U.S. vs Mexico and Donovan vs Klinsmann – Who Wins?

In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann, right, talks with Landon Donovan during a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. The United States clinched its seventh straight World Cup appearance, getting second-half goals from Eddie Johnson and Donovan on Tuesday night in a 2-0 win over Mexico.(AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

In this photo taken Tuesday, Sept. 10, 2013, United States manager Jurgen Klinsmann, right, talks with Landon Donovan during a World Cup qualifying soccer match against Mexico in Columbus, Ohio. (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

(This was supposed to get posted Friday morning but life and work got in the way.)

There have been mixed reactions to Landon Donovan’s comments, in which he suggested that if the U.S. loses to Mexico Saturday (tonight) in the crucial CONCACAF Cup game that Jurgen Klinsmann should be fired. Some pundits and fans agree with him, and some do not. Many went further and took the opportunity to angle criticism at Donovan personally.

The fact that his words garnered such a reaction is a statement in itself that soccer in the U.S. isn’t quite where we all want it to be. This question should be asked more often and not met with such surprise and angst when it is asked.

ESPN FC spent half a show talking about his comments, and the website made it their top headline for the day. Granted Donovan was a guest on the ESPN FC segment, The Boot Room, when he made the statement.

It also made headlines elsewhere, but most ended up focusing on the fact that maybe Donovan was bitter because of his turbulent relationship with Klinsmann, and therefore his statements lacked objectivity.

It was a simple question from the former U.S. midfielder. Donovan was saying if you hold players accountable, you should hold coaches accountable. He implied that U.S. Soccer is better than these recent results and should expect better and there should be consequences if they don’t meet those expectations.

It’s the same question that would be asked in any other major soccer nation. It’s that pressure that other countries put on their teams that Klinsmann says he wants. He’s said in the past that if the U.S. players lose and play badly, he wants there to be such an outcry by the public that the players wouldn’t want to go to the grocery store the next day. Well, that’s a long way off as the general public wouldn’t recognize 90% of U.S. players, but I do appreciate that sentiment.

Part of what makes these statements newsworthy is that Donovan is calling out his former national team coach with whom he had a prickly relationship, to put it nicely. They never saw eye to eye and Donovan being left out of the 2014 World Cup team for what would have been his swan song with the U.S. National Team surely didn’t leave a good taste in his mouth. So that makes his statements a little more juicy. But if the golden boy of U.S Soccer can’t ask the question, who can?

The candor with which Donovan talked about Klinsmann and the necessity to win on Saturday was refreshing. He wasn’t trying to make tabloids, but simply put some pressure on Klinsmann. Which is what the U.S. coach says he wants. It’s actually fairly smart on Donovan’s part, because Klinsmann can’t come out and really disagree or be upset with Donovan’s comments. Klinsmann asked for the pressure, now he has to deliver.

It must be said that in this particular game on Saturday (tonight) against Mexico I’m not sure a loss can rest solely on the shoulders of Klinsmann. Mexico is a good team. Yes, the Gold Cup was a horrible showing and I believe much of that failure should be directed at the German. His team choice was questionable and the way he set up tactically against lower quality opposition like Jamaica was lazy. He underestimated the other teams and maybe overestimated his players.

Overall though, with the current talent pool available to Klinsmann you could argue his results throughout his tenure, minus the Gold Cup debacle, have been respectable.

I do agree with Donovan’s statements. However, isn’t this what we asked for from U.S. Soccer and Klinsmann?

I know I did. A long look at our players, and focus on youth, and the future, knowing we’d take some knocks in the short term. Yes, we need to win this game and Klinsmann has taken every measure to ensure we can’t critique his player selection. He’s chosen a team for Saturday that is the old guard, the best we have to offer at this moment. Can’t think of one senior player who isn’t available for the U.S., at least one who is a usual starter, or considered the best at his position. With the exception of Landon Donovan — tongue and cheek of course, but aren’t these the kind of games where you want him? When you look at some of the older players like Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, and Clint Dempsey, you sort of wonder with frustration why Donovan couldn’t keep it going a little longer. His choice though, and you have to respect that.

I don’t think Klinsmann should or will lose his job if the U.S. falls to Mexico tonight, but it’s good to put him under pressure. We should give him a year of World Cup qualifying and time to see how the young guys and his approach pan out, because let’s be honest, half of the starting lineup for tonight’s game won’t be around for the 2018 World Cup.

The real barometer though is how we match up against top South American and European teams. Most coaches could navigate a U.S. team through the mild waters of CONCACAF qualifying without much trouble. We should easily qualify for the World Cup, so that’s not so much the benchmark for Klinsmann anymore, but instead the manner in which the U.S. plays in qualifying games and how they do in friendlies against the top countries. And of course how far we make it at the World Cup. If he’s still the man in charge in 2018.

U.S. will win tonight, but the question by Donovan is a good one.


Why Starbucks Is My Go To

2000px-Starbucks.svgWith the proliferation of single brew coffee bars dedicated solely to the art of making coffee and espresso you might ask how a self-proclaimed coffee lover like myself could make Starbucks my go to coffee shop. It’s a good question. I will answer it.

