Friday Funblast — April 23, 2021

We've got soccer to talk about. We've got Super Leagues to mourn. And we've got a brand new stadium name for everyone to get mad at. So, without further ado...

TAKING SHOTS IN NASHVILLE

Finally, after this long winter of bullshit, soccer has returned. In the depths of my whiskey and IPA-fueled depression last year, I made a promise to myself that I’d never take sports for granted again. I’m committed to making good on that promise (unlike the dozen or so times I’ve promised never to Doordash Taco Bell after 11PM again). MLS was supposed to be the end of “existential dread regarding the future of FC Cincinnati’s existence,” but there were times last year where I was convinced we’d never reach this point again. That we’d get COVID-21, COVID-22, and so on like it was fucking Toyotathon or Ridiculousness on MTV. But, we made it. FC Cincinnati kicked off at 8:42 PM on Saturday, April 17th 2021 and suddenly everything was right with the world again.

Seriously, this show is on fucking TV a lot.

The game itself was a roller-coaster of emotion that probably qualifies for its own hype video from Kings Island. For the first 15-20 minutes, this looked like a completely different team than we’d ever seen before — it was fast moving, aggressive, and looked like it smelled blood in the water from the first whistle. Acosta’s first goal in the orange and blue was the kind of masterclass of deft passing and calm finishing this team simply has whiffed on in years past (you think Loca makes that final touch past the keeper? That ball is 15 rows up in the fucking stands if he’s on the field for that one). And then Brenner, a total ball of energy, directly challenges the keeper, pounces on a poor touch, and earns himself a trip to the spot. If Ohio wasn’t run by puritanical shitbags, I would’ve rushed off to my sports betting app and hammered the live line for the over — because The FC looked goddamn unstoppable.

But then the Pedal Wagon Nation attacked.

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the other side figured out exactly what FCC was doing and began to exploit. They say 2-0 is the most dangerous lead in soccer (which — fuck this statement directly. It’s among the top 5/6 most annoying cliches in sports, up there with “defense wins championships” and using “he’s an incredible route-runner” to describe a marginally-athletic white guy playing wide receiver. Sky Sports actually did a study and teams in the PL going up 2-0 won NINETY (90) PERCENT of the fucking games they held that scoreline. NINETY. The only thing fucking “dangerous” about a 2-0 lead in soccer is that it might lead me to put something through the TV screen if I have to hear one more useless match commentator spew the dumb cliche like a goddamn soundboard.), but the real danger in this match was from FCC’s defense. Or complete lack thereof.

We knew FCC was going to struggle playing defense this year — you don’t lose a destroyer like Frankie Amaya a week before the season starts and think “yeah, this is gonna be great…” — but I don’t know that anyone was prepared for how fucking bad it really was. When you’re deploying Yuya Kubo (the most useless addition to emerge from Japan since the Sega 32X) in the midfield and asking him to track backwards and defend you’re just asking for fucking trouble.The FC was caught wildly out of position multiple times and had no answers to break up Nashville attacks. When they did find themselves with the ball, were completely unable to hold possession and build to attacks of their own. The end result was fucking barrage on Titi and the first time in United States history that anyone has ripped off 31 shots without leaving behind a manifesto for the FBI to study. The numbers are shocking, but even they don’t do justice to the level of assault The FC was under. Collapse felt imminent, and at no point did it ever feel like a 3rd goal was coming for the good guys. Frankly, a 2-2 draw felt miraculous.

This pile of plastic garbage is still more useful than Yuya Kubo

What’s the takeaway from the first game? As I said on Twitter — it’s a road point against a playoff team from last year. You take that happily every day of the week. But, the manner in which it was earned? You get the sense it’s in no way repeatable. The defense has to get better. Period. Flat out. The team needs a replacement for Frankie Amaya that isn’t fucking useless at covering space, they need a center back that can actually run, and they probably need a true right back who has defensive instincts instead of G.I. Joe Gyau instincts. And, for the love of fucking god, they need to pass the ball on offense instead of running straight into packs of defenders like they’re goddamn Leroy Jenkins. You have to make some effort to possess the ball and give your backline a break from chasing the game — even if that means a lot of non-threatening passes around the middle third for a few minutes.

