Sunday Funday Funblast — June 13, 2021

Good news everyone: It’s been almost two weeks since FC Cincinnati has lost a match! And, I’ll make a bold prediction that they won’t lose a match this weekend either. Around here, that’s cause for celebration, so on to the blasting of fun!

ONCE UPON A TIME VS. MEXICO….

With The FC being off last weekend, the only soccer fix most of us were able to get was the finale to the legendary CONCACAF Nations Cup between The US and The Mexico. The match was a thrilling encounter that offered a true showcase for the majesty of CONCACAF soccer — shit officiating, cynical play, and truly abhorrent fan behavior (more on this in a second). I seriously challenge you to find a place in the world where the quality of officiating is worse than you get in an average CONCACAF match. It’s like if an entire league was formed from watching SEC Football refs and saying “Man, they really try too hard to be good at their jobs.” The match official for this contest was in rare form on Sunday, waving off studs-up tackles with barely a warning and aggressively signaling for PKs like he was some shitty college basketball referee giving the charge call to some all-hustle / no-talent walk-on. The PK awarded to the United States was questionable, while the one awarded to Mexico was of the “Alright, sure — what the fuck, rules don’t matter anyway” variety. Both were called with the gusto of Joe West ringing up a hitter on a ball six inches off the fucking plate

The main non-soccer story of the night, though, revolved around more absolutely shitty behavior from the El Tri fans in attendance for the match. If you’ve followed the USMNT for more than a nanosecond, you’ll know there’s precisely zero things shocking about the preceding statement. On Sunday night, we were treated more of what we’ve become incredibly used to seeing whenever Mexico plays a match: garbage being thrown on the field at players, homophobic / racist things being said and done in the crowd, and generally abhorrent behavior. The match was even paused, at one point, so that CONCACAF could broadcast some generally dickless message to the crowd imploring them to stop the homophobic chant that occurs EVERY FUCKING TIME MEXICO TAKES A GOAL KICK. At multiple instances, players were struck directly by full bottles of what I presume was beer (but hearing stories about what the fans do with empty bottles in the crowd, I wouldn’t be certain). On balance, it was a greatest hits performance from the fanbase that would make any rock nostalgia act proud.

It’s hard to talk about this kind of thing honestly, because it’s so easy to cross a xenophobic / racist line when discussing the behavior of foreigners or ethnic groups. But, it’s really fucking time to discuss this shit honestly. Shitty behavior is a universal concepts when it comes to sports fandom. It knows no particular race, ethnicity, or creed. Hell, even here in Cincinnati I’ve been to matches where shit has been thrown on the field or where racist / homophobic shit as been said (including one instance where someone just yelled out “You fucking [rhymes with “maggots”]!” at uncomfortably high volume in the Bailey — the closest thing I’ve ever experienced to a “record scratch” moment from a movie). The existence of these things everywhere, however, shouldn’t preclude people from speaking truth to fucking power about how consistently awful the fanbase of the Mexican National Team is. We’ve been reading stories about their homophobic chants forever, yet here we sit in 2021 with matches still being “paused” because the fans won’t stop fucking doing it. What the fuck kind of solution is that? Most human beings recognized “Time Out” was a completely ineffective form of punishment when they were fucking 5. And we’re talking about virulently homophobic behavior here, not refusing to share your fucking hot wheels with your stupid face younger sibling. None of this changes a goddamn thing. I’ve spent years watching players  at these Mexico / US matches be showered with beers and trash on corner kicks. Every time it’s the same goddamn excuse of “…the actions of a few people.”

Bullshit.

A fanbase or a fandom is what it allows itself to be. We aren’t perfect in Cincinnati, but I know for a fucking fact that we at least try to be better and that bad actors get called out fairly quickly. That’s the way it works in lots of places, but CONCACAF generally (and El Tri specifically) has a real fucking problem with self-policing. You know this to be the case because shit doesn’t change in these matches. Everything continues to skate by an on a wave of inertia caused by the unwillingness of anyone to put themselves on front street and be accused of going after “Mexicans” and risk being branded as a racist or a xenophobe. It’s beyond time that the people in charge of the USMNT, and the venues hosting these games, say “enough.” No mas. If the El Tri fanbase isn’t going to do better — if the “many” aren’t going to speak up, speak out, and work to stop the “few” — then steps need to be taken to exclude them from venues. It isn’t an issue of race; it’s an issue of a fanbase that refuses to abide by basic tenets of decency, safety, and decorum — and anyone who defends their behavior by making accusations of racism is a heinous bag of shit who isn’t to be taken seriously.

