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HAIL! GFOP

We are living in calamitous times. An age in which our Twitter feeds are surreal spigots of angst-inducing news, spewing story after story rife with skulduggery, scandal, and tragedy. In that regard, the U.S. Men’s National Team’s recent performances have been of that Zeitgeist. Erratic, unfathomable, and unprecedentedly disappointing.  

Tonight. Is. Everything.

We take the field against Panama [Pre-Game begins at 7:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2], and in the words of GFOP Tracy Chapman, “We leave tonight or live and die this way.” Win, and we can begin to talk plans for “No Sleep ‘Till Moscow” with full-throated joy. Lose, and the foundations of the game in this country will be fundamentally undermined.

The last time the U.S. faced such a high stakes World Cup qualifier was back in November 1989 against Trinidad and Tobago when Paul Caligiuri's long-range strike fell out of the sky to deliver Italia 90 qualification. Yet, back then, the U.S. were bumbling underdog over performers. This cycle, we have been the opposite: Lackluster regional powerhouse woefully under delivering. A U.S. Team of White Walkers, shorn of our natural strengths: robust, collective tenacity.

As a man who was born an England fan, I fell in love with this U.S. Team over the course of the past 25 years, because they make me believe anything is possible. From 1994 onwards, I have watched them exhibit a swaggering can-do attitude even when there was little rational basis for them to believe in themselves. This approach has been totally lost over the course of the last two years. And now we face a match where the stakes could not be higher. A loss tonight would have seismic repercussions for all levels of the game — the players, the coaches, U.S. Soccer administrators, our domestic leagues, and youth systems. To mull that over, makes us like tightrope walkers looking at our feet. So, tonight I want to re-summon belief.

There is no doubt our squad is deeper and more experienced than the Panamanians. The passion of the home crowd in Orlando will make our nation proud. In Christian Pulisic and Clint Dempsey we have two difference makers who can hurt any opponent in very different ways. Our future is in our hands.

Glory ultimately will depend on three factors:

The players’ mental approach. How do they respond to the immense pressure created by the predicament in which they have placed themselves? I have watched
one England team after another crumble in such situations, as if the national team jersey itself was made of chainmail, weighing them down. Michael Bradley’s decision making and passing game in the first 10 minutes will be a barometer, telling us all we need to know. If it is on, and simple passes connect, the U.S. will be just fine. If he is forcing or mis-hitting them, start drinking heavily.  

The second element is Bruce Arena’s tactical approach. He was meant to be the wizened oracle, re-summoned from mountain top hermetic exile to lead his nation in its hour of need. Yet, CONCACAF has changed since the early 2000’s and the U.S. were tactically outplayed in the the last round of games. Let us expunge the memory and woe of that dire last round — the humiliatingly impotent loss at home to Costa Rica and the 85th minute goal by that Great American, Bobby Wood, that salvaged a desperate point at Honduras. Two games which left us riddled by self-loathing, disbelief and doubt. For his legacy’s sake, let us pray Bruce delivers tonight. There are few moments more traumatic for a child than when they first recognize their parent has Clay Feet.

Finally, let us not underestimate this Panama side. They have displayed many of the qualities the U.S. have lacked in qualifying. They are organized, robust, physical and able. I was in Panama City in October 2013, when two stunning stoppage time goals from Graham Zusi and Aron Johannsson won the game, cruelly robbing the Panamanians from their own deeply-craved World Cup qualification. I watched a packed stadium of delirious Panamanians suffer a national trauma en masse. One minute, the atmosphere went from the collective joy of a wedding to the grim mourning of a funeral. A soldier guarding the press box stood limply by me, a single tear rolling down his cheek. The Panamanian players taking the field in Orlando will remember those feelings even better than I do. The U.S. must play with intelligence and focus, and not relent until the final whistle, or tonight, we will all be that soldier.  

For the final word on tonight’s game, I lean on Theodore Roosevelt: “Is America a weakling, to shrink from the work of the great world powers? No! The young giant of the West stands on a continent and clasps the crest of an ocean in either hand. Our nation, glorious in youth and strength, looks into the future with eager eyes and rejoices as a strong man to run a race.”
 

2. The selflessness of one U.S. Soccer story made our hearts full of joy this week. That of Alex Ibarra, a remarkable seven-year-old American Outlaw who decided to donate his signed Christian Pulisic jersey to an auction to raise money for Puerto Rico. Buy your raffle ticket HERE. We encourage all GFOPs to support him in his remarkably inspiring gesture. Producer JW jumped on the phone with Alex to make THIS MUST WATCH VIDEO. We have sullied the raffle by adding a signed Men In Blazers National Team jersey to proceedings. Thanks to Stars and Stripes FC's Parker Cleveland, who put us onto this story and first reported it.

3. With only one round of qualifying remaining in South America, Argentina must win their final game against Ecuador, played in the thin air of Quito, and get some help, to qualify for Russia 2018. The prospect of a World Cup without Lionel Messi feels like the notion of "The Office" without Steve Carell.

