Supporting Abroad – Sheffield Wednesday in the USA

It’s no secret that support from outside of a club’s immediate area, along with becoming quite common, has become more and more important to just about any club. Many fans from abroad are often assumed as only glory hunting for the top sides. This, however, simply isn’t the whole story. Therefore, I’ve decided to kick off a simple and straight forward series that looks to show individuals and supporters groups from around the world that promote the support of clubs that aren’t competing for champions league spots or league titles. This is Supporting Abroad.

This time around, I spoke with Owls Americas. The group manages the support for Sheffield Wednesday in North and South America and features a good bit of infrastructure, including a fully-functioning site and an online merchandise store. Sheffield Wednesday are currently in the EFL Championship, where they set in 14th as of the writing of this piece.

Q: When did your group take form? How has it grown since its initial founding?

A: Owls Americas was setup in 2017 as a way to bring all our American supporter groups together under one umbrella and to facilitate other fans in forming their own groups and finding people to watch the game with. We started with just 4-5 groups and now have 12 groups and a lot more reps in cities across the Americas.

Q: What are some of the key reasons you support Sheffield Wednesday? What has been your favorite part of being a supporter?

A: Myself (Paddy), i grew up in the area of Sheffield in the UK, so simply chose the best local team I could go and watch! Others in our group who weren’t born in the UK have found us through all sorts of means, maybe a love of Owls, a love of our american import John Harkes, a love of Sheffield music, or just because they liked our logo on FIFA!

Q: What are some challenges you face supporting Sheffield Wednesday, whether that be during games or outside of the 90 minutes?

A: The only challenges we face nowadays is the pain of watching a team going through a big transition! With iFollow we get to watch every minute of every game, so its much more accessible than it ever was to people outside of the UK. We’ve also got a few podcasts to listen to (including our own “Owls Americast”) so fans have a raft of info and knowledge available to them.

Q: If a person is considering supporting Sheffield Wednesday, what would be your pitch to win them over?

A: This club has a great tradition, great history, its a sleeping giant, if you get on board now no one will call you a Glory Chaser, you’re joining at the start of a(nother) new era. It’s always interesting, the fans are very welcoming, we have a fantastic group of fans here in the Americas and we love helping new fans get to know us better.

Q: What are some thoughts you have on the state of your current season? What are some things you hope or improve before the 20/21 season kicks off?

A: We were left in the lurch this season, after Steve Bruce left us a couple of weeks before the start, we felt betrayed. We had been playing well under him. We’ve brought in Monk who started well, but had a disastrous start to 2020, we are having a complete clear-out of players and building a squad with the right attitude. Next year will be making an entirely new squad gel and giving Garry Monk the chance to push us up the league. The best thing about the championship is that it’s so open, and you dont need to have all your ducks in order to finish top 6, although that would certainly help!!

Sheffield Wednesday are by all means a club with a chance at more than their current status and it’s encouraging to see they’ll have a vast range of passionate supporters around the globe when the time finally comes. Until then, they’ll have to work with championship ball.

Supporting Abroad – Huddersfield in the USA

It’s no secret that support from outside of a club’s immediate area, along with becoming quite common, has become more and more important to just about any club. Many fans from abroad are often assumed as only glory hunting for the top sides. This, however, simply isn’t the whole story. Therefore, I’ve decided to kick off a simple and straight forward series that looks to show individuals and supporters groups from around the world that promote the support of clubs that aren’t competing for champions league spots or league titles. This is Supporting Abroad.

Today’s article is on Huddersfield Town supporters in the United States. The club were in the Premier League most recently from 2017 to 2019 under the leadership of current Schalke 04 boss David Wagner. The West Yorkshire club, favorites of Sir Patrick Stewart, are most recently struggling in the bottom half of the EFL Championship.

The following Q&A with Mark and Chris of HTAFC in the USA, the official US supporters club network for Huddersfield Town. As you’ll see, supporting Huddersfield has proven a difficult passion, but a passion nonetheless.

