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The FBM Blog

The Big Pitcher: Holden Out for a Hero

(Photo Credit: Orlando Ramirez Icon/SMI)

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

Apologies for the title, which will now be stuck in your head for the rest of the day.

I can’t think of Stuart Holden without thinking of Len Bias, the University of Maryland basketball standout drafted second overall in 1986 by the reigning NBA-champion Boston Celtics, who was supposed to bolster the team through the remainder of Larry Bird’s career and ease its transition into the era that would become dominated by Michael Jordan. Instead he died two days after the draft, the cause of death determined to be a cardiac arrhythmia caused by cocaine usage. The Celtics wouldn’t win another title until 2008.

What happened to each of them is obviously incomparable; no amount of freak injuries, just glance through this in case you’ve forgotten some of them, can ever equal a tragic loss of life. It’s the aftermath that we’ll look at here: what happens when someone’s potential remains potential indefinitely.

Bias’ death turned him into a lot of things: Totem for the War on Drugs and “One Mistake is All It Takes.” Cautionary tale for a generation. And, from a sporting perspective, a tabula rasa for an  audience raised to believe that potential was the equal of performance. Because the only way athletic potential ever dissipates is when it’s measured against the eventual proficiency of the athlete, Len Bias’ has remained undiminished for more than 25 years. Nobody knows what would have happened to him, and so everyone is free to assume the best, that he would have been the second coming of Jordan or the first coming of LeBron James.

What Holden shares with Bias is the sense not of wasted but of unrealized potential. Holden’s play had steadily improved every time he stayed on the field for a prolonged period of time, culminating in his 2010-2011 season at Bolton, where he was named the team’s player of the year despite missing the last two months of the season after Jonny Evans attempted to perform microfracture surgery on him with his boot.

That level of improvement made the gaps - practically three seasons worth in total – all the more frustrating, but because of them, there has always been the sense around Holden of a career interrupted. His ceiling has been harder to spot than that of say, Jose Francisco Torres or Sacha Kljestan. His passing would be a valuable asset to the team in any era, his stints on the flanks showcased his offensive ability, while the oft-cited tackles stat from the 2010-2011 season suggested the promise that he could put in the defensive work required to man the center.

Because of that, Holden’s been his own blank slate for U.S. fans for at least the last two years. He could be whatever we wanted. Shifting to a possession-oriented game? He’d be perfect for that. Central midfield trio playing too defensively? It’d be better if we had Holden in one of the slots. Just generally sick of Jermaine Jones? If only Stu hadn’t gotten hurt.

We don’t know how good Holden might have gotten if he hadn’t spent much of the least three years rehabbing from a series of increasingly unfortunate injuries, and so we were free to assume the best. In the minds of many U.S. fans, an alternate history of Holden’s career would look like this:

March 3, 2010 - Holden breaks Nigel de Jong’s leg in a friendly in Amsterdam.

June 12, 2010 - Holden, starting in place of Ricardo Clark, recognizes that Oguchi Onyewu has been sucked forward and follows Steven Gerrard’s run, intercepting Emile Heskey’s pass. USA 1-0 England.

June 26, 2010 - Holden takes his touch around Anthony Annan(?), instead of directly into him. USA beats Ghana 1-0, but loses to Uruguay on penalties after Luis Suarez stops a Stu Holden header on the line with his hands in the final moments of extra time.

June 25, 2011 - Holden interrupts Mexico’s Gold Cup Final comeback with a second-half hat trick and, for good measure, breaks Giovani dos Santos’ leg shortly after halftime. The US wins 5-3. 

December 12, 2011 - Holden, unencumbered by the burden of rehabilitation, discovers a cure for the avian flu.

May 13, 2012 - Bolton, powered by Holden, nip Tottenham to fourth place and are denied a Champions League spot only by Chelsea’s victory in the tournament. Ownerships loosens the purse strings, and the team signs Clint Dempsey during the summer.

May 19, 2013 - Bolton do the double. Holden appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated for the 49th time in three years, tying Michael Jordan’s then-record.

June/July 2013 - Stuart Holden secedes from the United States. The new nation of STU-S-A wins the 2013 Confederations Cup.

You may have noticed it didn’t exactly turn out that way, but because it didn’t, we’re still talking about Holden in terms of potential. Whether he’ll be ready to start in 2014, whether he’ll be good enough to start in 2014, whether even if he is both those things he’ll be considered as a complement to Michael Bradley rather than a replacement for him and offensive substitute. It’s a little odd to have so much uncertainty about a player who turns 28 next month, but then again when I read his birth date on Wikipedia I went to look it up on another source to make sure. Twenty-eight? Already?

If Holden stays healthy – knock on wood, salt over shoulder, spin three times, etc, or just have him play next season in a bubble – then eventually there will come a reckoning between that perceived, best-case scenario potential and the actual potential of someone who has played approximately a dozen meaningful games in the last two years. He’s making all the right noises about coming back better than ever, but the differences between Two good halves split between Guatemala and Belize would mean nearly nothing for 99 of the ASN 100. For Holden, it has people, including these guys, talking about whether he’ll be ready to start in Brazil.

Such talk is at the moment at least partially facetious, but only partially. It betrays a toned-down version of the same kind of optimism that would have had Holden earning a transfer to Bayern Munich and passing comprehensive immigration reform this summer if he had never gotten hurt.

These outsized expectations are Holden’s blessing and curse. We don’t expect him to live up to them, but we’ll always talk about how great it would have been if he had. No matter what he does for the rest of his career, the question will always hang over him: What if?

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, USMNT

The After Bar: USMNT 6 - Belize 1 (Gold Cup)

 

Photo Credit: Scott Olmos (USA Today)

Wonderful Wondo(w)lowski. The United States men's national team forward got his first goal for his country against Guatemala last Friday and decided he just wanted more. Three more in a 6-1 rout of Belize in front of 18,000+ at JELD-WEN Field in Portland, Oregon.

