The Beautiful Game
Charity begins at Robertson: Houston Dynamo too eager to play WashingtonGenerals role for Bolton
So how do the Houston Dynamo, and by extension the Major League Soccer in general, measure up against teams from the English Premier League? Based on Wednesday night’s Dynamo Charities Cup match between the Dynamo and the Bolton Wanderers, not particularly well.
After the first 20 minutes or so, which found the Je-Vaughn Watson-led Dynamo attacking and getting off the occasional shot, Bolton settled down and thoroughly dominated the proceedings. And as the game wore on and Bolton dug deeper into its reserves (because it was a charity game, each team got to make 10 substitutions rather than the normal three), it became more and more clear that the Dynamo were out classed. Bolton won 2-0, scoring in each half.
Team captain Kevin Davies assisted on the first goal and chipped in the second himself. It all looked pretty easy.
To be fair, the Dynamo did not play its normal lineup. Brian Ching did not play at all, and All-Star Brad Davis only came on late in the game. All-Star goal keeper Tally Hall sat out. Instead the Dynamo auditioned young non-roster players like Bjorn Lindemann.
When you see how deeply rooted these football/soccer traditions are in a place like Bolton, it truly makes you wonder if the U.S. will ever sit at the grownup table.
But while all that’s true, Houston is in the middle of its season, while Bolton is only at the beginning of its training. What’s more, Bolton is a very middle-of-the-road EPL team. Once they lost former Dynamo Stuart Holden last year, they finished 15th out of 20. Still, the Wanderers’ quality towered over that of the Dynamo. They were surprisingly big, and surprisingly fast.
Of course, no one was claiming that the Dynamo, or the MLS, is the EPL’s equal. Still, inviting an EPL team to town, perhaps in hopes of attracting the casual fan, and then playing a hodge-podge team against them seems rather pointless, and perhaps more of a favor for Bolton, which came here in part looking to work on its conditioning, than a treat for Dynamo fans, or a test for the team. This approach makes the MLS and the Dynamo seem happy to play the old Washington Generals role as the opponent.
Maybe this particular game simply wasn’t meant to be taken seriously. It’s a mid-season exhibition, after all, and coach Dominic Kinnear’s most important job is to get the Dynamo back into the playoffs. Dynamo fans didn’t seem particularly bummed out.
In fact, one group of fans was downright happy. Make that “supporters” instead. They were a group of 20 Boltonians who had come from England to follow the team on its United States adventure (the Wanderers previously played in Orlando and Tampa Bay). They occupied the southeast corner of the stadium, where they hung elaborate banners and proudly celebrated their allegiance to their team.
The banners were unlike anything you’d see at a U.S. sporting event. One 20-foot-long sign was an obscure (to my untrained eyes) tribute to the “Lion of Vienna,” former Wanderer and English national team player Nat Lofthouse. (He was given the nickname by the Austrians after he scored a hat trick against them in 1952 for the English national team.)
Lofthouse, who died last year at 85, is an old-school, working-class hero in Bolton, and the team’s supporters take such pride in his memory, even if they never saw him play, that they feel compelled to proclaim his legend even on our distant shores. (But not to explain it. The words “Lion of Vienna” on the banner, along with numbers representing the number of games he played for Bolton and for England, and the number of goals he scored for each, are supposed to speak for themselves.)
In American sports, what can I compare this level of devotion to? Perhaps to the hold that college football has on the South. The Bear of Tuscaloosa?
When you see how deeply rooted these football/soccer traditions are in a place like Bolton, it truly makes you wonder if the U.S. will ever sit at the grownup table. It won’t be a tragedy if we don’t, of course. We can always go to Richmond Arms and yell for the Europeans, if we are so moved.
In fact the Bolton followers made their way to Richmond Arms Wednesday. “That’s the place to go in Houston,” I said to two of the team supporters, Andy Leigh and Scott Baker. “But nothing much was happening yesterday. It must’ve been quiet.”
Leigh corrected me very jovially. “Oh, no,” he said. “There were the 20 of us.”
The game drew a Dynamo Charities Cup-record 13,612 fans. Part of the proceeds from the match will go to youth soccer programs in Houston's East End and part of the proceeds will go to a fund to help the car crash-orphaned Berry kids.