Q: When did your group take form? How has it grown since its initial founding?
A/M: Chris formed the USA Terriers Twitter account a few years ago. I started the Stateside Terriers Facebook page. When we reached the Premier League two years ago the club realized it had zero formal presence in the USA so adopted us as the “official” North American supporters group. We have over 100 Facebook members & over 700 Twitter followers, but I think that Chris bought some Twitter followers a few years ago. 

Q: What are some of the key reasons you support Huddersfield? What has been your favorite part of being a supporter? 
A/M: There are only two reasons to be a Town fan. 1. Born there. 2. Dad supported them. For me & Chris it’s both. The 2017 season for Town is as good as we will ever know. Staying up had some great moments – beating Man Utd, drawing at Chelsea to stay up, winning 3-0 in our first ever PL game – but there were way too many defensive games, trying to grind out a point (and failing) or nick 3 for it to be considered true fun. If we get promoted it won’t be as good as 2017 when the odds were totally stacked against us, but destiny was with us. That season was special. 

Q: What are some challenges you face supporting Huddersfield, whether that be during games or outside of the 90 minutes?
A/M: We’ve generally been somewhere between shit & average for all of my life, which is a challenge. That said, it’s a rare saeson that we haven’t had something to play for on the last day of the season & we are ridiculously successful in the play-oofs and penalty shootouts. I’d say the challenges we face as fans are pretty common for all teams outside the top six – media either ignores or patronizes us & we have no way to truly compete. All that just makes our moments of success all the sweeter.

Q: If a person is considering supporting Huddersfield, what would be your pitch to win them over?
A/M: In 2017 I convinced lots of Americans to follow us based on the fairytale we were living. Other than that it’s a pretty tough sell. 

Q: What are some thoughts you have on the state of your current season? What are some things you hope or improve before the 20/21 season kicks off?
A/M: It’s been a shambles from day one with one exception – the appointment of the Cowley brothers as manager(s). They should just about see us safe, but after that we need the biggest overhaul we’ve ever seen. how frustrating/ridiculous given that we just earned $300 million from the Premier League over two seasons. If we can back them sufficiently, we might have a shot at promotion. Maybe.

A/C: Worth noting we have a pretty incredible history; we won the top league (now called the premier league) three times in a row. Only Huddersfield, Man Utd, Arsenal and Liverpool have ever done that before (then its a big debate who is the biggest of those 4, but I think Town just edge it). We are a northern team, with working class roots. I try pitch it that way when I’m in the mid-west or Texas.

Huddersfield is one of many examples of clubs that, despite being outside of the top class teams, has managed to piece together a following outside of England. Their working class roots and underdog status, particularly in their brief years in the premier league, has earned the respect and passion we place at the core of active support. Needless to say, HTAFC in the USA provide a reminder that international support for a club can come in all shapes and sizes.

You Might Not Know – Football at the Island Games

I’ve made an effort throughout the years to try and always leave room to learn about the lesser knowns in the world of football. I consider myself a fan of the underdogs, outcasts, and misunderstood. I’ve enjoyed keeping an eye on all sorts of tiers of football in all sorts of countries, whether that be amateur, low level professional, or even the likes of CONIFA, an organization which helps represent stateless and otherwise unrepresented communities on the pitch. That all being said, when I stumbled on to the Island Games, I was shocked at the utter lack of knowledge in my grasp.

The Island Games are a series of sporting events, first held in 1985, which feature a range of island nations competing in the sort of activities standard to multi-sport events like the Olympics. There’s swimming, gymnastics, archery, tennis, and even basketball on some occasions. The event which caught my eye, however, was the football. The Island Games, which are held every two years, have hosted football every iteration, except for 1987 and more recently in 2019. The latter was due to a lack of facilities in the host nation of Gilbralter.

What stood out to me the most about the football (both men’s and women’s) at the Island Games is that it sees FIFA and non-FIFA members ducking it out against one another. FIFA members like Bermuda and the Faroe Islands have managed success in the tournament, while Greenland, a CONIFA member, have reached the final twice (note: one final was reached prior to CONIFA membership was granted in 2016). Other teams, often independently operated or working within a local federation, have also found success. These include the Isle of Man, Ynys Môn, and the Isle of Wight. Other major European islands with FIFA recognition have either not taken part or left over time, including the likes of Iceland and Malta.