Patience was the practice for last night as Belize bunkered down and the U.S took their time to break down their defense. Wondo opened the evening's scoring in the 11th minute, bagged his second 25 minutes later, and had a hat trick before halftime. Stu Holden continued on the comeback trail, Michael Orozco Fiscal showed he could score somewhere else other than Azteca, and Landon Donovan finished the goal party with a late penalty kick. Donovan's assist on the Holden goal earned him the first spot in the USMNT "50 goal- 50 assist" club.

The Nats face Cuba on Saturday from Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah at 1:30pm MT on Fox Soccer and Univision.

American Outlaws/ AO: Portland / Timbers Army Tifo:

Chris Wondo(w)lowski (First Goal):

 
Chris Wondo(w)lowski (Second Goal):

Chris Wondo(w)lowski (Third Goal):

Stu Holden:

Michael Orozco Fiscal:

Landon Donovan PK:

 

Analysis from American soccer's best writers:

Grant Wahl (Sports Illustrated) - "Three thoughts on a dominent U.S. win vs. Belize"

Steve Davis (NBC Pro Soccer Talk) - "Takeaways from the United States’ win over Belize"

Will Parchman (Top Drawer Soccer) - "The USMNT gets the Gold Cup started with a 6-1 flyer"

Matthew Doyle (MLSSoccer.com) - "Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned from US rout of Belize"

Player Ratings:

Josh Deaver (American Soccer Now)

Steve Davis (NBC Pro Soccer Talk)

Greg Seltzer (MLSSoccer.com)

Jeff Carlisle (ESPNFC)

Tags: The After Bar, USMNT

A Brew for You and You and You…. (USMNT vs. Belize)

If you've been following the run-up to the United States national team opening game against Belize tonight you may have stumbled across this quote:

“I call on our national team to not only beat the United States but to humiliate the United States.”
That gem came from Ruperto Vicente president of the Football Federation of Belize' speaking to a local newspaper in Portland.

BWHAHAHAHAHHAHA. (Deep breath) AHAHHAHAHAHA!

Perhaps this gentlemen has been imbibing a bit too much on all the fine beers that Rose City has to offer, but you've. got. to. be. kidding. me.

Last Friday's warm up match against Guatemala, like we called it, was an impressive "victory at sea". We destroyed a team that has actually been competitive in CONCACAF before and now Belize thinks they are going to come into one of the best soccer cities and stadiums in the country and "humiliate" us?

We say that sounds "un-Belize-able."

AMIRITE?

(crickets)

Moving past fake outrage and to what you all came here for... our beer of the match recommendation.

Portland calls itself "Soccer City USA", but the beer's not half bad either.

Duh.

Portland's beer scene offers so many choices. It has more breweries per capita than any other city in the country. Additionally, it's the epic center of the India Pale Ale (and it's bigger brother the double or imperial IPA) and "hop bomb" beers.

So many good choices and we're going to go against convention just a bit here.

Instead of hoppy we're going to pick another style that Portland is making a name for itself.

 Photo Credit: 99Pours.com

Meet Cascade Brewing Company and their "Vlad the Imp Aler" sour. The quality and craft of their beers is inversely proportional to their website's.

Not that we like to be a party pooper (OK we do), but we're a little more "sour" on Belize's chances against this well-stocked USMNT.

In fact the real Vlad the Impaler might watch this game and say "whoa guys... calm down a bit."

The beer. Yes. the beer. Cascade's "Vlad" is low on hops (6 IBUs) and big on alcohol (10.3%). It's most definitely for sipping and sharing, not slamming. And, of course, it's sour. Really sour.

Cascade describes the beer as such: "This strong north-west sour is a blend of strong blonde quads and tripels aged in oak and Bourbon barrels, then further blended with spiced blondes and left to condition for an additional five months."

That's beer with a lot of variety, loads of flavor, and aged well.

This Gold Cup squad could be described similarly.

What are you drinking tonight?

Tags: A Brew For You, Beer, USMNT

Free Beer Match Day - Portland Thorns vs. Boston Breakers (NWSL)

We're in town for the United States national team next week. And the beer... cannot forget about the beer. But with the Portland Timbers on the road while we're here in the Rose City we weren't going to miss an opportunity to miss the next best thing (and the best thing in women's soccer) the Portland Thorns of the National Women's Soccer League. On Saturday night the side captained by Canadian legend Christine Sinclair and buoyed by U.S. stars Alex Morgan and Rachel Buehler faced off against the a Boston Breakers team that featured Sydney Leroux and Heather O'Reilly.

The Thorns had struggled of late, scoreless in their two matches. The evening would not be different. Leroux absolutely dominated for the Breakers grabbing two goals in the first half. Her first a great strike that we were afraid to cheer for among the Thorns faithful in the supporters section. 

Despite the 2-0 loss for the home side the "Rose City Riveters", the Thorns supporters group, kept their voices loud and the flags flying.

The "Timbers Army" Green & Gold Kolsch on tap.

Leading the charge.

"Rose City. No Pity"

Needs no introduction.

Supporters of all ages.

"Cheers to Soccer"

Packed supporters section.

Sideline view.

Morgan puts a shot off the face of the Boston keeper... who already was wearing a mask to protect her broken nose!

Morgan... frustrated by the Breakers defense all night.

These roses (given to goal scorers or shutouts) would be left unclaimed tonight.

A "thank you" to supporters despite the result.

Flags still flying.

Tags: Free Beer Match Days, photography

The After Bar: USMNT 6 - Guatemala

Landon Donovan is back. Times two. And a whole lot of other players, too, as the United States national team rolled over Guatemala, 6-0, in their Gold Cup warm up.

The USMNT opens up Gold Cup play against Belize from Portland, Oregon.

