RAVEN MACK is a mystic poet-philosopher-artist of the Greater Appalachian unorthodox tradition who publishes zines & physical books & electronic books & music & photography & digital art & just generally whatever feels necessary to survive this deluded earth thru Rojonekku Word Fighting Arts survival systems (Version 69, establish 14 Feb 1973). Comments encouraged.

Tuesday, May 31

S14: Top 14 Metaphysical Powers For This Copa America Centenario Thing About To Happen

(I originally had started writing this for a new sports website trying to claw into that realm of “the New Grantland” but honestly, I wasn’t feeling it, and didn’t like having to tone myself down or limit my nonsense rambling, so it ends up here, in obscurity, where I will likely always remain, because I don’t know how to pimp myself.)

Aristotle first gave words to the concept of metaphysics, when he attempted to break down in a scientific manner “being qua being” or what comes with existence that we may not be able to scientifically quantify. Islamic polymath Ibn Sina expounded upon Aristotle’s foundation, furthering the contemplation of that grey area between what is experienced by the senses (science) and believed to be truth (spirituality). And being we live in a highly polarized quantity-driven age of dichotomies (science vs. religion, black vs. white, man vs. nature), it seems that perhaps logically putting thought to the unexplainable might be more important than ever, if for no other reason than to find how instead of separate polarized bubbles, we are all actually part of universal interdependent Venn diagram with hella crossover, universally.
“Wait… I thought the title of this thing was about soccer?” you are thinking. Well, my particular field of analysis is Football Metaphysics, which attempts to find that middle ground between the data analytics of human brain (i.e. Moneyball or sabermetrics, in all its myriad forms) and gut intuition (the old school way, having “a feeling”). Usually the halfway point between brain learnings and gut flora is halfway up the spine at the top of the heart. This is where we find Football Metaphysics.
The Copa America Centenario is being held in the United States, and the story is this is the 100th Anniversary of the South American football championship. That is true, as the first official one was played in 1916, when it was called Campeonato Sudamericano de Futbol (South American Football Championship). In 1975, when the 10 nations that currently make up CONMEBOL all competed together for the first time, it became known as Copa America. Starting in 1987, it started to be held in a host nation, like the World Cup. In 1993, two invited nations (normally Mexico, plus one) were added to make it 12 teams. 2015 was the last time, following that schedule, but CONMEBOL, in the spirit of profit and untapped markets (meaning get them dollars where them dollars are) decided to expand the tournament to 16 teams and hold it in an off-year in the United States, for (hopefully) a giant smorgasbord of corporate cash and gringo dinero.
I have found in my self-scientific studies that Football Metaphysics works best in lists of 14 for some reason, so for the brain foundation to this, I calculated how many points (3 for a win, 1 for a draw) each nation earned in the last 14 Copa Americas (going back to 1979), averaged that out per game, weighted the more recent averages more heavily, and spreadsheet functioned that whole nonsense into this list of the 14 most powerful teams, metaphysically speaking, going into this Copa America Centenario festival cash grab.

#1: BRAZIL (won 5 times since 1979, the last time in 2007): Brazil was shockingly knocked out in the quarterfinals by Paraguay last year, although the nature of this tournament has been that it is just as common for someone other than the Big 2 (Brazil and Argentina) to win as not. This is the Neymar era of Brazilian soccer, and thus far, there’s not much to show for that in terms of national team successes. There will be no Neymar (nor Oscar nor Kaka) meaning this tourney will be Brazil developing younger supporting cast because Brazil has struggled in World Cup 2018 qualifying thus far (currently sit in an unheard of 6th, which would miss the World Cup finals). They’ve been drawn into a group featuring Haiti (jobbers) and Peru, so they should be able to at least coast into the knockout rounds, and hope to avoid repeating last year’s immediate failure once past group stage.

#2: ARGENTINA (won twice since 1979, last time all the way back in 1993): No better example of Football Metaphysics is there in the world than the comparison between Maradona and Messi, the two greats of Argentine football. Maradona was a mess of a human being – drug-addled, loved wild women, his most famous moment on the pitch (the Hand of God) was technically illegal. And yet there’s nothing he didn’t win. Messi, according to technical aspects and all post-modern matrices, is likely the greatest ever. And yet Messi has not won the World Cup, has not even won this tournament before, which one may assume is why he is on their roster for the summer showcase in the U.S.A. It’d be nice to believe that but more likely this is a branding move for Messi (who, it should not be overlooked, was caught up in the Panama Papers leak), who will look to further his endorsement deals and establish a soft landing place in the MLS for his twilight years. Argentina would like to win this tournament, but beyond club, Messi has never seemed overly possessed to win for country like Maradona was. This is why, despite the cultivated image, despite the mathematical indexes and statistics, despite it all, Maradona remains the greatest from Argentina. If you don’t believe me, ask their fans.