I once owned a coffee bar, albeit for a short while, but during that time I was very entrenched in the coffee industry. I was passionate about brewing correctly and most importantly using good beans that were sourced properly. We had a pour over coffee bar and a $15k La Marzocco espresso machine. We bought outstanding coffee from one of the roasters I’ll mention below and never used beans that were more than 10-14 days after roast (except for our cold brew). We did everything right, or at least we tried. Well, actually we made a lot of mistakes, but point is I have a great deal of respect and love for good coffee and what it takes to get it to the customer.

Many of the single brew coffee shops are doing it right. It isn’t the niche market it was 10 years ago. These shops are quite common these days, whether they make coffee using the pour over method (most likely a Hario V60 or comparable device), Chemex, AeroPress, Filtron, Infusion, Vacuum Pot, or any other method. The general rule of thumb is that it be single brew coffee, meaning every cup is made individually for each customer. Of course some shops are now using these methods to brew larger quantities and then store in a carafe that doesn’t burn the coffee. That can also work and makes sense in terms of customer wait time. There can be a decrease in quality though.

There are bigger companies like Intelligentsia and Stumptown who have multiple locations in major cities, and then there are smaller outfits like Coava and Verve. These smaller shops still sell and ship their beans all over the country, either wholesale to be served at coffee shops or direct to consumer. All four of these shops do it well and roast/brew outstanding coffee and espresso. These are just a few of the good ones as there are dozens of great coffee roasters out there, but to avoid listing companies I will just use these four as good representations of the “boutique single brew” coffee scene.

These four all source their beans direct from the farmers and pay a fair rate instead of buying bulk off some trading floor in the U.S. without any real knowledge of how or where the beans were obtained. These companies have green coffee (bean before roasted) buyers and sometimes a team of people who go to these countries and meticulously taste and hand pick the beans they bring back. They have personal relationships with these farmers. It’s truly a great thing and this type of sourcing and direct trade has changed the coffee industry. And that’s only half the battle.

Then they have to roast, which is an art in itself and a crucial step in the process. Over roasting beans is such a common problem in the mass coffee market. It happens mainly because it allows a longer shelf life for beans, and requires less attention to detail.

So, you might still be wondering how on earth Starbucks is my go to?

All the great things these “boutique” coffee companies are doing to bring the best possible product to the market comes at a price. And they have to pass that on to the customer. I believe it’s a good thing and appreciate and understand the difference in price, and the quality that you gain. The problem is, not as many places as you might think do it right. And the ones that do can be a little hard to come by, unless you live around the corner from one.

A lot of coffee bars and even roasters still charge extremely high prices for a small cup of coffee, that honestly is a little weak or too floral, and just not that good. Sometimes they are using good beans from a reputable roaster, but they don’t have the focus on brewing, or the required training, or the education.   Sometimes they are simply using beans that are 21 days or more past the roast date and then combine that with mistakes in the brew process and you have a subpar $4 cup of coffee. I’ve even paid over $5 for these crappy coffees! Often times this is after waiting 10-15 minutes while some barista explains the meaning of his tattoos and adjusts the feather in his hat.

I’ve always been willing to wait a little longer for a good cup, but not for a somewhat decent one. Places like Intelligentsia and Stumptown are very consistent across all locations. In my experience they always brew a very nice cup and are well worth the extra two or three dollars per coffee over a Starbucks or Coffee Bean.

Now, if you’re talking espresso or lattes then the comparison isn’t even close. They really aren’t in the same league. In that case the difference in price is minimal and the likes of Stumptown or Verve do these beverages far better than a Starbucks or Coffee Bean. The milk is higher quality and steamed properly, and the espresso is pulled with a level of control that the baristas at Starbucks simply don’t have. Espresso drinks are where these specialty coffee bars have the edge.

But in this case I’m talking about that go to coffee, that cup you must have to fight off the morning caffeine headache or afternoon drowsiness at work.

This isn’t a complaint about the roasters that do it right. It’s about the boutique coffee shops using beans from one of these reputable roasters, or their own roast, and not making coffee that matches the quality, yet still charging the same prices. You might say, well the market will weed out those places and people will choose to take their business elsewhere. I would generally agree with that statement and think it’s normally the case. But if I don’t go to this boutique place with the mediocre $4 cup, where do I go? Do I try another boutique single brew coffee shop and take the risk?

See, now I’m factoring in convenience and my time driving to another place and potentially waiting 10 minutes for a subpar coffee. That’s not the mentality that someone like Intelligentsia wants. Because let’s be honest, although I can have a great cup of coffee there, I’m driving out of my way, I’m waiting in line, and will most likely spend $5-6 for a 12oz cup of coffee. If it’s a rough morning or I’m slightly hung-over after a night of rye whiskeys, that 12oz cup won’t do the trick. I need more. And even at Intelligentsia I take the risk of getting an Ethiopia single origin that might be a bit too floral for my liking. My wife often says, if I wanted a tea I would order a tea. It’s a good point. So, what has happened is the good shops suffer from their desire to sell more beans to subpar coffee shops.  It has weakened the entire market or at least my perception of the market.