Herculez Gomez (42nd minute)

Landon Donovan (50th minute)

Chris Wondolowski (71st minute)

Landon Donovan (72nd minute)

Clarence Goodson (84th minute)

Alejandro Bedoya (88th minute)

 

Analysis from some of American soccer's best writers:

Matthew Doyle (MLSSoccer.com) - "Armchair Analyst: Three things we learned about staying classy in San Diego"

Steve Davis (NBC Pro Soccer Talk) - "What we learned from Friday's win over Guatemala"

Steve Davis (NBC Pro Soccer Talk) - Player Ratings

Brian Sciaretta (New York Time) - Player Ratings

Tags: The After Bar, USMNT

A Brew For You and You and You… (USMNT vs. Guatemala)

The Gold Cup is back! Well... not quite. The run-up to the Gold Cup is back!

There. That's more like it.

Tonight's match from Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego is, hopefully, a prologue to a victorious Gold Cup campaign. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann said, despite not being in the upcoming tournament, he expects a "tricky" test from Guatemala.

What sort of things can one take away from a one-off warm up international friendly? Certainly Guatemala's side is going to be similar to what the USMNT will see from the other Central American and Caribbean sides, Belize, Cuba, and Costa Rica, the face in the group play.

More important is the return of Landon Donovan to the national team fold. Will he play his way into Klinsmann's heart and starting XI when World Cup qualifiers return in September?

As always the Gold Cup provides an exciting opportunity to see some of the future stars of the Nats. Josh Gatt is, again, questionable with an untimely injury, but other youngsters like Mix Diskerud and the return of Stu Holden should create plenty of excitement for U.S. fan.

This Gold Cup squad is about the future, but it is also about resurrection. Alongside Donovan and Holden is Oguchi Onyewu (gone so long I had to think hard about how to spell it name) in the "welcome back" column. None more surprising is the comeback of DaMarcus Beasley, named captain of this tournament team.

Our beer pick for tonight's game is going to be very straight forward. We're nothing if not consistent here at the Free Beer Movement (actually that's one word I would never use to describe us) and so we're doubling down (no, not the KFC sandwich) on the pick we made earlier this week in our interview with MLSSoccer.com.

Photo Credit: Brewed for Thought

Meet Ballast Point Brewing Company's "Victory at Sea" Imperial Porter. The San Diego brewery is probably best known for its "Sulpin" Double IPA (also highly recommended and now available in cans!), but don't overlook the incredible work on this porter. San Diego is one of the epic epicenters (epic-centers!?!?) of West Coast brewing (Portland and Seattle and Northern California included) and sports loads of great breweries including Karl Strauss, Green Flash, Mission, Pizza Port, AleSmith, and The Lost Abbey.

BP's "Victory" is just what you're going to want to get your hands on when setting down for this match in front of the TV. Especially since it's such a late match it's a heavy, yet smooth "night cap" to settling into a comfy spot on the couch.

And a "victory" is exactly what fans will want from this team playing by the sea in San Diego in order to get set for an important 2013 Gold Cup tournament.

What are you drinking tonight?

Tags: A Brew For You, Beer, USMNT

Cellar Dweller - Part Two: On the Vine

Editor's Note: Despite the name, the Free Beer Movement is not just about beer. We're interested in the many strands that pull on the American soccer culture and any of the things we consume while watching it; beer, wine, liquor, or food. That's why we're excited to present this multi-part series on the parallels between soccer and wine. Look for more pieces from Jared in the near future expanding on this theme.

Part One: Terrior

By Jared DuBois / Senior Wine Correspondent

Home is a powerful concept.  The smell, the back yard where you played and bled, the taste of your mom's cooking.  Where you call home and what it comprises is essential in framing whom you grow up to be.  Last time we talked about terroir, which in terms of both wine and soccer, talks about the concept of home. How each individual home adds to the final product which it is nurturing.

As we grow we get shaped less and less by home but by the world through which we walk and the people we connect with.  They become our influences.  But somewhere deep deep inside us there is the essential piece of our terroir that all other experiences simply build off of as a foundation. It is never forgotten; it is instead the definitive filter through which all experiences thereafter are sifted.

Yet you can't physically take "home" into the world. In terms of both wine and soccer you have to look at the hands that shape both the berry and the young player; plucked fresh from the playground.  The hands of their mentors play a huge role in the finished product for sale on the shelves or fields of choice.

If where a player is born and raised is his/her terroir, then the academies that educate them are their winemakers.  Even the best winemakers can't make good wine with bad grapes. However there are plenty of winemakers that can turn fantastic crops into vinegar.

Like soccer academies there are winemakers that excel when given one specific type of player or grape.  For example Ridge Vineyards in Northern California is perhaps the best Zinfandel producer in the country.  Does it mean they don't make other varieties as well?  No, of course not.  But there is something about certain winemakers and certain grapes that are magical when they come together.  Zinfandel is a grape that is often described as bold, with strong tannins and challenging tasting profiles.  It is literally a grape that you have to make suffer on the vine in order to make it stronger on the other side. This process is well-established despite often yielding smaller crops. 

Compare that to what you think of the average German footballer and the academies that create them.  Germans are notorious for their rigorous training methods and disciplined structure. One could say they are forced to suffer first in their academies and then in training in order to make them stronger.  And the German profile in return is strong, bold, disciplined and unyielding.  You could even go so far as to say the German style of football is harder to appreciate than that of perhaps Brazil or Spain. 

Ridge Vineyards is simply an example, like Germany, of what can happen with the right combination of raw product meets the hands of a sculptor who knows their identity and how to combine the two. 

There is a place in both soccer and wine for the artistry of blending as well.  Not every team or winery likes to deal in absolutes.  They, in turn, find a harmonious balance in the seamless marriage of complexity.

The Châteauneuf-du-Pape's of Southern Rhône in France are renown for their ability to blend any combination of up to 19 different grape varieties to make one wine.  Now most of the time producers normally choose 70% or so of one variety then round out the flavor with two to three others in lower percentages.  In America when replicating Bordeaux-style blends we call certain officially licensed blends “Meritage.

