West Bromwich Babylon; or, This Must Be The Place

Welcome back to the Mall of American Soccer!  Naturally, we have a couple of Hot Topics. It's not totally unheard of for a player to come out of nowhere, become the shining star of the January camp, and make the World Cup roster.  Except the only guy I can think of who has done this is Frankie Hejduk, and Hejduk here as in most things is sui generis.

Can anyone do the same this year?  Boy, now would sure be a good time for it.  I don't know anybody who's extremely excited about our defense, and Jozy Altidore's club form has, to the surprise of the entire footballing world, died and gone to hell.  But the likely suspects to cover those holes are players we've already seen...unless, like Eric Wynalda, you're a big Chris Klute believer.  Or you want an all-Sounders national team.  I'm not here to pass judgments.

That doesn't mean I'm not passing judgments.  It's just that's not what I'm here for.

But January isn't when you win a spot - it's when you lose it.  This is the culling out period for players who are on the fringe - especially now, when the World Cup is so close that Brazil MIGHT ACTUALLY HAVE TO FINISH BUILDING THEIR STADIUMS.

So, no, it doesn't look good for fan favorites like Wondolowski, Magee, and Donovan.  Those guys have to seize the moment, and realize that Klinsmann is looking for any excuse not to pick them.

....oh, yeah.  I got a sneaking feeling that Klinsmann is going to drop Landon.  In the words of Homer Simpson, "you know, just to shake things up a bit."  The US had one of its most awesomely successful years ever last year (figure we'd do it in an odd-numbered year), and Landon was only tangentially involved.  To say not everyone understood the motivation behind his sabbatical last year is an understatement, and I think Donovan is on thinner ice than a lot of people might suspect.  Is now a good time to say I'm basing this on extremely little?

Speaking of things I'm not qualified to talk about - who wants to hear my take on Nicolas Anelka!

Well, too bad.

It's time we consider the real victim of Anelka's gesture last week - his long-suffering employers, West Bromwich Albion.  West Brom has reacted to the controversy pretty much how you would expect.  Dialing up "Anelka news" at wba.co.uk links to absolutely nothing quenellish.  WBA did make an official statement, a masterpiece of pith:

“Nicolas was asked to explain his goal celebration by Caretaker Head Coach,  Keith Downing, within minutes of the game finishing at West Ham. Nicolas said  that he performed the gesture to dedicate his goal to a friend and vehemently  denied having any intention to cause offence.
“Upon reporting for training this morning, Nicolas was asked by Sporting & Technical Director Richard Garlick to give a full explanation about his  goal celebration, during which he again strongly denied intending to cause  offence.
“The Club fully acknowledges that Nicolas’ goal celebration has caused  offence in some quarters and has asked Nicolas not to perform the gesture again.  Nicolas immediately agreed to adhere to this request.
“The Club is aware that The Football Association is investigating the  matter and has offered its full co-operation. The Club will continue to make its  own enquiries – a process which will remain confidential between the Club and  Nicolas.
“Nicolas is eligible for matches whilst The FA carries out its  investigation. Therefore, Nicolas will remain under consideration for first-team  selection whilst The FA and Club continue their enquiries.”

Allow me to translate:

Oh, for God's sake, we don't need this.  We're trying to get promoted.  It doesn't matter if we're West Beitar Albion - as long as he scores goals, we're not going to worry about him wearing the armband, if you catch our drift.

I mean - and see if you can spot my self-censorship - what is there to falcon "enquire" about?  He did it in front of the whole world, admitted it, and didn't apologize.  An investigative team of Detective Clouseau and Sergeant Schultz couldn't stretch this past brunch. Anelka said he wouldn't do it again, which is good, because otherwise WBA might have to SUPER-investigate.

I'm being harsh on WBA here, because they certainly didn't ask for this.  Their job - their only job - is to provide quality footballing entertainment to their Black Country fans, none of whom go the Hawthornes to expound on Dieudonne, Israel's immigration policy, or Belgian free speech law.  Anelka has 166 other hours in the week to voice his views, and doing so in an Albion uniform isn't fair to anyone.

