I type with fingers still a-shock after Brexit. A historic vote which, to put it into American terms, feels almost as painful as a 4-0 loss to Argentina. My first fear, of course, was footballing. That UEFA would act quickly to eliminate England from EURO 2016, before Iceland inevitably do (on penalties). That turned out not to be, which means I still have something to live for. Though these past two football-barren days have been very hard on my psyche, and the fact that the nation of my birth chose this exact moment to hurtle back towards city-states, only worsened my predicament.
The United States first: The emotional wounds from Tuesday night’s Copa semi-final destruction will take some time to heal. We may be regional bullies Beyond The Wall in the Star Wars Cantina that is CONCACAF, but if global football is a food chain, we are as far from being apex predators as a Lake Sturgeon is to a Wedge-Tailed Eagle. The question of how to change that should become the number one topic of conversation for all those who love the game in this country.
That debate involves overlapping, complex, often deeply emotional, strategic questions about what a bold, properly resourced, commercially supported youth development plan should look like: How to remove the blind spot when scouting young talent in urban communities that are currently woefully off the radar. How to make the grassroots of the game more working class. How to finance a massive uptick in the quality of coaching at young ages. Our willingness to dispatch our best talent at 16 to play in elite European settings like the Belgians, Icelanders, Ghanaians… pretty well everyone apart from the English.
Another factor that must be recognized is that what worked in the recent, yet nostalgic past for the USMNT was the result of unprecedented footballing circumstance that cannot be recreated. Much of the USMNT’s past success… the effusive, stone-washed denim collective team play that propelled the national team in 1994 and beyond was forged in the fact that the core of that team — Alexi Lalas, Marcelo Balboa, Tony Meola and Co. — did not have professional team contracts. They lived and trained together for over a year at a national team training camp. Many racked up more than 70 international games under Bora Milutinovic without ever having kicked a ball for a club (for more, read this
). Gone (but never forgotten) are the days of Striker, The World Cup Pup.
We have thankfully moved so far from that unique reality. Our current back four ply their trade at Stoke City, Sunderland, Hertha Berlin and Borussia Mönchengladbach. The days when the United States compensated for its lack of technical ability with a formidable collective will and deep understanding born of being drilled on the training ground every day for months no longer exist. American overachievement in those days came because we were essentially a club team lining up against international teams which were by definition loosely assembled All-Star squads with players who were unfamiliar with each other. That reality does not exist any more. A cohesive, coherent, properly financed, transparent new strategy must, and can be found. And judging by your response to the conversation in this week’s pod,
it is one you are more than ready for.
Thank the Old Gods and The New, The Euros returns tomorrow, replete with its oddly imbalanced bracket in which one side looks like the SEC, and the other decidedly Patriot League. Ireland-France, post-Thierry Henry handball, will offer the chance for the world to be reminded, that revenge, like beer, is best served cold. Italy-Spain is the clash of the round. Two continental wet hair-gel-loving giants, one under promising and over-delivering, the other, the defending champions, in danger of doing the opposite, collide. Spain have knocked Italy out of the last two Euros. I believe the result may be different this time round.
Finally, England face Iceland. An England that celebrated Iceland’s 94th minute winner even louder than the Icelandic commentator
as it meant they would avoid facing traditional nemesis Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal. For the record, I believe England will find it harder to beat this hardy, defensive, ball-eschewing Icelandic squad than the vulnerable Portuguese. Similarly, if I was from Lisbon, I would rather have had to play England than Croatia. Though the English tabloids celebrated what they saw as a footballing reprieve, I believe Monday’s game is going to be a bloody house-to-house, hand-to-hand battle.
