Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia’

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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Philadelphia-New York, the USA’s Answer to Millwall-West Ham

October 18, 2010

If there is any place in the United States most likely to spawn legions of angry, bitter, European-style soccer hooligans ripped to the gills on Yuengling and setting fire to stuff just for the hell of it, it’s probably Philadelphia.

— Me, almost three years ago (then, in the comment section to that post, some wag humorously predicted that Philly would someday be the site of the first MLS fan fatality).

The time is right to trot out that blast from the past after yesterday’s final Philadelphia Union home game of the club’s inaugural 2010 Major League Soccer season, which took the form of a 2-1 win over the stupidest soda commercial of all time New York Pink Cows Red Bulls.

The reason it’s fitting to bring up is because of the security measures taken by the Union’s management for that game, which were unprecedented in the entire history of sports in Philadelphia. Here’s the Philadelphia Inquirer:

The roughly 400 New York Red Bulls fans who made the trek to PPL Park on Saturday were herded like cattle into the visitors’ section . . . Once they were in, they were there to stay – surrounded and confined in that area by security for the duration . . . They had their own concession stands, their own restrooms, their own smoking area. “These fans hate each other,” noted one Union security guard.

Right now, Philadelphia and New York probably share the most intense — and ugliest — soccer rivalry in the United States, and probably one of the craziest in all sports in the U.S. (although if I had to guess, I’d say it will probably be superseded by Seattle and Portland next year once the Timbers begin playing in MLS).

How the bad blood between Philly and New York escalated so quickly to the point that the Philadelphia Union felt the need to add extra security and keep the entire contingent of RBNY supporters groups physically separated from the rest of the stadium to such an extent that they’d even have segregated concession stands and bathrooms is an interesting story.

Millwall fans in their natural environment, surrounded by cops in riot gear.

Millwall fans in their natural environment, surrounded by cops. From guardian.co.uk.

Long before the Philadelphia Union existed, and well before MLS even announced in February 2008 that the city would get an expansion team, a group of soccer fans from the Philadelphia area decided that if the region was ever to get a local team for them to cheer on, they would have to first demonstrate that a robust fan culture was already in place. So, they created a supporters’ group, the Sons of Ben (SOBs for short, with typical Philly grace), for a team that didn’t even exist and wasn’t even on the drawing board yet. These are the magnificently crazy people who today fill up the entire River End of PPL Park in Chester. One of their regular activities in those early, pre-Union days was heading up to the Meadowlands en masse, where the Red Bulls played back then, and spending the entire game taunting the home team and its fans.

Of course, this didn’t sit well with the long-suffering fans of New York which, despite being one of the original MLS teams that began playing 15 years ago, have yet to win a single title. No MLS Cups (the playoff championship), no Supporters Shields (awarded to the team that finishes first overall in the regular season standings — the equivalent of a league title in Europe), and no U.S. Open Cups (like the English F.A. Cup). The Red Bulls are 0 for 45 in opportunities to win a trophy — actually 0 for 46 if you count their hideous performance in the continent-wide CONCACAF Champions’ League last year. They’re practically in Chicago Cubs territory already.

Red Bull New York logo.

Someone should keep them away from the vodka.

So, it’s the New York fans who actually became the first to transform into “angry, bitter, European-style soccer hooligans,” although I doubt they’re drinking Yuengling. After years of hearing these weird Philadelphians calling themselves SOBs and pointing out that their non-existent team has won as many championships as their own has, something snapped in Red Bull Nation’s collective mind when the Philadelphia Union played New York for the first time.

As the teams played each other twice over four days in April at the Red Bulls’ home stadium (first for the MLS regular season, then for the U.S. Open Cup) New York fans threw rocks and bottles at a bus carrying Philadelphia fans and managed to shatter one of the windows. So, at the teams’ first meetings, the tension between their fans had already escalated from verbal taunting to physical violence.

Adding insult to injury, this year the Red Bulls were knocked out of the U.S. Open Cup by the USL-2 Harrisburg City Islanders, a Philadelphia Union third tier minor-league affiliate.

Fast-forward to July, when the Union hosted an international friendly match against Scotland’s Celtic F.C., and a group of people from — you guessed it — New York City, decided to light a bunch of flares in support of Celtic in PPL Park near the end of the game.

So it comes as no surprise that, given the history of violence that already exists, said the Daily News, “police and event staff littered the Red Bull area with a keen eye on anything that went beyond insults. Union president Tom Veit felt the need to keep things safe required extra vigilance.

‘”It’s necessary. We have an obligation to our fans to keep it safe and enjoyable,” Veit said. “So with that said, I’d rather have a lot of guys standing around doing nothing, than a few having to do something.”‘

While the source of the violence so far has clearly been from New York fans, I suspect the decision to partition the stadium yesterday was also probably rooted in a desire to prevent any reprisals from Philadelphia fans, who naturally had the New Yorkers heavily outnumbered.

