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The FBM Blog

The Big Pitcher - Fool’s Gold

Editor's Note: Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but It bends toward justice”. Sometimes we American soccer fans get wrapped up in the day-to-day, Monday morning quarterbacking (or centerbacking), knee-jerk reactions and miss out on the big picture. This weekly column will focus on picking out the larger themes and issues of Major League Soccer and the American game.

By Eric Betts / Senior Crystal Ball Correspondent

Last week, CONCACAF announced a plan to pit the winners of the 2013 and 2015 Gold Cup tournaments against each other in a playoff to determine who gets to represent the continent at the 2017 Confederations Cup. In practice, this is because otherwise none of the teams really cared about the 2013 Gold Cup, just as no one did in 2009 and so on and so forth.

They would bring weakened teams, allowing their starters to rest after World Cup qualifiers and rejoin their MLS teams or take a bit of a break before going back for the European preseason. This, in my opinion, was not a bad thing, and the reasons why have a lot to do  with Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez and that game last month at the Azteca.

Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez probably won’t play in this summer’s Gold Cup – not unless Jurgen Klinsmann wants to open his hotel door one evening to find a very stern-looking Peter Vermes tapping a length of pipe on his open palm while Bruce Arena slips on a set of brass knuckles behind him. But the emergence of a potential Besler-Gonzalez center back pairing is exciting not just because of their quality play in the harshest away environment this side of the lunar surface, but because at 24 and 26 the pair still have a fresh out of the box feel to them. Never mind that Geoff Cameron is only 27; this is the Tandem of the Future!

“Future” is the most dangerous word in international soccer; we look to it as if through a pair of binoculars, desperately trying to adjust the focus to get a clear glimpse while missing everything that’s around us. A section of the fanbase, and the wider sporting press, has spent the career of our Best American Player Ever (and the Guy Who Might Be Better Than Him) looking to the day when we’re going to produce the Best Player Ever. Now we might not even have replacements for the first two guys.

You can see why this is appealing. Only around eight teams per cycle stand a realistic chance of winning the World Cup. Underdogs, big underdogs, just don’t win the tournament, at least not since 1950, and what small surprises it has to offer involves things like “Italian defense” and “Diego Maradona.”

But is the World Cup the only prize that matters? We’re conditioned by American sports to feel that anything less than the title at the end of the rainbow is a failed season, but are 199 FIFA nations utter failures? And if not, then what are they playing for? A Final Four WC bid? (Curse you, Frings!) Continental supremacy and the five bonus armies per turn that comes with it? Other trophies, a stockpile Gold and Confederations cups and perhaps soon the occasional upset bid at the Copa America? How do you balance a team’s needs between today and a tomorrow that might never get here?

The years of reps Michael Bradley earned in the center of the park back when he really was a young, immature coach’s son prone to stupid cards have undoubtedly helped him become the steadying force he is today. The jury may still be out on the years of reps Jozy Altidore has received at the top of the formation (That hurts to say. I’m a big-time Jozy apologist). But even when the forward pool was at its shallowest, a good percentage of his early caps were dealt to him with the future in mind, with the expectation that they’d accelerate his growth into an even more fearsome striker in the future, that he and Bradley and that Best Player Ever In-Waiting (Repeat after me: This never happened.) would get the nation closer to winning a major tournament.

That’s what was sort of nice about having an off-year continental championship. There’s a benefit to playing games, real competitive games, where everything is made up and the points don’t matter. Coaches can take the kinds of chances on youth that would ordinarily be calculated risks in small doses and career suicide in larger ones. And fans can get a free turn at the binoculars, parsing the future without sacrificing the present.

Josh Gatt could actually play on the right side, where at least the fact that he’s more one-footed than Long John Silver won’t lead to him dribbling across the center of the pitch into nine players. A John Anthony Brooks (Maybe? And even then he’d play with the U-20’s, but whatever) and Amobi Okugo centerback pairing isn’t the best second-tier centerback combination we could come up with, but it’s the most fun Fezzik-Inigo pairing of towering strength and skill on the ball on that side of the pool. Significant minutes for Juan Agudelo, who I never regret getting to watch play.

After the news of the new play-in game was announced, several well-connected soccer journalists suggested the U.S. and Mexico at the very least would still devote the majority of their efforts toward the post-World Cup tournament in 2015, fielding weaker teams at this summer’s event. Hopefully they feel the same way for years to come even after they see what tomorrow might bring.

About Eric

Eric Betts is a freelancer writer who lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and his dog Lando (yup). He is a contributing writer for "The Other 87 Minutes", their brilliance featured every Tuesday on the Free Beer Movement in the form of "the Tuesday 10" or the "Tuesday XI". While attending Emory University he won "College Jeopardy"

Tags: Big Pitcher, Eric Betts

Going Suds Up - The Best Soccer, The Best Beers

By Kirsten Schlewitz / Senior West Coast Beer and Aston Villa Correspondent

In the U.S., the soccer season has barely begun. But over in Europe, most countries are 6-8 weeks away from the end of the season – and the title race has more or less been decided in each of the big leagues. Of course, we all know that Bayern Munich grabbed the Bundesliga title last weekend. Barcelona, naturally, are running away from it in Spain, 13 points above Real Madrid. Manchester United are 12 above rivals City. France and Italy are closer, with Paris Saint-Germain 7 points above Marseille and Juventus leading Napoli by 9 points.

So barring any last-minute meltdowns, Europe’s top clubs are ready to receive their crowns. That means it’s time to look at the bottom, where all the action is. If you’re a fan of a club hovering close to the relegation zone, the end of the season is terrifying (I should know; I’m an Aston Villa supporter). But if your club is safe, it’s often rather fun to predict which sides are going down – and if you’re feeling really evil, cheer them on as they head to the lower leagues.

There are at least two serious relegation six-pointers this weekend: On Saturday, Pescara, who are dead last in Serie A, host Siena, who are out of the drop only because they have a better head-to-head against Palermo. Then on Monday, Celta Vigo visit Mallorca, with both sides sitting dead last in the La Liga table. And if you feel you just can’t let Sunday pass by without the tension that comes with trying to avoid the drop, head to Newcastle, where it’s possible that a win in the Tyne-Wear Derby could see the Toon push their rivals Sunderland down to the point of no return.

So what sort of beer do you drink while cheering on the possibility of making an entire fanbase break down in sobs? Well, if you’re watching the Derby, it should be Newcastle Brown Ale, of course. But that’s just too easy for this column, which is meant to expand your beer-drinking horizons and challenge your taste buds. With quite a few weeks left before the drops are decided, it’s probably best to go with something on the lower end of the ABV scale, lest a strong beer gets to your head and you start doing relegation sums incorrectly. And with spring finally upon us, a lighter, sessionable beer is a fine choice, perfect for enjoying the (hopefully) sunny days.

Now I know not all of you will be able to find beers from Full Sail Brewing, but I did check and they distribute in most states. If you’re one of the unfortunate ones, take what I said about the style, go out and be creative. The reason I’m recommending Full Sail is because they make a special point of doing session beers – they have a lager, a black lager and even a holiday red lager. The point they’re trying to make with the sessions is that a beer can be crisp and refreshing without being boring. Ok, the lager is fairly standard, with mild hops and medium sweetness. If you’re looking for something more interesting, go with the black. It’s actually a Schwarzbier, so it’s heavier on the chocolaty malts, but it also has enough citrus hops to make it light and balanced.

About Kirsten

I may be a law student at Lewis and Clark, but soccer is my true love, with beer coming in a distant second. That's not to say I don't love beer--I've tasted over a thousand different brews, am a bit obsessed with my "33 Beers" notebooks, and love my Untappd app. Living in Portland, Oregon, I attend quite a few festivals and tastings, and am able to argue passionately about the merits of Cascade hops vs. Chinook.

As for the soccer, I'm the cofounder of SB Nation's Aston Villa site, 7500 to Holte, as well as the editor of SB Nation Italy. Want more? Follow me on Twitter!

Tags: Beer, Going Suds Up

The Spilt Pint: MLS Week Five

South Africa 2010.  No matter where you were in the world, when American soccer fans saw Landon Donovan's strike hit the back of the net, beer went errrrrvrywhere. The pubs erupted with World Cup joy.  Lucky for us we don't have to wait four years for an equalizing moment.  Major League Soccer is jam-packed with amazing strikes, goals, headers, and golazos. Every week there are goals that make you leap out of your seat. Since great goals often come from the most unlikely of places you're often not prepared when that beer of yours goes tumbling over in that moment of goal-scoring ecstasy.

