A Place To Play

A good photo can tell the story of a life. Or maybe it takes two.

I think in the Bay Area, there are many, many people who are feeling something that we can’t shake: the loss of Robin Williams.

What people through all the country may feel, in fact the entire world as well, is the loss of a transcendental entertainer, the improvisational genius of the century, and a successful movie actor. But here locally, we mourn the death of a neighbor, a local, and somehow, illogically, one of us.

I feel him everywhere. Across from a mansion in Sea Cliff where he used to live, there are two benches. One commemorates his parents, the other is for the parents of his second wife, Marsha Garces. I like to run to China Beach and the benches are on the way. I always think he’ll be in the window of that house or something, even though he hasn’t lived there for years.

People bumped into him in nearby Laurel Village, buying groceries. My wife Anne once saw him in the famous Green Apple bookstore on Clement Street. In the Richmond, my part of town, it was like he was in the air.

Comedian Marc Maron put together the cleanest, purest look I have found into the mind of Robin Williams on his podcast WTF. Around minute 29:00, they talk about the comedy culture in San Francisco where Robin got his start: the Holy City Zoo, The Other Cafe, and Cobb’s. I didn’t see Robin at The Other, but I did see Paula Poundstone and the late Jane Dornacker once. I remember Paula did a joke about her shower curtain being so slimy, it was like Velcro against the tiles. Had I accidentally chosen another night, I would’ve seen him, pre-Mork days.

But the part of his life that sticks with me like a burr in my sock is the little-known fact that he was also a soccer player. His Wikipedia page says he “was a student at the private Detroit Country Day School. He excelled in school, where he was on the school’s soccer team and wrestling team, and became class president.”

“As Williams’s father was away much of the time, and his mother also worked, he was attended to by the family’s maid, who was his main companion. When Williams was 16, his father took early retirement and the family moved to Woodacre, California. There, Williams attended Redwood High School in nearby Larkspur where he graduated in 1969.”

Somewhere in that period, he attended a soccer camp in Stanford where I would work some years after. The link between Robin’s participation there and mine is Michael Keohane, a friend and mentor. Michael was always the guy who was a couple of years older than me and who would meet me at West Sunset on a Saturday morning to kick against the wall, or give me a ride to San Jose to watch the Earthquakes play, or any of a hundred other favors. I don’t think I’d have been a player in college or a coach today if it weren’t for Michael. He’s also been responsible for getting me to Brazil a couple of times. And he is perhaps the only living person who remembers Robin Williams played soccer here in the Bay Area:

Top row, fourth from the right: Robin Williams. Middle row, fourth from teh left: Michael Keohane. Top row, second from left: Coach Feibusch.

Top row, fourth from the right: Robin Williams. Middle row, fourth from the left: Michael Keohane. Top row, second from left: Coach Feibusch.

Continue reading

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Hamburgers und Frankfurters

“I will always have the half-side of Germany in my heart, but all of us half players—and the coach, too—we will try to win this game for America. We want to get to the next round.”

Jermaine Jones battles v. Costa Rica in a WC qualifier played in Denver.

These were Jermaine Jones’ words when he was asked about facing Germany on June 26.  Jones is referring to the fact that he and four other teammates grew up in Germany with a German mother and a father from the US military. As offspring of GIs, they were guaranteed immediate US citizenship. But English is not their first language and all only joined the USMNT fairly recently. The article goes on to say that they also go through challenges to their commitment and sincerity in playing for the US: “Are these guys really Americans?

“Some of Klinsmann’s German-American players say they have seen comments on Twitter suggesting that they aren’t real Americans. To this they can only shake their heads. The same goes for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati. ‘The thought that the sons of American citizens who are overseas because they are serving their country in the armed forces have less of a right to play for the United States than someone else is just absurd,’ he says. ‘That sort of thinking is everything America shouldn’t stand for. [These players] were American citizens the day they were born.'”

I was born in an Army hospital in Japan. My father was an American GI and my mom a Japanese national. Like most of the German-Americans on the National team, my relationship with my dad was hit and miss, with more miss than hit. Again similar to many of these players, my parents split up, but my mom and I had moved to the US when I was very little. While I have always considered myself to be an American, I have to say that there were many times when I felt less than fully accepted, and to be honest, it’s something I’ve never fully moved past. When you are the product of two cultures, on good days you can partake of either or both. But on other days you can feel like you have neither.

