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HAIL! GFOP

As if Premier League withdrawal was not excruciating enough. Brace yourself, People. This weekend we have to cherish those ethereal, cherubic, earworm melodies of the Champions League anthem for the last time this season as Defending Champions Real Madrid put their fake tans on the line against the hair gel stylings of mightily potent Juventus [Saturday, 2:45 p.m. ET on FOX].
 
Before you descend into sadness, this should bring cheer: the final promises to be a game for the ages. A matchup between two teams that are not just star-studded, but true tactically cohesive ideas.
 
There is a surplus of story lines as the two teams charge into Cardiff for the final. Most obvious to the eye, upfront, where each team is making a different physical bet. Real favoring the 8-pack taut tone of Ronaldo. Juventus believing in the ample curves of Dad-bod Gonzalo Higuaín's soft, sweet belly.
 
No team has won the back-to-back European titles in the Champions League-era, but Real Madrid will attempt to do just that, returning to the final for a remarkable Cleveland Cavaliers-esque third time in four years with the most complete, stable and tactically astute squad they have assembled yet. Look for that ample-buttocked magician Isco to start over recovering from injury (and quite possibly surplus to requirements') hometown hero Gareth Bale.
 
Juventus arrive having claimed their sixth straight Serie A title. Their backline, led by the 87-year-old anthem-bellowing Gianluigi Buffon is the footballing equivalent of Storm's End, capable of shutting Barcelona out over 180 minutes. Yet this is a Juventus team that is quite capable of hurting their opponents too. A trait propelled by the desire of two La Liga rejects, Dani Alves and Sami Khedira, along with with much-coveted angelic creator Pablo Dybala. The Italians have an extra motivation: a longing to heal the open wound of four successive losses in the finals. Expect a tight, intense, polished game which may well go to penalties.
 
2. The U.S. Men’s National Team will also delight us this weekend, facing Venezuela in a friendly tune-up [Saturday, 10 p.m. ET on FS1] ahead of fast-coming Hex action against T&T [Thursday, June 8, 8 p.m. ET on FS1] and then the descent into Estadio Azteca, that steep-banked stronghold perched 7,200 feet above sea level, built out of 100 tons of concrete laid on top of volcanic rock with the heat, altitude, smog, and noise presenting as brutal a challenge as the actual Mexican National Football Team [Sunday, June 11, 8:30 p.m. ET on FS1]. With Jermaine Jones out with injury, there is a midfield place to be won, with Darlington Nagbe chief amongst those who could grab it. Up top, look for “Camo-Blazer of Glory” owner Clint Dempsey to chase down Landon Donovan’s All-Time scoring record.
 
3. Venezuela also present the opposition for the U.S. in the Under-20 World Cup quarterfinal after America overcame a depleted back line to obliterate New Zealand 6-0. The game in Jeonju, South Korea kicks off Sunday at 2 a.m. ET [Currently FS2, but may shift to FS1] and it is well worth waking/staying up for. This U-20 team is a delight on the eye. In the same way as the U.S. used to have a production line of able bald goalkeepers, our nation now appears to have a pipeline of Ginger Wonders like Josh Glad and 17-year-old St. Louis goalscoring wonder Josh Sargent. To Tab Ramos and his entire squad, we wish you Godspeed and Courage.
 
4. Staying with international football, it was an honor to host Mexico National Team manager Juan Carlos Osorio in the Panic Room for a Pod Special [LISTEN HERE]. His is a phenomenal story of a late blooming career. Aged 37, he was languishing as a conditioning coach at the now-defunct Staten Island Vipers of the A League. Watching Liverpool train whilst a student in the city changed his life, and sent him on a dizzying managerial trajectory that has ended with him on the hot seat in one of the most challenging and politically fraught jobs in world football. Osorio talked candidly about how he approaches the challenge, and the suffering he experienced after his only loss as head of El Tri, that 7-0 Copa beatdown against Chile. His philosophy applies to life, not just to football.
 