The 2006 FIFI Wild Cup Greenland squad. Photo courtesy of the XenonX3.

To have FIFA, CONIFA, and otherwise run football associations agreeing to consistently meet on the pitch in a competitive nature, in addition to giving otherwise poorly represented areas to host said events, is minor miracle. There is, it should be noted, a clear focus on a certain area of world. All current members have a direct connection to Europe, either by being in Europe or by being a territory of a European nation. The only example breaking this rule is Prince Edward Island, who took part in various activities from 1991 to 2007. Prince Edward Island is a province of Canada, which, while certainly still holding close ties to the UK, is obviously not in Europe.

Another issue in this otherwise surprisingly bright situation is that even more involved FIFA members have not always participated. The last to play were Gibraltar in 2015, with Bermuda not taking part since winning gold in 2013. There is a slight Asterix for that disengagement, however. Because football was not played at the 2019 Island Games (due to a lack of available pitches), a separate tournament was played in Wales, titled the 2019 Inter Games Football tournament. The tournament allowed teams to not go completely inactive and featured a development squad from Gilbraltar.

Along the way, the Island Games have seen a share of proper professionals, particularly via the presence of FIFA-recognized sides like Gibraltar and Bermuda. Rai Simons and Tyrell Burgess, who’ve played for the likes of Chesterfield and the Vancouver Whitecaps respectively, both showed for Bermuda. Liam Walker, who’s had stints at the likes of Portsmouth and Notts County, did his time for Gibraltar. Alexander Weckström, who’s played the for likes of prominent Finnish club IFK Mariehamn, represented the Åland Islands.

The Isle of Man senior squad line up during the 2019 Inter Games Football Tournament. Photo courtesy of Paul Hatton.

All of this to say, the Island Games are just one the many tournaments outside of the upper echelons of the game that football fans should be keeping on eye on. I was deeply unfamiliar with the tournament until recently, a situation I immediately felt the need to help prevent. The Island Games, along with similar tournaments in other portions of the world and other global tournaments, are yet another part of the puzzle. Support local, support the underdog, support the underrepresented. In the end, however fits you best, support the game.

A document explaining all by-laws for football at the Island Games can be found and explored here. The International Island Games Association (IIGA)’s contact information can be found here.

Four Unforgettable Matches

Photo courtesy of Minnesota United.

With the beautiful game in a constant state of change, writing about football has been an interesting pass time over the course of 2020. While I usually aim for larger articles looking to investigate a story, I’ve also decided post the occasional blog post while I seek out other projects. The following is one of those blog posts.

In search of a way to write about football while there’s no football being played, I’ve decided to take on a little thought exercise and write about five football matches I’ve attended that stand out as unforgettable moments for me. They’re listed in no particular order and each one has a special place in my heart.

Minnesota United host Portland Timbers (2019) – US Open Cup Semi-Finals

Played on August 7th, my birthday, this match was a historic one for Minnesota United in its MLS era. The club, after two years of struggling in the league, making virtually no progress in the domestic cup, and calling a college (American) football stadium home, had suddenly made a deep run in the USOC. Hosted at Allianz Field, the club’s beautiful new stadium, the semi-final against the Portland Timbers was the last key to qualifying for the final, which would be hosted in Atlanta.

Having attended only a few matches at Allianz that year, I had yet to see Minnesota win at home. The stakes were a little extra high this time around, for a few reasons: It was my birthday and I’d made a trip to see the game, the result would have a major effect on the team’s season, and (in addition to my parents being there) I had brought my girlfriend to see her first ever professional live match of football.

Darwin Quintero scored a penalty to give us the lead, before Brian Fernández equalized right before halftime. A long ball and glorious strike from Mason Toye would hand Minnesota the lead in the 64th minute and the scoreline would go unchanged for the rest of the match.

After singing wonderwall, we left the stadium and I was able to bask in an amazing day of football. I’d watched Minnesota United win one of their biggest-ever matches, and was able to share the experience with my parents and girlfriend along the way.

