Monthly Archives: June 2012

Like Comedy? Like Olympics? Then LOVE Costas’ People

My friend Spike and have started a tumblr called “Costas’ People: A Month of Forgotten Olympic Heroes.” Every weekday from now until the Olympic Games begin on July 27, we’ll be profiling two Olympians from the fictional past. It’s funny, it’s historical, and it will waste 2-5 minutes of your boring or exciting day, depending on how fast your read. Click this here link to check it out:

COSTAS’ PEOPLE: A MONTH OF FORGOTTEN OLYMPIC HEROES

Thanks!

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Kyrie Irving: The Best Kept Secret in the NBA (For a Limited Time Only)

Kyrie Irving was the third ranked overall recruit out of high school in 2010. He then played point guard under coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke University, was chosen #1 overall in the 2011 NBA draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers and proceeded to win the Rookie of the Year award. His personality is both teammate and fan friendly, paving the way for him to be embraced by Cleveland at a time when the city desperately needs a new star. To put it simply, Kyrie Irving’s life is better than yours.

That resume doesn’t exactly scream “under the radar.” So am I crazy? Maybe just presenting a typical pro-Duke view of things? Or even worse, laying out a Skip Bayless type of discussion where I can give generalized personal feelings of Irving while failing to acknowledge the existence of another side to the argument? Let’s take a look.

Yes, Kyrie Irving was the #3 overall recruit in 2010, but his name only started to rise up the charts after his Junior Season in 2009. Just a couple of months later, Irving committed to Duke. Without a lengthy recruiting process, he was freed of the unnecessary attention. The first time I heard discussions on the best middle school basketball players in the country, I almost fainted. Maybe a kid is really good enough to be ranked, but it seems unfair for the media to take away the privacy of the child by labeling him a star athlete before hitting puberty. Austin Rivers dealt with this kind of recruitment, and was well known throughout the country barely into his high school playing career. To be fair, I’m sure some players love all the attention that comes from the recruiting love fest, and more power to them, but I liked the fact that Kyrie committed to Duke just before his high school basketball reputation started to reach a level that could have cause his recruitment to become unhealthy. (I.E. Tony Parker’s “wankfest”)

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The Walk-Ons: Failed Interview with Jim Young

An exciting week in Walk-Ons studios, as ongoing tech issues foil another interview. This time the internet went down at the wrong moment, forcing us to delay a chat with Jim Young of ACCSports.com. Finally we went lo-fi indie and just put him on speaker phone, but he was not pleased with our amateurism and we had to edit it out. What remains is a musical intro to the interview that I’m very proud of, and also our reactions after we hang up. Ben and I do get into chatting, though, and it turned to be a fun episode. Some of the topics we hit:

1:00 – Is there a difference between anarchy and libertarianism?
5:30 – French stereotypes
5:45 – Bachelor weekend! Woooo!
8:28 –  Wild Ben’s weekend
9:00 – Pirlo’s penalty kick: awesome or dick move? Also, eephus pitches? Yay? Nay? Hay?
15:45 – LeBron James!
21:00 – Moralizing in college sports
22:00 – This is our State! And UNC’s reaction, plus how it’s like an Edgar Allen Poe story
28:30 – Jim Young not pleased via text with our internet situation
30:15 – Movie/TV round-up. We talk Sorkin, Kevin Smith, Wes Anderson, N.C. Pro-Am
38:00 – Hey, why not call Jim, put it on speaker, and hold it up to the mic?
38:25 – SINGING MUSICAL INTRO TO JIM YOUNG
39:05 – It didn’t go well with Jim Young, + our reaction
41:00 – Talkin’ bout sports media, do players actually “want” things more than other players?
54:30 – Conclusion – what have we done?

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Hate the Heat, but boo Battier?

The NBA Finals have made me want a professional sport to be like professional wrestling. Not only would I like to see Russell Westbrook fly off the top rope with a drop kick to Lebron James, I really want to see Shane Battier turn face.

