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Freddy Adu, Radio Yorkshire and Soccer Travels



This week I wrote an article for World Soccer Talk on Freddy Adu after speaking with Finland soccer blogger Rich over at Escape to Suomi. A lot of good stuff from that including Adu being banished to the reserve side of KuPS.

mls-primary_colorOn Monday I was on Yorkshire Radio talking about Major League Soccer and the Hudson River/New  York City Derby, Andrea Pirlo and some transfers. It was a great time and I may be back on there some more in the coming weeks. Hopefully my schedule will allow that to happen.

On Sunday I made a chapter of my upcoming book, Soccer Travels, available for free. Actually it was a bonus chapter that may or may not appear in the book proper as more material will make it on to this blog. I am still hard at work finalizing the book as I hope it will take the reader to all the games, cities and stadiums I have chosen to write about. From Korea to England, Italy to Hungary, there will be something for every football fan; I hope.

In addition, I hope this is the first of a few Soccer Travels books, but we shall see. I will be making a second chapter available for a limited time in the coming days, possibly on another blog site that is soccer specific. But more on that later.

Soccer Travels Cover Art

Finally, today is the semi-finals for the Women’s World Cup. The ladies have inspired me to get out and watch a little bit of women’s football here in the UK for the first time. It looks like I’ll be heading out to watch Manchester City’s women take on Birmingham City in about a week. I’m looking forward to that. Perhaps a new Soccer Travels  chapter.

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New York Derby



It wasn’t too long ago that it seemed New York City couldn’t even sustain one Major League Soccer team. It still may be too early to say, but right now it looks like the MLS executives have hit a home run.

A fantastic 48,000 fans turned out in force at Yankee Stadium to see the two New York sides – New York City FC versus New York Red Bulls – play in their second derby of the season.

The house that George Steinbrenner built is now a sea of light blue.

The house that George Steinbrenner built is now a sea of light blue.

Despite the Red Bulls not flashing the cash as NYC have this term, the Red Bulls took the second derby as they had the first. The club, backed by energy drink Red Bull, came from behind to claim the spoils 3-1 as NYC’s Frank Lampard watched on from the stands. Also in attendance was Italian Andrea Pirlo, NYC’s newest transfer target, who should be officially signed this week.

The Bronx just got sexier.

The Bronx just got sexier.

The success that both New York teams are seeing can’t be understated. MLS has come a long way in the last five years; and with Los Angeles’s second team Chivas USA being folded at the end of last season, there was no guarantee of success for a second New York team. Chivas had numerous problems, however, including being a Mexican team spin off.

The Red Bulls have now won both New York Derbies this season.

The Red Bulls have now won both New York Derbies this season.

Both New York teams are flush with finances. NYC are co-owned by the New York Yankees and England’s Manchester City while the Red Bulls are controlled by the Austrian drinks company of the same name.

For many years, MLS’s rivalries have seemed quite forced, such as the derby between Real Salt Lake and Colorado Rapids or even one extremely forced match up between Sporting KC and Chicago Fire. That one seemed to be created out of nowhere and since 2011, that rivalry seems dead.

The New York Derby, as it has been called in the UK or the Hudson River Derby in the US, doesn’t seem faux in the least. The MLS original New York Red Bulls (yes, of course they changed owners and names and reside outside New York City and even the state of New York) and the noisy neighbours NYC don’t have to put on appearances. The fans have been into it, the players have been into it and it looks like it will only get bigger. Now the league has a top derby on each coast, with Portland Timbers and Seattle Sounders clashing in the northwest and the New Yorkers in the northeast.

No country for old men. David Villa up in arms after being fouled in the clubs' first meeting in 2015.

No country for old men. David Villa up in arms after being fouled in the clubs’ first meeting in 2015.

The league does need both clubs to play well on the field and be around the MLS Cup at the end of the season. Keeping New York interested all year is vital to sustaining interest in the Big Apple. NYC have gone about their business in a smart way, buy big names and put out a decent squad in their first year to get fans out to the games. Time can only tell if they can continue this in the future.

Interestingly, this season has seen a massive influx in MLS news in the UK. Perhaps it is just the coverage that Sky Sports is throwing behind the league, which is far more than BT Sports coverage last season. But whatever it is, newspapers, websites and television are all taking notice.

