Sports tragedies teach us that there are things way more important than winning

The world of football (soccer) has experienced two high profile tragedies over the last few weeks that have put things in perspective. Yes, we want our teams to be the best, to win titles, trophies, etc…. but at the end of the day, life is way more important than all of that.

Emiliano Sala was a 28-year-old Argentinian forward for French club Nantes. On January 19th he signed a contract with Cardiff of the English Premier League. He flew back to France to say goodbye to his teammates and take care of some personal business.

He boarded a small plan on January 21st in order to get to Cardiff and his first day of training with his new team the next day. The plane disappeared from radar over the English Channel and both he and the pilot David Ibbotson were gone.

The plane was finally discovered about two weeks later following an underwater search. The body of Sala was inside and recovered. The search for Ibbotson continues.

The outpouring of sadness and grief came from everywhere throughout the soccer world. Here was a young guy on the way to a new challenge that was taken away from the world by fate. It truly proves that no one, not even a highly paid professional athlete, is immune from tragedy. It also teaches everyone that life should be treasured and not taken for granted.

Just last week another awful event rocked the soccer world. Ten youth players between the ages of 14-16 were killed in a dormitory fire at the Flamengo training ground in Rio de Janeiro. An investigation has been launched but that will do nothing to replace the lives lost.

Football is a way of life in Brazil and many youngsters dream of becoming the next Neymar or Pele. Most of these kids were from poor families and the sport was their opportunity to escape poverty and make their dreams come true. We’ll never know who if any would have become professional players, but this tragedy has taken away that possibility.

Both of these horrific events are reminders that we should all appreciate the moment that we are in and value life each and every day!

Why the 2022 World Cup in Qatar is a disgrace - Qatartroversy

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The next World Cup is scheduled to take place three years from now in the tiny Gulf Coast nation of Qatar. When the decision was made by FIFA back in 2010 to award the tournament to Qatar it was obvious that bribery and corruption were the main reasons that this odd choice was made.

I wrote the following back in 2010 after the games were awarded and they still apply to this day. How FIFA can allow this fiasco to move forward is beyond me.

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Here is some of the feedback from Twitter from all over the world regarding Qatar being awarded the World Cup:

  • Is that oil I see dripping from the money stuffed in FIFA delegate's pockets?

  • Can’t wait to see what happens when Israel qualify, as well as Budweiser the official world cup beer's stance.

  • With only 2 cities in the whole country, are fans expected to camp in the desert?

  • The Qatar stadiums look awesome, but they have one fatal flaw: they're in Qatar.

  • Ironically, we have been awarded the 2022 Oppressive Regime Against Women And Homosexuals World Cup. 

  • And who will be building all these stadiums and roads in Qatar? No doubt workers imported from abroad, living 20 to a room and getting paid £25 a week. I guess slave labour is carbon neutral" though.

  • Has wikileaks got any dossiers on the abject failure of humanity who run FIFA? 

  • I hope the media attention for Qatar in 2022 will force them to deal with their rampant  discrimination, human trafficking and slavery.

  • Qatar: No stadiums, no history, unfavorable climate, no city of even 1m people, etc. 

  • Everything about it is wrong except the oil money. WTF?

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Other opposition I found from fans voicing their opinions on the Internet include the following:

I understand FIFA trying to expand football in new regions, but my concern is for your general Joe Fan.  Nothing to do with safety or heat, but what culture is in this place?  What is there to see or do?  I hate to bring up alcohol consumption but come on - where can a fella have a few points and a bit o' banter?  Will good old fashioned singsongs be tolerated?  Maybe the English, Dutch, Germans, Americans, Russians, Czechs, Irish (hopefully) can get by on fruit juice for a month.

"The thumb-shaped Qatar peninsula," warns the Lonely Planet guide "is not exactly one of the world's major tourist destinations."  The chapter on the Qatari capital is even less enticing. "Around the Gulf, Doha has earned the unenviable reputation of being the dullest place on earth."

The following article from The Guardian explains Qatar's current stance on homosexuality and how Fifa's new "anti-discrimination taskforce" is trying to get the country to be more tolerant in hosting the World Cup.

Perhaps most disturbing of all was this on Twitter: No Asians allowed:Racism in Qatar Shopping in Doha via You Tube.

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To be fair, I took a look at the actual Qatar presentation from Zurich which outlines the country's plan for the World Cup. It's always good to look at both sides of a debate and I have to admit that the presentation looked pretty good. However, the backlash that the Qatar bid is getting from soccer fans around the world is due to two things: soccer/football and human rights!  Here are the Tweets I found that pretty much sum up my feelings:

  • Where will Fifa go next for the WC, Greenland, the Galapagos Islands, the Maldives,          surely they all deserve a chance. Sepp Blatter you are ruining football.