So, it brings me back to Starbucks. If I’m on my way to work and I need a coffee I can generally count on to be decent and strong and big, I pull into the parking lot with the green Siren on the building. I’m sorry but I’m opting for the quick cup of coffee. It goes against a lot of what I love about coffee. But Starbucks has improved in the last couple years. They actually buy pretty good beans, although they over roast them, they aren’t bad. Granted you have to make sure you don’t get a cup from the vat of coffee that’s been sitting there for a while. But I always ask and they will generally tell me which one is freshest.   As a former coffee bar owner, it pains me to say this, but its true.  Starbucks has caught up enough to sway the real coffee drinkers. Many locations even offer pour over or single brew on The Clover, but of course you’re waiting a bit longer for that.

Now, if I lived within walking distance of Intelligentsia, yes, I would be there all the time.  Even then, I’d have to factor in the difference in price and the likelihood that during busy hours I would be in line for at least 10 minutes.

Many of these boutique coffee shops or single brew bars or whatever you want to call them might say, well that’s not our customer. We don’t mind catering to someone that has a bit more time or the customer that puts quality above everything else and doesn’t mind paying for it.

I appreciate what all these roasters and coffee bars are doing and frequent them on weekend afternoons or when I have a little more time and happen to be driving by a location.  But not everyday or even more than twice a week.

You could compare Starbucks with the likes of Stumptown or Coava by using the analogy of a fast food joint (Starbucks) and a nice sit down restaurant (Stumptown), but I don’t think that’s quite right. The difference in product isn’t that drastic. Yes, Stumptown brews a better cup of coffee and the time and energy and creativity they put into sourcing and roasting far exceeds that of Starbucks, but at the end of the day it’s still a cup of Joe.

Coffee has more flavor profiles and is more complex than wine. I know there is a definite difference in the coffees. I understand all the arguments for direct trade single brew coffee and proper roasting practices, and I agree with them. I love great coffee and will go out of my way for it, when I have time, and it’s not a crucial part of my morning existence; a cup that could sway how good or bad my day begins.

For that, I’m sorry, but I stick with the tried and true. As I often say about many products including food and beer and wine, it’s good to have fine taste and it’s great to believe in something and the way its made or the craft involved, but sometimes there comes an elitist attitude with that thinking. People say, I only drink this type of coffee, or this beer, and that’s it. Anything less is uncivilized or horrible. I’m not afraid to say I like Starbucks. For the record, I also like Peet’s Coffee, which is in a similar category although has far less locations.

I guess the point is that all these single brew coffee bars are great, but I don’t think they’ve set themselves up as the everyday coffee choice, which is what coffee is. It’s an every day thing. It’s a morning ritual. It’s a part of life, a part of work. Most people can’t afford that $5 cup every morning, god forbid twice a day, if you drink coffee like I do.

Maybe these single brew coffee joints are fine with that? They have made it sort of a luxury beverage, and maybe that’s a good thing?

But for my morning cup of coffee, in a pinch, I choose Starbucks for its convenience, speed, price, and because I know what to expect. Kill me.

LA Beer Week

labeerweekI would be remiss if I didn’t use LA Beer Week as an opportunity to crawl out from under my rock of procrastination and laziness.  A rock that’s held me down for too long.  A comparison to the resurrection of Jesus would be too strong, obviously, but I have risen.  The gods of beer have awoken me from a long slumber and I am ready.  My mind is still fuzzy but when a cold beer is placed in my hand or poured down my gullet I suddenly see clearly.  That has happened.

LA Beer Week kicked off on June 20th and I’ve had the pleasure to sample some (if sample means downing multiple pints) of the finest that Southern California has to offer.  As I write this I am drinking the very thirst quenching Golden Road 329 Lager from Golden Road Brewery in Glendale, CA.


Anyone who knows me however, knows I am a huge lover of IPA’s.  But more than that I’m simply a fan of good beer.  The craft beer scene has exploded in many areas of the U.S. and Los Angeles is no exception.  There are too many good breweries to name them all, but I’m going to lay out a few and give my suggestions, and also my wish list. And maybe ask if beer has become a bit too complicated?

There are tons of events across the Southland this week but I started somewhat close to home. On Monday a friend and I went to City Tavern in Culver City.  Personally I prefer bars that are little more down and dirty but this did the job for a Monday. We had a few good brews, but the winner on the night (first keg to tap out) was Ballast Point’s (San Diego) PINEAPPLE SCULPIN. I’m not one to prefer fruity variations or infusions but this was nice. The pineapple was very subtle.  I usually like simple, hoppy, even bitter IPA’s, but this had a nice balance of sweet that made it a little smoother than the regular Sculpin.  I didn’t say better, because in my opinion the Sculpin IPA is great as is.

