Anthony Lopopolo

Sports Writer

I am Canadian. Also an Italian citizen. But enough of me. I'm not interesting, so I like to tell the stories of athletes who are.

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I am a sports journalist from Toronto and a graduate from Ryerson University's school of journalism. And I call it soccer. I love looking at the world through the game, profiling players and finding the stories beyond the stats.

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afootballreport:

Where The Average Weekend Is Anything But: Portland and The Timbers Army

Photos captured by Jordan Beard

Over the past week, Portland, Oregon was situated right on the middle of the global game’s map. From Thierry Henry to Mario Götze, icons and phenoms were filling the streets as the MLS All-Stars welcomed Bayern Munich to town. We were at Providence Park for that match, and it was great. But it wasn’t Portland.
The stadium was packed to the brim and full of fans from overseas, but it wasn’t Portland. So, we returned to see this city’s side play Chivas USA to take in an "average game" and witness the atmosphere that the Timbers Army and company could create.
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afootballreport:

Where The Average Weekend Is Anything But: Portland and The Timbers Army

Photos captured by Jordan Beard

Over the past week, Portland, Oregon was situated right on the middle of the global game’s map. From Thierry Henry to Mario Götze, icons and phenoms were filling the streets as the MLS All-Stars welcomed Bayern Munich to town. We were at Providence Park for that match, and it was great. But it wasn’t Portland.
The stadium was packed to the brim and full of fans from overseas, but it wasn’t Portland. So, we returned to see this city’s side play Chivas USA to take in an "average game" and witness the atmosphere that the Timbers Army and company could create.
Read More
Zoom Info
afootballreport:

Where The Average Weekend Is Anything But: Portland and The Timbers Army

Photos captured by Jordan Beard

Over the past week, Portland, Oregon was situated right on the middle of the global game’s map. From Thierry Henry to Mario Götze, icons and phenoms were filling the streets as the MLS All-Stars welcomed Bayern Munich to town. We were at Providence Park for that match, and it was great. But it wasn’t Portland.
The stadium was packed to the brim and full of fans from overseas, but it wasn’t Portland. So, we returned to see this city’s side play Chivas USA to take in an "average game" and witness the atmosphere that the Timbers Army and company could create.
Read More
Zoom Info
afootballreport:

Where The Average Weekend Is Anything But: Portland and The Timbers Army

Photos captured by Jordan Beard

Over the past week, Portland, Oregon was situated right on the middle of the global game’s map. From Thierry Henry to Mario Götze, icons and phenoms were filling the streets as the MLS All-Stars welcomed Bayern Munich to town. We were at Providence Park for that match, and it was great. But it wasn’t Portland.
The stadium was packed to the brim and full of fans from overseas, but it wasn’t Portland. So, we returned to see this city’s side play Chivas USA to take in an "average game" and witness the atmosphere that the Timbers Army and company could create.
Read More
Zoom Info
afootballreport:

Where The Average Weekend Is Anything But: Portland and The Timbers Army

Photos captured by Jordan Beard

Over the past week, Portland, Oregon was situated right on the middle of the global game’s map. From Thierry Henry to Mario Götze, icons and phenoms were filling the streets as the MLS All-Stars welcomed Bayern Munich to town. We were at Providence Park for that match, and it was great. But it wasn’t Portland.
The stadium was packed to the brim and full of fans from overseas, but it wasn’t Portland. So, we returned to see this city’s side play Chivas USA to take in an "average game" and witness the atmosphere that the Timbers Army and company could create.
Read More
Zoom Info

afootballreport:

Where The Average Weekend Is Anything But: Portland and The Timbers Army

Photos captured by Jordan Beard

Over the past week, Portland, Oregon was situated right on the middle of the global game’s map. From Thierry Henry to Mario Götze, icons and phenoms were filling the streets as the MLS All-Stars welcomed Bayern Munich to town. We were at Providence Park for that match, and it was great. But it wasn’t Portland.

The stadium was packed to the brim and full of fans from overseas, but it wasn’t Portland. So, we returned to see this city’s side play Chivas USA to take in an "average game" and witness the atmosphere that the Timbers Army and company could create.