5. Recommended summer reading: David Conn, the outstanding Guardian journalist, has a history of FIFA’s descent into lawlessness, "The Fall of the House of FIFA: The Multimillion-Dollar Corruption at the Heart of Global Soccer." Conn is such a good writer. His last book, "Richer Than God," a quite brilliant re-telling of Manchester City’s economic transformation, is a must read for any Premier League fan. I am halfway through his latest and would encourage you to read it for the Chuck Blazer chapter alone.
 
6. Another pod we released recently: One of my favorite Netflix series of the year is FAUDA. Co-creator and star, bald power’s Lior Raz dropped in to discuss his creation [LISTEN HERE]. One television question. Why isn’t EVERYONE talking about Gomorrah (on Sundance Channel.) The most consistently emotionally-taut show I have watched this year. Is anyone else watching it?
 
7. We are off to Los Angeles at the end of next week for a moment, then headed to England to shoot some SubOptimal golf magic at Birkdale ahead of the Open. Warning to all those in both areas. Before we go, we recently had Future Island’s Samuel T. Herring come in to tape a pod about his love of Everton. Here’s his duet with Blondie’s Debbie Harry, "Shadows." It is a slice of Magic. Look for the Pod in the next two weeks. 

8. As you’ve likely noticed, this issue of the Raven has a slightly different look. No less SubOptimal, but different. We’d love GFOP feedback about the newsletter, both its content and its layout. Things you like, things you don't. Send us an EMAIL.

To Seersucker (Finally), 
Rog

On behalf of: 
MiB @meninblazers
Davo @embassydavies 
Producer JW @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi @lexitan
Producer Evan @Not_MattEvans
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I. The Magic of the U.S. Open Cup, Baltimore-Style

This year’s U.S. Open Cup Cinderella Story comes straight out of Charm City. Christos FC play in the MMSL (Maryland Major Soccer League), an amateur Sunday league. Their players have jobs. They don’t practice. And they’re sponsored by a family-owned discount liquor store.
 
Having already claimed one big scalp in this year’s U.S. Open Cup (the second-tier USL Richmond Kickers), Christos marched on fourth-tier PDL side Chicago FC United Wednesday and defeated them 1 - 0 thanks to a first minute goal from Levi Houapeu, 27, a former University of Maryland Baltimore County player who was drafted by the Philadelphia Union in 2011 and now works as an accountant. 
 
That victory left Christos as the lone amateur side left in the competition, a title that comes along with $15,000 in prize money. It also sets up a fourth-round DMV Derby with none other than DC United, scheduled for June 13 at the Maryland SoccerPlex (where DCU plays its Open Cup games).
 
In this issue of the Raven, we speak with Shawn Smith, who, along with about a dozen other players, founded Christos FC in 1997. Smith, 46, is the owner of a small medical equipment company. As a player, he has graduated to the club’s over-30 and over-40 ranks, but still serves as what might be described as Christos director of football operations, if the club had a front office, or any kind of office. We caught up with him via Skype to discuss the team's makeup, how he’s experienced this magic Open Cup run, and what it will feel like to see his Sunday league side do battle with DC United.
 
 
MiB: Talk to us about what kind of players make up the Christos roster?
 
Shawn: There’s a handful of guys who were drafted into the MLS right out of college, but generally speaking, they are former division one to division three college soccer players. Most of them are around 25 years old, which is actually young for an amateur team. They all have day jobs. We have a plumber, a mortgage loan officer, youth coaches and a start up CEO. 
 
We do tend to like guys that are hard-nosed and hard working. If you watch our back line play, they are bangers. They haven’t given up a goal during this Open Cup run. Our goalie Phil Saunders is phenomenal. He just got a job as a head coach at a local community college, but I don’t know why he’s not playing professionally somewhere.
 
MiB: Talk about your training schedule.
 
Shawn: There’s no day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month training. If we do get together, it’s a kick around. Life schedules make training difficult. We are a Sunday pub team and there’s no getting around it. It just so happens that this group is exceptional.
 
MiB: As a founder of the club, how special is this experience for you?
 
