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Because soccer.

I got up at 3:50 this morning. Because soccer.

We find things we like. If we’re lucky, we find things we can feel passionate about. Sometimes, they’re things that cause us to set 3:45 a.m. wake-up alarms.

It’s difficult for people to understand the passion, especially those who do not share it. Even with those that do share it, it’s difficult to express the individual experience.

“Why Rangers?” He’s asked me this before and I give him the same answer every time. It’s the same answer I might give if asked,”Why Timbers?”

I fell in love.

In once case, it was a single player that ignited the spark. In the other, it was an entire city.

Rangers fell 5-1 this morning. That one player no longer plays for them, but I watched every minute of the match regardless. And the 5-1 loss didn’t feel as bad as I would have expected. Perhaps my senses were dulled by lack of sleep, perhaps it was just the relief of being back in the top tier after a four-year journey to get there.

In a few hours, I’ll be back in the North End at Providence Park to cheer on the Timbers. More passion, more love, more soccer. And tomorrow, I’ll be there again in support of the Thorns. But it won’t be without a tinge of sadness.

This morning, I made it official. I’m leaving the Prost Amerika family effective immediately.

It’s been a fantastic ride and I’ll be eternally grateful to Brennan Burns for offering up the opportunity three-plus years ago. My association with Prost has put me in places I never expected to be and allowed me to work alongside an incredibly talented group of writers and photographers here in Portland. I wish them nothing but the best. Their humor, their talent and, most importantly, their friendship have kept me sane through the ups and downs of the last few months.

In all likelihood, I’ll write more here. Or maybe over at SlideRulePass if they’ll have me (my password still works!).

 
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Posted by on September 10, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

We’re gonna ride…

At about the 18 minute mark, I decided I’d be perfectly happy with a scoreless draw.

A point is a point and, with Diego Chara having been bounced from the game in the 12th minute, that point was looking pretty good.

But it wasn’t enough.

The second red card of the match, this time to the opposing team, was drawn late in the first half and that scoreless draw I’d settled on suddenly didn’t seem like it was even an option.

Three goals in the second half came from three Timbers. None came from the visiting team.

Three goals, three points.

That was fine, that was great. But what came after is what was important.

You never know what you’ll get from Caleb Porter in the post-match presser. Today, we got philosophical, introspective Porter. Aside from Angry Porter, this is my favorite of the Porters.

Here’s the condensed version:

We stay locked on to the next game and that’s what we did today and that’s what we’re going to do for the next 10 games. We’re gonna play at our level. We’re not going to play at our current reality, where we sit in the table….We have to fight that natural inclination because we’re a lot better team than we’ve shown this year.

We’re going to play at our level. This is an acknowledgement and a declaration that this team is more than the standings show. We have expected more, but we’ve been disappointed. But Porter sat there in that room and said it out loud. This team has more in the tank than we can possibly imagine.

Let’s take a breath for a minute here. Get a beverage. Get a snack. Then read this next part.

Winning in sports is a lot about psychology. It’s about individual psychology, it’s about collective belief….We’re gonna go in the next game and…not think about what everybody else thinks about us because that doesn’t matter. What matters is what we think about ourselves.

Exhale deeply. This is our coach, our leader. This is the man entrusted with the reputation  of the badge and the pride of the city. He’s loosening the reins. He’s getting ready to let this team take the bit in its teeth and run.

Saddle up.

 
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Posted by on August 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Behind the curtain

We chatter. We discuss a play, or a moment, or a goal scored or not scored. Occasionally, someone will suggest asking a ridiculous question to break the tension. And then he enters the room.

He enters from a door at the back of the room and most of us orient ourselves in such a way as to see him the minute he enters, as if this first glimpse up close might tell us what his mood might be in. It’s not like he kicks the door in when he’s angry, or comes skipping in when he’s well-pleased. But we want that first look anyway.

He steps up onto the dias at the front of the room and, as we settle and click on recorders and phones we hold aloft, he unscrews the cap on his water bottle and takes a drink.

“First question.”

Someone asks something and he considers his answer, placing the cap back on the bottle and leaning in toward the microphone.

This is when we find out what mood he’s in.

***

I forget how lucky I am to get the chance to see behind the curtain. I wrote a few words, met a few people, and now I get this. I get to meet the coach of the opposing team before the game, although briefly, in the elevator. After the game, I’ll listen to a player talk lovingly about his kids. I see the stadium staff doing all the things that make gameday work.