Now think of the English Premier League and specifically Manchester City.  The EPL gets called out for having far too much foreign talent and in return washing out the identity of the English game both at the club level and national. However when I look at Manchester City I, as a wine drinker, see a fantastic blend. 

It started for me when I saw them play locally here in LA and marveled at the sheer size and strength of players like Kompany, Dzeko, Micah Richards and James Milner.  In them, and many of the rest of the players, I saw physically the main grape variety of their team.  However a team like that needs to be rounded out in order to become a true multidimensional threat. This is where the inclusion of the creativity of David Silva or Samir Nasri and the speed and striking ability of Segio Aguero balance the main taste of the team. 

Chemistry and the desire to be multidimensional, while time tested and sought after, has been almost nullified by the one-note perfection of the Spanish teams of the last six years.  The Spanish are a 100% true Cabernet from a winemaker like Screaming Eagle (Coincidentally owned by Colorado Rapids and Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke).  There really are few peers to a truly perfect product such as that.  However sometimes even solitary perfection can become predictable, if not boring, when it is all that dominates the palette day in and day out. 

We as Americans are currently in a struggle to decide the type of wine we want to make as a soccer country.  Do we want to be the robust, hard to appreciate, affordable value wine that gets begrudging respect?  Or do we want to break out and take the time to truly cultivate a finer product that may mean up rooting every vine we have planted heretofore in pursuit of something better?  It a scary crossroads and one I look forward to discussing in my next installment of Cellar Dweller.

Samplings:

I wanted to include for you all a few things from the world of wine that are circling around me each time you visit this space.  Please enjoy, if you are so inclined.

SOMM:  I've long been waiting for this documentary on sommeliers in pursuit of the highest achievement in their field.  It finally released wide, and I really enjoyed it.  It's available for stream on iTunes and I highly recommend it.

Wine Flight Set:  Yes, I've done blind tastings in my home.  No, I'm not ashamed.  While I hate stemless wine glasses, I do like the novelty of this tasting flight set.

Fratelli Perata:  This small family owned winery out of Paso Robles is one of two wine clubs I subscribe to in the region.  And it is by far the best.  Specializing in Italian style wines, often which should be cellared, it has never let me down.  If you want good wine and are willing to be patient.  You'll be happy.

About Jared

Jared DuBois has done nothing worthy of your time.  However, he is happy to waste more of it twice weekly on The Best Soccer Show and as Jrodius on Twitter.

Tags: Cellar Dweller, Jared DuBois, wine

The Big Pitcher: Stay on Target Edition

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

Sometime a couple of years ago when Lionel Messi was still being talked about only as the greatest player of his era and not as either the greatest player of all-time or the guy who’s keeping Neymar’s seat warm for him, this theory sprung up that supposed that perhaps the reason he was having so much success was that modern defenses were so ill-constructed to stop a player like him. That the evolution of the center-forward position toward what we call the false 9 role would eventually necessitate a new breed of central defender to counter them: Faster, more agile and more comfortable judging when to step out of his line and deny space and when to stay and track runners.

Forwards who played like attacking midfielders would require defenders who played like defensive midfielders, to challenge them on their own terms rather than kicking the crap out of them as they ran by. Javier Mascherano became the obvious example, but for a moment in time it seemed as if every central defender under 6’2” was getting seared with the new-breed brand. They were the future.

If that had been true, it would be fairly easy to see how the whole thing could become cyclical. Stocking a defense full of Roberto Ayala’s would reincentivize aerial bombardment and lead to the world Andy Carroll sees when he closes his eyes at night, a world in which when he died in a freak Sea-Doo accident on the River Tyne at age 39 his tombstone would read “A Man Before His Time. And After It As Well. Basically, He was the Opposite of The Dude.”

Instead, this generation of the new breed turned out to be much like the old breed, only slightly smaller. But the paradigm had been set, the future was in technique, in figuring out how to reach higher and higher levels or it or in grafting those higher levels onto bigger, stronger and faster players. The False 9 was an elegant weapon, for a more civilized age. Compared to that, the classic target man was treated as more of a board with a nail through it.

Which is why the contrarian in me thinks it’s an awful lot of fun to see them when they do thrive. A guy named Fred playing an integral role in front of Brazil’s $150 million trio of Neymar, Oscar, and the artist formerly known as Hulk. Super-targets Edinson Cavani and Stefan Kießling leading their respective leagues in scoring. Belgium somehow producing Romalu Lukaku and Christian Benteke at the same time. Edin Dzeko (hopefully) getting a chance far from the Eastlands.

In MLS, hardly the most technical league, what’s startling isn’t so much the number of teams still using target men, but the variety of ways in which they’re used. In Philadelphia we get the classic big man-little man strike partnership with Conor Casey and Jack McInerney. In Portland, Ryan Johnson serves as a focal point for the flittings and charges of his wingers and center midfielders. The Gordons, Lenharts and Sandovals of the league open space for their offenses by wrestling center defenders into nearby buildings, causing massive amounts of property damage. Even as the league has grown more technical, importing players with touch and vision – because size and strength we can take care of, it’s the stuff you can actually teach that we need (Blaise Nkufo nods.) –  the spots they’re taking aren’t those of the target men.

Same thing holds true with USMNT. In our search for Clint Dempsey’s best position last time around, we flirted briefly with the idea of ensuring that Dempsey stayed close to goal by suggesting simply playing him as our lone forward and letting his movement and instincts cause havoc for the defense. Let’s just all agree to pretend that didn’t happen; that team too can thrive with a target man.

Jozy’s an interesting case. He doesn’t always look like a target man, but it’s no accident that when he does embrace that role and engage with defenders in ways that aren’t just going to goal, he usually has a better game.