Which is great, because the US, in many cases, are finally taking their domestic league seriously, too.

Macron stadium

Soccer Travels, coming in 2015

In early 2015, after years of watching soccer from around the world, travelling to do so and becoming increasingly frustrated with blogging and trying to write freelance about the sport; I began to compile my thoughts, memories and journal entries into a book.
That book Soccer Travels, is a first person travel and football account of matches, players and places that many may never see or experience live.
Soccer travels is a 14 chapter book about some of the places I’ve seen and the games I’ve witnessed from Liverpool’s famed Anfield to the lesser well-known Bozsik Stadium, home of Budapest Honved.
Soccer  Travelsin true punk rock fashion, is a DIY project. Nearly completed, the book will be released by the end of 2015 in both Kindle e-book and physical format.
A labour of love, Soccer Travels is my first attempt at writing a book; and in 2015 with the capabilities of making a project widely available to the masses, why not?
Want to read a sample? More exclusive content will be posted soon.
adu shirt

Freddy Adu – KuPS Update



In March I wrote a blog post about the one and only Freddy Adu and his career. Not long after that post, Adu signed a contract with Finnish soccer team Kuopion Palloseura (KuPS).

Well, four months after joining the team in March, there is little news coming out of the Finnish team about Adu. After scrolling through the team’s news dating back to his arrival in April, there’s no mention of the former DC United, Real Salt Lake, Monaco – the list goes on – attacker.

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Currently, Adu doesn’t even have a photo on the team section of the club’s website. Looking over recent match reports, Adu hasn’t been mentioned nor does the usually reliable Whoscored.com have any stats for him. Whoscored.com has listed Adu playing six games for the club. Injured? Out of the team? Released? Very little news is coming out and a search for news from American or British soccer sites has nothing since April’s debut for KuPS. I have contacted the KuPS media department with some questions in hope of getting a few answers.

freddy in turkey

Adu did debut in April against Vaasan Palloseura, playing 72 minutes of the contest. An exuberant fan created a video of Adu’s touches during the game. American soccer fans and media seemed to be quite impressed with the highlight reel. However, nothing Adu actually did was of note and looked a bit sloppy at times. Close ups made him look a bit chubby as well. I guess that is due to him promoting night club gigs.

While there was praise for his highlights, it must also be remembered that the quality of the Finnish league – sorry – isn’t very high. It is a minor league in European soccer and most likely would be on par with the American leagues below Major League Soccer in the US soccer pyramid.

Travel photography from Ensenada and Tijuana, Mexico by Fat Tony.

Tijuana

I staggered out of my cousin’s car, the sun beating down on my skin, and proceeded to vomit all over the Mexican-American border. A victim of another severe migraine that I had grown accustom to as a teen, I dropped to my knees in a dirt car park. This was my first and so far last visit to Tijuana, Mexico.

In 2001, I was 19-years-old and along with my best friend Johny, was visiting cousins I’d never meet before in San Diego and Anaheim, California. A few months before, I had pestered my mother into convincing her cousins to let me come stay with them. They relented and Johny and I flew to Southern California.

Nearly 15 year later, I’m quite embarrassed about imposing on them. Two hillbillies from Missouri travelling to California to sleep, eat and unsettle their lives. It’s now easy to look back and realise you should have done things differently, but at 19 I was still a big child dependent on my parents. I was influenced by MTV-friendly punk rock and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater in my late-teens. Of course I had to go to Southern California and see what all the hype was about.

Picking myself off the ground, wiping the sweat from my brow and spitting the taste from my mouth, I proceeded to walk to the entrance to Mexico. Dazed, both Johny and my cousin led me to the Mexican border and we were waved through.

I remember  feeling very nervous as we walked into Mexico and on to the streets of Tijuana. The city obviously has a reputation both good and bad; like a Mexican Amsterdam. Prior to arriving I had been told about the bent cops and the pickpockets all around. When I saw the police walking down the street I remember being very apprehensive, wondering if they were going to rob us because we were American.

We wandered the streets of Tijuana taking in the sights, sounds and smells. Bouncers at strip clubs tried to entice us to go inside, Johny was offered steroids on the street by a drugs peddler. Obviously, he thought Johny needed to add mass. Johny relented, but did buy several luch libre (Mexican wrestling) masks, however.

