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Final

The Clean Sheet: Gone fishin'

Talk about going from one extreme to another. In last week's column, I told you about the week from heaven, where every day brought at least two new soccer matches on the tube and resulted in an imprint of my hind quarters so deeply entrenched on our new couch that we actually had a ceremony to name it the "Euro 2004 Gulch."

And then, like Buffy being ripped from heaven, for the last week I found myself shipped up to Alaska. How footie-mad is Alaska? Well, I asked one guy wearing an England shirt in a bar about the Euro 2004 and his response was, "Ooh, haven't heard of that new lure yet. Which fish do you use that to catch, halibut or salmon?"

Yeah, for the last week I have not seen one soccer match. I was forced to go completely cold turkey. I have seen more bald eagles than Crystal Palace Eagles. More sea otters than Little Fishies.

It wasn't for a lack of trying. I tried to find a place with the Euro 2004 matches online, to no avail. So I called the Setanta satellite people to ask them. Told them I was going to be in Alaska and they told me there was good news and bad news. Good news: there are three places with a Setanta broadcast in the area. Bad news: it isn't a broadcast of the Euro 2004 matches. Unfortunately, the Alaskan feed only involved a moose boxing competition. I have no idea what that means.

So while I was gone, an entire round of MLS matches, the U.S.-Grenada return leg and the rest of the Euro 2004 first round all passed me by. Going a week without any footie does funny things to your head, and makes you start imagining what you have missed back in the real world.

Heck, for all I know, Marcelo Vega dropped 150 pounds, came out of retirement and led the Quakes to a win over the weekend.

Heck, for all I know, the USA lost 4-0 in Grenada, The Bruce got the sack and Steve Sampson was rehired at a press conference in which Dr. Bob was quoted as saying, "Suddenly 1998 doesn't look so bad, so we're gonna give him another go."

Heck, for all I know, Southampton made a bid for DaMarcus Beasley that didn't make me laugh out loud the first time I heard the actual number.

Heck, for all I know, Greg Lalas is the favorite to replace Jim Smith in Columbus.

Heck, for all I know, Wayne Rooney wanted to make a move to the MetroStars, but was not offered a contract by the MLS side, who claimed he was too old for their style of play.

Heck, for all I know, the players from the Czech Republic were so fired up by last week's TCS in which I picked "Czechoslovakia" to win the whole thing that they have decided to take a dive in the second round just to learn me good. I am actually worried about this one, because the fancy-schmancy new MLSnet.com site translates all my columns to 134 languages and the Czech players are faithful TCS readers.

Heck, for all I know, a team of MLS All-Stars is gonna go to Spain and play Real Madrid in the fall. How cool would that be?

Enlightening you about the MLS Anchorage Eskimos

So as I promised last week, I spent the first few days of my trip to Alaska in Anchorage conducting a site survey for the Anchorage Eskimos, the MLS expansion franchise long-rumored to be on the horizon.

I spoke to a bunch of people round town in a very scientific study - you know, much like my Chivas LA study a few weeks back, which as we all know led to a scoop a few days later that Chivas USA was going to the HDC. MLS really oughta hire me to do something more than tell bad jokes, and make fun of Dema Kovalenko and whoever is in last place every week.

Anyway, after all of my research, I came away with two major challenges the Alaskan host committee would have to overcome.

(1) Venue: There would need to be a new soccer stadium built, and with all apologies to the venues in Portugal and England, this would be the real Stadium of Light.

Why? This time of year, it doesn't get dark at night. At all. Seriously. June 21 was the longest day of the year, where the sun "set" for a few hours around 11:30 at night. The catch is that the sky never actually gets dark. The darkest it gets here nowadays is what you would consider early dusk back home. I'm talking 11 p.m. kickoffs are possible - without a need for lights.

Talk about messing with your mind. At 9 p.m. it looks like what we are used to at noon. (By the way, Alaska does have its own time zone - one hour earlier than Pacific Time. Who says this column isn't edumacational?)

The bottom line? Forget an MLS side - this is where The Bruce should play qualifiers over the summer. Get the U.S. team here a month out and get used to the messed-up sun thing. Then play the game at nine in the morning after the visiting team hasn't slept the night before because of the bright skies. Trust me, it'll work. By nine in the morning here, I'm so out of it that I think MLS should mandate the 1994 reunion team all wear mullets at the All-Star Game and that my columns are actually funny.

(2) Concessions: To truly have the food at the stadium indigenous to the region, you could only serve two things in Alaska: salmon and halibut. I'm not kidding - I think that's all they have up here. Pretty much anything you order has either salmon or halibut in it. Anything. We ate pretty much the same thing every single day on the week-long trip:

Breakfast: Salmon and eggs with a glass of halibut juice.

Lunch: An Alaskan sandwich, which is a piece of halibut in between two pieces of salmon.

Dinner: Salmon steak with halibut ice cream for dessert.

So to summarize, while my scientific study gave Los Angeles the nod for Chivas USA, I think I'm going to have to hold off on the thumbs up for Alaska. Unfortunately, I just don't think it is ready to step in front of Seattle or Salt Lake City. OK, who I am I kidding - Austin, Minnesota is gonna get a team before Anchorage. But where else can you get a tee time at 11 p.m.?

Throw me back, I'm no keeper

I spent a day on a fishing boat, which taught me two things: (1) I will never challenge for the starting goalkeeper spot for the U.S. national team and (2) going out fishing on a guided tour in Homer has gotta be looked at by true fishermen like soccer purists look at indoor soccer.

On the boat there was one boat owner and six of us tourist-types. Basically what went down was the owner pulling out five poles, baiting them and setting them up, and placing them in pole holders on the back of the boat. The six of us would literally sit there for hours on end and watch the poles, and if one of them showed some action, whoever could be bothered to get up would grab the pole and reel the fish (or the seaweed, or the car fender) into the boat.

And that, my friends, is what constitutes "catching" a fish in this type of fishing: whoever was in the mood to stand up or could be talked into putting down their sandwich long enough to grab the pole could say they "caught" the fish. Yeah, exactly. I spent more time thinking about who would be available and who I would pick in an expansion draft right now for my Anchorage Eskimos than I did fishing. Really a "sport," isn't it?

But, it did get me thinking about being a goalkeeper, especially for a good team. You sit there for 20 minutes on end with nothing to do, then suddenly you have two strikers blazing at you with nary a defender in sight. So what you're telling me is after a long stretch of doing absolutely nothing, I'd have to snap to attention, stop thinking about whether or not Chivas USA will have cheerleaders and whether Salma Hayek would be one of them, put down my cocktail, and make a save? Yeah, not a chance. Brad, Kasey, Tim: your jobs are safe.

Back to Planet L.A.

So Queen Of The Palace finished the marathon up here and unless she comes up with some other form of self-mutilation in the middle of nowhere, it's now back to home-sweet-home to re-engage with the MLS season and the home stretch of the European Championships.

All kidding aside, while I doubt any MLS execs will be up here any time soon for an actual expansion survey, Alaska is one of the most beautiful places I have ever been - make it your second destination after that overdue trip to see the Home Depot Center.

Heck, for all I know, they're gonna play MLS Cup 2004 there on November 14, so now you have an excuse to go.

The Clean Sheet runs each Thursday on MLSnet.com. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.


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