#3: COLOMBIA (won once since 1979 – 2001): For sake of full disclosure, one of the people I talk most about the football with is a hilarious Colombiana Loca who works at the little coffee stand at the medical complex I call “work”. Her passion for football is amazing, situated firmly in the middle of Atlantic America, but still wearing Atletico Nacional (her home city home team) jerseys on big game days. And her love of Colombian football is unconditional. She pulls for certain teams because prominent Colombians play for them (oh the discussions we’ve had about Falcao’s downfall). And while it’s a beautiful thing, it leaves me feeling pretty conflicted, because I don’t have that same passion for my own nation’s football team, and maybe not even my own nation. Why is that? I mean, with the football it’s obvious. Colombia plays an exciting brand, with a healthy mix of established stars playing in big Euro leagues and rising stars who still ply their skills in the domestic league. And with the standard for Copa America in recent goings being that Brazil and Argentina both crash out, Colombia could be the third that steps up to take first this summer. Or maybe I am just excited to be happy for a friend’s potential happiness.

#4: URUGUAY (won 4 times since 1979, most recently in 2011): We in America will be blessed by the most metaphysically powerful player on earth – Luis Suarez. On a Barca club with perhaps the two biggest superstars on earth in Neymar and Messi, Suarez has still somehow staked his space as THE Eternal Scoring Threat, despite all the analytical negatives. Uruguay defies logic in similar ways – tiny coastal nation with a total population smaller than all the metropolitan areas hosting Copa America Centenario matches, and yet there are only a handful of nations with a larger international presence. Ignore Europe, and really the only two bigger are Brazil and Argentina. Thus, regardless of situations or scenarios or match-ups, should Uruguay make it to the knockout stage (they will), and Suarez gets unleashed in primetime America (without injury, or vampiro suspension), and Uruguay will be THE Threat To Win It All.

#5: PARAGUAY (won once since 1979 – in 1979): Paraguay maintains a somewhat unknown but consistent presence within CONMEBOL. Usually, Paraguayan clubs find themselves in the final stages of Copa Libertadores (South America’s Champions League) most years. And Paraguay has remained a solid international force. South America, as a whole, plays far above their international political prominence, and you start to wonder is it Brazil and Argentina pushing the others to higher levels, or the entire continent rising thus pushing the top tier as high as it is.  Despite all this gloss though, Paraguay was drawn into a strong group with Colombia, Costa Rica (more on them later), and the host nation. That’s as close to a Group of Death as 16-team tournament covering less than half the world’s gonna get.

#6: PERU (ain’t won it since 1979, but did in ‘75): Peru has consistently done fairly well, and was a surprise contender in last year’s event, finishing third, exactly where they finished in 2011 as well. But they’ve not qualified for the World Cup finals for over 30 years, so that pick-up the past two Copa America hopefully (for Peruvians) means they can make the push for Russia in 2018. Honestly though, they’ve done too shitty in that to make up ground against the quality of teams above them in the table, so it’s probably best for Peruvian national pride if they go all-in on this tournament again. 

#7: CHILE (won it once since 1979, and all-time – the last time, last year): It must feel like kind of a rip-off to Chile football that after struggling for nearly a century of battling, to finally achieve winning a Copa America championship last year, it happens when they squeeze a cash grab tournament in America in the middle of the usual biennial cycle. Thus, with little time to bask in their continental conquest, Alexis Sanchez and Chile are forced to go at it again. The key difference is manager Jorge Sampaoli, who pushed Chile’s game to be true to The Beautiful Game philosophies, resigned, and has been replaced by new manager Juan Antonio Pizzi, who will be installing his own belief systems in his first major tournament run-up to the 2018 World Cup. Just as individual matches are lost in transition, so are larger endeavors. But Chile has the same core to their team, and figure to run off the fumes of what is already in place. Their Group D opener against Argentina (in a re-match from last year’s Copa America final) should be the prime game from the first few days.

#8: MEXICO (never won it, runner-up twice since ‘79): Mexican football is perhaps the most beautifully anarchic version on earth. Their domestic season is broken into two halves, like many other Latin American domestic leagues are, but unlike all those other leagues, there is no year-capping championship. Instead they hold wild elimination tournaments for each mini-season. Their top clubs don’t just qualify for their continental version of the Champions League, but for the South American one as well. Mexican football has been two-timing with South America for a while, and Mexico has been one of the two invitees to the normal Copa America tournament every occasion since 1993. One could suggest this was because Mexican national team football had been far above its continental counterparts, but being they’ve competed against the likes of Brazil, Argentina, and the rest every other year for the past two decades, it has helped enable a higher level of Mexican national football than regional conflicts with Honduras or Costa Rica (or the USMNT) would have. And with the large presence of fans who identify as Mexican in America, expect every Mexico game to be a raucous, home game environment, regardless of who they play (including the USMNT).