Shawn: We all care deeply. I went to Richmond for the second-round game. During the game, the 10 of us who went down looked at each other and thought, “We’re right in this. We’re not out of our league here.” And the goal we scored was legit. WATCH HERE. When the final whistle blew, we were ecstatic. It was hugs all around. Our phones blew up with people who knew how much it means to us calling.
 
I also flew to Chicago for the third-round game, and it was the same thing. That Chicago team was pretty good, but our boys did not break. From a pride standpoint, it’s hard to put into words. Our slogan is “CTID,” Christos Till I Die,” and that could not be more on display than right now.  
 
MiB: You started this team 20 years ago. When you think about Christos FC taking on DC United, what do you dream is possible?
 
Shawn: There’s a rivalry between Baltimore and DC. DC has had an MLS team and Baltimore can’t get a sniff. The magnitude of this match has really escalated because it’s DC United.
 
When I watch our boys walk onto that field, goosebumps will set in. And to see the support these young guys will get from their families. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters who will get to watch them play against DC United. That will show the pride we have in our club, regardless of its stature.
 
As for the game itself, we’re playing with house money. If you’re 28 years old, you played division three soccer, and you’ve been playing in the Maryland Major Soccer League, you have nothing to lose. These guys are ready to go.



Rog and Davo randomly with Shawn Smith at FedEx Field for Barcelona vs. Chelsea in July 2015. We were on the Christos bandwagon early. 
 
 
II. Producer Lexi’s Top Takeaways from Wembley
 

People don’t wooo at Wembley (strictly clapping or cursing, so people hated me from the beginning :) ), the meat pies are exclusively steak or chicken curry (chicken curry or nothing), and everyone sitting in front of me was bald (so I felt at home… awww).



PS. Wenger In


III. JW’s Day at RFK Stadium

I’ve watched more football at Washington, DC’s RFK Stadium than anywhere else in the world. Going to high school in Virginia, I regularly made the pilgrimage to Southeast DC for DC United, the USMNT and the 1996 Olympic Games. RFK holds a special spot in my heart. It doesn’t look like much, but it has inner-beauty.
 
So last week, when Rog presented me with the chance to play on the stadium’s hallowed turf in the U.S. Soccer Foundation's Capital Soccer Classic, I jumped at it. The annual game pits Republican and Democratic members of Congress against one another, with soccer legends, sponsors and, this year, one suboptimal producer sprinkled in to round out the teams.  
 
I’d like to think my game combines David Silva’s height (lacking), Eden Hazard’s lower half (ample), and Peter Crouch’s first touch (second touch is always a 50-50 ball), so I was thrilled to see myself placed alongside Heather Mitts and Ben Olsen on the Dems squad. Having two American legends do the heavy lifting would alleviate some of the pressure of playing against a Republican team that included Cobi Jones, Lori Lindsey and… THE Rob Stone.
 
My team’s coach/organizer was apparently not too taken with my warm-up routine, which consisted solely of keepie uppies. I started on the bench. But roughly 10 minutes into the match, I got the call (Not me, specifically. Our side had about 20 people, so our substitution strategy was changing the entire team at once.)
 
With the ball out for a throw in, I trod onto what I must say was an immaculate playing surface at RFK and took my spot at right back/right center back. The game wasn’t much for tactics or “positions,” but I like to think I was in the Dave Azpilicueta role.
 
I wanted to get a touch immediately to settle the nerves. And after a minute of jogging around aimlessly, I got my chance. The ball broke to me out on the right. Under virtually no pressure from the opposition, I took timid, but not terrible, first touch and looked up to assess my options. Lord knows I wasn’t going long ball right away, so I gave a quick look to my left, hoping for a simple option. And there it was, in USA Legend form. A player with 90 USMNT caps. An early American Premier League trailblazer. And a gent to whom, as a 12-year-old, I wrote a letter requesting a signed photo while he was at Derby County. The one and only, John Harkes.
 
I did a double take, played it square, and tried to contain my excitement at completing a 10-yard pass to one of my childhood heroes. To do it in the stadium of my boyhood club was a surreal feeling, even during a charity game. No matter what happened after that, it was going to be a great night, regardless of what the post-game Opta facts said about my performance.
 
