Essays from 116th Street

Self-therapy, since 2004...

Location: New York, New York

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Round of 16

The Champions League returned from a two-month hiatus on Tuesday, and its hype was much well-deserved. Two fantastic games were televised by ESPN2, who, if they were anything resembling intelligent, would scrap all of those ads for Quite Frankly with Stephen A. Smith in favor of promoting this wonderful event. The Champions League, for those of you who don't know, is an in-season tournament pitting the best of Europe's soccer clubs against each other to determine the continental champion. It is the pinnacle of the yearly soccer calendar, and Tuesday and Wednesday featured the first games in the round of 16 (the "sweet sixteen?").
On Tuesday, I got to view the under-manned former English powerhouse Arsenal take on the over-priced former Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid. "Los Galacticos" came out looking fairly uninspired, with the exception of the always-hard-working David Beckham and new kid Cicinho, who took turns overlapping and getting forward on the right side of the field. Robinho and Guti also showed some signs of life, but Real ultimately played disjointed in attack, and Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane couldn't get much going. Arsenal, meanwhile, had to be happy, considering that their injury-depleted defense was able to keep the Real superstars in check, and Thierry Henry, Frederick Ljungberg, Alexander Hleb and Jose Antonio Reyes were able to keep consistent pressure on the Spaniards. In the 47th minute, Henry scored a spectacular goal, racing through what looked like 17 Real defenders before finishing low and to the far side of net, and Arsenal's band of substitutes and teenagers held on to secure the 1-0 victory on enemy soil. Real should be ashamed of itself.
The main event was Wednesday, however, when assured English powerhouse Chelsea took on the certified Spanish powerhouse Barcelona at Stamford Bridge in London. Following a week of steady trash talk, the two sides played a hotly contested match, filled with fouls and profanities. One could argue that the match turned on Asier Del Horno's first-half red card, but that is simply not the case, as Chelsea came out attacking to begin the second half and took a one-goal lead. The real key to the match was the play of Lionel Messi, who dominated the Chelsea defense and eventually wore them down with his darting runs and world-class ball control. Messi is the 18-year-old Barca phenom, whom Ronaldinho has already declared the best player in the squad, even ahead of the Gaucho himself. The Champions League spotlight can turn a good player into a superstar, and last night, Messi looked like the best player on the planet, playing against A-list opposition on the world's biggest stage. Chelsea would have had their hands full with him with 11 men, which could be the reason why Del Horno tried to take him out. Barcelona's attacking prowress eventually won out, and they took the match 2-1 on the road. The return leg trash talk has already started, and March 7th can't come fast enough for me.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Super Contra

In an effort to gain a greater understanding of U.S. foreign policy, I picked up a copy of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater the other day. For those of you unfamiliar with the Metal Gear series, it is a series of video games dating back to the Nintendo Entertainment System and maintaining a fairly convoluted, continuous storyline throughout. Upon beating Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty a few years ago, I was shocked to learn that the President is merely a pawn and that the true rulers of the United States are, in fact a gaggle of shadowy figures known as "The Patriots." The game thrust me into a state of paranoia, making me view Tom Brady with suspicion and causing me to wonder if the CIA has a dossier on everyone who has beaten MGS2; if you beat the game, and found out the truth, wouldn't your life be in danger? Everyone assured me, however, that my safety was not in question, and also that playing a video game for 17 straight hours has the potential for screwing with your sense of reality, which is why I avoided MGS3 for so long. The game is at least a year old now, so I figured any key revelations wouldn't be so dangerous to me or my family, but alas, this game is set in the past! Now I'm going to end up learning secrets I wish I hadn't, like how a Russian colonel nuked his own people in an attempt to facilitate a nuclear war, only a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis. I don't want to know this stuff, but there's a world to save, I am a merciless killing machine, and I so clearly understand our foreign policy now; when the fate of humankind is on the line, send one man, armed with only a tranquilizer gun, into hostile territory to get the job done. Maybe Dolph Lundgren was a CIA agent after all! Have I already been playing this game too long?