The good news is this was just one match, they did score two goals, and we’re looking at a team that’s inexperienced in playing with one another still. In the future, maybe Calvin Harris and Alvaro Barreal won’t be completely invisible. Maybe we’ll have players who step in to cover space and avoid literally every attacking possession building to a fucking shot. Maybe. We’ll get another look at the FC tomorrow and can start to make some conclusions about what parts of last week were aberrations and what parts were trends. And, fortunately, they’ll have an opportunity to fix some of those issues this summer with Loca’s contract coming off the books and opening another spot for a Designated Player.

I guess the bottom line here is, “To be continued…”

THE RISE AND FALL OF THE SUPER LEAGUE

If you follow sports long enough, you’ll be around to see entire leagues come and go. Hell, in just my lifetime I’ve seen the first professional women’s soccer league close up shop (The “WUSA” — who doesn’t remember the league that featured, not a joke, the San Jose CyberRays), the XFL fold twice, and a billion other “who cares” leagues inhabited by local Cincinnati minor league teams (RIP in peace to the International Basketball League — home of the Cincinnati Stuff, AF2 — home of the Cincinnati Jungle Kats, and even the International Hockey League — one-time home to the OG Cincinnati Cyclones). But absolutely none of these leagues can compare with the rise and fall of The European Super League. “Meteoric” doesn’t even begin to do justice to the speed at which this ill-fated enterprise exploded onto the scene and immediately died a twitching death.

This was an actual team that existed and played actual soccer in the America.

I wrote about the league earlier this week and, despite being wrong about my prediction that the league was here to stay (dumb me assuming binding agreements would have been signed ahead of any announcement) I stand by my take that soccer fans — particularly American soccer fans — are to blame for this all happening. And, indeed, it was fucking comical to watch Americans jump into this debate with all the righteous indignation their “lads upping” dumb selves could manage here. We’re the fucking villains in this story. The main push for the creation of this league came, allegedly, from noted shitbag Stan Kroenke — an American who is married to a Walton (of “Wal-Mart” fortunes) and who once launched a TV channel in the UK dedicated to trophy hunting animals like lions and elephants. It’s also us Americans (and, to be fair, others around the world) flocking to pledge allegiance to the European Superclubs that have financially enabled them to lap the rest of their competition so many times over that joining a new league seemed like a necessity. Like all great horror / kaiju movies, the real monster is us.

I’m not going to rehash the column from earlier (you can read it here), but I did want to note the biting irony of MLS fans (or, cringe, owners) feeling the need to virtue signal on this nonsense. If “Americans” in general are the villains here, MLS fans the fucking henchmen in the army. I’m completely unapologetic in my love for the MLS structure, especially in the way it keeps a lot of dumb cities out of the highest level of soccer in this country. This is America, and when you’re a professional athlete you shouldn’t have to play games in fucking South Dakota. One of the main perks of being rich and playing sports is you can pretend places like that don’t fucking exist (unless you were unlucky enough to be a wrestler in WCW circa 1996). I also know in the deepest part of my fucking soul that any sport with promotion and relegation would be a disaster for Cincinnati — where the only thing we can find faster than where you went to high school is last place in a sports league.

Search the pictures of this event. You won't regret it.

But, I also know that MLS *is* the fucking Super League. It’s a closed off system populated by the people who are rich enough to buy their way in and ignores the fuck out of places who don’t have money even if they happen to, you know, play soccer well (‘sup Louisville — Enjoy another year of fucking obscurity). If you (yes, you — person who commented about how mad the Super League made them) really feel that the Super League is a blight upon the soccer world, you should’ve been out there like those DCFC hardos protesting MLS the last few years. You should’ve been wanting, no demanding, that FCC remain in the USL (or join an even more “open” league like the NPSL or the NISA). Instead, we end up with the comedy of Morgan Hughes (Jeopardy answer “This person loves Morgan Hughes more than anyone else on the planet”) equating #SaveTheCrew to what was happening in Europe. What happened in Europe was fans rising up to stop the cartel. What happened in Columbus was people getting mad and forcing the cartel to re-admit them. That’s completely fine.

