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Hail! GFOP

 
Summer is Coming. A Stealth Summer O’Football is upon us. And I could not be more excited. Partially because we are about to savor Euro Football by afternoon and Copa America Centenario by night. 83 games, over 30 days, at least 3 of them featuring your 2018 World Cup winning United States… today might be the last time I shower until August.

The best players in the world -- Lionel Messi! Alexis Sanchez! Steve Birnbaum! -- have descended onto our shores, motivated by a singular desire to take selfies with Steph Curry or Justin Bieber. Ignore the big questions, like why is the South American championship being played in an off year in North America? ($$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$) And… is this whole thing just an elaborate honeytrap sting run by Loretta Lynch to lure crooked FIFA honchos onto our turf en masse so she can book ‘em Danno? Let’s look at the only question we care about: How are the United States going to do with tonight’s game against *Gulp* Colombia fast approaching? [9:30 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1] 

This game is a massive symbolic marker for the United States. Jurgen Klinsmann has selected a squad that is half withered veterans, half green shoots of youth. The heart yearns for them to succeed and reach the semi-final Promised Land that has been oddly mumbled about in press conferences, yet the mind cannot forget the emotional scarring caused by last year’s Gold Cup ineptitude, the subsequent loss to Mexico, and the national sphincter-tightening after that shocking loss to Guatemala. Good news: Colombia are currently ranked third in the world, but this is not the darling team which dazzled at the 2014 World Cup. James Rodriguez is among the many stars who have languished since then. However Group A, which includes CONCACAF Thunder’s Costa Rica and defensively stubborn Paraguay, offers little margin for error for either of tonight’s combatants which makes me believe this could be a draw.

It should be said, Jurgen Klinsmann chose a curious time to drop a few bombs and throw copious shade in a salty interview with the Wall Street Journal’s Matt Futterman. There are few managers who would point so many fingers on the eve of a tournament played out on home turf, especially because International Football is about mindset, motivation and collective team spirit far more than big names and buzz-worthy talent. It has traditionally been one of the United States’ greatest footballing attributes and will have to be starting tonight if we are not to crap the bed with the whole nation watching.

There are other teams playing: Argentina, motivated by a desire to lift their first trophy since 1993 are favorites. Even with Lionel Messi carrying a back injury, they have a roster stocked like a trout farm and are heavy favorites. Brazil are brand in name only. This Neymar-less experimental squad is like a Von Dutch Trucker Hat Brazil. A thing we once revered, but now know the error of our ways. Do not be surprised if Mexico win it all. A deep squad on an 11-game unbeaten run in competitive games featuring Chicharito, and playing before stadia which feel like home games even though they are on arch rival’s territory… as Jurgen Klinsmann would say, “Brace yourself for Gotterdammerung.”  So, let’s #Pray4Guzan, St. Bobby Wood and Tenacious P. Pulisic and Talk our Way into Believing America.

We could not be more thrilled to cover this summer’s action. We have collaborated with VICE to create digital pre-and post-game shows scattered through the month. Think of us as Eric Wynalda, but Crap. “Men in Blazers: Euro Two-Thousand and Copa” premieres today at 5 p.m. ET on VICESPORTS.com. In the first episode, we’ll preview Copa America and look at the five big questions facing this U.S. team. We’ll also drink boxed wine, eat chicken wings and light an Alexi Lalas idol in hopes of appeasing the Old Gods and the New. Send us any and all questions about the tournament via social using the #MiBEuroCopa. We do not have a logo or theme music, but we do have a Barry Manilow album.

You can watch the very first episode of “Men in Blazers: Euro Two-Thousand and Copa” RIGHT HERE at 5 p.m. ET today. #MIBEuroCopa

Living the Dream,
Rog @rogbennett

On behalf of
MiB: @meninblazers
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi: @lexitan
Producer Zip: @notorious_Z_I_P

PS: I had the pleasure of jumping on Freakonomics podcast to talk about Leicester City. You can listen HERE. For those of you fluent in Icelandic, here is Icelandic Television’s coverage of my recent trip to film their National Team. They love Men In Blazers. Skál

In this newsletter, we preview Copa America with FOX Sports maestro Rob Stone, Seattle Sounders striker Herculez Gomez, and novelist Daniel Alarcon; Adebayo “Beast Mode” Akinfenwa answers Three Questions from Las Vegas, where the entire AFC Wimbledon team is celebrating promotion to League One; and Rog and Davo’s guide to summer reading (nothing says beach read like a book about Soviet history).
 


