LA 1-1 Red Bull: A Call for Group Therapy

If you care at all, you know that LA and Red Bull tied 1-1 last night – even if, at time of writing,’s headline reads “Galaxy win again, keep hopes alive.” But, I ask that you bear with me through a digression – which relates to that game – to get at something about that draw.

Back in high school, we had this program called Natural Helpers. Comprised of students, Natural Helpers were meant to provide peer counseling, a kind of sympathetic ear that troubled students would be more willing to talk into as they sorted out teenage doubts and frustrations. Their fellow students volunteered people for the program, presumably due to their talent for listening or capacity for sage advice.

No one ever volunteered me for Natural Helpers (vague misanthropy fits poorly with the program), but one of my sisters made it in, allowing her to tell me a bit about the group – and, more specifically, about orientation. Everyone knew about the retreat, which involved a chaperoned weekend in the woods for all the new recruits. Everyone also knew what went on over that weekend: the kids got drunk, smoked acres of weed, shed tears over the tyranny of parents/social institutions and the cruelty of kids at school, and, after drying the tears, vigorous, healing sex ensued.

At least that’s what happened at my high school…I still regret that negative creep vibe.

But, if 60 Minutes (or maybe 20/20) is to be believed, the Natural Helpers program at my school might have been an aberration. A report I saw some years back portrayed a very different, deeply earnest program. Students in this version of Natural Helpers attended workshops on peer pressure and conducted trust exercises – all while sober. One workshop in particular got to the students: one where they had to walk a circle of their friends/fellow-Helpers, look them in the eye, and say “NO!” to them. They would all collapse into sobs by the third, or even second, friend. Very emotional stuff. Continue reading

MLS Week 21 Perspecto-Scope: Boys Pegged; What About the Men?

Holy hell, was Week 21 a busy thing.  But for all the running, kicking, and noise, does anyone feel like they’ve got a bead on which team – or even teams – stand as best in Major League Soccer (MLS)?  I know I can’t.  On other end of the table, however, MLS’s whipping boys bared their sensitive bits to yet another thrashing, so the “boys” of the league have stepped up, or rather lain down, to be counted.

Rounding into September and the playoff push, here’s the real question about the playoffs’ first round: have the top teams made the long trek through puberty and into manhood?  Or will we all be treated to a series of boys-versus-boys dirt-clod skirmishes?

Dispensing with the “boys” who won’t even make the dirt-clod fight seems a good place to start.  Real Salt Lake (RSL) met expectations this weekend by losing on the road to a Chivas USA team that not only never loses, but that rarely concedes a goal at home.  Odds are RSL would have lost at home as well; for all the admirable fight they showed down the stretch, this simply isn’t a good team.  Speaking of which, the Los Angeles Galaxy did RSL one better by sliding past expectations on the way down to contempt: suffering a rout at the hands of a typically goal-shy Colorado Rapids all but mathematically slaps a “road-kill” stamp on the Galaxy’s 2007 season.  Finally, Toronto FC added another franchise first in their weekend loss to DC United, a stain of sorts they won’t likely get out before switching to a new kit: MLS Canadian team have, officially I believe, gone longer than any team in league history without scoring a goal.

In a sense, the wins by Chivas and Colorado tell us less about each team, than they amount to a kind of pillow mercifully smothering the miniscule flickers of life left in their hapless opponents; it doesn’t take a lot to beat on the infirm.  DC is another story, though, and I’ll get to that below.  Even so, I’d be getting nervous about Chivas if played for or coached FC Dallas and the Houston Dynamo. Continue reading

Red Bull Loses, Wins: Hide the Children

There are ugly wins. Then there’s the win the New England Revolution picked up against Red Bull New York. The Revs will take this home – albeit like a dog covered with a mystery rash requiring a long, long course of lubing with topical ointments, I doubt they’ll be showing it off.

As the title implies the Red Bull did this to themselves: between helter-skelter defending and losing the beat to the possession game that had them looking the better team in the first half, Red Bull ceded the initiative and hung too close to the ropes. Bizarrely, though, the coup de grace came with a wild throw from one of their own: a thumping back-pass from Carlos Mendes to Jon Conway, who, unbeknownst to his teammates, was sleep-walking.

Things looked nearly as ugly on the other side of the ball. With New England playing like they were – the usual mixture of hard-running, hand-grenade quality passing (e.g. close enough), and scrapping after every 50/50 – the telling mistake was always going to come from a Red Bull blunder; the only surprise came with the great, whopping, even stomach-turning aspect of the thing.

For the record, I watched this game in the morning, when the Insanity Juice is safely locked in the fridge. So, my notes should read a little more literally. Here goes: Continue reading