Even if he hadn’t scored the goals through May and June, it was clear U.S. fans were getting good Jozy. He was engaged. What’s depressing about this chart from the Jamaica loss last September isn’t just the low total number of passes (12 successful, six unsuccessful, to go along with 0 shots), but how far they had to go to be successful or unsuccessful. (The same was true against Mexico.) He was so isolated, the teammate he completed the most passes to in 2012 was Wilson the volleyball.

Thanks to either a sharp team talk from John Donne or a more-forward deployment for Clint Dempsey and new creative license for the outside midfielders (helped by Michael Bradley’s Veni Vidi Vici return to the fold post-Belgium), that wasn’t a problem in this summer’s games. The service helped, but so did the close support, allowing him to receive the ball with his back to goal and find ways to release teammates into space, play quick one-twos, and spray it out wide and break to goal for the return pass, restoring balance to the team’s possession vs. penetration equation.

Who needs the future, anyway?

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". While attending Emory University he won "College Jeopardy"

Tags: Big Pitcher, Eric Betts

The Best of Both Worlds - The Story Behind West End Brewing Co.‘s “Soccer Club”

Editor's Note: When soccer and beer collide... that's the best of both worlds. This space reserved for any intersection of the suds and the sport whether business, beer and soccer events, or random humor.

The power of the Internet unleashed!

Just as people like to "Google" their names so does the Free Beer Movement. Every-once-in-a-while we trade the real bar for the search bar and see what's going on with FBM or "beer and soccer" on the web. A few days ago we went down the rabbit hole and discovered an old beer called "Soccer Club" on a website that allows you to purchase breweriana, or beer collectibles.

We shot (or purchased) first and decided to ask questions later.

"Soccer Club" was a pilsner brewed by West End Brewing Company from Utica, New York during the late 1970s. West End was founded in 1888. Legend has it that Utica Club was the first beer legally sold in the United States after the 21st Amendment was ratified in December 1933 (Source).

Today it is the third-oldest family-owned brewery in the United States behind Yuengling and August Schell Brewing Cos. The name "West End" may not ring a bell, but perhaps Matt Brewing Co. (the name is changed to in the 1980s) to reflect the breweries founder) does or their most popular "craft beer" line, Saranac. It is a well-know contract brewer as well producing Pete's Brewing Co., Brooklyn Brewery, and a line of Kirkland beers (for sale in Costco). It was the eight largest craft brewery by volume in the United States in 2012.

Despite the numerous cat videos and memes floating around the Internet these days information about this soccer-specific beer is scarce.

As far as we can tell "Soccer Club" was released in the 1970s before West End changed to Matt Brewing. Mostly likely it is just a re-packed version of it's popular "Utica Club" pilsner lager. We're going out on a limb here (but a sturdy one we think), but perhaps it was released to coincide with the popularity of the downstate New York Cosmos and their star-studded line up that included Brazilian Pelé, Italian Giorgio Chinaglia and the West German Franz Beckenbauer.

West End wasn't one to pass up on a gimmicky tie-in beer. In 1977 they were one of four contract brewers for "Billy Beer", the short-lived brew by then-President Jimmy Carter's brother, Billy Carter.

While soccer and beer was thought to be a relatively new phenomena (at least when it comes to brewery partnerships) the evidence now proves otherwise. West End's "Soccer Club" was the fore bearer for today's "Green and Gold", "No Equal", "The Tradition" and many more soccer-specific beers.

The only question is when some brewery is going to make that Free Beer Movement brew we've been begging for!

Tags: Beer, The Best of Both Worlds

Why American Soccer - Supporters Supporting Supporters

Editor's Note: This anecdote is from our journey from FBM HQ in Austin to Frisco to take in the FC Dallas vs. Sporting KC match. But it is also heavily influenced by the awesome openness we've seen on our USMNT travels to Denver, Seattle, and Salt Lake City this year. Local fans welcoming "outsiders" with open arms and being gracious hosts.

The fans clad in red had picked their spot next to the stadium. This was their sport. They were always here before a game. Grills lit. Kegs tapped. Territory staked out.

Before long supporters wearing various shades of blue arrived. At first there were only a few, the men and women in red paid little attention to them, but then the chartered buses pulled up. The hiss of each of the two buses loudly announcing their arrival. One-by-one.... more blue. The supporters of each, now their numbers more equal, stood toe-to-toe sizing each other up. A mild breeze flapped each groups' flags.

This was Texas so if it was an old Western movie one could imagine a tumbleweed rolling across the scene along with a pan flute and "wa-wa-waaaa".

The hesitation was slightly, but the two groups moved toward each other... and embraced.

Backslaps, handshakes, scarves shared, the clinking of beers, and gentle banter of the evening's match ensued.

These are the supporters of American soccer. More friends than foes.

On this particularly hot and breezy Texas afternoon the one of the supporter groups of FC Dallas, the Dallas Beer Guardians, welcomed a travelling band of Sporting KC supporters, the Cauldron, to their tailgate.

No f-bombs or knife fights. The only blood spilled was from one FCD supporter to another when he accidently caught an elbow to the nose from a fellow fan as the Hoops made a dramatic, two-goal comeback late in the night's game.

The relative short history of Major League Soccer (and even less so in the leagues below) means that the deep-seeded rivalries of a Chivas-America, River Plate-Boca, Liverpool-Manchester United, or a Barcelona-Real Madrid have not yet evolved. And while we won't know if any of these clubs' supporters shared beers fifty or a hundred years ago the camaraderie of the majority of MLS supporters now bodes well for the future.

Sharing is caring.

There's a sense among soccer supporters in the United States that "we're all in this together". That even the rivalries, while emerging, are mostly in good fun. Supporters can separate what happens on the field for ninety minutes from the tailgates before and the bars afterwards. The greater goal is building American soccer and fans of the league are keeping their eyes on the prize.

