Written by Will Parchman

concacf

As far as continental cup competitions go, the CONCACAF Champions League is still riding shotgun in the struggle bus. As a tournament, it has value as a sort of wacky collision between Central American teams nobody outside those countries ever sees, heavily supported Mexico teams and more lightly but still significantly followed MLS sides.

Personally, I can attest to the competition’s madness. In August 2015, I was in house in Seattle to witness one of the wildest games of soccer I’ve ever seen – in any venue, continent or competition. Honduran outfit Olimpia snagged a shock 1-0 lead in the fifth minute (via recently signed Houston Dynamo wide man Alberth Elis) and then retreated to its bunker for the duration. It looked as though they’d hammer Seattle out of the competition when, in the 90th minute, Erik Friberg scored an equalizer while Olimpia midfielder Rommel Quioto, who’d been booed and then responded by antagonizing the crowd for time wasting, was watching from the sideline.

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Written by Will Parchman

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In relative terms, this has been a quiet offseason for MLS. Since the Sounders dropped TFC for the iron throne in December, the league’s biggest transfer was probably Portland’s splash for Sebastian Blanco, the South American wide player who might end up being the best winger in a winger-depleted league.

Otherwise, no Kakas, no Henrys, no Gerrards, no Dempseys. The less-flash-more-substance offseason has, in a few notable ways, been the league’s best ever.

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Written by Will Parchman

tommy

Dorian Gray, may he rest in fictional peace, can relate to San Jose’s deformities of creative impetus lo these last several years.

Oscar Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray finishes with the protagonist confronting his own depravity in the form of a grotesque, gnarled painting of himself. Throughout the novel the magically-imbued painting assumes Gray’s lesser virtues, and by its end Gray is so horrified by the result that he attempts to stab it into nonexistence. Gray, though, is ultimately stabbing at himself, and in his fit of madness he inadvertently brings about his own demise.

This has largely been the San Jose Story for the last three years. KinnearBall has never been particularly reliant on direct assists, and the 2012 Quakes were about as English as MLS is ever liable to get – all mad scrambles to second balls, boot-and-chase into the box, wildly swung headers on crosses and a lethality on free kicks that tested the bounds of credulity. But even still, the service provided to Chris Wondolowski in the last three seasons has been… shall we say… abysmal?

In 2014, the Quakes finished a 30-point season – the second-worst in the league – with a meager 22 assists. It was also second-worst in the league, exactly 40 assists behind league leaders LA Galaxy. A year later, the Quakes again finished second-bottom in the league in total assists, this time with a modest uptick to 26. They missed the playoffs again. In 2016 (I think you can see where this is headed) the Quakes, incredibly enough, finished second-worst in the league in assists again, falling back to 24 as a team throughout another season without the playoffs.

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Written by Will Parchman

warner

Defying the notions we have as children that our most fantastical dreams are rooted in reality, Arsenal beat Sutton United 2-0 on Monday in the 5th round of the FA Cup. Sutton United was the first fifth-tier team to ever reach this late stage in the competition, and they managed to draw Arsenal. At home.

Sutton United, nestled in a hamlet in South London, was a curio for so many reasons the English press struggled to keep up. Its notice board notifying fans Arsenal was coming to town was an ancient manual board ringed by barbed wire. Its field is (gasp) turf, a relative rarity in the UK. Its backup keeper is an overweight odd-job handler in his mid-40’s who sleeps at the stadium three nights a week.

But by far the most widely reported bit of curiosity from Sutton’s Gander Green Lane was the dressing room. Namely, how damn small the visitor’s changing room is. And at least in the press, it was everywhere. I’ll save myself the hours of toil and simply let you pick through the myriad articles. It is a small changing room. You know. Befitting a fifth-tier side.

It’s almost like the English press have never covered a CONCACAF Champions League match before. Ah. Yes. Right.

Sutton United’s locker room is a point of interest. It’s small. Arsenal have a fleet of millionaires. The tea isn’t great. So on and so forth. But in reality the entire experience paled in comparison to the manic evenings provided by another cup competition (albeit not a domestic one) half a world away. And yes, I’m speaking of the infernal CCL, which provides more oddball away situations than perhaps any singular competition in the world. The Champions League’s very format works to weed out these sorts of matchups, and even the Europa League is hardly a battle of plucky upstarts. The majority of its clubs have sizeable multi-million dollar budgets.

International leagues like these – like the CCL – have to build from the ground up, so you understand its growing pains. The competition is new and played largely in countries with fragile infrastructures. But on some level it becomes hard to justify the material and emotional expense of playing these games in cricket stadiums to a smattering of fans while the well-supported league calendar waits off-stage with a titanium mallet. It’s hard to imagine that MLS clubs, in the thick of the playoff hunt when it hits the group phase in August and September, don’t view this competition with a heavy dose of skepticism.