El Segundo Brewing Co. (just south of LA, near LAX) is another one of the LA Beer Week participants.  They have a new tap room that’s larger than the old one and they lay claim to the creation of some outstanding beers.  Their IPA’s are delicious and they have a Citra Pale Ale that I plan on sampling tomorrow.  They have an event on Saturday alongside Cascade Brewery of Portland. Obviously a huge craft beer scene up in Portland. You can get tickets to that here, assuming they haven’t sold out. Perfect Strangers Release – El Segundo

Damn, that Golden Road Lager went down easy. I’ve now moved on to drinking a Green Flash West Coast Double IPA. Another San Diego brewery. I don’t love this beer, I’m IN love with this beer.  I would make love to it. It’s a perfect combination of hops, malty sweetness, and that IPA bitterness without too much bite. Green Flash Brewery is another participant in the week’s festivities.


Speaking of IPA’s, and sour ales for that matter — If you’re a fan of combining the two, Johnny’s Bar up in Eagle Rock has been pouring some excellent IPA’s and sours as a part of their “Punish The Palate Week.” LA Beer Week – Johnny’s Punish The Palate.  Check it out.

Other great not yet mentioned participating breweries in the LA area you should try, if you havent already, are Phantom Carriage, Smog City, Eaglerock Brewery, and Ladyface, just to name a few.  I also love Lagunitas from Petaluma, although not in the LA area it is an LA Beer Week participant.  Their Czech Style Pilsner is fantastic, and the IPA’s are very good.

I must also mention a brewery, that although not a participant for whatever reason, holds a special place in my heart.  That is Craftsman Brewing Company in Pasadena from founder/owner Mark Jilg. More specifically, a brew of his that I constantly crave is his 1903 Lager.  I’m not one to ever lust after a lager, but this one is hoppy (for a lager), highly carbonated, and great.  I don’t like to lay out a bunch of tasting notes, so I’ll just say this beer is refreshing and crisp and underrated.  It’s not bottled, that I know of.  It’s only available at a handful of restaurants/bars in Los Angeles.  If I see it on tap, I order it.

That brings to light the only issue that I sometimes have with the craft beer scene.  Like everything else that becomes successful or popular, craft beer has become so big and varied that many beers are selling themselves as craft beer when in fact they are not that craft.  Yes, I know, a few of the aforementioned breweries could be considered not so craft. There is nothing wrong with becoming big and profitable like Ballast Point or Sierra Nevada but I think to differentiate their beers some companies have gone so extreme with their brews. It has complicated things a little.

I like trying a new coffee stout or wheat ale or whatever, but I also don’t want the simplicity of great beer to be lost.  Sometimes on a hot day, or on a boat, or fishing, a small ice cold mug or can of light beer hits the spot more than anything.  A 1903 lager perhaps, or do I dare say a Bud Light.  I’m not afraid to say it.  Not to say the 1903 is on the level of Bud Light. No, its far above that, but sometimes you want an ice cold easy drinking beer.  A Sagres from Portugal maybe. Yes please! Not that there shouldn’t be variety, because I drink all sorts of different beers, but sometimes beers get undeserved attention because they are simply unique or different, and not necessarily that great.

So, as amazing as LA Beer Week is, and tasting all the different offerings from local breweries, I think it’s important to remember how to enjoy a simple beer.  Or at least appreciate them.  As with coffee, and food, and even spirits, sometimes the focus gets pulled to something because its new or different or a tiny sub group that is supposed to be rare. And then that is what people consider good. At least some of the beer “aficionados.” These new beers are great for tasting notes but often times they aren’t geared towards everyday drinking or even drinking more than one. So enjoy LA Beer Week and try all the great beers out there but keep an eye out for a tasty but simple lager or pilsner.  Sometimes it’s harder to find than you might think.

I’m not saying drink cheap beer to be trendy, or that Pabst Blue Ribbon is good beer, but I think we can enjoy both the simple crisp lager and also the more complex craft brew without being a trader to the beer scene.

LA Beer Week Site for more info: LAbeerweek.org

Klinsmann vs Garber and MLS Forcing You To Obey


Much has been made recently of the clash of words between Jurgen Klinsmann and Major League Soccer commissioner, Don Garber.  On October 15th Klinsmann spoke out about his concerns over U.S. players not competing at the highest level and made remarks that some, including Garber, considered detrimental to the U.S. based league.

This brings to the forefront the constant need of MLS to control the conversation. Garber came out immediately after Klinsmann’s remarks with a spicy overly defensive comeback of his own. He took offense to Klinsmann’s ideas that players should consider looking outside of MLS for playing opportunities and that maybe MLS isn’t up to the same level as European leagues. Of course Klinsmann didn’t come out and say it that matter of fact.

Most of Garber’s frustration comes from a positive place of wanting to improve the league while not losing big name players, and in turn, the ticket revenue that comes with them. But he goes about it the wrong way.

