UBC women’s soccer coaching job: a huge opportunity for right person

I’ll be honest. If I didn’t have the job that I have now, which I truly enjoy, I’d be interested in the UBC Women’s Head Coach job. Who wouldn’t? Any coach with a desire to step in and define a program would love this job given where it’s at and the potential that is building for a new era of success.

The other caveat, for any qualified candidate, would of course be that it would have to pay market value for the Vancouver area and UBC will struggle to do that on their budgets. So since the reality is that I’m happy where I am and the pay for the UBC job is simply not going to hit market value, I’m comfortable writing this as I won’t be a candidate.

This is a program that is seething with potential to take a huge step forward. There’s a perfect storm coalescing around the UBC Athletics department and the team itself. UBC have got to realize this and spend some time deliberating on how to attract top candidates to apply and then make sure they get the selection right. My suggestion to them is to make sure Mike Mosher, UBC Men’s Varsity Coach, is in on the interview and final decision and at least one other informed soccer person, preferably from the Whitecaps or CSA, for reasons that will soon be obvious, be involved as well.

Here’s why I think this is one of the most interesting soccer jobs that is going to come available in the next few years.

We go on about Vancouver being a world class city when it’s really on the periphery of that status. It’s a great place to live and is pretty to look at. Little else suggests world class but UBC is indeed a world class university. Highly regarded in North America, Europe and Asia, it draws students from everywhere and regularly lists in the top 50 when noted publications publish lists of the world’s best universities. So for starters, the new coach will be working at a highly credible institution that any prospective student who realizes that where they do their degree still matters will put in their plus column when picking a school they want to play soccer at.

Next, the construction for the new Whitecaps FC training facility has already begun at UBC. A new turf field to the north of Warren field is being constructed. This will be the new home of Varsity turf, currently located 100m to the east. Once Varsity has been relocated, the Whitecaps training facility will be built on the old site and will comprise about 120m x 120m of top notch grass to train on. It will be somewhat enclosed and while it is almost exclusively for the Whitecaps, the UBC Varsity teams will get some time on it.

The second part of the Whitecaps facility at UBC will be a building that will house their coaching staff’s offices, dressing rooms, physio and trainer rooms, etc. It’s quite likely UBC Athletics will also get some space in this building. Factor in that one of the lead architects on the job is Alex Percy, former UBC Varsity player (and pal of mine; we played centre back together for years at UBC), and you can ensure that player focused touches will feature in the final design.

All in all, this really will be one of, if not the, pre-eminent soccer training facilities in the country.

The missing piece of the puzzle, going back to when this venture was first announced by the Provincial government (the ones putting up the vast majority of the funding) and the Whitecaps is the presence of the Canadian Soccer Association and their teams. It’s gone quite quiet on that front but I was told at a recent meeting for stakeholders regarding the facility  that that is entirely between the Whitecaps and the CSA now.

Should a deal be struck you would have a great critical mass of people invested in soccer in general and should the women’s national team start using UBC as a base and the Whitecaps look to get involved again in women’s soccer in the form of an NWSL franchise you would have all the ingredients for the UBC women’s team coach to play a substantial role in amidst all this.

The days of the players on the women’s national team being precocious teenagers with cannons for legs is over. You just need to look at the average age of the current squad to see that most are on the back half of their 20′s.

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The above roster of the 22 players selected for the recent game against Germany is a bit fuzzy but all you need to know is 17 of those 22 are aged 22 or older. In other words, the vast majority are older than the average university graduate. In even more other words, a career in post-secondary soccer can still be used as a launch pad to the national team from a demographics point of view if the training and development aspect can be improved to the point that the coaches can get their teams back on CSA radar.

Quick segue to the UBC Swim team and their incredible success within CIS. Why does UBC Swimming do so well? The answer is coaches. Coaches that over the year through their own personal excellence as coaches and connections to the national swim team were able to establish UBC as the virtual home of the national swimming program for years at a time. That ensured that every top swimmer in the country either came to UBC or gave serious consideration to doing so. Establishing the UBC women’s soccer program as a similar hub for higher level opportunities within the sport would similarly be a massive recruiting tool for the team.

That’s what’s on the table in the coming years for whoever gets the job. A fabulous set of tools that can be used to mould opportunities to make the UBC Women’s Soccer Program the jewel of women’s post-secondary soccer and a launch pad to professional and national teams.

