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Monday Update: 8/22/2022
Regarding The Soccer Diaries, Dr. Katz, and The Spoon Race
I am starting work back up this week and spent much of last week preparing to go back to work this week, so I’m in-between things in a lot of ways. This is the case with the first work I’d like to discuss this week, Michael Agovino’s book The Soccer Diaries
Agovino’s essay collection covers, from a fan and a writer’s perspective, what I consider to be the most interesting era of American soccer, beginning in his youth in the early 1980s, right at the end of the NASL days, growing through the 1980s and early 1990s up to the World Cup and the formation of Major League Soccer, and… well I’m only through the second part of three (He calls the 1982-1993 “The Dark Ages” and 1994-2003 “The Renaissance”, and the next decade he’s entitled “The Enlightenmnent” but I haven’t read that part yet). My story with soccer in the United States began in 2006, right as MLS started to dig itself out of the valley it fell into during the early 2000s. Agovino’s experience learning about soccer as an American growing up in the 1980s in particular fascinated me as someone who had the learning tools of the internet and digital cable and FIFA. It seems like so much work back then to go through for it in those days, learning from VHS tapes he ordered out of catalogs and watching World Cup games on tape-delay with Italian commentary and subscribing to magazines, only seeing it in-person during summer friendly tours… It’s definitely made me appreciate what I’ve had having been born twenty years after Agovino was. And yet, still… Might he have appreciated what he had more than I do because he had to strive so hard to get it? Might he have clung more tightly to it? Every documentary he had on VHS tape that he describes watching over and over again I’ve probably had access to for free on YouTube or otherwise and I’ve never even tried to see them. He describes in an early chapter how he’d pour over a program magazine he bought at the first match he attended in the early 1980s for hours as a child, taking every little factoid to heart. I’ve never had to do that, I had Wikipedia for all of that, which has been more convenient but I don’t have many factoids I’ve taken to heart the way that he does.
I wonder if that convenience has made me less appreciative of what I’ve had. There’s not much I can do about that other than to try as hard as I can to appreciate everything I have, but I find it interesting how much he went without as a child and how he still had that love develop.
I compare this book to another one, Nathan Nipper’s Dallas Til I Cry: Learning to Love Major League Soccer, more directly a soccer fan narrative, while Agovino carries both the role of a fan and at points a journalist in this book. Both of these have been instructive as I’ve started working on the new Football Hell for 2022 (First entry coming up by the end of the week). I like fan narratives generally, there aren’t that many of them that I’ve come across, but the supporters are a significant aspect of the whole experience of sports and if written well they can be as interesting as anything else in the sports world, I’d say I’m looking for more to read but I’m stopping myself from purchasing any new books until I’m at least like 2/3rds of the way through the pile of something like 20 unread books I have on my kitchen counter right now, most of which I discovered from my childhood bedroom as my parents moved this summer.
In the past few years I’ve unintentionally made it my primary character trait that I have not seen big television shows that everybody’s talking about. I promise I don’t do that out of a desire to be above it all, I’m really just genuinely disinterested in those shows and relatively stingy with what streaming services I pay for (I have Peacock now, though, for the sake of watching the meteoric rise of Major Leeds Soccer over in England). Somehow a clip of Bob Odenkirk on Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist found its way to my Tumblr feed, which prompted me to look up where to watch the show, which resulted in me finding YouTube uploads of the show’s entire run.
The real problem that I have is that I have relatively boring tastes in visual media (i.e. television and film) all things considered. I am more than entertained by works about people talking to one another. One of my top five favorite movies is just a man sitting at a table talking at the camera, another in the top ten is a movie about a man named Melvin who goes to dinner. I am perfectly entertained by conversation, I might say primarily entertained by conversation – I might just enjoy plays, now that I think of it…
I digress – Dr. Katz is an excellent show, the conceit (at least of the first season it seems) is that it’s a vehicle for 1990s comedians to perform stand up comedy to a therapist, which works so well, and as an added bonus it’s showing me quite a bit of the material of late 1990s stand-up comedians. The vignettes between the therapy session scenes featuring H. Jon Benjamin as Katz’s son create excellent father/son dialogue, the sort of humorous mundanity to which I’m always drawn.
The show also really lends itself to being distributed in a 12-hour long YouTube video, the episodes (though all self-contained) blend into one another very well, I could imagine one day spending all day cleaning my house with this 12-hour long compilation on my TV screen all day, sort of zoning in and out of the show, picking up on patients that I recognize, remembering certain scenes and bits, then leaving and coming back to it still going on… I know that’s not how the creators imagined it (There was no medium at the time that could’ve shown a video for 12 hours straight uninterrupted save for linear television, which would’ve cut the episodes up with commercials) but it’d work for that. A show like this nowadays might just be distributed as a podcast (Indeed, Jonathan Katz created a few episodes for the Audible platform a few years ago), especially given how relatively low-maintenance the animation is, sort of auxiliary to the enjoyment of the show most of the time.
Also. Also - If you know about music like this, please comment on if there is any sort of similar music to the music that soundtracks this show you can point me to. I can’t find any other works from the show’s theme composer from anywhere, but I love its casual MIDI-jazz stylings.
The MLS Minute
Major League Soccer at this point in the season is facing down, for the third time in four seasons, a relatively well-wrapped Supporters Shield, which should go comfortably to LAFC barring absolute catastrophe. This is not to say there is nothing of interest during the ~7 to 8 matches between now and the playoffs, far from it. MLS has been beset by chaotic instability in the bottom half of the playoff bracket on each side. In the West, only five points currently separate #5 Salt Lake and #10 Portland. In the East, only six points currently separate #5 Orlando and #13 Atlanta. Normally, it seems like the playoff spots are starting to come into more form at this point in the year (and I think a relatively established top four has started to separate itself in both conferences) but this year there I have no idea what to expect, especially with Chicago and Toronto’s midseason resurrections in the East and the ever-lurking Sounders slowly finding their footing in the West.
The most exciting race is for what we in the business call the “Wooden Spoon”, awarded to the team that finishes in last place in the league (FC Cincinnati, three-time defending champion, does appear to be on track to finally relinquish the spoon even if they seem less of a playoff lock at this point than they did in the early summer). It was momentarily a three-team race between 1996 originals San Jose, DC United, and Sporting KC, but the Houston Dynamo (who looked like they might really almost compete for the playoffs this season for a brief period!) have regained the form that’s defined them in the past few years and are starting to get in on the Spoon Race. DC took something of a commanding lead, losing 6-0 to Philadelphia last weekend (an improvement over their prior meeting with the Union, somehow) while SKC and San Jose both picked up unexpected wins.
DC is an interestingly poor team this year, having just added Wayne Rooney as a manager, who brought Christian Benteke in from Crystal Palace FC, to connect with Taxiarchis Fountas, who is having one of the best individual seasons I’ve ever seen considering the ineptitude of the team around him.
So for those of you complaining the rest of the MLS regular season won’t matter, I offer you those things to focus on: At least half of the games played on any weekend will have some impact on the playoff race. The attrition of the number of games crammed together over the past few seasons paired with the late-summer heat and the fact that MLS teams all pay more for attackers than defenders has led to some incredibly high-scoring games over the past few weeks, and the race for the Golden Boot is still competitive as well, Sebastian Driussi only has a two-goal lead over Hany Mukhtar in second place.
That’s what I’ve got for you today! Look out for the first post on the new Football Hell site sometime in the next few days, and have a good week!