Sunday, May 15, 2011

Running Diary of Man City’s 2011 FA Cup Victory

This is going to be a different type of Sunday Funday post since it does not directly involve a Cheesehead sports team. I love football, baseball, and basketball but soccer is the sport I played most growing up so it is the sport that I understand the best. About six or seven years ago I decided that it was crazy I didn’t follow an English Premier League team so I started searching for an EPL team.

I would love to claim that I had an elaborate story for how I picked Manchester City but it was really two converging factors. First, Claudio Reyna, my favorite United States soccer player of all-time, played for Man City at the time I was picking a team to follow. Second, Man City reminded me of the Packers/Brewers/Bucks because they were the underdog in their own city to Manchester United much like Chicago tries to overshadow the Cheesehead sports. So with that as background, here is my running diary of Man City trying to hoist their first trophy in 35 years:

Pre-game: Apparently Fox Soccer Channel is going through a re-branding by changing their name to Fox Soccer. Here’s a hint, instead of worrying about the name of your channel, make sure you broadcast the channel in high definition. Watching a soccer match in square, standard definition feels like I am watching a sporting event on my grandpa’s couch in 1987. This is the FA Cup for god sake, come on Fox Whatever You Want to Call Yourself.

1st Minute: Here we go, the 130th FA Cup is underway between Man City and Stoke City. The easiest way to explain the FA Cup is if baseball had a tournament where every team from rookie ball to the big leagues teams could win the trophy. Obviously the comparison doesn’t work completely because minor league baseball teams are affiliated with major league teams but you get my point.

2nd minute: Stoke was founded in 1863 but has never played in an FA Cup Final or even won a trophy in the entire history of their club. The announcers remind us that Man City is going through quite a draught as well looking for their first trophy in 35 years. Man City is the New York Mets of the English Premier League (“EPL”) at this point while Stoke City are the Cleveland Cavaliers of the EPL. Talk about two clubs that could use a slump-buster even if it means going hogging.

3rd Minute: Cheesehead Chick is filing her nails on the couch next to me as I am trying to stop myself from biting my nails. My nail-biting problem is a nasty, almost 30-year habit that I blame on me being perpetually nervous thanks to living and dying with every game played by a Cheesehead sports teams. Rooting for Man City only hurt my nail biting even more.

5th Minute: A healthy Carlos Tevez, something we haven’t seen for over a month, takes his first shot of the match for Man City. For those of you that don’t know, Tevez is the Prince Fielder of Man City…a man that produces on a high level but already unfortunately has one foot out of the door.

7th Minute: The announcer questions why Man City manager Roberto Mancini started striker Mario Balotelli, a guy who makes Ron Artest look calm. Agreed, why start the hothead when there are tons of better options on the bench (i.e. Adam Johnson).

12th Minute: The first long throw of the match by Stoke’s Rory Delap. Anytime Stoke gets the ball in Man City’s half, Delap can throw the ball into the box. Dunlap’s throw-ins alone give Stoke a huge advantage. It perplexes me why more teams don’t identify or teach players the long throw-in.

14th Minute: The refs miss a red cardable offense by Stoke’s Robert Huth. Nasty play by Huth, not sure how both refs missed that one. I am not saying instant replay is necessary but it is weird that everyone else in the world is more plugged in than the referees overseeing the match on the pitch right?

24th Minute: Man City’s Yaya Toure pushes forward and finds Balotelli who is robbed of a goal by Stoke’s goalie Thomas Sorensen…I take back what I said Mancini…great decision to start Balotelli over Johnson.

26th Minute: The first appearance of the Poznan where the fans turn their backs to the match, put their arms around each other and jump up and down. Man City fans picked it up at an away match in the Europa League this season against Lech Poznan. I love the cheer and it makes sense following a goal but I still don’t get the point of doing it while the ball is in play.

30th Minute: A handball that probably should have been a penalty kick for Stoke by Man City defender Vincent Kompany leads to a rare goal attempt by Kompany on the other end…Man City sure dodged a bullet on that one. I take back what I said about instant replay, the referee doesn’t always have to be in the loop.

32nd Minute: Another long throw by Delap. Everyone knows its coming but it is still so hard for Man City to defend. In case you haven’t realized yet, I hate the long throw.

35th Minute: Balotelli and midfielder David Silva combine on Tevez’s sublime through ball. Silva misses a sitter to put Man City ahead. With that miss Man City has five more shots than Stoke already but nothing to show for it.