Read More

afootballreport:

The persistence of legends

By Anthony Lopopolo

This time, Franco Baresi would play.
He was there with the Italians and the Portuguese, all legends from their country, descending on a pitch in Toronto.
For all of them — Roberto Baggio, Paolo Di Canio, Pauleta, Maniche — the chase of the game is gone, the roars faded, the final whistle blown. But on this Monday night the cheers were loud, and the fans cared and the goals mattered. It was only an 80-minute game, and you could forgive them. This was an aberration of so many kinds, and they all embraced and smiled at the end. It was a taste of the life they once had.
Baresi was here just a month ago with Milan Glorie, the globetrotting icons of the famous seven-time European champion. Then he did not play. He didn’t look like he could.
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Zoom Info
afootballreport:

The persistence of legends

By Anthony Lopopolo

This time, Franco Baresi would play.
He was there with the Italians and the Portuguese, all legends from their country, descending on a pitch in Toronto.
For all of them — Roberto Baggio, Paolo Di Canio, Pauleta, Maniche — the chase of the game is gone, the roars faded, the final whistle blown. But on this Monday night the cheers were loud, and the fans cared and the goals mattered. It was only an 80-minute game, and you could forgive them. This was an aberration of so many kinds, and they all embraced and smiled at the end. It was a taste of the life they once had.
Baresi was here just a month ago with Milan Glorie, the globetrotting icons of the famous seven-time European champion. Then he did not play. He didn’t look like he could.
Read More
Zoom Info
afootballreport:

The persistence of legends

By Anthony Lopopolo

This time, Franco Baresi would play.
He was there with the Italians and the Portuguese, all legends from their country, descending on a pitch in Toronto.
For all of them — Roberto Baggio, Paolo Di Canio, Pauleta, Maniche — the chase of the game is gone, the roars faded, the final whistle blown. But on this Monday night the cheers were loud, and the fans cared and the goals mattered. It was only an 80-minute game, and you could forgive them. This was an aberration of so many kinds, and they all embraced and smiled at the end. It was a taste of the life they once had.
Baresi was here just a month ago with Milan Glorie, the globetrotting icons of the famous seven-time European champion. Then he did not play. He didn’t look like he could.
Read More
Zoom Info

afootballreport:

The persistence of legends

By Anthony Lopopolo

This time, Franco Baresi would play.

He was there with the Italians and the Portuguese, all legends from their country, descending on a pitch in Toronto.

For all of them — Roberto Baggio, Paolo Di Canio, Pauleta, Maniche — the chase of the game is gone, the roars faded, the final whistle blown. But on this Monday night the cheers were loud, and the fans cared and the goals mattered. It was only an 80-minute game, and you could forgive them. This was an aberration of so many kinds, and they all embraced and smiled at the end. It was a taste of the life they once had.

Baresi was here just a month ago with Milan Glorie, the globetrotting icons of the famous seven-time European champion. Then he did not play. He didn’t look like he could.

Read More

afootballreport:

The Calm and The Storm: Lionel Messi’s Moment

By Anthony Lopopolo

When he was a kid, Lionel Messi used to take a one-hour siesta in the afternoon. He would sleep 10 hours a night. He wasn’t really bothered. 
He is still a pretty calm guy at 27 years old, by accounts of his teammates and those around him. “You see him warming up and he’s as calm as a kid who’s going to play on the field around the corner,” said Fernando Signorini, Argentina’s fitness trainer, in the book Messi: A Biography. The Maracanã, the World Cup final, is not exactly a game on a field around the corner, but it is his last frontier, the chance to be fully embraced by the country he left when he was 11, to share the same mantle as Maradona.
Messi understands this moment. “My hopes and dreams are being fulfilled due to the hard work and sacrifice of a team that has given everything from match one,” he wrote on Facebook. But this feels almost more about his own legacy than it does about Argentina.
Read More
Zoom Info
afootballreport:

The Calm and The Storm: Lionel Messi’s Moment

By Anthony Lopopolo

When he was a kid, Lionel Messi used to take a one-hour siesta in the afternoon. He would sleep 10 hours a night. He wasn’t really bothered. 
He is still a pretty calm guy at 27 years old, by accounts of his teammates and those around him. “You see him warming up and he’s as calm as a kid who’s going to play on the field around the corner,” said Fernando Signorini, Argentina’s fitness trainer, in the book Messi: A Biography. The Maracanã, the World Cup final, is not exactly a game on a field around the corner, but it is his last frontier, the chance to be fully embraced by the country he left when he was 11, to share the same mantle as Maradona.
Messi understands this moment. “My hopes and dreams are being fulfilled due to the hard work and sacrifice of a team that has given everything from match one,” he wrote on Facebook. But this feels almost more about his own legacy than it does about Argentina.
Read More
Zoom Info
afootballreport:

The Calm and The Storm: Lionel Messi’s Moment

By Anthony Lopopolo

When he was a kid, Lionel Messi used to take a one-hour siesta in the afternoon. He would sleep 10 hours a night. He wasn’t really bothered. 
He is still a pretty calm guy at 27 years old, by accounts of his teammates and those around him. “You see him warming up and he’s as calm as a kid who’s going to play on the field around the corner,” said Fernando Signorini, Argentina’s fitness trainer, in the book Messi: A Biography. The Maracanã, the World Cup final, is not exactly a game on a field around the corner, but it is his last frontier, the chance to be fully embraced by the country he left when he was 11, to share the same mantle as Maradona.
Messi understands this moment. “My hopes and dreams are being fulfilled due to the hard work and sacrifice of a team that has given everything from match one,” he wrote on Facebook. But this feels almost more about his own legacy than it does about Argentina.
Read More
Zoom Info

afootballreport:

The Calm and The Storm: Lionel Messi’s Moment

By Anthony Lopopolo

When he was a kid, Lionel Messi used to take a one-hour siesta in the afternoon. He would sleep 10 hours a night. He wasn’t really bothered. 

He is still a pretty calm guy at 27 years old, by accounts of his teammates and those around him. “You see him warming up and he’s as calm as a kid who’s going to play on the field around the corner,” said Fernando Signorini, Argentina’s fitness trainer, in the book Messi: A Biography. The Maracanã, the World Cup final, is not exactly a game on a field around the corner, but it is his last frontier, the chance to be fully embraced by the country he left when he was 11, to share the same mantle as Maradona.

Messi understands this moment. “My hopes and dreams are being fulfilled due to the hard work and sacrifice of a team that has given everything from match one,” he wrote on Facebook. But this feels almost more about his own legacy than it does about Argentina.

Read More

Read Dave Zirin’s new book, and understand what is happening in Brazil

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In the beginning of Dave Zirin’s book, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil, one of America’s pre-eminent political sports writers tells us that he simply had to write a book about Brazil – a country, said one of his professors, that is certainly not for “beginners.” But Zirin is no beginner. He is the voice of reason in a country of unreasonable disparity. 

He first starts in the favelas, one of them surrounding Rio’s Maracana, where hundreds of homes, once built by generations of families, were “cracked open.” Those residents were relocated, some moved hours away, some getting no compensation at all. Zirin visits these places, homes reduced to rubble.

Zirin then interviews journalists and academics, street sweepers and the indigenous peoples, as he searches for the meaning behind everything that has happened in Brazil over the past year. His latest book is an essential companion during the next few weeks. It examines what it means to be Brazilian and explains why FIFA is exploiting the land like its colonizers from Portugal so many years ago.

Of course, Zirin also covers the sport of soccer itself. He recounts the stories of the English coming to the shores with balls in their arms and factory workers playing in teams. Zirin writes about Pele, the ultimate professional and front man, and Garrincha, the “angel with bent legs.” And then there is his favourite, the Brazilian Socrates. This soccer legend was a “medical doctor, a musician, an author, a news columnist, a political activist, and a TV pundit,” but most importantly Socrates – “as bold as those national colours,” Zirin writes – fought against the early dictatorship of the 70s and 80s. 

Zirin is upset about a lot of things, and he cuts through all the white noise and stereotypes about Brazil. He is angry that the Maracana was shaved down in capacity. Luxury boxes as well as VIP sections were instead added, places where “modern caesars can sit above the crowd.” Many people do not just talk about the games they played at the Maracana in Rio; they remember the numbers of people. Around 220,000 witnessed the tragedy in 1950, when Brazil lost 2-1 to Uruguay in the final. Now the Maracana has a capacity of just 75,000. Geographer Chris Gaffney called it “the death of the crowds.” 

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Then there was the institutional racism, which is not surprising given that Brazil was the last country to abolish slavery, in 1888. Those of African descent – “the hands and feet of Brazil,” writes Zirin – were given “nothing but freedom.” These people were desperately poor, even if they made up a significant part of the population.

After that, Afro-Brazilian footballers were not so welcome in the 1920s and 30s. They “took great pains to make no physical contact whatsoever with their opponents,” writes Zirin, “lest they risk reprisals.” So these descendants of slaves played gracefully and laid the foundations of o jogo bonito – the flicks and feints and flair were all like capoeira, the old warrior dance of the black slaves. 

Over the decades the Afro-Brazilians and mulattos and whites would all play together, first for Rio’s Vasco da Gama and then for Brazil. Soccer brought together the immigrants – mostly Italians and Japanese – as well as the emancipated slaves, and they could all express themselves as uniquely Brazilian. (Zirin references this mosaic of Brazilian society and asks questions about so-called racial democracy in the country and how it came to be.) 

Dictatorships that followed also began to use soccer as propaganda and as a mobilizing force. Slowly the sport in Brazil turned into commerce. Zirin is so entrenched in his studies that you can feel his sorrow through his words. Players were eventually exported and sold to European countries much like the gold and rubber in the centuries before. Brazil is still in some ways a vast mine.