In the spirit of these unforgettable moments, we at the Free Beer Movement offer you a fitting pairing to replace that spilt pint.  Each week we bring you a carefully selected beer to go perfectly with the best scoring moments MLS has to offer.  Enjoy responsibly.

By Brian Wachholz / Senior Beer Rag Correspondent

Goal of the Week No. 5: Thierry Henry – New York Red Bulls

Thierry Henry, in vintage gunner form, wins the 2013 Goal of the Week Award for week five.  This airborne Red Bull effort is a feast for the eyes en français.  The assist is delivered by fellow Frenchman Peguy Luyindula.  He receives a lobbed ball from the halfway line, quickly settling it before lobbing it over two Philadelphia defenders to Henry.  Titi catches the ball with his right thigh then sends the ball to the far post with his left foot before Zac MacMath has time to react.

After mopping up your spilt drink, we recommend you replenish your glass with a beer from "The French Connection" collection properly befitting Henry’s game-winning goal.  Stillwater Artisanal Ales of Baltimore, Maryland, paired up with three different French craft breweries to produce three different collaboration brews.  We recommend you try the Ambrée.  Hand crafted in the traditional French style of a bière de garde, this ale will refine with age, much like Thierry.

The trio of beers is imported to the United States by 12 Percent Imports.  Find 33cl (330ml / 11.3 fl oz) bottles in better beer stores throughout their distribution territory.

Tags: Beer, Brian Wachholz, Spilt Pint

VIDEO - Every Goal from MLS Week 6

If it's Monday than it's all the goals and glory from  this past weekend's Major League Soccer action from Kick TV.

Tags: KickTV, Major League Soccer, Video

The After Bar - USWNT 3 - Germany 3

The United States women's nation team kicked off their European tour with a barn-buring 3-3 draw against Germany. The match coincided with U.S. Soccer's 100th anniversary as well. Germany fought back twice (down 1-0 and 3-1) to earn a share of the result in a battle between women's soccer's number one and number two teams.

Abby Wambach scored her 155th career goal (just three shy of Mia Hamm's total mark) while Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan also made the scoresheet with great goals.

The USWNT will face the Netherlands Tuesday afternoon at 12pm CT. The match will stream for free on ESPNW.com and ESPN3.com

Highlights and Player Reaction/Breakdown:

Reaction:

 

Analysis from some of women's soccer's best writers:

Jeff Kassouf (Equalizer Soccer) - "Late surge sees Germany end level with USWNT"

 

 

Tags: The After Bar, USWNT, Video

The Spilt Pint: MLS Week Four

South Africa 2010.  No matter where you were in the world, when American soccer fans saw Landon Donovan's strike hit the back of the net, beer went errrrrvrywhere. The pubs erupted with World Cup joy.  Lucky for us we don't have to wait four years for an equalizing moment.  Major League Soccer is jam-packed with amazing strikes, goals, headers, and golazos. Every week there are goals that make you leap out of your seat. Since great goals often come from the most unlikely of places you're often not prepared when that beer of yours goes tumbling over in that moment of goal-scoring ecstasy.

In the spirit of these unforgettable moments, we at the Free Beer Movement offer you a fitting pairing to replace that spilt pint.  Each week we bring you a carefully selected beer to go perfectly with the best scoring moments MLS has to offer.  Enjoy responsibly.

By Brian Wachholz / Senior Beer Rag Correspondent

Goal of the Week No. 4: Chris Wondolowski – San Jose Earthquakes

In no real surprise, Chris Wondolowski takes home the fourth installment of the 2013 Goal of the Week Award in MLS for his excellent bomb against the Seattle Sounders.  Wondo’s strikes truly are a thing of exquisite beauty, and so this week we are pairing his long range effort with a beer from 8th Wonder Brewery.  This brewery makes its magic in Wondolowski’s old stomping grounds of Houston, Texas.  He is quite familiar with the city, having spent 2006-2009 with the Dynamo.

8th Wonder’s altbier, called "Alternate Universe", pairs with Wondo’s strike better than peanut butter with jelly.  Even in an alternate universe, Chris would be putting the hurt on opposing goalkeepers with his wonder-strikes.  This beer exists by itself somewhere between a light beer and a dark beer much like Wondolowski exists in an invisible plane hidden between the midfield and opposition defenders.  That is, until he is ready to pounce.

Look for 8th Wonder Brewery’s offerings in Houston area better-beer bars.

Tags: Beer, Brian Wachholz, Spilt Pint

The Big Pitcher: Open and Shut Case

Editor's Note: Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but It bends toward justice”. Sometimes we American soccer fans get wrapped up in the day-to-day, Monday morning quarterbacking (or centerbacking), knee-jerk reactions and miss out on the big picture. This weekly column will focus on picking out the larger themes and issues of Major League Soccer and the American game.

By Eric Betts / Senior Crystal Ball Correspondent

The third season of this particular iteration of the North American Soccer League kicks off this weekend, and for those of us whose interest is more in the league as an entity than in the fortunes of any particular team, the big story to follow is, naturally, the schedule?

The league announced last fall that they would split their schedule this year, play one season in the spring, another in the fall, and let the winners face off to determine the league champion. Apertura and clausura. Inicial and final. Invierno and verano. A format widely used in Central and South America, and one destined for success even in the hemisphere’s northern latitudes. Right?

Maybe. Truth be told, I’m at a loss; I don’t understand the reasoning behind the switch. The pros thrown out in press releases from the league and its teams sound weak. The change seems to be happening because the apertura/clausura schedule format, like George Malloy’s mountain, is there. 

Is it the weather? Does the modicum of home-field advantage cold weather in late November might provide for teams in Edmonton and Minnesota make up for the league deciding that the comfort of those fans who might want to actually attend their games in October/November was less important than that of fans in San Antonio or Ft. Lauderdale in July?

Saying the break helps the league sync with the international calendar is a nice little jab at MLS, except the only dates on the international calendar that the NASL’s break will free its players for is the Copa America and every other Gold Cup. (Though if any NASL players want to wait til the break to join their national teams for the World Cup, they’ll be able to meet up with the squad in time for the semi-finals).

Is it an attempt at outreach, a way of drawing new fans in? I found arguments from half a decade ago suggesting MLS adopt the A/C model to draw in Latino fans who have grown used to the model watching leagues in Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay, Uruguay, Venezuela and especially Mexico, which sounds like if Pepsi decided the best way to gussy up sales would be to start loading their product into red cans and boxes and hoping nobody noticed the difference on the inside.

Of course, sometimes marketing does work that way, be it subtle or painfully obvious. A change to something minor like the packaging can have a big influence on how a product is consumed, but when that does work it typically means there was something wrong with the package in the first place. Which, granted, some think might be the case.

To talk about the structure of the season in American sports is to talk about playoffs. (Say it with me, everyone. There I’m glad we went ahead and got that out.) Win or go home. History will be made. You can’t script October. Peyton’s a choker, etc. For the sake of excitement at the end of the season we discount excellence throughout it. In exchange for seeing the top teams reach a higher level of play at the end of the season, we discount slightly the early and middle portions of it.

That’s the Faustian bargain American sports, MLS included, have made: one part of the season for another. Plenty of soccer fans here think it’s a stupid arrangement for their particular sport, and plenty of others think that first group are stupid for thinking it’s stupid. We have a lot of this sort of argument in American soccer, and I have no more interest in debating single-table vs. playoffs than I do telling you which end to break your eggs on. But this third model that NASL is trying strikes me as a worst of both worlds approach.

NASL teams will play twelve games during their apertura,  There’s not a lot of time for teams to pull away from the pack, but at the same time, if someone falls into an early hole, a comeback will be nigh impossible. And so the best teams will be fighting tooth and nail for a spot in the league’s championship game, while the dregs and the mathematically-eliminated middle-class try to fine-tune themselves for the clausura, trying new players or new tactics with an eye towards winning in the future rather than the present. Which, considering each team plays the others only twice per -ura, could have big effects on what’s going on at the top.  

To be fair, this happens in sports leagues all around the world, but not seven games in, and not twice per year. Some teams will have renewed hope in August when they get their second crack at the championship. Many more will find they’ve been raised back up to 0-0-0 parity only to tumble to the basement again, continuing the cycle.

