#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

#BuckFiftyADay Since March, 2014

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Tell me, over and over and over again, my friend

Can the Galaxy do this three times in row?
I still hear the question all the time...incredibly.

"What's it going to take for Major League Soccer to make it?" I heard it in 1996, when I left my job covering the Yankees for the New York Daily News to work for the MetroStars. I heard it when I went to ESPN The Magazine, every year when we planned our league preview, as it were. I heard it when I walked through the door at the Star-Ledger and made small talk with a few folks.

My stock answer has always been, "It needs to hang around until people stop asking that question."

It's almost there.

I don't want to waste any more energy on the topic because I find it rather lame, because the second part of my stock answer was always, "More is that people who love soccer love MLS."

I love soccer, and I love MLS. And I'm not alone. Saturday night, the league will kick off its 18th season. We'll see if the Galaxy, minus one sex symbol and (momentarily) minus one soul-searcher, can become the first team in league history to win three consecutive MLS Cups.

Bruce Arena nearly pulled off that feat straight out of the gate, winning with DC United in '96 and '97 only to be upset at the Rose Bowl in '98 by the first-year Chicago Fire. Dominic Kinnear and the Houston Dynamo won back-to-back Cups in '06 and '07 and, well, it's hard to fathom, given Kinnear's success, that Houston hasn't won another title since then.

It's hard for me to root for Red Bull, but easy to root for Petke
The league has certainly evolved over time, which is a credit to the investors and the executive administrators. They haven't been afraid to tweak the system a few times, and we have every reason they'll continue to make adjustments as the league turns the corner into it's third decade.

One thing you know has to be gnawing at them is the continued failure of the New York team to get over the hump, both on the field and at the gate. I must admit, I walked out of Giants Stadium eight seasons ago, with the fans calling for my brother's head, and I've rooted against them ever since. As we enter the 2013 season, I feel my anti-NYRB stance softening just a bit, because Mike Petke, their new coach, is such a likeable guy, and I'd like to see a local kid succeed. I'd also like to see fewer empty seats at the Red Bull Arena, the beautiful stadium that rose out of New Jersey wasteland.

I don't root much anymore, truth be told. Just as in baseball, I've dropped allegiances to teams and players to root for good stories, this holds true now in soccer. So, I'll root for teams that put goals on the board, like Frank Yallop's San Jose Earthquakes, who scored 72 a year ago. I'll root for the teams who have the most passionate fans, like Seattle and Portland, because I like to see dedication rewarded. I'll root for American players, not because I'm anti-anybody, but because it's always good to see players who might some day represent the U.S. stepping up and producing.

My biggest challenge now is to convince my two teenage sons to get on board. Both play soccer. Both love soccer. But both have gravitated to the English Premier League. They play in a fantasy league. They turn on the games as soon as they get up on Saturday morning. They have closets full of shirts (Spurs, City, Villa and more), but only have their cousin's old MetroStars jerseys in their MLS collection. Major League Soccer hasn't grabbed them the way the EPL has. We need to work on that.

Like the "What it going to take for MLS to make it?" question, there are many other questions that haven't gone away in the league's first 17 years. Questions about "quality of play" are always thrown around, as if there's some metric to tell you where the league stands compared to others.

The debate is all well and good, but there's no answer to the quality of play question. On any  given night, you can turn on a game that is phenomenal. The next night you might turn on a game that has you muttering that the game was just set back 17 years in 90 minutes. This is also true of every other league in the world. I've sat through my share of stinkers in countries other than my own.

But it's the great games that bring you back. I've seen enough of those over the last 17 years to be as excited as ever that another season of MLS is upon us. I stopped asking the questions a long time ago. If you love soccer, I suggest you might want to do the same. It's a waste of energy.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Don't know much, but I do know what I know

Tab Ramos' U20s  play Canada tonight in a WC Qualifier
Did I ever tell you I was a soccer player and a soccer coach?

A high school player, and a youth soccer coach. In other words, I'm far from an expert when it comes to the game. Then again, I don't consider myself an expert in any of the sports I cover.

I prefer to be an interrogator. When I want to know more about the games I cover, I go to those who've been on the sidelines, and on the field, and ask them about it. Now, before Grant Wahl jumps ugly on me, I also like to read up on things, and there are a lot of great writers (Grant included) who do an excellent job analyzing the game. However, if I were to choose a story (or a book) that is going to teach me about the game, I'm going with the one heaviest in interviews.

