Bad News: We are back. I have returned in one piece from Israel where I went for my semi-annual Mossad top-up training. It gets worse: next week we unleash two pods and a television show, which we promise will be to culture what United Airlines is to customer service.
1. Glad to see not much happened while I was away. We have only gone and got ourselves a Title Race again. Or more accurately: the mirage of a Title Race. Nine games ago, Tottenham lagged 13 points behind Chelsea. The gap is now a mere four with six games to play. Yet, if “Game of Thrones” has taught us anything, it is to never again get too excited about a fight between the ogreish Mountain and the swashbuckling Viper. For Spurs to win, Chelsea must not only drop the required number of points, but Pochettino’s side must remain perfect -- which would require extending their winning streak to 13 -- a feat that puts their title possibilities in the category of Lloyd Christmas', “So you're telling me there's a chance.”
2. Hold your horses, though. Just as the Title Race is about to climax, in swing the FA Cup semifinals like an epic cockblocker, leaving us with a Premier League schedule consisting of flotsam and jetsam. The agonies that create may be offset a little by the fact the first semifinal is a coincidence that even Judge Gonzalo Curiel thinks is amazing, pitching league leaders Chelsea against their dogged pursuers, Tottenham [12:15 p.m. ET Saturday on Network FOX
]. By Saturday evening, Antonio Conte may have maintained his pursuit of The Double in a season that was meant to be dominated by Jose and Pep. Or, Tottenham could have won a massive psychological scalp in their late sprint down the home straight of the Premier League season.
The other game is a true “semi” in every sense of the word. Manchester City (whose leader Pep Guardiola maintains his pursuit of the league title for “Manager’s Coat with Most Redundant Zips”) faces a suddenly Back Three-enamoured Arsenal [10 a.m. ET Sunday on Fox Sports 1
]. Arsene Wenger has suddenly adopted the en vogue defensive formation like a middle-aged man belatedly discovering the Uggs brand. This game should have had its own trophy forged for the losers to honor their season long contribution to pathos and disappointment. Both squads promised so much only to frustrate and enigmatically disappoint like teams fielding 11 Josh Hartnetts.
3. The game of the weekend is taking place in Spain on Sunday as Real Madrid host Barcelona for a most-probably title defining El Clásico, which is Spanish for “Tantric Sex with Ray Hudson” [2:45 p.m. ET Sunday on beIN Sports
4. All of us at Men In Blazers are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Premier League player turned Tottenham youth coach Ugo Ehiogu, who died at the age of 44 after suffering cardiac arrest. You can read more about Ugo HERE
. He was one of the game’s great mensches and will be missed. In the words of Larkin, “We should be careful. Of each other, we should be kind. While there is still time.”
5. It is a massive weekend in Women’s Football. The NWSL enters week two of its fifth season in some style after unveiling a new partnership with Lifetime. This weekend, catch Portland vs. Chicago Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. For those who missed week one, read THIS
season preview to get caught up. Our best wishes to FC Kansas City’s Amy Rodriguez, who tore her ACL in last week’s opener and is out for the year. #Courage
Meanwhile, a massive weekend for Americans in England where two-time, back-to-back FIFA Women’s Player of the Year and New Jersey’s own Carli Lloyd dons Sky Blue as her Manchester City host California Kid Alex Morgan’s Lyon in the UEFA Women’s Champions League semi-final. That game is being broadcast on ESPN3 at 9 a.m. ET Saturday, with the return leg being shown one week later.
Also, this weekend, the start of the Women’s Super League in England, a campaign that will see GFOPs Heather O’Reilly and Crystal Dunn don the armor for Arsenal and Chelsea, respectively. Much more with HAO on how she’s adjusting to life at The Arsenal in our feature below.
6. Mazeltov to Simon Hallett, the Pennsylvania-based GFOP who enjoyed listening to Barry Hearn talk about football ownership on our Pod so much that he went and became an owner of his boyhood club, Plymouth Argyle. The Pilgrims just won promotion to League One and we could not be more thrilled for him and everyone at the club. You can listen to Simon and his story HERE
song will give you the strength to carry on.
8. Producers JW, Lexi and I are headed to Philadelphia on Monday morning for a sprint down to spend some time with the Union. Please send us your cheese steak recommendations. There are few issues you GFOPs become angrier about than us going to the “wrong” whiz with purveyor. We are looking to add to a resume that includes: Steve’s Prince of Steak, Pat’s King of Steaks, Geno’s Steaks, Jim's Steaks. Email recommendations HERE.
9. Lord I love the People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame. You GFOPs have sent so many remarkable artifacts our way whilst I was in the Middle East. I cannot tell you how much your contributions and the letters that accompany them thrill me. We are building something really important together. Read about it below and let us know what you have in your attics and finished basements. To more. To more.
10. You’ve been spared for several weeks, but we have a glut of TV shows upcoming. Make sure not to set your DVRs for the upcoming episodes. Thursday, April 27 at 5:30 p.m. ET. Monday, May 1 at 5:30 p.m. ET with Special Guest Guy Ritchie. Monday, May 8 at 5:30 p.m. ET.
