Soccer history in Arizona: Phoenix FC takes practice pitch for the first time

11 02 2013

When the Seattle Sounders practiced for the first time as an MLS franchise in 2009, I was there. A little more than three years later, who could have foreseen that I would be standing in a cold rain Monday morning watching USL Pro expansion franchise Phoenix FC practice for the first time in their existence?

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For a time it took me back to my Seattle days, the 20 players jogging and doing fitness drills on grass near the Arizona State football practice facility in the rain.  Lots of communication during 7-on-7.  A goal was scored and someone shouted “First goal in Phoenix FC history!”

Day 1 featured a morning practice and an afternoon session and on Valentine’s Day, the club is scheduled for a 5 p.m. scrimmage at Reach 11 Sports Complex.  The 20 included a number of trialists but featured former Scottish Premier League striker Darren Mackie, the club’s first signing, and former MLS goalkeeper Andrew Weber, who played for the Seattle Sounders last season. Weber and his brother Elliot, a defender, are with the team.

I’m three years into my move to Arizona and we now have a pro soccer team to follow.  There’s much to be worked out logistically — this isn’t the seemingly seamless transition from USL First Division to MLS that the Sounders, Timbers and Whitecaps made. But everything feels more right than uneasy. It’s all so new still, but training camp has opened and the first game of the season is March 30 at Arizona State’s soccer stadium.

By the time that day arrives, Phoenix FC will have its 26-man active and travel roster set.  The seating from the recently-completed Waste Management Open golf tournament will have been transported and installed to make the ASU soccer stadium bigger.

And Arizona now has two active pro soccer clubs. FC Tucson thrives to the south and Phoenix FC hopes to draw crowds of its own.

Mackie figures to be the team captain. His teammates seemed somewhat awed to be on the pitch with a guy with major European experience. Mackie seems to understand that he is there to mentor players as much as be a scorer. Here he is talking about his first practice, only days removed since he and his family arrived from Scotland.

Robertson said he’d like to have as close to 26 players as he can going into the season, and perhaps a bit more he can select from if needed.

“I do want us to play attacking soccer,” Robertson said. “The formation will go from game to game depending on the opponents we play.”

“I just want them to play attractive soccer so that people will come and watch,” Robertson added.

Defender Jose Ramos, like other teammates, is thrilled to play for a team in his hometown.

“For the young kids, too, that are barely starting… this is going to be a good opportunity for them, too,” Ramos said.

The Webers were excited to be back on the same pitch together for the first time in years. Andrew said that he’s glad to see an actual team in the Phoenix area after so much talk in years past about the formation of other teams that didn’t pan out.

And poor Humberto Soriano. The goalkeeper came out of the locker room to change his shoes and got stuck being interviewed by myself, Odeen Domingo of the Arizona Republic and Ed Cole of ProstoPreps.com. He was happy to be on the team, but freezing and shivering in the cold. After a couple of minutes we stopped so he could go inside and get warm.

People out here don’t do rain well. Nevertheless, it was an historic day for soccer in Arizona and I was there to document it.

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2012 in review: 2013 can’t get here fast enough

31 12 2012

2012. It’s over. Thank goodness.

I’d rather forget a lot of what happened this year. Lots of dead ends and roadblocks as far as the career. Still dealing with high cholesterol. Working too hard for too little money and missing quality time with loved ones.

But no living in regret. Only moving forward and trying to be positive. It really wasn’t all bad.

This was the year that my first child was conceived. The baby will be here at the end of February or early March, if it goes to term!

This was the year I saw my first Las Vegas superfight(s) in person. It was also the year I watched my Oregon Ducks finally win a Rose Bowl, standing in one end zone on the moist grass of the stadium in Pasadena watching the clock run out on Wisconsin. I lost my great aunt Agnes Romero earlier that New Years Day. It was bittersweet.

I taught/advised for two classes at Arizona State in 2012. Enjoyed both. Working with students was very rewarding. And I always make it a good time.

