Tuesday, January 22, 2008

GETTING READY FOR NATIONAL CAMP

Hello my fellow referees. As you may or may not know, it is time for U.S. Soccer's National Referee Camp. This is the time when the top referee's in our country are called in to re-certify for the upcoming season. (More on the camp later.) I wanted to spend a few moments to let you know how I (and the other referees in Illinois) prepare for the camp.The two main things we have to prepare for is the fitness test and the written test. As camp gets closer we focus more on the fitness test. Apart from my individual training, everyone that is going to camp gathers on Saturday morning to practice the fitness test and run together. Today when I left home to meet the guys it was -7 outside. So, needless to say we trained indoors on this Saturday. We don't always train indoors. We train outside in the freezing cold as long as the track is dry and temps are not to close to ZERO.It is great to get together to train and encourage each other to make sure we're all are ready for camp. The last thing anyone wants to do is not pass the fitness test.More to come on National camp.

-Ricardo Salazar

Monday, January 21, 2008

Greetings from China – Part IV – The Final Installment

Morning greetings from China! Last we visited we were sleeping off an enormous meal courtesy of the CFA and headed to the gym the next morning to work it off. Satisfied that the calorie count was a little more balanced between import and export, the Chinese officials picked us up for another round of shopping. After a few close calls for some bicycle-riders – I swear we just about picked off 4 or 5 of them – we were deposited on Mao St., where the irony drips once again as it’s the most capitalist street I’ve ever seen. Times Square in New York looks almost quaint in comparison, as we entered a 4-block, 6-story monstrosity of shops. I honed in almost immediately to the Starbucks, where out of habit I ordered a double-tall skinny latte and without missing a beat they repeated it back to me and served it up hot enough to exfoliate my entire mouth. Right on. In the hour it took to cool down, we found ourselves (girls that we are) in a Bath-n-Body type shop, where the common goals of women the world over were apparent: “H12O6 raises energy to raise face water” and the promising “Resists senile energy tight skin water”. Now that’s what I’m talkin’ about. I got a whole lot of senile energy that needs resisting, so sign me up.

Since this appeared to be Western Shopping Day, we were naturally taken to KFC for lunch. Being a Saturday we expected it to be busy, especially with Chinese New Year celebrations in the air, but this place was PACKED. We watched the Chinese officials literally muscle some multi-generational family out of a set of tables, and were instantly served up 2 buckets of chicken, complete with a couple liters of Pepsi, corn on the cob, and 6 buns (cuz clearly there weren’t enough carbs in our meal yet). The Western girls each had a bit but mostly stared in awe as these five rail-thin 80-pound Chinese women slammed back a sandwich each plus their bucket of chicken plus half of our bucket. Holy Dinah.

After lunch we refreshed ourselves with a bit of “In-Depth water raises moistens blast” spritzer, and hit Beijing Road again to watch Kirsi’s bargaining talents in action. That woman can shop and I have video to prove it. About 4 hours later we regrouped with our interpreters and were taken to a hot pot restaurant. Another 8 course feast. This city and their people sure know how to eat. A giant pot with a rice-based broth sits boiling in the middle of the table over an enormous flame and platter after platter of fresh meat, fish, and veggies gets dropped in, spooned out, and distributed. A concoction of soy sauce, fresh ginger, scallions, and enough hot mustard oil to induce an aneurysm is used for dipping. Kirsi turned purple, Carol-Anne slammed the table a couple of times, and I think I actually lost consciousness for a minute. Jeez it was good. Another comatose ride home and off to bed.

Yesterday we finished the last games and as you likely know by now, the US captured the title with a 1-0 win over China. It was a fun match to watch, and the noise from the stick-banging crowd was incredible. Even with only about 2000 seats taken out of the 80,000 capacity stadium, it was electrically loud. That place must really rock when it’s full. The US also swept most of the award categories, a nod to the way their new possession game translated into goals for the team. The previous match saw Canada match up against Finland, where I was the 4th official for the Chinese referee Gu Ying and our two Chinese assistants Zhang Lingling and Cui Yongmei. The Finns scored late in the first half against the run of play, frustrating the Canadians who were fiercely determined to register a goal in the tournament. After their solid draw against a talented Chinese team, Canada came out on a mission in the second half and peppered the Finnish goal with shot after shot. For all the spaghetti, er, lo mein, they threw against the wall, something finally stuck when Jodi-Ann Robinson ripped a shot from 25 yards out in the 4th minute of stoppage time, shortly before the final whistle. The Canadians went mad and dog-piled the goalscorer who put them into third place for the tournament.

Lots of hugs, email swaps, and gift exchanges later, we said goodbye to our wonderful new Chinese friends and colleagues. I sincerely hope we will have a chance to work together again, and I wish them the very best in their careers. Today is a free day, I plan on going out to take some day-in-the-life pics, maybe find some good strong Chinese tea, and sheepishly find a bigger suitcase to pack all my goodies in. I wonder if the nice massage lady will fit in one? Hmm.

A big thank you to US Soccer for providing me with this incredible opportunity, it was an honor to represent the US and our officials at this wonderful tournament. Much appreciation also goes to the Chinese Football Association, our translators, and drivers, who graciously and generously hosted us throughout the week. Congratulations to the US team on a well-played tournament and well-earned title, they are truly a remarkable group of young women.

See you on the pitch, and may the ball always bounce your way.

From China, all the best!

fini :)

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Greetings from China – Part III

Afternoon greetings from China! Somehow we are on the last match day already, the time has gone very quickly. Last time we visited, it was the night before the second day of matches, where I was appointed as the referee for Canada versus China. I’m happy to report that all went smoothly. We met a little earlier than usual to give ourselves lots of time for the pregame, which gets tricky when English is a late second language for the crew. Luckily I grew up Italian and am fluent in speaking with my hands, it was part Pictionary, part charades, and part comic theater. Until the UN can come & hook us up with those little translating earpieces, we do what we gotta do. It was the only draw of the tournament thus far, a real midfield battle but unfortunately no goals for the fans or TV audience, ending in a 0-0 tie. Not many goalscoring chances for either team, though Canada opened things up in the second half quite a bit and had a few runs at goal. Three cautions were issued to the Chinese team, same amount but different players as in their first game against Finland. Our Finnish friend Kirsi was the fourth official, handling the subs and benches like the pro that she is, and our new Chinese FIFA Assistant Referees Zhang Lingling and Liang Jianping also did well. The referee assessor was pleased with the match so we were satisfied with the day’s work we put in.

The pitch is a bit soft, it's basically new grass on top of sand so it's likerunning on the beach with barely anything to hold onto. The hotel pool is thelocal icebath, which bonds everyone in a special type of silent misery-to-pain-to-numbness progression. But the best part is the visit to the hotel’s “Foot Care and Massage” room. For $20 and a smile, a tiny smiling woman with iron thumbs will give you a foot massage that starts at your shoulders while your feet boil, er soak, in hot water & oil, and ends at your partially cooked toes for the better part of 90 minutes. Bleary-eyed and drooling you walk zombie-like back to your room and just aim for the bed when you fall down for a nap. They could have done brain surgery on me for all I know it was so relaxing. One of the bosses from the Chinese Football Association took all the referees out last night to a restaurant, and Holy Smokes was it a feast. All well-known culinary species to the Westerners, for which we were grateful. The chicken's head still had the comb, causing our Finnish friend Kirsi to just about jump out of her seat. Really spectacular, and they wouldn’t let us up from the table until we were utterly stuffed.

Tomorrow we train in the morning and do a little sightseeing afterwards. Hopefully everything has been digested by then!

Until next time,
fini :)