On behalf of
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi: @lexitan
Producer Evan: @Not_MattEvans
I. Catching Up Across the Pond with Heather O’Reilly
Ahead of the
Women’s Super League’s kick off this weekend we caught up with our favorite new Gunner, Heather O’Reilly
. We spoke with HAO about adjusting to life in the UK, eating chicken tikka masala all day and her jokes not resonating with a British audience.
Where do you live in England and how do you like life in the Albion?
For now, I live in St. Albans which is about 20 miles north of the city and close to the Arsenal training ground. It only takes me five minutes to get to training (although there are two roundabouts so that's two brushes with death!) so in terms of ease and convenience that is why I live there. But St. Albans is a really cute little city, without all the hustle and bustle and traffic of London. The team put me up in a flat and I actually have a roommate/teammate (Jodi Taylor
) that I knew before joining Arsenal Ladies. She's awesome. On days off, I take the train into London and explore all the different neighborhoods. So far, Marylebone might be my favorite. Marylebone is a charming area, with cobblestone streets and more boutique shops. I would compare it to New York's West Village. But Shoreditch is super cool too, in a much hipper Brooklyn kind of way.
What do you miss most about living in the U.S. and what’s been the biggest transition so far?
I would say the sun shines less here, I haven't found great Mexican food, and generally people are a little less outgoing and effusive. So I would say I miss those things. I miss my family, and in the U.S. I have played with some of my teammates for a very long time. Some I have played with and against for 15 years! I really, really like my teammates here but sometimes I have to explain my jokes, haha! So at times I am the new kid, and for me that is a very new feeling that I haven't had in awhile.
What is the biggest difference, on and off the field, between the NWSL and the WSL?
It’s hard to say much about the league as a whole because we are just kicking off the season this coming weekend, but I would say stereotypically the NWSL is faster and a more transitional game, with a very even table. The WSL has historically had top teams, and the style is more of a tactical battle. You can certainly tell that the players have watched and breathed the game for a long time.
Do you keep in touch with the other U.S. players in England, like Carli and Crystal? Do you have a WhatsApp group chat going?
I do text with Carli and Crystal to check in! Obviously since Crystal is London-based as well I have been able to see her but I haven't seen Carli yet. We don't have a WhatsApp group but that is a good idea! I am looking forward to seeing them when I play them! And I won't have to explain my jokes to them! Whether they laugh at them is a different story.
What’s your favorite new restaurant and what are you ordering?
I love the Indian food here. Chicken tikka masala all day. I also like the avo on toast. Not those two things together though, that would be weird. My favorite local cafe is called Hatch. Great avo on toast. English food isn't as bad as they make it sound.
Since choosing to retire from international football, what's it been like to experience watching the USWNT?
It is interesting watching the team from a distance! I don't get nervous, (I'm sure I will come World Cups and Olympics) but I definitely check the score often if I am not able to watch. The team was a big part of my life for a very long time, and I am so proud of that. At the same time, this experience in London at Arsenal has taught me that there is a big world out there, football and otherwise, that sometimes you lose sight of when you are so intensely focused on one environment. [LISTEN TO OUR HAO FAREWELL POD SPECIAL HERE
II. Men in Blazers + adidas Short Films
Coming soon, a series on America’s Youth Development system as experienced by the young talents who play in it.
III. A Football/Military Portraiture Mash-Up (Makes Perfect Sense)
Football and obscure military figures from centuries past. Two things that go together like Lee Cattermole and ill-timed tackles. For proof, look no further than the work of Fabrizio Birimbelli. The Rome-based artist fuses footballers and old school military portraiture to create slices of magic that have set the Twitter-verse alight. In this edition of The Raven, we catch up with the computer programmer/Roma supporter about his inspiration, how he actually creates the works, and that time Clint Dempsey hit him up for a print.
MiB: Let’s start from the beginning. How are you creating these works? We like to imagine you in front of a massive canvas with Tim Howard posing in front of you for days on end. That’s how it goes, right?
FB: These are actually digital paintings. Rather than a brush and a canvas, I use a computer pen and a graphic tablet, blending oil, watercolor and pencil effects together. This is more time efficient than actual painting. And I love the magic UNDO button. That said, each work still takes me several days.
MiB: How did you get the idea for this series?
FB: It happened by chance. I painted a friend of mine in the military pose and many loved the way it came out. So I tried painting some AS Roma players (Totti, El Shaarawy) in a similar fashion. One of Roma’s digital media employees saw it and featured me on their site. Eventually, I made it to Trigoria (Roma's training camp) to give copies of my portraits to Antonio Rudiger and the living legend, Francesco Totti. I cried when I handed it to my hero.
MiB: How do you decide which footballers to feature? And once you decide, how do you pick what military uniform to portray them in?