Duluth FC at AFC Ann Arbor (2018) – NPSL Midwest Region Final

2018 was the first of my two years working with Duluth FC as a staff writer and part of the travel staff. That year was a long journey of ups and downs. I had my car break down on an away day, saw us got a hard point on the road, a victorious three, and sometimes none. The staff were all volunteers for the club, so the long trips and work were all out of passion more than anything else. We qualified for the playoffs in our last regular season game against Med City and were then sent off to drive two vans from Duluth, MN to Ann Arbor, MI.

The ten hour trip was a long, entertaining, and strange one, but we finally arrived at our hotel the day before the first match. We would play a semi-final for the region the next day. If we won, we’d play in the final the day after. We beat Minneapolis City 2-1 in AET and logged a night of sleep before the big day.

Julian Villegas takes on an AFC Ann Arbor player in the Midwest final. Photo courtesy of Alex Ganeev.

The match against Ann Arbor in the final was a crazy one, ending 3-3 after 90 minutes with Kyle Farrar, Ryan Tyrer, and Joe Watt scoring for Duluth. AET resulted in chances but no goals, leading to a penalty shootout. Alberto Ciroi saved two penalties to put us a winning position if Liam Moore scored his. He did. The not-playing players and staff (including me) had lined up at the sideline with arms around each other for the entire affair. When Liam’s goal went in, we (and the players on the pitch) went insane.

It was one of the most fun nights of my life. We took pictures with the trophy, got our medals, and prepared for a long journey back home (and an eventual trip to Miami for the national semi-final). I’d enjoyed a lot of soccer games in my life, but this was the first time it felt like I’d been a part of something big. That was special.

Minnesota United host Real Salt Lake (2017) – First Win in MLS Regular Season

The 2017 season was a rough one for Minnesota United, especially early on. Countless matches ended in steep defeats and the club was holding tightly on to the occasional draw for signs of hope. Having attended the first home game, a horrible loss, I trekked back to the Twin Cities with the help of my dad to see the second home game against RSL.

The match started tough, with Luke Mulholland scoring for RSL just four minutes in. For many fans, it seemed like the same old same old was on the way. My dad and me stayed hopeful and our hopes were repaid in the 16th minute when Kevin Molino equalized. It was 1-1 at the half but over the last 45 minutes, Christian Ramirez would score twice and Johan Venegas would add a fourth to give Minnesota an eventual 4-2 win.

Singing wonderwall for the first time in MLS, the entire stadium was alive with pride and passion for their club. The season may have started horribly, but that win against RSL was a sign of the progress to come. It was a special night for the club and a special night for me.

Duluth FC at Miami FC (2018) – NPSL National Semi-Finals

Having won the regional final, Duluth FC now needed to travel to Miami for the national semi-finals to face former NASL members Miami FC. The team flew there this time around, arriving the day before our match, the first time the club had made the final stage of the NPSL playoffs.

The team trained at the field the day before the match, earning an absolute sweat storm along the way. This warranted a trip to a laundry mat, which I took on. In all honesty, it was a bit of a fish out of water situation.

We finally reached the match, having explored a few places to eat and South Beach, and faced off against the essentially-professional Miami FC. Issues with power to our locker room and a lack of materials promised by the hosts led to a slow warm up, while I stood out front giving tickets to various Duluth fans attending for the club and/or players they had connections to.

Eventually the game kicked off, with me now operating as the photographer due to our usual photographer, Alex Ganeev, not being able to come with the team. Using a camera rented from my college’s media lab, I did my best to take photos of the action while Duluth faced Miami. The match ended 3-0, with the hosts proving too good for our band of amateur all-stars. There was pride in the result, however, because we had made it this far. It was an important lesson in the value of a loss and three days of travel, preparation, and football that I’ll never forget.

Retrospective64 – World Cup 98

The Nintendo 64 was my first console. It’s many cartridges, trident-like controller, and countless classics were the foundation for my video game experience. As quarantines and isolations continue to keep many, including me, at home, I’ve decided to look through my catalogue of N64 games and explore how they’ve stood, or fallen to, the test of time.

Box cover for World Cup 98. Courtesy of EA Canada.