4. England have qualified for the World Cup, for what that is worth. Sadly, the English Team have already given the world their greatest contribution to the tournament: This Joe Hart scream in training.

It has been remarkable seeing NYCFC’s Jack Harrison in an England jersey, though. Proof, that for the tenacious who never stop believing in their own ability, there are many paths to make your dreams come true.

5. This weekend, we cannot wait for the NWSL semifinals, with the clash between the best named team in football, the North Carolina COURAGE, against the Chicago Red Stars. Both semifinals will be broadcast on Lifetime. All details are HERE, courtesy of U.S. Soccer. 

6. MiB Notes/Warnings: The MEN IN BLAZERS television show returns Monday, Oct. 16 at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN after the Glamour game of the season: Leicester vs. West Brom. French band Phoenix guest, so expect lots of Olivier Giroud appreciation. Earlier that same day, two of my documentaries debut on NBCSN: "PROMOTED: HUDDERSFIELD TOWN" at 1:00 p.m. ET, followed immediately by "INSIDE THE MIND OF DAVID WAGNER" at 1:30 p.m. ET.  The team's story and David Wagner's approach to Life are equally incredible. Brace yourself for “National Huddersfield Day” on NBCSN.

7. In Pod Special news: the remarkable novelist Mohsin Hamid is headed in for an interview, which will be released Friday, Oct. 13 ahead of him winning the Man Booker Prize. Garry Kasparov was just in to try and beat Rog at Chess [Spoiler Alert: Garry wins]. His Pod is out Thursdsay, Oct. 26.

8. In sad news, next week is Producer Lexi’s last at MiB. As anyone who has met her will attest, Lexi Tannenholtz is an inimitable human being with a rare mix of attributes, most of which have breathed so much into our work. We will love and miss her. THIS SONG is for you Lexi.

Go Go USA,
Rog @rogbennett

On behalf of
MiB: @meninblazers
“Positive” Davo: @embassydavies
Producer JW: @JonoWilly
Producer Lexi: @lexitan
Producer Evan: @Not_MattEvans
Producer Brad: @BradGFeldman
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I. Russia or Bust with the American Outlaws

At 196 chapters strong (including international groups in London and Mexico City) and more than 30,000 members, the American Outlaws have been the fife and drum of U.S. soccer for the last 10 years, providing the soundtrack at home and on foreign shores alike. While their ebullience shines through during matches, what we don’t see is the number of hours Outlaws organizers pour into their (unpaid) jobs. Dan Wiersma, a 35-year-old who heads up the group’s communications efforts, estimates that in addition to his Austin, Texas-based marketing job, he spends between 20 and 30 hours a week on AO activities. “It’s essentially like having a second full-time job,” he tells us. This weekend, as the USMNT’s World Cup hopes hang in the balance, we caught up with Dan to see how those who dedicate so much of their life to American soccer are living the possibility of… we’re not even saying it…

MiB: You and your AO counterparts pour so much of yourselves into growing the game we love in the country we love. Talk about your mood heading into a weekend where so much is at stake.

DW: To say there’s a lot at stake is putting it lightly. We’re really talking about a pretty crucial moment, not just in our World Cup qualifying hopes, but in the larger scheme of things. Before the last round of games, we thought the match against Panama in Orlando would be a celebration of our heading to Russia. Now we’re in a nail biting - although I think most people are beyond their nails - anxious, nervous scenario. You don’t want to go into the final day of World Cup qualifying against Trinidad and Tobago needing a win. There’s no losing here. If we don’t qualify, I think it’s a significant setback for the American program. And a step backwards for our fandom. If we don’t have anybody to cheer on during the summer, it definitely makes the job of uniting and strengthening fan groups harder, because there’s nothing to coalesce around.

MiB: Your football life - and the lives of all the AO brass - are going to drastically change in the next five days. Either, you go into overdrive, planning a trip to Russia. Or it’s a massive exhale and some downtime. How do each of those roads play out for you?

DW: The biggest piece of planning for any World Cup is how we get fans there. We’ve been having those conversations already with the travel agency we work with about Russia. We have stuff almost ready to go. But it’s really the World Cup draw in December, not just qualification, that depends where AO headquarters will be. What will happen after this weekend, is we will start gathering people who are interested in going and giving them estimated costs. I don’t even want to consider the exhale. There will be a lot of soul searching. The tough part is who we would then play in 2018 and how we get anybody excited about those matches if it’s not a lead up to the World Cup. I think we might lay low for a few minutes. That doesn’t mean we just pack it up. We’re not moving onto hockey (laughs). We’ll still be there to support the team.

MiB: Last World Cup, the AOs absolutely took over Brazil. You couldn’t get on Twitter without seeing AO-soaked scenes from around that country. Will it be the same in Russia? Or will there be more events here in the U.S.?  

