Sunday, July 31, 2011

Jacksonville United Captures 2011 NPSL Championship

In a thrilling final, first year side Jacksonville United FC complete the incredible midseason turnaround to take home the NPSL Championship with a 3:2 win over Hollywood United.  After losing its first four matches, JUFC turned the results around and rode three goals in Saturday's final from Tommy Krizanovic to finish its season with 8 straight wins and raise the NPSL Championship trophy. 
Krizanovic opened the Jacksonville scoring in the 16th minute with a left-footed 15 yard drive across the width of the Hollywood goal before settling just inside the far post.  Hollywood responded shortly thereafter when Arturo Albarran cheekily swivle kicked a cross to the head of Emmanuel Bentil.  Bentil's downward header was knocked down by a Jacksonville defender's arm and the referee pointed to the spot.  However, Hollywood would fail to convert the spot kick, when Albarran crashed his attempt off the crossbar. 

Albarran would make up for that mistake with a wonder goal just minutes later.  After receiving the ball in space about 30 yards from goal, Albarran laced into a curling drive that swerved into the far side netting and equalized the match.  But it would only take 11 minutes for Jacksonville to retake the lead when Ramak Safin found Krizanovic for the finish in the 37th.  The 2:1 scoreline would be taken into halftime.

After the break, Hollywood implemented its possession oriented game, and patiently probed the Jacksonville defense with good work from Nick Blanco and Jose Miranda coming close several times but unable unlock the Jacksonville defense.  In the 76th minute, the breakthrough came when substitute Brent Whitfield broke into the penalty area and was taken down for a penalty.  Albarran showed real moxie to step up and atone for his previous miss by slamming home his second penalty attempt of the night to level the score.

Hollywood continued the persistent pressure while looking for the winning goal, but in the 88th minute it was Jacksonville who struck against the run of play.  Despite being outnumbered in the Hollywood penalty area, Ramak Safi danced to the endline and sent in a cross for Krizanovic to head home and spark jubilant celebration for the Jacksonville faithful. 

After 4 minutes of desperate attacking from Hollywood in an attempt at a third equalizer, the referee  blew full time and Jacksonville United captured the 2011 NPSL Championship.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

For the Love of the Game: A Soccer Conversation with Donal Logue

I love this gig I have.  I've met many of my boyhood soccer idols.  That's just one of the terrific things about my involvement in the game.  Recently, this gig had me crossing paths with another of my non-soccer heroes.  It was with great pleasure that I was able to spend a few short minutes talking soccer with one of my all time favorite actor/directors and friend in football, Donal Logue.

Since this is my blog, I can digress a little off the topic of soccer, if I feel the whim.  So, bear with me and I'll warn you, skip the next few paragraphs, if you're not interested in reading some deeply personal revelations about how Mr. Logue's work has affected me in a very real sense.

Donal is an actor of immense talent and starred in one of my favorite movies ever, the 2000 independent romantic-comedy, "The Tao of Steve".  In it, Donal played the philisoph-slacker, Dex, who laid down some simple tenets for life (and for picking up women, coincidentally) which can be distilled into the following, "Be desireless, be excellent, be gone".

For me, a guy who struggled with self-image problems, especially around women, these ideas were a revelation.  After dozens of viewings, my roommate and I could be heard around the apartment quoting lines from the Buddha and discoursing on solipsism. Yes, we were wild and crazy guys.

However, those six words became a personal mantra of sorts and I used them to help get over a very real problem with social anxiety and a general lack of confidence.  By clearing my mind of desire or the need to be seen as something other than who I was, I was able to stand tall in who I actually was.  (Does that make sense?)  The second tenet was working hard to be excellent at whatever I chose to do in life; career, hobbies, soccer...  These first two led me to the third tennant of "be gone" which I interpreted as being unafraid to face new challenges, which has eventually led me to the adventure of moving out of my comfort zone I'd built in Maryland and building a life here in Huntsville.  

