FRIDAY FUNBLAST 9-3-2021

The Greeks believed you should leave two coins on the eyes of a dead person so that they could pay Charon’s fare to cross the river Styx into Hades. Maybe the team should send that to every STH instead of some dumb replica stadium, since we seem to find ourselves in hell so often.

Yes, I enjoyed Malakai Black’s promo on AEW this week. Why do you ask? Anyway…

THE SOUND OF ONE HAND GIVING THE MIDDLE FINGER

There’s an old saying that the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s indifference. If that’s true, would it also mean that the truest form of a rivalry is not giving a shit that the other side hates your guts? I ask this, because I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that FC Cincinnati simply doesn’t care about the “rivalry” or “derby” aspect of #HELLisREAL. Don’t get me wrong, the front office and marketing department behind The FC is full-on "in it" for this rivalry. Word is that it was personal badgering from Jeff Berding that got the first leg of this derby moved from the midweek to a Friday night earlier in the season. The team has also gone to great lengths to produce video packages about the match, sell merch, and generally hype the idea of this being a great rivalry in American soccer.

The supporters are definitely into it too. Two of the best tifos done by The Incliners have come from this matchup. The original “HELL IS REAL” scarf (now a collectors item because there was a literal cease and desist sent over using the words “COLUMBUS CREW” in small print on the ends) was designed and sold by supporters before the first match was even played. There’s been banter for years, from taunting over unsold tickets and empty seats to Jonah and Max pretending to be dipshit Crew fans burning a DHGate FCC kit on a scrap metal grill. Hell, nearly 2/3 of FC fans voted that they’d rather beat Columbus once on the road than win a single home game at TQL Stadium this season. You’re committed to hating your rival if you’d willingly be miserable at all the games you paid fucking money to watch just for that one moment of them being miserable on TV.

The FC team and players, though? Watching the match from high in the rafters of LoweredExpectations.com stadium, nothing about this game felt like the team was considering it to be “bigger” than any other match played. I guess that’s to be expected for a team that rarely wins and for a franchise that everyone loves around the league because they know it’s the MLS equivalent of the goddamn Monopoly “Free Parking” space on the schedule. But, it kinda sucks when you see Columbus players and coaches taking this game seriously as a rivalry while the Orange & Blue are kinda “eh” about the entire experience. Caleb Porter shushed the entire stadium after clawing back a draw down a man earlier this year. When the Crew scored two goals in rapid-fire fashion last weekend, their players ran over to the away section to taunt the assembled fans who had driven north to watch the game — pointing at their badges and gesturing in a manner that indicated they couldn’t hear us any longer (which — in our defense, we didn’t have the help of the Jumbotron posting cheesedick “ENERGY METER” and directed-chant graphics to help us along like their fans did). When FCC scored a huge goal before halftime off a set piece, they all jogged to celebrate away from the visitors section. No one ran over to hype the fans going nuts above them. Jaap didn’t go put Porter in a headlock and call him a nerd. Hell, no one even got up in the business of the Columbus fans to rub it in their fucking faces that they were being dunked on from the official Spoon Collectors of MLS. It was just another day at the office.

It sucks because I want this rivalry to mean something. I get that’s probably naive on my part when you’re fielding a team of pro athletes and are really just rooting for laundry — but Columbus clearly gives a fuck, and that means it’s at least possible for us to give a fuck too. Write this down as one of the many things that I hope changes with a new manager. Cincinnati / Columbus probably doesn’t mean a goddamn thing to a guy who has played in the Manchester Derby, but part of managing in MLS means accepting that our shit matters too, even if it objectively isn’t as cool as the shit you left back home. Columbus gets that. We don't.

All I’m asking is that you act like you care. And for Caleb Porter to get put in a headlock. Because fuck that guy forever.

NATIONAL TEAM INSANITY

Another well-worn saying is “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” In much the same vein as before, does it also then follow that it’s similarly insane to expect the same results over and over again while doing things differently? Anyone know? Because I felt fucking insane last night watching the reaction to last night’s opening salvo of this WCQ cycle between the USMNT and El Salvador.