But, somehow, I’ve lost my words. I’m trying to get them back, trying to recapture the balance that allowed me the opportunity to peek behind the curtain. And I’m grateful to all of you who’ve stuck with me as I’ve been quiet.

 
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Posted by on August 3, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

The beginning of a thing that might be a story later.

The note on the box was printed in neat block letters. Her name. Her address. No postage was visible and the box was tied closed with twine.

She looked up and down the street as if she thought whoever had left the box might still be visible, but there was no one. Two birds on the phone line, a cat on the porch across the street, no other living things that she could see.

The box was an awkward size and she banged her hand on the door jamb as she wrestled the box through the heavy screen door and into the house.

The girl used her car key to cut the twine when she found the knot too difficult to untie. Roughly nine billion styrofoam packing peanuts poured out onto the floor and with them, a black violin case.

 
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Posted by on July 26, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Forgetting the First Rule of Tifo.

When news broke Monday about the corporate sponsor-driven tifo effort in Seattle, it seemed the perfect opportunity to poke fun of Portland’s northerly neighbors.

But I couldn’t do it.

Offering up an opportunity to a corporate sponsor to create something that should be entirely supporter driven isn’t really a laughing matter. It’s an indication that Seattle’s front office is willfully ignorant of the culture that pays its bills.

But, Kristen, supporters are involved in the creation of this thing!

Sure. Sure they are.

I exchanged a few emails with the Alliance Council’s president, Stephanie Steiner, about how this happened. She, along with more than a few other Sounders supporters, is not happy.

According to Steiner, Delta set up a focus group to learn about the awareness of their brand support of Sounders FC, and how they could build it. Suggestions from the focus group included several community events, pop up clinics, and appearances by players, but what Delta and the Sounders front office have announced is “far beyond” what the group discussed.

“They FOed all over it,” Steiner says. “The whole idea that came from the focus group was a huge community event with art as the vehicle and Delta as ‘oh, by the way.’ Instead they spun it to huge art with Delta as the vehicle and the community became the ‘oh, by the way.’”

Emerald City Supporters tifo for a November 2013 playoff game welcomed the Timbers and Timbers Army to what was expected to be their “nightmare.” Photo: Brandon Farris

Corporate sponsored tifo isn’t new. People will come out of the woodwork to tell you all about big money pieces done in leagues around the world. And a quick Google search will bring up an EASports Clint Dempsey tifo done in Seattle in the not-too-distant past. But this is different.

Fans were asked what they wanted. They offered opinions and ideas. Those ideas were twisted into something that opens Pandora’s Box: an essential part of supporters culture being hijacked by a corporate sponsor and a team’s front office under the guise of being a fan-led effort.

Emerald City Supporter and Alliance Council member Jerry Neil was part of the focus group. “I told them what makes tifo, tifo. I also stressed that it wasn’t a good idea, but they went with it anyway,” Neil says. “They said if they were going to go with that idea they would inquire further, but they didn’t do that.”

Other supporters groups within MLS have been approached with ideas for corporate sponsored tifo and, as far as I can see, those approaches have been rebuked. While it may occasionally be offered up as a form of protest, the purpose and motivation for tifo should not be for commercial enterprise. I saw someone on Twitter refer to this as “advertifo.”

The spirit of tifo is this: art created by supporters, folks who volunteer their time and resources, in order to honor the players on the field. And that’s how it should stay.

 

Aside from all of this, Seattle’s front office has forgotten the First Rule of Tifo: don’t talk about it.

Especially if you’re turning it over to a corporate sponsor.

 
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Posted by on May 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Magic in the air.

A Facebook post caught my eye Friday and before I knew it, I was digging through websites trying to find out what I could about an amateur team out of California that calls itself La Maquina.

La Maquina doesn’t have a website. I stumbled across a Facebook page early in my search, but didn’t make note of it and now can’t find it again. On the contacts page of the UPSL site, the president goes by a single name.

The editor for the site I’m going to write this piece for gave me an email address for the assistant coach, but several emails have gone unanswered.

The UPSL site has minimal information. And when I say minimal, what I mean to say is that there isn’t even a current schedule. By going to some of the individual team sites, I suppose someone more industrious than I could cobble together a schedule of sorts, but there’s really know way to know if it’s complete.

And about a minute and a half ago, word came down that one of the teams in the first round has been disqualified. They were due to play in less than 24 hours.