I know, it sounds kind of silly that a rom-com could affect a person so fundamentally, but life is like that sometimes.  All the personal reflection that the movie inspired gave me the confidence to approach, woo, and eventually win over the smart and sexy woman I now call my wife.  It has also led me to explore and enrich my life through soccer by giving me the confidence to appear on camera as a part time TV soccer analyst and play-by-play announcer.  Art really can influence you in profound ways.

Now, Donal also wrote, directed, and starred another of my favorite movies, "Tennis, Anyone...?" about the celebrity tennis circuit.  My father was the local tennis pro in the rural part of Maryland where I grew up.  So, I certainly spotted some of the same types of  egos in the movie that would swing the rackets around on my father's courts while I was rollerskating outside the fence to retrieve errant tennis balls in the late 70s/early 80s.

Plain and simple, I really appreciate Donal's work and he has more recently appeared in many successful movies and network shows including "Life" and "Terriers".  Now that I've gushed on about my man crush on the guy, we can get down to the heart of the post.

It just so happens that Donal is also a soccer geek like me and has poured his passion into his club Hollywood United.  He's "living the dream" of soccer ownership.  His club will be playing for a National championship in the 2011 NPSL Finals on Saturday night.  Here are some excerpts from our conversation a few days ago.

BTW, the debate is now raging about whether you can use my name in your next game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

RCU Finally Win at Home vs All-stars; Erie beats Milwaukee

RCU Drills All-stars 3:1 for First Home Win
Rocket City United's head coach Gerry Cleary hasn't had much to smile about after home games this season, but he was beaming after Friday night's All-star game.  His side who finished last in the Southeast Region took on and thumped a side filled with the best talent in the NPSL.  On each side of the break, Keniel Hyde took advantage of All-stars defensive errors to give RCU the 2:0 lead.  The All-stars were able to answer back through a familiar face.  RCU's lone All-star representative, Joseph Omondi, scored a poachers goal to pull the All-stars back within one.  But in the dying seconds of the match a brilliant mazy 60 yard run and finish from Andrew Nkururnungi sealed the victory for the home side. 

Erie Admirals Claim Third Place

Disappointed about their loss on Thursday, the Erie Admirals emphatically staked their claim as the third place team with a 5:0 drubbing of the Milwaukee Bavarians on Friday night.  Erie was paced by Gavin Falconer who scored twice.  Aaron Meehl came off the bench to bag a goal before Erie added two goals at the death by Michael Blythe and Shane Howard.

Friday, July 29, 2011

NPSL Final Preview; NPSL Commissioner Speaks

NPSL Final Sets Up To Be A Classic

Two newcomers to the NPSL will kick off Saturday night to crown a national champion.  The match-up will be the second year in a row that the champions of the West and Southeast regions meet to determine a national champion.  Hollywood United will be looking to be the third West Region team in a row to be crowned champion (Sonoma '09, Sacramento '10).  While Jacksonville United is attempting to bring home the winners medals to the Southeast for the first time in NPSL history.  Atlanta FC, Rocket City United, and Chattanooga FC have all failed to raise the Cup for the Southeast region in years past.

If they are to buck the trend, the odds will be stacked against the Florida eleven.  Jacksonville United is undoubtedly the underdog in this match.  The first year club scraped into the post season by the slimmest of margins.  However, coach Eric Dade is not concerned with the early season sluggishness, and has seen his team grow into a side capable of good things, "I think a lot of guys were on a very good men's adult team, and then all of a sudden, we're pros."  He explained that as the season wore on the JUFC's professionalism and consistency took hold and the good results followed.

JUFC is certainly riding a wave of moment while on a 7 game winning streak and Dade is looking forward to the final on Saturday night, "I think it'll be a good game.  I think you'll see two teams play with similarity.  Hopefully, we'll find a way to be there at the end of it."   