All this does is expose the overly sensitive nature of MLS and Garber, but also the absence of any sense of reality. This need by MLS, and its owners to fear monger people into singing its praises appears to be getting worse.  Indeed, it’s a great league, and it has improved drastically — the caveat that every writer and pundit make, because in fact it’s true. However, to force the issue through rhetoric and publicly bashing anyone that speaks up against the league, actually has the opposite effect. If MLS were truly a superior league, its laurels and on field play would speak for itself.

Garber should want what is best for the U.S. Men’s National Team and understand that a player going abroad does not necessarily weaken the domestic league, at least not in the long run.

Apparently there is also growing frustration from some club owners over Klinsmann’s advice to look at other options. They are upset because they’ve invested a lot of money in their academies and many of the top young players are being advised to look abroad.

That outlook by owners is insane.   Improve your academy. Compete. Be the best to get the best. That’s the American way right?

Don’t ask for Klinsmann to recommend your academy if it isn’t up to the level of the one at Ajax (Netherlands), or Tottenham, or Fulham, or any other number of mid level European clubs. Yes, mid level European teams have stronger academies. But give yourselves a break MLS, they’ve been at it for over a hundred years. There is also nothing wrong with staying and playing in MLS, if that’s best for the player. Klinsmann’s point all along has been that it’s a personal decision and it’s different for every player.

In all honesty, Garber isn’t claiming MLS is superior to those top European leagues, but his actions reek of a jealous insecure boyfriend. As if every potential MLS player was his girlfriend, and the European leagues are the taller better looking guys that flirt with his girlfriend and have something he doesn’t have. Not only more money, but more confidence, and no receding hairline.

So, then Garber tries to overcompensate. These better looking guys flirt and his girlfriend is genuinely interested.   Problem is he doesn’t have the confidence in himself as a “man” (not Garber himself of course, but him in this comparison), so he needs to lash out and try and control the situation.

This is never a good sign. I guess in some ways if your girlfriend is interested in other options, she shouldn’t be your girlfriend.

The USMNT play Columbia in just under an hour at Fulham’s Craven Cottage in London. I desperately want whatever is best for the progression of soccer in the U.S., so personally I hope some young guys get looks from European scouts. And also that the boys put on a good display of American soccer on European soil.

Now, how do I stealth out of the office to a bar and down a couple beers, watch the game, and get back unscathed? And not want a nap in my office later? Hmmm.

My Michter’s and My USMNT

USA vs. Honduras - Friendly

USA vs. Honduras – Friendly – Oct. 14th

It only seems fitting that I start things off with admiration for a 10-year rye whiskey that I enjoyed on my wedding day. The Michter’s 10-year is a beautiful thing.  It’s quite a bit more expensive than a bottle of Bulleit or other average mass-produced whiskeys, but in exchange you gain a considerably more complex, peppery, and oaky taste.  It’s rustic and to the point and I love it.  After spending 10 years in fire charred American white oak barrels you’d expect it to be a level or two above the grocery store whiskeys.

Admittedly, that’s like comparing apples to oranges but it’s a way to gauge it next to a more widely known whiskey. Yes there is a big difference in price, but the point is, it’s worth it. It’s doesn’t have to be one or the other though.  You have Bulleit as a staple in your home bar for mixed drinks or the Tuesday night sip, and then bring out the 10-year for the more special occasion.  This 10-year is probably more accurately compared to Whistle Pig, or Willet, or Rittenhouse, but even then, so much has to do with the vintage.

The Michter’s 10-year wasn’t available for over three years, but the re-release hit the market in April, just in time for my wedding in May. Surprised they knew. This is a very nice whiskey, not because you can’t find better ones (for extremely high prices), but for the fairly manageable price, although not every day drinking price of $110 per bottle, you get an outstandingly smooth Rye. (And no, I am not being paid by Michter’s, nor do I have stock in the company or receive free samples from them)

No need to worry though if $110 sounds out of reach.  The Michter’s US1 Straight Rye ($48) will more than suffice as an every day drinking whiskey. With each bottle from a single barrel, this is a notch above most mass produced whiskeys. It’s more basic than the 10-year of course, but in a way I don’t mind at all. It definitely gives homage to the early days of drinking. I mean the really early days of the 1750’s, which is when the recipe for this straight rye was created. It’s been handed down since and is still implemented, so they say.  If true, that’s pretty amazing.  I know every whiskey company tries to claim the same sort of thing, but Michter’s is a true American small batch whiskey distillery.  They actually process and bottle and distribute all from the same place. They don’t farm out to other distilleries like many supposed small batch whiskeys. Most importantly they produce a decent amount of product so that it’s attainable at many Bevmo’s and high-end liquor stores and isn’t out of the realm of affordability.

Of course there are the rarest of rare rye whiskeys out there, and 25-year-old bourbons I’ve never tasted that are surely amazing. But for the purpose of this post, which is to point out a great rye that’s special to me, I stand by Michter’s and put it up there with the best. They also have a 20-year rye, which isn’t nearly as attainable and will be my next step up in the ladder.

