Last night, after giving up hope that any more trick-or-treaters would come, I settled on the couch with a virtual stack of online papers and turned on the TV for background noise. The LA Galaxy was playing the Seattle Sounders in an MLS playoff game, and I watched that intermittently while most of my attention remained on my work.


It’s been roughly a month since J and I went to our last New England Revolution game of the season; we skipped their last home game to go to the Keene Pumpkin Festival instead. Already, soccer seems a distant memory, a summer-time sport in a season deeply slanting toward cold. Once the Revs were officially out of playoff contention, J and I quickly lost interest in following the rest of the league, and the same is true of baseball: now that I’m no longer rooting against the Yankees, I have little interest who wins the World Series. Now that the days are waning and the cold is coming, my attention has already turned to hockey and basketball, with only mild interest remaining in all those other teams playing all those other sports.

Shalrie vs. Becks

For this reason, it was interesting last night to watch David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Edson Buddle–the stars of the LA Galaxy–play in a game where I held no allegiances. Beckham’s hair is longer and scruffier than it was the last time I saw him play in-person, back in 2009; this year when the Galaxy played in New England, Beckham was injured and Donovan was absent, disappointing fans who had showed up strictly to star-gaze. But apart from noticing superficial differences between Beckham-then and Beckham-now, last night I watched the Galaxy beat the Sounders the way an indifferent or only occasional fan would, looking from my laptop screen to the TV screen and back again, only half-interested in the game itself.

Now that it’s the off-season for my local MLS team, my interest and allegiances have moved onto other endeavors. To the Galaxy, Sounders, and other MLS teams still in playoff contention, may the best team win. For me, the off-season is about focusing on other fields of play.

Today’s lead photo of a deflated soccer-print beach ball comes from a dog-walk this weekend; today’s other photos come from the match in 2009 when Beckham, Donovan, and the rest of the LA Galaxy came to town, beating the Revolution 2-1.

Excuse me...

“Are you a real Celtics fan,” a fellow wrapped in a Brazilian flag asked J as we made our way to our seats at Sunday night’s exhibition game, or “friendly,” between the New England Revolution and the Brazilian soccer team Cruziero. When J nodded that yes, we’re real Celtics fans, the man in the flag asked the obvious question. “So what are you doing here?”

En masse

Sunday night was Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers, and with the series tied at 2-2, Game 5 was a crucial game. If we were “real” Celtics fans, we would have spent Sunday night at home glued to our TVs, or we would have paid an arm and a leg to buy tickets to see the game live. Instead, we were at Gillette Stadium rooting for the Revs.

Sunday night’s friendly between the Revs and Cruziero doesn’t officially count toward either team’s season record, and judging from the 4-0 loss the Revs suffered in last month’s friendly against the Portuguese soccer club Benfica, we suspected we were in for another drubbing. As much as we love the Revs, we know they aren’t a world-class team. Watching the Revs play Benfica or Cruziero is like watching a college baseball team take on the Red Sox, as happens every year during spring training. The experience is awe-inspiring for the college kids, who get to take the field with their heroes, and it provides some good practice for the pros as they prepare for another long season. But no one expects the college kids to actually beat the pros.

Celtic pride

And so it’s been with the various friendlies we’ve attended. We love the huge crowds of colorfully dressed fans who show up for these matches, and we love the chance to see teams with an international (rather than merely local) fan-base. But we knew going into Sunday night’s match that the Revs would probably lose…and we were okay with that, knowing the role of any friendly is to give fans a good show and players a chance to stay in shape during mid-season hiatuses.

So while we did our part to cheer on the New England Revolution simply by showing up, we left our Revs hats, jerseys, and soccer scarves at home and came to the game dressed in Celtics green. Knowing that the Revs would probably lose to Cruziero, we put our sartorial eggs in a whole other basket. With a crucial championship game on the line, we wore our lucky green Celtics shirts and discovered that basketball is one thing that both Brazilian and American fans can agree on.

Sneaking around Shalrie

“Did you see that game where Ray Allen was on fire,” the guy in the Brazilian flag asked once he’d determined our status as real Celtics fans, “and then the next game, where he couldn’t make a shot?” After spending a few moments trading Celtics stories with the flag-wrapped fan, we later encountered a pair of Brazilian women looking for someone to take their picture. “Look,” I overhead one remark to the other. “The lady in the Celtics hat…ask her!” Perhaps because Celtics green and white is a bit reminiscent of Brazilian green and yellow, Sunday night’s Cruziero fans seemed much friendlier to us than they probably would have been if we’d been decked out in Revolution red, white, and blue. Because we were advertising our allegiance to a world-class basketball team, we didn’t look like rivals, just crazy fans who’d wandered into the wrong sports venue.