Being an outstanding coach is the prerequisite to the job. Definitely, But to leverage these tools the right candidate will have to have the people skills to be able to develop relationships, patiently, with the CSA and Whitecaps to increase the likelihood of the Whitecaps rebuilding their women’s program and the CSA setting up shop for not just the women’s national team but the U17 and U20 teams. They will need to be able to identify, develop and then be willing to share resources with these allies, provide opposition for them in controlled 11v11 scrimmages, exchange data on players, etc.

There is no other women’s soccer environment in the country outside of the national team program that can facilitate quality, almost daily, training than university soccer teams in this country. The knock has always been that the season is too short to be a serious development opportunity. That’s true and it would need to change. There is nothing in CIS rules that dictates what teams can and can’t do in the soccer off-season. While you do need to respect that student-athletes are students first and have course loads that can interfere with training at certain times of the year, it can be accommodated. The right program, that would work in harmony with Whitecaps women’s programming and CSA national teams would be a huge draw for the top graduating high school players. Huge enough to offset  scholarship offers from the States in some cases and in combination with Sport Canada funding and UBC scholarships be just as financially beneficial.

Players would benefit from the collective efforts of UBC Athletics and their renewed promise to provide the best available sport science resources to the teams they consider top tier. A strong relationship with the CSA and Whitecaps would help move the women’s soccer team towards that category. In the mean time the players still benefit from the resources and expertise that the Caps and CSA would bring to the table and the exposure from training at the same facilities.

So, prospective applicants, here’s a review that can serve as a cheat sheet for your interview:

  • Define a program; make it a destination as UBC Swimming has done. Stress the opportunities that are currently fomenting.
  • Use Whitecaps potential interest in NWSL and resurrected women’s programming in general to create opportunity to work together. This will help recruiting.
  • Get CSA to work with Whitecaps to ensure the facility is used by women’s national teams. Further that relationship with CSA if it happens. Again, this will help recruiting.
  • Extend CIS season to make UBC women’s soccer a true development environment for those with aspirations to play at a higher levels

With the mess that was the last hiring procedure for this position you can be sure that this one will be under many microscopes. My hope is that the hiring committee has several people who understand women’s soccer in this country and where it’s currently at (ie. a crossroads, as other countries catch up to us) and that they understand what a top soccer coach actually does. This program needs to get the right person and give them remuneration that will keep them there for the three to five years it will take to build the program into a true force that will be very hard to compete with thereafter.

To do that in this city means they will have to offer real money. Unfortunately that is unlikely and as most of us live in financial realities that preclude taking pay large pay cuts in our prime earning years, it will be a difficult task finding the person who can take on what is both a great opportunity at a great institution and an onerous task for a good five years on modest remuneration.

Good luck to all who apply and a sincere wish that this program gets the coach it deserves to take it to the levels I’ve described.

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Our World Cup Trip: Fortaleza, Brasilia and Rio (Part 2 of 2)

So while I did say in Part 1 that being a victim of violent crime wasn’t my biggest concern on the trip, I was still aware that some of the places we were going were not exactly Shangri-la. Namely Fortaleza. We flew out of Salvador after the Germany v Portugal drubbing and arrived in Fortaleza just before midnight. To put this in perspective, the city of Vancouver had 6 murders in 2013. Fortaleza had 2754. It was the seventh most murderous city, per capita in the world last year and we had ten days there.

Fortaleza had been a challenge to find accommodations but in the end we got an absolutely primo place in a modern apartment building right across from the FIFA Fan Fest zone which is right on the beach. A two bedroom with full kitchen and decks overlooking the ocean. Dealing with the property manager was another exercise in trust. He spoke almost no English but seemed to think he was fluent. He also knew we spoke no Portuguese but spoke to us in his native tongue like we were. We would get emails from him when we were finalizing the details that said things like, “OK, the tires are pumped. Send me money.” This place was costing us over CDN$5000 for the ten days. I think. Because with the variety of deposits, cleaning fees and electricity usage fee I lost the ability and will to tabulate and left it with Markus who was lead guy on this booking. So we fire off about $3000 as a deposit via Western Union while every Craigslist rip off horror story comes back to our minds and mocks us. We just sent $3000 to a guy in Murder City, Brazil who says he has a gorgeous apartment for us but speaks virtually no English. Markus couldn’t get a reply from him for about five days when he tried to get confirmation he’d received the money. In the end he got some gibberish that we optimistically took as “Yep, all good.”