That's my preference, and I'm sticking with it.

Just to go off on a tangent for a second, one of the things that's bugged me in baseball the last decade is when I have to call an agent and he begins to tell me how great his client is, and expects me to quote him in my stories. Uh, Mr. Boras, you're his agent. You're paid handsomely to make your client sound terrific. I have scouts and such around the country who can tell me how great he is, thank you.

Anyway, how's that for an entry point into tonight's Under-20 World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Canada? I'm here today to analyze the game as a former high school player and youth coach.

Because, with my background, I don't care about the formation, tactics or "style."

What I care about is how the U.S. team under Tab Ramos competes in an elimination game. I've watched the first two games. I saw team outplayed pretty badly by Haiti, in a game it won 2-1, and I saw a team that looked very slow and methodical in a 1-0 win over Costa Rica.

What has been lacking from my pedestrian point of view is the urgency to attack. Seems the mantra now in U.S. soccer is for "improved possession" but at some point, don't we want to see a team that gets after the opponent when it has the ball? Again, I'm no expert, just an observer. I've watched the U.S. U-20s play 180 minutes and the chances they've created have been few and far between.

What I do know as a former high school player and youth coach is that it's a lot harder to play "nice soccer" against teams that don't allow you to play nice. I remember as a player, taking the field with every intention to pass the ball around and possess the ball, but coming up against teams that were faster and more aggressive than us, or better with the ball than us. And, at that point, it was "let's compete." As a coach, I've seen my little guys look like Spain against lousy competition. And then when we play a team three levels better, the parents typically comment, "We didn't pass the ball today like we did in the last game." Well, no joke, Mom. The other team wouldn't allow it.

I can't figure out if the U.S. simply wasn't good enough to look good against Haiti or Costa Rica, or if Haiti and Costa Rica just did a good job of making the U.S. look jittery.

Two wins in two games. Can't be too critical. And, of course, it's a youth tournament. So, I understand the ultimate goal for Ramos is to develop players for the next level.

But is it crazy for me to think that part of the evaluation process now - tonight - has to be observing how these young men play in an elimination game? Are they focused? Ultra-competitive?

That's what I'll be observing tonight.

Monday, February 25, 2013

No scandal, just a lot of fixing

Let the record show, that I'm one of those guys who's been proposing ways to "fix" Major League Soccer since, oh, 1998. I think I've done it in a loving, kind way. But I've been one of those guys.

For a first look, this was pretty awful

It was in 1998 that I went from working for the MetroStars (I was that club's original PR director) to working for ESPN The Magazine. My two years with the MetroStars were pretty frustrating, mostly because we were short-staffed and overworked and we played in Giants Stadium. And, I spent the better part of my days with the club trying to convince people to cover us.

It was humorous, at times. At least it was humorous in the rearview mirror. I remember a reporter from El Diario (the New York Spanish-language daily) telling me the paper wanted to travel with us. I was thrilled, until I found out that the reporter thought we'd pick up his travel expenses.

I remember papers assigning older desk guys to our team. They'd call the day before a game and ask if I could gather some quotes for them for their previews. I'd say, "How about I get you Tab Ramos or Tony Meola or Peter Vermes on the phone and you can ask the questions?"

The usual reply was, "No, you can just get me a few quotes."

I was a journalist, well, at least at the time I was a former journalist, and it infuriated me.

I remember we traveled to Kansas City in 1996 for a game with playoff implications. Tab got a red card when he raced the length of the field to get in the ref's face. We lost the game and the team was rightly livid with Tab, who stood in the lockerroom after the game, ready to fall on his own sword before the press. Tab was ready, willing and able to take the blame for what he'd done.

The problem was the one writer assigned to cover the team did not bother to talk to him. In the airport, I couldn't help myself. I called the editor of the paper and asked, "Did your writer talk to Tab? Because that's kind of the story tonight." When the editor said, "No, I don't see any quotes from Tab."

I told the editor that it wasn't too late, that I was at the airport with the writer and would arrange an airport terminal interview. I told Tab to go talk to the writer, which Tab did. I think the writer was actually mad at me, because he had to re-write his story. Or at least he had to add quotes to it.

So when I went to The Mag, I basically took it upon myself to cover the league the way I felt it needed to be covered, replete with rumors and lockerroom buzz and controversy. I did it on-line, in a weekly column (they had not yet come up with the word "blog") called "The Boot Room."