I enjoyed the Michter’s US1 Straight Rye during the United States vs. Honduras game on Tuesday. Beer is usually my beverage of choice during any USMNT game, but when you need to drown your sorrows in the gluttony of substitutions and sporadic 2nd half play that comprise most U.S. friendly matches, this is a good choice. It’s still hot in Los Angeles and I don’t have air conditioning, so I enjoyed it over a big block of ice, but it’s more than good enough to throw back neat.

Drinking and Soccer – A New Chapter

I wanted to be with the regular people. To know how they lived and what drove them to do what they did. That was far more interesting than the countless and monotonous conversations about movies or technology or who got the new iPhone. It was like coming back to a different life. Things had been put into perspective. I felt different, like I didn’t belong anymore. You live in your bubble too long and it will start to seem like the insignificant things are the most important.

I desperately needed to walk into a bar many Americans could barely fit into, throw a couple euros down and have the bartender slide a tiny ice-cold beer across the bar top. I would grab it just as a little overflow drips down the outside of the frosted glass that’s so cold the beer freezes before it makes its way to the bottom. I would sip that frothy top and be in heaven. One last thing to complete this dream would be a soccer game on in the background. Never too prevalent or obtrusive as to get in the way of conversation, unless of course it’s the World Cup or a big European match. In that case T.V.’s are often propped up outside in a public square or an outside bar area.  One thing for sure, food and drink would be a huge component.

To walk in from wherever you are going or whatever you are doing and sit or stand and have a quick beer in the daylight on a Wednesday is something so simple, yet so hard to find in the U.S. Not only hard to find, but discouraged. And I live in a liberal city and work in a liberal industry. The great U.S. is amazing in a million ways, so this isn’t a bashing of Americans, but more so a realization of what’s important, at least to me, and what sometimes we lose sight of. Drinking. That is said with some sarcasm and kidding of course, as there are many more important things than drinking. However, the experience of drink as a means of social normality and life is part of what prompted the creation or re-branding of this blog.

Spending time in Portugal and Spain during this last World Cup was not only an amazing experience, but combined a few of my favorite things in such a beautiful way it was hard to come back to reality. One thing was of course the game, which in itself is beautiful, not only on the field but also in its connection to the culture and people.   Coffee or espresso is in abundance and easy to find wherever you go, and always, at least in my experience, of high quality. Never had a bad espresso. The availability of a quick ice-cold beer was a wondrous thing and I’ve never truly recovered from that accessibility. Add in a little whiskey, or grappa, or variation of the sorts and damn, I’m in a good place.

What makes this all come together though are the people and the environment and the discussion that surrounds all these things.  They are all activities, which for the most part are accessible to the working-class man, the regular person, or the un-rich.  With soccer, and drinking really, comes a reverence to history and an appreciation for the past.   This historic perspective is probably more of a European thing , which makes sense due to its inherent advantage over the U.S. in that department.

This re-branding won’t be just about my personal experiences in other countries, but how these few things I love bring people together. The conversations in bars and restaurants and homes and public squares are so varying and important and interesting, and connected in too many ways not to create a forum dedicated to Coffee, Soccer, Beer, and Whiskey, and of course the people and culture that surround these things.

I’m not an expert in any one of these areas, but I’m quite educated and experienced in all these “disciplines” and simply in love with them, and a writer, so here we go…

Soccer in America and How Dempsey Changes Things

As some of the greatest European clubs in history head home after their pre-season tour of the United States, we are left with a longing for that same excitement and spectacle in Major League Soccer.  Even in pre-season their level of play is high and fast paced and full of dazzling trickery.  Not to mention goals.  Their teams are stocked with millionaires whose fame transcends the soccer world.  The constant close-ups of Cristiano Ronaldo’s tousled blonde-tipped hair give us an idea of his stature in pop culture.  Fans, mostly women, scream at his every touch of the ball.  A celebrity in every sense, even an icon.

MLS can’t match that and they shouldn’t, although they tried with David Beckham. MLS must be given a great deal of credit though.  The league is doing much better and the quality of play is improving.  Although still light years behind the European giants of the game they can compete side-by-side and make for an interesting match.  However, the salary cap issues, wage minimums, and the designated player situation in MLS, unless changed, will always keep the league a level below their European counterparts.  (I wrote a more in-depth and factual column regarding those MLS salary issues on Yanks Abroad.)

For now, the begging question and continual argument among U.S. soccer fans and MLS fans alike is how to improve MLS, while also improving the U.S. National Team and in the process increase the reputation of American soccer players abroad.

Clint Dempsey is one of those players who has elevated the American game and perception abroad.  He spent the last 7 seasons in the English Premier League, but last week made a surprise move back to the mainland  — Seattle to be specific.  Dempsey is arguably the highest regarded American soccer player currently, and definitely the most successful in Europe.  He signed a lucrative contract with the Sounders that coincides with that reputation.

It was a great move for MLS and I can’t see how it will hurt the league in any way, other than tying up a great deal of money for one player. That aside, it gives them star power, an elite player on the international stage (under 35), and the current face of American soccer.  It was a huge signing for MLS but also somewhat shocking.