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Clockwise from top left: Street party the night before Mexico v Brazil in Fortaleza, Fan Fest Zone during Mexico v Brazil as seen from our apartment, Colin on walk in to the stadium in Fortaleza, Apartment Schin-fest.

So now after texting him to let him know we’d be there around midnight and we really wanted to make sure he was going to be there to let us in, we got ambiguous replies and the murmurs started in the cab, “This guy better be there. Those tires better be pumped!”

As you walk up to the reception desk you are fully at the point where the rather slow, plodding road called “I don’t have a good feeling about this.” merges onto the highway of “You’re an idiot. you gave some guy $3000 and think he’s going to be here with a key.” All faith is gone and you are soon scampering onto the Boulevard of Broken Dreams and Accompanying Recriminations “Who’s idea was it to send all that money to this guy?!”

But a few words at reception followed by a phone call and minutes later Luis comes down the elevator and greets us like old friends. We go up to the apartment and he jabbers at us in Portuguese looking up every 30 seconds to check we understood. He pulls out a wad of cash and give us about R$1200 (CDN $600). No idea why at first but we figured part of the deposit we paid was just to ensure we showed up and he gave us that back. Brilliant. He even met us at 4:30am when we were leaving Fortaleza on an early morning flight to give us the remainder of our deposit back. Total straight shooter as almost every Brazilian we met was. If you’re ever going to Fortaleza let me know and I’ll hook you up with Luis. You’ll probably get the same apartment we had for 20% of what we paid.

Before he left Luiz pointed out the window to a very big cruise ship docked in the harbour. “Mexicans. 3000.” he said. Turns out a smart tour operator saw that Mexico’s three round robin games were all on the coast not far from each other in Natal, Fortaleza and Recife and arranged a World Cup cruise for Mexicans. They were now docked in Fortaleza for the highlight of their World Cup: a game against Brazil the next day.

Colin went to bed but Markus and I hit the streets. To say it was a massive street party is like saying Arjen Robben is a bit fast. Mexican fans were easily the most insane we met. As you are allowed to drink on the street and every five steps sees someone with a cardboard cooler offering you ridiculously cheap beer while portable bars with a full range of spirits ambled by every few minutes, you could say it was a bit out of control. Mexicans had a very simple drinking game. They tilted your head back and poured bottles of hard booze down your throat from a few inches away while they counted. They usually got to six or seven before the drinker pulled away. Mayhem. Groups of 20, 50 or more singing their songs, dancing with each other wherever there was music.

There was a 4-5 km promenade along the beach in Fortaleza. This is where all the nice restaurants and bars were as well as the nice hotels and apartments. It was the only place you wanted to be in Fortaleza and owing to the hundreds upon hundreds of police, riot police and military there, out in force, 24 hours per day, it felt pretty safe. In our ten days in Fortaleza we saw every conceivable crowd control tool of the trade from military ships in the harbour to surveillance drones buzzing the beach to billy clubs, pepper spray, riot shields, and just about every type of police and military vehicle you can imagine. Even just one block off the beach in some places and the vibe changed considerably. We stuck to the beach, the fan zone and the bars and restaurants around our apartment. Every night was some degree of a street party but that first night, the eve of a Brazil v Mexico game, was something special.

As Colin was still unsure if he’d get his tickets back he wanted to try get tickets for Brazil v Mexico. Markus and I were into it too but as I’d had issues with Visa (couldn’t get cash withdrawals and bank debit cards don’t work in Brazil unless they’re associated with Visa or Mastercard) I didn’t want to run down my cash reserves until I had it sorted. So while I gave them an earful on the phone the next day about how when you call to tell them you’re going on holiday so they don’t put a stop on your card you get an automated message saying that’s now unnecessary due to their super duper fraud detection software… I ended up passing on a pair of tickets offered at $500 each. Colin and Markus ended up right behind a goal in the mix with Mexican fans. Super tense atmosphere between the Brazilians and Mexicans but when Ochoa pulled off the game of a lifetime to give Mexico a 0-0 draw both fans seemed okay with it as it gave them each four points after two games.

Meanwhile, I opted to head back to the apartment to catch the game on TV. While there were hordes of official FIFA buses and cabs getting to the stadium. Very few were heading back as the buses waited in a staging area, hundreds of them, to pick up fans after the game and return them to the beach area. That was another thing that worked really well. In Salvador and Fortaleza they either had free or very inexpensive express buses for ticket holders that took you from popular, central locations to the stadium.