Beat LA!

During the half, we discovered we weren’t the only real Celtics fans in attendance. Wandering over to the Gillette Stadium footbridge, where you can see the billboard-sized television screen outside CBS Scene restaurant, we encountered a throng of fans watching the opening tip-off to Game 5 from afar. As we walked back to our seats, we met a pair of diehard Cruziero fans who were gesticulating at our green shirts. “Let’s go, Celtics!” one woman shouted, and I countered with a one-woman version of the classic “Beat LA” chant.

It was nice, in other words, to let our Celtics pride shine while we got friendly with soccer hooligans. After watching Cruziero score two goals against our beloved Revs, we left the match ten minutes early, before Cruziero scored a third and final time, so we could listen to the Celtics game on the drive home. As luck would have it, we got home in time to watch the second half, and the Celtics won. Tonight, we’ll be glued to our TV for Game 6, like any real fan. It’s fine and good for Cruziero to beat the Revolution, but tonight is all about the Celtics winning their 18th championship banner by beating LA. There’s nothing friendly about that.

Click here for a photo-set from Sunday night’s friendly between the Revs and Cruziero…and go Celtics!

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine


Last night the New England Revolution enjoyed a Pyrrhic victory over the New York Red Bulls, as Revolution goalkeeper Preston Burpo (pictured above during a May 15th match against San Jose) went down during the first half with a catastrophic break to his right lower leg: a broken fibula and tibia reminiscent of the gruesome injury that ended Joe Theismann’s football career in 1985. The Revolution won last night’s match against the Red Bulls, 3 to 2–their first win since April 10th–but no one really felt like celebrating afterward. How can you celebrate after watching your goalkeeper writhing on the field with what could be a career-ending injury?


We normally watch Revolution home games from aisle seats about 20 rows behind the home bench: a front-and-center view of the action. Last night, however, we watched the game in a third-floor luxury suite along with 50 other season ticket holders: an informal event intended as a thank-you to the team’s most faithful fans. Watching last night’s match from Gillette Stadium’s swanky third floor meant we were too far up to clearly see what happened as Burpo landed in a impossibly tangled heap on the field…but since our suite was filled with wide-screen, high-definition televisions tuned to broadcast coverage of the game, we saw Burpo’s injury–or at least the gruesome aftermath of his injury–replayed over and over on TV.

Seeing someone completely break their leg–both of Burpo’s lower right leg-bones snapped so his lower leg jutted sideways at an impossible angle–is freakish and unnerving. You’re so accustomed to seeing how the body is supposed to work, your brain simply can’t understand what you’re seeing when a body assumes a position it clearly isn’t designed to assume. Simply put, legs are not designed to bend at the shin. If a leg happens to bend sideways at the shin, that’s shocking enough; if it then flops loosely in the opposite direction, as rubbery as a wet noodle, your brain boggles at the sight. Your brain simply can’t believe what your eyes seem to be seeing, and you watch the replays incredulously, as if seeing the evidence one more time will somehow help it make sense.


Reading one published account of the injury, we now know that “Burpo broke his right tibia and fibula after colliding with the New York Red Bulls’ Dane Richards,” but we didn’t know (or couldn’t process) that information at the time. Despite the numerous times we saw Burpo’s injury being replayed on those suite TVs, we couldn’t clearly figure out what caused the break, being too fixated on its horrific anatomical aftermath. Did Burpo run into someone? Did he take a hit? That previously mentioned published account of Burpo’s injury calmly notes that “Replays showed Richards stepping on Burpo’s leg above the ankle,” but frankly, that’s not what we saw in the replays. Instead, all we clearly saw (or all our brains allowed us to remember) was Burpo diving to the ground in an awkward slide, one leg bent uncomfortably (but not impossibly) beneath his body while the other leg flopped freakishly in his knee sock. Logically speaking, Burpo must have taken that sliding dive after colliding with Richards, but I honestly can’t say I saw that. All I saw–all I can clearly remember–is the anatomically impossible flopping of Preston Burpo’s right lower leg after he fell.