Lucha_libre_máscaras

Much of our time was just spent wandering. If I had to do it again, I’d obviously do it differently. See a donkey show, seek out some lucha libre, drinking in the bars… something different.

In all, we were only in Mexico for a few hours, strolling here and there and eating lunch. We walked back to the border and easily through to the other side, back on American soil. This was before 9/11, so I assume the procedures are different. At the time we didn’t need passports to move from one side to the other, only a driver’s licence.

Waved through with no fuss, we passed the dried pool of vomit I produced earlier, climbed back into my cousin’s car and proceeded back to his house in Anaheim. My first trip outside of the US was complete. It would be six years before I would do it again.

 

seattle mariners

Seattle Mariners, Washington Nationals, big money, long contracts and World Series predictions

Of course, baseball season is just around the corner and to my surprise several top baseball analysts have chosen the Seattle Mariners to win the World Series. If the Mariners haven’t been chosen to win, the team have at least been picked to represent the American League in the World Series.

By my calculations, the Mariners have not made the postseason since 2002. Last season was the first time in five seasons they had a winning record, winning 87 games. I don’t share the optimism others apparently do, but then again, I’m not a baseball analyst. At this time, I’d just like to say that several of those analyst did pick Tampa Bay to win the World Series in 2014 as well. We saw how that unfolded.

Looking at Seattle’s roster only one name jumps out at me and that is Robinson Cano. The former Yankee jumps out for obvious reasons as he signed with the Mariners at the end of 2013 for $240 million over ten years.

After being away from following baseball for several years, when I resumed keeping tabs on MLB, I was shocked to see how teams throw around money and long-term contracts. After reading Moneyball I had thought baseball teams were through with these tactics; or at least they were on the decline.

Cano did have a .314 batting average in 2014 to go along with the other “important” stats Bill James’ disciples cream over.

Earlier this offseason, the Washington Nationals gave pitcher Max Scherzer crazy money as well:

“The structure is designed to pay him $15 million annually for 14 years and shield much of the money from District of Columbia income tax, since he plans to become a Florida resident.

“Scherzer gets a record $50 million signing bonus, of which $5 million is due this year and $15 million each in 2019, 2020 and 2021. The money is due in 12 equal semimonthly installments in those years from April through September.

“He receives salaries of $10 million this year, $15 million in each of the next three seasons and $35 million in each of the final three years. That $105 million total due over the final three years will be deferred without interest and paid in $15 million instalments each July 1 from 2022 through 2028.”

AP Sports

I always find American sports make things so difficult in the way they structure contracts, salaries and rules. It really takes the fans out of it in my opinion when something simpler and more straight forward could be done. But there’s really nothing simple when that much money is bandied about I suppose.

While I don’t agree that the Mariners will be in the World Series in the autumn, I do think that the Nationals will have a good shot. A solid line-up, excellent pitching rotation and good coaching could see to that. Also having a weaker Eastern Division should help matters. The Mariners are eleventh in payroll in MLB, while the Nationals are seventh. That isn’t a huge jump in money, the amount of talent on display is quite a leap, however.

Max Scherzer, Matt Williams

 

As we know, usually the more you spend, the more you win. This has been proven true over the years despite the occasional success story. Last season saw one of those success stories in the Kansas City Royals who are sixteenth in payroll. The Royals made it to the World Series where they lost to the San Francisco Giants. The Giants are currently fourth in payroll in MLB, but many are picking the Giants to turn in a rather poor season.

With 162 games to play nearly anything can happen as baseball is a marathon and not a sprint.

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Freddy Freddy Adu, where are you? You’ve got some work to do now


In 2004 I was a wide-eyed 22-year-old, stumbling my way through the beginnings of my adult life. I was also in university, slugging my way through a degree that I had become disillusioned with obtaining.

That summer, like many Americans fascinated by sports, I was greatly interested in a young American that had just been thrust into the celebrity limelight. And like many, I watched that summer as Freddy Adu became the biggest thing for American soccer since Pele in the 1970s and David Beckham would become three years later.

Looking back over the last 11 years, it’s easy to see where it all went pear-shaped for Adu; seemingly with many things not being his fault directly.

Adu was a 14-year-old soccer prodigy, at least that’s what people said at the time. Looking back, no fan really saw Adu until he was put on the field as a full professional and then it was hard to judge him against grown men. Against kids of his age, of course he was a prodigy at 14.

