Nathan Nipper

Dallas Texas

nipper.nathan@yahoo.com

Nathan Nipper grew up primarily in Arkansas and Dakar, Senegal.  He graduated from Ouachita Baptist University in 1999 with majors in history and communication and Regent University in 2002 with a master’s degree in communication.  He spent several years working as a television writer until 2010 when he began coaching soccer and teaching American history.  His varsity boys high school soccer team won back-to-back Texas private school state championships in 2013 and 2014.  In addition to his blog Total Football Cafe, he is a frequent contributor to World Soccer Talk.  He lives near Dallas – 4,754 miles from Stamford Bridge and 32 miles from Toyota Stadium – with his wife, daughter, and two sons.

Filtering by Tag: UEFA Champions League

Total Football Cafe: Overdue Update Edition

Another busy soccer coaching season is behind me, so it’s time to dust off the ol’ soccer blog just in time for the start of the 2015 MLS season as well as the home stretches of the EPL and Champions League seasons.

MLS is back, baby!

MLS is back, baby!

I’m excited to announce that I’m now contributing weekly fan-perspective articles for the Dallas Morning News’ soccer blog.  I’ll be chiming in there throughout the 2015 MLS season on FC Dallas and MLS topics.  Here is what I’ve come up with so far.

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I’m also still writing the occasional article for World Soccer Talk.  Last week I wrote one about the human rights abuses plaguing preparations for the ludicrous Qatar 2022 World Cup.  I was inspired to write about it after re-watching this excellent E:60 report by Jeremy Schapp.  I saw the report when it originally aired last May but failed to act on my impulse to write about it until now.

Back on the fan front, I was very disappointed that Chelsea squandered their opportunity to advance to the Champions League quarterfinals, losing to Paris St. Germain via the frequently maddening away-goals rule.  Chelsea played very poorly, so there aren’t really any excuses, however, it was one of the most poorly officiated matches (at such a high level) that I’ve ever seen.  The match was a textbook example of why soccer needs to use video review.  I don’t understand why purists are so set against video review.  It’s simple – just limit reviewable cases to red cards (including second yellows that result in red) and calls in the box.  In other words, just limit video review to decisions with the most potential to alter games.

Not a red card.  Thirty seconds or less of video review would've kept Ibrahimovic on the field.

Not a red card.  Thirty seconds or less of video review would've kept Ibrahimovic on the field.

In the aftermath of the Chelsea loss, I’ve been surprised by the widespread criticism of Chelsea players for surrounding the referee, presumably influencing his (erroneous) decision to red card Ibrahimovic.  Have these critics never watched a professional soccer game before?  This crowding around the ref happens in every game in every league on the planet!  I’m not saying this behavior is right, just that it’s not remotely rare, and certainly not unique to Chelsea.

Just remembering better Champions League times for Chelsea...

Just remembering better Champions League times for Chelsea...

That’s it for this edition.  Hope you’ll stop by in the coming months, as there will be lots of exciting soccer to discuss.  If you haven’t yet read the award-winning Dallas ‘Til I Cry: Learning to Love Major League Soccer, I hope you’ll check it out and feel free to let me know what you think about it as I always enjoy hearing from readers.

Total Football Café: International Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo Edition

Well, it’s been way too long since my last post.  The busyness of fall is creeping up on me, thus crowding out things that don’t pay the bills, fun things like this blog.  Funny how that works.  Anyways, I’m about to enter soccer coaching season so the blog cupboard of the Total Football Café may look increasingly bare in the coming weeks, but I’ll do my best to slap some posts together as often as possible.  I hope the semi-bare nature of the cupboard doesn’t drive you away altogether.

In the spirit of slapping posts together, herein are some thoughts on several topics that have kept the American soccer world buzzing during yet another international break.  By the way, I can’t remember international breaks being so close together.  I know time flies when you’re having fun, but didn’t we just have an international break? 

If we have to have international breaks, we might as well take the opportunity to brush up on world geography.

If we have to have international breaks, we might as well take the opportunity to brush up on world geography.