Dempsey has always professed his desire to compete at the highest level.  He fought for an opportunity to move from Fulham to a club with UEFA Champions League ambitions.  He got that with Tottenham, and was one win away from qualifying last season for the prestigious tournament.  The London based club will surely be in the mix again this season for one of those top four spots.  He was playing in the best league in the world and alongside some of the elite players in the game.

Seattle will line his pockets with a reported salary just north of $5 million per season, not including bonuses.  He will be their star player and automatic pick on the team sheet every game by manager Sigi Schmid. Those are things that Tottenham could not match or guarantee.

His decision makes sense, if not for those reasons, maybe for the bigger picture of moving Major League Soccer one level higher.  If the league is ever among the best in the world his move to Seattle could be one of two monumental moments in MLS history.  When they look back they could say it was David Beckham and Clint Dempsey that pushed MLS from the shadows of the soccer world into the light.  Landon Donovan might also deserve a little credit.

It won’t be that simple, and that might be a disservice to all the low earning career players in the MLS cog that keep it chugging. History often proves that greatness is built on the backs of hard-working common folk, while the famous and powerful take the credit.

The real question is whether Dempsey playing in MLS will hurt or help the progression of soccer in the U.S.? Maybe it will have no real effect.

Or, is it more important for U.S. soccer that the best American players compete at the highest-level possible and on a world stage, wherever that might be? Remember, it’s the world’s game.

Is it better for the progression of basketball in Spain if Pau Gasol plays for the LA Lakers or if he goes back to play in Barcelona?

He would surely make the Spanish league far better but he would be selling himself short.

It’s a complicated tug of war between improving MLS but also making sure American soccer players compete at the highest level and show the world they can play the game.

When teams like Real Madrid and Chelsea and AC Milan come to the United States there is no choice but to compare them to MLS and to the American game.  They are all teams, simply, full of men competing against each other in a game with a ball.  This idea that comparing them is off-limits, as some protest, is an insult to American players and MLS.  If playing against the best is how you get better, then that is what American soccer players should always strive to do.

MLS must improve and it is, and it’s encouraging, but there might be some sacrifice to the game in the U.S. overall if it sets up a precedent of wooing Americans playing abroad to the states with checks full of zeros, especially when much of the league is getting by on sub par wages.

In the end this choice for Dempsey was his own.  No one forced it upon him but it doesn’t mean as dedicated fans of his, and U.S. soccer, and world football in general, we can’t question it. This Dempsey move will surely bring some of that excitement and spectacle to Seattle, if only a small nugget of what we saw from Cristiano Ronaldo.

It’s easy to question his motives, but he has a country to carry on his back in the 2014 World Cup and must ensure he gets adequate playing time in order to do so.  He has a family and must provide for them as best he can.  Who am I to say he should turn down the millions of dollars and an opportunity to end to his career in his home country.

How it will impact MLS and more importantly U.S. soccer is something we’ll have to wait and find out.  But the encouraging part is that transfer moves like Dempsey to Seattle (while in his prime), and European clubs coming to the states more frequently in pre-season, are all signs that the sport is progressing in America.

Scarves in MLS Need to Go Away

The use of scarves is one aspect of European soccer that should be left to the Europeans.  I’m a proponent of adopting as many European ideals as possible, but not in this case.

Scarves just don’t work here, at least not as a sports fan’s accouterment.  If you are in the dead of winter in Chicago and need a scarf, sure, wear one.  But at a Galaxy game in Los Angeles in June?  Nope, doesn’t work.  Please stop.  I understand the European inspiration, but a blue and gold Galaxy scarf wrapped loosely around your v-neck t-shirt doesn’t have the same impact as a sea of Liverpool fans hoisting their scarves above their heads at Anfield while singing in unison the song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.”


Major League Soccer chose to have their season during the summer.  That should automatically disqualify clubs from using scarves as team apparel or memorabilia.

These scarves were originally created for the obvious reason of warmth.  Then the soccer scarf as a way for fans in England to show their team colors from under their heavy winter coats. They are rooted in the history of the game and therefore have meaning.

MLS fans tried this one and it doesn’t work. I thought soccer scarves in the U.S. would only be a fad in the infancy of American fandom while they searched for their identity, but no.  I was reminded of the prevalence of scarves last night at the Galaxy vs. Timbers game.

Without having the history or the cold weather it simply becomes a trend, or something for appearance without any utility.  It makes for a stadium full of weird hipster wannabes.  We should aspire to replicate what they do in England, but first and foremost our fans are in desperate need of some grit and brawn, not chic.

USMNT Finally Free of Criticism

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With rumors of locker room turmoil and player dissent circling the U.S. Men’s National team like a vulture ahead of the World Cup qualifier against Costa Rica last Friday, they desperately needed a game free of criticism.  A game where they were so commanding in victory that any venom from critics and pundits would be squelched, at least for a few days. They got exactly  that.  Not necessarily because of their play, but because the blizzard-like conditions neutralized any disparity between the teams.  It was a game of who could get a shot on a goal and await the snow caused rebound. The USMNT did that part better and even though they had fewer total shots, they finished the one chance they had.  For that they should be praised.