 
Thanks to U.S. Soccer Foundation for the opportunity, and for all they do to bring football to underserved communities in this country. To the still lightning quick Cobi Jones for staying on the left side of the field, so I wouldn’t have to mark him. And to the amazing, amazing GFOPs (including my dad, who snapped the above pic), who came out in the rain to watch. #Grateful
 

IV. The People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame, Pele Edition

Your amazing artifacts continue to pour into the CPOS for The People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame. This week, our featured submission comes from GFOP Christopher May. He purchased this New York Cosmos hat Oct. 1, 1977, as Pele closed out his career in front of a sold out Giants Stadium crowd that included Bobby Moore and Muhammad Ali.
 
 
Please keep sending the American soccer flotsam and jetsam that is gathering dust in your finished basements and attics with a note telling us about its meaning to you to. We are sending patches to everyone who contributes to this very special project. Please post everything to:
 
Embassy Row Studios
Care of Men in Blazers
325 Hudson Street 7th Floor
New York, NY 10013
 
 
V. #PatchAtThePark

This week’s edition of #PatchAtThePark comes from GFOP Casey Copp, who caught our eye when he posted the below photo from Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires, where he watched River Plate vs. Rosario Central. A photo like this deserves a real patch, so we asked Casey to email us. We loved the story behind his photo so much, we’ve included it below. Courage, Casey.
 


Casey Writes: I'm currently on a three-month study abroad through my school, Michigan State University. MSU provided me a choice between two programs: Madrid or Buenos Aires. I chose Buenos Aires solely because their football fans are the most fanatical in the world.
 
Eduardo Galeano once wrote: "Have you ever entered an empty stadium? Try it. Stand in the middle of the field and listen. There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. There is nothing less mute than stands bereft of spectators."
 
My friends and I were in the Estadio Monumental as soon as the gates opened two hours prior to kickoff. I've always believed in the Force, but this experience only reaffirmed my beliefs as I closed my eyes and saw the 1978 World Cup Final played before me. I heard the endless cheers of all the Copa Libertadores lifted by River Plate captains in the past. The game itself was horrible, a 0-0 draw with countless unforced errors, stray passes, and ridiculous attempts at goals. And yet, the experience was an extraordinary one because of the 90 minutes of singing that 62,000 Millonarios around provided.
 
I. The Magic of the U.S. Open Cup, Baltimore-Style

This year’s U.S. Open Cup Cinderella Story comes straight out of Charm City. Christos FC play in the MMSL (Maryland Major Soccer League), an amateur Sunday league. Their players have jobs. They don’t practice. And they’re sponsored by a family-owned discount liquor store.
 
Having already claimed one big scalp in this year’s U.S. Open Cup (the second-tier USL Richmond Kickers), Christos marched on fourth-tier PDL side Chicago FC United Wednesday and defeated them 1 - 0 thanks to a first minute goal from Levi Houapeu. The 27-year-old former University of Maryland Baltimore County player was drafted by the Philadelphia Union in 2011 and now works as an accountant. 
 
That victory left Christos as the lone amateur side left in the competition, a title that comes along with $15,000 in prize money. It also sets up a fourth-round DMV Derby with none other than DC United, scheduled for June 13 at the Maryland SoccerPlex (where DCU plays its Open Cup games).
 
In this issue of the Raven, we speak with Shawn Smith, who, along with about a dozen other players, founded Christos FC in 1997. Smith, 46, is the owner of a small medical equipment company. As a player, he has graduated to the club’s over-30 and over-40 ranks, but still serves as what might be described as Christos director of football operations, if the club had a front office, or any kind of office. We caught up with him via Skype to discuss the team's makeup, how he’s experienced this magic Open Cup run, and what it will feel like to see his Sunday league side do battle with DC United.
 
 
MiB: Talk to us about what kind of players make up the Christos roster?
 
Shawn: There’s a handful of guys who were drafted into the MLS right out of college, but generally speaking, they are former division one to division three college soccer players. Most of them are around 25 years old, which is actually young for an amateur team. They all have day jobs. We have a plumber, a mortgage loan officer, youth soccer coaches and a start up CEO. 
 