So with them all parked that meant I had to patch together a way home and while a volunteer in a bus staging area was trying to be helpful, I ended up on a bus that took me way far from where I wanted and dumped me . No one seemed to speak English and I had no idea if I was somewhere harmless or somewhere that I stood out as prey.

We took more cabs in 20 days in Brazil than I’ve taken in the past few years in Vancouver. They were everywhere and really cheap. Probably never had to wait more than 3o seconds to grab one but now, on my own, half lost it seemed to take forever to hail one and sticking your arm up in the air and yelling for a cab isn’t the best way to remain inconspicuous. But again, concerns were for naught. I eventually got a cab and got back to see the second half of the game.

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Clockwise from top left: Street vendors selling kit in the middle of the street, signs for the Brazil v Mexico game, our apartment building, me at the Germany v Ghana game. All in Fortaleza.

Fortaleza was really the holiday part of the trip. Lots of downtime. We arrive on Monday and I didn’t see a game until Saturday so it was lots of fun, relaxation and awful Brazilian beer. It took us until halfway through our stay to find something drinkable. After going through Brahma, Schin and some other bollocks-water that I’ve managed to purge from my memory, we discovered Bohemians. Totally drinkable.

For the Germany v Ghana game we had front row seats. Sounds great but being so low down we were in direct sunlight for about an hour and it was well over 30 degrees. That does not go over well with my cheap Scottish skin. Also, it’s just really not a great vantage point to watch a game, especially since were only about six yards off the goal line. We left feeling it was a decent game and were happy to see Klose notch the record tying goal for most career World Cup goals but it wasn’t really until I got home, heard people rave about what a great game it was that I watched it and realized it was much better than we’d thought. Still, great night out.

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Clockwise from top left: Us outside the stadium before the Germany v Ghana game, getting some street food (chicken skewers) after the Ivory Coast v Greece game, in the crowd at the Fan Fest during the Brazil v Cameroon game, locals offer rides on souped-up bikes to save you the 5k walk from the perimeter to the stadium. All in Fortaleza.

A few more sun-drenched days on the beach including another round of Brazilian beach soccer and circle keep ups, painfully written about on my MMCB World Cup Tumblr using my iPhone, and then it was back to the stadium for Ivory Coast v Greece. Great seats again, about 10 rows up on the edge of the box meant getting to see Drogba and Toure up close. Toure was a shadow of his Premier League season owing to the death of his brother just before the tournament started. His mind was clearly not on the World Cup. Check out where he is when Ivory Coast conceded the penalty in the last minute. Furthest up the field and walking. Not where you want your holding mid to be when protecting the result that will put you through to the second round.

This was also about the time that we saw our only World Cup protest. It was actually only clear there was a protest due to the overwhelming riot police presence that mustered at the edge of the Fan Fest. They aligned themselves across the road to make sure the protesters could not get past them to the Fan Fest and instead would be pushed left up a road that took them away from the crowded promenade area. It looked pretty serious. In the end it was a one vehicle, one megaphone protest (Brazilian Communist Party). They packed it in after half an hour. Zero confrontation with riot cops.

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Somewhere at the start of these lazy Fortaleza days, Colin had managed to get FIFA to listen and they told him if he brought his police report in they’d play ball. Because most of the stolen tickets were actually on my account, I had to accompany him on a trip into the loopy bureaucracy of FIFA. We were initially told to go to the wrong place so after a second death-cab ride we were in what seemed to be a shopping mall where FIFA was basing one of its ticketing centres. We were shuffled, albeit quickly, between rooms and ended off in their “Troubleshooting Room” tucked away out of site and earshot. We got lucky and beat a mini rush that came in after us so our wait was again minimal to see someone. There was a lot of back and forth and a few people came in to ask questions before they then just casually agreed to print new tickets. Awesome!

“Okay, what are the seat numbers of the stolen tickets?”

Well, don’t you know? We didn’t write them down. Surely, since FIFA assigned the seats and sent them to us you have a record of that in my account.

“No. We can’t see the seat numbers until they are printed out.”

We looked at each a bit stunned while the FIFA reps got a bit sheepish. This led to a quick call to Markus to read out the seat numbers on his tickets and mine for the remaining games and by deduction and trial and error we were able to figure out which were Colin’s. The process made no sense to us but Colin was going to get his tickets so it didn’t really seem like a good idea to mock their process.