Note: To prepare for this, I played through the World Cup 98 campaign, which reconstructs the group stage and knockout stage of the tournament, with Romania. I chose Romania above all because they were a medium ranked team and provided a nice challenge. I’m happy to say that I took them all the way and won the final 1-0 over England.

World Cup 98 is, to put it simply, a wonderful slice of nostalgia. While modern FIFA players may find themselves horrified by its lacking mechanics and pixelated look, I can’t help but think of countless experiences playing the game with family, friends, and just myself over the years. The game was made by EA Canada and is one of the few games I’ll be discussing on here that isn’t made by Nintendo or a company closely affiliated with Nintendo.

Despite feeling quite different from EA’s more modern interpretations of the beautiful game, a lot of the basic controls are still there. The joystick of course directs motion. The A and B buttons give your basic passing, tackling, and shooting. The C buttons provide a range of tactics, including sliding tackles, through passes, and purposeful fouls. All in all, it’s a slightly more complicated and spread out version of the FIFA controls you use today.

Overall, it’s really the physics, not the mechanics, that differentiate the games. There’s a strange feeling to how the ball moves in this game and every time you took a shot on goal it seems like the game has decided every attempt has to look like a screamer, with even the most basic shot rocketing across the screen. The passes can be a bit frustrating to target and often a slight error in how your facing will result in a ball being cannoned across the pitch to a random opponent. This isn’t helped by the camera being quite close to the player with the ball, instead of a more zoomed out look as we often see now. I like the intimacy of the zoom in, but it does make it harder to navigate the pitch.

I, as much as I love this game, have to also mention that there’s a sort of delay in many of the commands that means you’ll often think you’ve planned out a great run and shot, only for the player to dribble it a few feet further because you pressed B too late and the keeper just comes and grabs it.

(music/sound) The sounds of this game aren’t all that different from most modern football games, in fact the crowd cheering sounds oddly similar. The menu has a nice tune but otherwise it’s pretty straight forward. The one bright light, albeit a strange one, is the inclusion of Chumbawamba’s hit(?) “Tubthumping” as the intro song. In comparison to the repetitive pop tracks that populate most games of the genre now, it’s a welcome risk, even if the song isn’t your (my) cup of tea.

If nothing else, World Cup 98 is a great bit of nostalgia. You can relive a great World Cup of the past on an already old school console and even get to play as some classic players. Playing it for this reminded me of the endless fun I had with it as a child, including goofing around with a friend to see how many players we could get red cards by slide tackling the head ref.

If you’re looking for a great football game, this probably isn’t it. It’s not especially realistic and frankly is probably more work than just picking up a modern alternative. That being said, if you have it or love yourself some nostalgia and have money on hand, I would highly encourage you to consider giving it a shot.

In a footballing world that’s more and more about clean new modern marketing, it’s nice to just enjoy a slap stick version of the game with some pixelated all-stars. It’s nice to remember when football was just a game played between some kids, that’s a memory football fans shouldn’t let themselves forget. 7/10

The View – East High School’s Ordean Field

With the beautiful game in a constant state of change, writing about football has been an interesting pass time over the course of 2020. While I usually aim for larger articles looking to investigate a story, I’ve also decided post the occasional blog post while I seek out other projects. The following is one of those blog posts.

Every now and then, you stumble upon a field or stadium that leaves a mark on you. Sometimes it’s because of what transpires there. Sometimes it’s because of a great design. Sometimes it’s a little bit of both. For me, Ordean Field, housed at Duluth East High School, is one of the those special fields.

A view of Ordean Field during an American Football game. Photo courtesy of Duluth East High School.

Ordean Field is technically made for American Football, but all my memories of it are as a home for the beautiful game. Duluth Football Club, an amateur club I volunteered with for two years, played its 2019 season at Ordean. That year was a tough one for the club in the NPSL, but every game at Ordean was a majestic experience. I saw Duluth FC win, draw, and lose at Ordean. I enjoyed tortas from Oasis del Norte and consisting stand pretzels alike in its stands and met up with good friends and colleagues at its parking lots. For a summer, it was a home.

All of this to say, however, that none of that was the cherry on top that made Ordean Field so special. What made Ordean the best spot in the city was its view. The field was positioned perfectly to give fans a view of the beautiful Lake Superior. For those unaware, Lake Superior is one of the five members of the Great Lakes. It has a surface area of 31,700 sq mi and touches the shores of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario. It is a truly huge body of water and the heart of this city.