One final note on Iceland… the Tiny Island’s darling run into the Round of 16 has been one of the storylines of the tournament, especially when you recognize their talent pool is just 100 full-time professionals
deep. Yet there should be no surprise in their success. It has been the result of a 20-year national strategy and investment in both elite coaching and infrastructure that was so bold, thoughtful, and well executed that I went over to Reykjavik to discover what the United States can learn from the micro power's strategic youth development revolution, speaking to Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson, Dentist/National Team Manager Heimir Hallgrímsson, and the man who has become famous as the hysterical Icelandic commentator, Gummi Ben, the nation’s Bob Costas by way of Sam Kinison. You can watch the Vice Sports documentary that resulted HERE
We return to VICE Sports Monday at 5 p.m. ET
, immediately following Iceland’s clash with England. We’ll be joined by Chelsea goalkeeper Asmir Begović, who stopped by the Panic Room yesterday for a Facebook Live [WATCH HERE
] that included a tale of USA defender Matt Miazga singing Justin Bieber
at his Chelsea initiation. If you had the good fortune of missing any of the content we’ve produced for VICE Sports, it is all available HERE
Living the Dream,
On behalf of
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi: @lexitan
PS - Thanks to USMNT midfield enforcer Jermaine Jones for joining us ahead of the Argentina game for a Pod Special [LISTEN HERE
]. And for you Springsteen loving USMNT fans, GFOP singer/songwriter Ben Clark
(You may know him from such hits as “Yesterday’s Game Live at BlazerCon” and “Chat Shit, Get Banged”
) put some Von Trapps-inspired lyrics to Bruce’s “Racing in the Street” [LISTEN HERE
I. Three Questions with Sam Borden
With Euro 2016 in full swing, one byline we search out every morning is The New York Times’ Sam Borden
. A man who traverses France, covering every angle of the tournament, from security concerns to teams’ official Euro 2016 anthems
. Without Sam, we would not know Ukraine’s song of choice is “Riding Cossacks.”
In this edition of Three Questions
we ask Mr. Borden for a temperature check on stadium security, how he generates story ideas, and his prediction for a winner.
How do you decide which games you'll attend at the Euros? We picture you in front of a massive pinup board with a map of France and team flags stuck to each city. Walk us through the process.
The process regarding my schedule is very scientific: I wait for my editor, Andrew Das, to assign me to certain games and then, after I realize how many of them are in Lille, I complain and try to change it. Actually, that's not entirely true; sometimes I send Andy messages before the assignments are finalized complaining about the mere possibility of having to go to Lille again.
Rog says that you are one of the most creative football writers in America. You mix game coverage and player profiles with meditations on the role of the wall during a free kick
and peeling back the curtain on player ratings
. Our personal favorite: a Tunnel expose
. How do you go about identifying the stories and the through lines you will cover? And how do you so often find angles that other writers neglect?
One of the dirty little secrets of my career is that I'm actually not that big a sports fan. I don't have any particular allegiances to any club or players, and I'm generally not someone who spends weekends watching sports on TV. My guess is that being a bit removed like that helps me to see the more eccentric or quirky story ideas some might take for granted and, since I'm certainly not an X's and O's tactics guy, those kinds of stories - about the wall or the ratings or the songs at the Euros - have always appealed to me. In terms of writing them, my guiding principle has always been to pretend like I'm writing for my wife or mother --- two people who hardly follow sports at all. If they would be entertained by what I'm writing, I figure it's a good fit for a wide audience.
Off the pitch, one of the stories of Euro 2016 has been security concerns. You have written extensively about fighting in the streets and flares in the stands. Can you describe the general mood entering matches? Is there a tension hanging over the entire event?
People are definitely tense here. I'm a worrier by nature, so I freak out over silly things all the time -- why is that guy wearing a jacket when it's not raining? -- but I do think the security issue is real. France is, and should be, on alert. In terms of fan violence, the aggression seems to go in spurts. Lots of people are drunk -- I'm on a 10 a.m. train as I write this and half the car is already working on tomorrow's hangover -- but the real nasty stuff seems to be isolated. The thing I don't get is the flares: who gets ready to go to a soccer match, pulls on their jersey, looks in the mirror and says, "Right, something's missing -- oh, I should put a firecracker down my pants and sneak it in!" It just makes no sense to me. Beyond the fact it's against the rules, I have a life rule about never having anything that involves fire or explosives anywhere in that vicinity.
It hasn't all been darkness. There were some amazing scenes of Irish and Swedish fans joining together for a rendition of ABBA's "Dancing Queen."
Can you give us an example of something (in a stadium or on the streets) you've seen and thought, 'Now THIS is what football is about."