There are certainly very intense rivalries in MLS (Portland-Seattle, LA-San Jose, Philly-NY, etc) and the passion of each set of supporters from those teams is palpable, but overall when the road team's fan travel they're usually welcomed with open arms by the home side's fans.

For the traveling Cauldron the eight-plus-hour drive down Interstate-35 represents the closest road match they're able to attend. Why spending a night in the Frisco Police Department lock up over a brawl when you can sample the DBG's local craft beer selection they provided for themselves and their new KC friends? It's probably why one of the Beer Guardian's flags is emblazoned with "#BeerFamily". That's what is should be mostly about anyway; a cold brew and a little polite conversation over which state makes the better BBQ.

Saturday was no different and this is what makes American soccer great. Two teams facing off on-the-field, but their supporters enjoying each other's company off-the-field.

No one is asking for sanitized, family-friendly supporters, but just the idea that we'd much rather share a beer than a fist-fight. A war of words and wit (and their team backing it up on the field) can be just as effective.

It's what sets American soccer apart from the rest of the world. We don't have to resort to hooliganism to support our teams; to violence and vitriol to prove who is better.

As the Sporting supporters prepared to re-board their buses after conceding two late goals to draw the match there were the FC Dallas supporters. Not to rub the tie in their faces, but to offer up one more local beer, well-wishes, and safe travels home.

This is American soccer. This is why American soccer.

Tags: Supporters Groups, Why American Soccer

The After Bar: USWNT 5 - South Korea 0

Little else needs to be said about this game. It was all Abby Wambach. Not just in the sense that she dominated the first half, scoring four goals, but that she smashed Mia Hamm's and international soccer's (both male and female) all-time goal scoring record. Lauren Cheney would add one to the total tally as the United States women's national team thrashed South Korea 5-0 ar Red Bull Arena.

Wambach started the match just two shy of typing Hamm's mark and it took her less that twenty minutes to reach those 158 goals. Before most could finish Tweeting out their congratulations for reaching the record Abby broke it was a trademark smashing header. One more in first half stoppage time and the new international record stands at 160 goals (and counting). The amazing thing about Wambach is that she was able to meet Hamm's record in 207 games significantly under the 275 that it took Mia.

Cheers Abby!

Highlights:

 

Abby Wambach Tribute Video from U.S. Soccer:

 

Recap and analysis from some of American soccer's best sites/writers:

Jeff Kassouf (NBC Pro Soccer Talk) - "Legacies of Wambach, Hamm, Morgan intertwine — just as they’d like them to"

Jeff Kassouf (NBC Pro Soccer Talk) - "Always the focal point of the attack, Wambach exceeds all expectations in breaking goals record"

Grant Wahl (Sports Illustrated) - "With record-breaking goal, Abby Wambach becomes one of the greats"

Tags: The After Bar, USWNT

“The Hex” - Yanks Win Third Straight

Editor's Note: If you haven't been following along with Kick TV's "The Hex" series (filmed and produced by One Goal) then you're missing out on an incredible set of videos documenting the United States men's national team.

And we're not just saying that because Free Beer Movement's Dan has made several appearances...

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------

This episode follows the Nats to Sandy, Utah where they faced down Honduras 1-0 in the latest round of World Cup qualifying.

Watch and enjoy.

 

Tags: KickTV, USMNT, Video

Free Beer Match Day - USMNT vs. Honduras in Salt Lake City

Awesome event poster from Kick TV.

Free Beer Movement was back on the road to witness the United States men's national team's World Cup qualifier against Honduras in Salt Lake City. Before the match we were able to dabble in a bit of drinking and bust some beer myths about Utah beer.  The state's draft beer laws are antiquated (not allowing for greater that 4.0% ABV from the tap), but Utah bottled beers have no limits. While there are a few solid brews on the low ABV end the real good stuff is being bottled.

If you're ever in Salt Lake City we highly recommend the breweries of Epic and Uinta....two awesome breweries.

Enough about the beer. On to game day!

 

Riot Tinto Stadium.... the calm before the storm...

The Honduran support before the match was "sizable".

The U.S. supporters were equal to the task as well.

The "march to the match" is on!

U.S. fans reporting for duty.

"Proof Through The Night"....

American Outlaws getting loud.

#CheersToSoccer

Goal! Jozy!

Best tifo we saw in SLC.

Picked up a few RSL scarves from great supporters there.... along with the next edition of the U.S. Soccer "Anthem" scarves.

 

Tags: Beer, Free Beer Match Days, photography, USMNT

That’s On Point: Home Field Advantage

By Mike Cardillo / That's On Point

Hey ... remember me? In case you missed my heartfelt, hugely important post from late April, I was offered the opportunity to write for Big Lead Sports, aka the Big Lead. That said, Dan extended the opportunity to write a little something for the FBM and it was hard to pass up.

There was a lot to discuss and digest following this span of five matches in three weeks by the U.S. National Team. The return to form of Jozy Altidore, the throwback performances from Eddie Johnson and DaMarcus Beasley, the improvement in the defense, Jurgen Klinsmann finding a system and lineup that works, etc. Chances are you've read all this already elsewhere.

Debating the minutia of the USMNT has become a cottage industry on the web.

When the story of qualifying is written -- if it's even remembered -- we'll think back to the goal by Brad Evans in stoppage time at the Office in Kingston. Or that pass from Geoff Cameron to Eddie Johnson in Seattle. Or Altidore scoring, seemingly, whenever he wanted.

Qualifying, though, remains a process not a celebration. The U.S. did what it had to do, grabbed nine vital points. Barring an all-time, epic meltdown Klinsmann & Co. are going to Brazil, which will be party time assuming the protests in the country aren't still ongoing.

Instead let's focus on something else: the incredible happening U.S. matches have become across the country.

As somebody who grew up watching soccer in the 1990s, when basically the only games on television were U.S. National Team games called by Ty Keough and Seamus Malin, this is hard to comprehend.