Screen Shot 2013-03-26 at 4.39.42 PMIt was humorous though to watch the post-game analysis. Alexi Lalas offered his usual serving of impassioned rants, but in the end this game was a crap shoot, literally.  It should be a game free of criticism, but should also be a game free of real praise.  The game was played through sheets of falling snow that made players indecipherable.  The pitch was transformed into a soft bed of white snow that would have been better suited for sleeping, snow angels, cross-country skiing, even American football; anything but soccer.  But the game must go on, and so it did, barely.  It is impressive that with help of a tireless grounds crew, they were able to finish the game, but the conditions make it hard to judge it as a game of soccer.

Costa Rica filed a protest with FIFA claiming the game should be replayed because of the weather conditions.  FIFA rejected that notion swiftly.  Apparently Costa Rican captain Bryan Ruiz would have had to make a formal complaint during the game in order for FIFA to consider Costa Rica’s appeal.

In the end the conditions were much better suited for the USMNT, no doubt.  The average temperature for the majority of Costa Rica, excluding the mountain regions, is 74 degrees Fahrenheit.  That’s year around.

Regardless of the outcome on Friday, head coach Jurgen Klinsmann must have realized criticism would be at a minimum.  After the beating he’s taken in the media the last couple weeks it had to be a relief knowing the heat wouldn’t be cranked up too high after this one.  He’ll hope things stay on the cold side tonight in Mexico, but that’s unlikely.

Lalas did say after the game that this showed what the Americans are all about and that they adapted well and fought for the win, even in adverse conditions.

They did get the victory, so that’s a positive.  It counts for 3 points and will hopefully help the team come together in the midst of anonymous sources claiming there is a disconnect between the players and Klinsmann.

Rest assured their criticism-free ride ends tonight.  Maybe they can prolong it bit further with a draw or a win, but either way the vultures are looming.  A win will surely continue their free ride, but a draw in the tough conditions of Azteca Stadium in Mexico would also keep the critics at bay a while longer.

Fight breaks out at MLS game, sort of…

The Supporters’ Shield goes to the team that finishes the MLS season with the most points.  This year that team is the San Jose Earthquakes. They did enough to lay claim to the trophy after matching the L.A. Galaxy’s two goals on Saturday in San Jose.  The draw in combination with Sporting Kansas City’s draw with the New York Red Bulls clinched the Supporters’ Shield for the Quakes, but not without incident.

A fight broke out in the stands during the game which led to the arrests of seven fans.  As the police attempted to ease the fighting they were hit with beer and other thrown objects, including smoke bombs. There were also reports of physical assault on police officers, but it’s unclear to what extent. It all sounds fairly serious and makes it seem as if this game had more meaning to the supporters than it did the players.

The Galaxy know their playoff spot is in the bag, and San Jose are obviously set for the playoffs and know the Supporters’ Shield is basically meaningless hardware. The MLS has attempted to give it more weight in recent years by making it an automatic qualifier for the CONCACAF Champions League.  Of course the CCL is a tournament that yields very few fans and very little money and has MLS teams continually brush it aside in favor of league play.  At least now the Supporters’ Shield adds slightly more clout than a number one seed in the playoffs, but still lacks the incentive teams apparently need to fight for that top spot in the league.

In Saturday’s game the players from both teams must have been rolling their eyes as the fight broke out in the stands shortly after the halftime break.  They were surely thinking, “Really, they are fighting over us? We aren’t even fighting on the field.” Robbie Keane actually thought the game was a friendly.

One contingent of hard-core Galaxy fans reportedly in the midst of Saturday’s violence are conveniently called The Riot Squad.  There was also another fan club allegedly involved that call themselves the Angel City Brigade.  Clearly, they gave far too much credence to their overly extreme names as they cheered, and fought, literally, for a team named after the stars.

Check out the video of the aftermath.  It’s actually quite anticlimactic.  Seriously, the cops were worried about these hipsters?

Wait until the end of the video as a few fans lazily trickle out of the stadium.  My 91-year-old grandfather could have taken down these hooligans. The term hooligans in this case is a sarcastic characterization.

(Sorry, the video would not embed, but come right back after you view it with the link below)

Rowdy L.A. Galaxy Fans Arrested – VIDEO LINK

Is this the state of MLS fans in the U.S.?  No wonder there is an issue with soccer catching on with mainstream sports fans in America.

The Riot Squad, and maybe U.S. soccer fans in general seem to be overcompensating for something.  Not only with the names of their fan clubs, but with extremity of their actions, especially in comparison to their appearance, and the level of action on the field.  Something doesn’t match up here.

It seems as if they have some need to add more drama to the game because they don’t appreciate the game of soccer for what it is, at least what it is in the MLS. They need a chant, or a fight, or bongo drums, or whatever other type of stimulation they can inject into an MLS game to make it interesting.  In some ways, I don’t blame them.