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October 1, 2017

I was shocked to realize this morning that it’s been five years since I did a full slate of October Thoughts. Five years.

In that time, I’ve written about soccer and little else. What a ride it’s been: a World Cup Final, three NWSL Finals, an MLS Cup final, CCL, the US Open Cup, and more than a few ill-advised road trips.

But somewhere, a little over a year ago, I basically stopped writing. A few words here or there, but nothing more. Maybe a little depression, more than a little frustration, and a complete forgetfulness about why I starting writing in the first place left me with no words to say.

Things started creeping up on me a few weeks ago. October things. If you’re not an October Person, this might not make any sense to you. And that’s okay. Theoretically, I know there are February People out there somewhere. I don’t know any, but I’m sure they’re out there. Maybe they’re ashamed of all the pink and red and heart-shaped things. Whatever. Everybody has their thing, and it seems a significant number of people are predisposed to October things.

Homemade applesauce, stuff that’s bat-silhouette-shaped, things that smell of pumpkin spice. October things.

It started in the mid-’90s, when I was circling Lake Michigan in a blue Ford Econoline van with a handful of friends. We spent a lot of time in Wisconsin which, in my humble opinion, is quintessentially October at least three months out of the year. Stunning fall color, sharply-steepled churches on hilltops (seriously, Google image search “Wisconsin church” and you get every picture-perfect October church imaginable), and tons and tons of small town harvest fests and whatnot.

We started making a list of our October Thoughts for the Day, things we could wax poetic about during the month of October, things that make October…October.

If you’re an October Person, you likely have a list of these things tucked away, even if it isn’t written on paper. It’s a little file in the back of your mind filled with sights and scents and sounds that elicit a specific response.

A lot of my October Thoughts were formed in childhood and memories of that time are triggered by a thousand different things. I think it’s probably the same for most October People.

So, as we wander deeper into October, I’d invite you to look back to your childhood, back to a time before everything got so complicated, back to when a white sheet was nothing more sinister than a ghost costume.

Remember the magic. That’s your assignment for the entirety of October.

 
 

Little voices

A few weeks back, I woke up with a little girl in my head. Not really a voice I could hear so much as a dream that had faded to barely a whisper.

I knew her, this little girl I’ve never met nor ever seen. I knew her.

I was barely awake and, as is usual, I reached for my phone. It was already buzzing in my hand with a text from a friend excited to tell me about a podcast he’d just listened to. It had been about a state hospital in a town near where he’d grown up. The little girl had been in a state hospital, but not the one he needed to tell me about via text message at 6:30 in the morning.

I turned the lights on, stumbled into the bathroom, and turned the radio on in time to hear a story on OPB about the Oregon State Hospital in Salem. “You’re kidding with this, right?” I’m certain I said the words out loud.

Every family has a few stories that are rarely if ever told: scandals or embarassments swept under the rug or boxed up neatly and stored away on the shelf in the hall closet behind hatboxes no one ever opens.

I hesitate to put this little girl in that category, but she was definitely a story we did not tell.

Born into our family in 1946, she was a beautiful child with a terrible malady, a disability that meant she might not live through the night, might not live through the week, would certainly never live to adulthood. I don’t know that her mother ever saw her as it was believed to be kinder to whisk her off to a residential hospital to live out the remainder of her life.

I’m told my grandmother would visit her, this beautiful child, at the hospital where she lived. It was feared that if the little girl were brought home to live, and she died due to the complicated nature of her illness, her caregivers might be charged with a mercy killing. She lived just over two years.

So, after waking with her in my mind, and with the morning’s other nudges pressing on me, I started making inquiries: first to the editor of the local newspaper in the town where she’d been born, then to the state hospital system in California, and last to the cemetery where some of her closest relatives rest.

The newspaper editor was kind, pointing me to an online archive hosted through the county library. I pored over pages of old newsprint, neatly scanned into the website and fairly easily searchable with key words, but found no sign of the little girl.

The state hospital contacted me to direct me elsewhere, explaining that what I was looking for was not within the services they provided. I’m not entirely convinced this is correct, as even a basic study of hospitals (and asylums, and poor farms) from the early part of the 20th century shows many services overlapped in state-run facilities.

The cemetery director was more conclusive. “We have her,” the email said. The director agreed to take a walk out to her plot the next morning to see if a marker had been placed for her. There is no marker.

I woke up May 15 with her in my head. Three days later, I’d know the place of her interment (or, possibly, inurnment), the date of her death (July of 1948), and her birthday.

May 14, 1946.

***

I don’t know what I’ll do with the assortment of info I found while looking for her, or what I’ll do to fill the holes where so much is missing. I might just wait for the next voice.

 
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Posted by on June 5, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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

 

Getting in cars with strangers

Soccer has changed me.

I know it’s bordering on cliche to say something like that. Oh, this thing changed me. Changed my life. Changed how I view the world and its other inhabitants. Changed inherently the way I live my life.

But here I am, getting in cars with strangers, sometimes in cities with which I am unfamiliar, sometimes in countries of which I am not a citizen. I go places I never expected to go, with people I didn’t know just a short time ago, and I do things I didn’t think I could.

Because soccer changed me and it changed my world.

And I’m not alone.

So many of us have these stories. We came to this place, to be among these people, our soccer family, when something was missing from our lives. We found home, family, acceptance of our quirks, and a welcome like we’d not ever experienced before.

With this one shared interest, we gain an entire world.

We get in cars with strangers, we break bread with them, we travel across the country with them. And we are better for it.

I don’t remember what my life was before, but I remember my world being so much smaller. A weekend trip to Vancouver, or Houston, or Columbus, would have had me in a months-long planning frenzy. Now, those trips are spontaneous (or nearly so) and often result in incredible, though unanticipated experiences: a Meditteranean buffet in Texas, a latenight drive through the university district in Vancouver, a mad dash from Detroit to Columbus in December.

You people are full of magic. I’m so glad I’m along for the ride.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2016 in Random soccer-related

 

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 no 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 schedule, 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.