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The One Where Z Talks About The Olympics

I keep trying to watch the Winter Olympics, and I keep failing miserably. Why is that? I keep looking at this stuff on TV, and I'm always telling Joe how cool this stuff is. These guys come off a halfpipe on their snowboards and do like 75 different flips in the air before landing, and it is honestly pretty cool! I'm down with skiing and snowboarding and ice hockey and all of that, so the problem can't be the actual games themselves.
Maybe my problem is with NBC. I just want to watch another skier go superfast down the slopes, but they keep interrupting me with a music video for each skier, in which I have to watch them talk about themselves and how they love their sister, or how they re-dedicated themselves to their sport, and all I ever get out of these things is that Winter Olympians always seem to have really bad haircuts. The snowboarders are even more annoying; they come off like a bunch of rich teenagers trying to use hip hop slang even though they're blond and from Aspen ("Yah, I just want to send big ups to Shaun Keegan, he's my homey we were kickin' it in Colorado Springs last year! He couldn't make it cuz he fell off that halfpipe and broke both of his legs in three places, so I'm bringin' this flava for him! One!"). What's even worse is that after every single run, these guys have to snowboard all the way into the camera, stick their faces practically into my living room and flash suburban gang signs. The flips are cool enough, you really don't have to inform me that you are a member of the Tahoe Crips, Hans.
I think my biggest problem, however, is the figure skating. I don't really have a problem with figure skating, it's just that NBC feels a constant urge to interrupt whatever cool $#!+ they're showing with some ice dancing, or pairs, or men's short program or whatever. I could be kickin' it with a cup of tea and some ginger snaps, and see some speed skating on, and I'll be like, "Oh $#!+!!! There's speed skating on!" I'll get all comfy, getting ready for some Apolo Ohno stuff, then, 5 minutes later, without even seeing a full race, they'll be like, "Now, let's go back to the studio, where Bob Costas is ready to take us to the pairs final!" What a thorough letdown. Now I have to see grown men wearing sequins do spins in the air while wearing tight pants, when I was all excited to watch speedsters with aerodynamic helmets try to take each other out on the short track.
I know one thing, though; it's not my patriotism that's the problem, not with the attention I have thrusted in the direction of the U.S. Men's Soccer team. They are not in the Olympics, nor are they even still qualifying for the World Cup; they are currently playing a schedule of international friendlies, tune up games for June. These games don't count for anything, but serve the purposes of filling out the last available roster spots for the World Cup, getting in some meaningful action between now and the summer, and (hopefully) establishing a positive atmosphere and winning continuity.
After pasting Norway 5-0 two weeks ago and beating Japan 3-2 on Friday, the Yanks have had plenty of positives to pull from their January friendlies. First, Eddie Pope, America's dominant defender of the past 7 or 8 years, is finally healthy again and playing like his old self. Age and injuries had looked to have finally done Eddie in, but he's back and playing very well, which provides a major plus going into the World Cup. The emergence of Todd Dunivant at left-back and erstwhile-rapper Clint Dempsey at right-midfield have given Coach Bruce Arena possible starters at need positions. Dunivant's ball-control and crossing skills have impressed, while Dempsey, after having been tried at a few positions in midfield, seems to have found his comfort zone on the right. His dangerous runs wide and to the middle have frustrated the defense, and the number of fouls he has drawn show it (but, umm, "Deuce?" you don't dance as good as you rap).
The most positive sign for the U.S., however, has to be the play of much-maligned striker Taylor Twellman. Twellman, the reigning MLS MVP, has had some mediocre outings for the National Team, and many wondered if he would ever realize his potential at the international level. But he has busted out of the gate in 2006, bagging a hat-trick against Norway and scoring one and setting up two versus Japan. If Twellman can keep this up, the U.S.' World Cup chances could get a lot better.
Up next for the USA is a Sunday friendly against Guatemala, and the debut of some sharp new uniforms. A clean bill of health for striker Eddie Johnson, as well as midfielder John O'Brien, and a few meaningful matches for Manchester United backup goalkeeper Tim Howard are also on the wish list as the U.S. gets ready for June. I, of course, will keep you updated, so long as they don't interrupt me for figure skating.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006


