Tale of Two Cities, Tale of Two Halves: USA vs Ghana

By | June 17th, 2014 | No Comments

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June 17, 2014
By Tom McCabe*


The text message came through as “URGENT.” Sylvers Owusu, a former student and player, wrote yesterday: “We just received a city permit to block off Ghanaian Way in Newark for today’s GHA vs. USA match. Please join us for a watch party! DJ Albert will provide music to entertain the crowd. Let’s go Ghana!”

The plan was now hatched: first half in Newark, and the second half a few miles away in what has been called “the cradle of American soccer.” I watched several games at the Scots American Club in Kearny in 2010, including the Algeria match punctuated by Donovan’s last-ditch winner. (I also watched Ghana knock the USA out there).

Back at the Scots Club there was a much more joyous celebration to Dempsey’s early strike [click here for video.]

Ten minutes later the Ghanaian congregation began singing a song, unrecognizable to my ears. Sylvers whispered to me: “It’s a gospel song. We need God now.” Ghana grabbed control of the game, but the USA threatened on several occasions to double the lead. It was an intense, physical start to a must-win match.

At the half-time whistle we headed outside and took in the street scenes. DJ Albert had the place jumping and after some dancing and chanting we got back into the car and headed for the Passaic River. Kearny, home to American stars (John Harkes, Tab Ramos, and Tony Meola), the Scots Club, and the second half beckoned.

We arrived ten minutes into the second half as parking was scarce around the Scots Club, but the USA still had that slim one-goal lead. The bar-end of the social club formed in 1932 was packed with people in red, white and blue. “USA” chants rang out as well as repeated frustration about how the Stars and Stripes couldn’t hold on to possession.

After Ghana leveled the score in the 82nd minute it seemed that they would go on to find the winner, but against the flow of the second half John Brooks powered home a precisely-placed Graham Zusi corner. Understandably, there was bedlam inside the Scots Club once again. Hugs, high-fives, chants, and more hugs. It was a major victory in “The Group of Death” that sets up an epic battle against Portugal on Sunday.

*Tom McCabe is an historian at Rutgers University-Newark where he teaches surveys in U.S. History, History of Newark, and History of Soccer. Follow him on Twitter at @tommccabe5. This post was originally published on his new blog Soccer Brains.

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A “Hallmark Holiday” for American Soccer

By | December 22nd, 2012 | 1 Comment

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Guest Post by Tom McCabe

I’ve been invited to not one, but three Boxing Day parties this year, which got me thinking that the day after Christmas should become a soccer holiday in the United States. Like other manufactured holidays such as Grandparent’s Day, Secretary’s Day, and Boss’s Day, Boxing Day can become American soccer’s Hallmark Holiday.

This country has no real tradition for December 26th, unlike England and some other Commonwealth countries, so two Englishmen and one American I know have co-opted the day and made it an “unofficial” soccer holiday.


My friend Jimmie’s son was born seven years ago on Boxing Day, and ever since he has an open house for his soccer-loving friends and family. He wants his son’s birthday to always be filled with soccer. His house is just seven exits away on the Garden State Parkway (yes, the “Which exit?” New Jersey joke lives on) so my son and I watch a Premier League match as we eat an early morning English breakfast.

Phil, an Englishman, just started his Boxing Day party, but we’ll have to pass on it as one in our hometown gets top billing. Steve, a Scouser who supports Liverpool, has hosted a match and after-party for a number of years now.

The event starts as an eleven-a-side “international” between England and the U.S.A., but disintegrates into a twenty-a-side melee when the kids join in. It ends with a party at the local Elks Lodge. Last year, the Stars and Stripes posted a convincing 4-1 victory over Mother England on a clear, cold day. One player dressed as a Victorian-era Englishman with a retro Three Lions jersey, long white shorts, and a faux mustache. After the match we warm ourselves with meat pies and beer.

It’s a festive day of food and football that others should partake in. Soccer clubs could use it as a get-together after the fall season. Professional clubs might use the opportunity to stage an exhibition match, advertise the coming season (Major League Soccer just announced its home openers for 2013 this past week), or just host fans for a holiday party.

Whatever the motivation, December 26 could become a day that gets you off the couch and back onto the field. With soccer as its focus, it would be better than any of those other Hallmark Holidays.

What Will it Take for Women’s Pro Soccer to Survive?

By | November 20th, 2012 | No Comments

The 90th Minute Trailer from Jun Stinson on Vimeo.

The Football Scholars Forum is holding its final session of the 2012 season on Wednesday, December 5, at 3:30pm EST, on Jun Stinson’s short film, The 90th Minute. The 20-minute documentary follows three members of FC Gold Pride, the 2010 Women’s Professional Soccer champions. The film sheds light on what it’s like to be a female pro player in the U.S. — a dream that has become more elusive after the demise of the WPS.

Why do Hope Solo, Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe, Abby Wambach and others struggle to play professionally in their country? Why have two pro women’s soccer leagues failed since the heady days of Mia Hamm, Brandi Chastain and the 1999 Women’s World Cup? What needs to happen for a new women’s league in the U.S. to be sustainable? How does the situation in the U.S. compare with international trends?