Ordean’s view of the water, as shown at the top of the article, is an absolute gem in a city where most fight over the handful of areas where the lake isn’t blocked by trees or buildings. Seeing it coming into and out of games provided a crystal clear palate cleanser regardless of the result that day. Whatever may happen on the pitch, we knew we lived in and represented a beautiful city.

A view of Ordean Field from a nearby road, with Lake Superior visible behind the stands. Photo courtesy of Duluth East High School.

Ordean doesn’t have any of the shiny features of a good stadium. It is, after all, not a stadium. But I think there’s something to love about the more modest grounds you’ll find across the world, the sort of fields used by lower league clubs, or amateur clubs. I’ve been to Allianz Field, Minnesota United’s new stadium. It is a thing of absolute beauty and I feel lucky to have even stepped inside of it. That being said, there’s something different about the simple and straight forward fields of Duluth East High School and Denfeld High School, Duluth FC’s other home. A modest home is part of the character of a modest club.

Take a moment, amid the chaos of top tier football, to appreciate the amateur, non-league, and otherwise simple homes of the beautiful game. I don’t know what awaits me in the many coming decades of life, but I know a few things I’ll never forget. I’ll never forget Denfeld. I’ll never forget Allianz. I’ll never forget Ordean.

Fariñez to RC Lens – Why It’s Exciting

With the beautiful game in a constant state of change, writing about football has been an interesting pass time over the course of 2020. While I usually aim for larger articles looking to investigate a story, I’ve also decided post the occasional blog post while I seek out other projects. The following is one of those blog posts.

Recent news has revealed a very exciting move for la Vinotinto’s top goalkeeper, Wuilker Fariñez. The Caracas-born keeper joined Millonarios in 2018, following his heroics throughout the 2017 U20 World Cup and a series of senior team appearances, immediately announcing himself to the Colombian game. He made his debut in a pair of appearances against Atlético Nacional in the Superliga Colombiana, which he won. 

Since then, he’s been a constant face in the Millonarios lineup, in addition to Venezuela’s. The 22 year old’s roots in Caracas should not be forgotten. He played with Caracas FC at the youth and senior levels, making his name early in FutVe as a shot stopper. Further details on his skills can be seen in the Solovenex montage below.

Now, however, Fariñez is set to finally show his skills in Europe with the announcement of a move to RC Lens, who were promoted to Ligue 1 in the 2019-20 season. Lens were in second place with 53 points in Ligue 2 when French football chose to end their seasons early due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They return to the top tier of France after being relegated down to Ligue 2 in the 2014-15 season. The club had the least losses in Ligue 2 after 28 games with five, three less than first place Lorient.

Fariñez move marks yet another key figure from the 2017 U20 World Cup run being rewarded for their efforts, as he joins the likes of Yangel Herrera, Samuel Sosa, Sergio Córdova, and Adalberto Peñaranda in the ranks of Europe. Fariñez has been rumored for quite some time with connections to Europe, with many wondering why he was still in Colombia despite already being one of la Vinotinto’s most important players.

Lens supporters showing their passion. Photo courtesy of RC Lens.

All of this being said, I’d like to look through the potentials of this move and give my thoughts on what it could mean for Fariñez.

For better or for worse, there is a certain status given to playing in certain parts of the world. Colombia, and certainly Venezuela, do not fit into that view of the great leagues of the world. These days even Brazil and Argentina struggle to stay high on that list for some, especially those unfamiliar with South America.

Wuilker Fariñez is, and has been for some time, one of Venezuela’s biggest talents. We have good forwards. We have good midfielders. We have good defenders. We have a supernatural goalkeeper. You cannot train reflexes like those shown in Fariñez’ various famous triple saves, like the one against Atlético Nacional in the above highlight reel. There is rarely game where la Vinotinto are not saved and improved by his presence and it’s easy to understand how the 22 year old is an automatic addition to the starting eleven.