I thought about this connection with the National Team players after seeing this Tweet from a New York City sportswriter:

And there it was: more American than. It reminded me that there is a scale, and certain people will appoint themselves the arbiter of how American we all are, and the actual metrics will be secret but the results clear.

H&F Germans

(from L to R) Fabian Johnson, Julian Green, Jermaine Jones, and John Brooks

The World Cup is not that different from any game. There are two sides, and as a player I have teammates and I have opponents. An in-group and an out-group. Scrimmaging at practice, it’s easy to go from playing with someone to playing against them as the coach changes the sides and the rules. We automatically adjust; one moment you’re trying to make the other guy look good, and the next you’re trying to crush him into the ground. We understand that with me and against me are mutable concepts and we change behavior accordingly. But at the World Cup, the in-group is basically a mix of citizenship, birthplace, and parentage. The guys from Germany — Jermaine Jones, Fabian Johnson, John Brooks, Timmy Chandler, and Julian Green — qualify to play for us under the rules FIFA has set up. But that isn’t enough for some. As Noam Chomsky said,  “Sports plays a societal role in engendering jingoist and chauvinist attitudes. They’re designed to organize a community to be committed to their gladiators.” And so we suffer from differing definitions of where the lines of our community are drawn. Is it only those “born and raised” here, or do we expand to acknowledge our laws that grant citizenship to guys like these five?

Many of the teams in the World Cup have done the latter and expanded the player pool. An article in the Global Post, whatever that is, illustrates which teams depend more on players born outside of their country. Some nations like Spain, Brazil, and Ghana are 100% made up of native-born players. But others like Germany, France, and Switzerland have rosters much like ours, for example:

Mesut Ozil's father was born in Turkey; Sami Khedira's in Tunisia; Miroslav Klose was born in Poland.  Jerome Boateng has roots in Ghana; Shkodran Mustafi's parents are Albanians born in Macedonia; and Lukas Podolski was born in Poland.

Mesut Ozil’s father was born in Turkey; Sami Khedira’s in Tunisia; Miroslav Klose was born in Poland. Jerome Boateng has roots in Ghana; Shkodran Mustafi’s parents are Albanians born in Macedonia; and Lukas Podolski was born in Poland.

While some like Frank Isola start to pick at the hem of our National Team, what is the contribution of the players born in Germany? (If we fully applied the “no immigrant” rule, we’d lose even more guys like Diskerud, Tim Howard, and Altidore).

  • Jermaine Jones: probably our best player, assisted Dempsey’s goal v Ghana, and author of the best US goal of the tournament vs. Portugal
  • Fabian Johnson: solid presence and right back, always a threat to get forward, cracking goal v. Turkey in the run-up
  • Timmy Chandler: has not played

    H&F Brooks goal v Ghana

    John Brooks just beat Ghana with his last-gasp header

  • John Brooks: late sub v. Ghana, scores the game-winning goal
  • Julian Green: has not played SCORES VS BELGIUM WITH HIS FIRST TOUCH

These players have been involved in the key plays that put the US through to the Round of 16. Klinsmann has done an outstanding job using his knowledge of the Bundesliga to mine these five nuggets for our team. There is no question about their nationality, allegiance, or belonging. They’re as American as I am, and as American as Hamburgers and Frankfurters.





Also useful for this post:

As Jermaine Jones embraces U.S. role, critics embrace World Cup play

World Cup 2014: How John Brooks suddenly became an all-American hero with winner against Ghana

 Jermaine Jones, USA’s ‘Fighting Pig,’ Wins Over His World Cup Critics

 Jermaine Jones Decides to Switch Allegiances from Germany to USA (June 2009)

 Is Jermaine Jones misunderstood?


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The Unraveling



marca portada

Everyone’s asking what happened to Spain. My answer: not much. I think they are about as good as they were four years ago. Why the crash out? Primarily luck. I know you aren’t liking this and I look forward to your comments but before you do, here is a recap of some of the key turning points for La Roja in South Africa 2010. I’ll start with the group match vs. Chile.

Spain v Chile 2-1

David Villa scores the first goal, a one-touch, empty-net shot from 40 yards when the Chilean keeper comes out of his area and slams a clearance, which lands at his feet. Watch it here.

