Book excerpt – Blue With Envy: My American Journey With Manchester City

Leave a comment

Kartik Krishnaiyer is a soccer writer who served as a ball boy for the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) Strikers, where he saw such superstars as Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia play. That started his love of the Beautiful Game, which would manifest itself most prominently with Manchester City.

In his book, “Blue With Envy: My American Journey With Manchester City,” recently published by World Soccer Talk, he uses Manchester City as an example to share his own personal story of how America’s fascination with English Premier League soccer has grown by leaps and bounds year after year.

The following excerpt is a glimpse into that world and can be purchased here.

PART I: You Saw Me Standing Alone

Chapter 1 – The Opening Whistle

May 13, 2012 is when many Americans finally fell in love with English football.  It was the day Sergio Aguero scored in the 94th minute for Manchester City against Queens Park Rangers at the Etihad Stadium. Aguero’s goal gave Manchester City (aka the Blues or Citizens) the club’s first top flight title in 44 years and may have been the very moment the Premier League broke through the clutter of “also-ran” sports in the United States. Certainly someone at NBC Sports was watching that day as they paid $250 million for the US media rights from 2013-16. The English Premier League had a three-year national TV deal and exposure to an estimated 80 million households as opposed to the 40 million in their previous deal with the now defunct FOX Soccer.

As Americans discover the pageantry and excitement of English football, more and more Yanks are developing connections to specific Premier League clubs. Many new fans are choosing Manchester City as a club to support, but it was not always that way.

I could begin discussing the trials and tribulations of being a Manchester City fan in the United States. Dealing with relegation from the Premier League on the same day Manchester United was awarded the Premier League trophy in 1996. Or when I had to struggle to find anybody showing the Division 2 playoff final versus Gillingham in 1999. Or even as recently as 2008, when American fans would refer to Manchester United as simply “Manchester” in my presence at soccer events.

But let’s start at the MLS All-Star game in 2006. Chelsea came to Bridgeview, Illinois to play a team of top stars from Major League Soccer.

World Cup 2006 had been a watershed moment for the growth of the sport in the United States. For the first time in memory, soccer was mainstream — there were ESPN shows dissecting every US performance and the television ratings showed a respectable growth in national interest. As someone who had grown up with the old North American Soccer League, even serving as a ball boy for the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, I had seen the high of the soccer boom of the late 1970s as well as the dark period between 1984 and 1996 when the US lacked a first division outdoor professional league.

Soccer as a big business and a mainstream sport in American culture was never taken seriously until the 2006 World Cup. After the World Cup success on TV, the earth began to move for soccer fans in the States. First, slowly, but then with a supersonic pace to reach the point where we sit approaching the 2014 World Cup.

I arrived in Chicago several days before the MLS All Star Game as I had a political project I was working on in town. A buzz was growing about the game as Chelsea fans from across the USA and from England arrived and painted the town blue. I could feel English football’s time was beginning to come Stateside. Though it was still a smallish niche, you could walk around Chicago that week and see Chelsea shirts practically around every corner.

The 2006 MLS All-Star game was covered like a mainstream sporting event in the United States. Coming off the World Cup high, and with the one and only Jose Mourinho giving incendiary quotes on American television about various things, the game was covered extensively. The game was built-up as a follow-up to the World Cup, Americans vs. Brits, despite the face that the stars of the “American” team were Canadian Dwayne De Rosario and Bolivian Jaime Moreno. Chelsea featured members of the English national team such as John Terry, Frank Lampard and Joe Cole but were a multi-ethnic team of stars from all over the globe. The MLS All-Stars won the match 1-0 on a piece of individual brilliance from De Rosario.

Following that game, the sport faded away from the major cable networks. Setanta Sports, GOL TV and FOX Soccer Channel, which literally nobody subscribed to, held the broadcast rights to the MLS and European leagues. The sport was back to obscurity, at least for the time being.

Chapter 2 – Soccer Roots

Watching American football, particularly the Miami Hurricanes and Miami Dolphins, was a part of growing up in south Florida. My father was a big Milwaukee Bucks fan, which led me to an interest in basketball. Despite the presence of those other sports in my life, it quickly became all soccer, all the time for me. It helped that my family resided in Coral Springs, which dubbed itself as the “Soccer Capital of Florida”.

Coral Springs was a planned community started by the Westinghouse Corporation and served as a thriving bedroom community for Fort Lauderdale and Miami. Unlike today, when Coral Springs is a city in its own right with a diverse population which is nearly 25% Hispanic and 15% Black (largely from the Caribbean), at the time it was a suburban, almost entirely Caucasian, town.

During my childhood, Coral Springs boasted the largest youth soccer league in the United States. Unlike much of rest of the country where football and baseball were the only youth sports that people seemed to care about, participating in soccer was a viable option.  In 1980s America, playing soccer usually meant you had liberal parents (especially those born abroad) but in Coral Springs, every kid played the sport at some point.

