Where The Average Weekend Is Anything But: Portland and The Timbers Army

Photos captured by Jordan Beard

Over the past week, Portland, Oregon was situated right on the middle of the global game’s map. From Thierry Henry to Mario Götze, icons and phenoms were filling the streets as the MLS All-Stars welcomed Bayern Munich to town. We were at Providence Park for that match, and it was great. But it wasn’t Portland.

The stadium was packed to the brim and full of fans from overseas, but it wasn’t Portland. So, we returned to see this city’s side play Chivas USA to take in an "average game" and witness the atmosphere that the Timbers Army and company could create.

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Capturing The 2014 World Cup: A Photographer’s Guide

Words and Photography by Ryu Voelkel

It’s been a while. So forgive me. Por favor. And this is a long one so I suggest you make some tea or coffee before digging in.

I thought I would talk about my experience as a professional freelance photographer shooting the World Cup. Not the ones who work for an agency or a newspaper. Basically, a backpacker’s guide to shooting the World Cup. Beleza.

Traveling

First of all, I was there to shoot as many matches as possible. I estimated 21 and fell 1 short and ended up with 20. Why? I got killed by the fog in Curitiba which grounded my plane until the match in Belo Horizonte started.

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The Calm and The Storm: Lionel Messi’s Moment

By Anthony Lopopolo

When he was a kid, Lionel Messi used to take a one-hour siesta in the afternoon. He would sleep 10 hours a night. He wasn’t really bothered. 

He is still a pretty calm guy at 27 years old, by accounts of his teammates and those around him. “You see him warming up and he’s as calm as a kid who’s going to play on the field around the corner,” said Fernando Signorini, Argentina’s fitness trainer, in the book Messi: A Biography. The Maracanã, the World Cup final, is not exactly a game on a field around the corner, but it is his last frontier, the chance to be fully embraced by the country he left when he was 11, to share the same mantle as Maradona.

Messi understands this moment. “My hopes and dreams are being fulfilled due to the hard work and sacrifice of a team that has given everything from match one,” he wrote on Facebook. But this feels almost more about his own legacy than it does about Argentina.

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History Repeats Itself: Brazil suffers another heartbreak on home soil

By Zack Goldman

The world’s most decorated football nation waited 64 years to erase a nightmare.

Instead, a worse one came.

It has been said it could never get as bad for Brazil as the Maracanazo, the nation’s famous loss to Uruguay in the 1950 World Cup Final in Rio.

That was carnival recast into funeral, when 400,000 horrified eyes looked on as a haunting blur of sky blue rendered their heavily-favored heroes powerless.

It was the unthinkable happening to the invincible.

It was like watching one’s own home being robbed during a party.

And, while the five World Cup triumphs that followed for the Seleção certainly displaced the prominence of that memory, it would be disingenuous to say that the historical mosaic of futebol in Brazil has altogether discarded that recurring fever dream of so many years ago.

Whether the goalkeeper Barbosa’s infamous blunder — which has long been blamed for the loss — was heard in the stadium or through staticky radio waves or via trembling voices or quivering hands or lines of print on a page years later, it is a story whose legacy lives on and that no Brazilian of any generation since has forgotten.

If anything, the Maracanazo's influence and significance is more alive this year, as the country hosts the World Cup for the first time since 1950, than at any moment in recent history.

Yet, while every Brazilian grew up hearing the legend, the vast majority of the country never knew anything of the taste, the smell, the sight of that kind of disappointment. After all, this is a nation that hadn’t lost a competitive match on home soil since 1975.

Until today.

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As We Watch Brazil’s Dance

By Anthony Lopopolo

In the beginning of Dave Zirin’s book, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil, one of America’s pre-eminent political sports writers tells us that he simply had to write a book about Brazil – a country, said one of his professors, that is certainly not for “beginners.” But Zirin is no beginner. He is the voice of reason in a country of unreasonable disparity.

He first starts in the favelas, one of them surrounding Rio’s Maracana, where hundreds of homes, once built by generations of families, were “cracked open.” Those residents were relocated, some moved hours away, some getting no compensation at all.

Zirin then interviews journalists and academics, street sweepers and the indigenous peoples, as he searches for the meaning behind everything that has happened in Brazil over the past year. His latest book is an essential companion for this month. It examines what it means to be Brazilian and explains why FIFA is exploiting the land like its colonizers from Portugal so many years ago.