I. 2016 Euro Two-Thousand and Copa Enhancement Kit: Limited Edition

This week, in preparation for the Summer of Football, we released our 2016 Euro Two-Thousand and Copa Enhancement Kit. If worn with optimism, it is possible to dream that the United States can win global football's greatest trifecta: rid the world of Sepp Blatter, win the 2016 Copa America Centenario, and lift the 2018 World Cup Trophy in Moscow. One down. Two to go. It’s a trinity of accomplishments that GFOPs are apparently so eager to witness, demand for the kits -- the hat, the scarf and a Men In Blazers patch -- crashed the Upper 90 sale site Wednesday. We thank all GFOPs for their patience. A select few of the limited-edition enhancement kits remain. You can GRAB YOURS HERE.
 


II. Copa America Preview

A novelist, an MLS striker with more than 20 USA caps, and Rob Stone walk into a bar … Maybe not a bar, but we’ve gathered three GFOPs to help us preview Copa America Centenario. Novelist/journalist Daniel Alarcon, whose most recent book, City of Clowns, has been nominated for an Eisner Award. Seattle Sounders striker and FOX Sports Analyst Herculez Gomez. And, a man who needs no introduction, the one and only, Rob Stone. Daniel will be at the tournament in support of his beloved Peru. While the latter pair will cover it all for FOX Sports. All three sent Ravens about what they expect from the tournament.

MIB: What group stage game are you most looking forward to?

Rob: The fate of all four group winners could easily be determined by the conclusion of the first day of group play. One can make a strong case that the top two teams in each group are paired together in their respective openers. USA/Colombia in A, Brazil/Ecuador in B, Mexico/Uruguay in C, and Argentina/Chile in D. Selfishly, I feel the tournament opener on between the States and Colombia is massive, because it will frame much of our summer discussion on the state of the U.S. team. But to overlook the rematch of last year’s Copa final between Argentina and Chile would be absurd.

Herculez: I'm most excited about Group A, which many could argue is easily the "Group of Death." You have the host country (USA), who will have plenty to prove after a disappointing Gold Cup and Confederations Cup qualifier vs. their bitter rivals Mexico, a Colombian side which boasts one of the best group of attacking players in the world, a Costa Rica side that is coming off a lackluster 2015 Gold Cup, but a remarkable 2014 World Cup, and a Paraguay side that has seen its last two Copa America attempts come up just shy, with a finalist appearance in 2011 and a fourth place finish in 2015. Definitely going to be a fun group.

Daniel: Peru vs. Haiti. Respectfully, I think it's a match we (Peru) could and should win. To put it another way, it's a match Peru must win to have any chance at all to get out of the group.

MIB: Give us your USMNT prediction.

Rob: Jurgen Klinsmann will be criticized. I think this month will be the most important of his tenure. Three games in nine days, and a real stretch to survive the group. An ugly exit may open the door for his departure (and Bruce Arena’s return?!?!!?), but a strong showing will embolden him and the team, as they charge towards World Cup qualification in the fall.

Herculez: Colombia will be difficult to handle in the tournament’s opening game, but a positive result would allow them to manage their encounters with Paraguay and Costa Rica for a knockout round birth. Still, Jurgen Klinsmann has set the bar at a semi-final appearance. Even with a second place finish they would most likely face Brazil or Ecuador in the next round. If it's Brazil, I don't see them advancing, but if it's Ecuador I see the U.S. getting to that desired semifinal game.

Daniel: I'm afraid we (USA) will struggle to get out of the group, at which point one wonders about the viability of Klinsmann project. I hope I'm wrong.

MIB: One unusual prediction…

Rob: Brazil won’t make it out of the group. No, I haven’t overmedicated myself. Why not Ecuador and Peru going through from Group B? Wait, Peru? The nation that has just one win, and is in eighth place out of 10 countries in CONMEBOL World Cup qualifying? Yes, Peru. Why? They prosper on the big stage as of late. Back-to-back third place finishes in the last two Copa Americas, so let’s make it a third straight.