  • How can Fifa allow a country to host an event such as a world cup when they have never   even qualified for one? Does anyone think money has been used to get this one?

  • Are they really going to play as host nation? They will be thrashed.

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Here's the reason football fans are outraged, Qatar is a tiny country and will be the smallest ever to host the World Cup. There are more people living in my Manhattan neighborhood than live in the entire country of Qatar.  They keep calling this a World Cup for the Middle East.  If that's the case, why isn't it being held throughout the Middle East? The 2002 World Cup was co-hosted by two different nations with huge populations; Japan and Korea.

Also, every country that has ever hosted a World Cup has had their national team qualify for other World Cups.  In other words, they have invested in their country's football development and earned the right to compete in the World's largest sporting event prior to hosting the tournament.  No offense to Qatar, but they have never qualified for the World Cup. As the host country they get an automatic entry in to the tournament which means that a more deserving nation will miss the World Cup so that Qatar can get crushed in every game they play in.  Brazil vs. Qatar would not make a highlight reel.

Nations that deserve to host the World Cup more than Qatar include: Cuba, Haiti, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Trinidad and Tobago and even North Korea.  Why?..because all of these countries have played in past World Cups having gone through the actual qualification process and winning the right to play.

In fact, more deserving countries in the Middle East include Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates...all of which have had teams qualify for past World Cups.

As an American I would have loved to have the World Cup held here again, but I didn't think that was fair as it was just held here in 1994.  For the same reason I felt that South Korea and Japan didn't deserve it as well.  The country that really got hosed was Australia.  They've qualified for World Cups in the past, there are many Australian born footballers playing in professional leagues around the world as well as at home in the A-League. The country has an amazing climate, a multi cultural population, beautiful cities, stadiums that are already built and most of all, they have never held the World Cup before. They've earned the right to host the World Cup. Qatar was pretty much just handed it.









Soccer players are the most fit of any professional sport

MLS Champions Atlanta United

MLS Champions Atlanta United

It seems like just yesterday that Atlanta United defeated Portland to win the 2018 MLS Cup. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago; December 8th to be precise. That’s why it’s amazing to see that all 24 teams have already begun their preseason training. Unlike other major US sports, these players don’t get much down time.

Over the years I’ve had arguments with friends over which professional sport produces the best athletes. I still say it’s soccer. Here are the reasons why:

Each match has two 45 minute halves where the players are constantly running. Outside of injuries, the play continues. There are no commercial time outs, like in the NFL, NBA and NHL. As for baseball, I do love the sport, but the amount of down time in a baseball game can be excruciating to the casual fan.

I have nothing but respect for any athlete that is able to make it at the professional level, but let’s look at the physical requirements for athletes of each sport. According to Gizmodo soccer players run between 6-7 miles for each 90 minute match. That is far more distance covered by athletes in other sports.

Wide receivers and cornerbacks run an average of 1.25 miles per game Also, keep in mind that the average amount of ACTUAL action in an NFL game is just 11 minutes. Let that sink in.

NFL Defensemen

NFL Defensemen

NBA basketball players average just under 3 miles per game.

In baseball, there are short burst of running here and there, but mostly it’s a lot of guys jogging back to the dugout and standing around between pitches.

Hockey players are probably the closest in terms of physical conditioning to soccer players. The average player covers 5 miles per game which amounts to 410 miles throughout the course of the NHL season.

The bottom line is there are different skills required for each sport. NFL players are generally strong, NBA players can jump high and baseball players must have good hand-eye coordination. But let’s be honest, can you possibly compare Cristiano Ronaldo’s athletic prowess to that of Bartolo Colon?

Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo

Bartolo Colon

Bartolo Colon

Soccer players get very little time off. The season lasts 9 months, with at least one month of preseason. The baseball season is long and with spring training can go on for about 8 months. The NBA and NHL seasons last 7 months. As for NFL, the average team puts in less than 6 months a year. Plus, while NFL games are insanely physical, the season is only 16 games in total. That is nothing to compared to the number of games played in the other professional sports.

So, which athletes do you think are the fittest?

Americans playing soccer abroad

18-year-old American Josh Sargent scores for Werder Bremen in Germany’s Bundesliga

18-year-old American Josh Sargent scores for Werder Bremen in Germany’s Bundesliga

Major League Soccer just celebrated its 25th year of existence. The league has grown exponentially since 1993 and is now comprised of 24 clubs.

In addition, MLS has also attracted some big name players over the years. The list includes household names such as David Beckham, Thierry Henry, David Villa, Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, just to name a few. While many fans of the international game often claim that these well-known players come to the states for “retirement”, these stars have helped raise the profile of the domestic league.