DW: The events in Russia might be a little smaller just because it is so far away and everything is so spread out. What we really want to do is support our chapters here. These are showpieces for them. We saw it in 2014. A lot of the watch parties are starting to outgrow their bars. Many AO chapters have already begun contacting their city governments to talk about the permitting process for allowing 10,000 people to watch on a big screen in a public space

MiB: You dedicate so much of your life to this cause. There is so much at stake here. Talk about the emotions you would feel if things don’t go well tonight.

DW: I think about the emotions I get when the U.S. is eliminated from the World Cup. Losing is never easy. Losing in a World Cup is hard because it’s the end of a journey. And that’s being at the World Cup. Losing before you get to the World Cup - the world’s tournament - after we’ve made so much progress as a nation… I feel really badly just saying that out loud. Personally, it would be crushing. I think I would need a few days to digest what a loss would mean. Ultimately, I know what it means for all of the people I’ve become friends with at American Outlaws over the years and how much they would hurt. That makes it even worse. It’s like Obi-Wan Kenobi, "I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced. I fear something terrible has happened." American Outlaws and U.S. Soccer is the fabric of our lives. To silence this American soccer movement would be devastating.


II. EA Sports FIFA Cover Contest

Earlier this week, we celebrated the launch of EA SPORTS FIFA 18 by announcing the winners of our EA SPORTS FIFA 19 cover contest, during which we asked GFOPs to take a bite of pie, glimpse the footballing year ahead and design next year’s EA SPORTS FIFA cover. We were blown away by the number and quality of submissions. One of the six winners is below, courtesy of GFOP Britton Thomas. You can see all of them HERE. Thanks for your creativity, GFOPs. You never cease to amaze us. 
 


III. Behind the Music with EA SPORTS FIFA 18’s Composer

With the release of EA SPORTS FIFA comes another soundtrack filled with club bangers and sporting anthems alike. Think a modern, cultured, polylingual Jock Jams. You can listen to the complete track list via Spotify HERE.

It also features an original score for “The Journey: Hunter Returns,” courtesy of one of the biggest composers in the game: Tom Holkenborg aka Junkie XL aka JXL. He’s worked on films like “Batman vs. Superman” and “Deadpool.” And back in 2002, he remixed Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation” for one of the greatest football commercials ever made. Now, he’s adding his flourish to Alex Hunter’s travels from the Premier League to MLS. It was that trip that inspired his score.

“When he was in England, I created a tone that was electronic, but on the alternative side. Something that’s a little rougher around the edges,” said Holkenborg. “When he moves to America, the music transitions into something a little glossier. I smoothed out the rough edges. He’s living in Hollywood and the music reflects that.”  

Both the modern Premier League and MLS are a far cry from the football on which Holkenborg grew up. The Netherlands native spent his childhood attending Ajax games with his dad during the club’s glory days.  

“Seeing Johan Cruyff play in the '70s was mind boggling,” he recalls.

Dutch football is embedded in Holkenborg’s DNA and watching the Oranje remains an omni-emotional experience for him, something he attributes to watching them fall short in the 1974 and 2010 World Cups.

“On the plus side, we did win the ‘88 Euros,” he said.

It also brings him to lament the hypothetical: If the Netherlands finally won a World Cup, what type of soundtrack would he create for their lap of honor.

“To finally deliver on the promise the Netherlands has had since the '70s. It will have been fifty years. The score would have to be something triumphant. Heroic. That’s the word. Heroic.”

You can read the Director’s Cut of our interview with Tom HERE, which includes the deep dive into Dutch football that you didn't know you needed. 


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

Your amazing artifacts continue to pour into the CPOS for The People’s History of American Soccer Hall of Fame. This week, we feature a signed Adidas Tango ball and picture from Rutgers University’s finest, Peter Vermes. It comes via Bruce Newton in Collegeville, Penn. (“Collegeville,” we love you, America.), who won it in a trivia contest during the ‘94 World Cup.
 

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. 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 features submissions from Sir Paul at the Carrier Dome in ‘Cuse, a Carabao Cup tie at Old Trafford, and the game that officially sent MLS’s Supporters Shield North of the Border. #DareToJozy

But our favorite comes from GFOP Aaron Farquhar, who was on-hand for an in-state, Top 10, NCAA tilt between Indiana and Notre Dame.
 
Good Reads

Four Key Differences Between Last Season’s Liverpool Attack and This Season’s Frontline. Daniel Storey for Unibet UK. READ HERE

Weston McKennie’s Soccer Dream was Born in Germany, and Is Now Set To Thrive There. Ives Galarcep for Goal.com. READ HERE

England's 'Golden Boy' Jack Harrison on Why He Quit Man Utd's Academy for America. John Percy for The Independent. READ HERE
Podcast

Rog and Davo marvel at Pep Guardiola's masterclass in City's 1 - 0 win over Chelsea, beg Manchester United to stop hitting Premier League pinata Crystal Palace, and look ahead to a seismic week for U.S. Soccer. LISTEN HERE

“We should be careful / Of each other, we should be kind / While there is still time.”

Philip Larkin
Copyright © 2017 Men in Blazers, All rights reserved.

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