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shawn francis

21 February 12:04 pm

Speaking from past experience, there are few adventures in sports that trump away days. When I think about all of the hours in my pre-professional blogging life spent on my feet with a song coming out of my mouth the best memories often center around stadiums that were not my club's home ground.

These golden moments don't just happen though as they require an incredible amount of coordination between the clubs, the supporters and (hopefully) a good travel agent. And, for the most part, they aren't the quick, 1-hour jaunts associated with some European leagues.

In a league that connects two coasts and spans two large countries the distance a supporter can travel for a match is more often than not extreme by world football standards. This excerpt from a recent article in The Guardian highlights this fact best:

"The average journey for North American fans is still one of the longest you would undertake in most other leagues; the bigger journeys are more expeditions than road trips; Portland Timbers fans going to New York is the same as going from London to Baghdad. LA Galaxy at Boston is longer than Tokyo to Manila.

The journey those Fire fans made to Toronto clocked in at 1,000 miles round trip, and that's their second closest game; in England, no-one can travel that far at all, and it's pushing the longest trip most European fans would have to make. Only fans in Russia can hold a candle in terms of the distances traveled to see a team play, and even there, the average distances tend to be exaggerated by a small number of teams in Siberia and the far-east."

Seriously, there are fans out there who are logging more air miles than Chelsey Sullenberger these days and I salute them for it. Special acknowledgment to those who travel to and from Canada to be with your team; anyone willing to brave both the TSA and customs for only a 33.3% chance at witnessing a win is alright in my book.

20 February 1:26 pm

Admit it: You can’t stand noobs. They’re always just a little too quick to pull out the over-the-top display of enthusiasm for whatever it is they don’t know how to do.

This week’s episode of IFC sketch comedy show Portlandia highlights the problem with newbies when Peter and Nance, an eccentric, overly eco-conscious couple played by the show’s stars Saturday Night Live mainstay Fred Armisen and indie rock veteran Carrie Brownstein (Wild Flag, Sleater-Kinney) — go to their first Portland Timbers game with a flag they designed to show their support for the team.

Yes, it is as tragic and funny as you imagine.

“It’s funny and weird because I’m not usually a sports person and I don’t live in Portland but I love Portland,” Armisen said when reached via phone last week.

“One of the things I love about it is that it reminds me of England a little bit, and the fact that they like soccer there as much as they do just makes it seem that much more vaguely European. We had to get them in the show somehow.“

He’s not saying that the wild passion of JELD-WEN Field’s section 107 is a put-on, though.

“It’s not an affectation, they really do love it,” Armisen said. “When we first met the people from the Timbers Army we knew it was a very real thing.”

Brownstein, a Washington native who now lives in Portland, testified to the region’s well-documented fervor over football.

“When I was a kid I went to Sounders games in Seattle, where I grew up, and I played soccer. I think for everyone in the Pacific Northwest it’s the obligatory sport you play.”

Like the character she plays in the episode, which airs Feb. 24 at 10 pm ET, Brownstein has yet to see the Timbers in action. 

“I haven’t been to a game [in Portland] yet, but when we shot the episode it made me want to go,“ she says. ”Portlanders are eager for communal experiences and the Timbers are perfect for that. “

“Also the singing is really great, even just at the shoot. It’s all pretty intriguing so I really want to go.”

Armisen and Brownstein aren’t the only comedy titans taken with what’s going on in JELD-WEN’s North End.

“[Saturday Night Live creator] Lorne Michaels read that article in The New York Times about them,” said Armisen, “It was funny because he was immediately fascinated by them.”

This week’s show won’t be the Portlandia debut for a few members of the TA though, as they were cast for the “Allergy Pride” sketch that aired earlier in the season.

“If you watch the parade, they’re the Soy Punks,” Armisen said. “They were perfect for it because they were so good at shouting and shouting angrily.”

17 February 6:03 pm

If you guessed Eddie Johnson to the Seattle Sounders (in exchange for Mike Fucito & Lamar Neagle) I want to take you to Vegas AND to my local convenience store to buy lotto tickets. And guess what? A few frequenters of Seattle's Facebook page actually called it yesterday when they saw the above photo of EJ with Chris Henderson in a team training photo gallery.

Seriously Juan, Michael & Neil, call me. There is a casino out there that needs us to relieve it of its cash.

 

17 February 5:47 pm

The Montreal Impact pulled the trigger and used their top spot in the allocation order to pick up one-time USMNT star Eddie Johnson. But don't bet on EJ taking up French lessons just yet as it seems Jesse Marsch is using him as trade bait.

Any guesses on where he'll land?