38th Minute: Cheesehead Chick tops off my coffee and starts telling me about how her office doesn’t recycle. At any other time I would be interested but since Man City is playing in their first FA Cup Final since I was a zygote I am trying to pay attention to Cheesehead Chick but I am much more worried about the match than reducing global warming right now.

40th Minute: Huth finally goes in the book for a silly challenge. Huth should have already seen red and be watching the match from the locker room so a yellow is of little consolation at this point.

41st Minute: Man City defender Aleksandar Kolarov skies a free kick over the bar. Kolarov has shown flashes of being the modern day Roberto Carlos but unfortunately that was not his best effort. Just as Kolarov skies the free kick now Cheesehead Chick asks me about a parking ticket. There needs to be some type of sports rule implemented that gives guys a certain amount of time a week that doesn’t involve discussing household matters. Unfortunately with how many sporting events I watch, I would probably have to selectively use that time each week. If the NFL Lockout ever ends, I would be screwed because all-day Sunday and Monday night each week ends up being a ton of time.

Extra Time: Thanks to Tevez and Stoke’s Jermaine Pennant going down they play three minutes of extra time instead of the one minute of allotted extra time. Mark extra time down as one of the 10 million things that are considered normal outside the United States because it is exciting and bribe worthy but will never be fully embraced in the United States.

Halftime: Man City absolutely dominated the first half. City had more shots on goal (4 to 1), shots off target (7 to 1), and corner kicks (5 to 0) but the score is tied 0-0.

Commercial Break: Since there is no break in the action besides halftime we are about to get inundated with horrible commercials. Unfortunately the hometown favorite Miller Lite leads off with the worst beer commercial ever. A guy and a girl talk in total American soccer clichés while buying beer. I support the hometown adult beverages on principle alone but who is Miller going after with that commercial? The commercial alienates actual soccer fans and does not draw in the casual fan…well done Miller Lite. Thankfully a WPS commercial follows…high comedy…no one outside of the Northwest supports the MLS but I am sure they will support the women’s version of the MLS. How is the WNBA doing by the way? The cherry on top of the crappy commercial sundae comes from a diabetes commercial that says you can eat cake, potato skins, and other crap…good thing to pitch to diabetics.

Halftime Show: Christian Miles and Warren Barton should catch us up on the first half but since Manchester United won the EPL with a tie on a questionable penalty kick we are forced to see Manchester United highlights instead. A few thoughts. First, Manchester Untied striker Wayne Rooney was already suspended this year for saying “F%&k Off” to the camera earlier this year. What did Rooney do after converting the penalty kick…you guessed it another “F%&k Off” to the camera…keep it classy Rooney. Second, United got more coverage during halftime than the actual match that we were watching…great production work. Third, why are league matches played on the same day as the FA Cup Final? Man City beat Man United to get into the FA Cup Final so if Man United beat Man City then the EPL fixture where Man United claimed the EPL title would have conflicted with the FA Cup Final. Common sense says give the FA Cup Final its own day on the calendar, especially since it is right at the end of the season but I guess that would make too much sense.

46th Minute: Right as the second half is about to kick-off Mama Cheese calls. I would love to talk to my mom but Man City is about to drive me into convulsions so I get off the phone as soon as possible.

47th Minute: Huth tries to convert Pennant’s cross but the play ends in a whimper. During that exchange the announcers explain that Stoke City are the 5th best second half team in the EPL. I assume they are using goal differential to determine that but it seems like one of those simultaneous compelling but useless stats that announcers trot out occasionally.

50th Minute: Delap has another long throw, probably only his 4th or 5th of the match but it feels like the 50th. The throw ends up in a dangerous spot but Stoke fail to do anything with it. Hey Man City defense, just so you know, there are only so many times that you can dodge this bullet.

51st Minute: An intentional handball probably should have been Huth’s second yellow but Huth escapes again. Based on my tally, Huth has earned two red cards but sits on only one yellow. Should we re-open the instant replay discussion?

53rd Minute: Stoke break and are awarded a phantom free kick as Pennant goes down in a heap. Pennant’s day should be over but somehow he continues to hobble all over the pitch. Current least favorite Stoke players: 1A is Huth and 1B is Delap with Pennant winning the bronze medal.