I made friends and enemies around the league. I even got into a few pretty good fights with my brother (he once interrupted a round of golf to yell at me about writing that his goalkeeper Jonny Walker had "made a meal out of" a foul).

I thought Jonny was faking
It was a labor of love, The Boot Room, and it led to some brief work on television as the John Clayton/Peter Gammons-esque guy on something called "MLS Extra Time.'

I was brutal on television, oh well. I think the hardcore fans liked it. That was my first attempt to "fix" MLS. Later on, at the Mag, I called for the entire league to re-brand. Going back to my days with the MetroStars, I felt MLS got it wrong to start, with goofy uniforms and even goofier team names and logos/badges/etc. I actually remember getting into pretty loud arguments with folks at the MetroStars.

"You get the chance to create something iconic, like the Yankees interlocking 'NY' and we come up with this (the original MetroStars crest)?" I was told it was "cool" basically because Nike had designed it. Now, I love Nike as much as the next guy. But let the record snow that none of the original Nike-inspired MLS logos from 1996 are still around. None. Of course, adidas outfits the whole league now, but that's beside the point.

I've also criticized the league's playoff various playoff formats. I've argued not for things like single-table or promotion-relegation, but simply for making the regular season conference championships put a team on the cusp of playing in MLS Cup. I basically want the winners of the regular season conference championships to host a one-game semifinal. Follow me?

So, I've been that guy. However, there's a "but..."
Don't get me started

I've been that guy, but I've always been critical of MLS because I love the league and everything about it. And, truth be told, in the 16 years that have gone by since I walked away from the MetroStars, MLS has done things more incredible than I would have ever thought possible. The stadiums, the fans, the sights and sounds of MLS games, have come a long way.

I've never bashed the "level of play" because I don't consider myself "expert enough" to criticize things like the level of play. I mean, I watch as much English Premier League, Bundesliga, Serie A and La Liga as the next guy, and I see great games and I see crap games. How's that for analysis?

But MLS, as much as I've tried to "fix" it, is my league. Even the last two years, as I was pushed back into baseball full-time, I'm always sitting down with my coffee in the morning to watch the highlight packages. On the nights when I wasn't working at a ballpark, I was often watching MLS games.

Oh yeah, did I mention that a lot of reporters are getting after it these days? From the guys who've been there since the beginning like Michael Lewis and Steven Goff, to a cast of young and hungry reporters who are bringing it on a daily (even hourly) basis. Makes my heart feel good.

The 18th season of MLS starts this weekend.

Obviously, I realize at this point the league doesn't need much fixing. Just don't hate me for trying.

It's kind of who I am.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Finding Landon Donovan

In this moment, the world belonged to Donovan
It's been a long time since I weighed in on anything in American soccer.

You can go back to an old post where I explained it all. When my brother was named coach of the U.S. national team back in 2007, I told my bosses at ESPN The Magazine that I had to leave the beat I'd worked since 1998. I did not feel I could be impartial any longer. I also did not think it would have been right to be poking my nose inside the locker room my brother was trying to command.

When I look at all the conflicts-of-interest in place at the Worldwide Leader, sometimes I wonder if what I did was necessary. I've heard Jeff Van Gundy commenting on his brother's work. Dick Vitale may not be brothers with any of the college basketball coaches he covers, but he has let it be known over a long and profitable career that there are certain guys he won't criticize.

I know what I did was the right thing. But I do wonder if it was necessary.

Which brings me to this blog post, where I will jump back in on American soccer, and offer up my thoughts on Landon Donovan, who, as we all know, is on a sabbatical from soccer.

Back in 2006, before the World Cup in Germany, I wrote about Landon for ESPN The Magazine. He met me at a sushi place in his neighborhood in Southern California and we chatted. When the dinner/interview was over, I could not help but feel I'd just spent time with the most honest, open athlete I had ever met in two decades in the sportswriting business. He had no problems talking about himself -- something that makes many athletes uneasy -- at length, not just talking about his strengths (he said he believed he was one of the best players in the world), but also his weaknesses (he talked about problems he had with his dad). Mostly, he talked about his overall need to be happy.

Bruce Arena, then the national team coach, backed him up, saying, "I like Landon when he's happy. Because that's when he plays his best soccer."

Just to back up a second. When Landon was 16, I met him down in Florida and wrote a short piece about him for The Mag. He was headed to Bayer Leverkusen and being called "The American Michael Owen." He was painfully shy during that interview. He was a kid. So, to see his evolution into manhood that night in So. Cal was a cool moment for a middle-aged sportswriter and dad.

