Friday, February 11, 2005

The Soccer Annexation Continues
By Ben Valentine

Got to love February. It's such a dead sports month that soccer talk has become premium on the blog. Not that I'm complaining of course. I love soccer, especially international competition. And since soccer apparently has hijacked this space, I feel it's my duty to contribute to it as well.

I could respond to some of T-Bone's post, since I do have some disagreements with some of it, but instead I'll tell a story. It begins in 1953 in the countryside of the island of Trinidad, then just a British a colony. On November 18th, Anthony Valentine was born. He would eventually make his way to Canada, then to the States. Fastforward to February 14th, 1983, when Mr. Valentine's son was was born in one of history's great coincidences.

Well as it turns out, Mr. Valentine's son became a soccer fan. Though he lacks any real connection to his ancestry, thanks to assorted things we'll classify as a mild prior-prior generational family feud, he became the fan of the Trinidad and Tobago international squad. In fact, it's the closest thing to a connection to his father's homeland. In 2002, he was excited about their stellar play in the semifinal round of the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers.(North America, Latin America and Caribbean qualifying region) The Soca Warriors went undefeated, even dropping the great Mexican team in Port of Spain. Then Jamaica who, the son has learned from his father, doesn't necessarily think too highly of Trinidad, sinks his team in the opening game of the final round on a free kick from some 35 yards out along the sideline. Trinidad never recovers and crashes out of the final round.

Now in 2006, the son is excited again. Trinidad has pushed on to the finals once more. Sure, Mexico kicked their rears twice, but Mexico owns everyone in CONCACAF (with the potential exception of the US, but I digress). He gives his father updates whenever the Soca Warriors play. He drives his roommate crazy with tales of Stern John and Dwight Yorke and FIFA '04. He even pulls out FIFA '98, which features Trindad and Tobago's only video game appearance. Excitement is brewing. February 9th is the game... an opening clash with the US in Port of Spain. Here it is. The chance for redemption. The chance for respectibility. Get a point and you get that much closer to Germany in '06.
Not only is Stern John one of Trinidad's top players, but he also has a great name.

Then the son finds the game is on at 2:30 in the afternoon. Problem. The son has work, then class. Never fear. A friend is willing to tape it. But wait, the result could be posted anywhere on or CBSSportsline, where the son frequently visits. So that must be avoided.

Class ends, the son is ready for his taped action. Too bad the taper and his roommate are at work. The son's roommate returns and wants to tell him the score. He doesn't, but the son also realizes that ESPN is now off limits because of their bottom line, which flashes scores. The wait continues.

The taper returns at 12 midnight. The son rushes over, persuades the taper to let him watch the game, on the condition that it is in silence. The son agrees; he has to.

Content to watch, the son watches.... and gets frustrated. The US controls play early. Then middle. Then late. Finally in the 30th minute, Eddie Johnson, the US flavor of the month, powers home a header. 1-0 States. The son realizes he's gone to great lengths to watch a tape of his team losing. Still a faint glimmer resides as the tape rolls to half. Shaka Hislop, the Trinidad netminder has held his team in it. It will only take on chance for John or Yorke to get it even.

Second half, US controls play early. Hislop makes a great save. The son cheers, violating the silence rule. He apologizes only to have to break it again, as the Soca Warriors have a breakaway chance. Kasey Keller, whom the son trashed earlier in the day to his roommate, makes the save. Eddie Lewis comes down and scores for the States. 2-0. It's over.

But wait it's the 73rd minute and Trinidad finally shows up. The chances start to come as the US backs off and the Warriors play with the hint... no the obvious desperation. Keller frustrates them and the son. The 80th minute comes. In the back of his mind, the son knows Trinidad starts off slow but usually finishes strong. Then John Sternly puts it over the bar on a great chance one-on-one with Keller. The end is near.

Angus Eve makes the the faint glimmer of hope brighter as he slid a shot that the infallable Keller misplays into his own net. 2-1. Here they come? Do they have a shot? They get one shot, then another. 3 minutes of stoppage time. The son's friend wonders how they determine that? Why 3 minutes? Why not 5? Or 1? DeMarcus Beasley, the best player on the US team, gets taken down. He casually sets for the free kick. Seconds tick away. The whistle blows. Here we go again.
Don't worry Shaka, it wasn't your fault your midfield played awful.

