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CommentaryEnglandEuropePhotographyThe AmericasUnited States

Rubio Rubin, Blast from the U-17 Past

March 26, 2015 — by Rob Kirby0

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[Editor’s note: Rubio Rubin featured as a 67-minute substitute for Aron Johansson in last night’s 3-2 loss to Denmark and won his first cap for the full-blown USMNT. Originally commissioned by the Sarasota Herald Tribune to Rob Kirby in December 2011 but ultimately unpublished, this article featured a 15-year-old and U-17 Residency Program standout Rubio Rubin, before those heady heights. Congratulations, Rubin!]

For two years, the crop of under-17 soccer players in the U.S. national team housed at the 350-acre IMG sports complex in Bradenton live and breathe soccer. They keep their eyes fixed firmly on the prize of representing their country at the 2013 U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates. The top trophy represents the culmination of a 24-month dream.

This newest group of 15 year olds, 32 boys all born in 1996, left home in August and moved into the all-expenses-paid U.S. U-17 residency program, with a schedule as jam-packed as the young men are gifted. The team trains six days a week, Monday through Saturday, and players spend almost all their time together.

Braces-wearing Steven Echavarria from New York revels in the soccer immersion. “It’s a great experience, because you get to test yourself with the best players around and you’re getting better every day, so you know you’re in the right place.”

By the third week they felt like a unit, said Brandon Tetro, also from New York. “We bonded real quickly. When you’re with someone so much, it just happens so quickly.”

“We go to school together, we go to breakfast together, we go to lunch together and we train together, so we’re building chemistry having fun with each other on the field and off the field,” Rubio Rubin of Oregon said. “We’re together 24/7.”

Rubin does not exaggerate. Monday, Wednesday, Friday, they eat breakfast at 7:00 am, report to an hour and a half of weight training at 7:30, pile into seven Honda minivans at 9:00 for the pristine Bermuda grass soccer fields at IMG and practice for almost two hours. After they scarf down lunch and refuel, it’s off to St. Stephen’s Episcopal School from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm, then dinner and homework.

GermanyHistory

Dictators and Soccer Short: Hitler Fandom Rejected by Schalke

January 10, 2015 — by Rob Kirby

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Germany in the Brazil World Cup 2014 finals. The Brazilians are all rooting against the Argentinians, so there’s a core fan base. But then word gets out Hitler once supported the German national team. Then people bring up the old taboo of Nazis hiding out in Brazil and then counter allegations of Nazis in Argentina. Public opinion sways rapidly against Germany (amnesia or foolish forgetful forgiveness had set in at some point over the last 60 years) and the country’s PR department has to act fast.

[Editor’s note: The ongoing Dictators and Soccer series includes other installments on Kim Jong-il of North Korea, the Military Junta of Argentina, Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania, Pope Benedict XVI of the Vatican and Mobutu Sésé Seko of Zaïre.]

The German spin doctors swiftly publish incontrovertible evidence that Hitler never actually supported the German side. Far from it. In fact, in the one known Fürher appearance at a soccer match, the 0-2 defeat to Norway at the Berlin Olympics, humiliation at his own doorstep, he left at halftime muttering one choice obscenity or other, a distasteful experience that put him off the sport for good.

This is fact. May the press conference enter into evidence Exhibit A. [[shuffled papers]]

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Fun fact about Adolf Hitler and soccer, also true (the PR machine and the German press conference, not true). Word on the street and a 1998 article “The 50 Worst Famous Football Fans” in The Times had it Adolf was a fan of Schalke 04, six-time German/Austrian champs during the Nazi era. Modern-day Schalke went so far as to launch an investigation and issue formal response that no photographic evidence whatsoever existed linking him at any club matches. The letter to The Times from Schalke PR is hilarious for the use of “bugger,” if nothing else. Exhibit B:

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Formal refutations of previous past unassailable der diktator fandom. Now that’s up-to-the-minute unpopularity.