I was there to witness Burpo’s injury, but I’m not a reliable witness. Humans in general are unreliable witnesses: they focus on the wrong things, and their memories are muddled by emotions. In one famous experiment involving “inattentional blindness,” test subjects were asked to notice the number and kind of basketball passes in a short video, and half of these witnesses failed to notice a woman in a gorilla suit who wandered through the game. I don’t know what kind or number of basketball passes I was paying attention to last night, but I didn’t actually, immediately see Burpo’s injury when it happened: apparently my attention was directed elsewhere. What exactly was I doing–where exactly was I looking–when Burpo got hurt? I don’t know; I don’t remember. Was I taking a sip of soda or nibbling the last of my French fries? Was I glancing at the TV broadcast, which was on a several-second delay, or was I glancing at the scoreboard and its shots of rabid soccer fans? Was I looking down at my match program or up into the sky? Did I look away for one second or several? I don’t know; I don’t remember.


What I do remember, though, was being jolted back to the game–back to the gorilla I’d managed to ignore–by a sound I can’t quite describe. A collective gasp? A groan? A shriek? I didn’t hear the sickening pop of both of Burpo’s lower leg bones breaking, as some fans in the stands and certainly many players on the field reportedly did. Instead, I heard a shocked, stunned, horrified reaction from the crowd–a sound I can’t quite describe–that indicated in an instance that something was very, very wrong on the field three stories below.

Once I managed to direct my attention to the field beneath us, I saw that Burpo was down as another player (the Red Bulls’ Richards?) tumbled away from him, presumably from the momentum of their collision. I didn’t see the ball the two of them were presumably both racing toward; in the aftermath of the injury, the ball seemed entirely irrelevant, a gorilla worth ignoring. After Burpo went down, the Revs’ trainer darted onto the field, toting an orange carrier of green water bottles as he always does when a player is down. Since soccer is a sport without time-outs, the only chance players get to hydrate during a 45-minute half is when a player is down and the trainer races out with Gatorade. This time, though, the trainer was running so frantically onto the field, he tossed his Gatorade carrier, and green bottles flew everywhere. As silly as it is to admit it, that is my most vivid visual memory of Burpo’s injury, apart from the televised footage played and replayed on our suite’s wide-screen TVs. The moment I really realized that something bad was happening was when I saw a half dozen Gatorade bottles tossed to the ground.


If it seems odd that I could have witnessed such a gruesome injury without really realizing it, here’s even better proof of the power of inattentive blindness: for the first three or four times he saw Burpo’s injury replayed in high-definition, J failed to see the obvious (and alarming) flopping of Burpo’s foot in his sock. Time and again, our suite-mates winced and groaned when the footage was replayed…and time and again J claimed not to have seen the break. Finally, J named the gorilla in the room, noting incredulously, “I see he landed awkwardly on his leg, but I don’t see how his leg is necessarily broken.” During the first three or four times J saw Burpo’s fall, he was watching the wrong leg, entirely convinced that the goalkeeper must have broken the leg he’d landed on.

“The next time they show the footage,” I suggested, “watch the other leg, the one in the air.” And sure enough, they showed the footage again…and although by then I couldn’t bear to watch it, having replayed the gruesome scene too many times in my mind, I knew the second when J saw what the rest of us had. “Oh my God,” he exclaimed, then after a pause, “It looks like rubber.”


It looked like rubber indeed. This morning, I finally mustered the nerve to look through the pictures I’d taken of last night’s game, viewing them on my camera’s tiny view-screen as a way of bracing myself for when I download them to my laptop. In one grainy picture, I see Burpo crumpled on the field while one of the Red Bulls–Dane Richards?–careens away from him, his limbs flailing like a pinwheel; in the next blurry image, Burpo is on his back like a bug, his knees curled to his chest while his right foot juts to the side, his body a sickening swastika of ungodly angles.

Other hurried images show the team trainer, medics, and a team doctor racing onto the field; there is the requisite stretcher, and those half-dozen tossed water bottles. Revs captain Shalrie Joseph stands over Burpo in several pictures, his palms pressed together in front of his mouth: is he praying, or stifling sobs? In another image, Burpo’s right leg is covered with a towel, as if to shield it from horrified fans; in the next, it lies swollen and limp, monstrous, in the team doctor’s hand while Burpo lies on his side, his face twisted in pain. These are pictures I took but cannot share: they’re too raw and awful, a private moment of intense agony that should have never happened, much less in front of a cheering crowd. Our bodies are private places, and pain is an indescribable mystery. What kind of blasphemy is it that photos and video snippets Burppo’s injury will probably make the usual email rounds, a bit of YouTube freakishness shared over the work watercooler?