The running theme for most American matches for most of the 1990s and into the new century was how, no matter what, the U.S. fans would be outnumbered by fans of the opposing team, even on homesoil. At the time the USSF had no choice but to play Mexico at the Rose Bowl in front of roughly 100,000 pro-El Tri supporters. It wasn't much better elsewhere, when places like Solider Field or RFK Stadium would become a temporary embassy for whomever the U.S. was playing that particular day.

Was this a big deal? Probably not, although it couldn't be positive psychologically for the U.S. team itself knowing they were outsiders at home. It made sense. For a long time, until the explosion of the web and social media soccer was still soccer -- the sport Americans were supposed to hate with every fiber of their being. There was nothing cool or hip about going to soccer games. It was something to do on the weekend with your kids or you'd gather up the AYSO team in uniform to take them to a match.

Back in those days, soccer meant much more to the fans of the U.S. opposition than the American fanbase. It probably still does, but we're collectively catching up in the States.

Slowly but surely the tide started to turn thanks to the efforts of Sam's Army with their "wear red" to the game policy, but what's happened in recent times has taken it to the next level. It also helped that after the U.S. played Mexico at Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, during the 2002 World Cup qualification cycle and it dawned on the USSF it might be smart to schedule more matches where it can garner a pro-U.S. crowd rather than using bigger building where it might be able to make more money.

Call it a natural progression, however what we've seen in May and in June across the country from Washington to Salt Lake to Seattle was hard to fathom even 6-7 years ago when the American soccer culture began to blossom. Credit to the American Outlaws for stepping up the support of the team -- even if some of the costumes are a bit much.

Amazingly -- yes this is actually amazing -- the Outlaws and others have made boring old soccer, much like Frank Costanza's rumpus room ... this place, to be. Perhaps it's due to the groundswell of U.S. soccer optimism following the Landon Donovan (who?) goal at the 2010 World Cup vs. Algeria in addition to the grassroots growth of soccer fandom in MLS 2.0 cities like Seattle, Portland, Philadelphia and the rebirth in Kansas City. That embedded fan culture in these cities have turned U.S. games into something the looks special. Importantly it also doesn't feel like nauseating patriotism run amok either. There's a good vibe that comes across on television from the crowd, even if its a vibe on par with shopping at Whole Foods on a Sunday afternoon, if you catch my drift.
 

Still, from the tifos to the chanting to the standing most of the match, this level of fan participation isn't seen very often in American sports outside college campuses for basketball. While soccer, particularly MLS, lags from a television ratings standpoint attending games in person is an entirely different animal. You want to be there for a 90-minute party. Fans at U.S. game take it upon themselves to willingly become the 12th man and not simply show up at a sporting even to check your phone and pay $9 for watered down beer.

There might be a 'look at me' element. If you're showing up to a U.S. game with a fake Jermaine Jones' 'Sno Fro' you're asking to get your picture taken to be Instagrammed for the whole world to see. Even so, most of the recent swell in U.S. soccer fandom feels organic. It doesn't feel forced down everybody's throats by Nike like that old "Don't Tread" campaign, even if the supplier keeps cooking up new jerseys to hock every year.

We've come a long way from the days of that "goals, goals, goals ... For the red white and blue" song played in stadiums.

It all feels, first and foremorst, by the fans and for the fans. You know, democratic.

And something, in the words of the Wu, "not to fuck with."

In doing so, the U.S. National Team can finally play games at home and have an actual homefield advantage. Crazy, right?

About Mike

Mike Cardillo is a sportswriter whose work can be found over at USA Today's "The Big Lead" where he covers mostly baseball and soccer. 

Tags: That's On Point, USMNT

The After Bar: USMNT 1 - Honduras 0

It wasn't pretty and a couple of times it seemed as though the United States men's national team would leave a sold out Rio Tinto Stadium with a sole point, but the on fire Jozy Altidore came up huge again to lead the Nats to a 1-0 win over a stubborn Honduras.

It was Altidore's four in four matches and it was all the U.S. would need to get past a theatrical and, often times, frustrating Honduran side. Sporting KC midfield Graham Zusi carried the ball up field and found Fabian Johnson cutting through the box on the left. A heads-up Johnson found Altidore unmarked in front of the goal, and as it has been frequently lately, Jozy buried the ball in the back of the net in the 73rd minute.

With 13 points the Nats stay atop atop the "Hex" and look to be a lock for next summer's World Cup in Brazil. Qualifying takes a break until early September (at Costa Rica on the 6th), but the U.S. will prepare for this summer's Gold Cup with an international friendly against Guatemala in San Diego before beginning the 2013 edition of the tournament in Portland, Oregon against Belize on July 9th.

Highlights:

 

Post-Game Reaction:

 

Recap and analysis from some of American soccer's best writers:

Grant Wahl (Sports Illustrated) - "Lethal Altidore-Johnson combo lead U.S. to 1-0 win over Honduras"

Matthew Doyle (MLSSoccer.com) - "Armchair Analyst: 3 things we learned as USMNT gutted out a win ... and inched closer to Brazil"

Steve Davis (NBC Pro Soccer Talk) - "What we learned from the U.S. World Cup qualifier win over Honduras"

Liviu Bird (American Soccer Now) - "How the U.S. beat the bunker to defeat Honduras"

Mike Cardillo (Big Lead Sports) - "Jozy Altidore is Hot, Jurgen Klinsmann is Making All the Right Moves, and US Soccer is on Fire"

Player Ratings:

Avi Creditor (Sports Illustrated)

Jeff Carlisle (ESPN)

Greg Seltzer (MLSSoccer.com)

Brian Sciaretta (New York Times)

Steve Davis (NBC Pro Soccer Talk)

Tags: The After Bar, USMNT

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

The American Outlaws' call of #WeWant9 is looking more and more likely as the United States national team faces a depleted Honduran side at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah. Securing three points from this revenge match will pretty much book the Nats to Brazil as the rest of the "Hex" qualifying group slips into disarray.

