Sunday, March 16, 2014

North London Is Red


Taking a break from re-compiling the all-time regional teams for the 30 MLB teams, let's talk soccer.

Or, as most of the rest of the world -- but, interestingly, NOT most of the English-speaking world -- calls it, "football."

The New York Red Bulls have played their first 2 games of the 2014 Major League Soccer season. One awful loss, one draw that should have been a win.

The Red Bulls -- a.k.a. "Metro," for their former name of the New York/New Jersey MetroStars -- opened the season with a 4-1 loss away to the Vancouver Whitecaps.

Thierry Henry, the former Arsenal superstar, did not make the trip. At his age (36), he doesn't play in road games where the playing surface is artificial turf. I can't say that I blame him for this particular behavior, even if it is one of the few diva things about him.

But yesterday was the home opener, at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey, against the Colorado Rapids, from the Denver suburbs. After a turgid scoreless first half -- and, really, the word "turgid" was made for scoreless soccer games ("football matches," whatever) -- Henry showed that he's still got it, scoring a beauty of a goal in the 57th minute.

Unfortunately, the referee, Alan Kelly, thought, "Duhhhh, that's Thierry Henry, and he plays for Arsenal, and, duhhhh, I have to screw Arsenal over. Penalty to the other team! Reason? What reason? Duhhhh, I don't need a reason!" For the record, the official reason was that Metro defender Jamison Olave fouled Marvin Chavez in the penalty box. Vicente Sanchez beat Metro goalkeeper Luis Robles, and it was 1-1, and that's how it ended.

Bogus as hell.

The official attendance was 20,542, about 4,000 short of a sellout. I'm calling New York Red Bullshit: That stadium was less than half-full. They may have sold 20,000 tickets, but on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, less than 10,000 people decided to pay less than it costs to see a Broadway show to see Thierry Henry play soccer in fresh air.

Disgraceful.

Metro's next game is next Sunday afternoon, in the Chicago suburbs, against the Chicago Fire.

*

Now, on to The Arsenal.

It was Derby Day. And that's pronounced "darby" in England.

With the occasional exception of Yankees vs. Red Sox, American rivalries don't get as nasty as international soccer rivalries. The Rome derby of Roma vs. Lazio. The Istanbul rivalry of Fenerbahce vs. Galatasaray. The Buenos Aires rivalry of Boca Juniors vs. River Plate. Even in the comparatively civilized city of Glasgow, Celtic vs. Rangers.

Arsenal vs. Tottenham Hotspur, the North London Derby, is one of those. An Arsenal fan's perfect day involves beating Tottenham. A Tottenham fan's perfect day involves beating Arsenal AND beating an Arsenal fan senseless.

They played for the 3rd time this season. On September 1, the day before the closing of the summer transfer window, they were set to play a Premier League game at the Emirates Stadium, a.k.a. New Highbury, Arsenal's spectacular 60,000-seat new home that, in 2006, took the place of their classic 38,000-seat old home, officially known as Arsenal Stadium but known for its neighborhood as Highbury.

At that point, manager Arsene Wenger had not yet pulled the trigger on the £42.5 million ($70.7 million) deal to buy midfielder Mesut Özil from Spanish giants Real Madrid. He had brought in former Arsenal midfielder Mathieu Flamini and teenage striker Yaya Sanogo on free transfers. In other words, net, he had spent nothing.

Meanwhile, Tottenham had sold their "one-man team" from last season, Welsh winger Gareth Bale, to Real Madrid -- which meant that they needed money, hence they were willing to sell Özil -- for a world-record transfer fee of £85.3 million ($142 million, which also made him the first-ever €100 million player).

They also dumped the spectacularly failed Scott Parker (overhyped because he was English and he had a moment of glory for the England national side), and sold the best current American player, Clint Dempsey, to the Seattle Sounders of MLS. That's right: Dempsey was so desperate to get out of Tottenham that he chose to go to a city so rainy it makes Manchester look like Cairo.