Hollywood United is also in its first year in the NPSL having moved over from the USL PDL, but is loaded with professional and international experience.  For instance, both of Hollywood's goalscorers in the semifinals came to the squad with experience in top global professional divisions.   The Hitmen's first scorer, Emmanuel Bentil was captain for the U-17 Ghana team that captured the World Youth Cup winner's medal.  That experience led to three years on the books at Bayern Munich, before injuries led to time with other teams around Europe.  Not to be outdone, two goal scorer Brent Whitfield spent time in the USA's Major League Soccer with Chivas USA.

Coach Jose Botello will be looking to use that experience against a JUFC side that he thinks plays an attractive game, "Jacksonville looks to knock it, looks to play, and get behind through short passes."  Botello urges that a possession style game is also key to Hollywood's success, "It's something we stress.  We want to keep the ball, and possession moving forward.  At times, we struggled moving forward [in the semifinal].  That final pass wasn't there in the beginning of the game, but toward the end, we were much better."

NPSL Commissioner Is Excited About 2011 and Beyond

Dan Trainor has seen his league grow from a provincial outfit to a nationwide developmental league in a very short time and he is excited about the future.  The twinkle in his eye is fully evident when speaking of the "continued steady growth" of the future of the 4th division circuit.


NPSL Finalist Set; NPSL All-star Game; RCU's Sabio's Phillipines Out of World Cup

NPSL Finals Set:  Hollywood United v Jacksonville United
The 2011 NPSL Final will be a battle of Uniteds as Hollywood United will take on Jacksonville United on Saturday at 7:30PM at the Madison City Schools Stadium.

Semifinal 1:  NPSL newcomer and West Region champion Hollywood United scored three second half goals on their way to defeating Midwest Region champion Milwaukee Bavarians.  The teams ended the first half scoreless despite several good chance from Hollywood.  The second half would see Hollywood continue the pressure and a golazo from Emmanuel Bentil two minutes after the break opened up the match.  Bentil roped a drive into the top corner of the goal from outside the area.  Shortly after, second half sub Brent Whitfield made the most of his fresh legs as he paced the Hitmen with a brace of goals on their way into Saturday nights final.

Semifinal 2:  The second semifinal was a wild affair.  Twice the Erie Admirals took 1 goal leads and twice Jacksonville United battled back to equalize before adding two late goals to take seal JUFC's place in the final.  Erie started the scoring in the 22nd minute with a headed goal from Gavin Falconer off a nice cross from Shane Howard.  Jacksonville United got the equalizer before the break when Tyler Williams scored on the second effort after his first shot was knocked down.  Erie then benefited from a deflected cross from Michael Kennedy that found the net for the 2:1 lead in the 58th.  JUFC only took 3 minutes to respond with a blast from Tommy Krizanovic.  Just 10 minutes later, JUFC took the lead for good with a Akinwale Leyimu tally followed two minutes later by a Nick Salafrio's effort that just crossed the line before the Erie defense could clear.  The wild game wasn't over yet as JUFC keeper Stuart McCrory turned away an Erie PK attempt in the waning minutes to keep the score 4:2 in favor of JUFC.

The third place match between the Erie Admirals and the Milwaukee Bavarians will take place Friday night at 5:30PM at the Madison City Schools Stadium.

NPSL All-stars take on RCU
Rocket City United will suit up one more time this season, as they take on the NPSL All-stars Friday night at 8 PM.  RCU will have their work cut out for them as a strong NPSL side has been selected from over 60 recommended all-star players from around the league.  RCU defender Joseph Omondi will have the rare privilege of suiting up against his current club as he was selected for the All-stars.  When asked about which team he'd play for in Friday's match Omondi broke out in his trademark smile, "I've been asked that a couple of times now. Being selected [to the all-star team], it' s a big honor for me.  So, I think I'll be playing against Rocket City, and it's just going to be a fun game for me."  NPSL Technical Director and All-star head coach claims this year's all-stars a much more talented side than the one that beat RCU 2:0 in last year's exhibition match.