Spain v Portugal 1-0 (round of 16)

Iker spills a shot, much like Akinfeev does in 2014. It squirts through his hands and rises high in the air. He barely manages to slap the ball away. Then he fails to handle a Ronaldo free kick and allows the rebound to fall centrally, about 12 yards out – just like he did vs Chile in 2014. The difference? In 2010 the ball falls to his defenders instead of a Portugal attacker.

In the second half, Puyol almost scores an own goal, missing by a foot. Villa scores the winner but is arguably offside, see this Zapruder-quality investigation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f0JN5YQbmkk

Spain v Paraguay 1-0 (Quarter final)
Iker saves a PK. Xabi scores a PK, it’s annulled for encroachment, he misses the follow-up. On the winning goal, Pedro (#18 shoots and hits the post; it rebounds to Villa, his shot hits the right post, left post, and goes in.

Spain v Germany 1-0 (Semi-final)

A tight match, the only goal is from a Puyol header from Xavi’s corner. It’s a play they ran at FC Barcelona.

Spain v Holland The Final 1-0 a.e.t.

Holland should probably have won but Iker saves from Robben with the bottom of his foot.









Iker had this to say after they crashed out this week:

 “When you don’t have luck on your side and you don’t perform well enough at a World Cup, this is what happens. This is football. Four years ago everything went our way and now it’s negative.”

There is a tremendous amount of random chance in every game: crossbars, posts, errors that don’t cost you, errors that do. Referee decisions, line calls, yellow and red cards. Spain’s players were not as sharp as they were four years ago, and their opponents all seemed more prepared to face their style of play. But to me a lot of the reason they are going home is just the luck of the draw.

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World Cup – the Best Commercials

Mark Rechtin favors this one, of Nike‘s. Or was it this one, with animation?

A quick web search locates this from Chile, featuring the miners who escaped death several months ago.

Lisa Cooke, sentimentally likes this one from McDonalds, made without famous stars:

ring that bell

I already shared this from Spain, showing how their stars don’t think they work harder

"I think it would be impossible;e to have that patience every day"

“I think it would be impossible;e to have that patience every day”

than anyone else.

I have to go for Beats by Dr Dre. Most authentic to me.


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The Butcher, The Baker, the Quarterfinals maker?

On Thursday May 29th, Jurgen Klinsmann announced his 23 player roster for the World Cup and rocked the soccer world. The former is a normal duty of all national team coaches — all 32 teams must do likewise no later than Jun 3. Like a good German, Klinsi is prompt. Throughout the world, as soon as the names hit the media, pundits everywhere go to work on two pieces:

  • Who was left out and why this is a mistake
  • Who is in, and what does it mean?

Some huge names fall into the “snubbed” category, like Tévez for Argentina and Nasri for France. But Jurgen’s decision to leave Landon Donovan at home became one of the biggest stories worldwide. I think if you exclude our goalkeepers and asked people

Sponsors go for the big names, the ones who are certain to remain on the team. D'OH!

Sponsors go for the big names, the ones who are certain to remain on the team. D’OH!

around the world to name a pro from the US, they’d say Landon, Bradley, or Dempsey. Landon is a poster child for our team. He has endorsements alongside Hope Solo for Seiko watches. He scored the biggest goal in US history* most people would say.

So why is he out?

There is not one answer. Here are three. Perhaps the truth is among them.

* = I think Caligiuri’s goal to get us into Italy ’90, scored November ’89 was the biggest in our history. (click for the video) We’ve been to every WC since. But that year it hinged on his long-distance bomb on a windswept, bumpy pitch in Port-of-Spain.

One: The Butcher

“Jurgen is not a friend of compromise,” says Bernhard Peters, a German sports executive who has been close with Klinsmann for more than a decade. “He wants to do it his way.” Faithful readers of this blog, both of you, will recall previous posts on Jurgen’s personal style. He completely understands that as the coach, he will be judged on outcomes. At the same time he will be subject to an endless chorus of second-guessing. All coaches, and in fact anyone who has to make decisions for a living must go through this. Try to build consensus by listening to those involved, or put your individual stamp on matters? Continue reading

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Michael Sam

One of the things that impresses me about the Positive Coaching Alliance is their ability to take breaking events in sports news and craft a valuable message that parents and coaches can use to teach youth athletes. I haven’t seen them publish anything about Michael Sam but am sure they will.

