Posts Tagged ‘CONCACAF’

El Pescadito Returns to Pennsylvania

February 28, 2011

Last week, the Philadelphia Union signed 31 year-old Guatemalan international forward Carlos Ruiz, a.k.a. “El Pescadito” (“the little fish” in Spanish), throwing a confusing curveball to Philadelphia sports fans. My guess is we’ll be hearing the nickname more around here, since the Phillies already have a Central American player named Carlos Ruiz on their roster (he’s their catcher, hails from Panama, and is nicknamed “Chooch,” which I’m guessing we’ll be hearing a lot more around here now as well).

The Philadelphia Union logo.While the Guatemalan, soccer-playing Ruiz has competed all over the world and is well known in his homeland as the country’s all-time leading goal scorer in international competition and is well known among Major League Soccer fans in this country from his days with the L.A. Galaxy and FC Dallas, what people might not know is that he’s played in Pennsylvania before — in central Pa., particularly.

Way back in 2000, when he was a promising 20 year-old playing professionally for Municipal in Guatemala and a member of the country’s U-23 national team, the North American qualifying tournament for the Summer Olympics was held, bizarrely, in Hershey, Pennsylvania, of all places.

Unlike the World Cup, the Olympics are contested by countries’ U-23 teams, rather than the full national teams. I was actually lucky enough to have met Ruiz back then, as each of the colleges and universities near Hershey basically adopted one of the national teams and hosted all of their training sessions. I was in charge of athletic communications for the school that got Guatemala, and I got to work with them quite a bit in coordinating local media coverage.

HersheyPark Stadium

The scene of the 2000 Olympic qualifiers.

That wasn’t an easy task, as the head coach was a little more than slightly paranoid about anyone from the other teams turning on the local TV news and seeing anything that might potentially give away the tiniest detail about their training sessions and game strategies. For the first day or two, they were more like the Brigadoon national team, as they would mysteriously vanish when cameras approached, and then magically reappear when they retreated. Eventually, we got things sorted out.

On the whole, though, it was a great experience, especially since at the time I was still in my first year out of college and was the same age as nearly all of the players on the team. Carlos Ruiz certainly stood out back then, but I never would have guessed that in another two years he would jump from Municipal to the Los Angeles Galaxy and end up as the MLS Most Valuable Player his first year in the league, nor would I have guessed at the time that he would eventually become Guatemala’s all-time leading scorer in international competition.

His signing now is definitely a good pickup for the Union. After an offseason largely spent finding ways to plug up the obvious defensive holes from their inaugural season, bringing in Ruiz fills another big need, which is taking some opposing defensive pressure off Sebastien Le Toux and Danny Mwanga. Even if he isn’t quite at the same level as a goal scorer he was when he played for L.A., he’ll be a helpful presence in relieving pressure. Also, having Le Toux take corner kicks, which seemed kind of strange for much of last year when he was the team’s only reliable scorer, would make more sense now with Ruiz on the field at the same time and Mwanga with a year of pro experience under his belt.

Besides, I’m of the opinion that he still has quite a few productive years left. While he struggled to score in the first half of the 2010-11 Greek Super League season for Aris Thessaloniki, somebody doesn’t score three goals in a handful of Europa League games over that same span by being washed up. Context is certainly going to be key for Ruiz’s scoring opportunities, and potentially having Le Toux and Mwanga on the field at the same time will definitely create opportunities for him.

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“I Don’t Know If There Is Enough Water or Food There”

March 8, 2010

Here’s a window into just how bad things are for people in Haiti right now, from, of all sources, a CONCACAF (North America’s soccer federation) press release ahead of the women’s U-17 World Cup qualifier tournament set to begin Wednesday:

When the CONCACAF Women’s Under-17 Champion opens Wednesday in Costa Rica, the United States will be favored. Haiti will be everybody’s favorite.

Less than two months after a 7.0 earthquake rocked the impoverished nation of 9 million, killing by some official estimates as many as 270,000, the girls of Haiti will carry the country’s flag into competition. All of them now are homeless, including one – starting goalkeeper Madeline Delice – who has become an orphan.  . . .

“The country is destroyed,” Berry said. “The girls were in the street. It took two weeks to get them together at the Project Goal so they could be fed, get them some water and train.”

Berry said all of the players were left without homes, and Delice, from the southern coastal city of Leogane which was the epicenter of the quake and where approximately 80 percent of the buildings were destroyed, lost both her mother and father.  . . .

While expressing gratitude to the Dominican Republic and Panama for their generosity to enable them to train, Berry said the girls feel a sense of guilt that they have food, water and shelter and are training while those in Haiti have death and despair tugging at their elbow.

The first round of the CONCACAF championship will run through March 15 with the winner to be crowned five days later. After that, the fate of the Haitian team is unknown.

“As of now, we do not have a plan,” Berry said. “The fear now is they will go back to the streets. They don’t have a bed or know where their next meal is coming from. I have heard they may go back to the Project Goal, but I don’t know if there is enough water or food there.”

SuperLiga, Olé; MLS, Meh

August 6, 2008
The SuperLiga logo (from Wikipedia)

The SuperLiga logo (from Wikipedia)

I still cannot believe that the only network to broadcast nationwide last night’s SuperLiga championship game between New England and Houston — two U.S.-based Major League Soccer teams — was the Spanish-language channel Telefutura. One would think that to have an all-U.S. final in the SuperLiga, which takes the top four teams from MLS and the top four teams from the Primera División de México and pits them against each other to play for essentially the championship of the NAFTA-zone, would represent some kind of significant milestone in the development of professional soccer in the United States. As such, one would assume it would — I don’t know — arouse some kind of interest here?

Apparently not. Which is a shame, because it wound up being a pretty good game. New England took the title on penalty kicks following a close game with a lot of late chances and even a pair of extra time goals.

Obligitory Liverpool Mockery (from Uncyclopedia.org)

Obligatory Liverpool Mockery (from Uncyclopedia.org)

In the rest of the world, the international tournaments like the UEFA Champions League, the Copa Libertadores, the UEFA Cup, etc. are a big deal, perhaps more so than even the regular domestic competition for some of the clubs in them (Exhibit A: Liverpool — even when talking about the other side of the world, one should always take a cut at them when one gets the chance).

It makes me wonder what, if any, reception the newly-revamped CONCACAF Champions League, the full North American and Caribbean championship tournament, the winner of which gets a berth in the FIFA Club World Cup, will get here. At least the Spanish-speaking portion of the country seems to be on board. Shouldn’t the rest of us be, too?


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