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Soccer notes

Streaming towards trouble

Fans' latest fling needs policing

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Frank Dell'Apa
Globe Staff / May 27, 2008

If you think passionate soccer fans are few and far between in the US, a visit to Crew Stadium in Columbus, Ohio, will indicate otherwise.

A crowd of more than 15,000 attended the Crew-Revolution game Saturday night, the most enthusiastic of the spectators congregating near a corner flag at the "stage" end of the field.

In the first half of the Revolution's 1-0 victory, those fans provided chanting, singing, and color in the form of black-and-yellow scarves and streamers. In the second half, whenever the Revolution's Steve Ralston attempted a corner kick, both he and the ball were showered with those streamers.

But there were problems - other objects besides streamers were being tossed. Ralston spotted bananas, batteries, and beer; he also picked up a smoke bomb and cleared it away. Surprisingly, nobody mentioned bratwurst, since it was "Buck a Brat" night at the stadium.

The Crew, and Major League Soccer, want to encourage fan support but must draw the line.

Columbus might be considered far between and its fans few, but the situation is symbolic of the growth of soccer in the US.

Other MLS teams have similarly rabid fans; they take up several sections of RFK Stadium and nearly an entire section behind the goals at Gillette Stadium and Toyota Park. Because of their location, plus guidelines set by stadium officials, those fans are not as tempted to launch things onto the field.

The streamer-throwing began in Houston two years ago, with goalkeepers the target, but it was largely ignored because the Dynamo want to move out of Robertson Stadium anyway.

But the streamer ritual picked up steam in Toronto last year. At first, they were thrown only on the first corner kick of the game. By the end of the season, nearly every opposing corner kick was "streamered."

The "streamering" was copied by Crew supporters after they were relocated to a section near the corner flag - a stage was set up behind the goal, their section since the stadium opened in 1999. The move seemed to invite the streamers, the corner flag a target.

And the Crew support section has grown so large and lively now that self-policing has become almost impossible. Only another relocation or heavy-handed measures might discourage the throwing of dangerous objects.

The Crew could be fined by MLS for disruption of play. That would lead to tighter security, a line that shouldn't have to be crossed.

Nobody can predict how this will play out. A blend of Euro-Latin American sporting-event feel is developing at MLS games, less rowdy than in other countries but also unlike anything happening at other US professional sporting events.

If an opposing player or a linesman is injured by a flying object, a game could be forfeited. That, or the threat of the referee stopping the game, would encourage better self-policing by fans.

The vast majority of supporters would be satisfied with streamer displays and a lot of noise. But they are going to need some help to stop a few more radical types from spoiling the fun.

Answering the call

Former Dynamo (and Cape Cod Crusaders) forward Joseph Ngwenya has been called to Zimbabwe's national team for World Cup qualifiers. Ngwenya's move to Austria probably helped, though he has not been as productive as he was in MLS. The Revolution can be thankful that Kheli Dube is not in Zimbabwe's plans, since they are losing Kenny Mansally to Gambia and do not expect Taylor Twellman (sprained right ankle) to return for three weeks. Dube has scored in two successive games as a replacement for Twellman, tying Mansally and Sainey Nyassi for the team scoring lead, and will make his third successive start against D.C. United Thursday.

Stiff competition

Santos Laguna, the Revolution's opening opponent in the SuperLiga July 13, has advanced to the finals of the Mexican league playoffs. Santos rallied from a two-goal deficit on headers by Matias Vuoso and Fernando Arce to tie Monterrey, 3-3, on aggregate Sunday, qualifying because it finished higher during the Clausura season. Santos will meet Cruz Azul in a two-game final . . . Olimpia won the Honduras Clausura playoffs, taking a 1-0 victory over Marathon, Wilmer Velasquez converting after Ramiro Bruschi earned a penalty kick.

The man for Monaco

Prince Albert of Monaco is turning to a former Amherst College soccer teammate to run the principality's entry in France's Ligue 1. Jerome de Bontin, an investment executive (Mekar Financial Services, Sustainability Investments) who has been living near Chicago and is on the US Soccer Federation technical committee, has been named the president of AS Monaco.

De Bontin was a star player at Amherst on a team that also included Fritz von Paaschen, recently named CEO of Starwood Resorts. Prince Albert, a reserve on the Amherst team, provides funds for AS Monaco, which has won seven French titles and five French Cups since 1961, giving Thierry Henry, Emmanuel Petit, Lilian Thuram, and David Trezeguet their first professional experience on the way to performing for France's 1998 World Cup championship team.

Michel Pastor resigned as president after AS Monaco finished 12th last season. De Bontin also added '94 World Cup head Alan Rothenberg to the club's executive committee.

De Bontin was a standout player for Amherst, but the team struggled to a 4-6 record in 1980, his final season. Von Paaschen played the next two years, helping Amherst to 8-2-1 and 10-1-2 records. If Monaco doesn't improve quickly, a call might go out to Von Paaschen or someone else from the '81 and '82 teams.

Deep roster

Brazil has lost Adriano (Sao Paulo), Alex (Chelsea), Kaká (Milan), and Kleber (Santos) from the roster it announced for games against Canada in Seattle May 31 and Venezuela at Gillette Stadium June 6.

A possible starting lineup for the Selecao: Julio Cesar (Inter), Daniel Alves (Sevilla), Juan (Roma), Lucio (Bayern Munich), Marcelo (Real Madrid), Anderson (Manchester United), Gilberto Silva (Arsenal), Diego (Werder Bremen), Robinho (Real Madrid), Luis Fabiano (Sevilla), and Pato (Milan).

"We played without Kaká and Ronaldinho in Copa America and were very successful," said Brazil coach Dunga. "Brazil is very rich in talent. We would like to count on those players again but substitutes will have a chance.

"We hope for [Ronaldinho and Ronaldo] to return to the level of play that enchanted the world, but it's on them to get back to their level of play. We have high expectations for that to happen and we are waiting to see what will happen. But time is very short and football depends on the moment. We are forming a solid group and I am bringing in the best players regardless of their name.

"We are reuniting players after the end of the season, and this is very important because we are preparing for qualifying games against Paraguay and Argentina.

More than 30,000 tickets have been sold for the Brazil-Venezuela game, and the crowd could rival the near-capacity 67,684 for Brazil's 3-1 win over Mexico last Sept. 12 at Gillette Stadium.

"Without a doubt, it was not my expectation to have a packed stadium," Dunga said. "Having so many Brazilians in the stadium filled the players with emotion. It was very positive."

Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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