I love the Open Cup so much. I do not have the words to express how much I love it.

The Open Cup, for all of its unpredictability and last minute disqualifications and the sometimes non-existent streams of early round games, is made of magic.

Seventeen MLS teams will enter in the fourth round. And there’s the possibility that a team of landscapers, accountants and college kids will face off against Robbie Keane or Kaka. My first USOC match saw a team of amateurs go toe to toe with a professional side whose striker was the all-time leading scorer of the Scottish Premier League. But we don’t talk about that. At least not more than once a year.

USOC is impossible and improbable and sometimes, if you’re very lucky, you get to see the (former) captain of the USMNT take a referee’s notebook and tear it up, earning himself a red card and putting his team on its way to finishing with just seven players against their closest rival.

For MLS players, it’s maybe just another few games tacked onto an already packed schedules, but for these lower league and amateur teams, it’s the chance to chase a dream.

This is where my frustration reaches a boiling point. The Open Cup is the longest-running tournament in US soccer having been played for over a century (the first trophy was donated by distiller Thomas Dewar) but until the later rounds, there’s little promotion, and very little media coverage. It deserves better.

The guys who are taking off work, using vacation days to live out a dream deserve better.

 

 
 

Minneapolis

In August of 1994, I packed a bag with far too many t-shirts, my mom drove me to the airport, and I got on a plane to Minneapolis.

I had no idea what I was getting into.

I thought I knew. I really, really didn’t.

In the months that followed, I traveled thousands of miles, mostly on tiny county roads in the upper midwest, with a team of like-minded individuals. We traveled six days a week, circling Lake Michigan, playing concerts in churches, schools, nursing homes, one youth detention center, and, if I remember correctly, an unscheduled bit outside of a grocery store in Rockford, Ill.

We slept in host homes, on church pews, at summer camps. We ate more red-sauced pastas, pizza, and ham sandwiches than I care to remember.

The organization that gave us the opportunity to do this ridiculous thing, Youth Encounter, is closing up shop after 51 years of ministry.

Fifty-one years. All fifty states. Thirty-two countries. Twenty-five hundred teamers. Thousands of other volunteers. An estimated eight million people reached by the message.

Most people in my world now have no idea this was something I was a part of. My faith is personal to me. I don’t shout it from the rooftops. If the subject of faith or Christianity or theology comes up, I might add to the conversation, but I have yet to toss my Bible onto the table and proclaim,”Let’s talk about the Lord!”

That’s the funny part. That wasn’t even my style then. I literally have no idea what I was doing there. To this day, I’m convinced it was a clerical error and I got a letter of call instead of some other, more worthy candidate.

Regardless, my time with Youth Encounter was over long ago and now the organization is facing it’s last days.

Times have changed. The mission of the organization when I was a part of it was “To strengthen the Church through the faith of its youth.”

It was a time before the megachurches, before attendance at “contemporary” services was often higher than traditional church services. It was before every church had a full band set-up next to the altar.

It was before Twitter and Facebook and even *gasp* Myspace.

Dave Anderson, the founder of what was then Lutheran Youth Encounter, spoke at the event that was held tonight to commemorate the end of YE. “I can’t believe,” he said,”this ministry has gone on so long that we need decaf. We’re no longer youth for Christ. We’re old people for God.”

Youth Encounter changed a lot over the years. Starting with one team that traveled in Scandinavia, growing to send teams (usually of 5-8 people) to every corner of the globe. At its height, it sent out as many as fourteen teams in a year. My team, Captive Free – West Great Lakes, was one of (I think) ten on the road that year with six regional stateside teams and four internationals.

How did it work?

I applied. I took a personality test that was about a bajillion yes or no questions. Things like “I like tall women: yes or no.” Well, uh, I don’t *dislike* tall women. Most people also did an audition tape, an acapella version of “Beautiful Savior.” I somehow managed to never do one (see? clerical error).

Most everyone had an in-person interview. My first was with Greg Birgy. Greg, bless him, is the spitting image of that picture of white, blonde Jesus that hangs in every church rec hall in North America. He’s a good guy, a dear friend after all these years. But, after that interview and the extensive application process, the letter I received was a letter of deferral.

I was devastated. I was a year out of high school and didn’t really have a plan. I was writing, taking classes, treading water.

I waited over a year before trying again.

This time, my interview was with Robin Bragge. Robin was the director of international teams and had the quickest, sharpest mind of anyone I’ve ever known. I was terrified of her.