It isn’t racist to say “Mexican national team fans need to do better.” It isn’t xenophobic to say “Mexican national team fans behave abhorrently at matches.” It’s the fucking truth. They’re shitty sports fans who happen to follow one particular national soccer team. We have literally fucking decades of video proof showing it to be true, and it’s beyond time people started saying it aloud and taking action about it. Being better shouldn’t be a call anyone is excused from answering just because it feels uncomfortable to make.

JURGEN, JURGEN, JURGENA NOT BE SEEING HIM MUCH LONGER…

A thread came up on the FC Cincinnati Reddit (official motto: Where DatDude Comes to Play) asking the question “What would you do with Jurgen Locadia?”  This question comes up a lot, and I think it deserves some thought.

As a starting point, we have to begin with some hard fucking truths about Jurgen Locadia. He has been, without a doubt, one of the biggest disappointments in recent MLS history. He is spared this particular scarlet letter by the fact that FC Cincinnati is, overall, an enormous dumpster fire of a franchise. No one bothers to parse out the individual pieces of garbage on fire; rather, they just laugh and make jokes from across the street as the dumpster burns out of control. On a better team or in a better organization? This signing would have caused shockwaves for how poorly it ended up after such high plaudits at the outset (NBC Sports having said called the move “a statement-making success for the league.”). We’re talking “Drafting JaMarcus Russell” level of fucking terrible here. You can argue over just how much of the suck here is directly a product of playing for a team like FC Cincinnati, but it is inarguably that Jurgen Locadia has sucked in an FC Cincinnati uniform.

Locadia has been trading on potential for a while now, but the hour is getting late for him to produce real results. The last time he scored more than 10 goals in a league season, people were still uploading his highlights to fucking Vine (13/14 in the Eredevisie). During his time at FC Cincinnati (23 appearances), he’s managed a goal for every 825’ played, by far the worst of his career. He’s also, according to every reliable rumor out there, running up against some kind of usage restriction that will probably limit how many more appearances he can make for the Orange and Blue.

I see the argument being made out there all the time that people would be OK seeing Locadia come back on a reduced money / TAM deal — and I keep wondering “Why?” What you’re seeing from Locadia right now is him desperately attempting to shake the “bust” label off his career and convince FCC to pick his transfer option up. Why does anyone think it’s going to be better on a TAM deal where that motivation is gone? He’s managed to produce two goals during his time with the club (plus an additional goal in the part of the hashtag MLS is Back tournament that didn’t count for regular season record— so who the fuck knows how that works). You’re talking numbers here that Brandon Vazquez would probably put up if given a similar amount of playing time. And there’s already a perfectly fine Brandon Vazquez on the roster right this fucking second. So why are we running out to sign another one?

The only argument for keeping him around centers around potential — the idea that there’s something more to Locadia and that the original talent that made him so enticing a year ago is still lurking there somewhere. But, that was why Brighton bought him originally, and even they decided it was time to cut their losses and move on. We’re now in the second round of “loss cutting” and, at some point, the “moving on” phase has to hit. Otherwise you just turn into the mid-2000s Cincinnati Reds — endlessly diving through the trash heap looking for guys who used to be the next big thing in someone else’s organizations. Occasionally you land a Paul Wilson (a completely serviceable starter who never became the star he was destined to be). But, for everyone one Paul Wilson there were a billion Jimmy Haynes’, Eric Miltons, or Todd Van Poppels getting rocked by opposing hitters.

Me? I’d rather the FC go looking for something new v. signing the guys who flamed out and hoping they can get a cheap turnaround. There’s no shame in a signing like Jurgen Locadia not working out. The team made a bet and it didn’t work out. Don’t make the mistake of doubling down, though.