Then they spent around £105 million ($175 million) on 7 players: Romanian defender Vlad Chiriches; midfielders Paulinho from Brazil, Etienne Capoue from France, Christian Eriksen from Denmark and Erik Lamela from Argentina; and forwards Roberto Soldado from Spain and Nacer Chadli from Belgium.

Except for Eriksen, all of these players have either been spectacular failures, or have spent so much time injured that they are failures for all intents and purposes, at least for this season.

And people think the Yankees waste money?

The Tottenham fans -- known to Arsenal fans as "Spuds," as a play on "Spurs" -- were crowing that "the power shift in North London" that they'd been yammering about for years was at hand.

The Arsenal fans -- known as "Gooners," as a play on "Gunners," for the team's cannon crest -- were split. Some were sure that they would continue their dominance of Spurs: "Forever in our shadow." Some were furious that Tottenham had spent all that money and that Wenger had spent none, and were sure that the power shift was happening.

Arsenal won the game, 1-0. Then completed the deal for Özil.

*

By a weird twist of fate, the teams were brought together in the 3rd Round of the FA Cup on January 4, also at the Emirates. Özil had settled in quite nicely with his new team, which was already challenging for the League lead. While Spurs fans were saying that their new players hadn't yet "settled in," that they needed time to "gel."

Meanwhile, Tottenham manager Andre Villas-Boas, who had previously won the Portuguese Liga with FC Porto, but had flopped across London at Chelsea, was fired, and replaced with Tim Sherwood -- once a lousy player, and, before that, as a bow growing up outside London in Boreham Wood, an Arsenal fan.

Arsenal won the game, 2-0. Santi Cazorla and Theo Walcott scored the goals.

Later, Walcott was injured near one of the corner flags. Spurs fans threw things at him while he was down and injured, including coins.

Typical of Tottenham, especially this season, seeing a problem and throwing money at it, and it doesn't do any damn good.

As Theo was carried off on a stretcher, he used his hands to show them not an obscene gesture, but the score of the game.

And these missile-throwing thugs were enraged by this, and threw more things at him.

Idiots.

*

Today, they played the White Hart Lane fixture in the League. It was Theo's 25th birthday, but his injury will keep him out for the rest of the season, and, almost certainly, he won't be available for England in this summer's World Cup, either.

Tomas Rosicky, the short, aging Czech midfield dynamo known to Gooners as "the Little Mozart" (yes, I know, Mozart wasn't Czech, he was Austrian) scored in the 2nd minute of the game. Not the 72nd minute, but the 72nd second. It was a fantastic goal, too.

Then came 93 minutes of tension, as Tottenham played dirty, Stoke-like ball, and referee Mike Dean, who looks like Vladimir Putin and is nearly as evil, gave Spurs call after call after call.

It didn't work: Although the Arsenal attack fell woefully short the rest of the way, centrebacks Laurent Koscileny and Per Mertesacker -- the Polish-by-ancestry, French-by-birth man known as Kos the Boss, and the 6-foot-6 battering ram who has happily accepted the nickname the Big Fucking German --  slammed the door on Spurs.

Final score: As the old song goes, "One-nil to The Arsenal."

This was the first time Arsenal had ever gone 3-0 vs. Tottenham in a season. They'd gone 3-1, and had once gone 3-1-1, but this was the first-ever 3-0.

Or, to put it another way: Tottenham had played Arsenal 3 times, and in none of those 3 games did Arsenal have anything resembling a fully-healthy starting lineup, and against such Arsenal lineups, Tottenham scored exactly no goals.

Zero.

"Big club," my arse.

Tottenham will probably finish at least 6th, thus qualifying for one of England's places in the UEFA Europa League. But at least 4th, thus qualifying for one of England's places in the UEFA Champions League, is now, almost certainly, out of the question. Those 4 places are going to go to Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City -- not necessarily in that order.