Recently the debate resurfaced about whether the EPL should play some regular season matches in the U.S. (in future seasons).  I don’t like this idea.  I like the simplicity of each EPL team playing every team in the league twice, one at home, one away.  In fact I look forward to the MLS being able to switch over to a similarly streamlined system.  A “39th game” played in the U.S. as part of the EPL fixture list would be a superfluous money-grab.  I really don’t like the idea, yet if they ever decide to do it, I’ll be one of the first hypocrites in line to buy a ticket.  As for a UEFA Champions League Final played in the U.S. someday, bring it on!

Thanks to their enthusiastic new owner Anthony Precourt, the Columbus Crew finally ditched their puzzling, quasi-Gap ad logo with the three hard-hat dudes for a new, more traditionally soccer-ish crest.  The change is long overdue, but a good one nonetheless.  For all the fanfare surrounding its launch, the new crest is, well, it’s a crest.  Very tasteful, and light years ahead of the hard-hat trio, but like most MLS club crests it’s ultimately rather bland.  But hey, the important thing here is enthusiastic ownership and renewed vigor for one of the league’s inaugural teams.

According to this helpful diagram of the new Crew crest, the outer rim is a "circle".  #themoreyouknow

According to this helpful diagram of the new Crew crest, the outer rim is a "circle".  #themoreyouknow

Like most U.S. soccer fans, I’m sad to see Landon Donovan retire.  He has been simply the best.  Yes, there may always be some “what ifs” related to his career – I really enjoyed watching him during his brief stints at Everton, for example, and would’ve liked to see him play some full seasons in the EPL – but I also really admire him for sticking it out in MLS.  It’s easy to forget that he was grinding it out for several seasons during the league’s pre-Beckham glitz era, when the stadiums were a lot emptier and the perks sparser.  So for all he did for the U.S. National Team, he’ll also be remembered as a pivotal star for MLS in establishing and growing the league.

I’m also sad to see Donovan retire because it seems too early.  When I saw him play in-person in the 2013 Gold Cup semifinal against Honduras, Donovan looked better than ever.  His was a commanding performance, with two goals and masterful passing in the U.S.’ 3-1 victory.  At that point I never imagined he wouldn’t be included on the U.S.’ 2014 World Cup roster, nor that he would retire from soccer just over a year later.  I still believe he could’ve been a difference-maker at the 2014 World Cup.  Imagine him coming on as a sub against Belgium in the final half hour.

Landon Donovan kicking tail and taking names in the 2013 Gold Cup semifinal.  It was awesome.

Landon Donovan kicking tail and taking names in the 2013 Gold Cup semifinal.  It was awesome.

During all of the farewell Donovan coverage leading to his final U.S. match against Ecuador, there were rumblings of Donovan writing an autobiography.  This is a fantastic idea and I hope it materializes.  If Donovan requires co-authoring, he should definitely consider J.R. Moehringer who co-wrote Open, Andre Agassi’s superb autobiography.  I can see Donovan’s frankness resulting in a similarly fascinating book.

Unfortunately, team USA looked pretty flat with Donovan (1-1 draw vs. Ecuador) and without him (1-1 draw last Tuesday vs. Honduras).  Between the friendlies, Jurgen Klinsmann renewed his rhetoric regarding his preference that U.S. National Team players challenge themselves in Europe’s elite leagues if possible.  He seems particularly disappointed about Clint Dempsey’s and Michael Bradley’s decision to return to MLS rather than tarry on the bench for their former European clubs.  Klinsmann’s been saying this for a while now, never mind the fact that he selected many MLS players for the World Cup squad over Americans playing in Europe.  I get why Klinsmann says these things and I like the way he continues challenging the status quo in U.S. soccer overall.  MLS commissioner Don Garber on the other hand is apparently fed up with Klinsmann’s opinion on the matter.  As he explained during a rather unusual mid-week conference call with reporters, Garber takes Klinsmann’s comments as slams against MLS.  I also understand Garber’s point of view and don’t blame him for trying to defend the league.  Overall, the Klinsmann/Garber tussle is positive for American soccer.  They’re both right.

It’s unlikely I’ll forget last week’s Klinsmann/Garber war of words anytime soon because I actually received a handwritten note from Garber on Friday thanking me for sending him a copy of my book!  It was a very classy gesture of him and I sincerely appreciate his taking the time to write.

Can Fabian Castillo lead FC Dallas to MLS Cup glory?  Yes, yes he can.

Can Fabian Castillo lead FC Dallas to MLS Cup glory?  Yes, yes he can.