55th Minute: Balotelli summons his inner-Artest and shoves a Stoke player to set-up a free kick in a dangerous spot. Stoke scares the goal on the free kick but the Man City defense does well to avert the danger.

61st Minute: Stoke continues to mess with Balotelli hoping to have him lose his head. Please don’t throw a beer on him Stoke fans…we don’t need the FA Cup version of the Malice in the Palace.

62nd Minute: Stoke plays the ball long with striker Kenwyne Jones holding off Man City defender Joleon Lescott. Jones has a chance to score but Man City keeper Joe Hart saves a goal with his nut sack. That was Stoke’s best chance of the day with Hart’s hairy boys denying Stoke. Matthew Etherington is subbed out for Dean Whitehead. Stoke has the no-name bench with little firepower while every player on Man City’s bench would crack the staring 11 for Stoke. How is the match still 0-0?

68th Minute: The announced attendance at Wembley is 88,643. Wembley is currently the second largest stadium in Europe and their home tenant is the England men's national team. Essentially that means the stadium was built for big soccer matches. Can you imagine a basketball stadium being built in the Untied States solely for qualifying matches and an occasional all-star game? It will take soccer a long time to be big here but it just shows you how big soccer is around the rest of the world.

70th Minute: Man City midfielder and Dutch World Cup Final villain Nigel de Jong’s tackle leads to another Delap throw that results in Man City defender Micah Richards conceding a silly free kick to Pennant. Pennant continues to hobble around, how is he still out there?

73rd Minute: Mancini finally takes out holding midfielder Gareth Barry in favor of winger Adam Johnson. About time Mancini make a move. Barry plays a different position than Johnson for Man City but I am still confused as to how Barry belongs in the starting lineup ahead of Johnson.

74th Minute: The sub works as Balotelli and Silva combine to press forward. With the ball bounding around Stoke’s penalty area, Man City superhero Yaya Toure bangs home a goal to give City a 1-0 lead. Man City fans rightfully break out into the Poznan. The day after Toure’s 28th birthday he scored for Man City in his second connective FA Cup match (Toure notched the winner against Manchester Untied in the FA Cup Semifinal) to set the blue half of Manchester into a state of absolute euphoria.

76th Minute: Things start to get chippy as Silva fires the ball at a Stoke player as he picks up a yellow. Keep your head Man City, you are 15 minutes from you first trophy in 35 years.

77th Minute: The camera predictably flashes to Kolo Toure, the suspended Man City defender and brother of the goal scorer Yaya. Kolo is suspended for allegedly using his wife’s weight management pills while his brother is becoming one of the famous players in the club’s history. While we are on this tangent, Europe has a much more stringent testing policy than the Untied States. If you test positive in Europe you are suspended right away as they sort out the problems. That is not the case in the United States. The Williams Wall of the Minnesota Vikings tested positive in 1847 for performance enhancing drugs but they are still awaiting their appeal. There has to be some middle ground right?

79th Minute: I just grabbed Cheesehead Chick’s flat Hoegaarden from last night from the refrigerator to celebrate City possibly winning their first trophy since 1976. Come on City, only 10 more minutes. By the way, flat Hoegaarden has never tasted so good at 10:40 am.

80th Minute: Stoke take out Delap in favor of Carew and I couldn’t be happier. For the long throws alone it makes sense to leave Delap in there. That got me thinking, what moves should Mancini make. I say sub Balotelli for Meredith Viera, I mean Patrick Viera. I know it sounds crazy since I am not normally a fan of putting the carcass of Viera on the pitch but it makes sense in this spot because it gives Man City another defensive presence they sorely need at this point.

81st Minute: The announcers start talking about the last time Man City appeared in an FA Cup Final in 1981. Coincidentally Mama Cheese was pregnant with me at the time and in Russia on a delegation trying to simultaneously alienate both sets of my future grandparents at the same time.

83rd Minute: Man City wins another corner to take a 7-0 advantage for the match but when you factor in Delap’s throws Man City is actually behind 14-7 in terms of corner kicks. Man City takes the short corner to waste time. I hate that move, why give up a goal scoring opportunity for 15 seconds of wasting time? Take the corner kick normally and leave a few guys back so the other team doesn’t counter attack. Do anything besides sitting on the ball like that.

84th Minute: Stoke makes their final change, Danny Pugh comes on for former Man City player Glenn Whelan. Stoke’s subs were Whitehead, Carew, and Pugh while Man City has studs like James Milner and Edin Dzeko just watching the match. How is it only 1-0?