Another reason why I was driven towards soccer over other sports was that I had really poor hand-eye coordination. This limited my ability to play baseball, tennis or basketball in a competitive way. I was also not big enough to play American football.

Initially I didn’t care for soccer. In 1981 my parents started going to the Fort Lauderdale Strikers games more and I became hooked.  By 1982 I had become better at the sport. It seemed every kid in my school was registered for soccer. My growing interest in the game, which would otherwise have been considered an unusual obsession, was socially acceptable.

I developed a desire to somehow be involved with the Fort Lauderdale Strikers who were my heroes at the time. It didn’t hurt that the team were particularly aggressive in the local market during this era. They would do numerous community events, autograph sessions for kids and camps and clinics as well.

I don’t recall exactly how it happened but I ended up as a ball boy for the visit of Ipswich Town in 1982. At the time I did not know what a legend Sir Bobby Robson was or how big a club Ipswich were. To me, it just seemed like some club from England from a city I hadn’t heard of (unlike City’s visit the previous year because even at seven years of age, I knew Manchester was a big place), which made the game exotic and more interesting than anything the Dolphins might do in 1982.

Despite soccer being my major interest, I still liked American Football and followed the Dolphins. When the NFL Players Union announced they were striking, I cried and my parents had to console me. Thankfully, we still had the Strikers.

As the 1983 season approached, it was all Strikers, all the time for me. I was a regular ball-boy and was meeting members of the team. The two that left the biggest impression on me were ex-Manchester City player and future Manchester City Assistant Manager Brian Kidd and El Nene — Teófilo Cubillas, the greatest Peruvian player of all time. I even got to know Cubillas’ children, as they were my age.

The Strikers got off to a horrific start that season. The worst start in franchise history put the team in a must-win situation against the New York Cosmos on June 6th, 1983. The Strikers had not beaten the Cosmos since losing the 1980 Soccer Bowl to the team at RFK Stadium. I walked out as a ball boy and saw legends Franz Beckenbauer and Giorgio Chinaglia warming up. I got goose bumps. The Strikers won 2-0 but seeing those Cosmos players at field level and actually flipping a ball to Beckenbauer for a throw-in are still a major highlight of my life.

A few weeks later Manchester City came to the United States to take part in the Pan Am Sunshine International Series, a “tournament” that featured the Blues taking on the Tampa Bay Rowdies and Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Two years after being in the FA Cup Final, City had been relegated from the First Division on the final day of the season. They came to the United States a fallen side, previously one of the great teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s, but now fully feeling the impact of Peter Swales’ mismanagement of the club. The Blues had faced off previously with the New York Cosmos, and the Strikers had made it to (Greater) Manchester to visit Stockport in 1978 on an English tour, which also saw the Strikers face off with Stoke City and Port Vale.

Once again I was selected as a ball-boy. I recall vividly the pregame exchange of gifts between Strikers General Manager Tim Robbie (whom I would work with in the future) and Manchester City Captain Paul Power. At the time I wasn’t familiar with the ceremonies around international matches as the NASL had thoroughly Americanized the pre-game by playing music and allowing players to run out of a tunnel with smoke rather than the dignified walk-out we see elsewhere.

The game itself was engrossing. Manchester City won 4-2 and claimed the second and final Sunshine International Series.  I was stunned to see the Strikers undone by a team just relegated in England. The Strikers had been a top team in the NASL but, reflecting on it now, the standard of the league was slipping badly. In the late 1970s the NASL had as many recognizable world superstars, if not more than, any other domestic league on the planet. By 1983, it was simply a league in its dying days with mostly washed up talent.

The match left an indelible impression about Manchester City with me. I liked the blue kits and the open, attacking style of play the team showed. I didn’t realize at the time that John Benson had replaced John Bond mid-season and he would be done managing City after the American tour ended.

City were an underdog team. I had heard of Manchester United and Liverpool and learned that the Blues were rivals to both, though in retrospect the rivalry with Liverpool was overplayed. I liked the idea of supporting an underdog, because beyond the local teams, I almost always supported the underdogs in American sport.

After the season with outdoor soccer was on the wane in the country, the Strikers relocated to Minnesota where they could compete in the indoor league as well. Manchester City stayed in my mind, but I focused on local soccer again. Fort Lauderdale launched a team in the second division United Soccer League (USL- not to be confused with the current USL PRO league). The Fort Lauderdale Sun, featuring former Manchester City and Scottish midfielder Asa Hartford, won the USL title in that inaugural season.