It was easy to see Landon was a really good person.

I wrote my story, turned it in, and got blasted by my boss. Apparently, he'd been reading the wonderful soccer message boards, or had been clued-in to them, I don't know, but he was all over the "Landon is a pussy" theme and wondered why I didn't go hard after that angle. Any American soccer fans knows the "Landon is a pussy theme." He didn't like it in Germany, settled in MLS, tried to go back to Germany and didn't like it all over again. My boss heard about "Landycakes" and was miffed that I did not take him to task for all the accusations being made by anonymous soccer fans.

My defense was that Landon, to that point, had never let the US national team down in any way. He had been brilliant in the 2002 World Cup. He had played very well during qualifying for 2006. I also pointed out that he was an attacking player and attacking players needed to attack. I argued that maybe it was better that our best attacking player play on a team where he is the one who is expected to create chances and score goals and that, perhaps, in Germany he'd be lower on the totem pole and would not have the chance to develop those skills properly. That was my defense.

Then came the '06 World Cup, and things did not go well for Donovan. He did not set up any goals for a U.S. team that lost two games and tied one (impressively vs. Italy, the eventual champions).

In true Donovan form, he shared his inner feelings about his performance, that he didn't play with confidence, that he didn't play as aggressively as he should have.

When I got home from the World Cup, my boss all but jabbed a finger in my chest, pointing out how I'd botched the Donovan piece. At that point, I had no defense. The proof was in his performance.

I guess.

So, let's get this tale back to the present. As you know, Donovan got things right in the 2010. Even in the eyes of his most severe critics, he got things right. He did his usual great things for the LA Galaxy, but also went to Everton on loan and played well. At the World Cup, he rescued the US twice during group play, scoring a critical goal in the come-from-behind draw with Slovenia and the last-gasp winner against Algeria, which got the U.S. into the second round.

He cried on camera and told his soon-to-be-ex-wife he loved her. All vintage Donovan. All part of the package American fans had come to know, to love and hate, since he became a part of the team.

But as the U.S. left South Africa after falling, 2-1, in extra time to Ghana, I could not help but feel that the next US coach, be it my brother or somebody else, was going to have his hands full trying to get another World Cup cycle out of the greatest attacking player our country has ever produced.

I just sensed that all the emotional stuff was taking its toll. Some athletes bear the burden of expectations better than others. I've covered Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter for many years and the thing that's always struck me is how in the most trying times his eyes seem the brightest. It's like Jeter truly believes the big games, the big pressure, the bright spotlight is actually...the most fun.

Is this true? How do I know? Jeter is the anti-Donovan. He rarely lets anyone inside his head. All I go by is the look on his face. I've never seen Jeter look down, or glum, or tired on the biggest stages.

I think we've all seen the wear and tear on Donovan.

And so last night, Donovan spoke to students at USC and he spoke about so many things...and one of the students (@xman818) chronicled it all on Twitter.

Donovan spoke about how soccer is a very small part of who he really is. He spoke about overcoming some of the problems he had with his dad. He spoke about things that broke up his marriage. He spoke about how he cares only about being a good person and is going to Cambodia in 10 days to do something that's not religious, but sounded kind of spiritual.

Every single word out of his mouth was real, and admirable. I hate ever making character judgments on any athletes I write about, but I do believe Landon Donovan is, in fact, a really good person.

Now, how about the soccer part?

Understand, first of all, like Donovan, most soccer players would tell you that the game is not the most important thing in their life. This is not only sound thinking, this is logical and healthy.

Soccer is, after all, just a game.

However, what our soccer-obsessed side needs to keep an eye on is this:

When Donovan puts his soccer shoes back on in late March, will he be able to make the game the most important part of his life. Not the most important part of his life 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. But the most important part of his life when he's actually playing soccer, or practicing soccer, or being a teammate in the locker room. This is called "focus" and it is required of all athletes. Talk to any sports psychologist and he'll talk about looking through the smallest window. Eliminate all the distractions and lock-in on something small. It's a challenge. A freaking huge challenge.

No one should begrudge Landon for being Landon. In fact, at this point, given what Donovan's produced for U.S. Soccer for the last dozen years, we should love and respect the person he is.

My former boss who hammered me for not going with the "Landon is a pussy" theme back before the 2006 World Cup...dude was wrong then and he's even more wrong today. He's proved his toughness.