(An Aside: Where, exactly, does all this money CONCACAF earns on TV rights fees go? I know the answer used to be “paying for an apartment for some fat fuck George R.R. Martin look-alike’s cat,” but now? Because it seems like this entity prints fucking cash with all these tournaments, massive broadcasting deals, cut of FIFA blood money, etc., but precisely none of it is going into things that actually matter for the quality of matches being played. Stuff like, you know, a fucking stadium that doesn’t need riot cops holding up shields to protect people taking corners? Or a goddamn field that doesn’t look like the Kellogg Avenue pitches after 2-3 weeks of flooding. There’s absolutely zero reason that WCQ matches should played on these dog tracks when the sanctioning entity is making enough money to do something about it).

The match between the two countries was a mostly lifeless affair, with few decent chances for either side. The USMNT struggled to maintain possession, string passes together, or put much sustained pressure on an El Salvador side that seemed very content with the single point outcome. And, at final whistle, the punditry machine surrounding National Team soccer immediately spun up with the usual battery of takes: “Good result for a road WCQ.” “Draw on the road, win at home.”And, my absolute favorite: “CONCACAF soccer is just different.”

I’m sorry, but fucking *miss* me with all of this bullshit.

These are the same tired takes that we’ve been hearing about USMNT World Cup Qualifying for my entire life. Maybe, at some point, this was true. It wasn’t too long ago that the US was fielding rosters of mostly MLS guys with a smattering of others playing at mid/low-table European sides. Remember when it was a capital-B Big Fucking Deal when Clint Dempsey was playing for (checks notes) fucking Fulham? Or when Geoff Cameron was playing at noted Euro-powerhouse Stoke City? We all thumped our goddamn chests as US Soccer fans when De’Andre Yedlin got bought by fucking Newcastle. NEWCASTLE! And that was just 5 years ago in 2016. It used to be a massive deal when any American player played literally anywhere in Europe that someone might have heard of. Now? We’ve casually got guys who are getting starter-level minutes at places like Juventus and Barcelona. Our striker (who, to be fair, didn’t play) scored goals for Chelsea in the goddamn Champions League — that he fucking WON with them.

These are guys playing on massive stages around the world, and — I know this is a sacrilegious thing to say as an American soccer fan and Cincinnati resident — it’s OK to have expectations for these players that is commensurate with their talent level.

There isn’t a mystical negative-energy field surrounding Central American nations that makes the sport of soccer harder. The people working security at the airport in El Salvador aren’t Monstars in disguise, stealing the talents an abilities of players as they get off the fucking airplane. These old cliches about how hard it is to play in these places are all born from a different era, and it’s time to fucking retire them. The USMNT wants to be the Ace of CONCACAF — and if you wanna be the Ace, you can’t also be crying about how hard and unfair it is that you have to go win matches against grossly inferior opposition on the road. Ohio State doesn’t get to write off losses and bad performances on the road against bottom-feeders in the Big 10. Nick Sabin doesn’t get to excuse a loss to Mississippi State because “it’s really hard to play in Starkville with those goddam cowbells.” When you’re vastly more talented than your opposition, the expectation is that you win no matter where the game is played — be that in San Salvador, Seattle or on fucking Saturn.

Getting a road point? Whatever. Not the end of the world by any stretch of the imagination (though, to be fair — how many times did we say that in the last WCQ where every point ended up mattering a shitload). But, it’s OK to also say “This team should do better” and “The expectation is to win games on the road, not just survive them.” It’s not the same old USMNT, and expecting the same old results is just fucking insanity.

MIAMI VICE SQUAD PREDICTIONS

Let’s get the good news out of the way first — Inter Miami is not a great team. They’re one of the worst teams in the Eastern Conference when it comes to GD (-10 — still better than The FC’s -16 admittedly), but they’ve been playing better recently. They’ve won 2 of their last 3 matches, drawing the third nil-nil against Orlando City.

At some point, the FC is going to win one of these home games. It’s a fucking statistical improbability that they go 0-fer at home this year. Even as bad as they were last season, the still eeked out one fucking home win at Nippert.

This week? Feels as good as any other week for that 1 win to happen.

2-1, The FC.

THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT KENNETH VERMEER

It’s called “Catch and Release.”

Alright, that’s it for this edition. Will there be home win to write about? Or maybe some confirmation that UC is joining the Big 12? I suppose we could rant about how fucking terrible the Reds bullpen is too, but who wants to read that? Saves forever. Spills never. See you motherfuckers in the thunder dome.