Champions LeagueCommentaryEnglandEuropeGermany

My Kingdom for a Shin Pad: Dortmund Daytrippin’

September 18, 2014 — by Tyler

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[Editor’s note: Tyler wrote this piece of Arsenal wisdom, not Rob. And now we commence.]

Aw, c’mon guys. Why so glum? We ripped Besiktas apart, 1-0, over two games! We beat Crystal Palace, 2-1–but it was at the Emirates! 17th place Crystal Palace! And Red Bulls! Wait, we lost to the freaking Red Bulls? On the bright side, we face Aston Villa on the road in a few days. 2nd place, undefeated Aston Villa. No sweat.

WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?!?

Arsenal has seen worse Champions League losses for sure. But yesterday kind of felt like that competition’s version of the 8-2 at Old Trafford a few years ago. Gibbs looked pretty decent yesterday. And Ox, for that 30 minutes he played, was great. But one of those two will be hurt by October, so don’t get too excited. Szczesny kept it from being 4-0 or 5-0 (but so did Dortmund’s serial diver, Mkhitaryan, with his repeated shots off target). Yet even the Arsenal keeper couldn’t stay focused, almost caught by an onrushing Dortmunder whilst getting cute with the ball at his feet. I guess the away/Cup uniforms did okay. But only okay! Everyone and everything else, from the manager to the players’ equipment, just stunk up the joint. I guess after nearly ten years with no losses in Germany, it was bound to happen eventually. It’s a German kinda year anyway.

England

Civilian Soccer Tyrants: Leeds and Massimo

August 19, 2014 — by Rob Kirby

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Northern English football fans are usually all-in or all-out. At Leeds United, however, the roller coaster highs and lows over the past decade have inner-ear imbalanced supporters. After a rogues gallery of financial disaster club owners, they remain wary of a flashy, volatile new Italian guy for whom “eccentric” puts it mildly. They could be excused for remaining cautiously fill_in_the_blank. (This said by someone who has never been to olde town Leeds and whose defining viewing moment involving the team begins and ends with the storybook match-winning FA Cup goal from an on-loan MLS Thierry Henry a few years back.) But as of August 3, Massimo Cellino, eccentric Italian entrepreneur, convicted fraud and serial sacker of coaches, announced he’s buying back the LUFC stadium grounds that the club’s broke ass previously had to sell, so that’s positive, yes? Yes, Leeds fans? I’ll take that grumbled assent as cautiously optimistic. And you’re no longer in the third tier, though he had nothing to do with that… Robble.

High-flying millennium era Premier League Leeds reached the semi-finals of the Champions League in 2001 but they walked a razor’s edge to do so, and racked up huge debts in the process. After finishing fifth in 2003, meaning they didn’t qualify for the European competition (and more importantly, the associated TV rights cash), the “spend money to make money” strategy backfired massively. Debt collections led to mass player sell offs and a subsequent plummet down the table. Leeds sold the Elland Road stadium and grounds in 2004, and the team got relegated the same year. In the Championship, the team went into financial administration in 2007, which then triggered relegation to the third division with a 10-point deduction.

CommentaryDispatchesUnited States

Feeling friendly: 5 goals in 60 minutes

August 11, 2014 — by Tyler

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It’s not the name of a motivational seminar. It was another sprint to Denver and back for the sake of the game. In 2013 there was the U.S./Costa Rica blizzard bowl. Today was the haul-ass that was Manchester United/AS Roma. The tickets were a birthday gift from family, and it was a worthy spectacle in terms of cost and effort.