Herculez: Mexico ties Uruguay for top spot in group C (7 points), but gets edged out on goal differential.

Daniel: Gonzalo Higuaín will score a meaningful goal in a cup final. I know that sounds ludicrous.

MIB: Who is the player of the tournament?

Rob: The short list includes World Cup 2014 leading scorer James Rodriguez, Arturo Vidal, Chicharito, Sergio Aguero, Douglas Costa for Brazil (since no Neymar), Alexis Sanchez, and Messi. But I am going with Luis Suarez. The Uruguayan became the first player other than Messi or Ronaldo to top the La Liga scoring list in the last seven seasons. His 40 league goals confirm he is in all out Beast Mode. And, yes, he has some history for making his mark in big tournaments. (see what I did there)*
*Editor’s Note: Stoner’s Raven left prior to Suarez’s injury.

Herculez: Before Luis Suarez’s injury in the Copa Del Rey final I would have said he was a lock. But now I'll have to give it to his Partner In Crime Leo Messi. Argentina is just too good, and he's going to pull the strings for El Albiceleste.  

Daniel: I have to believe that the best player of his generation, Lionel Messi, will one day lead Argentina to the promised land.

MIB: Who wins the tournament?

Rob: Chile is your defending champs, Mexico is on a roll, and Brazil always has to be considered, but in the end, it’s Argentina. They haven’t won a major tournament at the senior level since 1993 when they won this tournament. Messi ends that drought this June.

Herculez: Argentina over Uruguay.

Daniel: A friend of mine bought me tickets to the final. So I win.


III. Three Questions With Beast Mode in Vegas

Adebayo Akinfenwa was a legend in our books long before Saturday, when he sealed AFC Wimbledon's promotion to the third tier of English football with a penalty in the 101st minute of the League Two play-off final at Wembley. Not to mention a magic post-game press conference. Last year, the 5’11”, 225 pound AFC Wimbledon striker/strongman joined us to talk about his remarkable story and having the highest strength rating on EA SPORTS FIFA: 98, natch. [LISTEN TO THAT POD HERE]. In this edition of Three Questions, we speak with the man they call “Beast Mode” about living out his Wembley dream, celebrating in Vegas, and a possible future in America. #Beast2MLS
 

MIB: You are celebrating promotion in Vegas with the rest of your Wimbledon teammates. Tell us a little bit about the trip, how it came to be, and the first thing you did when you touched down.

AA: The trip was organized for us by one of our sponsors [Editor’s Note: Not John Green. We asked.]. They sent the entire team out here for a few days. The first thing I did was look for a decent chicken spot, but Vegas has been letting me down. I can’t find nothing like Nandos here. I need some help, people.  

Other than that we’ve gotten in a few shows. We went to see Human Nature Jukebox, which I didn’t think was my style at first. But by the end, it had me singing some old Motown. We’re also checking out a hypnotist, a pool party, things like that.

This isn’t my first time in Vegas, but it’s been fun to watch all of the young players experience it for the first time. I’m living through them at the moment. 

MIB: After you clinched promotion at Wembley against Plymouth Argyle, you revealed that you knew heading into the game that it would be your last wearing a Wimbledon shirt and that the club was releasing you. How did that change your approach to the game? What was your mood?

AA: I was very relaxed. I’d been to a League Two play-off final before with Northampton three years ago, so I knew what to expect. I was just determined to enjoy the day. My approach was: let the football take care of itself. I wasn’t worried about that.

As far as leaving the club. I wasn’t bitter. There was no malice there at all. The manager and I spoke about the club’s decision to release me well before the match. He had told me earlier in the season I could go out on loan if I wanted more playing time. So I kind of knew it was coming, even before our chat. But my approach to this game was: there is no better way to leave a club I love than to win and see them promoted. I scored the very first goal of this season at Crawley and I was thrilled to be able to score the final goal of the season.

