New York Times

This NYT visual history of the World Cup ball is amazing

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I’m not sure how I’m supposed to lead you into reading this New York Times post on the history of the World Cup ball other than commanding you to do so.

Computers!!

The post is quite simply a brilliant telling of the history, from the first ever World Cup final’s use of a ball for each half all the way up to the Brazuca.

Plus I love this quote on the early history of heading:

The heavy leather laces of early balls made headers potentially painful, and relatively rare. A later innovation in valve design eliminated the laces. The new balls were much easier to head, and they held their shape better.

Read more HERE.

NYT profile delves into Klinsmann’s M.O., relationships with players

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Jurgen Klinsmann is directly under the microscope of many American soccer supporters ahead of this month’s World Cup, and The New York Times’ Sam Borden has a long-form profile piece on the German-born coach that delves into his personality over the course of months of interaction.

Klinsmann, who has led the States to an almost-unparalleled run of play, is depicted as a man capable of making tough decisions while alternating between warm, guiding hand and cold, heartless decision maker.

The piece paints a picture of Klinsmann and his controversial decision to remove Landon Donovan from World Cup plans, but is really more about how that decision fits into the coach’s M.O. for American soccer and the USMNT.

And let’s get this out of the way: in December, Klinsmann said the US “cannot” win this World Cup. This doesn’t mean he’s not trying to, nor that he walks around the training ground telling the team it’s useless to try.

Here’s Klinsmann’s quotes regarding his decision to let Donovan’s sabbatical from soccer extend past when the American legend deemed himself ready to return to the national team:

“This always happens in America,” Klinsmann told me, waving his hands in the air. “Kobe Bryant, for example — why does he get a two-year contract extension for $50 million? Because of what he is going to do in the next two years for the Lakers? Of course not. Of course not. He gets it because of what he has done before. It makes no sense. Why do you pay for what has already happened?”

Klinsmann then turned to Donovan.

“He came back, and he was playing in M.L.S., and people say, ‘Oh, he’s playing well,’ but what does that really mean?” Klinsmann said. “This is where M.L.S. hurts him. He was playing at 70 percent, 80 percent, and he was still dominant. That doesn’t help anyone.”

Klinsmann shook his head. “I watched the games. What was I supposed to say? That he was good? He was not good. Not then. No way. So he had to wait.”

Donovan’s situation wasn’t entirely about his skill; To Klinsmann, it seems like Donovan was a symptom of the sick for American athletes. We’ve read about his background, observing his family’s business as a baker and serving as an apprentice. He was detail-driven, focused and intense.

He wants to win every practice. He wants to win every game. He wants accountability at every moment. He wants the sort of committed, hungry, unentitled attitude that is the very opposite of what so many American pro athletes regard as their birthright.

The must-read article lays out that Klinsmann loves America and its characteristics but expects, nay, demands much from his players. And he’s not just a strict, demanding egomania (Read his experience ‘scouting’ Jozy Altidore at Sunderland earlier this year).

You may not like his role or permissions as head coach — as the article points out, neither do Bruce Arena and Steve Sampson — but you might know him a bit better (and maybe even feel better about the World Cup… this one and the next.

Report: New York City FC to call Yankee Stadium home for three (!!!) years

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One-off soccer and hockey games are one thing, but the New York Times is reporting that Yankee Stadium will serve as host for the first three seasons of New York City FC soccer matches.

There are so many complications to consider here, not the least of which is the near-concurrent schedules of Major League Soccer and Major League Baseball. And certainly there’s little question the Yankees will hold sway over the building.

The report details many of the problems of building a park in New York, and it isn’t the most shining of details for how NYCFC is operating early in its existence:

The question of where the team would play its home games has hovered since it was announced last May that the club would join the league, delaying plans for everything from marketing and advertising to season ticket sales. The team has frequently promised a decision — it told the league in January that it would have a plan in 30 days — but has consistently missed even those self-imposed deadlines, to the frustration of M.L.S. officials and prospective fans.

The report, from NYT’s Andrew Das, David Waldstein and Ken Belson, points out that exhibitions at Yankee Stadium have involved temporary grass being put over the dirt but that’s not a full-time solution.

Here are the only quotes in the report:

“Technology has gotten to the point where I think we can turn it around pretty quickly,” said Yankees’ executive director of nonbaseball events Mark Holtzman.

“Baseball is clearly the No. 1 priority. We wouldn’t do anything to put anyone at any risk; there’s a major investment here in the players. At the end of the day, we look at these opportunities very carefully, and we wouldn’t get into these opportunities unless we were confident in the end result.”

Well, having an executive director nonbaseball events is a good step.

If they’ve got a good solution to sharing the pitch without destroying it, I’m sure myriad minor league clubs would love to hear it (let alone the grounds crew headaches that would come with flipping the field over and over and over again).

MIT ranks most popular people in 20th century. 1,064 soccer players qualify vs. 1 football player (It’s O.J.)

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Alternate headline: “Clint Dempsey’s more famous than Maya Angelou.”

Fame feels like a pretty arbitrary term, but MIT is trying to make it a bit more concrete. Using an elaborate system, the elite American school has put together a list of the most famous people in the entire world.

Not that it’s foolproof, but it is MIT. And it includes two American soccer players.

MIT ranks nearly everything in a project called Pantheon, and the New York Times can help you place the study in context before we get to the soccer player part.