The stats are not unkind either. In his 22 appearances for la Vinotinto, he’s kept eleven clean sheets. His defensive record expands to the Copa Liberatdores and Copa Sudamericana, where he’s shined for both Millonarios and Caracas. All in all, Fariñez has almost 200 professional club appearances between his two homes, impressing at both.

Despite the obvious talent, Fariñez’ lack of European adventures has left his career seeming less eventful in comparison to his many compatriots. How do outfield players still finding their footing manage to find homes in Germany, Spain, and England while an obvious star waits in the wings?

Now he’s finally off to France, seemingly with first team Ligue 1 football in his grasp. It’s a major jump for the Venezuelan spider and likely to prove a challenge. He’ll have to contend with the top clubs of France for points, and likely survival. PSG, Lyon, and Marseille are, to be frank, an utterly different animal compared to most of what Fariñez has faced at the club level. As part of a newly promoted club, the Venezuelan keeper will be asked to take on a huge task. That said, I think there’s no better challenge for a player who has been underestimated and undervalued for so long.

Improved quality of opposition and a vast new world of coaches, teammates, and influences would have a major impact on any player. For someone like Fariñez, who is already a starlet at 22, they could be the key to greatness.

With the remainder of their offseason work still unclear, it’d be fair to say Lens shouldn’t be expected to finish especially high on the Ligue 1 table, though given their strong Ligue 2 season and their apparent intelligence in finding strong hidden gems in the offseason, I’m beginning to feel they’re set to avoid relegation back to Ligue 2. One decent season with Lens could do wonders for Fariñez’ stock in the transfer market. I believe that “decent” season is very much in the cards. I expect Fariñez to impress, especially in the context of a young keeper making his European debut, and I expect that Lens will manage to lock in Ligue 1 football for the 2021-22 season.

This move, one which almost happened a year ago, will prove a vital step in the career of one of the most important active Venezuelan footballers today. It will be the year that Wuilker Fariñez man stops existing only in the bubble of South American football writers and fans. It will be the year he joins the likes of Herrera, Rincón, Chancellor, Osorio, and Machís as ambassadors of Venezuelan quality in Europe. Folks, it’s going to be quite the year.

I might be wrong, but probably not.

My Kits – Venezuela (2015-2018)

With the beautiful game in a constant state of change, writing about football has been an interesting pass time over the course of 2020. While I usually aim for larger articles looking to investigate a story, I’ve also decided post the occasional blog post while I seek out other projects. The following is one of those blog posts.

My kit collection is small, at least compared to some you’ll find in the closets of other football writers, or even just other football fans. That being said, the small collection contains immense importance for me. Without a doubt, my Venezuela kit is the core of the collection. The top, featuring the wine-like color that gives the team its nickname of “la Vinotinto” and a neon yellow trim, is my only national team top of any sort. It was used, from what I can recall, from 2015 to 2018.

Salomón Rondón celebrates his goal against Uruguay in 2016. Photo courtesy of the Venezuelan National Team.

The top was my first football top ever, aside from a few I used playing as a kid. By the time I got it, I had seen it used to bring glory in the Copa América Centenario in 2016 and the 2017 U20 World Cup. I had seen Salomòn Rondón score off a crazy rebound to beat Uruguay, Sergio Córdova slide one past Mexico, and Samuel Sosa curl in a dream of a free kick in the U20 World Cup semi-finals. I began to wear it regularly on my college campus, taking good care of it and ensuring it avoided even the slightest stain.

In many ways, the top represents the birth of my love for la Vinotinto, which was utterly reforged from a slow burn into a raging fire over the course of 2016 and 2017. The shirt allowed me to wear my pride in a way I’d never really experienced, and while most people were unable to identify its origin upon meeting me, I enjoyed explaining the top and la Vinotinto to them every single time.

The top is unfortunately associated with Venezuela’s troubled campaign to qualify. for the 2018 World Cup, but I never let that stop me from loving it. I saw Venezuela make U20 history in this shirt. I saw my favorite players score in this shirt. I saw the top teams, both U20 and senior, fail to defeat this shirt.