But there’s also something else at work, something warmer. It isn’t necessarily about what the CCL is, but what it represents. Whether it’s Jamaican clubs selling their own shirts out of their hotel or these games in far-flung corners where the stadiums are glorified scrambles of concrete and rebar, the game is reduced to its essence in these moments. No steep banks of seats filled with thousands of fans, no international media presence. Just the game.

With that in mind, here three of my favorite CONCACAFy road moments for MLS clubs in the CCL since the competition reformatted in 2008. Sutton United, eat your heart out.

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Written by Will Parchman

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For a long time there’s been a commonly held notion that at least as far as soccer fans were concerned, the U.S. viewership pool is something like a bottomless well. Nobody was quite sure how deep it went, considering the rising tide of the game’s popularity here. It always sort of felt like the tech boom of the late 90’s. The growth was sustainable until it wasn’t.

There is some truth to this, but the uncomfortable elephant in the corner is that the market is beginning to stabilize, even if that stability is encased in steady year-over-year growth. And Mexico’s Liga MX emerged from the ratings duststorm of the last 10 years – a decade that witnessed the growth of astronomical TV deals and improvised digital offerings – as the unquestioned King Under The American Mountain.

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Written by Will Parchman

james sands

The Homegrown Watch at NYCFC was notably delayed by the club’s decision to take a more methodical approach with its academy roll-out. NYCFC didn’t even announce its own academy until a month prior to the senior team’s MLS debut in March 2015. It finally joined the Development Academy in August 2015 – albeit at just the U14 level – well after the first team began playing its own MLS games.

Contrast this with Atlanta United’s approach, for instance, and you can understand why, entering its third MLS season, NYCFC has yet to sign a Homegrown and Atlanta United already has three. In lieu of Homegrowns, NYCFC’s basically dumped bags of allocation money on young draft picks. After dropping an unknown amount of cash to trade up to No. 1 to grab Jack Harrison in 2016 (it was probably a lot), NYCFC spent $325,000 in allocation to secure Jonathan Lewis and Kwame Awuah in a pair of draft-day trades.

Judging by Patrick Vieira’s recent statements, both in the press and on the field, the age of the NYCFC Homegrown could be rapidly approaching.

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Written by Will Parchman

rgv

They just call it the valley.

The Rio Grande Valley isn’t a true valley, in the strictest sense of the world. It’s technically a floodplain, nearly 1,900 square miles of oxbow lakes and mangroves and Jerusalem thorns situated at the southernmost tip of Texas all spilling out of the coffee-and-cream Rio Grande. It is hot here, seemingly always, and the children play in the resacas and the meanders and ride across the bridges to the interconnected islands.

Two of the five most Hispanic cities in the United States by percentage are in the Rio Grande Valley, and a third is miles up the waterway toward El Paso. It is an uncommon place in these days of Trump, as life plays out in the hypothetical shadow of a wall. Some immigrants who passed over the nearby border into the valley wait and pray. Others stake Trump signs into their lawns.

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Written by Will Parchman

loderio

The best thing about Atlanta United’s announced signing of Venezuelan international Josef Martinez was probably the least visible thing about it.

Here was a Designated Player, in his prime at 23, with extensive international experience and a surprisingly deep history playing in Serie A. And Atlanta United… got him on loan?

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Written by Will Parchman

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By the time J.R.R. Tolkien passed in 1973, most of his literary oeuvre had already been created, enumerated and disseminated for public consumption. By then, The Hobbit and the ensuing Lord of the Rings trilogy had already tipped the fantasy genre into the global zeitgeist, and most assumed Tolkien’s legend would simply ride forward on those wings alone.

Tolkien’s son, Christopher, had been one of his chief literary consultants since he was a boy. So when his father died, Christopher set to work compiling the unpublished parts of his father’s work and creating a singular piece of literary merit from its disparate pieces. What he ultimately produced was a heavy edited and robustly compiled compendium of Lord of the Rings mythology called The Silmarillion from his father’s notes, most of which were hand-written.

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Written by Will Parchman

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Confetti spewed upward in four paper geysers as a slightly stooped man in a red jacket stood beside two former NFL stars on a dais. The stooped man looked downward at first, as if comprehending the moment, before he was passed a silver trophy that equaled the greatest achievement of the man’s present duty.

The moment was resplendent for all the requisite reasons. The Atlanta Falcons were NFC champions for the first time since 1999, would be pulling the city along to its first championship in any sport in 18 years, and all the brimming, overawed crowd could see was that confetti and this man and that trophy and those ebullient players.

I saw something else. I saw a pin.

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