And the returns from this? A one-off championship, the Soccer Bowl, pitting a team that may have peaked four months ago against one that couldn’t beat them before they stopped caring. Potential for a classic championship, but one that lacks the momentum that builds during the playoffs or the stakes that come attached to something like the most valuable game in the world. 

What am I missing? What are the benefits? Those questions aren’t rhetorical; I really want someone to explain it to me.

What’s that? The Cosmos were only going to have their team ready in August anyway? Ohh. Never mind, then.

About Eric

Eric Betts is a freelancer writer who lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and his dog Lando (yup). He is a contributing writer for "The Other 87 Minutes", their brilliance featured every Tuesday on the Free Beer Movement in the form of "the Tuesday 10" or the "Tuesday XI". While attending Emory University he won "College Jeopardy"

Tags: Big Pitcher, Eric Betts, North American Soccer League

National Free Beer Movement Weekend 2013

Soccer newbies demand you buy them a beer.

This Sunday is "National Beer Day," the unofficial holiday in which Americans celebrate the return of delicious beer and spirits to the nation's bars and stores with the end of Prohibition in 1933.

Millions of Americans lined up at their local bars, pubs, and taverns ("New Beer's Eve") awaiting this moment when at twelve midnight they could drink again without fear of their suds confiscated or their speak-easys shut down. Happy days were here again. (In fact, 4,207 liquor licenses were issued in Milwaukee alone on April 7th!)

To celebrate the resurrection of beer drinking in the United States we are encouraging each American soccer fan to exercise that Constitutional right to drink beer and do it this weekend at a soccer game with a soccer newbie.

Celebrate "National Beer Day" by making this weekend "National Free Beer Movement Weekend".

Without the repeal of the 18th Amendment we wouldn't have delicious, delicious beer. And without said beer we wouldn't have the greatest motivator in the world to build American soccer.

This weekend when you're attending a Major League Soccer game or a North American Soccer League game or a USL PRO game or any live game... bring a friend. When you're watching English Premier League match Saturday and Sunday mornings.... bring a co-worker. When you're pulling up a seat to any soccer game that's live on on TV anywhere in this great nation or from anywhere in the world.... save a seat for a family member.

All of these people, in all of these situations, are potential soccer fans and they just need the proper setting, the proper education, and the proper brew, all provided by you, for them to be exposed to the wonderful world of soccer.

This is the perfect weekend to participate. All across Europe there are matches that will make-or-break title contenders and games that will decide the survival of other clubs. And, of course, in our domestic league, the love of our life, the MLS season (and the NASL is kicking off) is in full swing. First Kick has come and gone, but the newness of the season is still alive. Every team is still alive and optimism still reigns supreme.

There are tailgates galore to grab a brew, bars abound ready to fill your pint, and fridges fully stocked to host a gang so why not bring a few new fresh faces along and expose them to the beautiful game?

We want your to share your beers and buds with us. Share the beers you're drinking across the country and the friends that you're introducing soccer to with us.

Tweet or Facebook us with your photos of FBM in action this weekend, National Free Beer Movement Weekend 2013.


Cheers!

Historical Note: For many beer nerds, December 5th is the ultimate Prohibition-ending holiday called "Repeal Day" in honor of the final necessary 2/3rds of states (Utah, of all places) ratifying the 21st Amendment. For the Free Beer Movement we're going with this day to honor when President Franklin D. Rooesvelt signed Cullin-Harrison Act became law, official ending the failed Prohibition experiment and allowing beer and other alcohol to flow freely again. Also, since this date falls during the MLS season it makes even more sense.

Tags: Beer, FBM In Action, Major League Soccer, North American Soccer League, Public Service Announcement

The Six-Pack: Timber’s Army Home Brew Contest Winner Abram Goldman-Armstrong

It's probably no surprise that many American soccer fans are not only lovers of beer, but lovers of homebrewed beer. It should also come as no surprise that many Major League Soccer supporters groups host their own home brew competitions each year. The one that the Portland Timber's supporters, the Timber's Army has put on, officially or unofficially, since 2009 in certainly one of the more high-profile ones. In years past local craft brewers have made small batches of each winner's beer in several categories.

Beginning last year the Timber's beer sponsor Widmer Brother's Brewing Company, stepped forward to help judge and then brew the winner of one of the categories. For any home brewer going from nano-batches to a major breweries industrial brewing system would be quite the experience.

Just last month Widmer Brother's released "Green & Gold" Kolsch the creation of Timber's Army long-time member Abram Goldman-Armstrong. We had a chance to speak with Abe by phone to ask him about his history with TA, Portland as a beer and soccer town, and, of course, his winning brew.

Goldman-Armstrong in front of his own visage. Photo Credit: OregonLive.com

Free Beer Movement: What’s your history with soccer in Portland and the Timbers Army?

Abe: I started out going to my first Timbers match in 1988 with my parents. It was a Timbers reunion match. When the Timber came back in 2001 I got season tickets in section 107 and, yeah, I’ve been a part of it ever since. I’ve been actively involved in the organization since.

With MLS moving in we kinda got a little more organized and put together the Independent Supporters Trust know as the 107st. I was on the interim board of that and then I was elected to the initial board and the re-elected to the most recent board.

Along with that I edit and publish “The Whipsaw”, the Timbers Army fan-zine, now in our fourth year of that.

I’m involved in all different aspects. It’s definitely a major focus in my life.

FBM: What does it mean to be to be a supporter of the Timbers and what does it means to support a local club? What is it like to have live, local soccer in Portland week-in-and-week-out?

Abe: It’s really fantastic. The atmosphere at a Timbers match can’t really be matched in North America. Having a local team is really key. Going to a pub watching World Cup is fantastic or even if you have a good crowd watching EPL or other foreign matches, but soccer support here in Cascadia has really brought it to the next level.

When you go to a match here in Cascadia, whether you’re in Portland, Seattle, or Vancouver you’re going to find it’s more that a spectator sport. You’re there, you’re participating. We’ve always tried really hard in the Timbers Army to be engaging and engage the team. We’re willing the team to win and that’s really a key part of a local team.

You can be passionate about soccer, but you miss out on that day-to-day, when you go to a match, that shared energy. You just have to lose yourself to the crowd. You’re all there and it’s really pretty amazing.

FBM: How long have you been home brewing? What is it about having local craft beer with your local team?

Abe: I’ve been home brewing since I was 17 years old so about 17 years in total now. It’s really a big part of my life. I also write about beer. I’m really engaged in the brewing community here.

Beer is really interwoven into the Timbers Army here. I probably say hi to fifteen different brewers at a Timbers game. We live and breathe beer here as much as we live and breathe soccer. We have more breweries than any other city in the world. It really is a part of our fabric in Oregon. I think that’s something that’s a natural fit. Beer and watching soccer go hand-in-hand.

The whole beer community is really passionate about Timbers. And the Timbers Army is passionate about beer. It works out pretty well.

On our bus trip to Seattle we had about 20 different breweries sponsoring each bus. So each bus has its own Oregon brewery on it. Small, independent, local breweries that are really passionate about the team and willing to donate kegs. It’s not just that we’ve got beer on the bus, but it’s “we got local beer on the bus and here’s the brewer sitting on the bus going to the game and yelling at the referee with us for the full ninety minutes”.

I think we’re really lucky here in Cascadia to have a really vibrant brewing culture. It makes it that much more of a community to have local craft beer. And we have local craft beer in the stadium, too. Something that’s really important to who we are and how we operate.

FBM:  Discuss the Timbers Army home brew contest and how long Widmer’s been a part of it.

Abe: 2013 will be our four year for the Timbers Army Home Brew Competition. It started as a fairly informal affair and actually home brewing competitions were outlawed for a year so because of some weird law. So in 2010 we didn’t have any judging and we said, “well we’re going to all show up and tailgate” and did that. We decided to just go ahead and that just had a people’s choice award.

In 2011 we had a more formal competition again. All the beers were judged blind by a range of judges, some of them nationally ranked. We partnered with a couple of local breweries that year. The Lompoc brewed the winner, and the runner-up was brewed by by McMenamins, and the third place winner was brewed by Hop Works. That year I placed third with a Northwest-style Red Ale.

Anyhow in 2012 we had the competition again at Lompoc and Widmer had approach us to brew the winner. We basically split the competition in half. There was the “Full 90” which Widmer was going to brew; something that you could drink for a full match, something that was under 6 percent alcohol and something that wasn’t going to blow your face off with hops. It was a good fit.