I can only wonder what’ll happen next year.

All Your Base Are Belong to Chivas

September 4, 2010

The Google Translate Logo.Google Translate can be surprisingly amusing. Guffaw inducing, even. Don’t get me wrong; being a typical product of the United States’ educational system, I’m very grateful for its existence since English is the only language I can read in any manner vaguely resembling competently. If you don’t have the luxury of grabbing someone at your leisure who can speak a language you don’t understand and demanding that they tell you the meaning of what you’re attempting to read, a computerized translation program is really the only way you can get the basic gist of some text written in that language.

So it was that I was looking at the web site of the Mexican Premier Division’s C.D. Guadalajara the other day ahead of the team’s game here against the Philadelphia Union. The site is, naturally, in Spanish, so I had to call on Google Translate to come to the rescue. Hilarity ensued.

For starters, the club’s site had a page with helpful info for its fans about Philadelphia. While I’m sure its contents are perfectly coherent in its original language, here’s an example of what The Google’s high-tech algorithms do to it:

It is the largest historical, cultural and artistic in the United States, and in the same way an important industrial port on the Delaware River, extending to the Atlantic Ocean.

Philly extends to the Atlantic Ocean? AWESOME! I always suspected that in some dank pit in a long-forgotten government archive building exists some highly official 18th century document explicitly spelling out how New Jersey has no right to exist. What do the folks in Chivas Guadalajara’s front office know that we’ve all forgotten here? Ed Rendell needs to get on the horn with them pronto so that we can seize all of Atlantic City’s gambling revenue for ourselves!

The C.D. Guadalajara logo.

The Goats, Keepers of the Knowledge of How to Rid the World of New Jersey.

The Philadelphia primer page has nothing on Google’s mangling of the match report, though:

Because although it seems difficult to understand, the Herd did most exhibited the collective game of ball control and arrivals at goal, but it was the Union that after a defensive inattention rojiblancos, used to mark which ultimately would be defined as a victory for the MLS table.

From the start of the match, Guadalajara showed a greater collective game, which immediately paid off in opportunities in the area of the Americans, since only two minutes of the meeting, Omar Bravo hit a ball in the crescent, which tried to resolve by half scissors, however your shipment was just above the cabin of the Union.

What is this mysterious “shipment,” and when did sports teams start getting hunting cabins in Potter County? Would half of a pair of scissors be a letter opener, and did Omar Bravo use one to try to deflate the ball? How the heck is that legal? Google, please enlighten me, because right now, it seems difficult to understand.

And now, mostly just for my own amusement, here’s the first paragraph of this post after being run through Google Translate from English to Spanish and back several times over:

Google Translator can be surprisingly fun. To induce laughter. Do not get me wrong, being a typical product of the U.S. educational system, I am very grateful for their existence since English is the only language that can read in any kind of responsibility vaguely similar. If you do not have the luxury of having someone in your free time you can speak a language and demanding that they do not understand the meaning of what you say you’re trying to read a computer translation program is really the only way to ensure that basis of a text written in this language.

International understanding is truly just a click away.

[Not So] Great Scots!

July 20, 2010

Three New York residents apparently comprising some of the Glaswegian diaspora’s finest, described by The Philadelphia Inquirer as “boneheads,” Philadelphia Union president Tom Veit as “idiots,” and Chester Police Chief Joseph Bail as “fools” running on “brown bottle courage,” took it upon themselves to set off some flares (a big no-no in any stadium in the United States) in support of their team’s losing effort in the Philadelphia–Celtic F.C. friendly Wednesday night.

The story interested me at first because, for once, here was some stupid, loutish, alcohol-drenched behavior taking place at a Philadelphia-area sporting event that wasn’t the product of local fans. My immediate reaction was, “HOLY CRAP!!! IT WASN’T US!!!” That’s right up there with “Man Bites Dog.”

It interested me even more once I saw the video of the incident and noticed that it took place just a couple of rows directly behind where I sat during PPL Park’s previous game between the Union and San Jose just four days prior. That makes me feel safe . . .

Who wants to bet they’ll be back when the Red Bulls come to town?

Philly Sports Fans Behaving Badly

April 28, 2010

I’m not sure how on Earth I missed this one from nearly two weeks ago, but here’s an incident at a Philadelphia Phillies game that’s bad even by our standards:

Cops: Man Purposely Vomited on Girl at Phils Game

Apparently an off-duty cop from Easton, Pa. took his kid to a Phillies game. He said this: “When I say disgusting, there was not only insults and vulgarities directed at us, but also beer was thrown at us . . .  I actually heard the individual behind me say, ‘I’m gonna get sick’, then I couldn’t believe what I saw. He actually had his fingers down his mouth and into his throat to make himself vomit. He vomited and lurched forward and it was hitting my daughter.”