To be fair, it is true that if you are a top athlete, playing soccer abroad gives you the chance to play at a higher level along with a larger pay scale. It works the same in other sports as well. Take for example NBA basketball. There are leagues in other countries throughout the world, but when players such as Dirk Nowitzki of Germany or Tony Parker of France get the chance to play professionally in the states they take it. The reason, the basketball league in the states is better than those back in their home countries. Right now there are 108 international players in the NBA.

It’s the same thing with soccer. The top leagues in the world are currently in Europe, followed by Mexico and South America. Then there are leagues like MLS, the Chinese Super League, Australia’s A-League and Japan’s J-League. So if you’re a player of the caliber of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, you are going to want to play in one of the more popular, prestigious and lucrative leagues in the world.

Chrisitan Pulisic currently plays for Borussia Dortmund but will join England’s Chelsea next season

Chrisitan Pulisic currently plays for Borussia Dortmund but will join England’s Chelsea next season

So for this fact, it’s very encouraging to see that currently there are 145 Americans playing soccer abroad.

Some of the more high profile Americans playing internationally include:

  • Borussia Dortmund midfielder Christian Pulisic who will be joining Premier League side next season.

  • 18-year-old Josh Sargent who is beginning his career with Werder Bremen of Germany’s Bundesliga.

  • Defender DeAndre Yedlin is currently a starter for England’s Newcastle United.

  • Striker Timothy Weah plays for Paris St. Germain and just joined Scotland’s Celtic on loan for the remainder of this season.

  • Goalie Ethan Horvath is the starting keeper for Brugge in Belgium’s top league.

The continued growth of MLS as well as the number of American born professional players is a sign that the state of the game in the United States is very bright.

Why do we call "football" soccer?

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Here in the US what we call football is entirely different than what most of the rest of the world think of as football. I totally understand why “American football” is often mocked by followers of soccer/football outside of our country. Face the facts, the word football by definition refers to a ball that is maneuvered by the foot. NFL football is more about passing and running with the ball followed by an occasional field goal or extra point scored by a kicked ball.

To get to the bottom of this situation I decided to do a bit of research on the origins of the words football and soccer when it comes to describing these two sports. Here’s what I was able to find out:

A recent paper by University of Michigan professor Stefan Szymanski explains that the Brits are partly to blame.

The word “soccer,” which is believed to have originated in Britain some 200 years ago, comes from the official name of the sport, “association football.” As other versions of the game evolved to include Rugby Football, it is believed the Brits adopted colloquialisms to distinguish each game.

“The rugby football game was shortened to ‘rugger,’ and the association football game was, shortened to ‘soccer’”.

Gradually, the term “soccer” gained popularity in the U.S. to distinguish the sport from American football. By the 1980s, the Brits began to part with the term, apparently, because it had become too “American.”

So, while Americans are often ridiculed for calling the world's most popular sport "soccer", the reason we don't call it "football" like the rest of the world is Britain's fault. The Brits still used the term "soccer" regularly for a huge chunk of the 20th century. According to Szymanski, between 1960 and 1980, "soccer" and "football" were "almost interchangeable" in the UK.

So there you have it folks. To make it easier let’s just say that the game played with 11 a side with the objective to get the ball in the back of the net is football or soccer. The game with a quarterback and receivers attempting to get a pigskin in to the end zone is American football.

What do you think?

All Together Now - The 1914 Football Christmas Truce

All Together Now - Liverpool, England

All Together Now - Liverpool, England

It’s Christmas and since we are all about soccer it got us thinking of the story of the 1914 WWI Christmas Truce.

If you’re not familiar with it here’s a little background:

The story goes that in one location along the Western Front British and German troops were stationed in opposite trenches. On Christmas Eve some of the British soldiers heard the “enemy” singing carols and saw small Christmas trees on the other side. Then on Christmas day the soldiers from both sides met in what was referred to as “no man’s land” to exchange gifts and play football/soccer. In other words, the fighting was stopped for a brief period of celebration between the two sides which included a friendly sporting event. Upon its conclusion, the British and Germans went back to their own trenches and resumed the war.

It’s never been proven that these truces actually took place, but it’s become immortalized by many. In 2014 a statue entitle “All Together Now” was unveiled in Liverpool. It depicts two soldiers shaking hands over a soccer ball. There’s a fantastic 2005 film Joyeux Noël  and not sure how many remember the song “All Together Now” by The Farm but it’s from 1991 and is about the Christmas Truce.

I’d like to believe that this event really did happen. It’s been said on many occasions and seen at numerous World Cups and other international soccer matches; football unites people.

Enjoy the holidays and at least a match or two!







Racism in soccer

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In the past few weeks there have been several incidents of racism exhibited by supporters towards black players in the English Premier League. A banana peel was thrown near Arsenal striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling was subjected to racist taunts from the stands.

It doesn’t stop there though. Just this week Chelsea supporters that had traveled to Hungary for their side’s Europa League match with MOL Vidi were heard singing anti-semitic chants.

