The Friday Funblast – March 26, 2021

It was a slow news week for the FC made slightly more exciting by the release of the schedule and the afterglow of basking in thewarm radiance of the giant fins surrounding the West End Stadium. So, without further ado…

OH THE PLACES YOU (WON’T) GO!

With the season set to begin in roughly three weeks, Major League Soccer Soccer dot com finally decided to release the full 2021 schedule for everyone to see. The release, which was accompanied by a shockingly timely/ topical “Queens Gambit” video from the FC’s social media team, was (thank fucking Gary) for the full season and not this “check back next week to see who you’re playing” bullshit we tolerated last year.

You can go a lot of places to see full-schedule breakdowns from a competition point of view, but from purely a “I’m a supporter of this team, is this going to be any fun?” point of view, let me be the first to say: this schedule fucking *sucks*.

Let’s start with the fact that, for some inexplicable fucking reason, that MLS decided to segregate The FC into a schedule made up solely of Eastern Conference teams. I completely understand the idea of limiting travel during the pandemic last season, when the primary concern was controlling exposure to the virus and preventing matches from being cancelled due to outbreaks. But this year? Every citizen in Ohio is eligible to get the COVID vaccine as of next week, and you can bet every dollar in your fucking wallet that all the local sportsball teams, FCC included, is going to have a nurse at the fucking facility administering the vaccine that same day (if they haven’t already done via side-channels and kept it quiet for PR purposes, stay woke). Every team in the goddamn league is going to get vaccinated within the next 30 days, and once that happens, the logic of keeping every team on a short travel plan goes out the fucking window.

Why is this happening? The cynic me (as if there is any other me, but I digress) would suggest that this a transparent attempt to limit travel costs by MLS under the guise of “safety.” MLS is the cheapest league on the planet when it comes to travel. Almost all travel is done commercial as opposed to chartered flights like every other civilized sports league (though, this is slowly changing). It honestly wouldn’t surprise me if there was a league mandate that forced any player under 5’2 to fly in the overhead bin to save money on buying an extra fucking ticket. By quietly switching to a travel schedule where the longest flight The FC will be taking is the 2:45 flight from CVG to Miami, MLS is further cutting a cost where they were at rock bottom already.

Why does this suck so much? I know this is gonna come as a shock to everyone, but there are a lot of people (the Chief included) who are clawing at the fucking door looking for a reason to get out and travel. Speaking just for myself, last year was the longest I went in my entire life without leaving Cincinnati for any extended length of time. You know what we were all looking forward to? Circling that weekend in Portland, Seattle, Denver, Austin, Salt Lake City, or any of the other dozen fucking places that are interesting to visit and not on the FCC schedule. Instead, what do we get? The exciting destinations of Philadelphia, Orlando, the deep suburbs of Boston. Hell, the FC has 4 trips to “Canada” to play Toronto FC and Anus Montreal – except both those teams are in Florida because you can’t fucking travel to Canada legally right now.

This schedule is a disaster of dull games and while it may be beneficial from a competition point of view to not see LAFC or the Timbers on the slate, it sucks that we’ll be missing the opportunity to go see some of the best American soccer destinations for yet another year.

But that’s not even the real crime here…

HELL IS WEEKDAYS

The schedule also gave us the dates for what should be, under most circumstances, “The Game” on the FC Cincinnati calendar: Hell is Real. Except this year, we should probably change to the name to “Hell is Needing Time Off” because the trained monkeys at MLS HQ decided, in their infinite wisdom, to put BOTH LEGS of the fucking derby on weekday nights. The Cincinnati leg of the match is going to be on a Wednesday evening while the Columbus leg will be on a Friday evening. If you’re looking for a rational explanation as to why this is happening, I’ve got absolutely nothing for you.

In addition to being a general awful experience for the human race as a whole, 2020 was also a pretty awful year for the “Hell is Real” rivalry. Columbus v. The FC seemed to happen every other fucking week and there was a genuine feeling of burnout at seeing the game be played over and over again. One would think that this year would be an opportunity to return a little bit of the “specialness” to what should be a crown-jewel matchup for MLS, especially given the fact that both sides of the derby are opening brand new stadiums this season. Instead? You get matches on nights that are incredibly inconvenient for travel purposes and even more inconvenient from a “I’d like to drink heavily and dull the pain of an eventual disappointing result” point of view. The Columbus leg of this bullshit happens at 6:30 PM. Why? Is Eddie George giving a televised sermon to the city of Columbus at 9PM that everyone needs to be home to see? Given MLS’ silly “away fans must be in their seats early” rule, you probably won’t even have time for a beer if you leave straight from work to the match. What fucking Einstein thought this was a good idea?