So having forked out for the Brazil v Mexico game and the Opening Game, in the end Colin got to see nine games, including two with Brazil. Markus and I saw eight (he missed out on the Opening Game). We wouldn’t have guessed that would be the case in the stadium in SP.

Luis met us at the agreed 4:30am and transparently calculated what he owed us from our remaining deposit. Then off to the airport for an early flight to Brasilia where we arrived and checked in to a nicely updated airport strip hotel and had breakfast before heading to Garrincha National Stadium for the Portugal v Ghana game. Nice that they named the national stadium after Garrincha in the capital city but this is a city where the teams that play there draw about 1000 fans. Garrincha Stadium holds over 70 000. Another World Cup white elephant. US$900 000 000 to update and increase capacity from 45 000.

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Portugal v Ghana was the strangest game we saw. Ronaldo missed three sitters and had an audacious chip hit the crossbar from a very wide position. Ghana looked looked half interested at best despite not being mathematically eliminated and with the USA going down a goal to Germany in the second half, Portugal just needed the Ronaldo chances to go in to make up the three goal deficit. Wasn’t to be. Ronaldo was not just clearly injured through the tournament but determined to make it clear to everyone he was playing hurt. He opted to walk at odd moments in the game and looked frustrated at every opportunity.

Back to the hotel for a full buffet dinner then to bed so we could be up for another early flight. This time to Rio.

On the one hand it seemed a bit childish to be disappointed that although we got tickets for eleven games via the FIFA ticket lottery that we weren’t satisfied and wanted to get a game in Rio. But on the other hand it seemed insane to go all the way to Brazil, go to four cities and not see Rio. The problem of course was that everyone wanted to see games in Rio at the Maracana. You’re at a World Cup. In Brazil. Of course you have to try to see a game at the Maracana!

Prices for the second round game though were coming in around $1000 online. Too steep. Fortunately, I talked to a friend at my club who was on very good terms with a ticket broker who owed him a favour. Bam. Three tickets for $400 a pop. Outstanding! Even though this was considerably more than the $175 we paid direct to FIFA for Category 1 tickets, it ended up being the best investment I’ve ever made on a sports ticket.

Leaving Brasilia was a pleasure. Just a spread out, manufactured city designed for government and not much else. Meanwhile, our decent into Rio’s city airport was spectacular.

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Top: Sugarloaf Mountain. Bottom: Maracana Stadium. Both as seen from the plane.
 

We hit the ground running, dumping our bags at the hotel and heading for Sugar Loaf mountain. A full two hour lineup in the hot sun was made worthwhile when we got up top on the gondola.

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Top: Sugarloaf mountain, getting ready to load onto the second gondola that takes you to the very top.
Bottom: View from the top of Sugarloaf mountain

The Fan Fest Zone was at Copacabana Beach and while we thought the set up in Fortaleza was pretty cool, it was little a small scale model of what it was like at Copacabana. The beach is a real stunner and the Fan Fest was at least double, probably triple the size of what we’d been hanging out at in Fortaleza.

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Top left: Our local bar in Rio. Awesome. Bucket of beers on the table each time within a minute of sitting down. Top right: View from our seat on the bar patio. That’s the Municipal Theatre. 2nd row left: Colin descending to the Metro to get to the game. 2nd row right: Copacabana Beach. 3rd row: “Dutch” playing “Brazil” on Copacabana Beach. Bottom row: me holding my ticket for the game outside the Maracana in my recently purchase Zico tshirt. Mission complete.
 

Our hotel was equidistant from Copacabana Beach and the Maracana, located in the financial district just minutes from Santos Dumont Airport where we landed. We found a bar/restaurant along a beautiful cobblestone boulevard and spent almost as much time there in our three days as we did in our overpriced hotel room around the corner.

The game we saw in Rio deserves its own story. When we got the tickets we’d been hoping for an England v Colombia game at the Maracana. England fans bring the atmosphere and we knew Colombia would be a decent side to see. Plus we’d already seen Ivory Coast v Greece from their group. In the end, we got Colombia v Uruguay and it was easily the most memorable game of the trip.

This was the only game where we didn’t have Class A (best) seats. We were behind the goal towards the corner of the field. Not optimal viewing but it put us in amongst thousands of diehard fans. Most of the games we saw had decent atmosphere but nothing chaotic. Nothing approaching over the top zeal or danger. Uruguay v Colombia had all of that and you felt that had there been one controversial call that swayed the result it would have got really ugly in a hurry.