MIB: Let’s talk a little about that goal. It came in the 101st minute. Wimbledon was awarded a penalty and there was a bit of … discussion … between you and Callum Kennedy about who was going to take it. Take us inside that conversation. What was said.

AA: You never like to argue. But Callum said his piece and I said mine. At the end of the day, seniority comes into play. It was too perfect of an ending for me not to take it. The only way it could’ve been better is if it was a header.

MIB: Talk about your future. How many MLS managers have called you up since you announced your release?

AA: MLS still hasn’t phoned me, as far as I know. But I haven’t spoken to my agent. I am attempting to completely unplug from football while I’m on holiday. If the right MLS team does call, I will 100% take that call and listen to what they have to say. We’ve got to bring Beast Mode across the pond.


IV. Rog and Davo’s Summer Reading Guide

A litany of literature perfect for those lonely, Premier League-less weekend mornings.

ROG:
Second Hand Time: The Last of the Soviets,” by Svetlana Alexievich
The Nazi Hunters,” by Andrew Nagorski
Before the Fall,” by Noah Hawley
The Games: A Global History of the Olympics,” by David Goldblatt
Angels With Dirty Faces: How Argentinian Soccer Defined A Nation and Changed the Game Forever” by Jonathan Wilson

DAVO:
Double Cup Love: On the Trail of Family, Food, and Broken Hearts in China,” by Eddie Huang
Quiet Leadership: Winning Hearts, Minds and Matches,” by Carlo Ancelotti
Fedegraphica: A Graphic Biography of the Genius of Roger Federer,” by Mark Hodgkinson
End of Watch: (The Bill Hodges Trilogy),” by Stephen King
Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek, the Greatest Olympic Runner of All Time,” by Richard Askwith

Producer Picks
"The Lords of Discipline," by Pat Conroy - Producer JW
"Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs," by Sally Mann - Producer Lexi
"The Girls," by Emma Cline - Producer Lexi
"1965: The Most Revolutionary Year in Music," by Andrew Grant Jackson - Producer Zip


V. Noah Hawley Pod Special

Rog has long loved Fargo and is a paid up member of #TeamHanzee. So he was thrilled this week when showrunner/author/screenwriter/producer Noah Hawley dropped by the Panic Room to talk about Fargo 3, his new novel "Before The Fall," the creative process which has empowered him to work on so many projects simultaneously, and getting an epic dressing down from Sir Patrick Stewart. LISTEN HERE


VI. Passing Time in the CPOS

- Bomb damage maps reveal London’s WWII devastation. From National Geographic. Via GFOP Daniel Mormak. VIEW HERE
- A maximum-security Ugandan prison with an elaborate football league that challenges the culture of imprisonment. From VICE SPORTS. WATCH HERE
- Every single “Pinky and the Brain” plan to take over the world, ranked. From io9. Via Davo. VIEW HERE
- The Strokes new lyric video for “Drag Queen.” #80sPeopleDancing WATCH HERE


VII. "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, Amazon, Google Play) and Vol. II - The Best of 2014 (iTunes, Amazon, 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.
 

Please forward 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.”
-Philip Larkin
 

    

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In this week's podcast, Rog and Davo mourn Manchester United manager/comedy genius Louis Van Gaal, break down Real Madrid's Champions League final win, and prepare to pop the cork on this Summer of Soccer. LISTEN HERE
GOOD READS

Narco Football Is Dead: Celebrating a Colombia Reborn. Ewan McKenna for Bleacher Report. READ HERE

American Soccer’s Diversity Problem. Les Carpenter for The Guardian. READ HERE

Premier League Finances: The Full Club-By-Club Breakdown and Verdict. David Conn for The Guardian. READ HERE

EA SPORTS FIFA Feeds Soccer’s Growth in the U.S. Nardy Baeza Bickel for Phys.org. READ HERE

After Katrina, A New Orleans Soccer Team Comes Home. Pia Z. Ehrhardt for the Oxford American. READ HERE
ABOUT

Michael Davies and Roger Bennett believe that soccer is America’s Sport of the Future. As it has been since 1972. Visit MeninBlazers.com, “Like” us on Facebook, follow the show on Twitter and Instagram, or email us at MeninBlazers@gmail.com.
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