I think this weekend’s events, when the openly gay Sam was drafted by the St. Louis Cardinals, was history in the making. We know that professional sports desegregated racially with pioneers like Jackie Robinson, but I wasn’t alive to see it. But we were there yesterday when Sam got word that he had a job in the NFL, and through social media and services like YouTube we were able to see him get the news, break into tears, and finally kiss his boyfriend.

It is common knowledge that there are many lesbian athletes in sports. Billie Jean King was among the first pro tennis players. The LPGA has several out golfers. And in our national soccer team, the all-time leading goal scorer, Abby Wambach is open about her orientation, making her announcement shortly after the talented Megan Rapinoe did the same. And their coach Pia Sundhage was openly out as well. It’s different with women athletes.

But with men this process is moving much more slowly. Robbie Rogers broke the ice* in soccer but he did it as he announced his retirement, for fear that no club in England would accept him. Fortunately the LA Galaxy signed him and he’s doing OK there. At the same time, sportswriters point out repeatedly that there were no openly gay players in the “Big Four” of the NFL, baseball, basketball, or hockey. To me that’s what makes yesterday so fascinating.

Rapinoe Wambach

Women athletes can be gay and remain role models. It’s different for men.

Why is this something I write to you about? Well, statistics indicate that 3 – 10% of adults identify themselves as gay. That means on a full soccer roster of 18 players, it is possible that at least one player is gay, assuming that sports doesn’t have a lower incidence than the general population. In other words, as your kid continues to play it is likely he or she will have a gay teammate. (I have two children and one is gay, and she was an outstanding athlete through high school.) In light of this I think the Michael Sam story gives all a great chance to talk about what it would mean to have a gay teammate, how we could support him / her, and what feelings your child might have about it.

I have coached teams where I found out later that my players were gay and I was pleased to hear they were comfortable sharing the news with me. I have coached a Vikings team where I am pretty certain I had a gay player but they have not come out yet, to my knowledge. But when I coached that team I made it a special point to talk about acceptance, diversity, and the importance of keeping an atmosphere free of harassment. All teams are made up of players with flaws and shortcomings. Boys can be extremely cruel to each other, usually face to face. Girls can be even meaner, and in an indirect fashion that is harder to confront. Regardless as a coach I try to make it clear that when we bully a teammate, we weaken our team and help the opponent. We can only play our best when everyone is welcome and supported. If you want to win, you have to accept your teammates. It couldn’t be any simpler. If you and your family believe in accepting all people regardless of their sexual orientation, I invite you to have a conversation with your child and talk about what happened yesterday in the NFL. You could ask things like:

  • How would you feel if you had a gay teammate?
  • Would you make them feel welcome, and if so, how?
  • What if it were you? What if there was something different about you that you were afraid of not being accepted?

It’s historic. Here’s something I found on Twitter that I believe captures the moment:

* Rogers was the second player in England to announce he was gay but the first, Justin Fashanu, had a much tougher life and died by his own hand at 37.

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The Deuce is Loose in Manaus

The draw for our national team in the 2014 World Cup came out last Friday, and people are saying it will be harder to get out of Group G than the Red Wedding.

JUNE 16: United States vs. Ghana in Natal.
JUNE 16: Germany vs. Portugal in Salvador
JUNE 21: Germany vs. Ghana in Fortaleza.
JUNE 22: United States vs. Portugal in Manaus.
JUNE 26: Portugal vs. Ghana in Brasilia.
JUNE 26: United States vs. Germany in Recife.

There’s a lot of fear and awe about the difficulty of the draw, reasonable because Germany is a clear top four team in the world, Portugal has the  best player in the world at the moment, and Ghana is a team that has eliminated us from the cup by beating us twice in a row. But there are a lot of ways to look at this, and when a situation allows multiple interpretations, the competitor must choose the one that gives the best chance of prevailing. Here are a few thoughts to counter the “stinkin’ thinkin'” making the rounds:

We have the most travel of any team, almost 9,000 miles.
This is apparently calculated by taking the distance from our headquarters in São Paulo to each game site. While not convenient I don’t see how the flights are a huge factor. We can Continue reading

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Ernie Feibusch

The Jewish Sports Hall of Fame Northern California is a small social organization with the goal of raising funds to support local Jewish athletes in financial need. One of their methods is the awards banquet where esteemed members of the Jewish athletic community are selected for recognition, “the Golden Bagel,” and takes place on a Sunday EMF dais croppedmorning. This year’s was on November 3rd, at the auspicious Crown Room, atop the Fairmont Hotel. One of the inductees was my high school soccer coach and mentor, Ernie Feibusch. One morning in September at our weekly pickup game he surprised me by asking if I would be one of the two people to speak on his behalf. Which is how I found myself at the hotel that Sunday morning, called on to make a few comments. Afterwards a few people came up to me and complimented me on it. So I thought I’d share it here. This is more or less how it went.

