility. The building structures are not of the ubiquitous concrete variety found all over the Caribbean, but rather are encased in some sort of fiberglass that causes them to resemble space ships.

After easily collecting my match ticket (something that has not been the case in other developing nations - i.e. Venezuela), I met up with another US fan from the NY area. He had just flown in that morning and turned out to be on my flight back that night. Talk about heart! Inside the stadium, we quickly grabbed a couple Banks beers - a questionable tasting local lager - and I picked up some delicious and super-cheap BBQ chicken. Something you'll note from the pictures is that one of the concession stands sold flasks of Hennessey and Remy Martin. That is awesome - nothing like chicken and Hennessey.

The US fan section consisted of about 8 of us from the NYC area, Chicago, LA and I think a couple Texans. Yeah, not huge. The official attendance is listed at 2,000, but I am guessing it was closer to 1,200 (maybe even 700). During the course of the game, things got so quiet that we could frequently hear J.P. Dellacamera doing the play-by-play behind us. The only atmosphere created by the home fans was the rather futile attempt at starting the wave. A group of Bajan fans to our left kept trying to get it going, but it would generally end with us as the only people sitting to our right were the cameramen. After the warmups, the substitutes headed towards a covered VIP area that was across the pitch from the coaching staff. Apparently they did not want to sit in the uncovered heat on plastic picnic chairs.

After the game, we made our way to the airport (after watching a group of men clear a traffic jam in the parking lot by literally picking up an SUV and moving it a couple inches) where we met up with none other than the president of US Soccer - Sunil Gulati. He was very generous to speak with us for a few minutes about soccer in the US in general and, turns out he is a fellow Liverpool supporter. Solid guy in my book.

Anyway, I'll be offline till August. I am debating going to the US-Guatemala match. It's on a wednesday and ticket prices are pretty cheap right now so I think I'm just going to book it and hope that the workload permits the trip.

Not sure how I'm going to live through July with minimal footy. Guess it's time to catch up on my MLS!

Pics from Barbados.

Another blogpost to come tomorrow. I promise!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Baatan Death March: Barbados style

It would not be a proper trip without including a Bataan death march. The Bajan version saw me make the trek from Oistins Bay back to the Hilton.

That probably means nothing to you. Oistins Bay is a little fishing village that offers up some fresh grilled and fried fish. There are rows and rows of little fish shacks that all offer essentially the same fare: dolphin, snapper, bbq chicken and lamb, peas and rice and a host of sides. My cabbie reccomended a place called Mo's and it did not dissapoint. In the middle of all fish shacks, there is a bandstand that features live performances on friday nights and a dj on saturdays. The DJ last night served up a mix of fifties-americana love songs and gospelish-reggae that had some thumping beats. In a word: strange.

A plate of grilled dolphin and peas and rice filled me with the gumption to make the trek back to the hotel (about 6 miles) on foot. Or maybe it was the 4 Carib beers I put down. Funny thing about the decision is that I really had no idea how to get back: I just knew that Oistins Bay was on the water and so was the hotel.

Along the way home, I was tempted into a club by some blaring reggae. The doorman told me it was the best club in barbados that night. I should have questioned his credibility when he let me in shirtless (key feature of a Bataan death march is the sweat inducing heat). The only other people at the club were three yaardies.

I made a quick exit back to the hotel and had ran into some of the team staff, including former MNT player Mike Sorber. I made sure to let him know that I was there for USA-Switzerland '94 when George Bregi and Eric Wylnada scored on equally impressive free kicks to produce the 1-1 draw that made me a fan for life.

Kickin it by the pool and the beach right now. Headed to the Oval in about an hour.

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Size Might Matter

So, the 4 mojitos and 1 Ragin' Bajan I've had on the beach have inspired some mathematical analysis in my brain: Barbados' population is less than 0.1% of the population of the US.

That's right, less than one-tenth percent.

The Road to South Africa . . .

began on June 15, 2008 when the US delivered what can only be described as a good ol' fashioned country ass whoopin' to Barbados. In case you missed it, the US snapped in 8 goals in the 8-0 rout over the Bajan (pronounced like cajun) Boys.

The only lowlight of the trip to LA, which included a Swingers-esqe road trip to las vegas, was the attendance at the match. A mere 11,500 made their way to the Home Depot Center to witness the United States' most imortant match since the Gold Cup final win over Mexico last summer (speaking of Mexicans, how bout those Turks?). Despite the SoCal Brigade's effort to get numbers out, the match atmosphere was a complete let down from the aguante we witnessed at the US-Argentina friendly just a week prior. Oh well, I was there with a solid crew including Ed of the NJB, Andrew, John and Mike of Columbus fame, and several of my Los Angeles compadres.

The result of that match means that tomorrow's return leg against Barbados is largely meaningless as Barbados would need to equal or better the scoreline to see us out at this point. As my grandmother would say, no matter, I'm in Barbados!

When the plane landed, they announced the island population as a mere 260,000. Wow.

As I'm only staying the night, I brought minimal clothing, arriving with only a pair of board shorts and the camo cargo shorts I was wearing as groinal region covering options. This could prove problematic as the customs official informed me of Barbados' strict sartorial code which prohibits the wearing of camouflage clothing. That probably increases my chances of getting a handjob though as the shorts, which I fully intend to wear, could land me in jail. Pretty sure that's not what I'm looking for thoguh! (If you do not get the prior two sentences, watch Superbad. Now.)

By the by, while you jut read this on a computer screen, I scribed it on the playa!

Plan for tonight is to hit up Oistins Bay for a fish fry!