RCU's Jason Sabio and the Phillipino National Team fall to Kuwait in World Cup Qualifying
Rocket City United defender Jason Sabio and his Phillipino National Team fell to Kuwait 5:1 on aggregate in the second round of the Asian Football Confederation's World Cup Qualifying.  The Askals needed a miracle win by 4 goals in the return leg in Manilla after losing in Kuwait 3:0 in the first leg.  Sabio did not appear in the second leg as the team fielded an attacking line-up in an effort to maximize its goal scoring capability.  The miracle looked possible after the Azkals took an 1:0 halftime lead, but as they pressed for goals, Kuwait struck twice and eliminated the Phillipines' and Sabio's World Cup dreams.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

NPSL Semifinals Tonight!

First, I must apologize to my loyal readers (all three of you, not including my mom) for my lack of posting recently.  I was out of town and on my way back into town I caught a bug of some sort and have been "laid low" for nearly two weeks.  In the meantime, RCU finished up it's regular season, and Jacob and the guys over at Southern Soccer hosted another wildly successful Rocket City Invitational tournament.  

And I have to give a special thanks to an outstanding young writer and friend, Drew Wooley, who stepped in and kept you all up to date on the all things RCU.  Thanks, Drew.  We'll miss you when you move on to bigger and better things.  

NPSL Semi-finals Tonight

It's a great time to be a soccer fan in Huntsville-Madison.  The NPSL Championships area upon us again.  This is the second straight year that the championships of the nation wide league in the fourth division of the US soccer pyramid will be hosted by Rocket City United at the Madison City Schools Stadium.  Last year, we were treated to five fantastic games including a great all-star match, a tremendous NPSL Final won by Sacramento, and appearances by some US soccer celebrities.  This year's championships are looking to live up to last years event.

Semifinal 1 at 5:30PM:  Hollywood United (2) v. Milwaukee Bavarians (3).

Hollywood United (not to be confused with FC Hollywood as German giant FC Bayern Munich is often called), is a first year NPSL team.  Hollywood United has had an impressive Western Region season going 14W-1D-2L in their first year after switching over from the USL-PDL.  The Hollywood in the name is also well deserved since the club was founded by several musicians, actors, and Hollywood celebrity types.  One of my favorite actors, Donal Logue, is part owner of the club and was spotted in Madison today documenting the club's time here at the championships.  Hopefully, I'll get to sit down with him sometime this weekend and discuss his club and his views on soccer in America.

HU's opponent is no slouch either.  Midwest Region champions Milwaukee Bavarians are one of the most storied clubs in American soccer, and I'll be honest.  They will be my sentimental favorite in the tournament, because they were founded in 1929 as FC Bayern, a similar name to my favorite European club (the previously mentioned "FC Hollywood").  Like their German namesakes, they have really come into their own as a soccer power in the last 30 years and are only slightly less decorated by silverware.  The club holds 6 National Amateur and Open Cup trophies, and dominated this year's NPSL Midwest Region with a record of 8W, 2D, 2L. 

Semifinal 2 at 8PM:  Erie Admirals (1) v. Jacksonville United (4)

Northeast region champion Erie Admirals are making their 2nd appearance in the NPSL championships in three years.  You might recall it was this same side that dashed Rocket City United's 2009 NPSL Championship hopes in Madison, WI by handing RCU a solid 4:2 drubbing in the semifinal.  Erie is coming into the finals as the number one seed due to Points-per-game.  They will be without one of their top players in Afrim Latifi who had a personal commitment out of the country and could not travel with the team.