The format of the event required crafting a prompt in the form of a question, and then responding to it. Somehow that seems different from giving a speech to the organizers. Mine was:

“One of the attributes often attributed to Ernie’s success is his consistent focus on one club (Vikings) and one school team (Lowell). How did this shape his reputation, and are there still coaches who do the same today?”

This question reminds me of the words of one of Hollywood’s great actors, a contemporary of Ernie’s, Robert Mitchum. He was interviewed by Barbara Walters who asked him: “You’ve been married 42 years. What makes your marriage work?” Continue reading

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A Messi situation

Messi-foul-El-ClasicoA reader writes (thanks, Mark!) Q: Also, what’s your take on Messi’s injury spate? Not regaining fitness after the off-season? Or too much work-rate and crazy travel over too many competitions for both club and country? Hamstrings are tough, and when they say 6-8 weeks, that’s 6-8 weeks before he’s 80 percent, and if he pushes it too quickly, that’s three more months on the DL. If I were the Argentine coach, I would be really worried about next summer.

A: Some say he’s more interested in the WC than La Liga season. Some gossip that’s he’s messi 3heavier and that’s hurting him. When your nickname is “The Flea” every ounce matters.

Hamstrings, like groin injuries, are tough. You never know if it’s healed until you try and messi 2the indicator that it wasn’t is you hurt it again and restart the clock.

Some players trade on acceleration more than others. I didn’t because I had none. I have noticed that those who do often have no plan “B” when that burst is gone. I’m not saying Messi has no other skill but it is what sets him apart.

How did it happen? Yeah game and training overload. Natural aging. Constant abuse: messi 1kicks, cleats, knock-downs. The question could be “How did he last as long as he did?”

The natural progression: star on your national team, get noticed, sign a mega-contract, go through the tug-o-war between club and country. “Retire” from your national team because your club is pressuring you and it won’t put any more money in your pocket, or you don’t need the money.

Like I’ve said before, I think it’s ridiculous. Clubs use national team games as shop messi 5windows, then discourage the players from continuing. Like a guy who marries a stripper and then wants her get off the pole.

messi 4messi 6

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Keep Your Chin DOWN

I don’t do a lot of “how-to” posts because it can be a lot of work and there’s many other places that do them in a comprehensive manner. So I usually take a more reflective, philosophical approach. But this will be an exception.

The media has made a lot about the controversial decision to leave Hugo Lloris in goal after he was knocked unconscious from a collision with Romelu Lukaku’s knee on November 3rd. Of all the possible injuries a player can sustain in soccer, the concussion must be the most serious. It’s easier to walk with a limp than go through life without the ability to think coherently.

In goalkeeping circles we call the play that resulted in Lloris’ injury a “breakaway save.” An

Lloris slides in high. Lukaku can't get out of his way,

Lloris slides in high. Lukaku can’t get out of his way,

opponent breaks through your back line of defenders and it’s just you, him, and the goal. Since the goal is only 8 feet high but 8 yards wide you have to get yourself horizontal to match the shape of the goal better. One of the keys is to get down quickly so there is no space between you and the ground. The other thing that’s important is to get your head low, lower than the knees of on onrushing players. Lloris got caught before he could get his head down, and that’s why he was knocked unconscious.

A key part of the breakaway save technique is to come in an low as possible. Take the largest last step you can, to get your butt and torso low. Then you’ll get down to ground faster because there’s less distance to cover.

Neuer is low, shoulder on the ground, head well below everyone's knees.

Neuer is low, shoulder on the ground, head well below everyone’s knees.

Next, remember to stay off your elbow. Landing hard on your elbow can cause a separated shoulder, also called an AC joint injury. But landing on your elbow will raise your head too and that’s when you get the knee. If you take a big last step and land on your shoulder and ribs, you have a better chance of coming out unscathed.

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