In the world of professional wrestling, like the WWE, good guys are faces and bad guys are heels. The Miami Heat are the quintessential heel team. They are the nWo from the 1990’s glory days of WCW, complete with James playing the ultimate turncoat villain, Hollywood Hulk Hogan.

The Oklahoma City Thunder play the face role perfectly (for everyone except half-interested Miami fans, disgruntled Seattle Sonic fans and Shane here at Tobacco Road Blues). OKC is led by the young, hungry and humble Kevin Durant, the high-flying, risk-taking Westbrook, and the lovable bearded guy James Harden.

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Buckle Up: It’s The Russell Westbrook Experience

*Russell Westbrook plays a style 180 degrees from typical NBA players, with an attitude to match. Watching this previous season’s emotionless Duke team, apart from a legendary Duke-UNC game, makes Westbrook’s fiery demeanor stand out even more*

Stars are taught to play at an even keel. Basketball is typically a game of runs, so a player who gets too excited after a quality stretch is generally thought to be in danger of letting his guard down or tiring out as the game goes on. Emotional basketball players are usually glue guys, which means that they get the honor of doing all of the dirty work that no one else on the team enjoys like rebounding and setting screens. Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls and Anderson Varejao of the Cleveland Cavaliers immediately come to mind (maybe their power comes from their hair). In recent Duke memory, Lance Thomas and David McClure were great glue guys.

Stars used to be much more emotional, and it was fantastic. Reggie Miller, Charles Barkley, Kevin Garnett and Gary Payton were the kings, trying to do whatever it took to psych themselves up or get inside an opponent’s head. Now a big shot in a game is followed by an emotionless stare. Garnett is getting close to the end of the road, so is the NBA going to turn into a scene from Office Space? “No, Mr. Duncan, Mr. Ginobili has not seen your stapler.”

Enter Russell Westbrook, the human ball of emotion. Westbrook plays the game like a scorned John Rambo; constantly in attack mode, with an on/off switch that only goes one way. Westbrook starts the game looking angry, and that anger flows for the entire game. Once the horn sounds, he lets his guard down (and wears some interesting postgame outfits that only his mother could love) but until that moment, he is all business. It boggles the mind to consider how tough it must be to maintain a consistent level of anger for an entire basketball game.  When I get angry, it is likely after around a half hour that I can’t even remember what I was angry about in the first place.

Westbrook’s emotion causes some bad individual decisions, but his fire and tenacity fuels Oklahoma City. Media pundits love to negatively talk about him, saying he is not a true point guard and calling for the ball to be in the hands of Kevin Durant more often, but the statistics do not lie. When the ball is in Westbrook’s hands, he makes the correct basketball decision more often than not, and the Thunder are a better team. Adding a pull-up mid-range jumper at the elbow has made him even more lethal this season.

I love watching Westbrook play because his emotion is genuine. He plays every part of the game with a passion that seems real. Many players use fake emotion, play fake defense (flopping) and make fake comments. Westbrook’s best friend Khelcey Barrs died when he was 15 years old, and he wears two rubber bracelets on his wrists each game to commemorate his fallen friend. He has been overlooked his entire life, from high school to college. Some even considered the Thunder drafting him with the 4th pick a reach in the 2008 NBA Draft, but any critique is just adding fuel to his already blazing fire within. His rise has been meteoric if you consider that he barely received a scholarship to UCLA just a few years ago.

Last year’s Duke team would have loved some of Westbrook’s emotion. Losing Nolan Smith and Kyrie Irving as vocal leaders, as well as Kyle Singler as a “lead by example” kind of guy, left the team thin. With only one senior, Miles Plumlee, they needed emotion from all around. Freshman Austin Rivers was the only player on the team who reminded me of Duke guys from year’s past who don’t want to win; they HAVE to win. In the coming years, hopefully Quinn Cook can become that guy, or that one of the Seniors will step up this year. The key is to combine the Senior leadership with the raw emotion of underclassmen.  Coach K provided much of the emotion and vocal leadership last year that needs to be picked up by the players this upcoming season.