#9: BOLIVIA (never won it): The fact Bolivia got beaten by the USMNT, 4-0, even if a friendly before the actual tournament, tells me Bolivia is probably fucked.

#10: ECUADOR (not won it since ’79, or before then, but 4th in ’93, at home): Ecuador’s been a surprise at the top of the table for World Cup 2018 qualifying thus far, halfway through, so this event will be a tournament challenge to see how real they may be. Behind the star tandem of real life bros Enner and Antonio Valencia, they play an upbeat style. Drawn into a group with Haiti, and Brazil (who is sending young, second level team, to an extent), they stand a good shot at finally making some noise in this event.

#11: VENEZUELA (not won it since ’79, but 4th in 2011): In case you weren’t geo-politically aware, Venezuela the government is in serious jeopardy right now, after a combination of oil price downturn as well as high-level corruption has left the streets filled with angry people who can’t get their daily bread. This makes the national football team’s trip to the U.S. a little more financially interesting. The team already is positioned squat at the bottom of World Cup qualifying for 2018 (0-1-5 thus far), so jaunt to America for three-games in Chicago, Philadelphia, and Houston is going to be expensive, with national stability to the point they could have their own Venezuelan “Arab Spring” really any week now. Thus, they are the most expendable of all South American teams in the field of 16.

#12: COSTA RICA (only been in it 4 times, made it to quarterfinals twice): Costa Rica (aka Los Ticos) was a pleasant surprise during World Cup 2014, nearly making it to the semifinals behind the exciting play of Joel Campbell. This will be the largest stage for Los Ticos since that quarterfinal elimination to the Netherlands on PKs in Brazil, and the fact it’s a chance for their continent to shine against the more illustrious neighbors to the south will not be lost on this team. They’ve been drawn into the toughest group though, with the US, Colombia, and Paraguay, meaning there’s not an easy game to be found in that batch, with all teams having varying amounts of pressure on them to do more than just show up to Copa America Centenario. But with Costa Rica’s style, that should make for at least three entertaining group stage games (and hopefully more).

#13: UNITED STATES (been it three times, never made it to knockout rounds, ever): US soccer, at all levels, is in an internal conflict between Haves and Have-nots. Haves tend to dominate soccer here, while Have-nots don’t really care, because American football or basketball is more important to them (and available on free TV in abundance). While this works well for the Haves up through the collegiate level, it doesn’t translate well beyond that, or on the World stage, where America has felt it just has to be the next big thing in soccer for twenty years. Enter Jurgen Klinsmann, who recognizes the limitations of the insular Haves model once it is taken outside that insulated realm. He has recruited heavily on dual nationality players, specifically those competing in top European leagues (where the best players from all over the world tend to be paid to play). This has ruffled the Haves mightily, most notably lead US fratbro-cum-sport hero Landon Donovan, which culminated in Donovan getting left off the World Cup 2014 USMNT roster. That stone cast has rippled ever since, beginning with Donovan in whatever talking expert role he has on TV, through old stalwarts of the USMNT Haves system, and even caused women’s hero Abby Wambach to fire off shots at Klinsmann upon her own retirement. What all this means though is that regardless of how right or wrong Klinsmann may be, he is under the microscope at full magnification this summer, in home showcase for the USMNT to show how far it has come, how it can compete with the more dominant teams from South America. But sadly, all the negative talk thrown down at Klinsmann has likely undermined his own efforts within the team as well, and that compounded with the fact that US soccer is just not nearly as good as a lot of the teams from South America, means we will likely witness Jurgen Klinsmann’s suicide mission this summer. Perhaps he pulls off an unlikely pure-American Rambo resistance to the inevitable, but anything short of the semifinals will be seen as failure of not only the team, but also Klinsmann’s vision, especially when the Haves will have a constant televised voice in Landon Donovan the entire time.

#14: JAMAICA (been in it once, last time, failed): Jamaica is an international lightweight in football who is flirting with CONCACAF relevance, which doesn’t really translate into anything beyond the region. Jamaica navigates the football metaphysical matrices by virtue of having been to Copa America 2015, in which they lost all there of their games 0-1. This alludes to a competitive nature, but international football tournaments are pretty great at having better teams exude the bare minimum of energy, being composed of top professionals technically on their “summer break” from their paying job, to move past inferior competition. Jamaica is textbook definition of that inferior competition when it comes to South American national teams.

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