But if Landon Donovan still has more to give to the US national team once this sabbatical is over, he's going to have to prove it all over again. Not to us, the public, but to his teammates. If he's distracted, they'll notice. If he's not all-in when he returns (and he will return), it won't sit well.

That's my guess.  Just me weighing in, for the first time in a while.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

I Can't Help Falling (Back) in Love with You...

My Ledger column was a lifesaver
Time to ramble.

Tomorrow marks three weeks since I got laid off by the Star-Ledger. It's cliche to say it, but I truly believe things happen for a reason. Especially this thing.

First, it's got to be said, the Ledger saved me. In May of 2011, knowing my days at ESPN The Magazine were numbered, the Ledger threw me a life line, making me their baseball columnist.

What I learned in my two seasons back on the everyday baseball beat is just how much things changed in the 16 years I was working on features across all sports at ESPN. I have so much respect for the amount of work the daily guys churn out on a day-to-day basis.

Actually, change that.

I have so much respect for the amount of work the daily guys churn out on a minute-to-minute basis. You don't show up at the ballpark at 2:30 anymore just to prep. You show up to begin tweeting, blogging, taking cellphone camera photos. It's all good. It just wasn't for me.

And I know this will get me ridiculed, but the way baseball writers are expected to write about the game has changed so much. Basically, if you can't back up something somebody said, or something you observed, with a telling statistic, you're setting yourself up to get skewered.

There's a whole legion of folks out there now who are in the business of "debunking." I saw this at The Mag. Get a quote from Red Sox batting coach Dave Magadan about Dustin Pedroia's uncanny knack for putting the barrel of the bat on the ball and someone's got a stat to tell you he's only average at that. Heaven forbid you write that someone hits in the clutch.

Personally, I don't buy all of it.

I remember as a young writer sitting down to talk to Bob Boone, then a veteran catcher, about things he observed behind the plate. He didn't care about a guy's average with runners in scoring position. He talked about things he'd seen the day before, or the at bat before, that told him how to attack a hitter, or whether it was a good time to pitch around a guy.

"Writing about leadership is lazy," I was told.
Write the word "intangibles" into a story now and a whole slew of folks will ridicule you. Leadership? I was told this past season I was "lazy" for ever using the word. When I produced a story I'd written on Jason Varitek after the 2004 season, full of observations from teammates about Varitek's influence on the Sox, I was told, "so, he's a hard worker, you can't prove leadership."

Over the last two seasons, I had more than a few heart to heart conversations with Bob Klapisch, an old teammate from the New York Daily News who now writes a baseball column for the Bergen Record and for Fox Sports. I consider Klap among the best baseball writers of all-time (and a future Hall of Famer) because of his understanding for the game's nuances and subtleties, but also for the respect he gets from players, coaches and managers, who can easily see he's more than just a guy who pores through pages of stats.

"The game is an art, not a science, Bradman," Klap would say to me. "We can't forget that."

I'm not stat averse, but I prefer my advanced baseball metrics to be served in charts and graphs rather than sentences and paragraphs. Stories driven by stats remind me of the reading comprehension segment of the SAT, where I always felt the author's sole mission was to bore me to death.

 During my three weeks out of work, I've found myself searching the SI Vault for stories written by Peter Gammons, Steve Wulf and Tom Verducci. Love stories, if you will. For these were the stories that made me love the game of baseball even more.

My Rawlings XPG3 here was passed on to a Gold Glover
I remember when the leadership at ESPN The Mag started throwing the word "wonk" around. As in, "How about we do a more 'wonkish' take on this..." I had to look it up in the Urban Dictionary. (1) Noun - An expert in a field, typically someone who is fairly young and very intelligent. 

I knew I was no wonk. If there's a market for wonkish debunking, that's fine. I'm not going to be a regular consumer.

Tyler trusts the pocket of his Wilson A2000
I just hope there's still a market for baseball romance. Because that's what I read. I still believe in "clutch" and "intangible" as much as I still believe in batting average, RBI and...gasp...wins.

Which brings me back to the "everything happens for a reason" cliche.

In the aftermath of my layoff, my friend Paul Cunningham of Leather Head Sports reached out to me. Paul grew up in Cooperstown, N.Y, and is a hopeless baseball romantic, like me. Paul's passion is for leather-made sporting goods. Our friendship evolved over a mutual fascination with baseball gloves.