FC Dallas has clinched their first MLS playoff appearance since 2011.  They booked their playoff spot with a 2-1 win over Landon Donovan and his LA Galaxy.  The winning goal by Fabian Castillo in the 87th minute was thrilling and on a very short list of the best FC Dallas moments I’ve ever experienced at Toyota Stadium.  Now that FCD’s in the playoffs, anything can happen.  Seattle and LA have the most points in the league, but neither will want to face Dallas in the postseason.  It should be a blast!

Total Football Café Weekly Roundup: Jermaine to Jermain Edition

Wouldn’t you know it, just as I’m putting the finishing touches on last week’s post, in which I mentioned the confusion over this Jermaine Jones-in-MLS-thing, a deal gets finalized sending Jones to play for New England Revolution.  Apparently, MLS’ secret society player allocation process involved the use of the sorting hat from Hogwarts Academy to determine whether Jones would go to Chicago or New England.  The whole episode is kind of strange and evidence of a still relatively young league figuring some things out on the fly as the league grows.  One thing’s for certain – the league will have to relax its grip on its franchises sooner than later and grant them more autonomy in how money is spent on players.

Behind-the-scenes view of the MLS Player Allocation Thingamajig.

Behind-the-scenes view of the MLS Player Allocation Thingamajig.

Jurgen Klinsmann named his first U.S. roster post-World Cup 2014 for the September 3 friendly at Czech Republic.  The list includes most of the regulars but plenty of newcomers as well.  The newbies include keeper Cody Cropper, midfielders Emerson Hyndman and Alfredo Morales, and forwards Joe Gyau, Jordan Morris, Rubio Rubin, and Bobby Wood.  I’m particularly intrigued by Hyndman (grandson of former FC Dallas head coach Schellas Hyndman) who has started at Fulham in the Championship this season.  Another interesting roster inclusion is Brek Shea, who is rumored to be heading to Southampton.  Shea was a favorite Klinsmann prospect early on in the Jurgen era.  Shea has struggled to find playing time at Stoke City since he moved there from FC Dallas in early 2013.  I thought Shea had a ton of potential in his first couple pro seasons in Dallas.  Now it seems he may have made a premature leap to Europe and perhaps would’ve matured better as a player had he stayed in MLS.  Klinsmann apparently hasn’t thrown in the towel on him yet however, and it’s good to see Shea get another U.S. nod.

U.S. Shea will take another crack at it in Prague on Wednesday.

U.S. Shea will take another crack at it in Prague on Wednesday.

The Champions League groups were drawn this week.  While one declares groups in the Champs League “easy” at one’s own peril, Chelsea certainly has a cushier than average group.  If they can’t get past Schalke, Sporting Lisbon, and Maribor (from Slovenia’s second-largest city as it turns out – who knew?) then they don’t deserve to darken the UCL door in the first place.  I like Chelsea’s Champs League chances this season.  I’d love to see them knock Real Madrid off their perch in the final.

Ahh, Champions League nights are about to return.

Ahh, Champions League nights are about to return.

In other Chelsea news, the Fernando Torres fiasco appears to be over as he is going on loan to AC Milan.  I’m pretty sure Chelsea has never had a more frustrating player since I’ve been a fan of the club.  I always wanted Torres to succeed at Chelsea, but it was pretty evident from the start that the club wildly overpaid for him.  My theory is he never fully regained confidence after his 2010 knee injury.  Even if that’s true, however, it’s still baffling how little he resembled the Liverpool version of himself during his time at Chelsea.  Enjoy these vintage Liverpool Torres goals – you won’t recognize him.  For Chelsea it’s good that he’s moving on, but I do hope he goes and lights up Seria A.

This guy never arrived at Chelsea.

This guy never arrived at Chelsea.

Chelsea’s 6-3 win at Everton Saturday - wow.  If you didn’t see the match, I’m sorry.  It was awesome.  Chelsea’s back line will want to spend some time reviewing the game tape, but overall it was a terrific win.  Perhaps most encouragingly, Diego Costa scored twice – four goals in his first three Chelsea matches.  I was really uncertain about the Costa acquisition, primarily because he was injured and ineffective in the Champions League final and a non-factor for Spain at the World Cup in Brazil.  I thought it might be another case of Chelsea buying damaged goods.  But so far, he has been precisely the missing striker link Chelsea needed.