Jun Stinson recorded an interview with me ahead of the session in which I also asked a few questions on behalf of FSF members. To listen click here. Gwen Oxenham, former Duke and Santos player and one of the producers of the film Pelada will participate in what promises to be a terrific season finale!

For more information about this event please contact Alex Galarza: galarza1 [at] msu [dot] edu.

Update: On November 21, “U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati announced the launch of a women’s professional league which will start play in March.” Details here.

“We Had it All” — Ray Hudson at the Football Scholars Forum

By | February 27th, 2012 | No Comments



Professional soccer in the U.S.A. took center stage at the Football Scholars Forum on Friday (Feb. 24). Ray Hudson not only braved the “football think-tank,” but also answered questions in the inimitable style he brings to broadcasting a Clásico on GolTV.

Using the documentary film Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos, FSF discussed Cosmos and the NASL, as well as the representation and construction of history on film. “We had it all, man!” said Hudson looking back fondly to his playing days with the Ft. Lauderdale Strikers. The audio recording of the conversation is here.

FSF is holding its next online session on March 16, 2pm EST. Author David Goldblatt will be in East Lansing, Michigan, to discuss the second half of his book, The Ball is Round. FSF’s discussion of the first installment is here. For more information, contact Alex Galarza: galarza1[AT]msu[DOT]edu

Private US Soccer Archive Acquires Rare Film Collection

By | December 13th, 2011 | 2 Comments

Stryker-Indigo New York, a private multi-media film and print production company, has announced the acquisition of a major collection of 1950s-1960s 8mm and 16mm soccer films.

The film footage, featuring both university and international teams playing in American cities, contains rare home movie images of the history of the game in the United States. For example, there is footage of the first leg of the 1961 U.S. Open Cup Final between United Scots of Los Angeles and Ukrainian Nationals of Philadelphia at Rancho La Cienega Stadium in LA (now Jackie Robinson Stadium).

According to the Stryker-Indigo web site, its Futbol Heritage Archive houses nearly 9,000 historic photographs, slides, newspaper clippings, postcards, trophies, jerseys and artifacts. Following the closure of the US Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, NY, researchers have lost access to an archive of more than 80,000 items, including the North American Soccer League archive and the 1994 World Cup archive. It is hoped that private collections such as Stryker-Indigo’s film footage will be made accessible to soccer researchers and aficionados so that the history and culture of the game can be properly recorded and disseminated.

***

Thanks to David Wallace for inspiring me to write this post.

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Let’s Fund The Anderson Monarchs Film

By | April 9th, 2011 | 3 Comments



The Anderson Monarchs are talented students and gifted athletes who are creating a level playing field for girls everywhere. The team plays on a modest pitch and has virtually no money. But they have something special, a sisterhood that is supported by their community of parents and their coach.

Eugene Martin is seeking financial support for a feature length documentary film about this inspiring girls’ soccer team living and playing in a tough Philadelphia neighborhood. The project will only be funded if at least $25,000 is pledged by Thursday April 21. I became a backer and hope you will too. Click here for more information. Only eleven days left!

Agudelo spoils the party: SA 0, USA 1

By | November 18th, 2010 | 2 Comments

Agudelo scores the winner (Photo by Sophie Alegi)


Juan Agudelo — six days shy of his 18th birthday — scored the only goal of the game in the 84th minute and spoiled a massive party in Cape Town. 51,000 of us were on hand at Green Point stadium for this glossy friendly on a warm and breezy late spring evening.

As we walked towards the ground, pubs were full of Bafana fans wearing the yellow national team shirt.

World Cup atmosphere at Green Point (Photo by Peter Alegi)

A few Americans chanted their support for the stars-and-stripes and confidently predicted a victory.  The World Cup atmosphere was back (minus the FIFA branding).

Who said soccer ain't American? (Photo by Peter Alegi)

Inside the arena a welcoming vibe enveloped us. The sweet smell of football. The energy of a racially mixed and patriotic crowd. President Zuma meets the teams on the pitch. All for a good cause: the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund. Fans belt out South Africa’s multilingual national anthem in unison: a rare, precious moment of communitas, football’s unique contribution to a fractured society searching for a shared national identity.

Unfortunately, the football on the night was crap. Let’s call a spade a spade. A strangely lethargic Bafana Bafana side knocked the ball sideways and backwards, while the second-string Americans kept their shape and every once in a while hoofed the ball forward hoping for a break. Still, the two best chances fell to the hosts who, characteristically, squandered them. 0-0 at the half. Perhaps the one silver lining for SA was Leeds striker Davide Somma’s positive debut.

Play resumed at the same monotone pace, passes going astray, nobody really able to turn defenders or take a decent shot at goal, and a series of edgy tackles that did little to improve the flow of the game. A steady stream of substitutions made matters worse. The Mexican wave takes off, a universal symbol of bored fans.

Photo by Peter Alegi


The concocted drama of penalties beckoned until the Colombian-born Agudelo, left wide open in the box, capitalized on an inviting assist by Mikkel Diskerud, a former Norwegian under-19 international whose mother is American. Bafana pressed for the equalizer, but it was too little too late.



As the home crowd filed out quietly, a group of vociferous American college students wrapped in red-white-and-blue began their celebrations. I couldn’t help but think back to the last time South Africa played in Cape Town: a 3-1 loss to Zambia in September 2007. Is the Mother City cursed?

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