The year 1985 brought a second season of USL soccer but also tragedy. We had heard about the terrible fire at Bradford City and worried if something similar could happen at Lockhart Stadium, which had wooden bleachers behind each goal at the time.  Our worries were soon allayed but not in a way we would have wished for. The USL suspended operations midway through the schedule.  It was a sad ending to a great chapter in my life, one that cemented me permanently to the sport.

Chapter 3 – World In Motion

The summer of 1989 was the first time I saw an English club play since the demise of the NASL and the American tours of Manchester City, Ipswich Town and others. On August 6, 1989 there was a friendly at Joe Robbie Stadium in Miami between Independiente and Arsenal, which was broadcast back to the UK on ITV. The game, won by the reigning English Champions 2-1, wasn’t well attended partly because English football had wrongly gotten a horrible reputation in the United States due to the tragic events at Heysel, Bradford City, and Hillsborough. This reputation kept fans away from the game, even many from the local soccer community. There were just over 10,000 in attendance but it felt empty in a stadium that decades later accommodated as many as 70,000 for a 2011 exhibition match between FC Barcelona and C.D. Guadalajara.

When I visited England during the summer of 1990, my connection to Manchester City really took root. This was despite an active lobbying effort from some of my family members to back Crystal Palace, who had just completed a remarkable FA Cup run. I watched the 1990 World Cup in England and India (via a BBC feed) and had my eyes opened. I realized that for the game to evolve in the States, it had to be broadcast properly without commercials and constant references to American sports.

Being Indian-American, there was always a natural connection to England. As a child, my family’s summer trips to India almost always featured a stop in London where, like so many Indian families, we had relatives. At the time, England was a heavily socialized country thanks to the Labour governments of Clement Atlee and Harold Wilson. The place just felt different than the United States despite the common language. The second you landed at Heathrow, you knew you were someplace very different. I contrasted it with Frankfurt, the other airport and city we’d have to transfer at, which seemed as if it was merely an overseas department of the United States.

Interested in reading more? “Blue With Envy: My American Journey With Manchester City” can be purchased here.

Lukaku coy on Everton future, says “decision has already been made”

lex Livesey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Romelu Lukaku has made it no secret that he hopes to play Champions League football, and reality may be setting in that the opportunity to do so won’t come at Everton.

[ MORE: Everton loses Coleman to leg break during Ireland match ]

While the Belgium international hasn’t dealt his hand in regards to his future at Goodison Park, it seems as though the Toffees could be losing out on keeping their star striker.

[ MORE: UEFA qualifying roundup — Wales in trouble, Buffon hits 1000 ]

Last month, agent Mino Raiola claimed that Lukaku’s deal with the English side was 99.9 percent complete, however, the 23-year-old has still yet to ink a new contract.

Speaking ahead of Saturday’s UEFA World Cup qualifier against Greece, Lukaku says that his future plans are already made up.

“The decision has already been made so I can’t talk about that,” Lukaku said of his future at Everton.

The former Anderlecht standout has had nothing but success since joining Everton, first on loan and then making a permanent transfer from Chelsea in 2014. Over the combined stints, Lukaku has bagged 83 goals in all competitions for the Toffees, but the young attacker says there’s nothing wrong with having “ambition.”

“There is nothing wrong with ambition. You have to embrace it and where you are as a footballer,” Lukaku said. “I’ve made a long way until now but the road is still long and I know I have to improve and get better. I want to help Everton as much as I can, as well as the national team. I think a lot of stuff can be achieved.

“Sometimes people will mistake things that I say but it’s just ambition that I have; I want to win titles and trophies and I don’t think people should take that as arrogance — people should embrace it.

“This is what footballers need to achieve if they want to become the best, and I think young kids need to learn that too.”

Making sense out of USMNT’s emphatic win over Honduras

Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Leave a comment

In the lead up to Friday night’s clash at Avaya Stadium, the U.S. Men’s National Team was faced with a must-win scenario. What came next though was a bit more shocking than most U.S. Soccer supporters could have possibly imagined.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

An emphatic 6-0 scoreline was how it finished in San Jose, California as the USMNT took down Honduras to lift itself out of the cellar of CONCACAF World Cup qualifying, but it’s how Bruce Arena’s side picked up the result that was so impressive.

After an extended layoff that began in the final months of the 2016 Major League Soccer season, Clint Dempsey has returned to both club and country with a vengeance following Friday’s performance. The artist formerly known as “Deuce” recorded a hat-trick in a span of 22 minutes to solidify an already convincing American lead, leaving Dempsey just two goals shy of Landon Donovan’s all-time USMNT scoring record (57).

Dempsey wasn’t the only bright spot though, as Sebastian Lletget, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore and most notably, Christian Pulisic, turned in stellar performances that really left Honduras with no chance to find its rhythm in the match.