Assuming people are expecting much out of the club to begin with.  Kaka has been using Milan's time to broadcast (FAR more innocuous) messages after his goals throughout his entire career.  No one thinks of ACM as a Christian evangelist club.  (The Charlotte Eagles should have made an offer for Kaka years ago.)  We've become used to thinking of the ten or fifteen seconds after scoring a goal as a Free Speech Zone.  WBA might have had the right idea - no one was really blaming them, so no one is expecting them to actually take the lead in suspending him.  Heck, probably a lot of people reading about this weren't aware that WBA was where Anelka plays these days.

And what about defenders and goalkeepers?  How come they don't get to air uplifting or noxious political views after a great save or a vicious foul?

And where are the American players getting out in front of hugely controversial topics?  There was former Crew striker Jason Garey's novel, the status of which as a new American classic is still pending.  And then there's Robbie Rogers religious beliefs, which have been expressed to clearly and unambiguously that it would be impossible to write about him without acknowledging them...which has stopped precisely nobody from writing about him without acknowledging them.

I think we need to encourage our players, especially the crazier ones, to cut loose a little.  It will certainly spice up a 2014 which doesn't look to have too much going on in the soccer calendar.  And it will certainly help get MLS some of that media attention it craves.  The league could use a few good Rutles boycotts - people will buy season tickets just to not go.

Speaking of not going someplace:

I'd like to thank Jason Davis and Beau Dure for the kind words on their segment on BigSoccer.  And, considering the topic is BigSoccer's diminishing influence during the period that exactly coincides with when I became a featured blogger, I'd like to thank Jason and Beau even more for not putting two and two together.

If you'd like to see the segment, it's here:


Wait, that's not it.  Here we go:


Wait, that's not it.  Here we go:


Why am I doing this?  This isn't funny.  This was never funny.  The whole Rickrolling thing was stupid, tedious, uncreative and ponderous.  This is the video:


Can you believe I'm doing this on the front page of BigSoccer?  What the hell is wrong with me?  Okay, this time, I swear to God:


I should be shot.  All right, this one, I promise, promise, promise, on the grave of my mom, this is absolutely, positively, the right one:


Okay, maybe it's here:


Here's what I think.

American soccer and the Internet have grown alongside each other.  I'm not sure you can write the story of American soccer in the MLS era without focusing on the Internet - which is hilarious when you consider that MLS teams were anything but early adopters of the worldwide web.

The presence of a tool to allow fans to communicate with each other had incalculable effects.  Had the Internet been around in the 70's, NASL would have survived.  This is probably a poor comparison, but just as the printing press turned isolated heretics into Protestants, the Internet turned American sports heretics into a Movement.  We're behind on burning unbelievers at the stake, but give us time.

Davis and Dure brought up the old NAS email list - I'd also bring up Soccer American Graffiti, a message board sponsored by, and more than a small embarrassment to, Soccer America magazine.  Both of those were limited by their software - it was pretty much one message at a time, which you read one at a time.  Skimming was difficult, topics were organized in a rudimentary fashion, if at all - you get the idea.

This board, and others like it, seems to have answered the need.  I don't have to talk about West Brom if I don't want to, or read any nonsense about it - I can simply skim right past it.

I still don't see why that's not true, as far as the format is concerned.  As the community grows, the interests specialize.  Few, if anyone, will read about every MLS club - just as only diehards really read everything about every Premiership team.  So nobody is read by everybody anymore.

And I have trouble believing that Twitter is an adequate replacement.  It's fine for marketing, and it can be very amusing, but there's only so much you can do 140 characters at a time.  I couldn't make this post if I only had oh, now I see the selling point.

What Twitter and Facebook help with is further culling your potential audience - maybe you don't want to talk to everyone out there.  I think, ironically, that's going back to NAS and SAG days - one message at a time, from and to a limited audience, unfiltered and disorganized.

And, let's face it, there's turnover in the community.  I certainly don't know where everyone on NAS or SAG ended up.  I don't know where people on BigSoccer ten years ago have ended up.  It's not the same as it was, and it won't be the same a year from now.  The fault is not with BigSoccer, but with ourselves.

But what about you, gentle reader?  Is there something I can do to make your BigSoccer experience more pleasant?  I've tended to avoid the forums, because, well, I can be a tad belligerent sometimes...but if you'd like me to dive back in, I certainly could.