Last night I watched those video replays over and over the same way I watched footage of the Twin Towers crumble on 9/11: I watched because my brain couldn’t believe my eyes. There is a kind of watching that is voyeuristic, and there is a kind of watching that is sympathetic, like that shared gasp, moan, or shriek I heard from fellow fans while I was looking elsewhere.

Looking through my grainy photos of last night’s game, there’s one picture I’m glad to have snapped. It comes from early in the first half, as Preston Burpo dove sideways to deflect a ball headed toward but not into his goal. In the picture, several players blur in the background, as does the deflected ball; in the foreground, Burpo hangs aloft as he flies, his body and arms outstretched in a moment of lithe athletic mastery. Is it this image, not the one of him lying crumpled in an impossible, flopping tangle, that I want to remember of what might be Preston Burpo’s last professional soccer game. In this image, he is agile and triumphant, defying gravity as his arms reach and his back arches, both of his legs stretched long behind him, straight and strong.

Click here for the complete photoset from the New England Revolution’s May 15th match against the San Jose Earthquake. I’m not sure when–if ever–I’ll get around to sharing photos from last night’s Pyrrhic victory against the New York Red Bulls. Some pictures are just too gruesome to revisit.

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to TwitterAdd to TechnoratiAdd to Yahoo BuzzAdd to Newsvine

Legs of steel

Let’s be perfectly clear. Men don’t buy Playboy “just” to read the articles, and I don’t go to soccer matches “just” to follow the game. There are beautiful bodies in Playboy, and there are beautiful bodies at soccer matches…and at soccer matches, at least, the beautiful bodies you see are entirely real.

Pre-game stretches

J and I usually arrive at New England Revolution matches early enough to watch on-field warm-ups. Arriving early means we have a chance to walk around Gillette Stadium before its concourses are thronged with soccer fans, and arriving early means we can get settled into our seats without missing any of the pre-game action. In our case, “pre-game action” includes people-watching, taking lots of quirky pictures, and speculating which players will start and which will be benched (a relevant point given how injury-prone the Revs have been this season). And in my case, “pre-game action” includes watching with an admiring eye while two teams of lithe and muscular guys stretch, sprint, and otherwise strut their soon-to-be-sweaty bodies around the field. Given all the ogling a red-blooded girl can do at any given soccer match, it’s important to warm up your eye-muscles beforehand.

Extreme flexibility

J and I have an unspoken understanding. He is allowed to watch and “appreciate” the shapely cheerleaders, dancers, and fan-girls associated with the teams we watch. (The New England Revolution, for instance, don’t have cheerleaders, but they have a team of girl-next-door cuties called the Revs Girls who work the crowds in tank tops, shorts, and knee-high socks: a family-friendly brand of sexiness that entertains male fans while not offending the soccer moms in attendance.) I, in exchange, am allowed to watch and “appreciate” the athletic hunks of man-flesh sporting about on the field. What’s good for the gander, after all, is good for the goose…and both genders of fowl occasionally enjoy taking a good “gander.”

Extreme stretch

“I might be married,” my mom typically says whenever I catch her “appreciating” a shapely specimen of man-flesh, “but I ain’t blind.” Or as they say in retail, “You can look, but you can’t touch.” Soccer is known as the beautiful game because of the balletic elegance of a well-played pass, successful shot-on-goal, or miracle save. But soccer is a beautiful game, too, because of the beautiful bodies that make those passes, shots, and saves: soccer’s precise combination of running, stopping, and dribbling makes for players whose legs are both roped with muscles and flexible, like weight-lifting yogis. Although basketball is my favorite game to watch, soccer players offer my favorite kind of eye-candy. Compact, wiry, and flexible, players like Emmanuel Osei with his proclivity for doing the splits in short-shorts definitely give all those soccer moms something to sigh and swoon over.

Today’s pictures come from the Revolution’s July 19th win over Chivas USA and August 1st tie with Toronto FC. Tonight’s match pits the Revs against the LA Galaxy, featuring superstar soccer-stud David Beckham. Ladies, be prepared to sigh and swoon.

Try to stop him

On this Super Bowl Sunday, while a huge percentage of Americans (including folks who don’t watch football any other day) will be riveted by today’s NFL match-up between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals, I’ll be thinking ahead to another kind of football. After last year’s Super Bowl tragedy, I find myself indifferent to a game that doesn’t feature the New England Patriots. Yes, I’ll watch the Super Bowl to see who wins and to see this year’s batch commercials, and to those of you who are Steelers or Cardinals fans, I can sincerely say “May the best team win.” But ever since the Patriots were eliminated from play-off contention this year, I’ve found my interest in NFL football has gone dormant for another season. Right now, instead of feeling fanatical about the Super Bowl, I’m looking ahead to the “football” offered by Major League Soccer.