Many in the media, as well as fans, love to box players in by saying how they should play their position and how they should act. Russell Westbrook is fun to watch because of his rawness. What you see is what you get. He plays at 100 mph because that is what he needs to do to help his team win. He is emotional during the game because that helps him play better. This again helps the team. Even with the supreme aggressiveness he plays with, he has missed a grand total of zero games in his career. When asked if a big individual game 4 of the NBA finals was a sort of vindication for Westbrook against the criticism of the media despite the loss of the game, he answered the question as it deserved.

“Lemme get this straight. What you guys [media] say doesn’t make me happy or make me sad, it doesn’t do anything. It’s all about my team and us winning the game. I don’t have a personal challenge against you guys. It’s not me against the world, it’s not the world against me. It’s me and my teammates trying to win.”

Russell Westbrook is not an angry young man. He just plays the game like it. And for that, NBA fans should be very thankful, because it’s damn fun to watch.

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The Walk-Ons: Ultimate Failed Podcast

This is the one where we did a great 50-minute interview with Mac McCaughan from Superchunk (and owner of Merge Records), and the whole f*%$ing thing got deleted. Instead, we talked for 20 minutes about the Triangle Media Ryder Cup.

Please subscribe to the podcast in iTunes. Just click “view in iTunes” once you reach that link, and then ‘subscribe for free.’ Voila. If you’re feeling really like a million bucks, you could also rate the podcast and write a positive review.

You can also access our podcast RSS feed. No idea what this is.

If you need to download the file directly, this’ll do it. Time stamps below. Enjoy!

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Triangle Media Ryder Cup Results

The first annual Triangle Media Ryder Cup is in the books, and Team Traditional scored a runaway victory, beating Team Internet 10.5-5.5 with a strong performance in singles. I’ll write more about the day and the money we raised for charity later, but here are the results.

Session 1: Four-Ball

1. Jack Daly and Mark Armstrong, Traditional, def. James Curle and Brian Barbour, Internet, 2 & 1
2. Ben Swain and Shane Ryan, Internet, def. Joe Giglio and Andrew Carter, Traditional, 1-up
3. Matt Purdy and Lauren Brownlow, Internet, def. Hayes Permar and Mike Maniscalco, 1-up
4. Larry Stogner and Penn Holderness, Traditional, def. Austin Johnson and Will Brinson, Internet, 2 & 1

Score after session: Internet 2, Traditional 2

Session 2: Foursomes

1. Joe Giglio and Jack Daly, Traditional, def. Matt Purdy and Austin Johnson, Internet, 4 & 2
2. Shane Ryan and James Curle, Internet, vs. Larry Stogner and Mike Maniscalco, Traditional, Halved
3. Ben Swain and Will Brinson, Internet, def. Hayes Permar and Penn Holderness, Traditional, 1-up
4. Mark Armstrong and Andrew Carter, Traditonal, def. Brian Barbour and Lauren Brownlow, Internet, 2 & 1

Score after session: Traditional 4.5, Internet 3.5

Session 3: Singles

1. Larry Stogner, Traditional, def. Ben Swain, Internet, 3 & 2
2. Matt Purdy, Internet, def. Joe Giglio, Traditional, 1-up
3. Andrew Carter, Traditional, def. Shane Ryan, Internet, 1-up
4. Will Brinson, Internet, def. Penn Holderness, Traditional, 2 & 1
5. Hayes Permar, Traditional, def. Lauren Brownlow, Internet, 4 & 3
6. Jack Daly, Traditional, def. James Curle, Internet, 5 & 3
7. Mark Armstrong, Traditional, def. Brian Barbour, Internet, 2-up
8. Mike Maniscalco, Traditional, def. Austin Johnson, Internet, 4 & 3

Score after session: Traditional 10.5, Internet 5.5

Point Leaders

Traditional

Jack Daly – 3
Mark Armstrong – 3
Larry Stogner – 2.5
Andrew Carter – 2

Internet

Ben Swain – 2
Will Brinson – 2
Matt Purdy – 2

The Sundered Wedge Award (MVP) – Jack Daly, Traditional

Good Job, Good Effort Award – Shane Ryan, Internet

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The Walk-Ons: Meet Team Internet!

