Pick-up Soccer Journal: Entry 01.18.2020

We’re playing at a different location today.

After two days of rain the sun is finally showing face. I drive pass the Radha Krishna temple, and the Montessori, hoping I’m not one of the last to arrive (first 22 play). Google maps? That rude bastard. He rides shotgun, but after every sub-division interrupts Andy Brassel’s commentary on Juventus’ historic 2003 semi-final win over Real Madrid.

I arrive on time, but as a group we’re late. Our back-up field is packed with weekend amateurs.

The diligent and disciplined have laid out their cones, set up their goals, and snatched up every free patch of turf.

We sit in the parking lot and argue which field we should play at now. From my car, I see heads nod. Some laughs are exchanged. Our Congress works like Washington’s – slow.

The majority come to an agreement and we drive back to the park we normally play at. The field waits for us, dotted with gulls spearing at worms in the wet soil.

A few of us run through some half-hearted old man stretches. Others chat about their midweek indoor matches. The fights that broke out. The incompetent referees. The games lost.

Alberto and Mo choose teams and we break off.

90 minutes of bliss ahead.

Football Links: Two Defensive Midfielders and Roy Hodgson

Casemiro is still fundamental to Real Madrid’s success. By Sid Lowe:

One day early in Zidane’s first spell as Real Madrid manager, Casemiro knocked on his door. He hadn’t played yet — five games had passed — and he wasn’t happy. Play me, he said, please. Zidane looked at him, told him to calm down and said that once he started playing, he would never stop. Zidane was right, so much so that it became almost a running joke. After one game recently, Casemiro was asked if he was ever going to rest. By way of a response, he offered that cherubic smile he has and said something about how he didn’t need it. Zidane didn’t think so, either. You only ever leave Casemiro out to ensure that you can put him in.

Wilfred Ndidi snatches the ball winning crown from Nogolo Kante. By Ryan O’ Hanlon

the tactical beauty of having an omnipotent ball winner player such as Ndidi in your squad is that he allows you to shove an extra attacker onto the field without losing much (if any) defensive solidity.

Roy Hodgson reflects on his time at Inter, and Javier Zanetti. From The Coaches Voice

Javier wasn’t even signed to be the big player he became – he made himself into that. He had an incredible professionalism and desire to make the very best out of himself. Whatever his coaches or fitness coaches wanted him to do, he was going to show he could do it.

An appreciation of Lionel Messi, from the Paris Review?

You’re standing in one place, one patch of grass on a sunny Saturday afternoon in Seville, playing a game, which is to say doing your job, which is playing a game. A ball floats in the air toward you. You’re in one place and you’re in all possible places. Your name is stamped between your shoulder blades. You turn your back away from the ball. We all know who you are. You balance yourself and focus. What you’re about to do has no name.

From: They Think They Know You, Lionel Messi. By: Rowan Ricardo Phillips. The Paris Review, February 26 2019

I love finding pieces on footballers from outside of traditional football journalism. Especially when a masterful writer can share a new vision.

Rowan Ricardo Phillips accomplishes a rare feat with his Paris Review piece: They Think They Know You, Lionel Messi. He helps us relish, treasure again, this moment where we still have the opportunity to watch Lionel Messi at the peak of his powers.

Rowan reminds us not to take it for granted.

Tightly bonded Leeds United

The boisterous knot of away fans, the intense running patterns, the knot of men in coats on the touchline: there is something collegiate and tightly bonded about Leeds, like watching a brilliantly well-planned travelling stag do unfold before your eyes.

Barney Roney describing Bielsa-ball at the Emirates.

From the match report: Bielsa-ball and Leeds run riot for one half before normal service is resumed.

A Barney Ronay match report on Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds?

I’ll take two please.

Liga MX Final 2nd Leg – América contra Monterrey: A goalkeeping duel

Liga MX is the most entertaining league in the world.

The second leg final between América and Monterrey was undoubted proof.

There isn’t another league with this strange combination of technical brilliance, technical mistakes, and an endless supply of slide tackles.

The two coaches – Miguel Herrera and Antonio Mohamed (formerly of América) oozed machismo, prayer beads, decadent cologne and tactical nous.

The match was played with wild rhythm. América and Monterrey both having a share of miss placed and over hit passes. Individual defensive errors were in abundance – see Jorge Sanchez’s swing and-a-miss clearance in minute 74…


But there was also bits of neat build up play and classy finishing. Federico Viñas left footed thunderbolt off the inside of the right post earned Miguel Herrera a sideline bear hug. And the Jannsen layoff to Carlos Rodríguez who played in Funes Mori, left América’s back four wilting.

It wouldn’t be the gunslingers who would decide this match though. Long before the penalty shootout both goalkeepers were proving to be the match winners. Barovero (the accountant) tipped over a Guido Rodriguez rasper from the top of the 18, and Ochoa saved one from point blank on Carlos Rodríguez.

Minute 120.

Gio Dos Santos preps his corner. The TV cameras are shaking. It’s cleared away.

Penalty shootout.

The mind games begin.

Ochoa and Marcelo Barovero share a moment while walking to the goal. Both keepers morph into penalty panthers, flash diving to their left to make vital saves.

Guido Rodriguez, having issues with the penalty spot turf…launches his penalty into the Mexico City sky line.

Antonio Mohamed grips his prayer beads, the shadow from the dugout ceiling covering his face. Leonel Vangioni slide rule passes it to the bottom left corner. The tears are flowing. Monterrey are Liga MX champions.


Upon Re-reading – Brilliant Orange: The neurotic genius of Dutch football, by David Winner

I first read David Winner’s Brilliant Orange fifteen year ago. My first motives for reading the book were naive. I was an aspiring professional footballer. I’d read any book I could find on football, hoping to discover a professional path to imitate. It proved to be an impossible profession. When you’re sixteen, you have no hint to how the world works. You believe, and rightly so, that anything is possible. At nineteen I accepted my lifetime amateur footballer card. I continued my reading however, searching for inspiration or secret training exercises to improve my game. If I was an amateur, I wanted to be the best amateur among my peers. Fifteen years on, my motives to read Brilliant Orange has changed. I returned to the book to see how much the football world, in particular Dutch football, has changed. And in doing so, how much I have changed as well.