We tend to like guys who are hard-nosed and hard working. If you watch our back line play, they are bangers. They haven’t given up a goal during this Open Cup run. Our goalie Phil Saunders is phenomenal. He just got a job as a head coach at a local community college, but I don’t know why he’s not playing professionally somewhere.
 
MiB: What about your training schedule? 
 
Shawn: There’s no day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month training. If we do get together, it’s a kick around. Life schedules make training difficult. We are a Sunday pub team and there’s no getting around it. It just so happens that this group is exceptional.
 
MiB: As a founder of the club, how special is this experience for you?
 
Shawn: We all care deeply. I went to Richmond for the second-round game. During the game, the 10 of us who went down looked at each other and thought, “We’re right in this. We’re not out of our league here.” And the goal we scored was legit [WATCH HERE]. When the final whistle blew, we were ecstatic. It was hugs all around. Our phones blew up with people who knew how much it means to us calling.
 
I also flew to Chicago for the third-round game, and it was the same thing. That Chicago team was pretty good, but our boys did not break. From a pride standpoint, it’s hard to put into words. Our slogan is “CTID,” Christos Till I Die,” and that could not be more on display than right now.

MiB: You started this team 20 years ago. When you think about Christos FC taking on DC United, what do you dream is possible?
 
Shawn: There’s a rivalry between Baltimore and DC. DC has had an MLS team and Baltimore can’t get a sniff. The magnitude of this match has really escalated because it’s DC United.
 
When I watch our boys walk onto that field, goosebumps will set in. And to see the support these young guys will get from their families. Mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters who will get to watch them play against DC United. That will show the pride we have in our club, regardless of its stature.
 
As for the game itself, we’re playing with house money. If you’re 28 years old, you played division three soccer, and you’ve been playing in the Maryland Major Soccer League, you have nothing to lose. These guys are ready to go.



Rog and Davo randomly with Shawn Smith at FedEx Field for Barcelona vs. Chelsea in July 2015. We were on the Christos bandwagon early. 
 
 
II. Producer Lexi’s Top Takeaways from Wembley
 

People don’t wooo at Wembley (strictly clapping or cursing, so people hated me from the beginning :) ), the meat pies are exclusively steak or chicken curry (chicken curry or nothing), and everyone sitting in front of me was bald (so I felt at home… awww).



PS. Wenger In


III. JW’s Day at RFK Stadium

I’ve watched more football at Washington, DC’s RFK Stadium than anywhere else in the world. Going to high school in Virginia, I regularly made the pilgrimage to Southeast DC for DC United, the USMNT and the 1996 Olympic Games. RFK holds a special spot in my heart. It doesn’t look like much, but it has inner-beauty.
 
So last week, when Rog presented me with the chance to play on the stadium’s hallowed turf in the U.S. Soccer Foundation's Capital Soccer Classic, I jumped at it. The annual game pits Republican and Democratic members of Congress against one another, with soccer legends, sponsors and, this year, one suboptimal producer sprinkled in to round out the teams.  
 
I’d like to think my game combines David Silva’s height (lacking), Eden Hazard’s lower half (ample), and Peter Crouch’s first touch (second touch is always a 50-50 ball), so I was thrilled to hitch my wagon onto Heather Mitts and Ben Olsen on the Dems squad. Having two American legends do the heavy lifting would alleviate some of the pressure of playing against a Republican team that included Cobi Jones, Lori Lindsey and… THE Rob Stone.
 
My team’s coach/organizer was apparently not too taken with my warm-up routine, which consisted solely of keepie uppies. I started on the bench. But roughly 10 minutes into the match, I got the call (Not me, specifically. Our side had about 20 people, so our substitution strategy was changing the entire team at once.)
 
With the ball out for a throw in, I trod onto what I must say was an immaculate playing surface at RFK and took my spot at right back/right center back. The game wasn’t much for tactics or “positions,” but I like to think I was in the Dave Azpilicueta role.
 