And, with Arsenal having advanced to the FA Cup Semifinal, "doing the Double" -- winning the League and the Cup -- is still possible, although winning the League will be a lot harder, especially with Man City having, due to weather-related and cup-tie-related postponements, some games in hand.

But Tottenham remain a joke. They're like England's version of the Toronto Maple Leafs: They haven't won their league since the 1960s, yet their fans still talk so much trash, and the national media loves them anyway.

Meanwhile, North London is Red.

If you doubt this, check out Lee Hurley in the British newspaper Metro. He sums it up better than I can.

*

Days until the Devils play again: 2, on Tuesday night, home to the Boston Bruins.

Days until Arsenal play again: 6, Saturday afternoon, 1:30 PM U.S. Eastern Time, away to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in West London. A huge game. Also, it will be Arsene Wenger's 1,000th game as Arsenal manager.

Days until the Devils next play a local rival: 6, this Saturday night, against the Rangers. We also play away to the Islanders a week after that; and home to the Islanders on Friday night, April 11. We do not play the Philadelphia Flyers again for the remainder of the regular season. As for the Playoffs, I wouldn't worry about that. As Jim Mora Sr. would say, "Playoffs? Don't talk about Playoffs! You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!"

Days until the Red Bulls play again: 7, next Sunday, 3:00 PM Eastern Time, away to the Chicago Fire.

Days until the Yankees play again: 16, on Tuesday, April 1, at 7:10 PM, away to the Houston Astros. A little over 2 weeks.

Days until the U.S. national soccer team plays again: 17, on Wednesday night at 11:00 PM Eastern Time, April 2, a "friendly" (exhibition game) vs. arch-rival Mexico, at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. Home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals, college football's Fiesta Bowl, and the Giants' Super Bowl XLII win over the New England Patriots.

Days until the Yankees' home opener: 22, on Monday, April 7, at 1:00 PM (well, 1:07 or so), vs. the Baltimore Orioles. A little over 3 weeks.

Days until the next Yankees-Red Sox series begins: 25, on Thursday, April 10, at 7:00 PM (well, 7:07 or so), at Yankee Stadium II.

Days until the Red Bulls next play a "derby": 27, on Saturday, April 12, 2:30 PM, vs. D.C. United, at Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington. Under 4 weeks.

Days until Arsenal could win the Premier League title, presuming it goes to the final game of the season: 56, on Sunday, May 11, with a 10:00 AM (our time) start, away to Norwich City, of East Anglia. Exactly 8 weeks.

Days until the FA Cup Final, for which Arsenal is still eligible, at the new Wembley Stadium in London: 62, on Saturday, May 17. A little over 2 months.

Days until the 2014 World Cup in Brazil: 88, on Thursday, June 12. Under 3 months.

Days until the next North London Derby between Arsenal and Tottenham: Unknown. The next season's schedule, or "fixture list," usually comes out on the 2nd Friday in June. The new season usually begins on the 3rd Saturday in August, but derbies are rarely held that early in the season -- this season's September 1 match was unusually early. That opener will most likely be on August 16, which would be 153 days, but don't count on it being a derby.

Days until Rutgers plays football again: 167, on Saturday, August 30, away to Washington State, at CenturyLink Field, home of the NFL Champion Seattle Seahawks. A little over 5 months.

Days until East Brunswick High School plays football again: Unknown, as the schedule has yet to be released.  Most likely, it will be on the 2nd Friday night in September.  If so, that will be September 12, therefore 180 days. Under 6 months.

Days until Rutgers makes its Big Ten Conference debut: 181 days, on Saturday, September 13, time to be determined, against old enemy Penn State.

Days until Derek Jeter's last regular-season game (barring injury): 196, on Sunday, September 28, against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.

Days until the next East Brunswick vs. Old Bridge Thanksgiving game: 256, on Thursday morning, November 27, 10:00 AM. A little over 8 months.

Days until the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil: 750, on Friday, August 5, 2016. Less than 2 1/2 years.

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