On behalf of Pennsylvanians everywhere, I’d like to take this moment to point out that the alleged perpetrator was from Cherry Hill, New Jersey. New Jersey is, as we all know, now most famous for being the home of exemplary individuals like “Snooki” and “The Situation” and, perhaps soon, this guy.

And it wasn’t even ten-cent beer night in Cleveland.

It’s a Big F#$&ing Deal

April 8, 2010

I have no idea how the Philadelphia Union has managed to get Joe Biden to be part of the opening kick ceremony during the club’s first ever home game at Lincoln Financial Field Saturday night, but they somehow pulled it off.

The Philadelphia Union logo.

Joe the Biden in the house, y'all.

The upside to this is that no matter what your political leanings may be, you have to admit this is probably the highest recognition domestic professional soccer has ever received in the United States. The fact that the Vice President is doing the opening kick at a Major League Soccer game is a watershed moment for the sport in this country. No matter what you may think about the guy, this is a big f#$&ing deal. Heck, I’d be excited about it even if the Vice President in question was Sarah Palin (shudder).

The downside to this is that the security presence at the game, as well as in the area surrounding the Linc, is going to be a big f#$&ing nightmare.

The upside to the downside is that the rumors I saw on Facebook of some people who will be in the same section as me wanting to bring flares into the stadium probably won’t pan out now, so at least I no longer have to worry about my hair getting lit on fire by beer-lit pyromaniacs. Still, it would have been fun to have that extra element of Euro-craziness at the game.

A Philadelphia Hat Trick

March 16, 2010

Presuming that the 2010 Major League Soccer season actually gets a chance to begin (hopefully on time as well), the new Philadelphia Union may fit in quite nicely with the gloriously ignominious tradition of Philadelphia’s professional sports history.

The Philadelphia Union logo

The Seaport Drive Bullies?

In the first ever game against an MLS opponent, a pre-season “friendly” (in name only) against FC Dallas a few days ago in Florida, Philadelphia lost 2-0. In the process, the Union racked up three red cards.

When one player scores three goals in a game, it’s commonly called a “hat trick.” It doesn’t happen often. When three players from the same team get ejected in the course of a game, that’s a uniquely Philly variation.

The fact that this ugliness broke out in a game against a team based in Dallas, Texas (home of the infinitely hated Cowboys of the NFL) just makes it even more uniquely Philly.

Oh well. If you can’t beat ’em, at least you can beat the hell out of ’em.

A Health-Conscious Gastronome’s Tour of Southeastern Pennsylvania

February 27, 2010

Via the Philadelphia Independence Twitter feed:

Help her out #Philly fans! RT @karinaleblanc Just got in trouble…Cheesesteak = not healthy. What else u got, Philly (that’s healthy)? #wps

Picture of a cheesesteak from Pat's in Philadelphia.
I’m shocked, SHOCKED, that this isn’t good for you.

Being expansion clubs, it’s likely that many Philadelphia Independence and Philadelphia Union players — not just Karina LeBlanc — are unfamiliar with the unique foods of southeastern Pennsylvania and are anxious to try them. It’s also likely that, being professional athletes, they would like to seek out healthy eating options.

While the cheesesteak — grilled mystery meat and onion shreds on a bun smothered in Cheez Whiz —may not be the healthiest dining option, we in this corner of the country have plenty of nutritious foods befitting highly active lifestyles.

Philadelphians cannot live on cheesesteaks alone, which is why there are many other gastronomic emblems of the city. Among them are the soft pretzel: carbohydrate-laden dough baked until fluffy, covered in big chunks of salt, and usually smothered in Cheez Whiz — okay, never mind about that one, either. But never fear, there are also cheese fries: nutritious, all-natural potatoes sliced into strips, deep fried until crispy, and smothered in Cheez Whiz — okay, this clearly isn’t working.

A plate of scrapple.

Scrapple. Appetizing, eh?

While the city of Philadelphia may itself be a cesspool of Cheez Whiz, the surrounding area will certainly have healthier eating options. Let’s look at that wholesome region called “the Pennsylvania Dutch Country,” to which the Independence headquarters in Downingtown is conveniently adjacent. One regional delicacy here is something called “scrapple.” Basically, you take whatever’s still left over after hot dogs have been made, grind it up and press it into a vaguely loaf-like shape with the consistency of chunky pudding intermingled with goo. The best way to serve scrapple is to cut it into slices like bread, fry them up in a pan, and them mash them up with a bucketload of ketchup.

This being Pennsylvania, you must know that there is only one kind of ketchup, and that is Heinz. Nothing else counts.