Trinidad deserved to lose by five goals. The son's roommate asks him if he really thought they had a shot against the US. The son's mind says no. But in his heart, he believed they would win. Just like he believed the Jets would win... or that the Mets will win. And that Trinidad WILL make the World Cup this time around. The son keeps telling himself Trinidad doesn't have to do better than Mexico or the US. They just have to beat everyone else in the CONCACAF finals. It's doable. There's no Jamaica this time around.

Then maybe, on February 14th next year, the son can pick up FIFA 06 and play with the team of his father's homeland. It isn't much of a connection, but it's something.

Happy Ben Valentine's day.


Blogger Imtiaz Mussa said...

Ben may disagree with a few of my points, but it's all good. Happy birthday buddy.
Now to business:
Calling Eddie Johnson the "flavor of the month" is about as inaccurate a statement as there is. At just 20 years old, the kid scored 12 goals in the 2004 season with Dallas. On the national team front, he has 6 goals in 4 games (220 minutes to be exact) and all of those games happened to be qualifiers.

Secondly, T&T are now counting on players who are past it or don't even get into their club sides on a regular basis. Dwight Yorke's best days were with Manchester United when he and Andy Cole formed the best scoring tandem in the Premiership. He hasn't played much for Birmingham and is already talking about a move to the United Arab Emirates. Speaking of Andy Cole, it's his goal scoring runs that are keeping Stern John on the bench. Fulham has way too many strikers and the only way John will get in is if he actually starts scoring. A big reason why Howard is not in the US goal right now is because he hasn't seen much action at United. Ever since Redknapp left Portsmouth, Hislop has gotten used to riding the bench. In critical games, you never want to rely on a cold goalkeeper.

Does T&T have a shot to qualify? Sure but it ain't easy. Guatemala boasts Carlos Ruiz who is one the best players in the MLS. And be careful about Costa Rica. Though a team of unknowns led by Paulo Wanchope, they have been playing well.

5:19 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Yeah... I admit the Eddie Johnson comment was out of line. I'm not sold on him yet (three of those six came against a terrible Panama team), but he's playing well. I wish T@T had a young midfielder like him.

As for my team, Yorke isn't the same player he used to be, but he can be adaquate as T@T's second striker. Remember he had just been released back to play for T@T. It takes time to get fully acclimated with your teammates.
Stern John is not rotting on Fulham's bench, he's rotting in the first division after Birmingham sold him to Coventry, (6 goals, one off the team lead)which is a shame because he could contribute to a premiership squad. He's at least as talented as Brian McBride and did more in his stint in the Premiership than McBride has done in his two.

As for Hislop, it may cost them in the future, but he was by far the best player on T@T's side in that game and arguably was the best player overall. The US dominated that game and Hislop is the only reason it wasn't four or five nothing. I've seen him play phenomenal, albiet in losses, against a far superior Mexico team. The guy can play.

Look, I know T@T isn't as good as the US or Mexico. But like I said, they don't have to be. They can be third or even fourth, since the Oceania division is terrible. Personally, I haven't seen much of the other CONCACAF teams this year, but usually they are about the same. Mediocre squads that can be tough at home but can't hold their own in the long run against even the second tier world teams (US, Mexico). I figure T@T is as good as any in that bunch.

So will it be good enough? I don't know. I just want to see them make the the World Cup. I don't care how they get there, or even really what happens if they do get in (since they'll get trounced like all the other non US/Mexico CONCACAF teams). I just want them to get in.

8:17 PM  
Blogger Imtiaz Mussa said...

oops, my bad. The John that is playing for Fulham is Collins John. And yes, he is rotting on Fulham's bench. Stern John is scoring goals in a VERY MEDIOCRE league. The Championship/Old Division One lacks real quality.

We'll see how T&T do but there is no way that CONCACAF should ever get three places in the World Cup field. That's a poor job by FIFA.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

All I can say is that if the most heated debate we get is on the Trinidad and Tobago national soccer team, maybe I should just trash the blog.

9:26 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

You happen to be right about CONCACAF. Amazingly they could get four teams, 3 automatic bids plus one they get for the one game playoff with Oceania. (And a CONCACAF team probably get it too because Australia and co stink) I'd give that extra spot to the league that gets screwed over, CONMEBOL.

What's wrong with soccer talk? Unlike some blogs, we appeal to the international community.

11:47 PM  

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