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The Passing of a Generation

By Zack Goldman

Call it what you’d like: The end of an era, the collapse of a dynasty, or just, plainly, expected.

Whatever you term Spain’s past week, it was not what they had in mind when arriving in Brazil to defend the World Cup that they won with such heart and tenacity in South Africa four years ago.

It had all started so well.

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Politics, Corruption and the Decline of Lithuanian Football

By Robert O’Connor

“Eversheds Saladžius, in cooperation with the Lithuania Football Federation, applied to the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania in order to initiate the consideration of the issue of supplement of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania.”
The short wedge of legalese appeared on the website of the Lithuanian branch of international firm, Eversheds, on January 17th, citing “reasonable doubts” that current legal regulations are “sufficient for combating the practice of match fixing.” It marked the first tentative steps of a process towards clamping down on match-fixing in the Baltic republic; one that has turned the heads of both players and fans alike.
Barely two months earlier, VMFD Žalgiris had ended a 14 year wait for the A Lyga title, squeaking ahead of FK Atlantas by two points and interrupting the domestic dominance of FK Ekranas that had stretched back five seasons. With the monopoly broken, pupils dilated at the sight of a second photo-finish to the title race in as many seasons, and Lithuanian football took a moment to shiver in the afterglow left behind by an instant of raw competition; fickle, erratic, teasingly capricious. Quickly though, too soon if we’re being honest, the lights flickered and dimmed. By morning, football was coming to terms with a more sobering reality, lit up by the unforgiving daylight and a damning verdict delivered by Europe’s leading reformist NGO for corruption in sport. 
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“One-fifth of football players and one-seventh of basketball players either know or suspect that they have participated in fixed matches in Lithuania” ran the opening remarks of a report commissioned by trans-national pressure group Transparency International and funded by the European Commission in January. While those numbers may be shocking, the reality is that the depth of the problem is scarcely plumbed by that conservative estimate. The report goes on to suggest that as many as 38% of football players surveyed alleged hearing that their colleagues come under pressure at least once to enter into dishonest agreements, with as many as 28% alleging that fellow players took part in match-rigging. Suddenly the celebrations in Vilnius for Žalgiris’ history-defying ascent begin to seem like cause for raised eyebrows.
For those with long memories, charting the ups and downs of teams in the A Lyga warrants perennial suspicion. In late 2004, shortly before beginning their de facto ownership of the league crown, Ekranas were temporarily suspended by the LFF after being found guilty of match-fixing earlier in the season. Though the guilty verdict was never revoked, within 24 hours the suspension was lifted, allowing the club to play out the season-finale and title decider against FBK Kaunas. Ekranas lost that day, handing the title to Kaunas and avoiding what would have been an intense headache for the authorities, but a decade on the problems in Lithuania appear no closer to a resolution. 
Transparency International, a Europe-wide project that seeks to identify the root causes of corruption in social and political bodies and cut them off at the source, singled out Lithuania as one of its focal points for tackling corruption in domestic football, and the Lithuanian branch of its Stay Onside initiative has already isolated the issues that make the young republic a soft target for match-fixers. Deborah Unger manages TI’s Rapid Response Unit and says the necessary solutions are direct, if not necessarily simple: “What we have learned from 20 years of working in anti-corruption is that you need show people how to avoid being dragged into a situation that could lead to corruption. You need to do this well before it happens, as well as make them aware of the consequences if they don’t resist.”
Unger’s testimony helps anyone struggling to get to grips with the root cause of the problem in Lithuania to cut through the thicket and look out on the LFF’s craterous ground-zero. “Our approach is to identify the warning signs that might make people vulnerable and help them resist approaches. For example, players who gamble too much, have debts, or addictions can become targets” she adds. And therein lies the rub. Employment regulations in Lithuania, like in most of the former Soviet Union, are still in their formative stages relatively speaking, and the cross-over for athletes for whom their sport equates to labour is especially murky. Put simply, there is little legislative protection for professional athletes in terms of contract law in this corner of Europe, which leaves many pushed to the vulnerable end of the spectrum from which Unger fears likely match-fixers are drawn.
There is another wilt in the frame. Lithuania were the first former satellite to declare independence from the Soviet footballing authorities in the early nineties, but the head-start has never been converted into financial security within the game. The transition from state to private ownership has left clubs at the highest level lacking in sustained investment from both sectors, and with little market value in the media pool, life for Lithuania’s football clubs is a constant struggle.
In 2010 FK Vėtra were expelled from the A Lyga and subsequently disbanded following a financial implosion. 12 months earlier, the very existence of the top division looked in doubt when Kaunas and Atlantas, two of the country’s best supported clubs, withdrew from the league in protest at perceived financial mismanagement by the LFF, just two weeks after Kaunas had been denied a license to compete due to “fiscal irregularities”.
It isn’t just the A Lyga that has suffered. In 2007 Rodiklis Kaunas declined promotion from Lyga 1 after becoming reluctant to take on the financial burdens and associated risks that come with top-flight football in Lithuania. These financial shockwaves cause ripples that inevitably make it down as far as the playing staff. Non-payment of wages is a common occurrence in the A Lyga.    
The troubles show no sign of letting up. In December, charges were brought against 11 men in Estonia relating to a match-fixing ring believed to have sought to influence games in the A Lyga over the previous 18 months, and the findings issued in TI’s report suggest the authorities have a long way to go to before the problem can be deemed to be anything like under control. When it comes to match-rigging, the borders between the Baltic states are porous, and with neighbouring Latvia also suffering the burdens loaded by poor football infrastructure and weak labour laws the bid to stem the tide of corruption is doomed to failure without international co-operation. If the Transparency project is to make a difference it is likely that more legislative clout will be required to complement its policy of prevention by education.      

