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How we start to fix it.

He’s the one that talks me in off the ledge. I never expect it, but the text will always come when something happens that brings me low.

“How you holding up, kiddo?”

I’m a mess, I tell him. The world weighs on me. How do I gather the strength necessary to fight back, to protect my friends, to even get out of bed in the morning? How? The clouds are heavy.

His kid is a year and a half old now. A beautiful child with a smile to light the world.

“How do you raise a kid in the midst of this?” I ask.

“You read him Where the Wild Things Are and Owl Moon. You hug him. You kiss him. You teach him to be kind and thoughtful. You pray for him to follow through on the lessons you provide.”

That’s just the beginning.

Teach your children tolerance, teach them compassion, teach them justice. Read them fairy tales, let them believe in dragons, and unicorns, and werewolves. Let them find magic in the world.

Teach them to look out for the kids who are alone, who may be scared. Teach them to befriend those kids. Teach them to stand up for those kids.

As they get older, encourage them to be curious. Teach them that learning and knowledge are both their greatest weapons and their biggest responsibilities.

Travel with them. Show them the world is larger than their backyard.

And this one is hard: teach them, simultaneously, that while they may be the center of your world, they are not the center of the entire world.

A lot of us are learning hard lessons right now. Let’s make sure our kids are prepared for the world we’ve shaped. We’re going to need them to help us fix it.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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.