I traveled to El Paso, Texas, for the first time ever. I could have thrown a rock into Mexico in two places where I was.

2012 took me back to Washington D.C. for work, but also allowed for the chance to see friends and family.

In September I rode a hot air balloon for the first time. Probably the last, too, but I can say I did it and what majestic views I had from the air over the Valley of the Sun.

Over the Valley of the Sun in a balloon.

Over the Valley of the Sun in a balloon.

In the basket up high in the sky.

In the basket up high in the sky.

The view from above Cave Creek, AZ.

The view from above Cave Creek, AZ.

 

I went to a NASCAR race for the first time. It was actually more entertaining in person than on TV.

My wife really did a lot for us this year. All that and carrying a baby for months.

The year ended, strangely, so similar to how it began. With the Oregon football team. From Pasadena on Jan. 1 to Scottsdale for Fiesta Bowl media day.

2013 will bring major changes thanks to Baby Romero. But they will be welcome changes. It’s definitely time for something different. For my own family being my biggest reason for living.

Wishing a Happy New Year to everyone, and God bless. PS Thanks Mayans for… well whatever. The world didn’t end so I get to see my child grow up!





I went to a NASCAR auto race!

15 11 2012

The truth is, this one of the last sporting events I ever thought I would attend. But it turned out to be pretty memorable.

NASCAR isn’t just the Sprint Cup Series with all the big name drivers. It is the Nationwide Series on Saturdays and the Camping World Truck Series on Fridays. So it’s really just an entire three-day weekend of auto racing at one track from Arizona to Florida, Indianapolis to Talladega.

Millions watch races on TV. Thousands pack the tracks. I was there in Arizona on Nov. 11, it was real.

Check this video:

I expressed some concern over a perceived lack of diversity in the sport when I wrote about it for Fox Deportes. This a pretty “white” sport overall, but in fairness, Juan Pablo Montoya is the only Latino driver in Sprint Cup but there are at least six Latinos in the Nationwide and trucks.

The pit crews, the folks behind the scenes that are so vital to the cars and drivers, are also sprinkled with people of color. I even met a major player in the engineering of Chevy vehicles, who is from Puerto Rico.

Below is a collection of photos from the Advocare 500 race in Avondale, Ariz., on Nov. 11. The last race of the season is this coming weekend in Florida.

The Inception Motor Sports No. 30 car has three different drivers.

Victory Lane at the Phoenix International Speedway.

Danica Patrick’s car

Rounding a turn.

Driver Kasey Kahne introduced.

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Football and Fr. Vince

30 10 2012

The past weekend found me at a parade, a tailgate party and from a celebratory mass to an Italian dinner featuring wine and song.

Saturday, Oct. 27:

I’m always trying to figure out how tailgating before Arizona State football games just isn’t the event it is in the Pacific Northwest. Or other places I’ve been to, for that matter. Must be the heat. Also, on not super-hot days, it is possible that folks in the Phoenix area find other things to do when its 80 degrees at 11 a.m.

That qualifies as autumn weather around here.

It was still a good time. Here’s more about how I spent that day. The lead photo features Juan Roque, a former ASU player who is Mexican.

A couple of photos from the day:

Tailgate

Field view, pregame vs. UCLA.

Sunday, Oct. 28:

My wife and I attended a special mass for Fr. Vincent Mesi (Father Vince to me). He was my pastor when I was a kid in Oregon at St. Anthony’s Parish. But he moved on and eventually ended up in Phoenix. It so happens that my wife and I were married at St. Mary’s cathedral in downtown Phoenix, where Fr. Vince is the pastor. So many years later, we were fortunate to have the guy who helped make Catholic mass more tolerable (sorry Mom!) when I was young preside over our wedding in 2010.

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Tennis Time!!!