Some of you may be familiar with this site's slogan, "Where Malcolm Gladwell meets Malcolm-Jamal Warner!" I always thought that was kind of a catchy thing to say, mainly because of the whole "Malcolm" thing, but also partially because the writings of Malcolm Gladwell serve as inspiration to find new ways of looking at the world (Malcolm-Jamal Warner generally comes across as a fairly cool dude in his own right). The thing that might fascinate (those of you who have seen the slogan at the end of numerous emails from yours truly) is that, to the best of my knowledge, I had never mentioned either Malcolm on my site, until now. Guess what? Now you can't even go back to double-check, because I erased all of the archives! (Laughs maniacally)
What can I say? I've hated this blog lately. I hated the way it looked, couldn't stand the color tan, didn't want to compare my more recent posts with the earlier ones, hated the remnants of the short-lived "116street" experiment, and I wanted to start fresh. So I axed all of the posts up to "The Great Soccer FAQ" and got my HTML game up. Sorry if you wanted to go back and read about Afros in TV commercials, but I get to call the shots around here! Anyway, I hope you like the new blog, it probably won't be too much different from the old one, but I did add the "116street's Top 5 of the Moment" links on the top left, in case you might want to check out any of the stuff that I currently think is really, really good. Happy Not-Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

The Temp Agency Saga

We here on 116th street were pretty proud to get shouted out today on Deadspin, one of The Favorite Web Sites of 116th street, and the extra exposure made further "sportswriting" a tempting proposition, but I feel the need to keep it real...

I have been spending significant portions of my day hanging around temp agencies, in search of a job beyond that of my wildest imagination. My ongoing temp agency experience has been a fairly surreal experience; I went in initially expecting a straightforward job interview, but I was surprised to discover that they do things a little differently. The office was full of activity, and the receptionist was terrible. Not only did I not get a "May I help you?", there were like 3 different sign-in clipboards to choose from, and I had no assistance in picking out the right one for me. While I'm busy signing in, some guy gets in line behind me; no sooner does he come to a full stop behind me, than the receptionist looks at him and asks, "May I help you sir?" Sigh...
I sit down to fill out some paperwork, when I hear, from the room next door (which sounds like a trading floor), "Zachary Jackson," followed by a different voice saying, "Zachary Jackson?" and one more, for good measure: "Zachary Jackson." "Christ help me, they are talking about me, and loudly," I think to myself, wondering if my resume was horrible, or if my old company had flagged me or something, or any of the other paranoid thoughts you get when you hear your name coming from the next room.
I sat down to do the interview with my "agent," Courtney, and it was less of a job interview than ordering nuggets at Wendy's could be. There were tons of softballs lobbed, and I hit them all for doubles, and at the end she tried to hire me for herself. I told her I would think about it, shook her hand about three different times on the way out, and I bounced.
Today was more fun than usual, though, as I went to take a few tests. The first was a typing exam, and it seemed more like a commercial for WordPerfect than anything else. You were supposed to copy a text that read something like, "WordPerfect is a wonderful tool. It can end world hunger, unite the nations and help you finish your documents on time, etc..." The text was also full of spacing and punctuation errors, and I wasn't sure whether or not I was supposed to include them in my typing (maybe they were trying to see if I was paying attention), or type the way a nominally educated person would. In the end, I decided to make my 3rd-grade teacher, Claudia Albanese, proud by remaining gramatically correct. The following tests were all for Microsoft Office programs, and contained some very confusing instructions. The test was called "Prove It!", which I suppose was meant to be a confidence-inspiring title, but ultimately filled me with self-doubt (what am I supposed to prove? That East Harlem and Harlem are separate entities? That knowing how to "merge selected cells" solidifies my masculinity?). As I said, the instructions were confusing, as the test didn't really deign to using actual computer jargon, but instead said things like "change the selected cell to A3." I was looking at the screen and couldn't figure out what that meant for like 5 minutes, before I realized that they simply wanted me to select cell A3.
Anyway, when the test was over, my agent was busy in a meeting, so the horrible secretary called me, saying, "Zachary? You can go... (she motioned her hand in a push-away gesture) You can just go. You can call Courtney, later." So that's it, no score, no percentile, nothing, I can just... go. I feel so loved. Hey, Dan Courtemanche, MLS Senior VP for Marketing and Communications, if you read my "expert" opinion on Deadspin and liked my "Great Soccer FAQ," I'm available!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

