The Friday Funblast — March 25, 2023

The Chief has been on the road for the past week and is coming to you LIVE from somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean. No, I didn’t see Chris Albright on my flight — but I’m assuming he can afford better tickets than I can. This seat does include free booze, so I apologize if the quality falls off as I go along.

FC CINCINNATI BEATS FLORIDA MAN

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but The FC is on a winning streak and looking like a competent Major League Soccer club. And, here in Cincinnati, “competent” is so far above anything we’ve seen before these guys may as well be the fucking Invincibles running the Premier League. I can’t emphasize enough how much more entertaining this team is than literally anything that we have seen in Cincinnati since the USL-era (imagine being wistful about a time when we were forced to play in front of two dozen people in Richmond, Virginia). It’s the little things that you appreciate — the competent set-piece defending, the lack of that existential feeling of dread the second a counterattack happens, etc. With every passing week, the opening match loss to Austin FC seems more and more like a total aberration.

So, what’s going on?

Well, you have to begin with one man: Brandon Fucking Vazquez (yes, that’s now his legal name). Vazquez has been a dominant force in MLS over the opening 4 matches. The statistics are somewhat eye-popping, albeit with warnings of small-sample-size. Vazquez is leading MLS in goals with 4. He’s leading MLS in scoring-attempts with 17 (2 clear of Chicharito). He’s third-best in the league at drawing fouls too — and given where he plays, those fouls tend to lead directly to dangerous set pieces. Watching his game, he’s scoring with his feet, off aerial balls, and off the dribble. He looks as dangerous as Fanendo Adi behind the wheel and as confident as Ron Jans with a karaoke mic. You know that feeling you get watching Joe Burrow when he’s absolutely dealing? That’s what Brandon Vazquez has looked like for every minute of the season, minus the 3-4 opening minutes of the Austin game where he whiffed his first clearance. And, here’s the best part — this doesn’t look like a fluke either. He finished 2021 hot when, for the first time in his career, Tyone Marshall decided to give him regular minutes up top. What you’re seeing now is growth across the season break, and that’s a tremendously positive sign when you consider he’s not even old enough to remember The Rock as a pro wrestler.

It isn’t just Vazquez either — the back-line play has been above-average to borderline good for the majority of the past three matches. Moreno has been as-advertised (when was the last time THAT fucking happened on a signee?) as an unspectacular but stabilizing force in the midfield. And don’t look now, but our other MLS-based acquisition Dom Badji appears to be thriving in his pairing with the aforementioned Vazquez. But of course, this is Cincinnati — if we aren’t asking you where you went to high school, we’re cynically expecting every good sports thing to be a mirage. Want more stats? How about Lucho Acosta leading MLS in key passes and tied for second in assists? Or Yuya Kubo being third in MLS in tackles won. Like poet laureate Scott “Big Poppa Pump” Steiner once said: “The numbers don’t lie…”

This is what you get when you hire people who understand how MLS works and implement systems designed to win matches in this league. It’s what happens when you get coaches who are man-managers in addition to tacticians and understand how to utilize players in ways that best fit their skillsets. There’s an old saying that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is understanding that you never put one in a fruit salad. Here, basic soccer knowledge is knowing that Yuya Kubo *could* play defensive mid, MLS wisdom is understanding that’s better just to sign a fucking 6 and play Kubo to do what he’s being paid to do best. That’s what CL3 and Berding bought when they signed Albright, Noonan & Friends LLP to run the soccering on Wade Street — they bought MLS Wisdom.

And, as of right now, that looks like an even better investment than oil futures.

QUEEN CITY IMPOSTERS

I don’t know much about the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. I don’t much about the state of North Carolina in general. It falls into the general geographic area of “The South,” where I assume most people struggle to read above a 7th grade level and still secretly think the Civil War went the wrong way. Asheville’s a good time if you like craft beer and hate staying up past 11pm (true story — I once went to the same restaurant for food 2 nights in a row because we got a little over our skis on drinking and by the time someone realized “Hey, we haven’t had dinner yet…” over 99% of the city had shut down). It’s also the home of Duke Basketball — low key the most obnoxious fanbase in sports that doesn’t play in New York City. As best I can tell, the only real thing North Carolina has going for it is that Myrtle Beach happens to be across the state line in South Carolina.