Honduras is not the same side that the U.S. went up early on and then fell to the heat of San Pedro Sula. Through injury, suspension, and out-right abandonment of the team Los Catrachos may be without the services of six of their starters.

What are we recommending for this match? We stepped away from our local recommendation last time to play a little "six degrees of beer" game, but we're back to honor SLC's contribution to the craft beer world.

Before you making any snarky remarks about Utah and their beer.... check yourself. While the labyrinth of laws would make David Bowie's head spin getting a good brew in the "U" isn't impossible... it just means you just have to work a little bit harder for it.

Meet Epic Brewing Co. First off, this is Real Salt Lake and U.S. goalkeeper Nick Rimando's favorite brewery. And you trust him, right? Epic Brewing makes some of the state's finest craft beers (Unita Brewing Co. should also be on your "to-drink" list) and their "Elevation" series is impressive.

And why not? This USMNT on the last stop on their "elevation" part of the tour (Denver, Seattle, SLC) and what makes this series so interesting is that "tweeks" that the brewers work in every time they brew a new batch of one of the styles (which includes an IPA, stout, golden, and a pale ale) from this series.

Photo Credit: "Pops On Hops"

"Tweeks" is the name of the game for coach Jurgen Klinsmann who's constant meddling of the USMNT lineup has re-vitalized some careers (DMB) and re-invented others (Evans, Cameron, etc) and put the team on course for qualification.

Of all the "elevation" series to choose from we're picking the "825 State" Stout which Epic describes the range of it "from dry to sweet, creamy or bitter". The "flavors Epic explores within this stout are roast chocolate, toffee, mocha, coffee, burnt marshmallow and roasted nuts or combinations there-of."

If that's not a tinker's beer for JK we don't what is. And just like this stout (and here's to hoping for another "stout" defense") the tinkering has finally paid off.

What you drinking for tonight's match?

Tags: A Brew For You, American Outlaws, Beer, The Best of Both Worlds, USMNT

Today’s The Day…. (USMNT vs. Honduras)

Photo Credit: MLSSoccer.com

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

Today's the day the U.S. Men's National Team takes the field in a qualifying match for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Today's the day they face Honduras at Rio Tinto Stadium in Sandy, Utah.

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

Today's the day that Howard 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

The After Bar: USWNT 4 - South Korea 1

Photo Credit: Zimbio

Abby Wambach crept closer to Mia Hamm's all-time international scoring record as the United States women's national team cruised to a 4-1 win over South Korea in front of 13,000 in Foxborough, Mass.

A 93rd minute penality kick pushed Wambach to within two of Hamm's 158 career goals. FC Kansas City defender Kristie Mewis scored her first international goal while Carli Lloyd and Lauren Cheney pilled on as well for the USWNT.

The match was game one of two against South Korea. The second to be played at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, New Jersey on Thursday, June 20th at 6:30pm CT on NBC Sports Network.

Highlights:

 

Reaction:

 

Recap and analysis from women's soccer's best writers/sites:

Equalizer Soccer - "US women roll over Korea Republic; Wambach scores"

Jeff Kassouf (NBC Pro Soccer Talk) - "Wambach inches closer, US women upend Korea Republic"

ESPNW - "Abby Wambach, U.S. Top South Korea"

Tags: The After Bar, USMNT, Video

“The Hex” - Yanks Pummel Panama in Seattle

If you haven't been following along with Kick TV's "The Hex" series (filmed and produced by One Goal) then you're missing out on an incredible set of videos documenting the United States men's national team.
 
And we're not just saying that because Free Beer Movement's Dan has made several appearances...
 
Their episode from Seattle is about as close as one can come to capturing the "epic" atmosphere of last Tuesday's match.
 

 

Tags: American Outlaws, USMNT, Video

Free Beer Match Day - USMNT vs. Panama in Seattle

The calm before the storm. CenturyLink Field on Sunday evening.

Coverage of U.S. Soccer from "The Seattle Times".

Our hotel was right across the street from the USMNT hotel and I was able to snag pics with a few of the guys.

Jermaine Jones. Concussed or stunned to meet FBM?

Two members of the "big ear club". Me and Brad Davis.

Sacha Kljestan. Thanks for taking the picture former Victoria's Secret model Jamie Lee Darley!

Like an opponent's shot, safely in the arms of Brad Guzan.

Fabian Johnson and Nick Rimando. 

We took in a few beers at Elysian Brewing Company in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and, of course, left our mark.

The American Outlaws "Night Before Party" was hosted by AO: Seattle at Golazo Energy's Headquarters. Several former national team players including Cobi Jones, Alexi Lalas, and Taylor Twellman stopped by. A packed house all night with FIFA tournaments, fooseball (we dominated), and a uber-patrotic photo booth, plus sweet gear giveaways from Nike Soccer.

USMNT legend Cobi Jones supporting the FBM cause.

Signing a big card for the USMNT.

Sno-Fro made an appearance!

Then it was gameday. Off to the American Outlaws bar-tailgate and, of course, the match itself.

We took in a little bit of the "local flavor" for better or worse.

March to the Match.

Free scarves! America!

Under the giant flag after the National Anthem. One guy looks concerned.

The atmosphere at the stadium was incredible.

You know the drill.... #CheersToSoccer

 

American Outlaws VP Justin Brunken and I in silly surprise of such a great result.

We were walking out of the stadium when I elbowed Brunken. "Is that f*cking Jay DeMerit?" "Hey Jay!" I yelled.

Yup... Jay F*cking DeMerit.

Look ma! I was on the TeeVee!

Having survived the "snow-pocolypse" in Denver and been a part of this massively awesome crowd in Seattle.... don't know how much more "epic" U.S. events we can take! There's no doubt that this city knows how to bring it for American soccer, Sounders or their national team.

See you all in Salt Lake City!

Tags: Beer, Free Beer Match Days, photography, USMNT

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