The shirt is my only current Adidas top, though I’m sure that will eventually change. While the white stripes that came before this version of the kit were probably a better color combination, I found myself loving the silliness of the neon yellow (or perhaps neon green?) stripes and trim that adorn the top. There’s something utterly fun about, something senseless. It reminds me how senseless it is to support this national team that all too often is the underdog and all too often seems doomed to stay the underdog. I don’t mind the losses. I don’t mind the neon trim. It’s perfect. It’s my team.

Me wearing the top, under several layers, at a very snowy Minnesota United match.

Perhaps the point of this entry, my brief love letter to this kit, is to embrace tops that mean something to you on a deep level. You can buy a dozen fun designs, but the kit that warms your heart is always going to be your favorite. Don’t be afraid of your kit being low on clout, or lacking the stars of a century of victories, just buy the shirt that matters to you.

If there’s anything I can ask of the reader, it’s to post your own kit stories, whether that be on a post relating to this article or just on your own.

Venezuelans Abroad (of the Week) – November 18th – 24th

Yeferson Soteldo: Santos 4-1 Cruzeiro

Coming off of his first goal for la Vinotinto, Soteldo has continued an amazing form at Santos, scoring yet another goal this week. It’s his fifth goal in his last five league appearances.

The Venezuelan may be known best for his height, but his tricky feet are becoming a must for Santos, even earning the attention of Pelé himself.

Sergio Cordova: Augsburg 4-0 Hertha Berlin

It may have been a strong tap in after a teammate was tackled off the ball by Hertha’s keeper, but Cordova still grabbed a goal in his first start in months for Augsburg. The side would go on to win 4-0 to lift themselves out of the relegation zone.

Andres Ponce: Akhmat 2-1 Orenburg

Ponce scored a penalty and his third goal of the season to help Akhmat to a 2-1 win over Orenburg, a vital win as his side seek to escape relegation. Fellow Venezuelan Wilker Angel started the game as well and played the full 90 minutes while Ponce was subbed off in the 89th.

Entrusted Cleats – An Object Analysis Essay

Note: The following was an essay written for a college course that has since been placed here for archiving. It was required to be written without “to be” verbs.

The approximately two-inch gash that calls the left edge of this right footed Adidas Men’s Traxion Soccer Cleat home provides a hint to the trauma said cleat prevented for its owner, me.

The right foot of a pair of Adidas Men’s Traxion cleats

The shoe features the classic Adidas three stripes and a black and white pallet, though the white portions have become discolored. This reveals the shoe’s age, a handy down from an older brother. Despite these signs of age, the mostly black shoe shines well in the sunlight.

The gash formed close to a year before the writing of this paper, in an intramural soccer match at James S. Malosky Stadium. Playing as a central defender, I made a hard challenge on an attacking player and managed to get to the ball first. He made an attempt on the ball too, but instead found my foot. I wouldn’t notice until ten minutes later that my big toe felt numb and that my shoe felt strangely large, as if a size too wide.

While the outside of the shoe portrays a slick and smooth feel, the gash exposes a rougher interior that hides between the cocoon of the foot and the shining exterior which strikes the ball.

Memories are often stored within scars, for cleats as much as people. This shoe shows its work through the tanning of its white stripes and the damage to its side, reminding its owner that it made a sacrifice to save their foot. Note that its owner suffered a sprained foot, though some of this is surely due to the owner’s late realization of the situation. The shoe retains a meaning through both its sacrifice and the wound of its owner.

Despite the wound, the shoes still represents meaning and ability. The cleats on the bottom still clack when they hit a hard floor and still dig into the grass when they run across a pitch. The laces still pull in tight when tied up. The back of the shoe still hugs tight on the heel. While the sides of the upper foot feel strangely loose, most of the shoe feels good as new, or at least good as reused.

My Adidas Men’s Traxion soccer right-footed cleat represents the ability to sacrifice for a good cause and that even when battered, an item is not useless. I can feel my toes unusually surrounded by space when the right-footed cleat is on my foot. It’s a reminder of the shoe’s damage. It’s also a reminder of the damage it saved me from.

Someday this shoe might see repair, but until then, its sacrifice shall always bring a smile and sense of appreciation. My foot got better, my cleats didn’t. The cleats, however, ended up meaning more to me.