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London Games will intro Albert

5 Sep

Next year’s London Olympics will see the debut of a new soccer ball, “The Albert”, affectionately named after the city’s Albert Hall.

A ball naming competition was recently opened to the public, with over 12,000 unique monikers submitted in a ten-day period, before the cheeky rhyming slang entry was selected. Adidas say they wanted to acknowledge the East End of London, which has become synonymous with the upcoming Games, and to also create some global intrigue.

Intrigue is one thing, but surely design is equally on Adidas’ mind after last year’s Jabulani debacle at the World Cup. That shiny number – famous for dipping on unsuspecting goalkeepers – was oddly constructed with just eight panels instead of the traditional 32. Apparently the architects were looking for a marketing angle instead of performance.

Such was the criticism of the last ball that scientists around the world later tested it and concluded its fewer panels and internal stitching made it as close to a perfect sphere as a ball has ever been. We can only hope Albert will be a little, well, fatter.

Imperfect spheres in sports like tennis, golf and cricket provide those games with their unique characteristics, where the trajectory and bounce, and players’ reactions to such movements, are part of the romance of each sport. The same is true of soccer, if not even more so.

That’s why The Albert needs to be dull and imperfect, true to the touch, instead of stealing the limelight like a right royal pain in the…

The new football’s design will remain under wraps until its official launch in spring 2012.


How the Jabulani spoiled the 2010 World Cup

7 Jul

This year’s football World Cup hasn’t exactly been an exercise in precision has it?

It’s time to officially blame the Jabulani ball.

The shiny new number, famous for dipping on unsuspecting goalkeepers, is oddly constructed with just eight panels instead of the traditional 32. Apparently the architects were looking for a marketing angle instead of performance.

Following weeks of criticism, scientists around the world recently tested the ball – interestingly as the World Cup draws to a close – and concluded that its fewer panels and internal stitching make it as close to a perfect sphere as a ball has ever been. So mission accomplished, I guess.

Imperfect spheres in sports like tennis, golf and cricket provide those games their unique characteristics, where the trajectory and bounce, and players’ reactions to such movements, are part of the romance of each sport. The same is true of soccer, if not even more so.

I’ve had an affinity with the soccer ball – the real ball, that is – since I was five years old. While many other kids were busy hoofing the ball up field or showing their parents how hard they could tackle, my brother and I methodically dribbled in and out of witches hats, juggled up and down the field and prodded the ball around the pitch until we collapsed into a heap of sweaty polyester and Lotto leather. Mastering the ball, imperfect as it was, is what fuelled our passion for the sport.

Watching soccer today, we love to see others work with the ball, control it and conquer its nuances. You only have to study Lionel Messi or Arjen Robben to appreciate how a soccer ball can move – its size, weight and texture, each contributing to the beauty of its roll.

However, this Jabulani simply doesn’t move the way a soccer ball should. It has unquestionably undermined the art form’s best technicians and reduced the “beautiful game” to a game of chance. Certainly goalies have struggled, as the Jabulani dips and wavers toward goal, never really settling on a flight path. But it is, in fact, attackers who have even more reason to gripe. Consider the countless skewed free kicks, wayward crosses and loose penalties lofted over the crossbar this tournament. There have been some unusually embarrassing moments to say the least.

We’ve heard the commentators lament the weird texture of the new ball and how it seems to sway in the air, sometimes stopping but rarely spinning as a soccer ball should. We’ve also heard players tell the press they can’t predict which way the ball will ultimately travel, making passes difficult to anticipate.

But how does this all affect the fan watching at home?

Well, when your favourite midfielder tries a long ball, the Jabulani doesn’t sit up, but instead skids off the grass as if on ice, leaving the intended recipient little chance of tracking it down. Or when the world’s best wing-back pushes a routine short delivery to the central midfield, he often misjudges the ball’s weight, tapping it to a charging opponent like an overly inflated beach ball.

The Jabulani clearly hurt the masters of the short ball, Italy, at this World Cup, disrupting the flow of their normally elegantly timed offensive build-ups. Countries that traditionally revel in the long pass, like England and Australia, suffered too. Neither team caught the Jabulani’s drift. I wonder how David Beckham would have fared?

Jabulani supporters might point to Brazil’s Robhino, Uruguay’s Diego Forlan or Spain’s David Villa, and highlight their outstanding open field runs during this Cup. To that I say, sure, there have been some strong moves, and even a few impressive finishes. But they’ve been few and many of the better goals have simply illustrated why it’s so difficult for keepers to read the ball’s flight.

Soccer is a game that requires great anticipation and it’s the sport’s supreme anticipators who usually dominate the world stage. These football experts have been painfully handicapped this 2010 Cup, forced to relearn their touch and regauge their natural instincts. And in turn, we’ve been delivered a weaker soccer product than deserved.