Today’s episode is a complete humdinger. Ben is out of town, so I took it upon myself to interview all seven members of Team Internet competing this weekend in the Triangle Media Ryder Cup. For more information on that, see the linked post. What I think is really cool about this episode is that it shows how seven different people are hacking it in the (insecure) world of online sports journalism. How did they start? What was their big, lucky break? What motivates them, and where are they going from here? It’s a neat, small oral history of a world that just didn’t exist 15 years ago.

Also, I finish each interview by asking them questions James Lipton uses at the end of “Inside the Actor’s Studio.” Things like, ‘what’s your favorite word?’ and ‘If heaven exists, what would you like God to say to you when you enter the Pearly Gates?’

Definitely one of my sneaky-favorite Walk-Ons posts. And we even got in touch with Ben from Florida!

In this episode more than others, you might want to use the time stamps below to navigate from interview to interview, and consume a few at a time. It starts with me all by lonesome, telling you about a great Durham charity we’re trying to raise money for. Hear me out (or don’t), and then it gets good.

 

Time Stamps:

0:00 – Intro, information about the Cup and Communities in Schools of Durham
7:58 – Austin Johnson – Pack Pride
15:21 –  James Curle – Riddick and Reynolds
25:40 –  Matt Purdy – Captain’s Pick
35:14 –  Lauren Brownlow – SanfordHerald.com, FoxSports.com, TarHeelBlue.com
47:09 –  Brian Barbour – Tar Heel Blog
62:57 – Ben Swain – Oxford Public-Ledger Online, ACCSports.com
75:27 – Will Brinson – CBS Sports ‘Eye on NFL’ blog

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Triangle Media Ryder Cup – Charity Donations

Hey guys. I feel like I never get to talk to you on this website anymore, and of that I am truly sorry. I’m taking steps to fix it in the coming days and weeks.

In the meantime, I’m afraid that I have to do the worst thing one human being can ever do to another:

I’m asking you for money.

Hey wait! Don’t stop reading.

This money happens to be for an incredibly good cause. Before I get to that, there are probably some of you who don’t know about the Triangle Media Ryder Cup. The basics: It’s a golf tournament between traditional media types (newspaper, radio, television) and internet types (me and my ilk). For more information, check out these links:

The Triangle Media Ryder Cup – format, location, etc.

Rosters and Charity Information

The latest news is that Knight’s Play, the course we’ll be playing at in Apex, North Carolina, has agreed to sponsor us by waiving the charge for our rounds. A truly class move from a great local course.

Now that you’re caught up, I’d like ask that you help us support Communities in Schools of Durham, our chosen charity. You’ll find guided donation instructions below, along with our current total, but I’d like to spend a couple short paragraphs telling you about the organization.

CIS-Durham’s goal, in their words, is “to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life.” I highly recommend visiting their website to learn about the specific strategies, such as summer reading programs, dropout prevention programs, parent counseling, and full-time staff in schools dedicated to the sole purpose of increasing the graduation rate.

This is a tremendously worthy cause, and one I’ve personally vetted. All my research, and everyone I’ve spoken with, confirms that what they’re doing is integral to under-served students in Durham. As journalists and as people, anything we can do to improve the quality of education in American cities has benefits that reach beyond the students we help. When kids drop out of high school, which happens 400 times per year in Durham, they’re more likely to go on welfare, commit crime, and end up in gangs and prison. That hurts us all- it hurts us financially and in more indirect ways.

In education’s case, a high tide really does raise all ships. We’re hoping to raise $1,000 to support them through the Triangle Media Ryder Cup. $500 of that total will come from the 16 golfers heading out to Apex on Saturday, June 16.