Lompac brewed the winner of the “Pride of Cascadia” category which included IPAs, Cascadian Dark Ales, Imperial IPAs, and Northwest Red Ales.

In the “Full 90” category there was some pretty stiff competition, but the judges (Widmer sent down four of their brewers to help out) settled on a kolsch that I had brewed. And that’s how that all came about here.

FBM: Why did you decide to go with a kolsch? Tell us a little about the ingredients you used. Describe the taste and the flavor and how it best represents your passion for the Timbers and your passion for craft beer.

Abe: Kolsch, as you probably know, is a style that originate in Cologne, Germany. It's a top fermented beer. It's an ale, but generally brewed with all pilsner malts. Very light. Very, very pale ale. So pale you wouldn't call it a pale. It's very golden-straw in color. It's basically like a lager except for the yeast strain that is used. It's a style that I really fell in love with when I went to Cologne during the 2006 World Cup. I went around to a few of the local brewpubs and it (the kolsch style) really made an impression on me. It's a style that I've been pretty much brewing every summer since then.

It's a style that is pretty different than the stuff I normally brew, but it's worked its way into my rotation of beers that I brew. In this case I used a different yeast strain that I have never used before, a "kolsch-two" from White Labs here in Mount Hood. I used an organic pilsner malt from British Columbia and I used Hallertaur hops that I grew in my own backyard.

It ended up being the palest and brightest beer I ever brewed. I was really happy with it.

I was really honored that it won.

FBM: Being at Widmer, was that kind of a Willy Wonka experience for you?

Abe: It was pretty interesting. I brew on a ten-gallon system at home and even Widmer's test batches were brewed using a ten barrel-system so 310 gallons, but they stepped it up to their 250-barrel brew house and that's 7,750 gallons for one batch.

It was pretty unreal. I've been brewing for seventeen years and that was brewing more beer in one batch that I had in my entire life.

It was a good experience. I think I learned a lot about the practicalities of brewing on that kind of system. You can't do exactly what you want when it comes to availability of ingredients.

When I had to scale up the batch to brew at Widmer we had to make a number of changes; we obviously couldn't use the hops I grew from home (they ended up using Alchemy, Mt. Hood, and Hallertaur hops), the yeast strain I used was only seasonally available, and we ended up using Widmer's base two-row malt. We brewed three test batches before the big batch at the brewery and none of those were quite right. It was great to see that when we brewed it on the big system is was much closer to the original beer that the previous attempts.

That was pretty exciting.

VIDEO - Abram talks about his winning beer:

Note: All other photos courtesy of Widmer Brother's Brewing press release.

Tags: Beer, FBM In Action, Local Soccer Local Beer, Major League Soccer, Six-Pack Interview Series

VIDEO - Every Goal from MLS Week Five

An Henry wonder-goal here, a Villareal late-winner there, and twenty or so other great strikes (including former Austin Aztex Dillion Powers for Colorado Rapids) from week five of Major League Soccer.

Every goal from MLS courtesy of Kick TV.

Tags: KickTV, Major League Soccer, Video

WINNERS - #CheersToSoccer Photography Contest

Our #CheersToSoccer contest with "Beertography" and "The Beautiful Gear" has run its course and we received some amazing entries of your beer and soccer photography skills. It was hard to pick our favorites with so many quality pics, but we were able to narrow it down to our "first division" and "second division" winners. Sorry everyone... no pro/rel here either. Those in the top flight will be honored with our adidas "Pints Up!" shirt and the second tier will get a FBM sticker pack.

Thanks for everyone who submitted. This certainly won't be the last photography contest we roll with so keep on with the #CheersToSoccer everytime you're got a match in front of you and a cold one in your hand.

First Division:

@ShaaMikeMike (Philadelphia, PA)

@farnell81 (England)

@shawndjkidd (Vancouver)

Second Division:

@justin_rc (Dallas, TX)

@evahall (Chicago, IL)

@ATXChristina (Austin, TX)

Tags: contest, FBM In Action, photography

The Big Pitcher - Hate and War

Photo Credit: Eduardo Verdugo/AP

Editor's Note: Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but It bends toward justice”. Sometimes we American soccer fans get wrapped up in the day-to-day, Monday morning quarterbacking (or centerbacking), knee-jerk reactions and miss out on the big picture. This weekly column will focus on picking out the larger themes and issues of Major League Soccer and the American game.

By Eric BettsSenior Crystal Ball Correspondent

International matches have always been an opportunity to adopt a little of the jingoism my enlightened, 21st century perspective would never allow me to ordinarily feel. To hell with Brazilians, Italians are worthless, what have the English ever done for us (Apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health)?

This is a common and occasionally problematic phenomenon in international soccer, though not typically here, where the announcement of a friendly with Russia is 1,000 times more likely to set off a wave of Rocky IV references (guilty) than of proxy wars or missile crises. England still occasionally plays Germany, and when they do it seems half the populace genuinely believes it’s 1939 or 1982 while the other half is desperately waving their smartphones and pointing at the Gherkin to remind them that it’s not.

But Mexico is different, at least for me. I grew up in a part of the country that began experiencing its first big wave of immigration from Mexico and Central America right as I hit my teenage years. I heard people say and really mean of these new Hispanics coming into our small town the kind of things I would say jokingly about Belgians. Nobody I know hates Belgians, so that seemed safe. But cursing Mexicans for being Mexicans? That’s a little too close to real life. So for years, the passions of this particular rivalry seemed just a little too extreme for me. I rooted for a win and a good performance, not the utter destruction of the hopes and dreams of a nation of loathsome wretches.

Now it seems many, including Herculez Gomez, feel the rivalry is tilting that direction on its own. The cartoon villains and heroes - the Borgettis and the Lalases and the other guys who could just as easily have waged their never-ending battle for continental supremacy (Sorry, Canada) via a Saturday morning TV series - have fallen away. In a certain light, Rafa Marquez become less utter embarrassment to the game and more of the last of a dying breed, a lone-wolf commando deep behind enemy lines wreaking havoc on American soccer from the inside, a Sólido Serpiente with less stealth and more stock faces of righteous indignation.

Nowadays, the players each side collectively hates the most are really just the ones we each fear the most: Dos Santos and Chicharito, Landon Donovan and his weak bladder. Maybe this game seemed more subdued because Donovan were still off on the Spider-Man 2 phase of his career, hanging up the supersuit so he could try living life as just plain old Landon. (Even Spider-Man’s villains all like Peter Parker.) Or maybe it’s because it just seems a lot easier to work up the appropriate level of bile for a big-time international rivalry when the enemy looks like this rather than this

Part of it may be that that second face looks very much like one that could be starring for our team. The number of dual-nationals in the both the full squad and youth programs has risen to the point that stories like this one on Omar Gonzalez and mystique of the Azteca will either disappear entirely or proliferate to the point that they dominate the entire soccer media landscape, Agent Smith-style.

This could take the rivalry one of two ways:

1) A continuing cooling of temperatures like the one we’re experiencing now as players grow up together, play on youth teams in either country with one another and find themselves on the same teams in MLS, Liga MX or in Europe, or

2) The idea of two teams full of Giuseppe Rossi’s meeting in Gold Cups and WCQ’s for decades to come inspires fanbases to new levels of passion and vitriol. Either way, I’m excited for the first Mexican-media article about an American-born Mexican player and the aura that surrounds Crew Stadium.

Personally, I think one seems more likely. The goals of these teams have evolved over time., Being called the best team on the continent is something of a backhanded compliment for two fanbases who are hoping to see their teams move into the world’s elite. Mexican fans think they have a chance because they’ve won everything else at the lower levels; U.S. fans because we’re always holding out hope that the team’s just about to turn the corner. Beating each other will always be especially nice, but in order to be considered successful, they’ll have to beat plenty of other teams as well.

Like those damn, dirty Dutch. I never did like the Dutch.

About Eric

Eric Betts is a freelancer writer who lives in Austin, Texas with his wife and his dog Lando (yup). He is a contributing writer for "The Other 87 Minutes", their brilliance featured every Tuesday on the Free Beer Movement in the form of "the Tuesday 10" or the "Tuesday XI". While attending the Emory University he won "College Jeopardy"

Tags: Big Pitcher, Eric Betts, USMNT

That’s On Point - USMNT vs. Mexico Review

Crazy like a fox. 

Mexico 0, U.S. 0 

"And ... Annnnd .... Annnnnd ... you put the load right on me." -- The Weight, The Band

***

That was kind of a dud, huh?