This piece was written by Robert O’Connor, who can also be found writing for World Soccer Mag and many other. Follow him on Twitter here. Comments below please.

Politics, Corruption and the Decline of Lithuanian Football

By Robert O’Connor

“Eversheds Saladžius, in cooperation with the Lithuania Football Federation, applied to the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Lithuania in order to initiate the consideration of the issue of supplement of the Criminal Code of the Republic of Lithuania.”

The short wedge of legalese appeared on the website of the Lithuanian branch of international firm, Eversheds, on January 17th, citing “reasonable doubts” that current legal regulations are “sufficient for combating the practice of match fixing.” It marked the first tentative steps of a process towards clamping down on match-fixing in the Baltic republic; one that has turned the heads of both players and fans alike.

Barely two months earlier, VMFD Žalgiris had ended a 14 year wait for the A Lyga title, squeaking ahead of FK Atlantas by two points and interrupting the domestic dominance of FK Ekranas that had stretched back five seasons. With the monopoly broken, pupils dilated at the sight of a second photo-finish to the title race in as many seasons, and Lithuanian football took a moment to shiver in the afterglow left behind by an instant of raw competition; fickle, erratic, teasingly capricious. Quickly though, too soon if we’re being honest, the lights flickered and dimmed. By morning, football was coming to terms with a more sobering reality, lit up by the unforgiving daylight and a damning verdict delivered by Europe’s leading reformist NGO for corruption in sport. 

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Carlo Ancelotti: Cool in the hottest of moments

By Anthony Lopopolo

On the margins of a blank piece of paper, he would scribble in his starters. He would fill the rest of the page with points about the defence and attack: to maintain possession, to play two-touch football, to bide your time. And he would make copies and hand them out to his players before matches.

Carlo Ancelotti writes all of his notes by hand. He writes in ink. He always wanted to make that human connection. “You can’t write a love letter on a computer,” he writes in his book, The Beautiful Games of an Ordinary Genius. You could say Ancelotti is a bit of a romantic.

Communication is the most important thing. He wants everyone’s opinions. If one of his players is upset, Ancelotti hears them out. He prefers talking to his team instead of shouting; listening instead of ignoring, even when he knows he is right. 

“For me,” says the 54-year-old, coach of Real Madrid, “it’s managing people. Managing Ronaldo is the same for me as managing Carvajal or Morata.”

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Remembering May 11

By Zack Goldman

Yesterday was a day of celebration in the Barclays Premier League, but it could, and should, have been so much more.

Manchester City won their second league title in three years with a 2-0 victory over West Ham United, who supplied a challenge con brio but sans any real threat to the champions.

As the clock hit 90, Eastlands drank in the sweet spirit of victory and a wave of sky blue spilled onto the pitch. City fans in replica shirts and silly hats cheered, hugged, took selfies, and attempted to shower their heroes with well-intentioned, but ultimately unwanted kisses.

Those sorts of scenes are always beautiful moments that encapsulate football at its most electrifying, with the distance between fan and hero collapsed and the impenitent thrill of victory on show.

But, this day, for many of us, the moment had a secondary significance—and one that should have been noted far more than it was.

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