We sat across from each other in a McDonald’s in San Jose and she grilled me until she caught me. I’d said something about “when I go on team” and she stopped me. “When? Not if?”

I didn’t know what to say.

When, not if.

If, not when.

I’m a big fan of the concept of free will. Things in our lives aren’t predestined. We make our own decisions and we reap the rewards or we suffer the consequences. But sometimes, I think maybe we’re pushed toward paths that lead us to the people we’re supposed to meet.

Robin and Greg took a chance (or checked the wrong box – I’ve never asked) and sent me a letter of call in the spring of 1994.

I talked to Troy Loken in July and he told me my teammate’s names, which I wrote down wrong, and I got on a plane in August to go to a city I’d never seen and get in a van with six strangers to tour the midwest.

We made it through training, an intensive several weeks that included a trip out into the wilds of South Dakota for a week-long stay at Lee Valley Ranch to refine our musical program (“Hey, you wanna play bass? Here. Hold this.”) and to better develop our interpersonal relationships. If you’re going to live out of a van for a year with six other people, you have to figure out how to get along right quick.

I say we made it through training, but we didn’t really. We lost our first team member at a rest area on the way back from Lee Valley. So, that was weird.

With a week of training left before our commissioning and send-off, we were already in recovery mode. Rework the program, do it as quicky as possible. There was a lot of yelling.

But we did it. And we packed everything into our van and trailer (the mechanic said we’d be okay with the van if we didn’t pull a trailer, and the guy who fixed the trailer said it’d be fine if we didn’t put too much weight into it), and we did a training program in Osage, Iowa, then set off into Wisconsin.

That first night on the road, I stayed with a family of dairy farmers. I was in a completely different world.

I’d seen some of the international teams before, teams sent into Africa or Papau New Guinea, into places so poor that to refuse a meal would be an incredible insult as the entire village would have pooled their resources in order to offer it to you. I did not expect to find similar experiences in the United States.

People housed us, fed us, gave us whatever we needed. When our van broke down outside of Joliet, Ill., one of our host families put up the money to get it fixed. Young couple, couple of kids, mom was getting ready to go back to school. They were struggling to make ends meet, but they saw a need and decided to fulfill it. I still look back at that and wonder if we should have accepted their kindness but I also know that to have refused it would have been refusing their part in a ministry that meant a great deal to them.

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This is what we looked like when we were much younger and stupider. Lucas Kaserman, Alison Hesford Krinke, Tanner Shirley, Tamara Eisele Tadic, and me with a lot more hair. Sometime in 1995.

I could tell dozens of stories like this, as could any of the 2,500 hundred people like me to spent that year (or two, or three) on the road. As much as we were out in the world to do ministry, we were also ministered to.

Before tonight’s celebration, there was a gathering of folks at a pizza place nearby because, apparently, none of us ate enough pizza when we were on the road. I went, not knowing if I’d know anyone there.

As it turns out, I didn’t. I recognized a few people, but I didn’t really know them. I sat quietly by myself (I know this is shocking to all of you) but an older gentleman named Larry asked if he could sit with me. Turns out he was an event tech from Chicago (likely worked the events my team did when we were there). “I had to come,” he told me. “I’ve had enough things that I didn’t get closure for lately. I need to see this through.”

When I landed in Minneapolis in 1994, it was Lowell Michelson who met me at the airport. And when I got to the church tonight, it was Lowell who greeted me there.

The church was filled with faces and voices from my past, musicians and vocalists, ministers and teachers, hundreds of people whose lives were changed because someone said,”Hey, come do this thing.”

It’s a hard thing to say goodbye to and I do so with mixed feelings. While YE was a driving force in my life from roughly 1988 – 1998, the tone of the ministry changed and some people who’d given so much of themselves to the organization were alienated by it.

I am thankful for the ministry it was. I’m thankful for the lives it not only changed but saved. I’m thankful for the experience of it, from high school kid locked out of a hotel room in 1988 to leadership training in 1990 to sound tech in 1994 to the life I’ve lived beyond the time when my mailing address was 2500 39th Ave NE, Minneapolis MN, 55421.

2016-03-31 11.33.48

First Lutheran Church in NE Minneapolis is where my year on the road began. This is a terrible picture. Apologies to First Lutheran for this and likely many other things. Actually, apologies to literally every Lutheran Church in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, and the city of St. Louis. 

 
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Posted by on April 1, 2016 in Uncategorized