Did either Mexico or the U.S. muster a quality attempt for 94 minutes of drab, uninspiring soccer?

Okay, that's an even too cynical by my blackhearted standards way to look at Tuesday's game for Estadio Azteca in Mexico City in CONCACAF World Cup qualification.

Realistically, if you're a fan of the stars and stripes, 0-0 has never tasted so sweet.

The lede here is this: when the draw for the Hex came out most expected the U.S. to walk away from the first three matches with four points. All it took was the second-ever point in World Cup qualifiers at the Azteca to make that math add up, but the 2-1 loss at Honduras last month seems a distant memory.

That's what matters.

After three of 10 Hex matches the U.S. is tied in second place on four points with Costa Rica and Honduras. In first? Yep, you guessed ... Panama! Mexico -- the big bad wolf of CONCACAF -- has only mustered three draws in its first three matches, two at home.

What in the wild and wacky world of Steve Sampson is going on here?

But yeah, let's do Hex math some other time and instead praise a job well done by a makeshift American team, that featured (gasp) two MLSers -- Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez -- as rocks of Garb-raltar in the center of the U.S. defense.

Everybody else, sans maybe Maurice Edu (stepping in for Jermaine Jones in both spirit and fan ire), acquitted themselves well. Did Clint Dempsey, or any other attacker, do all that much? Not really, but that's beside the point after a match like this.

Did the U.S. get lucky that Edu running over Javier Aquino late in the second half and not getting called for a penalty? Damn straight the U.S. did. Never mind it still doesn't make up for all the woeful calls from CONCACAF's finest which have screwed the team over the years.

How did the U.S. survive Mexico getting 15 corner kicks and Javier Hernandez missing -- point blank -- late? Who cares?

The seemingly doomed U.S. qualification ship has been righted.

The mystic the Mexicans had playing at the Azteca appears a thing of the past.

Really it's hard not to look at this Mexican side and not think one thing ... it's soft. Guys like Rafa Marquez and those goons might not have the technical pedigree the current El Tri unit has, but they ground out games. You feared that team. You hated that team.

Come at me, amigo.

These guys, for all the youth tournaments they've won, almost seem too nice.

This seems to be an overarching trend for most international teams -- nobody likes playing as the favorite -- where they have to take it to the opposition for 90 minutes. Even mighty Spain, masters of death by possession where shocked by Finland 1-1 last week, although it came back Tuesday to win 1-0 at France, but the point stands.

Mexico's performance tonight was a lot like we've seen by the U.S. in recent games -- albeit against CONCACAF minnows. When the onus of the attack falls onto them, it becomes very difficult to unlock a committed, disciplined defense. The play looks listless. The fans grumble. The players huff and puff and try to do something positive, or the opposition runs out of gas.

This isn't club soccer where you're training with a team for about 40-odd weeks a year. Eventually you'll find a combination that clicks. With the international windows, you're basically throwing together a team and getting a couple days training. Frustration sets in a lot easier.

Tuesday Mexico didn't really do anything to gravely worry the U.S. and it appeared set up for the Americans to pull off a classic counter-attacking goal against the run of play and steal all three points. Andres Guardado and Gio Dos Santos were flat-out awful, which was nice since they've roasted the Americans so many times in the past. The U.S. clogged the passing lanes to prevent 1-2 combinations and flushed most of attack out wide.

Tonight you could say the pressure of playing in front of 90,000 (or whatever the actual number was) home fans was a burden, not an advantage. Every minute the clock ticked toward 90 and the score stayed 0-0 it hurt Mexico and lifted the U.S.

You know what, as one of my cranky co-workers would say, "that's your problem."

And it is: Mexico's problem.

Klinsmann and crew cross the border with four points in their pocket.

The U-S-A is feeling A-OKAY right now.

Funny what a couple days -- and a Hex-changing snowstorm -- can do.

Other Quick Thoughts:
 

Reference to the HBO show, "the Wire."

* Nice hour pregame show by ESPN, first class work.

* That said, it really does feel like the heat from the U.S./Mexico rivalry has come a little off the boil regardless of what happened in the 1990s and 2000s. There seems much more mutual respect and less out-and-out resentment on both sides of the border.

* Great late save by Brad Guzan -- was it his only one?

* Another strong game by DaMarcus Beasley at left back, especially by the end of it he could barely walk. Playing out of position with a yellow card for almost 80 minutes is impressive.

* Gonzalez looks the real deal in the center of the defense. (As per usual, let's not overreact and anoint someone ahead of time, but this case it seems a safe bet.)

* Grahamn Zusi -- who knew -- would make two terrific defensive plays including running back into his own penalty area to head away a dangerous cross.

* Besler, making his second cap, seemed a recipe for disaster. You thought Mexico would, "hack the bone, HACK THE BONE" but El Tri (running theme) didn't do much to pressure the defense outside the first 15-odd minutes.

* Michael Bradley produced the only real American attack, which was blocked away after a darting run into the box. Still, Bradley was never out of position providing cover to the U.S. center backs.

* Donovan, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Johnson, etc., as they say in the NFL: Next man up.

* Happy longtime friends of the blog Adam and Andy Morris were in Azteca tonight to enjoy it. Subs are on me.

* It's late. That's all I got tonight. What did you guys think?

Tags: That's On Point, USMNT

Today’s The Day…

Editor's Note: This is our "get fired up" post for US international matches. We re-post it for every US match. Share it with your friends.

Today's the day the U.S. Men's National Team takes the field in a World Cup Qualifier on the road to Brazil.

Today's the day they face Mexico in Estadio Azteca.

Today's the day we take the win and move on to the next match.

Today's the day that Guzan will shine, Dempsey will lead, goals will be scored, and timely tackles will be made.

Today's the day we sit down with friends and fellow soccer fans and cheer on the home team.

Today's the day we invite someone new to come along and experience the power of a soccer match.

Today's the day they'll get a free cold one to enjoy while watching the sport we so desperately love and the team we'd follow to the ends of the earth (or Brazil!).

Today's the day we ask a non-soccer fan to join our footballing family.

The Free Beer Movement is about spreading the love of American soccer to all corners of the nation and no day is better than today. Today, the pride and joy of our nation's game takes the field in order to continue its push towards the greatest sporting spectacle of all-time, the World Cup.

The past, present, and future of American soccer all take the field today to join in one cause, to win, and to move on to the next level.

It is days like this we, as American soccer fans embrace, as our national team fights for our country's continued respect on the international stage and to stake a claim as the best team in North and Central America.

Games like today are bigger than any game; bigger than any MLS game, and bigger than your son or daughter's kick around in the park.

Our local colors blend. There are no more yellow and black of the Columbus Crew or orange and white of the Houston Dynamo or the black and red of DC United; today there is only RED, WHITE, and BLUE.

These are the days that our nation's best and brightest shine on the field for 90 minutes. For themselves, for soccer, but mostly for you... the American fan and their country... the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

These are the days that you have to get up as a soccer fan in America.

So grab you friends, grab those soccer fans, grab those ones you want to become soccer fans, and most importantly grab some really cold beers because today's the day we support our National Team and our national game we love so much.

Tags: USMNT, World Cup

A Brew For You… And You…. And You…. (USMNT vs. Mexico)

The United States men's national team walks into Estadio Azteca tonight with a huge momentum boost from Friday's "snow-pocalypse" match against Costa Rica.

You were probably looking for a beer to drink during with the last game and we failed you because we were too busy tailgating in Denver to order our team of monkeys to bang one out on the ol' typewriter. You can have this one though... it's still cold.

When one thinks of Mexico and beer they're stuck with very few choices that don't conjure up images of college spring break "Save Water, Drink Beer" Coronas on the beach and the inevitable hangover that accompanies indulging in such things. A beer like that is certainly to be avoided not only because it's terrible (unless buried in a michelada) and, well, it's Mexican and this is exactly the wrong time to be supporting Mexico.

So why not try and beat the Mexicans at their own game? Tonight when you're tuning into another late Michael Orzco Fiscal winner you should be holding onto Ska Brewing Company's "Mexican Logger" lager. It's craft in a can and it kicks Corona, Dos XX, Pacifico, or other light lager right in the can.

Photo Credit: Brewed For Thought

Additionally it's from Durango, Colorado. Colorado. USMNT fans have some happy memories of that place if my short-term memory serves me right. Granted it's a six hour jaunt to Denver and the site of Friday's whitewash of the Ticos, but they're all buried in the same snow up there so it should be just as inspiring.