Colombia fans outnumbered Uruguay fans by 4:1 in both bodies and probably blood alcohol level. The Colombians were confident and jubilant right from the start. The Uruguayans were pissed off and easily wound up. Luis Suarez had just been suspended for the rest of the tournament and Uruguay fans were convinced it was a conspiracy to reduce the likelihood of Uruguay advancing past Colombia to the quarter finals where they would have played Brazil. They were sure Brazil were pulling string to ensure there would be no repeat of the Uruguay victory over Brazil the last time the World Cup was played in Brazil in 1950.

So we were in amongst a patchwork of Colombia and Uruguay fans behind the goal. It was mainly Colombian yellow with bits of pale Uruguayan blue. Surprising in that there were clearly blocks for each set of fans but they were all small and butted up against other blocks that had opposing fans. It just made a hostile environment even worse when Colombian fans would launch into songs about Suarez that were obviously really insulting and Uruguay fans would rise to the bait and stand and start yelling at the Colombians who were always just metres away. It was a long night’s work for the stewards and riot police who were constantly having to wade in to separate fans and occasionally haul one away. We saw more police/fan interactions in the Maracana than we saw our entire ten day stay in Fortaleza.

And yes, we were behind the goal that James Rodriguez scored into with that volley. We thought we’d seen the best goal two weeks earlier when van Persie headed past Casillas but even now I’m not sure which one was better. But we were there and we yelled and we laughed our asses off and how spectacular it was. And the Colombians…they did all that and they cried and they sang and they rubbed the Uruguayans’ noses in it as much as they could. What a night.

IMG_4589I have a bunch of pictures from the Colombia v Uruguay game at the Maracana. None do it justice.
 

So now it was back to Brasilia for our last game and after the Maracana it did feel a bit anti-climactic. I was charged with getting a hotel in Brasilia (boring, boring place by the way. Doesn’t feel like you’re even in Brazil). Brasilia had been the weirdest place to get accommodation. Online hotel sites had very little on offer and what was available was ridiculous. Like $8000/night ridiculous. For whatever reason, prices returned to sanity once we were down there and I decided we all deserved our own room for our last night and got us a place a short walk from the stadium. Arrived late at night and again opted for a very nice buffet. Highlight of the night: meeting Kanu. He was with the official Nigerian delegation who were also staying in the hotel. After seeing him at a distance in the restaurant, I ended up face to face with him in a cramped elevator. It led to this awkward chat.

Me: Ah, you’re Kanu.

Kanu: Yes. I am.

Me: Wow.

Awkward silence.

Markus jumps in with the game saving “Well, good luck in the game tomorrow against France. We’ll be there.”

And then the elevator doors open and that was it.

We had nosebleeds for France v Nigeria but it’s one of those stadiums where the seats are stacked with verticality in mind so despite being high it felt like we weren’t far from the field. France eventually got the result they deserved but it was all a bit anti-climatic for us as it was the last day and we were happy for a mellow game knowing we were heading to the airport soon after the game.

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Top left: Kanu!; top right: French fans on their way into the stadium for France v Nigeria
Middle: Colin, Markus and I at the France v Nigeria game
Bottom left; there were four of these guys. They came all the way from New Zealand. They wore these costumes (Minny Mouse) because they were the only ones they could find that they could get four of and that fit. They arrived five minutes into the game, left ten minutes before the end of the first half so they could mingle and let people get their pictures taken with them, and then missed a good 15 minutes of the second half before they got back to their seats. There’s too much of this at the World Cup. It’s stupid. Photo description editorial over. Bottom right: the last shot. Leaving Garrincha Stadium and off to the airport to come home.
 

And then that was it. Overnight into Atlanta for Colin and I before taking different routes the rest of the way while Markus set off to SP to go home via Toronto. There’s really no other way to wrap this up other than to once again express that I know I was very fortunate to be able to do this and do it with good friends who appreciated the trip as much as I did. I have a very understanding, supportive wife who when I told her this was likely going to happen a couple years back said, “Yeah, I get it. World Cup. Brazil. You gotta go.” That was of course before it turned into a three week, eight game dash around Brazil but her support never really wavered so it’s another reason I’m lucky to be with her.