If this was a D&D Character, the "Awareness" stat would be less than 0.

But be honest that you love the cartel and are completely cool with the concept just as long as your club makes the cut.

YOU CAN’T SPELL “QUICKLY NEGATIVE” WITHOUT T-Q-L

The FC finally gave a name to their new home in the West End this week. The winner of this corporate sweepstakes was Total Quality Logistics, or “TQL” as it’s known in the area. If you aren’t familiar with TQL, it’s probably because you’re either over 40 or didn’t go to the Farmer Business School at Miami in the last 20 or so years. For Cincinnatians of a certain age, everyone had a friend (or friends) who worked their first job out of college at TQL. The life cycle of most TQL employees, as best I can tell from knowing a few such employees, involves beginning by bragging (usually at backyard party over beer pong) about they “could be making over a million dollars” in a few years, followed by backing out of plans a few months later because they have to work nights, and finally rage quitting because some other asshole (almost always from a rival frat) stole a bunch of their accounts and cost them their commission for the month. It’s the kind of place that has a basketball court right on their corporate campus that never gets used because “do you really think you have the time to goof off at work?”

I’m sure TQL is probably a fine place. I never actually took or was offered a job there — mostly because I didn’t go to business school and I find most Miami grads to be insufferable (true story — I went party hopping in Oxford after college and we managed to convince every single fraternity to let us drink because  the 6’4” rail thin guy with us was actually Ben Roethlisberger’s little brother). But, apparently enough people did because the reaction to FCC choosing them for the stadium name was almost universally panned. I agree with Kevin Wallace’s take in this space: all corporations that can afford to buy naming rights to anything have something about them you can hate. You can hate TQL, but at least we didn’t end up with some Multi-Level Marketing scam sponsoring a part of our team like other MLS sides (looking your way Advocare and Herbalife). Or something comically bad, like when the Houston Astros played at Enron Field.

This is an actual image from the Federal Trade Commision's Website

But, the stories about people working for TQL are just fantastic and I thought I’d print a few of the best snippets that got sent in via twitter / DMs / e-mails:

“i went through orientation at TQL many years ago and my guide treated it like i was joining a fraternity. telling me what girls were “easy” and who to avoid. i left and never went back. that place reeks of toxicity.”
“I worked at TQL for about a year. During that time I know with complete certainty that truck drivers were masturbating on the phone while talking to me. Apparently this was a common occurrence.”
“I was recruited to work at TQL. During the interview, the interviewer excused himself and I’m 99% certain he went to the bathroom to do cocaine.”
“I once pretended to cry on a [cold] call just because I hadn’t closed a deal in a while and needed to try something different. And that seemed like a completely normal thing to do.”
“TQL’s pitch [to hire me] was basically ‘Hey [the] job might suck, but we have ping pong tables!’”

Personally, I’m not gonna get too bent out of shape. The stadium will probably end up with a nickname anyway, so the sooner we find that the sooner everyone can stop being triggered by TQL. Unfortunately, “Q” is pretty much cancelled as a letter right now, so we’ll have to do a little more digging than just “The Q” (motto: Where We Support One, We Support All). But, we’re a fanbase that shoehorns the Reading Rainbow theme into stadium songs. I have faith someone will come up with something good in the very near future to solve this problem.

PREDICTING THE BASEBALL SCORE:

NYCFC looked like 90 minutes of trash. FCC looked like 20 minutes of awesome and 70 minutes of trash. I want to say a draw feels right here, but something about that cartoonishly small pitch fucks us up every time.

NYCFC 4, FCC 2.

THEY MADE A TV SHOW ABOUT THE FCC BACKLINE:

It’s called “American Horror Story.”

OK, that’s all for this week. Hopefully we’ll have an actual win to discuss next week and hopefully the European soccer world doesn’t try to nuke itself a second straight week in a row. Acosta forever. Super Leagues never. See you motherfuckers in the thunder dome.