A bit of saaz hops to top it all off and a Mexican caricature that looks more like the Landon Donovan lottery commercial "Mexican" that any El Tri fan I've ever met and there's your Ska "Mexican Logger" and our brew recommendation for this crucial Hex match.

And something, something about chopping down Mexico.

Tags: A Brew For You, Beer, FBM In Action, The Best of Both Worlds, USMNT

VIDEO - Kick TV’s “The Snow Game” (The Hex, Episode Four)

 
Great video from Kick TV of this weekend's USMNT "snow-pocolyse" match against Costa Rica from Denver, Colorado.
 
Not just great because FBM leads the march to the stadium like Teddy Roosevelt's charge up San Juan Hill in the Spanish-American War.

Tags: KickTV, USMNT, Video

That’s On Point - USMNT vs. Mexico Preview

Brad Guzan: Cold ... blooded.

By Mike Cardillo / That's On Point

"Momentum? Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher." -- Earl Weaver

*** 

Momentum is a nebulous term once you apply it to the world of sports, as opposed to the realm of physics where, you know, it actually means something what with co-signs, velocity, all that jazz.

Is momentum nothing more than a staple for lazy sportswriters? Is it the bane of people who attend the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and who think sports are played devoid of emotion inside a vacuum and or Excel spreadsheet? Probably.

But could it actually be something that exists during the course of a sporting event or over a period of time? Maybe.

The most fair way to look at it is that momentum exists, to a degree, yet it's not tangible. It's here today, gone tomorrow.

Sure the winning team usually has "momentum" on its side and the losing team didn't. (Admission: in my real-life job where I get paid to write about sports, I've disinterestedly asked a coach or player about, "how much having the momentum" helped them win or lose.)

Momentum seems to be something we as fans watching seem to readily identity over the course of a game or series of time, whereas the players -- managers and coaches especially -- seem to downplay, hence the Weaver quote to start this jam off.

Ever since the referee whistled full time Friday night to confirm the United State's 1-0 win Costa Rica in snowy Dick's Sporting Goods Park would indeed be official in the FIFA record books, it's been hard not to think about "Uncle Mo."

You'd think, in basic terms, the U.S. -- once again with it's "back against the wall," needing three points to kick start its 2014 World Cup Qualifying campaign -- would get a huge bump from digging down deep in the whiteout conditions of Commerce City, Colo., going into Tuesday's showdown with Mexico at the Azteca.

By the same token, the snow and wind masked any real conclusions to draw from the match. Soccer isn't meant to be played in conditions like that (a-doi!). You can point to Costa Rica playing its home games on artificial turf at the Saprissa Stadium, the elevation of Mexico City, or whichever other of CONCACAF's road pitfalls you fancy. The fact remains, whatever obstacles those homefield advantages pose, it's still the game of soccer between the white lines. What happened in Colorado Friday, was awesome to watch on television and made for some great Instagram fodder, but it wasn't soccer.

Or it wasn't soccer that we see 99.9 percent of the time.
 


Don't take this the wrong way.

This isn't denigrating what the U.S. players did Friday. Gutting out the win and making Clint Dempsey's goal stand up for close to 75 minutes with the No. 2 keeper and makeshift defense in miserable (unplayable) conditions is commendable. It's more that, because of the outlandish weather scenario, trying to divine anything other than the three points in the bank is foolhardy. (If you think about it perhaps it's the way all games in the Hex ought to be analyzed. Results are results. Points are points. No more. No less. Style points don't qualify you for a World Cup.)

It's also why it would be dangerous with the U.S. heading into Mexico City to think the team had turned a page. For all the goodwill winning Friday did, those positive vibes are likely limited to inside what was reportedly a fractured locker room. There's probably a bond forged by the players and a lot more smiles on the plane to Mexico City. Beyond that?

The problems the unnamed players had about Klinsmann and assistant Martin Vazquez that they're under-prepared tactically (and in over their heads) are still bubbling beneath the surface. One result -- even in Ice Station Impossible -- isn't going to paper over all the hard feeling some players have toward Klinsmann.

Sure it was a night anyone watching won't soon forget, if only for the novelty of it, but what it tells us about the U.S. team before the Mexico game is probably very little -- or very little we didn't already know considering the team's track record for positive results when everything outside appears to be crumbling.

And it must be said: Mexico isn't going to be in a very good mood Tuesday night after it blew a 2-0 lead on the road against Honduras to draw 2-2. El Tri is, believe it or not, a point behind the U.S. in the Hex standings after draws in its first two matches.

On the topic of momentum, a couple months ago it appeared as if Mexico would sweep through qualifying and position itself as a firm favorite in Brazil next summer based on its youth team successes and Gold Medal at the London Games. It hasn't exactly worked out that way for El Tri through its first two matches.

Watching Mexico play vs. Honduras it had the air of a team that expected to win, call it complacency. When things went a little awry there was a lot of wild gesturing toward the referees or players trying to do it all by themselves. Mexico is also going to be without captain "Maza" Rodriguez due to yellow card accumulation Tuesday meaning manager Chepo de la Torre likely turns to either 25-year-old Hugo Ayala or rising star Diego Reyes, who's only 20 but was part of the Gold medal-winning squad in London. Losing Maza might not be a terrible turn of events for Mexico since he was beaten by Carlo Costly on Honduras' first goal then gave up the penalty that led to the equalizer.

If this was chess, it'd be trading, say, rooks with Klinsmann opting not to use ex-captain Carlos Bocanegra for these matches.

Mexico looks vulnerable and with the U.S. winning last August in a friendly for its first victory ever at the Azteca, there's never looked like a better time to win a game that counts in the smog of Mexico City. Of course, Andres Guardado, Javier Hernandez and Gio Dos Santos will pose a much tougher test for the American defense in the beehive of the noise the Azteca figures to be compared to what Costa Rica could muster in the snow of Colorado.

Uncle Sam certainly has "Uncle M"o on its side when it heads South of the Border.

Mexico, decidedly, does not.

If you think it's going to matter when the game kicks off, well, you haven't been paying attention over the last 25 years.

Other Stuff:

* Snow or not, Klinsmann appeared to get the defense lineup correct, with Geoff Cameron at right back, Clarence Goodson and Omar Gonzalez in the middle and evergreen DaMarcus Beasley at left back. It's only two games in 2013, but perhaps the stink of playing at Stoke City is rubbing off on Cameron. The player he was during the 2012 is becoming a more distant memory. (Once again anointing an American player "the future" based on 2-3 games might not prove accurate. Who knew?)

Many have lauded Beasley's performance and it was just what you'd want from a veteran closing in on 100 caps. How he fares against the pacey, technical attack of Mexico in normal conditions is another story.

* Klinsmann played his seemingly preferred three-pronged attack against Costa Rica in Jozy Altidore, Dempsey and Herculez Gomez. U.S. Soccer listed it as a 4-2-3-1 -- again not that it mattered in the snow. Will the German coach be that aggressive on the road? He doesn't have a lot of other options.

* The U.S. plays in snow on Friday. Mexico played in 100-degree heat. Training staffs going to be working overtime in the three days between the matches. Klinsmann's caught a lot of heat for a different lineup in every match. He may need to make changes by necessity. Soccer players might have superhuman endurance but running around for two hours in the snow has to snap a lot out of you, especially at altitude.

* History won't smile too fondly on Steve Sampson, but he did manage the U.S. to it's only qualifying points at Mexico. This clip in 1997 is proof!

 


Why did Mexico ever go away from the Aztec imagery inside its shirt?

* Altidore looked more comfortable having balls played to him, as opposed to having to drop deep. Not a shocker. With Maza out and Mexico likely having to scramble to fill the hole next to Johnny Magallon, the AZ forward could be in line for a productive day. If anything Altidore attempted a shot from the edge of the box that set up Dempsey's goal vs. Costa Rica.

Altidore is not Mario Balotelli. You can't just throw him up top all by his lonesome and expect him to conjure up some magic. He needs link-up play and service to prove effective.

* Mexico No. 1 Guille Ochoa is listed at 6-foot-1. He looks tiny. Maybe it's an optical illusion and why the height-challenged Jorge Campos wore such garish outfits during his career. In any event, if I'm the U.S. I take as many shots as I can at the top corners and have guys crashing the six-yard box, ie. Dempsey and Bradley, looking for rebounds.