And lastly, as I said in the first part of this story, if you have even a tiny bit of you that says, “That looks great, I should do a trip like that one day.” Do it. Save the money, find the time, coerce friends that you will enjoy doing it with and go. It’ll be worth it. The 2016 Euro in France awaits…

Posted in 2014 World Cup | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Soccer coach job hack: the tall tripod video system

Analysis is all the rage. Top leagues have mega bucks ProZone set ups hard installed into every stadium. Dozens of HD cameras mounted to cover every view desired by quants and coaches alike. Amazing and expensive.

Recently, companies like Hi-Pod and Endzone have been offering portable tall tripods that you can attach your own camera to. The general idea is that you control the height and a cable from your camera USB’s port connects to a screen at eye level so you can view the footage as you’re recording. There’s limited control over the camera from my experience.

In fact from my experience using a borrowed Hi-Pod, the system was very finicky and I got little usable footage. The higher the tripod the more stress there is on the port holding the connecting cord. If it comes out you have to reel in the tripod, reconnect and raise it again. I’m sure with continued use you’d learn some tricks to make it function better but between the frustration of the first attempt and the sheer weight and bulk of the tripod (must have been over 80 lbs and required its own built in dolly to tote around) I didn’t attempt a second set up. Factor in that you needed to stay at the base of the tripod to view footage and they seem to start at $4000 (aside from the $1500 10-12 foot monopod models that require you to hold and support them while using).

So I started looking at other options to get what I wanted. The easy part was choosing the right camera. GoPro cameras are everywhere now and having used them I can see why.

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Our World Cup trip: 20 days, 8 games, 5 cities, 1 police report (Part 1 of 2)

Our World Cup adventure ended June 30. When it started is hard to say. The idea was first batted around very soon after Brazil was announced as hosts and planning started in earnest soon after Markus, Colin and I made a firm commitment to go about 18 months before the first ball was kicked. The planning really was pretty monstrous but added tremendously to the occasion. It was all great. We were very lucky that we could do this and that our families supported us.

It was a big deal to me personally to be able to go and while I’ve thought a fair bit about the personal significance of the trip I’m really not convinced I’ve come up with the best way to present what a World Cup trip looks and feels like never mind what Brazil feels like. But if you get a chance and you’re so into soccer that you actually read blogs like this…go. Go to a World Cup. Go with friends who share your passion for it and want to experience it the same way you do. But go.

This will be massively self-indulgent (as if blogs by nature aren’t) and probably end up being quite long but I’m writing it primarily for me as a keepsake of the trip and secondly as a something that gives those on the fence for similar trips a taste of what it’s like.

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Requiem for a Dream – How Barcelona’s Prodigal Son Became Their Most Damaging Signing in a Generation

Gregor:

I’ve never re-blogged anything from another WordPress blog before but this is really excellent.

Originally posted on Neymarketing:

Cesc Fabregas

To all intents and purposes, the time of Cesc Fabregas at Barcelona is now up. While nothing has yet been signed, nor even officially agreed, he is expected to move to Chelsea in the very near future. And, if that falls through, it is no secret that the club are willing to ship him off to any club that can give them in excess of 30 million euros and agree terms with the player.

This is Cesc Fabregas, a Catalan born and bred. A product of Barcelona’s La Masia academy, signed by their greatest-ever coach in an act the sheer inevitability of which had seen it expected for half a decade. A world class midfielder and Spanish international, with La Liga, the Copa del Rey and both the World Cup and two European Championships on his CV. It would seem fair that people are asking just why the club would…

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The Final: Keys to winning

I generally grimace at media pre-game sound bites that try to sum up what has to happen for a team to win. The format forces an over-simplification.

Results in games are about being relatively better than your opponent. Hegemony rather than empirical measurements are what are relevant.

So, since the Germans are favourites, here’s what I think Argentina must do to win.

First, here’s the lineups:

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Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world. Arguments to the contrary are simply the result of a lack of objectivity. Courtois may become the best keeper at some point. Ochoa and Navas had great World Cups but Neuer is the best goalkeeper in the world right now.

Romero has to be at least his equal when called upon today and Argentina have to ensure the game does not become a battle between the goalkeepers. Germany are aware though that Romero saved two penalties against Holland and won’t want the game ending with spot kicks.

For the game to not fall on Romero’s shoulders it has to fall on Mascherano’s. His performance against Holland was truly one of the best by a defender in a World Cup that I can remember. He looks like he is absolutely possessed and playing holding mid is a more natural fit for him than centre back where Barcelona play him for the most part. For Argentina to win, it’s important that Messi and Higuain are on their best form but it is absolutely crucial that Mascherano plays just as well against Germany as he did against Holland.

