The Cheap Seats: European viewing

the MLSnet.com reader, the devout MLS fan -- deserve the very best MLS and soccer coverage from around the globe. And if I have to drink ouzo and ogle glistening full-bodied Greek women on the beach to get the story, well, so be it.

Unless you're in Athens right now, you probably didn't get the weekly TV guide that comes with the Sunday edition of Kathimerini. Let me fill you in. Last night, while Damani Ralph made San Jose pay for hitting the woodwork rather than the twine and Freddy Adu did what Freddy Adu gets paid half a million dollars to do, over here we had a choice between the Greek version of "Big Brother" or a subtitled "She's All That."

Now, I'm sure watching Greeks complain about each other's eating habits is fun and I'm sure Freddie Prinze Jr. is a fine young actor, even if he is well on his way to being his generation's Patrick Dempsey, but dammit, I want my TiVo and my MLS games! I've been away only 10 days, but I already miss hearing Rob Stone's "Boom!" and Waldo's complaints. I miss John Harkes' jokes and Sean Wheelock's creepy smile on "MLS Wrap." Though, I don't miss watching the Columbus Crew play.

(BTW -- you young'uns out there who have never heard of Patrick Dempsey -- go rent "Can't Buy Me Love," perhaps the greatest coming-of-age teenage cheeseball chick-flick ever. And remember, before there was Lindsay Lohan, there was Amanda Peterson.)

If you think being an MLS fan back home is tough, try it from overseas. There's nothing in papers, CNN doesn't show highlights and Landon Donovan lags well behind the band Deep Purple on the starpower lists. If you mention the MetroStars in Greece, they stare at you blankly then ask if you know their cousin Costas who owns a diner in Queens. Your best bet is to say "Yes," because you'll probably then introduced to the guy's daughter.

Have I mentioned the Greek women yet? I swear, the journalists I've been hanging out with over here are more gaga over the Greek women than any of the actual Olympic events.

Now, I'm sure you're saying, "Greg, you write for a website. You're, like, a regular e-geek. Why don't you just watch the games online?"

I would, because the fact that we have that option is incredibly cool, almost as cool as the fact that I can now acquire Saxon's "Denim & Leather" record without leaving my bed. Unfortunately, the information superhighway is still an information dirt road here in Greece. Where I'm staying, we've got a dial-up connection that seems to be run by Ernestine Tomlin. Watching an online game through a 56K dial-up connection is like driving a Ferrari in a traffic jam. The screen is splotched, the action is stop and start, and there is an absurd amount of "buffering," whatever that is. The entire experience reminds me of grade school when the filmstrip machine would overheat and the Amazonian tree frog would melt before your eyes.

"What about the Match Tracker?" you ask.

Well, call me a prude, but MLS isn't the New York Stock Exchange. "GOAL! Carlos Ruiz on a rebound in the 62nd minute" is about as exciting as an Olympic racewalk. (In Athens, tickets to the racewalk are free.) The Match Tracker is simply a poor substitute for the real thing, poor enough to actually put me off soccer for a good long time. A day or two, at least.

The only good way to stay on top of MLS things while overseas is to rely on the writers -- the newspapermen, the beat writers, my fellow columnists. I read everything I can online. I also scour the BigSoccer boards and get e-mail reports from friends who caught this or that game.

But most importantly, you have to use a little imagination. I didn't see Damani Ralph's game-winning goal Wednesday night -- I was too busy wondering how one actually hits on a statuesque Greek beauty -- but I can imagine it. I picture a tired Chicago team, down a man for more than 45 minutes, scrambling to get a result, fighting, clawing, doing anything it can to halt the nine-game winless skid. I envision a frantic Damani, alone up top, creating havoc with his wicked runs on and off the ball. Then I imagine Andy Williams' audacious attempt to chip the tallest goalkeeper in the league and Damani pouncing on the rebound to put the Fire ahead and spark wild celebrations among the Section 8 faithful.

And you know what? It may not be exactly how it happened, but it's beautiful nonetheless no matter where your seat is.

***

Mortal lock: What, you thought I wasn't going to keep kicking Tino Palace's butt just because I skipped town? I'm taking D.C. over New England.

Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at cheapseats@g73.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.


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