The Great Soccer FAQ, Part III

Okay, so I read Part I and Part II, and now I want to watch some soccer games. Where can I catch them?
If you live in the United Kingdom (and I know that a great percentage of my readership does), then I have no clue where to tell you to look. For those of you who live in the land of oil addiction, however, I can tell you exactly where to go. ABC Sports and ESPN share duties broadcasting U.S. National Team and MLS matches, but they don't advertise these games very heavily, so you'll have to check your listings to find out when they will broadcast them. The Disney sports empire will also be broadcasting every game of the 2006 World Cup live. In addition, ESPN2 shows Champions' League games, although they don't advertise this in any way, shape or form, so your best bet is to check out the schedule, figure out which days are match days, and hope that a game will be on either Tuesday or Wednesdays at 2:30 pm. If you have ESPN Deportes (my cable provider doesn't offer it), you can get much more Champions' League, plus some other European action, but expect a lot of re-run matches. Telemundo and Univision show plenty of Mexican league action, as well as some international matches (you can occasionally get really lucky and catch a Brazil match). Telemundo will also carry Spanish-language rights to the World Cup.
Those of you with Gol TV, you're the lucky ones, with access to tons of Spanish La Liga and Italian Serie A matches. You're also few and far between, as the channel is not carried by many operators. This, of course, brings me to the king of soccer broadcasting, Fox Soccer Channel. With FSC, you'll get enough English Premier League to make you want to watch Ted Nugent kill things on OLN, not to mention French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A (well, they show really crappy Serie A games that you'll never want to watch, but they do show them), Copa Libertadores, World Cup qualifying, and, of course, MLS.

With all of these other games available, is MLS even worth watching?
That's a good question. In my opinion, it is. I saw a match on ESPN2 last season between the Los Angeles Galaxy and the San Jose Earthquakes that, while perhaps not having the status of a Liverpool-Chelsea trash-talk war, was a fairly exciting game, nonetheless. Furthermore, I'd rather watch a D.C. United vs. New England Revolution clash than the crappy Cagliari vs. Lecce match FSC keeps trying to promote (seemingly) every week.
The talent level of MLS teams has been a debateable topic; D.C. United put up a surpisingly competitive showing against English champions Chelsea in July, but both the L.A. Galaxy, and, especially, a hastily-thrown-together team of MLS "all stars" were put through a clinic against Real Madrid.
The league remains a work-in-progress, and has shown positive signs of growth; on intrigue alone, MLS is worth following (of course, selling to the massive Spanish population of Utah by naming a team "Real Salt Lake" is a little bit silly, but to make an omellette you have to break a few eggs, no?).

So where can I go on the Web to keep up on everything that's going on?
If you're new to the world of soccer, ESPN Soccernet is the best place to look (make sure you select the "UK/Europe" option, when prompted). The site focuses way too much on the English game, but it is very informative, and it also has a pretty comprehensive U.S. Soccer section. Sports Illustrated's soccer section doesn't contain nearly as much information, but it does have a much more global perspective, and the columnists are outstanding. Fox Sports has a pretty basic format, but has a decent amount of info, some great photo galleries and a very good U.S. section, headlined by razor-sharp columnist Jamie Trecker.
These three sites will keep you informed of everything that's going on, but if you want to be truly fanatical about following the game, you'll have to step it up a notch. gives you a window to the European game, but the real benefit of this site is the terrific player profiles, each with a scouting report describing each player's game. You can also watch Champions' League action from the site, but it'll cost you a subscription fee.
If you want a more of a fan's perspective, check out This site has lots of talkback, and has a more informal approach to covering the game. You can find out a lot of info about your favorite team here, but tread lightly, as many rumors are reported as fact here.
After all of this information, you should know more than enough about the game to impress your friends, as well as talk your way into a few free pints the next time you're in the UK. But for those of you who are feeling especially masochistic, check out, a massive online community of serious soccer geeks. Here, you will find fans of anything and everything soccer-related going into in-depth discussions, such as why Lionel Messi should start for Barcelona over Ludovic Giuly, why Winning Eleven is better than FIFA 06 (or vice versa), or whether or not Freddy Adu is really going to make the U.S. World Cup roster.

So that's all I need to know to become a soccer expert?
That's all I'm willing to tell. Oh yeah, word on the street is that Nevada Smith's is the place to go in NYC to watch soccer games, but I've never been, so don't take my word for it...

Oh yeah, I did promise Zidane vs. Ronaldinho, so prepare for your jaw to drop...