This is where you come in. Our goal is to raise the other $500 from the general public. If you’ve ever enjoyed the free writing of anyone on Team Internet, or consumed your news from the folks on Team Traditional, we’d ask you to help out. Even if you don’t know who we are, but would like to aid the educational process in Durham, we’d deeply appreciate the help. A donation as low as $10 gets us closer to the goal.

Tracie Miller, the Development Director at CIS-Durham, has generously agreed to keep track of donations that come through the Triangle Media Ryder Cup. That way, we can calculate our total at the end. Here’s how to donate, and please pay special attention to step 6.

1. Go to CIS-Durham’s online donation site.

2. Put the total of your donation in the box at the top, and click update. Do this first, before you go any further.

3. To pay through Paypal, just log in to your Paypal account on that same page. Skip to step 6, but please do read step 6.

4. If you don’t have Paypal, simply click on the left side of the page where it says, “Don’t have a PayPal account?  Use your credit card or bank account (where available). Continue.”

5. Enter your secure information.

6. THIS IS IMPORTANT. On the payment page, before you click “donate” at the bottom, click the small link up top that says “Add special instructions to the seller.” In that box, type “Triangle Media Ryder Cup.” That’s how they’ll know it’s from us, and how we can keep a running total.

7. Click donate, and voila, you’re done. I just went through the process and donated $10, which makes me a $50 donor once I pay the entry fee. It took me 1.5 minutes, and some of that was used to try find my wallet (couch cushion).

I can’t thank you enough for reading this, and if you donate, let me know here or on twitter so I can thank you personally. We’ll also keep an updated tally as we hopefully approach our goal.

Total Donations to Date: $510

Next Wednesday, Mark Armstrong (WTVD) and I will announce the pairings for the first round. Stay tuned!

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The Democratic Allure of the U.S. Open Cup

“If you’ve come here to sit on your hands, you are in the wrong section,” said the man in orange from the bottom row. A pair of kids to either side of him pounded their drums to emphasize the point. “If you’ve come to be quiet, you are in the wrong section. And if you’re wearing a Chivas USA jersey, you are most definitely in the wrong section.

The drummers went wild, and so, to some extent, did the rest of the 309 Depot. We were the official fan section of the Carolina RailHawks, even though some of us were not even unofficial fans. This was my first visit, and I had to ransack my dressers for anything orange. I settled on an old high school basketball warm-up jersey and an orange casquette I bought on a whim last year because I thought it would be funny and that I might start biking regularly. (Note: It wasn’t, and I haven’t.)

The ‘Hawks currently stand at second-to-last in the North American Soccer League, with a record of one win, five draws and four losses. They’ve conceded 20 goals to 13 scored, and have won just a single league match at home. You’d have to love soccer quite deeply to attend their home matches at WakeMed Park in Cary, N.C., with any regularity, but those who do watched them win the inaugural NASL regular-season title last year. Still, it’s essentially a splinter league, and the Carolina franchise doesn’t have much in the way of history or hardware.

But this wasn’t a league match. This was the 99th Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup, round of 16, and the ‘Hawks were taking on California-based Chivas from the mighty MLS. This was the real deal, a chance to take down the bigwigs, and the buzzing atmosphere around the park spoke to the significance. Most of the 7,000 seats were full by game time, wondering if the ‘Hawks could repeat last week’s upset, when they beat the defending MLS champion L.A. Galaxy 2-1. And all this, the fanfare and the passion, could only really happen in the populist format of a Cup competition.

For the first time in my life, I found myself singing at a sporting event. (We love them, we love them, we love them, and where they go we’ll follow, we’ll follow, we’ll follow, we support the RailHawks, the RailHawks, the RailHawks, and that’s the way we like it, we like it, we like it.) I’ve always wanted to do that, and even though this wasn’t exactly a Premier League derby — hell, it wasn’t even an MLS derby — the vibe in the 309 Depot, 100 fans deep, was pretty fine. My three friends and I drank the semi-cold High Life we’d smuggled in, and the match kicked off.


The Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup has been around in some incarnation since 1914, when it was called the National Challenge Cup. From the beginning, it was open to any team affiliated with the U.S. Football Association (now the U.S. Soccer Federation). That year, the Brooklyn Field Club beat Brooklyn Celtic 2-1 before a crowd of 10,000 in Rhode Island, starting a long tradition of New York dominance.

The Cup was organized partly so the newly-formed USFA could plant a flag as the pre-eminent soccer organization in America. For its first ten years, the Challenge Cup competed with the American Cup, run by the American Football Association. The USFA won, and despite some internecine conflicts over the next 80+ years, the Cup has remained the major open competition in America. They even managed to hold the tournament during the World War II years, a rare feat in U.S. sports.

As professional soccer in America failed in the postwar era, the Cup came to be dominated by amateur teams. The list of champions from that time includes Maccabi Los Angeles, who won five championships in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and Greek American Atlas Astoria, an amateur side that won three in a row from ’67 to ’69. Go back in time, and you find prominent professional squads like Bethlehem Steel and Fall River Marskmen, pre-war sides from the old American Soccer League.

In 1995, the format of the Cup changed drastically with the addition of professional teams. The USSF laid down an ultimatum- participate in the Cup, or lose sanctioning. MLS teams participated for the first time in 1996, and have won all but one championship since. The era of the amateur winner is, for the moment, over.

*

Chivas controlled the run of play, as you’d expect, and capitalized with a Juan Agudelo goal in the 32nd minute. Agudelo, born in Colombia, is now a U.S. citizen and a member of the national team since 2010. His header silenced the ‘Hawks crowd, but only momentarily. When you know you’ll need a miracle to win, a 1-0 deficit doesn’t provoke anxiety; it’s still a long way from miracle-proof.

As halftime approached, it grew dark and cooled down. It was a beautiful Carolina night, still a few weeks from the merciless summer. How beautiful? Of my three friends, two were from the south, and they started complaining about the cold. For me, that’s an indication that it’s just starting to become tolerable, perhaps even balmy. My other pal is from Colorado, and I’m from the mountains of upstate New York, so we made fun of them as much as possible.

There was a lot of negativity about the RailHawks’ scoring chances, so I tried to buoy everyone’s spirits by guaranteeing a goal. It felt right.


The game was held in Cary because of a gutsy rule change enacted by the USSF this year. Previously, teams would submit a sealed bid to host the matches, and the team with more money (inevitably the MLS club) would win the rights. Unlike some European cup competitions, the U.S. Open is single elimination, one-and-done. The bidding system was a good way to fund the Cup and keep the tradition alive, but it also made it very difficult for smaller teams to advance. Bids are still in place for the semifinals and finals, but all previous rounds are random draws.

That doesn’t mean the wheeling and dealing is over. Teams can still buy the home match back form the club that wins the drawing, and we’ve seen a bit of that this year. The Seattle Sounders, three-time defending Cup champions, bought home rights back to their third-round match from the Atlanta Silverbacks of the NASL, and proceeded to beat them 5-1. To Carolina’s credit, both the Galaxy and Chivas USA attempted to buy a home match, but RailHawks management declined.

The format of the Cup changed this year, too. For the first time, it became a 64-team field. In the first round, 32 teams from the amateur divisions play off for the right to face 16 teams from Division II (NASL) and III (USL Pro). (This original 32 included Stanislaus United Turlock Express, a club champion from California who earned their way into the tournament before losing to the Fresno Fuego 2-0.)

The 16 MLS teams enter in the third round, each playing the amateur or lower professional team that advanced in their part of the bracket. Last Tuesday and Wednesday, eight of those 16 teams lost in upsets. The most dramatic came when the Harrisburg City Islanders from Pennsylvania erased a 3-0 deficit after on OT period against the New England Revolution, and went on to win in penalties. Last night, the Islanders continued their run when they beat MLS’ New York Red Bulls 3-1 in overtime, advancing to face the Philadelphia Union in an all-Pennsylvania quarterfinal.