Demichelis is a liability. His impression of a turnstile versus Holland was spot on. Mascherano bailed him out with Superman-like saves at least twice. He must be able to deal with German strikers (Muller and Klose) without needing an abundance of assistance as Mascherano will have his hands full with German midfielders.

Lavezzi, for me, has been really disappointing. He has to provide penetration and service from wide positions. Ozil has had a similar role for Germany and while he maybe hasn’t been the fulcrum of the German attack that most thought he would be he has still been effective and contributed regularly, primarily as a provider of defence splitting passes. Lazezzi has to be more influential than Ozil for Argentina to win.

Messi is the best player in the world and your best players have to be your best players in games like this. He has scored and he has provided. He sometimes though gets pushed further back into midfield for a starting attacking position than is optimal. The key for me is Zabalata bombing up from right back to pull markers back and away from Messi to give him the space to receive balls and start attacks a bit higher up the field.

Messi will get a chance or two and will provide Higuain (and others) with chances. The German’s conversation rate in their 7-1 win over Brazil was off the charts. Argentina will not match that but they have to convert goals from chances at a very high rate because the Germans will control possession and tempo for large parts of this game. Getting Germany off the scoreboard seems unlikely so Messi will likely have to mastermind more than one goal today.

Despite being the best player in the world and having a tremendous supporting cast in Higuain, Lavezzi and hopefully Aguerro (and maybe even DiMaria) it may be too big an ask when you consider they are up against Neuer, Hummels and Lahm in the back four. Each of them should easily make the FIFA XI at the end of the tournament. If Luiz is worth 50 000 000 euros then Hummels is worth the entire budget of this World Cup. Howedes and Boateng (as a centreback) are clearly the players that Argentina must look to focus on when they attack.

I think all these areas that Argentina need to eclipse the Germans in will prove too much. I’ve enjoyed watching the Germans play (live against Portugal and Ghana and on TV for the rest) and I think they will prove be deserving champions. That said, Messi is the best player of this generation with a solid claim to being the best ever. That claim is made legitimate if he plays out of his skull today and engineers a victory against the odds so that Argentina win their third World Cup in a game played in the heart of their most bitter rivals.

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World Cup: Germany’s first goal vs Brazil

It was likely the most shocking result of the modern game. 7-1. Germany over Brazil in a World Cup semi-final in Brazil. Master handicapper Nate Silver pegged the result as being 1 in 4000. That seems almost conservative.

The first goal fascinated me. Set pieces are one of the few aspects of the game that can be analyzed in a similar manner to episodic sports like baseball, football and volleyball. These sports have many, repeated actions from very similar setups whereas soccer’s fluidity precludes the easy comparisons that analysts can look for in more static, predictable sports.

Set pieces though give soccer that element of being able to set up specific patterns in attack and in defence. This corner is a great example of Germany doing their homework on how Brazil defended corners and manipulating that setup to essentially pick David Luiz so that Thomas Muller had acres of space in the back half of the penalty box.

I’ve done a (humorous) annotated video on YouTube that highlights the issues. Essentially, Brazil only mark the near space zonally (with Maicon and Fred), leaving Marcelo on the line at the far post. The rest mark man to man (curiously leaving Ozil unmarked at the top of the box though).

Here’s the video:

Howedes starts it off cycling in towards Luiz, where Klose has already fronted on to him obstructing Luiz’s path to Muller who has followed in behind to Howedes to the middle of the goal. Luiz has to fight his way through traffic but the timing of the runs ensures the ball reaches Muller before Luiz can do anything. He looks ridiculous as he flails his way towards Muller, knowing all the while that he is not going to get there.

Muller is left with a relatively simple tap in as Ozil has deliberately stayed at the top of the box so as not to drag any defenders into the space intended for Muller.

It’s a fantastic bit of coaching by Low and his assistants. The amount of space left by Brazil is ridiculous and it’s why any time that doesn’t get the mix of zonal and man to man marking on a corner is doomed to get burned by smart teams that create traffic and/or picks to free up a player who can sit in the space created by jamming everyone else in a part of the box where the ball is not going to be delivered.

I’ve made it (hopefully) humorous but the point is serious. Goals get scored off set pieces. It’s an area that coaches can have a disproportionate influence on compared to open play. Get your marking right or you will get exposed.

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