16 10 2012

I haven’t played tennis since moving to Phoenix from Seattle and I miss it. So this past weekend I went to see John McEnroe, Jim Courier and Michael Chang play in Surprise at an event, the CTCA Championships.

It was cool. Here’s the story I wrote on John McEnroe and his appeal to the fans. As in why they like him. Please check it out, it has videos!

Sure, these guys are older. I watched McEnroe when I was a kid. But to see him up close and hear him speak about tennis and his other interests was a treat.

I figure I could have done other things on a Saturday night with no Oregon football game on. But I feel like I chose wisely in driving maybe two hours round trip to see tennis.

Signing autographs for fans

John McEnroe below…





Basketball (and a little baseball) in the nation’s capital

20 07 2012

This past weekend, I traveled to Washington D.C. for the Nike World Basketball Festival, with Nike inviting myself and a number of other writers of different areas of expertise to cover the event and see and experience some of the new hoops product the company is unveiling.

I’m no sneakers expert. I just wear what feels good, and I hadn’t ran (as in played basketball) for some time. But truth be told, playing on the same court as the FIBA U-19 and U-18 teams from the USA and five other countries was a lot of fun, as was posing for a photo of me flying through the air (sort of) for a dunk and doing the demo stations wearing the Nike Plus Hyperdunk shoes.

Another highlight of the event was watching both USA Olympic basketball teams (mens and womens) practice and play for the last time before they went off to Europe for the Olympic Games. I saw the USA practice Saturday, along with a few thousand military personnel and their families, and I attended the tuneup games against Brazil at the Verizon Center at the Verizon Center. Even shared a building with President Obama and his family.

I also on Monday (July 16) took a tour of Nationals Park, home of baseball’s Washington Nationals.

Here are some photos from three full days in D.C.:

Big crowd inside the DC Armory near RFK Stadium.

USA Women’s BB player Candace Parker during a clinic.

Team USA at practice.

Puerto Rico vs. China, FIBA U-19 pregame greeting.

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Celebrating Cascadia with videos

26 06 2012

The loyalty of Sounders FC fans is a beautiful thing. They turn out game after game, season after season, the love for their boys undying.

Yet I wonder how many of them are content with early-round playoff exits. With U.S. Open Cups — nice, but not the ultimate prize. With frustrating losses every now and then to teams the club should beat.

I’m long removed from the day-to-day news and observing of the club. Three playoff appearances in the first three years of existence is impressive — a lot of teams would take that in a heartbeat. But I sense that Sounders fans expect more, demand more. And they should.

I do think the Sounders beat themselves, aside from a defense that has not played well of late. That Fredy Montero was sent off in the Portland game was confounding. Your best striker pushing off  – even if the Timbers’ David Horst flopped — and costing himself and his team with a suspension, at a time when the Sounders need to get back on the winning track. The Sounders have to do a better job of managing their emotions through this recent winless streak.

There were some needless, senseless fouls from both teams, Portland and Seattle. But my sense is that the Timbers, with less talent, were fine with turning the game into a physical tussle. The Sounders aren’t that kind of team overall, and really never have been.

Having said all that, Sounders fans, you still have a playoff team. The organization has made some fantastic calls with player personnel. There’s a ton of depth and Adrian Hanauer, Chris Henderson and Sigi Schmid reload with fresh talent each year. Some of that talent is guys who might not have gotten their chance as rookies or younger players — they have had to learn to be patient and wait their turn.

It’s a testament to the club that they are able to stockpile developing players. Seattle is an ultimate soccer destination for any professional player, it’s hard to leave once you get there. Ask Mike Fucito, Lamar Neagle, Sebastien Le Toux and James Riley.

Enough opinion. Let’s watch some videos.

Here’s a rainy night in Portland (Timbers-Whitecaps) last month.

Here is the Southsiders supporters group in song in Portland. What a season so far for Vancouver, congrats to them.

Speaking of Vancouver, these are SHARP.

Whitecaps third kits (new)

 

 








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