HEY NOW, ERES UNA ESTRELLA…

Word also came down this week that the 2021 MLS All Star Game would be a contest between MLS All Stars the Liga MX All Stars. This is all part of the inevitable march towards some kind of combined “Don’t Call it a Super League” league that includes teams from Mexico, the United States and Canada that will cause an existential panic around the world. And, for the record, I’m 1,000% in favor of this. Soccer in this part of the world will always be at a disadvantage because the best and most recognizable clubs are in Europe and play in the Champions League. No matter how much CONCACAF tries to replicate it, “our” Champions League is always gonna be the discount version that doesn’t include Man United, Barcelona, Bayern, etc. And nobody wants to eat at fucking Ponderosa when there’s a real steakhouse across the street.  

The solution, of course, is stop trying to emulate Europe and start emulating what Europe wishes it could be. They weren’t able pull off the super league this past year, but there’s absolutely no reason why closed-league MLS and “buy your way out of relegation” LigaMX couldn’t. A combined league for the two nations that also incorporated the MLS teams in Canada would have the potential to be a juggernaut that kickstarts soccer fandom throughout America.  LigaMX routinely draws in the neighborhood of 1.5 million viewers for matches on Univision alone in the United States. For reference, the FCC / Miami match on national TV drew only 350,000 viewers on FOX. Those eyeballs are about more than just “growing the game” — they’re fucking dollar signs that can be used to sign better players and grow the quality of talent being brought away from Europe.

Which is why this is truly inevitable. The natural, grassroots growth of soccer in America has been slow and steady. This is fine for any number of industries, but not sports —  where networks crave bigger numbers . MLS needs/wants the kind of growth you can only get from shoving your face in a pile of cocaine, downing a pot of coffee, and going off to make cold calls for your startup. They’ve been accomplishing that this past decade via aggressive expansion (see: Atlanta, LAFC, Cincinnati, Nashville, Austin, etc.). They’ll sell that as part of their next TV deal, but the next wave of growth from MLS has to come from somewhere else — and that somewhere else is Mexico and the Mexican / Spanish-speaking fanbase of LigaMX in the United States.

A WORD ON ALL-STAR GAMES

Can we just fucking stop with “All Star Games?” Look, I get the existence of the concept from a 1960s baseball perspective — prior to interleague play in the late 90s, the American League and the National League players never really played against one another. Unless your team was making it to the World Series regularly, your players might have entire careers never once competing against players from the other league. It was a made-for-TV event to give people in this arbitrarily divided sport a chance to see how the other side lived / played. It was also born in an era before anyone invested hundreds of millions of dollars in player contracts and gave much of a shit about things like injuries or usage in non-competitive settings.

In 2021, the All Star Game is useless vestigial appendage from a bygone era. Every game in every sport is available on television. If you wanna watch LeBron James or Mike Trout play, you buy the package to watch all their games for a low monthly price You don’t need to wait until some mid-season exhibition game to watch their players play. And, in soccer especially, most of the “all stars” also feature for their various national teams — giving even more opportunity to see them play. And, at least in those matches, you’re guaranteed players who give a fuck about the outcome and who aren’t going half speed out of contractual obligation.

So, given that, exactly why are we still playing this stupid fucking game? My guess is because, somewhere along the way, some dumb fuck in the league offices made the executive decision that “ALL REAL SPORTS LEAGUES PLAY AN ALL STAR GAME SO WE MUST PLAY ONE TOO!” It would be a hyper on-brand thing for MLS, a league perpetually attempting to force itself into the conversation by trying way too fucking hard to be “one of the guys.” But, here’s the thing: It can choose to stop playing this game at any time. There won’t be a fucking soul out there who says “This is bullshit! I’m going to stop following MLS until they bring the All Star Game back!!” And, if someone does fucking say it, you’ll get way more eyeballs on a tweet that roasts the dipshit than you would playing the goddamn game.

Fuck All Star Games forever.

THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT THIS EXTENDED MID-SEASON LAYOFF

It was called “28 Days Later…”

Alright, that’s all from me this week. We’ll try to be back on the regular Friday schedule next week, but no promises — it was a stretch finding enough to write about this week, and Kevin doesn’t pay me nearly enough ($0) to manufacture nonsense. Until then, see you motherfuckers in the Thunderdome!