This is nothing new. Sadly it’s been going on before and will probably rear its ugly head at some point in the future. I was thinking about how best to express my reaction to these events when I saw something on the local news here in New York that added to this overall discussion.

On a crowded NYC subway a woman was filmed attacking a passenger while hurling Asian ethnic slurs.

The bottom line is that there is racism in all walks of life. At the root of all these incidents is anger. What these people are angry about, who knows but that seems to be the common thread. Sometimes when people are angry they lash out at others in order to make themselves feel better. I am no psychologist but that appears to be part of what’s going on here.

I then read the following article in The Guardian which eloquently looks at the issue and makes some excellent points. It was written by former player and current pundit John Barnes. It’s a topic that is hard to discuss, but Barnes has been there and delivers some honest insight in to the causes for and continuation of racism in sport. It’s worth a read!


If every racist at football was silenced stadiums would still be full of racists

John Barnes

Twitter after a famous victory

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As all fans of any sports team know, nothing beats winning. The euphoria you feel after a great victory can last for days. At the same time there is nothing worse than losing. The disappointment can linger on for quite some time. It’s even worse in this age of social media when fans of the opposing side have no problem rubbing it in that they have gotten one over on your team.

Arsenal have been the dominant team in this part of London forever. It’s only in the past two seasons that Tottenham have actually finished above Arsenal in the table. The media was having a field day predicting a power shift.

That is what makes this past weekend’s 4-2 Arsenal victory over North London rivals Tottenham so special.

Twitter is a fun place to be after a big win. So here’s just a sampling of some of the awesome comments that came through my timeline following the Gunners’ defeat of Spurs.

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Youth soccer leagues are on the rise throughout the NYC area

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One of the reasons that soccer is gaining a foothold in the United States is the fact that kids of all ages are participating in the sport. The stereotype of the “Soccer Mom” is real and almost every town in the Metropolitan tri-state area (New York City, Northern New Jersey, Long Island, Southern Connecticut, Westchester and Rockland Counties) has some sort of youth league.

NYCFC joined Major League Soccer in 2015 and immediately reached out to the neighboring communities to set up youth affiliates. They are:

  • Downtown United Soccer Club in Manhattan

  • Manhattan Soccer Club

  • Metropolitan Oval Academy in Queens and Brooklyn

  • New York Soccer Club in Westchester County

  • TSF Academy in New Jersey

  • World Class FC in Rockland County

  • SUSA FC in Long Island

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NYCFC explains their affiliation with these youth organizations as the following:

The New York City FC Youth Affiliate Program is designed to provide soccer technical support and assistance to a select group of clubs from the New York Metropolitan Area. The affiliation with New York City FC offers a clear pathway for the local youth soccer community to reach the highest level of competition, providing each access to the invaluable resources and expertise of Major League Soccer's 20th team.

The fact that kids now have the opportunity to be inspired by professional players in their own city is invaluable for the continued growth of the game. It’s definitely having an impact here in New York.

What is the Nation's League and does anyone really care?

Team Gibraltar

Team Gibraltar

I am a huge fan of international soccer and always look forward to the World Cup, the European Championships, CONCACAF Cup and the African Cup of Nations. However, this farce that is called the Nations League has me wondering when is enough enough.

I looked up an explanation of the UEFA Nations League competition and here is what it said,

A new national team competition that replaces friendlies with competitive matches, allowing nations to play against equally ranked teams. The four group winners of the top-ranked League A qualify for the UEFA Nations League finals in June 2019. For the remaining sides, there is promotion and relegation to play for, not to mention a potential route to UEFA EURO 2020.

Okay so there are four different “leagues” based on the success or lack of success of the 55 UEFA recognized European football associations. Yet only the top 12 teams get to compete for the trophy? I understand that the thought of San Marino facing France in a championship match would be hysterical, but on the other hand it would be pretty cool.

The top two “leagues” contain the usual suspects such as England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Croatia, etc. The more interesting groups are the two lower leagues. Here’s a look at the mighty nations battling it out here: Faroe Islands, Cyprus, San Marino, Andorra, Malta and perhaps my favorite, Gibraltar. Gibraltar has a national team? Isn’t it a rock that is a territory of Britain? I would love to be able to watch Gibraltar take on the Faroe Islands.

San Marino Stadium

This tournament has promotion and relegation like the national leagues do, but I think they should hand out trophies for the four groups not just the top one. When else would some of these tiny nations ever get a chance for glory?

I’m not sold on this competition. It seems extraneous. However, the one nation that deserves a trophy just for showing up is League D’s San Marino. The lowest ranked team in Europe, San Marino finished bottom of the table with zero points, zero goals and a -16 goal differential. Check out the crowd during the national anthem above.

What do you think of UEFA’s new tournament?