David Hirshey writes regular for Deadspin about soccer.
While I know my mustache could stand to drop a few pounds, it wasn't until this weekend that I realized I should be a contestant on "The Biggest Loser." After all, everyone I rooted for — UConn, Arsenal, Ricky Hatton, Lute Olsen's wife — looked worse than Amy Winehouse on your average Sunday morning. And I didn't look all that frisky either when I stumbled into Kinsale at 8 a.m., my beehive resembling a fallen souffle, as I sought to erase the pain of the previous day and raise a few dozen pints to the last unbeaten team in the Premiership.
Sadly, I didn' t get to revel in the joy of watching Liverpool's unblemished record swirl down the toilet on Saturday because I was driving three hours to Storrs, Connecticut to see my Israeli cousin Dori Arad lead top ranked UConn past Virginia Tech in the NCAA quarterfinals. At least, that was the plan.
So hellbent was UConn on reaching the Final Four for the first time since they won the title in 2000 that everyone on campus with the possible exception of Jim Calhoun was shoveling snow off the field until 2 a.m. Even so, the field on Saturday could not have been slicker if the Exxon Valdez oil spill had just occurred there. Suffice it to say that these were not conditions conducive to the kind of turbo-charged, one-touch soccer that UConn's skilled foreign players favor. Maybe I should have taken this as a sign from the Soccer Gods that this would not be a good weekend for fans of "sexy football," but I was too consumed with trying to feel my toes in the tundra of the stadium where I was sitting.
It was hard to miss my section because someone had brought along a huge Israeli flag in honor of my cousin, but after 20 minutes of watching the Huskies slippin' and slidin' in the slop , the banner that I wanted to unfurl would have read "Change Your Fuckin' Cleats, Will Ya?" I also felt like shouting "Does Anyone Have An Extra Flask I Can Borrow?" when the wind started bitch-slapping me in the face, but I didn't want to embarrass my family any more than I already had . Meanwhile the quagmire on the field reminded me of a mud-wrestling match between these two naked ladies I once witnessed in a bar on Bourbon Street after Chris Webber had cost me $100 when he called that imaginary timeout in the Fab Five's meltdown against Carolina in the NCAA final. What can I say? You thought soccer was the only sport I cared about.
My reverie was interrupted around the 20-minute mark when Virginia Tech's Ghanian All-America forward Patrick Nyarko beat UConn goalie Josh Ford to the ball in the Huskie's penalty area and poked it past him to give the Hokies a 1-0 lead. Not that anyone in the overflow crowd of nearly 5,500 seemed alarmed.
After all, wasn't UConn well nigh invincible at home, and didn't they boast the nation's leading goalscorer in Jamaican international O'Brien White, the leading defender in Trinidad international Julius James and the leading assist maker in New Jersey international Mike Pezza? Surely, it was only a matter of time — or new shoes — til their superior talent would break down the Hokies just like it did their 17 previous opponents at Morrone Stadium. So it was no surprise in the second half that UConn laid siege to the Virginia Tech goal. Three times, White broke free of his double-team and looked like he would score, but each time he was fractionally off. "On a dry field, " said my cousin Dori, "OB buries at least one of those chances."
Not that Dori was making excuses; he pointed out "the field was the same for both teams." The difference was that the Hokies built a fortress of 10 men around their goal and dared the Huskies to pass their way through it. After winning 20 games and the No. 1 ranking in the country with their pretty ball skills, the Huskies knew no other way to play. Not for them, ugly long balls hoofed into the penalty area in the hope that a forward would latch onto one. Not for them, it turned out, the NCAA Final Four. And not for me, the thrill of doing a victory hora with my cousin.
Instead, I had another three-hour drive back to NYC in order to drink as much as I could at Kinsale before passing out during the prelims of the Mayweather-Hatton fight. Like every other footy fan in the bar, I was in Hatton's corner and was so sure that the Thinking Man's Wayne Rooney, as I like to call him, would make Pretty Boy see stars instead of dancing with them that I ignored Unsilent's sage advice and put a few quid on the Hitman. At least, that was the plan. As it turned out, I managed to stay upright longer than Hatton who went down in the 10th almost as fast as Ronaldo did in the box against Derby.
Thank God, I knew my weekend would be redeemed the next morning when the Arsenal juggernaut, so laden with young talent that it had not lost once in the Prem all season and was four points clear at the top would roll over Championship-bound Middlesborough like a fresh piece of roadkill. At least, that was the fuckin' plan, and the less said the better. As my fellow Gooner Rajah said, flailing for an explanation, "maybe they all stayed up 'til 4 a.m. watching the Hatton fight."
Or maybe, like UConn, the Hitman, and Lute Olsen's wife, they're not as good as they're cracked up to be.