Adu became the youngest professional soccer player to ever play the game when he debuted for American team DC United in April 2004.

DC UNITED FREDDY ADU GESTURES TO REFEREE IN FIRST PRO GAME

By all accounts he was a genius with a soccer ball at his feet, the ‘next Pele’ so many headlines said. But really in 2004, just eight years after Major League Soccer’s debut in the US, it showed that those professing Adu as a prodigy didn’t have the youngster in mind when making decisions about his career or future. How great so many kids look amongst other kids, but in truth, thrown into a world of men and that kid looks less a prodigy and more a… kid.

American players like Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, both of whom are considered two of the best US players of all-time, had the time to develop, neither was rushed. In truth both needed time to become great. Something Adu could have used as well.

Despite being over his head, that first season was quite successful for Adu as DC United won Major League Soccer’s MLS Cup and the teenager contributed five goals and three assists in 30 games.

At the time, Adu seemed unable to do any harm as MLS marketed him as the next big American sports start. He was on magazine covers and TV talk shows re-introducing a game to America that had been forgotten after the North American Soccer League went bust and the end of the 1994 World Cup.

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Adu was the league’s way to show America that their was professional soccer in the country, it mattered and this “phenomenon” was the face of it. But those times seemed to fade rather quickly. And in 2015 are a lifetime away.

Adu lasted another two seasons in Washington playing for DC United before being traded to Utah’s Real Salt Lake (RSL). In 57 games he only tallied 6 goals, but did add 14 assists.

In 2006, when I heard Adu had been traded, I couldn’t believe it. This was the guy everyone had said was “it”. Why was he being sent to one of the league’s worst teams? I felt like I had been lied to by the league and media hype-machine.

The Utah-based team were far from the team that they are currently. When Adu arrived at the club, RSL played at Utah University’s American football stadium. The pitch was not conducive to soccer with its rock-hard astroturf field and American football lines. Not surprisingly Adu was unexceptional during his 11 game stint with RSL, scoring once and assisting two goals.

MLS - FC Dallas vs Real Salt Lake - April 7, 2007

A high-profile move to Portugal was then followed by a move to France, both times looking likely that Adu would fulfil the hype that was birthed on his debut in 2004.

But Adu stuck with neither move and spent three more loan-spells in Portugal, Greece and Turkey playing the odd game here and there for clubs that found him quite underwhelming.

adu monaco

Finally, Adu returned to the US in 2011 with the Philadelphia Union, but that lasted less than two years. A sudden move to Brazil was then followed by a move to Serbia where he was released by FK Jagodina last autumn. Though Adu professed via Twitter it was mutual. The fact is, Adu has played two competitive matches since 2013.

Even before going to Serbia, Adu had underwhelmed former US National Team coach Bob Bradley, now coach of Norweigian club Staebak, who had originally invited the American for a trial; in hopes of resurrecting the American’s career.

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After his release from Jagodina it was reported by BBC World Football and numerous other outlets that Adu was working as a night club promoter. However, Adu has refuted those claims, stating that he “isn’t working” in a night club. Adu clarified the statement by saying he is “hosting events” at a night club. Semantics aside, it seems that they’re pretty similar.

Adu’s career is like a car wreck, you can’t help but continually look at it. I’m sure in a few years ESPN will produce another of its fantastic 30 for 30 documentaries, but with Adu as the subject. I look forward to that.

I am now 33, Adu is 25. It’s amazing what happens in a decade. I have gone to university, travelled, worked and built a life.

Freddy Adu

Adu has stumbled through a pro soccer career that he probably has no desire to continue; and may have stopped desiring it a long time ago. He is only in his mid-20s, a time when many high-profile soccer players are hitting their stride.

But Adu never had the chance to grow up like so many teens. Adu grew up in the spotlight when soccer was re-emerging in the US and being used as the face of American soccer didn’t help.

Now days, it seems these mistakes would be avoided in US soccer. But of course, they would’t be if we didn’t have someone to make them in the first place. Those ‘next Pele’ headlines that once celebrated Adu are now just ways of mocking America’s former great soccer hope.

shea

April 6, Opening Day is on its way

Baseball season is fast approaching. Every spring baseball re-emerges fresh and ready for a new 162 game season. This time of year every Major League Baseball team has expectations, thoughts and hopes that this season will be their “year”.