One of the things I really dislike about international sports are instances where fans boo or whistle through another team's national anthem. I just think that's one of those special moments for the players -- getting to stand there and represent your country while the anthem plays is a dream for so many -- and to ruin it is just crass. So, for me, one of the coolest moments so far was at England-Wales when the Welsh fans did a terrific ovation for the English after "God Save the Queen" and the English, in kind, really applauded after "Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau," which, by the way, I did have to cut-and-paste right there (however it's also a very underrated anthem with a great tune).
Final prediction. Who wins it.
I've waffled between France and Germany for a while, but I'll stick with the home team, if only for the moment during the parade when Olivier Giroud is handed a glass of Chardonnay and, poignantly, pours some out for Michel Platini.
When this is over and you've traveled we can only imagine how many miles and filed who knows how many stories, where and what will your celebratory meal be.
Normally, I would say that it's likely to be macaroni and cheese, chicken fingers and fries with my two little ones -- a lovely meal that's suitable for all times and ages, it should be said -- but, in one of the greatest culinary letdowns known to man, I will follow up this tournament with an immediate trip to Scotland to cover the British Open at Troon. So, if any readers know where to find the best haggis (dear Lord) near Prestwick, please send me a note.
Be sure to follow Sam on social media for decidedly optimal coverage of Euro 2016: Twitter
*** BEWARE: SPOILER ALERTS FOR GAME OF THRONES FOLLOW IMMEDIATELY BELOW ***
II. MiB Roundtable: Emotional Highpoints of the Season with…
We asked some of the regulars at the Men in Blazers small council to give us their emotional apogees of the season. Not the Copa. Not the Euro. But this epically optimal Game of Thrones season… For the night is dark and full of terrors… and Spoilers Ahead…
Dominic Monaghan, Host of Wild Things with Dominic Monaghan on Travel Channel
My favourite moment of the season up to now was when Lady Sansa shadowed by Brienne of Tarth was able to speak her mind and shame Lord Baelish for leaving her with Ramsey. Her attitude assured him he is on thin ice and Brienne would LOVE to slit him in half!
Becky Sauerbrunn, USWNT and Kansas City FC Captain and Our Hero
Without a doubt the resurrection of my main man, Jon Snow, was the emotional high point of the season. He’s got a lot left to do. There have been other small moments that, although frivolous, kept the epic sweep of the show personal and light-hearted. Tormund Giantsbane checking out Brienne of Tarth made me giggle. Yara Greyjoy commiserating and flirting with Daenerys Targaryen made me appreciative of the fact that several female characters are coming into their own. And, although it’s a bit dark, I loved Sansa’s little smile as she walked away from Ramsay Bolton getting devoured by his own hounds. Punk.
Jared Harris, Lane Pryce
What I've enjoyed most is that each of the storylines have become dominated by the female characters. Which when you consider how appalling their positions were when the series started, is extremely refreshing and a masterful storytelling turn. I fully expect Margaery Tyrell to get the better of the High Sparrow, and through Tommen, Cersei and King's Landing. Sansa rules Winterfell, Daenerys has two armies, a fleet and the only air force on the planet, Ellaria Sand has taken control of Dorne, and Yara Greyjoy looks like she's made the best deal to gain the Iron Islands throne. The battle with The Night King will leave few survivors and the last women standing will ascend to the Iron Throne.
Adam Platt, New York Magazine Restaurant Critic
In a season brimming with so many emotional high points (and also its share of absurd clunkers), this is a near impossible question, especially for died-in-the-wool, unapologetic, eminently manipulatable, not very discerning GOT Loon like myself.
Upon studious reflection, I’d have to say it’s a three way photo finish between 1) Arya’s heart-stopping (and ridiculously improbable) rumpus/pursuit/gut-stabbing through the markets and cobble streets of whatever the hell the name of that city was, culminating in the death of her dead-faced she-who-had-no name psycho nemesis, 2) the EFFFING INSANE actual Battle of the Bastards sequence, ending with Bastard No. 2 getting his face bitten off by one of his own drooling Hell Hounds, and 3) the glorious return of The Hound, himself.