Jacksonville United is the surprise of the tournament.  A 2011 NPSL newcomer, the Florida team had trouble adjusting to the league initially, dropping their first four matches in the NPSL Southeast Region. JaxU then performed a remarkable about-face and reeled off six straight victories to pull level on points at 6W-0D-4L with fellow Region leader Georgia Revolution and qualified for the Championships based on number of wins.  Despite the rough start Jacksonville is an experienced side in American soccer with many team members gaining US Open Cup experience with Lynch's Pub FC.

Sad Note:

The NPSL lost a member of its family as NPSL Board Member Charles Billings was found dead of what appears to be natural causes in his home this week.  Billings was the Midwest Region Commissioner and GM of the Madison 56ers and was scheduled to travel to Madison, AL for this weekend's festivities.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Home Win Eludes RCU in Final Game

Looking desperately for their first home win on Saturday, Rocket City’s final home game of the season went the way of most of their season.
“We dug a hole by going down 2-0,” said Cleary. “We got back in the game at 2-2, had two chances to make it 3-2. Then we give up another silly goal to go down 3-2 and you’re chasing the game.
“This is the story of our season,” he added, “we get back in it and then we kick ourselves in the teeth.”
While the regular season is over, Rocket City will close out the summer with a 6v6 tournament, followed by an exhibition game against the NPSL All-Stars.
As for his future with the club, Cleary seems open to returning but recognized that his record will not be his greatest selling point.
“I don’t know whether they’ll want me back,” he said, chuckling after Saturday night’s loss. “Instead of me they might need a good coach. But we’ll see.”

PWT-blog Visits Red Bull Arena

On my recent vacation I had the opportunity to visit the Red Bull Arena for the New York Red Bulls v Toronto FC match.  Although TFC didn't put up much of a fight in a 5:0 loss to NYRB, I had a fantastic night at a great soccer stadium.  And as a DC United fan, it really pained me to write that last sentence.  Anyway here are some of the action from that night.
Driving up to the Stadium
A converted old warehouse turned parking garage
Tailgate in the Warehouse
Kids game outside the stadium
View of the action from our seats

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

WWC Watch Party, RCU Finale Saturday, NPSL Tournament Taking Shape, RCI Coming Together

American Outlaws to Host Women's World Cup Final Watch Party at the Brickhouse
The new American Outlaws-Huntsville chapter will host a Women's World Cup Final watch party at the Brickhouse Sports Cafe on Sunday at 1PM.  After the US Women took care of business in Wednesday's 3:1 semi-final win over France, they'll look to bring home their first World Cup trophy since 1999's memorable triumph at the Rose Bowl.  Let's get out there and support our ladies!  HAIL, COLUMBIA!

Rocket City United Look to Pick Up First Home Win in Finale
The ad says, "We must protect this house!"  Rocket City United must not have seen that one.  The team is strangely more successful on the road then they are in the confines of the Madison City Schools Stadium.  Coach Gerry Cleary is at a loss to explain the losses in which RCU seems to be the better side, "Again we’re saying Rocket City should have won a game when we didn’t win, but maybe we’re just not that good."  RCU has its final opportunity to win at home of the 2011 regular season Saturday night against expansion side and surprise of the NPSL Southeast Georgia Revolution. 

NPSL Championships Taking Shape
RCU's match against the GA Revs will have postseason implications.  GAR sits in second in the Southeast region and can take the top spot with a win and loss or a tie by Chattanooga FC in their match against the Knoxville Force.    Only one of the other NPSL regional titles have been claimed as the Milwuakee Bavarians have won the Midwest.   The NPSL Championships will be hosted by RCU for the second consecutive year on July 28-30.

Rocket City Invitational

The 2011 Rocket City Invitational is coming together nicely, and Jacob and Co. over at Southern Soccer are looking at another smashing success of a tournament.  Photos of the tournament T-shirts were just released as have details of the tournament party at Amendment XXI.  Looks like it's going to be classic!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Poor Defending Costs Rocket City; High Drama in WWC

4-1 Defeat for RCU

Rocket City United were looking for their first home win of the season last night. What they found instead was a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Jacksonville United. Early goals for both sides were followed by 3 unanswered goals for the visitors to give RCU their worst loss of the season.