What we now know about the 2010 World Cup

20 Jun

One week of the 2010 World Cup down and how are we doing? Picking the upsets? Enjoying the way every airborne ball looks impossible to control? Or how it skids wildly off the grass after landing? How about the horns – is the hum ringing in your ears yet?

Despite some of the oddities of the South African soccer affair, the first week has been a treat for fans around the world. No, the football hasn’t always been faultless, nor has it stunned with the regularity you might expect from the globe’s best players. But there have been some inspired performances and even a few pleasant surprises. The United States, for example, were barely given a chance against the Premier League All Stars of England. And yet, in spite of a fortuitous goal, one couldn’t help but feel America had gotten the better of the Poms. They never dominated, but they probed, strung some passes together and their keeper, Tim Howard, stood tall – well, taller than usual.

Then the US came back against Slovenia, a match that seemed irretrievable. They might have even won it if not for a contentious refereeing decision. And how about the Dutch? While not lighting it up, nor impressing commentators, they are quietly going about their business, dispatching both Denmark and a plucky Japanese squad. Next come the Cameroons, who have nothing to play for but pride. It should be a handy warm down for the men of orange.

So what else have we learned this past week?

  • England, despite their caliber, are under performing, uninspired and apparently without a game plan. Do they even realize Wayne Rooney is on the pitch?
  • Ghana are pretty good, in case you were wondering. They tamed a fierce Serbian team and met a desperate Aussie team with equal measure. They’ll need some extra gas against Germany, but victory and next round qualification are not beyond the prowling Black Stars.
  • Argentina are in control. Their attack is enterprising and Messi’s first touch is mesmerizing. But once they leave the group behind, will defenses be so relenting?
  • Italy have some work to do. The team is stacked with talent, young, old and rusty. The question is: can they blend as needed before it’s too late?
  • New Zealand deserve some praise for their spirit, humility and hard play. Few are on their bandwagon, and yet, their simple, straightforward soccer is attractive and a great base for future campaigns to build on.

World Cup Predictions

11 Jun

Italy football fansWorld Cup soccer has everybody feverish right now, even with the NBA Finals, Stanley Cup celebrations and promise of a classic Wimbledon supplying our sporting fix. And while I can’t wait for the first game to kick-off – albeit South Africa vs. Mexico (hardly a barn burner) – I’m truly looking forward to the bandwagon prognosticators packing it up for another four years. How do you become one of these so-called “expert” tipsters anyway? Seems you only need to be a staff  member of any major publication to be awarded a shot at picking World Cup winners. What does Jerry the janitor think of Group D, anyway?

Well, if he’s like everyone else in the media world, his picks will undoubtedly hinge on the presumption that Spain, Argentina and Brazil have been perennially intimidating. FIFA rankings, after all, have Brazil at No.1 and Spain in at second. So those particular selections, to coin a Vince Vaughn favorite, are a “shocker”. As for Argentina, who rank seventh on FIFA’s almighty list, we can only assume that previous Cup glories precede them. That, and because they’re coached by the one and only Diego Maradona, and are also fielding the current Maradona, Lionel Messi, may be boosting their perceived strength. Hey, I’ll buy it. But whether or not this logic translates into a 2010 World Cup Champion is another matter.

So with that said, three teams the pundits are forgetting need to be on your own list of picks, if for no other reason than to show some originality: Italy, the Netherlands and Portugal. All three nations have the potential to win the tournament, and without starting a sweat. The Italians, led by the unbreakable Fabio Cannavaro, are the maestros of defense and will prove this yet again in 2010. The Dutch can scorch anyone on their day, including Argentina and Brazil. And the Portuguese, spearheaded by Cristiano Ronaldo, will dissect more than a few backlines.

There’s no science to picking World Cup winners, and I’m reluctant to declare a definitive favorite. But I’d certainly broaden my picks beyond the usual suspects, because this isn’t 1994.

Montreal joins MLS, oui!

8 May

Montreal was awarded an MLS team this week, giving Canada its third club alongside Toronto and Vancouver come 2012. It’s a logical choice for pro soccer given the obvious multicultural flavor of the city, but also the potential of its under-supplied sports market. Montreal may be first and foremost a hockey town but there’s no denying its rich soccer history with the Impact club, has made it an ideal candidate for the MLS. This video shows just a little of that passion.

Seattle Sounders “electric” yellow jersey

28 Apr

Seattle Sounders jerseySeattle Sounders FC revealed their new third kit last week and it’s very, ah…well, bright. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. People’s color preferences are their own personal choice. But seriously. This one could guide ships into Puget Sound on a dark, foggy night. Thankfully the new strip will be used sparingly says Sounders GM Adrian Hanauer, and we’re onboard with that decision. How can you go past the team’s lime green anyway? You can’t.