Fast and furious

When J gave me tickets to a half-dozen New England Revolution games last Valentine’s Day, neither one of us were soccer fans. We knew only the most boneheaded basics of the game: namely, that you try to kick the ball into the other team’s goal. But everything else was new to us. Over the course of those half-dozen games, we acquired a working knowledge of how soccer works. We figured out, for instance, that the game clock runs up rather than down, a mysterious thing called “stoppage time” takes the place of time-outs, and red and yellow cards serve the same purpose as do penalty flags in football. Although we’d heard folks refer to all of these (and other) aspects of the game, we didn’t really “get” any of them until we sat through a few games, watched what the players were doing, and cheered or booed when the folks around us did.

Matt Reis gets his kicks

J and I learned the rudimentary rules of soccer, in other words, by immersion: we went to games, lived by the philosophy of “when in Rome, cheer like the Romans,” and took care to eavesdrop when fans around us explained the game to their newbie friends. (Thank goodness, for instance, for two separate Irishmen who sat behind us, accompanied by American friends, and provided meticulous play-by-play commentary during several of our first games.) We approached soccer games as an anthropologist might: not as a set of rules to be memorized but as a social phenomenon to be observed. At any given sporting event, there’s the stuff that happens on the playing field and the stuff that happens in the stands, and if you really want to understand a given game, you need to watch both. Soccer (not unlike football, baseball, basketball, or hockey) involves much more than a bunch of players working up a sweat trying to score goals, runs, or baskets. Soccer (not unlike football, baseball, basketball, or hockey) is a social phenomenon–a kind of delicate dance–whereby you declare your allegiance to one set of partners and engage in a friendly fight against those identifying with another. The point of any game is as much that act of allegiance as it is whether your team “wins.”

Fancy footwork

This is why J, who grew up in Pittsburgh, doesn’t necessarily care whether the Steelers win the Super Bowl today. Although he’s not antagonistic towards Pittsburgh teams, he’s lived in Boston for more than a decade and thus roots for New England sports teams now. When in Rome, cheer as the Romans do: when we watched the New England Revolution play the Columbus Crew, for instance, I rooted for New England even though I was born and raised in Columbus. All else being equal, you should dance with who brought you, but if you aren’t with the one you love, love the one you’re with. Cheesy cliches aside, J and enjoyed attending last year’s Revolution games as a way of supporting a local team even if we weren’t exactly experts when it came to the sport they were playing. Regional team allegiance came first, and understanding the subtleties of the sport gradually followed. There is, after all, a certain excitement in figuring out the language and customs of a strange-to-you sport as you go along.

Edging toward the goal

So when our friendly New England Revolution salesperson asked if we wanted to buy a multi-game ticket package for the 2009 season, we said we did…and this week, after learning that this year’s Revolution schedule is stacked with weekend home games, we decided to upgrade our multi-game package to a full set of season tickets. That means J and I will be attending 15 New England Revolution soccer games at Gillette Stadium this summer, along with an additional handful of special events (schedule to-be-determined) over the course of the season. Fifteen-plus soccer games means J and I will have that many more chances to improve our soccer fluency, and it means we’ll see all the spectacles worth blogging about, including the game when David Beckham comes to town. J and I might be soccer newbies, but even we know a superstar when we see one.

Beckham, etc

Apart from that last photo from last August’s game against the LA Galaxy, the other photos illustrating today’s post come from Revolution victories over the Houston Dynamo last March and Toronto FC last June. At this point, I’m itching to see green turf, even if it’s artificial.

Si se puede

I hope this isn’t an omen of Barack Obama’s presidential hopes, but at Saturday night’s New England Revolution home opener, the soccer-loving contingent of Texans for Obama (clad in the stands in blaze orange) had their Si se puede/Yes we can optimism dashed by the Revs, who beat the Houston Dynamo 3-0. So much for the Audacity of Hope, at least if you’re a Texas soccer fan.

I already voted for Obama

Click here for more images from Saturday night’s soccer game. Lest today’s post be interpreted as a dig against Obama, the picture at right, snapped in the aftermath of the New Hampshire primary in January, accurately describes my political allegiances then and now.