"The lads are trying but if they were a little smarter in the final third then it’d be a lot easier," said Gerry Cleary after the game. "We were just stupid. They were little school girl errors that we made tonight, it’s ridiculous."

Cleary and company will now try to turn their attention to the final game of the season, next Saturday against the Georgia Revolution.
"There’s always a chance," Cleary said of the odds that his team can get a win at home next week. "If it’s one in a million then it means there’s a chance."

Incredible US Comeback Against Brazil

If you didn’t watch the game, you really should.

Abby Wambach’s header in the 122nd minute, Hope Solo’s penalty save (or was that two saves?) even Marta deserves some credit for her beautiful extra time goal. The United States women put together a dramatic performance in Germany every bit as nail-biting and, in the end, euphoric as the men’s last second win against Algeria last summer. Congrats on overcoming Marta, Brazil, and some downright confounding refereeing.

See you in the semis.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

RCU Return Home; MLS Welcomes an Old Villain

Rocket City Faces Jacksonville United in Homecoming Match

Rocket City United will finally return home this Saturday after a three game road trip to play their last two games in front of their home fans. After last weekend's disappointing loss to Atlanta, RCU can no longer win the region. Gerry Cleary is adamant, however, that these last two games will not be used to run-out young players.

“We’re not running out, we’re still going to stick to the same team,” he said. “Stay with our philosophy and do something we haven’t done all season which is win at home.”

They will face Jacksonville United on the 9th, a team they beat 3-1 earlier this season. RCU will hope to repeat that result, but it won't be easy with JUFC on a four game win streak.

Toronto Brings in Two DPs
Toronto has bought two designated players in an attempt to revitalize their less-than-stellar season. One of them is German international Torsten Frings, who US fans are sure to remember for his infamous handball in the 2002 World Cup quarterfinal. Frings comes in alongside striker Danny Koevermans in a move that Toronto are hoping can help them push for a playoff spot.

Never hurts to have some quality villains in the league, and US fans have long memories.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Rocket City Falls 1-0 in Atlanta

Penalty Kick Sinks RCU, Cleary Questions Commitment
United played their final road game of the season last night, falling 1-0 on an Atlanta penalty just before halftime. RCU had a spot kick of their own earlier, but Kenniel Hyde was unable to beat the Atlanta goalkeeper. Gerry Cleary felt that his side played well, especially considering that he only had 14 players to choose from. "We were playing an injured player at center back, a center midfielder at right fullback," he said, "it was strange."

Cleary expects that the final two games of the season will be less about giving young players run-outs and more about determining who will stay and who will go for next season. "We’ve just got to see who comes to training. We’re lacking commitment right now at this part of the season and we just need to see who’s committed to Rocket City and we’ve got to take notes for next season."

Friday, July 1, 2011

RCU Travel to Atlanta; Copa America on YouTube

Rocket City United return to Atlanta
After bagging their first win in the last five games against the Georgia Revolution, RCU travel back to Atlanta this weekend to face the Atlanta Silverbacks Reserves. ATL handed United a heartbreaking loss at home in their last meeting, so the visitors will be hungry to return the favor on Saturday. Rocket City will be doubly motivated as a victory would lift them to third place in the region, giving them a chance, albeit a slim one, to salvage something from a trying season.

YouTube to Broadcast Copa America 2011 to Over 50 Countries

The Copa America kicks off tonight with Argentina taking on Bolivia. The tournament can be difficult for American viewers to see, but no worries. YouTube will be broadcasting every game of the tournament to over 50 countries on their Copa America page: Watch to see if Argentina literally explodes from their wealth of attacking talent. Leo Messi, Carlos Tevez, Sergio Aguero, Gonzalo Higuain, Diego Milito, and Angel Di Maria...3-1-6 anyone?