In another effort to churn out a weekly column using a tired, formulaic method, I present for your consideration XI personal highlights from my year in soccer:
I. Fulham’s Run to the Europa League: In some ways, my support of Fulham is more pure than that I have for the Chicago Fire, Chicago Red Stars or even my current employer, the Milwaukee Wave. I have never been on the dole of the Fulham FC and my support for them, while relatively recent, is independent of business concerns and allows me to have the traditional supporter angst and joy. Last season’s remarkable run by the Cottagers allowed me to revel in celebration an inordinate number of times, usually from the comfort of a bar stool (or even on the bar) with the crew at The Highbury Pub while surrounded by supporters of the Big Four and other clubs more experienced in winning. Thank you Fulham. Here’s to more success in Europa League group play in 2010. COYW!
II. US Success in FIFA Confederation’s Cup and World Cup Qualifying: Told you so.
III. WPS Opener: Watched this historic match featuring Abby Wambach’s Washington Freedom and Marta’s LA Galaxy in the back room at The Globe Pub on Chicago’s far north side. Most of the Chicago Red Stars players, coaches and staff were on hand along with a hundred or so fans for the viewing party. Everyone was excited….and I got to meet Cristiane for the first time – which was pretty weird as her agent and I talked for more than five months about bringing her to Chicago early so she could see the city and get comfortable with the organization. In the end, her agent really just cared about the money…no surprise I guess.
IV. Red Stars Away Opener:
The Red Stars beat Saint Louis Athletica on the road on the campus of Southern Illinois- Edwardsville on a Lindsay Tarpley strike. A number of Red Stars owners including myself joined Red Stars staff and members of Local 134, the Red Stars’ supporters group on the four hour bus trip. More than 200 passionate fans waved flags and scarves, unveiled banners and smoke bombs and made more noise and attracted more attention than the rest of the sold out crowd of Athletica supporters. The Red Stars were off to a great start: alas, in many ways, the Red Stars season skidded from there.
V. MLS All-Star Game: I spent three days in Park City, Salt Lake City and Sandy, Utah visiting with dozens if not hundreds of old friends. Part work, part vacation. It was a great trip. Amazing, actually, now that I think back at all the people I spent time with and all the wonderful things I did. Highlights included dinner in Park City with Steve Pastorino and Andy Swift, drinks with John Koluder in a brew pub in Salt Lake City, watching Tim Howard try unsuccessfully for several minutes to figure out how to use his key card to gain access to The Canyons Resort swimming pool, taking my first ski lift ride high into the backside of the Wasatch Mountains and hiking back down, having lunch with an old high school friend I hadn’t seen for years, touring Toyota Park Plus, I mean Rio Tinto, before the game, using Levy Catering’s high tech in-seat texting food and beverage service, watching Everton take on the MLS All Stars (I don’t even recall who won…though I do recall it going to PKs), hugging Andy Williams after the game and talking with Piotr Nowak, Patrick McCabe, Dan Courtemanche, Don Garber and dozens of other old friends from my MLS days.
VI. Red Stars Final Home Game of 2009: It took all season, a sunny day and the appearance of the world’s greatest female soccer player, but we finally had a game experience we were expecting. Almost 8,000 fans saw the Red Stars upset the regular season WPS champions. The atmosphere was tremendous. Minor league baseball empressario Mike Veeck was a guest that day and he came away mightily impressed, which for a longtime admirer of him and a worshipper of his father, is as high a praise as I could have ever hoped for.
VII. WPS Championship Game: When you run a professional sports team, their League’s Championship games are usually not much fun to attend when your team’s not participating. I did enjoy this one, however, as I got to watch part of it with an old friend and the underdogs came out on top. It was at the Home Depot Center and saw the ultimate Cinderella Sky Blue FC upset the host LA Sol 1-0 behind the efforts of Christie Rampone. Rampone, the team’s player/coach disclosed to her players in the postgame celebration that she wouldn’t drink the Champagne, because she was three months pregnant. Bet that hasn’t happened in pro sports before and for my money, the whole Sky Blue FC run is the sports story of the year.
VIII. Milwaukee Wave News Conference Announcing New President/CEO: My Thomas Wolfe moment. I was standing at the podium in the media room of the US Cellular Arena to announce my return to the oldest professional soccer franchise in the United States after leaving 22 years earlier. I was back in the building I had worked in as a reporter for United Press International covering the Marquette WARRIORS and Milwaukee Bucks. It was called the MECCA Arena back when I served as the Milwaukee Admirals Assistant Director of Public Relations and Marketing and then as Director of Marketing and Publicity for the same, though much younger, Milwaukee Wave. It was also the building complex collectively known as MECCA where I “fell asleep” during a Bruce Springsteen concert and stayed awake to see The Who (on their 1982 Schlitz Tour), Hulk Hogan, Sargent Slaughter, The Road Warriors, Greg Gagne, ZZ Top, The Kinks, “Johnny Cougar”, Keith Richards and the New Barbarians, Big Audio Dynamite, Atlanta Rhythm Section, Ozzy Osbourne and others. The day brought back many great memories and opened up many new challenges.
IX. MLS Eastern Conference Semi-Final: Toyota Park felt like we envisioned it back in 2003, when it existed only on blueprints and dreams. One of the greatest nights in Chicago Fire history. The Fire has had larger crowds, but the passion of that crowd has not been exceeded and the result was glorious. A week later, unfortunately, Head Coach Denis Hamlett’s fate had been sealed by three saved penalty kicks.
X. Milwaukee Wave at Rockford Rampage: It was the Wave’s second game of the season (both on the road) and was at the Metro Centre and like the Red Stars first game earlier at Saint Louis, the visitors brought a large and loud travelling contingent. My return to indoor soccer seemed real that night. Despite the 9-8 loss, it was an exciting game and everyone had a great time.
XI. The Wave’s Second Home Game: We were blown out by Monterrey LaRaZa in our first home game of the season, so I’ll go with our second home game for my final highlight of 2009. The Philadelphia Kixx played the role of the Washington Generals and we used two hat tricks and a two-goal game to earn a 27-6 victory. The match was rollicking and was followed by a surprisingly(?) great concert by Genesis – Rewired, who uses a faux Phil Collins to replicate Genesis’ super hits of the 80s.
It has been an incredible ride for me in 2009 that has created many wonderful memories for my mental soccer library. I hope you had a great year that you can look back upon fondly and anticipate even more and better memorable soccer experiences in the year ahead. I’d like to thank Pitch Invasion Editor Tom Dunmore and all the Pitch Invasion contributors and readers for providing an outlet for my observations, memories and perspective this year.