I wanted to get a touch immediately to settle the nerves. And after a minute of jogging around aimlessly, I got my chance. The ball broke to me out on the right. Under virtually no pressure from the opposition, I took timid, but not terrible, first touch and looked up to assess my options. Lord knows I wasn’t going long ball right away, so I gave a quick look to my left, hoping for a simple option. And there it was, in USA Legend form. A player with 90 USMNT caps. An early American Premier League trailblazer. And a gent to whom, as a 12-year-old, I wrote a letter requesting a signed photo while he was at Derby County. The one and only, John Harkes.
 
I did a double take, played it square, and tried to contain my excitement at completing a 10-yard pass to one of my childhood heroes. To do it in the stadium of my boyhood club was a surreal feeling, even during a charity game. No matter what happened after that, it was going to be a great night, regardless of what the post-game Opta facts said about my performance.
 
 
Thanks to U.S. Soccer Foundation for the opportunity and for all they do to bring football to underserved communities in this country (check them out HERE). To the still lightning quick Cobi Jones for staying on the left side of the field, so I wouldn’t have to mark him. And to the amazing, amazing, amazing GFOPs (including my dad, who snapped the above pic), who came out in the rain to watch. #Grateful
 

IV. The People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame, Pele Edition

Your amazing artifacts continue to pour into the CPOS for The People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame. This week, our featured submission comes from GFOP Christopher May. He purchased this New York Cosmos hat Oct. 1, 1977, as Pele closed out his career in front of a sold out Giants Stadium crowd that included Bobby Moore and Muhammad Ali.
 
 
Please keep sending the American soccer flotsam and jetsam that is gathering dust in your finished basements and attics with a note telling us about its meaning to you to. We are sending patches to everyone who contributes to this very special project. Please post everything to:
 
Embassy Row Studios
Care of Men in Blazers
325 Hudson Street 7th Floor
New York, NY 10013
 
 
V. #PatchAtThePark

This week’s edition of #PatchAtThePark comes from GFOP Casey Copp, who caught our eye when he posted the below photo from Estadio Monumental in Buenos Aires, where he watched River Plate vs. Rosario Central. A photo like this deserves a real patch, so we asked Casey to email us. We loved the story behind his photo so much, we’ve included it below. Courage, Casey.
 


Casey Writes: I'm currently on a three-month study abroad through my school, Michigan State University. MSU provided me a choice between two programs: Madrid or Buenos Aires. I chose Buenos Aires solely because their football fans are the most fanatical in the world.
 
Eduardo Galeano once wrote: "Have you ever entered an empty stadium? Try it. Stand in the middle of the field and listen. There is nothing less empty than an empty stadium. There is nothing less mute than stands bereft of spectators."
 
My friends and I were in the Estadio Monumental as soon as the gates opened two hours prior to kickoff. I've always believed in the Force, but this experience only reaffirmed my beliefs as I closed my eyes and saw the 1978 World Cup Final played before me. I heard the endless cheers of all the Copa Libertadores lifted by River Plate captains in the past. The game itself was horrible, a 0-0 draw with countless unforced errors, stray passes, and ridiculous attempts at goals. And yet, the experience was an extraordinary one because of the 90 minutes of singing that 62,000 Millonarios around provided.
 
Good Reads

I Love You. Francesco Totti for AS Roma. READ HERE.
 
Stockade FC in 2017 - The ‘Open Source Soccer’ Approach to Creating a Killer Second Season. Dennis Crowley for Medium. READ HERE.
 
God is Not an American: the Debacle That Was USA’s 1986 World Cup Campaign. Michael Lewis for The Guardian. READ HERE.
 
Rooting for Logos and Laundry: The Tie Between Sponsorships and Fandom. Ryan Jones for Uproxx. READ HERE.
 
Premier League Finances: The Full Club by Club Breakdown and Verdict. David Conn for the Guardian. READ HERE.
Podcast

Rog and Davo applaud Arsenal's FA Cup Final victory over Chelsea, break down Manchester United's Europa League triumph and welcome Huddersfield Town to the Premier League Party. LISTEN HERE.
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