So maybe scrapple isn’t so healthy, either. But don’t worry, we also have things like “Lebanon bologna” and “sweet bologna.” These are tubes of mystery meat generally made from whatever’s left over after scrapple has been made and eaten in chunks. Another very traditional delicacy is something called “pig stomach,” which, you guessed it, is a pig’s stomach stuffed with sausage, potatoes, and spices, baked for several hours and basted in its own juices.

Shoo-fly pie.

Sugar goo and sugar powder. What could possibly go wrong?

Okay, maybe you can forget about meat-based healthy main-course traditional dining options around here. One good local vegetarian (but not vegan) dish is called “corn pie.” Healthy corn, potatoes, and celery are baked into a crusty pie with lots of eggs, butter, whole milk and heavy cream. Okay, maybe you can forget about all healthy main-course traditional dining options around here. But, I’m sure we have some healthy desserts and snacks.

One iconic Pennsylvania Dutch dessert is something called “shoo-fly pie,” which allegedly received its unusual moniker because it is so full of molasses and sugar that it attracts flies. It attracts so many flies, in fact, that you constantly have to shoo them away while eating it. We are also quite proud of our snack foods. The first commercial pretzel bakery in the nation was founded in Lititz, Lancaster County, and our local potato chips are much better than any national brand, probably because we fry them in lard instead of oil.

I won’t even bother getting into Fastnacht Day, and cup cheese should probably never be mentioned by anyone in polite company.

So, in summary, “what else u got” that’s healthy? Nothing. We got nothing. Sorry, folks. Wilkum, and try not to starve while you’re here.

The Sol Is Dead, Long Live The Independence

February 5, 2010

First, the bad news: the Los Angeles Sol, the team with far and away the best regular season record and the playoff runner-up of Women’s Professional Soccer’s 2009 inaugural season, has folded.

Next, the so-so news: this bad news for L.A. might not be as bad as it looks at first glance for WPS as a whole. Basically, the Sol’s demise came as result of the club’s uniquely bizarre ownership situation, and everyone knew from get-go that this end was always a possibility for the L.A. franchise.

Philadelphia Independence logo

LA's loss, Philly's gain

AEG, the ownership group of the Los Angeles Galaxy of Major League Soccer, got the Los Angeles Sol up and running last year. However, AEG made it very clear from the start that getting the club up and running was all it would do. AEG’s involvement was to last for just one year, and after that it would sell the team to a local ownership group and be done. When the sale fell through last week so close to the start of the 2010 preseason March 1, the team had to be folded.

If an established club that predated WPS like the Boston Breakers or Washington Freedom folded, or if one of the other teams saw its owners unexpectedly bail, it would have been a disaster for the league. That isn’t what happened, though. Instead, L.A.’s owners bailed exactly when they said they would bail right from the start. This is definitely a hit to the league, but certainly not an unexpected nor catastrophic one. Even with the Sol’s demise, the 2010 edition of WPS will actually have one more team that it did in the inaugural 2009 season. A dispersal draft of the Sol’s players was held yesterday.

Which brings me to the good news: we got their goalie — 2009 WPS All-Star and Canadian National Team member Karina LeBlanc, as well as the 25th overall pick from the 2010 WPS College Draft (also a defender). Suddenly, an already strong-looking Philadelphia defense looks even stronger than it already did. Going to southeastern Pennsylvania actually works out to be a pretty convenient job move for LeBlanc, who is also an assistant coach at Rutgers University. It should also make things interesting when the Independence plays its first-ever preseason exhibition match against Rutgers March 7.

One the whole, 2010 is looking to be an incredible year for soccer fans around here, as long as Women’s Professional Soccer survives and Major League Soccer’s owners and players get their collective heads out of their butts and get a new collective bargaining agreement in place. Both the Independence of WPS and the Philadelphia Union of MLS look like they’ll be a lot better than typical expansion teams, provided they get a chance to actually take the field. Until those issues are resolved, that’s what worries me.

By the way, if you’re wondering why the heck you should care about the the future of professional women’s soccer, read this, and this one, too.

Update (2/9/10): It looks as though WPS is continuing to work on getting a permanent ownership group for a Los Angeles franchise, and that it has every intention of getting a team back in L.A. in 2011.

Download the 2010 Philadelphia Union Schedule

February 4, 2010

I apologize for yet another lame blog post of no substance, but I figured I’d post the links to download Philadelphia Union’s 2010 inaugural season schedule that showed up on the club’s Facebook feed a couple of hours ago in case anybody wants them.

The schedule is available in iCal (.ics) format (for iCal, Mozilla Sunbird, Mozilla Thunderbird with Lightning, Outlook, and a heap of other PIM programs) here: http://bit.ly/aYx4kO

It’s available in XML format here: http://bit.ly/aVPZ8w

It’s in HTML here: http://bit.ly/avvkKq

That is all.


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