* Jermaine Jones, love him or hate him, does serve a role in the U.S. team, even if he does dumb things, like give a Costa Rican player a face wipe for no reason to set up a dangerous free kick in the second half Friday. In any event, he's out for the Mexico game, which can only be seen as a negative considering the chemistry he and Michael Bradley have established in the "double-pivot" in the center of the field. Swapping in Maurice Edu is a like-for-like change, but when is the last time we've seen him go the full 90 in an important match for the U.S.? Barring a complete midfield overhaul its Edu or Kyle Beckerman getting the start.

* Longtime friend of the blog, aimorris, will be attending the game with his brother. Give him a follow on Twitter.

* Speaking of Twitter, going to pimp myself via this little Jake Edwards Vine montage. SCORE!!!!!

Lineup Guess:

Wouldn't it make perfect sense for Klinsmann to finally use the same XI in back-to-back games following the snow? Not going to happen since Jones is out with an ankle injury. With the Schalke midfielder out, a 4-4-2 in a tight diamond might make sense. It still seems more likely Klinsmann adds another midfielder to try to clog it up for Mexico, if he does that it probably has to drop Altidore. It would be quintessential Klinsmann to throw Joe Corona into the lineup out of left field.

Option 1 (4-4-2):

GK -- Guzan

DEF -- Cameron -- Goodson -- Gonzalez -- Beasley

MID -- Zusi-- Bradley -- Edu -- Dempsey

FOR -- Altidore -- Gomez

Option 1a (4-4-1-1):

GK -- Guzan

DEF -- Cameron -- Goodson -- Gonzalez -- Beasley

MID -- Zusi -- Bradley -- Edu -- Shea

SS -- Dempsey

F -- Gomez

(I'm making this guess Sunday, blindly. Figure to be way off.)

Closing Thought:

Boil away all the "do or die" statements, the exposés, the players on surf vacations, the injuries, whatever, through the first two matchdays of the Hex (six games), the U.S. and Honduras are the only teams to notch wins. The four other games finished in draws.

The U.S. isn't going to qualify with a win Tuesday -- it sure would help -- but there's a long way to go until this is over in October. Same thing with a loss or a draw, nothing is going to be decided.

Realistically we're going to know if this is going to be a rote qualification process or if we're going to be sweating it out until the end come June. In a 12-day period the U.S. plays at Jamaica and then hosts Panama and Honduras.

That's when Klinsmann will either make his bread or start really feeling the heat in the kitchen.

Tags: That's On Point, USMNT

The After Bar - USMNT 1 - Costa Rica 0

"It was a clear black night, a clear white snow" or so I misremembered the opening lyrics to Warren G's "Regulators". No matter though whether it was white snow or a white moon the United States national team and newly christened captain Clint Dempsey were most definitely "regulators" against Costa Rica last night. The Nats put up with epic proportions of snow and a nearly abandoned match to top the Ticos, 1-0, in front of a freezing, sold out crowd of over 19,000 in Denver, Colorado.

Jozy Altidore made a cutting run atop the 18-yard box in the 16th minute. His shot bounced of a Costa Rican defender, and with the goalkeeper caught wrong footed, Dempsey was there to snatch up the leftovers into the open goal mouth for his 23nd international goal.

If surviving the Denver snow fall was one difficult task the USMNT will face another tall order immediately in their away leg match against Mexico on Tuesday at Estadio Azteca. Mexico is coming off a road shocker, giving up a two-goal-Chicharito-manufactured lead, only to draw at two apiece. The U.S. has already breached the walls of Azteca back in August, but a World Cup Qualifying match against El Tri will certainly be coach Jurgen Klinsmann's and his team's toughest task to date.

The match is on Tuesday, March 26th with coverage beginning at 8:30pm CT on ESPN.

Highlights:

 

Post-Game Quote Sheet

 

 

Analysis from some of American soccer's best writers:

 

Will Parchman (The Shin Guardian) - "Mother Nature 10 – USA 1 – Costa Rica 0: The Blizzard Ballin’ Retro Diary"

Matthew Doyle (MLSSoccer.com) - "Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from US vs. Costa Rica in the snow"

Grant Wahl (Sports Illustrated) - "Three thoughts on the USA-Costa Rica SnowClásico" and "The SnowClásico: U.S. blanks Costa Rica in unforgettable setting"

Mike McCall (Sports Illustrated) - "Clint Dempsey gives a captain's effort in Costa Rica win"

Liviu Bird (American Soccer Now) - "The Tactics of Victory: Why The U.S. Won in the Snow"

Richard Farley (NBC Sports) - "Klinsmann’s picks: Sure seems like the coach got a lot right on Friday"

Player Ratings

Noah Davis (American Soccer Now)

Jack Bell (New York Times "Goal" Blog)

Jeff Carlisle - (ESPN)

Ari Creditor (Sports Illustrated)

Tags: The After Bar, USMNT

That’s On Point - USMNT vs. Costa Rica Preview



"It's just like pulling off a Band Aid." -- Cop with a Mustache, There's Something About Mary



***

Everybody got their pitchforks and torches on standby?

This could get ugly ... for Jurgen Klinsmann, anyways.

Safe to say based his Klinsmann's roster selection for Friday's vital CONCACAF 2014 World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica it hasn't been the best week of all-time for the German. Then when you throw in some articles that have painted a picture of the German-born coach, to quote the English terraces -- YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT YOU'RE DOING -- the level of rancor from the usually staid American soccer media (and fans) is growing increasingly toxic.

It's not Rafa Benetiz at Chelsea level, yet, but if the U.S. doesn't beat Costa Rica and gets embarrassed at the Azteca on Tuesday by Mexico people aren't going to be too happy, regardless of how many cool stories about Klinsmann flying helicopters are leaked by the Pravda department of the U.S. Soccer House in Chicago.

There's a lot swirling around at the moment so let's access some facts, first:

* The U.S. lost it's first of 10 "Hex" games last month at Honduras.
* Landon Donovan, Tim Howard, Steve Cherundolo, Jose Torres, Fabian Johnson, Timmy Chandler, Danny Williams, Jonathan Spector (anyone else?) were all unavailable for these two matches, through injury, sickness or personal wanderlust.
* Former U.S. captain Carlos Bocanegra was dropped entirely by Klinsmann, opting for a defense with a combined 12 World Cup qualifying caps.
* In 23 games in charge of the U.S. Klinsmann has never used the same starting XI in consecutive games.

Skewing all this are the lingering doubts -- despite high-profile results in friendlies -- that the U.S. hasn't taken the strides forward everyone expected when Sunil Gulati axed Bob Bradley in the summer of 2011 and hired Klinsmann.
 

Get to the choppa!

Let's first start with the Bocanegra issue, which was almost a Catch-22 for Klinsmann.

For one, let's pretend Bocanegra wasn't pinned to the bench for a team in the relegation zone in the Spanish second division and was playing regularly at Racing Santander. It's not like over the last year or so Bocanegra hasn't lost a step -- this is common knowledge for U.S. fans. We've all seen this. We all knew it would be beyond risky to try to coax another World Cup campaign around a 33 year old defender -- two years ago. This isn't a new revelation.

So if Klinsmann picks Bocanegra and he shows the form and declining speed we've seen and gets torched in either game, we all get pissed off. ... Why would you play Bocanegra? I can see the fork sticking out of his back from space!!! Per Mertesacker could beat him in a foot race!!!

For whatever "leadership" Bocanegra would bring to the table, let's not try to build him up into Fabio Cannavaro at the 2006 World Cup or something on that par. Bocanegra was an excellent player for nearly a decade for the U.S., but his time is up.

The real issue here is Klinsmann's done a lousy overall job -- especially in the defense -- of transitioning the squad from the team that's been almost unchanged at the core at both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups (Donovan, Dempsey, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Howard, Cherundolo) to something new. Coaxing all these international games for over a decade with almost all the same key players isn't exactly a recipe for success, is it?

Playing Devil's Advocate, suppose Gulati never hires Klinsmann. Bob Bradley likely leads the U.S. into Brazil -- with ease -- using the same core team who all know their roles. Once the team gets to Brazil, we're facing the same questions if the U.S. has made progress, if it can compete with the elite of the world, can it get past the Round of 16? It's not very exciting. There's not likely any qualifying drama, but the payoff is minimal. We're all probably be bored, too.