Last season, I was able to keep up with the first few months of the year for the first time in a long time. Living outside of North America makes it difficult to follow the day in, day out season. By last June, I was finished with keeping daily tabs on MLB and my beloved New York Mets. June was about the same time that the Mets were all but mathematically eliminated from winning the Eastern Division in the National League. A few months later and they were mathematically out of the playoff race.

Spring training has only just begun, but I’m keeping up on things thus far, getting my daily news from ESPN’s Baseball Tonight podcast. This in itself is a chore as I really need to listen to it every day to keep up on thing. Baseball is a marathon and not a sprint. There’s really nothing sprint-like about baseball in truth. It’s slow, methodical and action comes in bursts. Which is typical of American sports opposed to sports in Europe, South America or Australia. That’s unless you compare baseball to cricket. Being that cricket can last three days and stops for tea breaks, baseball has surpassed the great English pastime as more action packed.

metsWith eight seasons since the Mets last made the playoffs it shouldn’t be expected the team will do it in 2015. Strangely hopes have been high thus far. The Mets are middle of the pack in terms of payroll and don’t seem to be signing much quality. Pitching wise the team looks stacked, but in my opinion, too much stock is put into pitching as the last several years have shown high-priced arms are one throw away from injury and Tommy John Surgery. This season Matt Harvey will return from that very operation after missing all of 2014.

To say the Mets fans are long suffering would be an understatement. But being that the team are in the USA’s largest market, both the Mets and Yankees should be spending money – which doesn’t seem to matter in MLB – and playing in the playoffs every year. The Yankees are number two in spending, but baseball’s most famous team is two years removed from its last postseason.

MLB has shown in recent years that just making the playoffs as a Wild Card rather than winning the division outright is enough to propel a team to the playoffs. The bare minimum is sometimes all that’s needed in American sports to make the playoffs and become “World Champion.”

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Y N W A

It has been a few years since I can say I was a die hard Liverpool Football Club supporter. In 2009-10, my fandom for the club probably reached its apex. Since then, I’ve mostly followed Italian football, due to writing about it, with Genoa being the team that receives most of my attention as my “favourite.”

On Sunday I had the pleasure of finally seeing a game at Liverpool’s famed Anfield Stadium. Thanks to a friend and Italian football journalist colleague, I obtained a ticket to the club’s FA Cup quarter-final against Blackburn Rovers. The game finished scoreless and a replay will be contested in the coming weeks, but the game took a backseat to the experience of finally getting to see a match at Anfield, stand on the world-famous Kop and join in the chorus of “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”

Liverpool were the team that got me into football. As a Yank, it wasn’t easy to get into the sport, especially coming from the area that I did and for the simple fact that, when I first saw Liverpool on TV there was no domestic league in the US.

World Cup 1994 is what opened my eyes to football. However, it would be a long time until I truly understood the intricacies of the game . When mini-satellite dishes became cheap and affordable in 1995-96, I convinced my parents to get one. Prior to that we had a mere four channels. Unable to get cable TV because we lived in the country, mom and dad relented to my pressure.

Football was not my motivation for satellite TV. Rather it was professional wrestling, which is, as a sport (not entertainment) one of my first loves. I grew up in the time that WWF exploded and growing up in the mid-south, it was typical for someone like me and from my family background, that I’d fall in love with it. But this isn’t about wrestling.

Satellite TV opened my world to Europe as every week we received the English Premier League preview and review shows. I found Liverpool through this. Whether it was the red kits, the familiarity of the city’s name thanks to The Beatles or something else, I gravitated to the club.

By the time I was halfway through university in America, football was more readily available for consumption on TV in the states. It wasn’t to the point it is now where one can watch more football from England in the US than one can in England, but it was on its way. Those years really molded my life, not just in education, but of the way that I wanted football to be a major part of my future. While American friends followed American football or baseball extensively, I found a niche in which football was my sport.

The experience on Sunday was, in truth, what I had expected years ago. A relatively friendly atmosphere, pre-match drinks in the pub and a meaningful game that could lead to Liverpool lifting a trophy at the end of the season. Despite being a few years late getting to be a part of that match day experience, I finally got there in the end.