Charlotte, I’m told, also refers to itself as “The Queen City.” A very basic google search indicates that’s because it was actually named after Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Streltiz, who was the wife of King George III when the city was founded. Here’s the thing though — the Chief here just recently became an expert in all things British Royal Family (see below) and learned that just because you’re the wife of a King, that doesn’t make you a full-on Queen. Elizabeth II is the Queen of England (for now — she’s a billion fucking years old, so fact check me on this by the time this gets posted). Her husband (R.I.P. to Ol' Phil — dude was an absolute legend) didn’t get to be King of England because he wasn’t a member of the royal family. The “Queen” namesake of Charlotte wasn’t a fucking “Queen” at all — she was a queen consort. Lower-case. Because no one gives a flying fuck about any member of the Royal Family who isn’t an actual fucking King, an actual fucking Queen, or in line for the throne in some way (Prince, Princess, etc.).

So, I’m going to call the loudest BULLSHIT imaginable on Charlotte having the name “The Queen City.” If they want to call themselves “The Queen Consort City,” good on them. I’ll also accept “The Not-Quite-Queen City” and “The Wife of the King City” or even “The Incest City,” since all those royal fucking weirdos were related to one another back in the day.

THE JOYS OF AIR TRAVEL

There’s nothing more quintessentially “sportswriter,” than bitching about travel issues. Does what I’m about to do make me a sportswriter? I don’t know. That’s not for me to say. Will I be submitting this piece for consideration to the MLS Writers Association? Possibly. Does the MLS Writers Association exist? I have no clue, but it felt right to type in the moment.

The Chief booked himself a little trip across the pond back in November — mostly to have something to look forward to all winter. Nothing fancy, just a week stint in London and Dublin to look at all the cool shit stolen during the age of Imperialism and to become “that fucking guy” who signs his e-mails “Cheers!” and insists without hesitation that the Guinness “tastes better” in Ireland. Well, at least it would have been week long stint if the airline industry wasn’t run by fucking swindlers looking to steal every goddamn dollar they could from people.

Due to the pandemic, we Cincinnatians lost our only transatlantic flight (CVG to CDG) — meaning any trip across the pond needs a layover somewhere. In this case, the layover was scheduled in Boston. No worries. Great city. Lovely people. Except, morning of the trip, alert on the phone — your flight to Boston tonight has been cancelled. No explanation — not even the usual bullshit about “weather.” Oh, and every other flight to Boston is completely sold out. Sorry. But we can re-route you to Atlanta, Amsterdam and then London if you rush to the airport right this fucking second. Sold. One small problem — the flight to Atlanta is (you guessed it) delayed past when the connecting flight leaves. All of this horeshit required hours at the airport, a bag being sent to the wrong city, and a full loss of a vacation day (plus being switched to a middle seat for an 8 hour flight).

I don’t want to be the kind of person who singles out the Greek-alphabet named airline we flew — mostly because they’re just industry wide problems at this point. Eventually, a very perky but unhelpful customer service rep informed me that the flight cancellation was because of “crew shortages.” You know what would stop “crew shortages?” Paying people and staffing your fucking company to cover people who call out sick. I also don’t believe a word any airline says at this point — they’ve reached a trustworthiness level roughly equivalent to your average politician or Alexi Lalas on a pregame show. In this case, I’m squatting on a take (one I shared loudly with anyone who was listening while waiting in the longest line I’ve ever seen that didn’t include a ride on fucking Space Mountain at the end) that they’re really just cancelling flights at random to save on jet fuel now that oil prices are high again. Cancel one flight and spread all the passengers onto other random flights with empty seats? That’s an easy win for the airline. Do that a couple dozen times per week over the course of the year and you can save a shitload of money. What’s the downside? People might think the airline industry is a fucking scam? Well, spoiler alert…

Also, while I’m on a rant — we didn’t have to take a COVID test to enter the UK or Ireland, but we did have to take one to get back into the United States? You think drugs make people paranoid? Trying sweating out the results of a nose swab, thinking about the masses of humanity from every corner of the fucking globe you’ve been around unmasked at major tourist landmarks for a week. The idea that the goddamn United States — the country where politicians burn face masks for likes and RT — makes you take a fucking COVID test to get back into it is just the height of comedy.

Actually, I’m lying. The height of comedy is that, after taking said test and getting a negative result back — meaning that you are CONFIRMED healthy and safe to be around — you still have to wear a fucking mask on the plane ride back.

GOOD PREDICTION VIBES ONLY

Cincinnati’s riding on a win streak currently and I’m not going to bet against them in the upcoming match. Here, I see Vazquez drawing extra attention and opportunities opening up for Yuya and Badji — who will both get in ledger for the first time this season as The FC wins 2-1.

THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT BRANDON VAZQUEZ…

…it’s called “Heat.”

Alright, that’s it for me this week. Back to the regular schedule with the pod on Thursday and the fun blast on Friday — we’ve got a fun guest lined up who can help us reminisce about the old days a little. Until then: Golden Boots forever. Wooden Spoons never. See you motherfuckers in the Thunderdome!