17 February 2:51 pm

There are two topics in American soccer that consistently reappear with all the certainty of death and taxes. One of them is promotion and relegation; I'm not going to touch that with a ten-foot pole.

The other is the notion that MLS should shift to a winter schedule similar to the one used by most of Europe. I say "most of" because there are Scandinavian and Russian exceptions to the rule. For a great read on what you get when soccer is played in stadiums where it is cold enough to hang meat in the stands, check out Jack Bell's latest blog post for the New York Times.

Here's the short version though: players wearing closets full of clothes, cement balls and a pitch that resembles a WWI battlefield.

How playing games --and watching them-- under such conditions could be seen as a viable option in the U.S. and Canada, places where the game is strong but still growing, I'll never know. Call me soft or worse but there is little beauty in watching frigid players endeavor to avoid injury while battling the cold on a rock-hard pitch. Using Russia as an example may seem extreme but when you see comparable temperatures in cities like Montreal, Toronto, Boston and Chicago it's not a total stretch to make the comparison.

I'm not saying soccer shouldn't be played in less than ideal weather but there is a difference between cold and crazy. And staking the future of a young league on February matches in Canada, the Midwest and the Northeast, would fall under the later.

So ask yourself...do you really want a winter schedule?

16 February 2:32 pm

Well, well, well. Look who's coming back to where it all started.

Eddie Johnson, the former Wizard and 2006 World Cup veteran (not to be confused with the oft-injured Timbers forward of the same name), has signed a new deal to return to MLS.

Now let's be honest: we've heard this before. But something tells me that there will be no backing out this time. Johnson's career has been in a bit of a rut since he scored 5 goals in 16 appearances for Greek side Aris F.C. Since then he's weathered a goal-less loan to Preston North End and suffered the ignominy of being let go by Puebla just days after signing with the club. If he's ever going to come back, if he's ever needed to prove himself, the time is now.

Currently, the Impact sit at the top of the allocation order and with the recent departure of Brian Ching they may actually be interested in Johnson. The question is which Johnson they --or another club-- will get: the confident  speedster of his MLS glory days or the less sure, less motivated player he was in Europe & Mexico?

UPDATE: Montreal, not Colorado as originally stated in this post, sit atop the allocation order. Colorado is rumored to be one of the clubs interested in acquiring Johnson.

15 February 3:33 pm

Eddie Gaven's beard is a sell out! But for a five-year sponsorship deal your beard would be too...maybe even during the playoffs for the right price.

14 February 2:30 pm

Never in the history of humanity has a Canadian pensioner and the music of The Carpenters been deployed for such diabolical means. Leave it to Cascadia to find a way to make soft rock sinister. Bravo Vancouver, bravo.

14 February 10:51 am

Another day, another video featuring Salt Lake City's most high-profile punk rock supporter, Rancid's Branden Steineckert. The chant is called "Believe" and it was written by Steineckert while the accompanying video was shot & edited by T. Issac Halsima, one of my favorite video guys working in & around MLS. In short, it is an awesome, inspiring piece of promotional footage that does exactly what it should: get viewers hyped.

So how did the chant come about? Here's the story from Steineckert.

I just finished this song/chant I wrote for the team/fans. I've been working on several, and I've got more. But this is my favorite that could be a team anthem. I wrote it to be noble, strong, intimidating sounding as if the pride within the RSL family will tear down any opponent. But yet I made sure to keep it from being in any way offensive or cater to one "type" of fan. Something tattooed, die-hard fans can sing proudly along with conservative fans, children, elderly people and anyone of any kind of background. I also kept it very simple so the words are easy to learn and memorize as well as a catchy melody to remember and catch on throughout the stadium. This is 100% original lyrics and melody I wrote, so you will never hear another club in the world sing this outside of RSL. Here are the lyrics:

IF YOU BELIEVE THEN JUST STAND UP ON YOUR FEET
AND SHOUT IT LOUD REAL!
HERE AT THE RIOT THE BATTLE HYMNS BEGUN.
WE'RE HERE FOR RSL!

Whether or not you love RSL --"Hi!" Rapids fans-- you have to love the creativity and the passion that went into this. More please.

13 February 9:19 am

Here's a list of things that Rancid drummer and occasional Real Salt Lake kit man Branden Steineckert owns that DO NOT have a RSL badge on them:

  • underwear*
  • a passport, drivers license, birth certificate or any form of government-issued ID
  • a timeshare in Boca

Everything else --drumkit, scarves, skateboard, left leg-- is free game and adorned with the logo of the 2009 MLS Cup champs. Safe to say the man is not shy about about who he supports.

*This is unconfirmed. Real Salt Lake does not sell officially-licensed undergarments but you never know if he's rocking some custom-made claret & cobalt briefs under his skinny jeans.