FB: At first, choosing players was pretty simple: Ibra, CR7, Messi, but now it’s getting tougher to decide. I choose players who are leaders, and I prefer ones with strong faces, wrinkles, beards and mustaches. To me, that’s funnier than painting baby faces. I recently started a series of coaches: Mourinho, Klopp, Guardiola, Conte, Wenger, Pochettino. The ancient finish seems to fit these gents perfectly.
As far as what uniform I put on each subject, I don’t think a lot about that. I try and give the older ones more medals. And I usually put the crest of their club or country on each work. I do like to add gloves for the goalies, to highlight their hands are their weapons.
MiB: You do a lot of American footballers. Tell us about this.
FB: I didn’t know much about MLS at first. But Pirlo and Giovinco put American soccer in the Italian news. And I have many followers in the U.S., so I started to paint Americans. “Epic” seems to fit well with American sports, so I painted Clint Dempsey, Tim Howard, Michael Bradley. Clint Dempsey even contacted me for a print of his, so he could give it to his mother as a present. That made me really proud.
IV. People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame Update
The CPOS has become like a scene straight out of the Duck Tales open
, only replace the gold coins with something far more valuable: the amazing American soccer artifacts you are sending us as we build our People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame, details HERE
. Every issue of The Raven from now until the museum becomes a reality, we will highlight a few of our favorite recent submissions. In this issue, we had a hard time picking one favorite, so we bring you two.
GFOP Mike DeFrancia reminded us how incredible the original MLS kits were via this LA Galaxy beauty, which may or may not have been worn by Andrew Shue (we can only dream). In his letter to us, Mike described his love-at-first-sight fandom saying, “I followed the team religiously that season, even skipping out on an uncle’s funeral because it was on the same day as MLS Cup.”
And GFOP Mickey Greene gave us a taste of American World Cup glory with this official 1999 USWNT team hat, signed by several of the 99’ers. Mickey wrote to us about bumping into the team members at her hotel after the game. “The players were accommodating to a small group of fans (and one memorabilia marketer who wanted Mia Hamm’s autograph on a bunch of jerseys). I even rode the elevator down with Kristine Lilly. My kids were understandably in awe, as was I.”
GFOPs, this is getting real. Please send your artifacts and the stories behind them to. We will send you patches on patches in return. Address:
Seventh Floor, Care of Men in Blazers
325 Hudson Street
NY, NY 10013
V. End of the Season Togga Perfect XI Sleepers
Squeaky Bum Time. It’s not just for the Title Race anymore. We are entering the home stretch of Men in Blazers' inaugural Togga Perfect XI Fantasy League. And it is… tiiiight at the top. Less than 35 points separate the Top Four: Thai Tractor Boy, dgp, JCUnited and PriMaradona. (If you aren’t in the mix for the season-long title, we are giving away a special patch to each weekly winner. Sign up HERE.) In hopes of getting an end of the season bump, we’ve asked Togga’s
head of content and RowZ.co
contributor, John Wallin
, for three players who might fly under the radar these last few weeks.
Joshua King (Forward - Bournemouth)
The Norwegian midfielder-turned-forward-turned-midfielder, who is still classed as a forward in Togga, has 13 goals, two assists and a 45.5-point hattrick outing against West Ham on his resume this season. That’s nearly identical to fantasy staple Christian Benteke (12 goals, two assists). Many pundits expected King to wilt when Benik Afobe returned, but he's been excellent in a supporting role - netting against Liverpool and Chelsea in recent weeks. The Cherries finish with three at home to Boro, Stoke and Burnley and have decent away matches at Sunderland and Leicester.
Stewart Downing (Midfielder - Middlesbrough)
The Boro midfielder has been a poor fantasy option all season, until recently. Last week against Arsenal, he sent in 10 crosses and pocketed an assist on Álvaro Negredo’s goal to give him double digit Togga fantasy points in two of his last three matches. And he has a great matchup this week. Due to the fixture calendar, Boro players will have a double game week*, facing Bournemouth and lowly Sunderland.
Raheem Sterling (Forward - Manchester City)
Raz has been an excellent fantasy play all season. So why is he a sleeper? Because he is classified as a forward. And fantasy owners often add Sergio Aguero and sit Sterling. But Sterling has 14 assists. That’s the most of any forward and third overall behind only Eriksen (17) and De Bruyne (16). He's also scored six goals. The best part is City's run-in includes Boro, Palace, Watford and a massive home/home double gameweek against Leicester and West Brom in week 37.
*Double Game Week Explainer - Due to the fixture calendar, some Premier League teams will play two matches in a single fantasy gameweek. For example, this week, United has a match against Burnley and City. If you start United players, their scores from BOTH of those games will count toward your weekly total. Teams with double game weeks for Gameweek 34: United, Middlesbrough, and Crystal Palace. Hello, Jonathan Benteke.
This week’s edition of #PatchAtThePark
features submissions from Bayern vs. Real Madrid
Champions League clash, Christian Pulisic’s first start in Der Klassiker
, and a PL match that we were #NotInvited
But our favorite comes from GFOP
Jay Chaudoin, who scaled Mt. Kilimanjaro only to mark the occasion with our crap.
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.”