86th Minute: Great nutmeg by Balotelli…okay I am officially wrong on the Balotelli call…he deserved the call today. Carew counters but de Jong denies Carew. I know this going to drive the red half of Manchester mad but de Jong looks like a new school Roy Keane in the making. That’s right, I said it, the 2010 World Cup Finals villain is on the path to being the next Roy Keane in Manchester. Unfortunately for Man United, Nigel de Jong plays for the blue side of Manchester not the red side of Manchester.

88th Minute: The Argentinean swap of defender Pablo Zabaleta for Tevez. Check out the shiner on Zabaleta. Manny Pacquiao looked better after his last fight than Zabaleta looks right now. Now Man City is officially packing it in playing five across the back with Kolarov, Lescott, Kompany, Richards, and Zabaleta. Why am I nervous with City up 1-0 and a mere seconds left in the match?

90th Minute: Man City takes another corner. Outside of diving in soccer, (although I would argue it is currently worse in the NBA right now than in soccer actually) which I know is horrible, wasting time at the end of matches is such a bummer. I get why teams do it but I wish they just played the matches out. Three minutes of added time, I am officially starting to hyperventilate.

92nd Minute: Silva makes way for Meredith as Stoke press forward for their first official corner or their 87th corner if you count all of Delap’s throw-ins. The announcers are trying to be a buzz kill by saying: “never make a change when defending a know what happens.” Thanks, as if I needed to get any more anxious. By the way, this counts as an appearance for Viera. I wonder how many of these players get over a career. I feel like these should count as a quarter or half of an appearance not a full appearance.

93rd Minute: Stoke bring the keeper up 11th attacker style to no avail. The ref checks his watch one more time right as Cheesehead Chick walks in from a run and calls it...Man City wins the 2011 FA Cup 1-0 over Stoke City.

Man City dominated Stoke. Man City had more shots on goal (14-1), shots off target (9-7), fouls (14-9), and corners kicks (8-2). Long story short, the proper team won today.

Post-game: The announce says, “money was spent, money buys happiness.” I love that every discussion about Man City has to center on them having a ton of money to spend on players. God forbid the announcer simply congratulated Man City on winning the FA Cup, nope bring up the money. Also for what its worth I have been pulling for Man City through three ownership regimes. The second owner of the team, Thaksin Shinawatra, was in England because of political exile in Thailand. Needless to say, it has been quite a ride in just a few short years pulling for Man City.

As Stoke get their second place medals it reminds me of one of my infinitely less important soccer triumphs. We (Mequon United) won the state championship for our age group over our rivals (Milwaukee Kickers) and as the opposing team got their medals they took them off and threw them. Talk about a bunch of spoiled little kids…yeah that was the Kickers for you. Anyhow luckily Stoke showed more class in defeat even staying on the field to watch Man City get their medals.

Despite being subbed out, Tevez throws the captain band back on to lead the team up to get their medals. Tevez grabs the FA Cup and actually drops the top. Barry picks it up. Okay so I can take it back, Barry did serve a purpose this season for City.

Now Man City plays Stoke again on Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at home. So three days following their battle for a huge prize it feels like they are playing for nothing especially since Stoke secured a spot in the EPL for next season but Man City still has something to play for. Man City secured their EPL spot long ago and locked up a place in the Champions League. Now Man City has their match against Stoke and away against Bolton Wanders to try and secure the 3rd spot in the Champions League so that they are automatic qualifiers for the group stages of the Champions League instead of having to go through qualification matches in mid-July.

Just as I am basking in the glory on Man City winning Cheesehead Chick looks at me and says “so what did they win?” Good times, thanks for paying attention. For Cheesehead Chick and everyone else that is not as dialed in as I was, Man City won their 5th FA Cup. It is Man City’s first FA Cup win since 1969 and their first trophy since 1976.

Between Man City winning the 1976 League Cup and winning the 2011 FA Cup, Man United won: 13 League Championships, 8 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 2 Champions Leagues Titles, and 1 European Cup Winners’ Cup. Since Man United won the EPL earlier in the day, Man City can claim to be the last Manchester team to hoist a trophy. In the process, Man City is working to shed the New York Mets label to become one of the top clubs in the world. Enjoy the FA Cup win City, it looks to be the first of many trophies you will win in the next few years.

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