Zirin also writes about the Olympics, but at this moment it is his writing on the World Cup that strikes hardest. The tournament has only given the government an excuse to militarize the country once again. 

And now Zirin is there, choosing to watch games in the favelas and taking in the atmosphere outside the stadiums and in the heart of the poorer population, the forgotten masses. He is continuing to tell the story of the side of Brazil they don’t want us to see.

Protests are still happening, some in the low hundreds but some resembling the mass frustration of a year ago, when more than a million people poured on to the streets across Brazil during the Confederations Cup. About 200,000 Brazilians filled the streets just this Monday, according to Simon Romero of the New York Times, and the riot police continue to thwart the protesters with brute force. Dozens have already been arrested, and those arrests were violent. Reporters were injured – one shot in the eye with a rubber bullet, others with gashes to the arms – and even the police were seen squinting and crying, feeling the effects of their own tear gas, which they seemed to spray indiscriminately at times.

The tension comes like clouds as the protesters roll in. Vendors close their shops. But the sentiment will not die. “The police are under very clear instructions to tolerate nothing,” writes Gaffney on his blog, “and to react with maximum force.”

But it’s still the World Cup, and there are celebrations all over. It is just one of the latest of these mega-events travelling from country to country like a carnival act. “The World Cup is like a marvellous party,” says one youth activist in the book, “but what happens the next day when we’re hung over and the bill comes due?” Zirin not only answers this question but also asks why. There is so much to cover, but he does not waste time with the minutiae of history. This is a book he had to write, and it is one we have to read.

Photos: Reuters

World Cup, Day 1: Brazil’s Oscar back in Sao Paulo

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There were people shot with rubber bullets in Sao Paulo on Thursday and other masked demonstrators lit fire to garbage on the street and threw stuff at the police. Yet the streets died when the game was on. Everything went still, and the greatest concern of most people around the world for those two hours – and especially in Brazil – was the score on the field, not the billions spent. (Although the supporters in Arena Corinthians saved some boos for president Dilma Rousseff and Sepp Blatter beside her.)

Of course there was Neymar, scaring the masses when he started to limp during the warmups. He was fine. He scored twice and he supplied passes and he went to his knees and pointed up the sky after. He barked orders and he was pointing around and dictating to teammates. This was his moment, this his first World Cup.

Neymar is 22, and he is now tied in seventh with Ronaldinho among Brazil’s top scorers. The feats are mad, but another teammate is his same age with a similar story, if a lower key. Neymar was born in Sao Paulo, but so was Oscar. Neymar and his family moved away; Oscar stayed a little longer. Neymar is a father, and last week Oscar became one.

So this was a homecoming of sorts as well for Oscar. And he scored, but it was the third goal in a 3-1 win. Typical of Oscar to stay just enough out of the way. He is a shy character, soft-spoken, sprite, and he looks delicate. His face is so kind. He prays before every game. He is simple. “If people want to say I seem too nice to be a footballer,” Oscar told the Daily Mirror, “that’s good. It’s just the way I am.”

It really is a deceiving frame for the beast inside. Oscar grew up in Sao Paulo and he was a fan of Sao Paulo and watched Kaka play for them  before he left for AC Milan in 2003. Oscar idolized him – not to mention that he plays like him as a free attacking midfielder with great touch and speed.

So there was his idol in the stands on this day, watching Oscar instead, just as the rest of the fans were. Change has really come. Once upon a time Oscar played on his own in the local park of his quiet suburb, in Americana. It was a neighbourhood smaller than most where his mother would not have to worry about her son playing by himself. His father would have been there but he died in a car accident when Oscar was three. His mother made and sold clothes, and she raised Oscar and his sisters. He comes from a family of great support, where he could pursue his dreams and one day play for Sao Paulo, maybe in Europe, maybe even for Brazil.

He is here now, after a lot of hard work. Oscar has spent the last few years developing his own style. He said in an interview with the Times of London that he has the “technical approach of a Brazilian, but maybe my work-rate is more English.” Add to that the fact that he has played 130 games over the past two years. He had his first proper holiday with his wife after playing in the Confederations Cup last year.

Oscar is durable but he is also completely available. He took some time adapting in England, but he impressed so much with Chelsea that he eventually left no job for poor Juan Mata, who was later shipped out to Manchester. Against Croatia, Oscar showed again why exactly he is so good. He runs deep on the flanks, picks up the ball in midfield and changes direction on a whim. He can even cross and score that goal. He is the thrust of this Brazil squad, but he does not reveal too much. Brazil’s greatest weapon is not the most obvious.

Photo: Ivan Alvarado/Reuters

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