If forced to choose a winner, I’d probably go with emotional high point No. 3 thanks to the joy that roast chicken-loving misanthrope has given me over the years, and the emotional high points he's sure to bring in seasons to come.
*Check out NYMag/Grub Street’s Best of New York Project HERE
, our favorite, Platt’s “The Absolute Best Steak in New York” HERE
Kyle Martino, NBC Sports Hair Piece and Host of Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge
My emotional high point of the season was realizing my life hasn't been that disappointing compared to someone whose sole purpose was to hold a door only to die after doing so.
Rog, Man in Blazer and Iceland Enthusiast
The series was a slow-build that occasionally infuriated, yet became so worth it, once we were exposed to last week’s Battle of the Bastards episode, which was one of the most exhilarating hours of television I’ve ever watched Live, not DVR’d, in the way of the Old Gods. The overhead shot of the cavalry charge will long stay in my memory. This season, it was trumped emotionally for me by three scenes. Two were heart-wrenching deaths
of Andy Carroll's Hodor and Wun Weg Wun Dar Wun (Wilding Gheorghe Mureșan) who both passed as heroes. And by far my favorite: The introduction of Lady Lyanna Mormont, the tiny child leader of House Mormont who pledged her 62 fighters with such a political, cutting savvy, then joined them on the battlefield, I know I am not alone in praying to the Drowned God, that she is given her own spin-off show on Nick Jr.
Producer Lexi, Producer Lexi
I always love Arya, but she’s my favorite this season. Arya’s scenes are never quite as glamourous as a Battle of the Bastards cavalry charge or a CGI angsty Drogon, but nothing gets better than her telling Jaqen H'ghar, “A girl is Arya Stark of Winterfell. And I’m going home.” Honorable mention: when she cuts the candle
(you know you freaked when Needle came back) to create total darkness, before her final showdown against The Waif… and cuts her face off. EMOTIONAL.
III. A Raven About Wings
GFOP Jeffrey Skorup Writes:
I write to you as a man sitting at his cubicle desk, ravaged by hunger, drooling on his keyboard as you sample your predictive wings. For every show, each one of you receives what looks to be a full order of a dozen wings… only one of which is ever eaten during prediction time. Please tell this famished man (and the world) what becomes of those other 11 (per man, 22 in total) wings after the show ends. Are they tossed aside like so much flotsam? Did Lexi just make a single large order at the beginning of the Copa which are piled off camera, and you're eating those fetid wings until they run out? Does Rog down them on the Panic Room couch like Fat Bastard eating drumsticks in bed with Elizabeth Hurley?
Rest easy, Jeffrey. Every last wing that makes its way into the Panic Room (courtesy of our neighbors at Union Bar and Kitchen
) is eaten. Between Rog, Davo, producers JW and Lexi and other Embassy Row staffers, no wing is delivered in vain. What’s not eaten is donated to the very worthy cause of Rog’s seersucker jacket, which now looks more like a seersucker/chicken wing camouflage combination.
This week’s edition of #PatchAtThePark
features a very apropos submission from USA vs. Argentina
, a patch from the NWSL clash between the Portland Thorns and Chicago Red Stars
at Providence Park, and one all the way from Brazil's Série A, Sport Recife vs. Fluminense
at Ilha do Retiro.
But our favorite comes from GFOP, call sign Heed, a naval aviator (for reals), who paid seven dollars to get a patch sewn into the lining of his flight jacket. Listen to Heed’s story HERE
V. We Used to Have An Empire...
And now THIS
VI. "Plumb our Annals”
Our entire pod archive is available HERE
. If you prefer the Cliffs Notes version, check out "Men in Blazers. Unbuttoned: Now That's What I Call Sub-Optimal,” Vol. I (iTunes
, Google Play
) and Vol. II - The Best of 2014 (iTunes
, Google Play
). The albums are the least objectionable of our football "analysis," Ravens and interviews.
You can access all MiB-related content (videos, pods and articles) by visiting www.nbcsports.com/mib
this to your football curious friends. Let's see if we can bring them over to the dark side. The Ian Darke Side.
“We should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.”