This isn’t complex. Play your rivalry games when they can be special. There’s absolutely nothing special about a Wednesday night match or a Friday early evening match. There’s a summer full of fucking Saturdays to play this match on, go ahead and bump one of those marquee games against Philadelphia or Orlando from a weekend to make room for this one.

TAKING MADNESS ONE STEP BEYOND

Personally, the moment when “Oh, 2020 is gonna fucking suck…”really set in was when they cancelled the NCAA Tournament. That was when all this virus and pandemic stuff shifted from theoretical “eh, they’ll have this under control in a few weeks…” to “probably should go stock up on canned good right now.” So, hearing the familiar sounds of the CBS March Madness music and the familiar, pretentious tones of Jim Nantz really did feel like a celebration of the fact that we’ve finally achieved some degree of normalcy. Despite this being a soccer blog, I have no shame in admitting that the NCAA College Basketball Tournament is, far and away, the greatest sporting event and spectacle humanity produces on a yearly basis (narrowly edging out the Royal Rumble). It combines the perfection of any number of academic disciplines, from mathematics and marketing to the artistic perfection that is the NCAA tournament bracket shape / design. It’s the one area of sports where we’re just flat-out better than the rest of the world (as long as you ignore the fact that, you know, the athletes are all unpaid and being exploited for their labor to prop up this billion-dollar event – which, come to think of it, is super fucking on-brand for America to be the best at).

Which makes me wonder why the formatting of it isn’t being used for more things – and, specific to soccer, why it isn’t being used for the US Open Cup.

The US Open Cup is something we’re already intimately familiar with here in Cincinnati, so I don’t need to spend actual time discussing the stupidity of the current format or how so many regional matchups magically get drawn out of the blind selection process. The Cup is playing a truncated version of this season due to the pandemic and related restrictions, so next year would be the perfect opportunity to relaunch the entire thing. If they do (and they really should), they need to immediately copy the format of the NCAA Tournament. Why you ask?

1. America Loves Brackets: You put a group of people in a room and throw them a stack of blank 64-line tournament brackets, and they’ll inevitably come up with something to do a tournament of and start fighting about seeding. Hell, to kill time last year the War Pigs did an entire tournament of scarf designs, complete with brackets. Actual people spent actual time debating and voting on it. You look at any competition of silly things being run in the newspaper – best chili in town, best beer in town, etc. – and it’s inevitably on a bracket. I can not know a goddamn thing about a topic, but if you put it on a bracket I’m gonna come roaring out of the gate with fire takes and an opinion on who should win every matchup. If you’re running a sports league and you don’t incorporate brackets, you’re leaving money on the fucking table.

2. Predicting Things is Fun & Potentially Lucrative: Look, I love the Champions League as much as the next guy who likes telling people “I don’t have a problem, it’s a sporting event!” when eyebrows raise over cracking a beer at 2PM on a workday, but the tournament’s silly insistence on doing draws as they go along is ridiculous and dumb. You know what’s way more fun? Seeding every team right from the start so that you can see your team’s pathway through to the championship. You get to debate, right from the start, who has the easy road and who has the hard road. Plus, for gambling purposes, you already know who every potential opponent and matchup is for every participant in the tournament. You can make your guesses about the entirety of the tournament up front and then have weeks to think up excuses as to why you, for some reason, expected Bayern to miss the semifinals. And, if everyone throws a few bucks in, you can potentially make a little (or a lot) of cash. The USOC makes the same mistake as the Champions League, where you have no idea what’s coming until their ridiculously rigged draw every few weeks. It's lame, it's unexciting and it needs to change.

3. You’re Emulating Success: The NCAA Tournament is a multi-billion dollar industry. The US Open Cup is a multi-dozen dollar industry. If it’s a choice between “doing what you’ve always done, to middling results” and “copying these other guys who are printing fucking money,” you copy the dudes printing fucking money. Bill Gates didn’t get rich because of DOS, he got rich ripping off the shit Apple stole from Xerox that worked way better.

This is free advice to the US Open Cup: Brackets, Seeding, Soccer Madness. You don’t even have to thank me when we get an entire field of Soccer Bracketologists down the road.

THEY MADE A MOVIE ABOUT FCC’S ATTACK AGAINST INDY 11 IN A SCRIMMAGE NO ONE WAS ABLE TO SEE.

It’s probably called “Natural Born Killers.”

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That’s all for the Funblast this week. Go buy a War Pigs Scarf – they’re cool and they’re selling faster than any that we’ve ever done, so they’ll probably gone in the next couple weeks. Until next time: Saturdays forever, Dark Matches never. See you motherfuckers in the Thunderdome.