“It has collected and analyzed data on cultural production from 4,000 B.C. to 2010. With a few clicks on its website, which just went live, you can swing through time and geography, making plain the output of, say, Brazil (largely soccer players) or Belarus (politicians). It also ranks professions from chemists to jurists to porn stars.”

Take your own trip through Pantheon here. Now, on to soccer:

The headline above is a little sensationalized. As far as my limited mind can gather from the article, Pantheon takes history into account and one of its qualifiers is someone’s Wikipedia page is translated into 25 languages or more. In other words, the NFL’s popularity bloomed a tad bit later than soccer, and it’s doubtful that “Bruce Smith” has qualified for a Tamil Wikipedia translation. But here’s the list of the most popular soccer players in the world:

1. Cristiano Ronaldo

2. Pelé

3. Lionel Messi

4. Ronaldo

5. Ronaldinho

6. Diego Maradona

7. Zinedine Zidane

8. David Beckham

Number of Soccer Players on the List: 1,064

Number of American-Football Players: 1 (O.J. Simpson)

Surely there are rational reasons for C-Ron being ahead of Pele aside from the hits generated by “Teen Beat: Portugal,” but it’s still odd to consider. How do those rankings play out in your mind? If sexuality or attractiveness was such a big factor, why wouldn’t Becks be higher on the list?

Doing just a cursory look over the site does find some American players qualify, which means Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey rank while Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are nowhere to be found? For people living in America, this is mystifying. It’s not that anyone thinks American football is anywhere near soccer’s level, but 1,064 to 1 (who’s likely on there for a combo of football, movies and crime)? Wild stuff. Like “Marta is more worldwide famous than Joe Montana” level wild.

And get these totals: 71 basketball players, five baseball players and two hockey players.

The details on the Yank soccer players:

Dempsey: 858th ranked soccer player, 78th ranked 1983 birth, 2,028 ranked American birth (ranked between Betty Ford and Maya Angelou).

Donovan: 660th ranked soccer player, 73rd ranked 1982 birth, 1,816 ranked American birth (ranked between Henry Harrison and Hank Aaron).

For those keeping score of player vs. coach, Jurgen Klinsmann is the 101st most famous soccer player, the 17th most famous 1964 birth and 298th ranked German birth (got some work to do to catch Martin Niemoller).

Doping investigation casts cloud over West Germany’s accomplishments

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Doping throughout the former East Germany’s sports programs has been known for some time, but West German sport was thought to be much cleaner than their eastern neighbors’. After reports that began leaking in Germany this weekend, however, it seems the West Germans had similar programs in place, programs which crossed over into soccer.

As the New York Times’ summary details, a government study titled “Doping in Germany from 1950 to Today” details use of amphetamines by West Germany’s 1954 World Cup winners, while the country’s doping program may have aided the development of players who appeared in the 1996, 1970, and 1974 World Cups. West Germany finished second, third and first in those respective finals.

From the Times, talking about the effect that 1954 title had on legend Franz Beckenbauer:

His cherished memory of 1954 is now questioned by the study’s report that players in Berne were given Pervitin, an amphetamine. It was commonly known as “speed” in sporting circles, and as “Panzer chocolate” because it had been developed to help make Nazi pilots and soldiers fly or fight for longer and better.

One aspect in the report that makes for chilling reading is that all of the players who took the dose were injected with a shared syringe. And one, the winger Richard Herrmann, died eight years later, of cirrhosis at the age of 39.

So the grim catalog goes on. It impinges on each of the three World Cups — 1966, 1970 and 1974 — for which “der Kaiser” Beckenbauer played so artistically and so competitively.

It relates to ephedrine being used by members of the 1966 World Cup team. Ephedrine is one of those drugs that can be used as a decongestant, a common cold cure, but also as a stimulant.

The piece goes on to talk about the potential implications of Germany’s investigation:

Germany’s government paid a lot for the study, but its full publication remains hampered by privacy and legal issues.

And some sections of the research, relating to athletes from the late 1990s onward, remain unpublished.

Indeed, it took a leak of the findings, in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper over the weekend, to flush out what has been disclosed thus far.

But this Pandora’s box, once opened, will not remain secret.

The rights of the athletes and players who were clean demands full disclosure.

Soccer looks less clean today than I believed it to be. The odd player risking a stimulant was bound to be in the system. But soccer’s defense was, and is, that it requires quick reactions as well as stamina, and that no single drug gives you both.

The piece makes no mention of whether Beckenbauer himself was part of the doping program(s).

I’m trying not to be too head in the sand about this, but if you’re telling me that some countries were doping their athletes 40-60 years ago, I’m telling you that there’s U.S. Open Cup tonight. I’m saying the Premier League season’s about to start. I’m focusing on Clint Dempsey’s Saturday debut. Quite frankly, I have better things to do than dwell on a bygone era. There’s enough going on right now.

That said, I am glad I know. I’m not mad, disappointed, or going to lead a charge to rewrite the record books, but when I do look at those books, I want to have as much information as possible. And West Germany potentially chemically creating their athletes? That helps me put their accomplishments into context.

The information also provides some disincentive for people to continue cheating, even though we know they’ll try. But if you’re a player at all concerned about your legacy, know that’s going to be seriously compromised if you’re using drugs. One way or another, people are likely to find out.