The MLS losses are embarrassing for the league, but they also indicate the relative importance of the Cup. Some teams, like the Sounders and the Chicago Fire, take it very seriously, offering huge sums to host games and trotting out their best squad at every opportunity. Others, like the Galaxy, withhold some of their best players when forced to travel and don’t see a loss as a huge tragedy.


The RailHawks began threatening in the second half when Chivas made the questionable decision to hang back and defend the one-goal lead. It was apparent almost from the beginning that this was the wrong call, but they stuck to their guns. While I kept telling my friends that there was some magic in the air, the ‘Hawks drew woodwork on a header. They attacked and attacked, and finally, in the 79th minute, a reserve forward named Mike Palacio slotted a loose ball in with his left foot. The park erupted, because despite our good faith, none of us really expected a goal. But it was tied 1-1, and as the 90th minute came around, goalkeeper Ray Burse made two spectacular saves as Chivas turned up the heat.


Even with the advent of the professional era, there are always fantastic stories to be found in the Cup. This is soccer, it’s a sport prone to surprising and fluky outcomes, and amateur or lower level professional teams have a better chance to advance. The case studies here are the 1999 Rochester Rhinos, who beat four MLS teams to become the only minor league champion since the MLS era began in ’96. It’s true in European soccer as well; it’s easy to predict which teams will win the league over the course of a long season, but Cup competitions produce surprising results, as when third-division Quevilly made the finals of the French Cup for the first time 105 years before losing 1-0 to Lyon.

This year, three USL Pro teams, considered Division III in Cup terminology, made the quarterfinals last night. But the wildest story of all, and a perfect example of what makes Cup competition so exciting, is Cal FC. Former national team star Eric Wynalda formed an amateur team four months ago for the purpose of competing in the Cup, composed of MLS cast-offs and players who were considered ill-suited for MLS play due to attitude problems.

Wynalda has been a vocal critic of the American soccer establishment, and as Jason Davis put it in a great article last week, Cal FC was his “carefully crafted eff you” to powers-that-be. Cal FC practiced once a week, qualified regionally through the Adult Soccer Association, beat the Kitsap Pumas in the first round, and blew out the USL’s Wilmington Hammerheads in round two. That set up a match with the Portland Timbers, noteworthy for the fact that Wynalda had publicly questioned the tactics of owner Merritt Paulson, who fired back by calling him a “trainwreck” on twitter. Somehow, hilariously, despite great fatigue and a dearth of scoring chances (they were outshot 37-8), Wynalda’s club upset the Timbers 1-0 in a result that couldn’t have been more embarrassing for one of the MLS’ most passionate fan bases.

The Cinderella story finally came to an end last night against the Sounders, in an emphatic 5-0 loss, but the brash Wynalda had made his point. And it was a point that could only be made in the loose chaos of a Cup competition.


In the 92nd minute, RailHawk defender Gale Agbossoumonde tried to slide tackle Chivas’ star forward Juan Pablo Angel. As he slid by, the ball went off his arm, and the referee pointed to the spot.

Of course he did. That’s pure soccer, a sport that tends toward soap operatic theatricality and, sometimes, absurdity. It seems designed to build tension, and delivers injustice and frustration 10 times for every Donovan-against-Algeria moment of pure euphoria. That’s the addiction.

Burse could only watch as the penalty kick went in, and though the High Life had emboldened me enough to insist that this was part of the narrative- that the ‘Hawks were going to equalize in dramatic fashion- this particular fairy tale was over.

Someday, Carolina’s soccer-mad Triangle region might have an MLS franchise. Until then, it only has the RailHawks, a team with middling support in an afterthought league. The passionate few in the 309 Depot will continue to operate on a level approaching fanaticism, but for the rest of us, things only get interesting when the Cup rolls around. The idea of a second-tier club having a chance to face the big guys is pure democracy, and that’s rare enough amid the rampant classism of professional sports.

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