Part of this whole transitional mess isn't entirely Klinsmann's fault, considering Omar Gonzalez was out injured with a torn knee for nearly a year, but a lack of preparation leaves the situation where Tony Beltran, Matt Besler and Justin Morrow -- journeymen in MLS -- are the only viable alternatives in defense thanks to a plethora of injuries.

Still, had Klinsmann started the process transitioning into a new-look squad a year ago full-bore, instead of in earnest, we might not be where we are today. It's hard to cook up a scenario, bar every U.S. defensive regular visiting the Springfield Mystery Spot at the same time, where we're in the boat we are now with Goodson being the elder defensive statesman for an American defensive unit.
 

I'm burned out, bros.

It's hard to entirely blame Klinsmann, too, for Donovan's existential spirit quest. Donovan might be past the age of 30, but he was still figured to be a key figure in the run toward what would be his fourth World Cup. For whatever pressures and burnout Donovan has felt (and it's understandable to a degree) he's not the all-time leading scorer for Germany or Argentina or even a place like Norway. It's doubtful in any other soccer country the international leading scorer deciding -- in his prime -- to blow off crucial qualifiers for a holiday in Cambodia would go down too smoothly. It might be taxing being "face of American soccer" for a decade, but let's be honest in the general sports consciousnesses, Donovan has gotten a huge pass. Chances are people will tune into ESPN2 on Friday and Tuesday and have no idea he won't be there, or more importantly why he isn't.

Donovan staring into the sporting abyss and deciding what looks back at him would've been an issue for Klinsmann or anyone on the U.S. touchline.

Maybe it all boils down to this: very few American fans want to think about or admit, the U.S. might be in a down cycle for players. As said before, you can't keep trotting out the same guys year after year at the international level and expect it to maintain. Think about it this way, beyond Michael Bradley which American player can you feel truly comfortable about as a key player who was new to the roster at the 2010 World Cup moving forward toward the 2014 cycle?

You can go down all the usual roads: MLS, youth development, college soccer, guys in Europe, guys not playing in the Champions League, etc., but the hard truth is the old guard of U.S. players has gotten older, more injury prone and haven't been replaced adequately.

Yes, Fabian Johnson and others have shown some promise in spots, but it's not like a brand-new, no doubt Starting XI has emerged from the American player pool. By the same token Klinsmann could have picked a team and stuck with it, supplementing here-and-there instead of the radical adjustments we've seen match-to-match, but we've watched these games. Who would you pick from the player pool, as it sits, with regularity. It's easy for the players to condemn the tactics when they don't work, but at some point the players have to take their share of the accountability for floundering for long stretches in matches, which usually result in the U.S. digging themselves a big hole.

And it's not all the manager's fault -- something anyone reading this knows I've been harping on for years -- America has't produced a decent wide player or winger in years, if ever. Brek Shea? That's a bit of a reach given his consistency  Klinsman, again has compounded the issue, playing a weird system in recent matches where Dempsey and Eddie Johnson (yes, remember we've had to bring him back into the fold which isn't clearly not a sign of how desperate things are) in modified wide-forward spots.

This sort sort of bad feelings happened once before in recent memory at the 1998 World Cup when the U.S. bottomed out as Steve Sampson tried to use the bulk of players from the 1990 and 1994 squads, billowed by a few promising players like Brian McBride and some completely forgettable scrubs like Chad Deering. There was a lot else going on with the 1998 squad, namely a 3-6-1 formation and the extracurricular going on between John Harkes and Eric Wynalda.

It's not the best comparison  but it's the closest I can recall when there seemed to be this much internal turmoil simmering in the USMNT camp. The upside of finishing last at France 1998 was the Federation hired Bruce Arena, who used some young blossoming talent in MLS to propel the team to the 2002 World Cup quarterfinals.

We're not there, yet, but without a win vs. Costa Rica on Friday and a representative performance (even in a loss) at Mexico, the rancor among the fans -- and sadly the players themselves -- is only going to mount for Klinsmann and Gulati (a package deal at this point).

Above all, with all his tinkering, baffling tactical decisions, blind spots for Jermaine Jones, etc. Klinsmann certainly hasn't helped himself. He's been dealt a tough hand with the injuries, transitional roster, Donovan situation, etc., which most can understand, only the German seems to make matters worse either thorough his cavalier attitude, strange formations or most damning: the lingering sense that the "Emperor Has No Clothes." By now you can clearly question that Germany's success (and only a third place finish) in 2006 was a product of assistant Jogi Low and the more representative Klinsmann was his ill-fated spell in charge of Bayern Munich.

When he was hired Klinsmann tried to promise the U.S. the moon: a change in philosophy, a fun, attack-first team. Instead we've gotten a team that, for the first time in a while, looks like it's going to qualify for a World Cup by the skin of its teeth -- if that.

The worry here, too, is over the years the U.S. -- certainly under Bob Bradley -- provided it's best results when everybody had written it off. One of these days, that backs against the wall, us against the world, ethos is going to wear off. That's not to say it'll happen Friday night in Denver vs. Costa Rica, but it's hard to remember a time there were so many dark clouds and red flags handing over the heads of everyone associated with the team.

As fans, we were mostly ready for a transition back in July 2011. Except instead of tearing away the Band Aid right away, we've found ourselves in a fine mess -- much like zipping up our privates into our prom pants, like Ben Stiller in "There's Something About Mary." The U.S. roster issues and Klinsmann's decisions -- the bean and franks, if you will -- have left us all in a position fraught with peril.

We all knew this might be coming down the road. Nobody expecting getting out of this position, however, to be this painful.

Miscellany:

* Good news: Both the Costa Rica match on Friday and the Mexico match are on channels almost all Americans already have: ESPN2! (Way it's going, let's take the positives wherever they exist.)

* The way everything's shaken out, Brad Guzan (likely) starting in goal is the least of the U.S.'s concerns. Who'd have thought that?

* Still there's there's a place for Sacha Kljestan to make an impact for the U.S., but much like a lot of guys in this lineup puzzle, there doesn't seem to be a ready-made spot for him the way Klinsmann sets things up. Either him or Zusi at the tip of a midfield trio, backed by Bradley and Jones seems like a solid idea. Somebody needs to be an offensive catalyst.

* Wrote earlier in the month about Jozy Altidore's goal-scoring form for AZ and how it may or may not apply to the U.S. So read that.

* File this away: Terrance Boyd will make an impact coming off the bench as a second-half substitute.

* Costa Rica is unbeaten in nine matches, dating back to a loss to Mexico at the Azteca in September.

* Based on his continual mental lapses for the Red Bulls, the U.S. gameplan should be to attack wherever the Ticos line Roy Miller up in their defense.

* Will Arsenal on-loan youngster Joel Campbell be in the mix for Costa Rica? Alvaro Saborio and Bryan Ruiz are both dangerous players, but aren't exactly speed-merchants. Something to keep an eye on.

* Costa Rica has a midfielder named Yeltsin Tejeda in the mix. Wonder if he enjoys Borscht?

Lineup Guess:

If you can figure out Klinsmann's methodology, buy lotto tickets, too. This isn't what I'd pick, but more in line with what Klinsmann's done lately.

GK -- Guzan

DEF -- Cameron -- Edu -- Gonzalez -- Beasley

MID -- Bradley -- Jones -- Zusi

FOR -- Dempsey -- Gomez -- Johnson

Closing Thought:

For whatever doom-and-gloom scenarios that might go through people's heads over the next 90 minutes, it's hard to come up with a situation where the U.S. -- with four more home games -- can't at least coax a way to finish fourth in CONCACAF, which means a playoff with New Zealand. Remember, unless it's going poorly, few people dwell on what happens in the qualifiers.

Tags: That's On Point, USMNT, World Cup

A World Cup Qualifier through the Eyes of Beer (Google+ Hangout)

Join Free Beer Movement's Dan Wiersema and The Denver Post's beer writer Eric Gorski as we discuss the Colorado craft beer scene and American soccer.

Denver is often the center of the craft beer universe (home to the Great American Beer Festival, including Colorado Craft Beer Week this week) and this week will be the center of American soccer with Friday's U.S. men's national team qualifier against Costa Rica.

This Google+ Hangout is hosted by the FBM, The Denver Post, and Google.

The LIVE Hangout will begin right here at 8pm CT (until ???) and will be available for re-viewing here as well.

Got questions for Eric or Dan? We'll be on Twitter. Just use the hashtag #FBMHangout and shoot us a message.

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