My sister and I agreed to meet at a parking lot at 1:15 so that we would have ample time to walk over to Sports Authority Field at Mile High, and you’d think we would have the logistics down by now. We both left our homes in different cities, we figured we’d given ourselves enough time, and each of us was late for the 2PM kickoff. She was late to the meeting place but early enough that she’d have gotten into the game with plenty of time, if it weren’t for the fact that I was much later. Some days the trip to Denver is an hour. Today it was two, and my trip was more special than usual this time. The clogged interstate is nothing new, as are the inevitable rear endings when traffic stops and starts. This afternoon, I had the pleasure of being the furthest car back in a three-car chain reaction. We all pulled over and got out, shook hands, agreed that while I was considered at fault in such situations (for following too closely), I was also the only one with any damage to my vehicle. It lasted five minutes. No harm, no foul, and we got in our cars and kept moving.

CommentaryEnglandItalyThe Americas

Zanetti in DC, Near a Garden, Meeting Eden

July 31, 2014 — by Rob Kirby

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Long suffering Indomitable Leeds correspondent at large Lawrence Eden was minding his own international man of mystery veterinarian business today when he ran across former Inter Milan maestro Javier Zanetti in downtown Washington, D.C., fiddling with his cellie.

Lawrence approached the Argentinian Man of Steel with typical Edenesque cool and asked, “Hello Jav’s–can I get a photo with you pls?”

“Sí,” said el accommodating señor.

Technically, that was the extent of the conversation, but in D.C. where basically not a day goes past when an Italian-based footballer and an Argentine legend walks past, Javier was lucky to have even been asked. Lawrence was kind to have stroked the man’s ego. Much like Pope Francis a few months back (see below, but as everyone knows, popes are total kiss-asses–Francis gets a semi-pass, but only just.)

CommentaryEnglandThe AmericastransfersUnited StatesWorld Cup

Besler-Zusi Axis of SKC Loyalty-Legacy Represent

July 22, 2014 — by Rob Kirby

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[Editor’s note: On the eve of Sporting KC’s expected destruction of Manchester City in a stateside friendly–booo, Nasri!!!!–Cameron Garrison, rabid SKC and AFC supporter, weighs in on his unbelievable happiness at USMNT Brazil 2014 standouts Matt Besler and Graham Zusi rejecting offers from England and abroad and staying put at the home of the MLS champions. Loyalty isn’t dead, the legacy is only beginning.]

So, Saturday.  What an AMAZING day for Kansas City and soccer in Kansas City.  It’s really difficult to overstate just how big Saturday was.  We have been fortunate to have a number of fantastic players during this 4-year run.  Many have moved on. Many have stayed. And we have been so successful because Vermes is so brilliant at replacing those that have gone.

But through it all, these two were THE guys. They were the heart and soul of the whole thing. Always.  As the WC approached, I was equal parts thrilled and terrified.  I knew that if they played well, we would probably lose them.  But I also knew that, if that happened,  I would be so proud to see them go.   They *are* SKC.

BrazilCommentaryHistoryPhotographyThe AmericasWorld Cup

Dictators and Soccer: The Junta, Argentina 1978, Disappearings, Match Fixing and Early Deity Era Maradona (Argentina)

July 11, 2014 — by Rob Kirby

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The ruthless military junta that hosted the 1978 World Cup in Argentina lit the stage to maximum wattage and leveraged the spectacle to flashiest effect, by hook, crook and any means necessary. A world champion team would obviously cap that off, as would an obediently silent public and extermination of political enemies, so they duly made this winning trifecta come to pass. That it should happen to involve match rigging, bribery, bulldozing of shantytowns and villas miserias, “disappearing” tens of thousands of dissenters in abductions, incarcerations and torture, as well as forced relocation of squatters or any other huddled undesirable masses, so much the better. The junta hired a PR firm Burson-Marsteller to help improve the likeability of their public face, however. They weren’t completely oblivious to popular opinion.

[Editor’s note: The ongoing Dictators and Soccer series includes other installments on Kim Jong-il of North Korea, Hitler of Third Reich Germany, Nicolae Ceaușescu of Romania, Pope Benedict XVI of the Vatican and Mobutu Sésé Seko of Zaïre.]