The 18-year-old Pulisic continues to be the talk of the town when it comes to the USMNT, and rightfully so given his club situation. There’s never been a U.S. talent succeeding at a club as big as Borussia Dortmund at such a young age, and Pulisic’s effort against Los Catrachos proved further that the young attacker could be the playmaker the Yanks have been looking for since Donovan’s retirement.

Meanwhile, another player that turned in a great performance was Jozy Altidore, and probably not for the reasons you’d normally think. The Toronto FC striker didn’t get on the scoresheet, however, it was Altidore’s hold-up play and vision that helped the U.S. dominate Honduras.

Altidore has long been a staple of the American attack, and an important one at that with his 37 international goals, which ranks third all-time for the U.S.. If the 27-year-old is able to replicate more performances like Friday night though, that makes the Stars and Stripes significantly more dangerous because of Altidore’s duel-threat ability.

The lone area the U.S. will look to clean up heading into Tuesday’s important qualifying match against Panama will be some of the team’s defensive letdowns. Jorge Villafana turned in a strong performance in his WCQ debut at left back, while veteran Omar Gonzalez had several moments of weakness in the heart of the American backline.

The Pachuca defender was caught out of position on several occasions and gave the ball away at times as well, but fortunately for the U.S., Honduras was unable to capitalize on those errors.

Overall though, the U.S. did exactly what it needed… and then some. The three points was all Arena’s group could have hoped for from the start after lackluster performances against Mexico and Costa Rica back in November, but adding six goals could certainly help down the road as well if goal differential becomes a key factor in the Hexagonal.

It’s difficult to say the U.S. is back because that’s a relative phrase that can be interpreted in numerous ways. The USMNT put in a stellar performance, albeit without key players like Fabian Johnson and DeAndre Yedlin defensively, while Bobby Wood and Jermaine Jones are two others that didn’t feature.

[ MORE: Three takeaways from USMNT’s emphatic win on Friday night ]

Only time will tell when it comes to how this team gels over an extended period of time, but it was certainly a dream start for the Americans as Arena Part Deux continues.

Up next, Panama.

Chastain, MacMillan inducted into US Soccer Hall of Fame

Mike McGregor/Getty Images
Leave a comment

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) Brandi Chastain looked at the assembled crowd in a tent under the rain and addressed former coach Tony DiCicco, who had just introduced her at the induction ceremony for the U.S. National Soccer Hall of Fame.

[ MORE: USMNT smashes six past Honduras in CONCACAF WCQ ]

“Thank you, not just for today but for every day that you gave me the chance to play for the women’s national team, and for having the confidence in me and the guts to tell me I wasn’t going to be a forward,” she said.

Chastain, a forward on the 1991 World Cup champions and a left back whose penalty kick won a shootout for the 1999 title, was inducted Friday night along with midfielder Shannon MacMillan, a 1996 Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion three years later.

[ MORE: Player ratings from USMNT’s win over Honduras ]

The ceremony was held before the U.S. men played Honduras in a World Cup qualifier.

Remembered most for pulling off her shirt after her World Cup-winning goal and celebrating in a sports bra, Chastain grew up in San Jose and talked about her early days playing youth soccer in the area, starting with the Quakettes. After winning her first World Cup title, she was left off the 1995 roster. She revived her career as a defender.

“Change is good. Though, scary, it’s good. And I think we would all benefit from seeing change as an opportunity for growth and development, and for a new adventure,” she said.

Now 38, Chastain scored 30 goals in 192 international appearances and also won a pair of Olympic gold medals. MacMillan, 42, had 60 in 176 international games.

“It was always such a massive honor that gave me chills every time I walked in that locker room, whether it was my first cap, my 100th cap or my last cap,” MacMillan said. “It was something that I never took for granted.”

Soccer America’s Paul Kennedy was given the Colin Jose Media Award.

The Hall’s building in Oneonta, New York, closed in 2010 and a new Hall is being built in Frisco, Texas.

Hernandez, Araujo score in 1st half, Mexico beats Costa Rica

AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo
Leave a comment

MEXICO CITY (AP) Javier Hernandez and Nestor Araujo scored in the first half, and Mexico overcame the absence of half a dozen players to beat Costa Rica 2-0 on Friday night in a World Cup qualifying match.

Hernandez scored on a cross from Carlos Vela to open the score in the seventh and Araujo added a goal on a header in the 45th.

[ USMNT: Recap & videoPlayer ratings ]

Hernandez scored his 46th goal with the Mexican team and tied Jared Borgetti as the all-time leading scorer.

With the win, Mexico remains undefeated and has seven points after three rounds to take sole command in the six-nation tournament. Costa Rica stays on six points and is second and Panama is third with four.

The top three teams qualified for the Russia 2018 World Cup.

Mexico beat Costa Rica for the first time since September 11, 2012, when they prevailed 1-0.