I broke in a few gloves for Beau, my defensive wizard
Both of us were "sorta" college baseball players. Paul played at Drew University. I played on the JV team at North Carolina. Paul told me he always played under the (wrong) assumption that he was the perfect glove away from getting drafted. I always had the best gloves, thanks to my brother, and earned my varsity respect at UNC for my ability to break-in gloves. My absolute best work occurred when I helped a future Gold Glove winner in Walt Weiss by donating my Rawlings XPG3 to him when we were both freshman and he was having backhand issues with his Wilson A2000.

It doesn't get any more romantic in sports than a baseball glove, does it? The smell of the leather. The way the perfect glove earns your undying trust. Just put it out there and the ball will stick.

Paul and I are going to launch a line of baseball gloves under his Leather Head brand. It's going to be a lot of hard work, fueled by passion. Fueled by baseball romance. There's going to be trial and error. But we're going to make some incredibly sweet gloves, and I'm going to be calling on so many people who helped me learn the game over the last 40-plus years. Old teammates, coaches, dads who've sat in the stands the last decade with me watching our sons play ball.

Now, I'm sure you could throw a stat sheet at me that will tell me we have no chance to succeed. Give it to me and I'll throw it right in the trash. I'm going to believe baseball is an art, not a science.

And I don't think there's a wonk out there who can teach me a thing about baseball gloves, about what makes a good pocket or what makes a web double play friendly.

Paul and I know this stuff.

I'm not going to stop writing (as you can see above, I still like to tap on a keyboard, and I'm going to look to dive back into writing about soccer in the near future), but I'm going to try something new, with something I love. And I'm going to lean hard on "things happen for a reason."

And trust my intangibles.

Also, check out...

The Wall Street Journal thinks Leather Head may have invented "The Perfect Football"

How to make a Leather Head Football by Paul Cunningham

Friday, February 1, 2013

First a brother

Portraits of some of the Al-Ahly fans who were killed in Port Said
One year ago today, in the city of Port Said, Egypt, 74 young men were killed in a riot following a soccer match...

I will write this post in sentences rather than paragraphs as a way of forcing myself not to dive too deep into the subject matter, so forgive me if I jump around a bit.

My level of understanding is lacking, even though I've done a lot of reading (including this powerful piece Murder in Port Said by Adam Moustafa)

I do know this was not the typical "soccer riot" that gets played on American news channels.

It had little if anything to do with sport.

When I saw the footage on television, and heard about he death toll, obviously, my thoughts immediately turned to my brother Bob, who is the coach of Egypt's national team.

One of the teams playing in Port Said was Al-Ahly.

Many of Egypt's national team players play for Ahly.

I figured there was a good chance that Bob and his staff were in Port Said to evaluate players.

Thankfully, they were not.

Still, so much changed for my brother on that day.

I'm not even talking about the things that affected Bob's ability to coach Egypt and fulfill his mission to get the Pharaohs to the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

I'm talking about the way his life changed.

Throughout my life, Bob (I call him "Rob") has been my counselor, in good times and bad.

Now, it was like he had become a brother to many people.
This is where my brother is happiest, on the field with his team

A brother to his players and his staff.

A brother to the family members who lost loved ones.

He was just being himself.

This I know.

A year later, so much has happened in Egypt.

Very little has happened on the soccer field.

His decision to go to Egypt was all about trying to become a better coach.

He wanted the the challenge of learning about Egypt's players.

He looked forward to making them a better team.

These goals haven't changed, but his course has been altered.

He could have left.

He stayed.

He's not making excuses.

The most powerful thing I've heard him say, about coaching Egypt in the aftermath of Port Said was, "What we've said to the team in the last few months, on different occasions, is just keep in mind, when we get on the field, the ref's going to blow the whistle and there's going to be 90 minutes. And during that 90 minutes, nothing that's gone on during this whole period matters. People can speculate. People can make excuses. People can throw blame. But during that 90 minutes, it's on us."

Really, it's on him.

The soccer part, anyway.

It will end in victory.

Or defeat.

Like all games.

There will be jubilation or sorrow.

There will be praise or criticism.

Hopefully, regardless of the results on the field, the people of Egypt, including those who lost loved ones one year ago today, will feel like they gained a brother.

Recommended reading:

Wayne Drehs of ESPN.com, on Egyptian icon Mohamed Aboutrika

And Drehs, again, on Soccer in the Storm

Aaron Ross of Rolling Stone on The Quiet American

James Montague for for the New York Times on Egypt's first World Cup Qualifier  

And another documentary in the making.

We the Pharaohs by former Princeton player Jeffrey Plunkett