Already the man at Chelsea:  Diego Costa.

Already the man at Chelsea:  Diego Costa.

FC Dallas’ 10-game unbeaten streak unfortunately ended Saturday night in Chicago.  They were on the verge of snaring a point, but an 83rd minute Chicago goal ruined the plan.  You knew the streak would eventually end, but I was hoping they’d ride the wave until they were on top of the Western Conference.  Instead, they’ve slipped to fourth place with 42 points, one point behind Real Salt Lake and four behind LA Galaxy.  Seattle is still in first place after beating Colorado to go up two points on LA.  Dallas is still relatively comfortably in a playoff position (8 points ahead of fifth place Portland).  With eight games remaining however, FCD cannot get too comfy.  Dallas’ next match is a biggie:  at RSL this Saturday.

FCD Head Coach Oscar Pareja:  "Do not tell me another player is injured..."

FCD Head Coach Oscar Pareja:  "Do not tell me another player is injured..."

The remarkable thing about FC Dallas this season is their resiliency with so many injuries.  If you’d told me at the start of the season they’d be in fourth place at the beginning of September with midfielder Mauro Diaz missing most of the year and center back George John missing the entire year, I would not have believed it.  That said, Dallas could really use a healthy roster for the home stretch.

Looks like Toronto FC fired their entire first team coaching staff yesterday, including head coach Ryan Nelsen.  I’ve never really understood coach firings this late in a season – especially when your team is (somehow) still in playoff contention (they’re in a three-way tie for third place with 33 points).  It’s just really weird how incompetent things seem to be at Toronto FC.  Once they were one of the league’s most promising franchises, perhaps even a potential MLS “super club”.  Now they’re a cautionary tale.  MLSsoccer.com even has a blurb about Toronto “mulling” offers for their 2014 mega DP signing Jermain Defoe.  After all that hype and cash-splashing, now they might just let him go after less than one season?  Very odd.

"Ah well, it's super cold up here anyway.  What about that new Miami team?"

"Ah well, it's super cold up here anyway.  What about that new Miami team?"

Finally, thank you to everyone who entered the GoodReads contest to win a copy of my book Dallas ‘Til I Cry: Learning to Love Major League Soccer.  The contest is now closed and the winners have been drawn.  If you didn’t win this time, don’t let that prohibit you from reading the book as it is readily available in paperback and Kindle versions

Farewell Lampard, Welcome Back Drogba!

As a Chelsea FC fan, I’m sad to see Frank Lampard depart.  Not that it was unexpected of course.  He had a more limited than usual role under Jose Mourinho last season, plus his contract was only extended one year at the end of the 2012/13 season.  Still, he’s Chelsea’s all-time leading scorer and a club legend, so it’s hard to see him go.  To me, he will always represent the prototypical Chelasean.  I just liked his style of play – a gritty, hardworking midfielder who could also score goals.

Fortunately, two factors ease this reluctant end of an era feeling regarding Lampard.  For starters, Frank’s not retiring, he’s coming to America!  He’ll be lacing up his boots for MLS’ expansion New York City FC next season.  It will be fun to see a player of his professionalism and stature complete in MLS.  Hopefully this means I’ll get to see Lamps in action up close and personal in 2015, assuming NYCFC play at FC Dallas.

Secondly, the loss of one Chelsea legend has brought the return of another… one Didier Drogba!  I’m pretty pumped about this development, for purely nostalgic reasons mind you.  I don’t expect Drogba to get many starts, but to see him run onto the Stamford Bridge pitch a few more times this season, even as a substitute, will certainly warm the heart.  And, even though Drogba is 36, teams who assume he’s over the hill do so at their own peril.  I got to be in the stadium this summer when Drogba scored a sweet, vintage goal for Ivory Coast in their World Cup tune-up match against El Salvador.  He’s not the same Drogba who won the Champions League for Chelsea a few years ago, but he’ll be good for a few more Chelsea goals this season and I can’t wait to see them.

I’m not usually one to clamor for player autographs, but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to acquire Drogba’s signature when Ivory Coast were in Dallas during their pre-World Cup tour.  I had him sign my Kings of Europe book commemorating Chelsea’s Champions League title.  Little did I know then that we’d get one more victory lap season with Drogba as a Blue!

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   Drogba moments before he signed my Chelsea book, which undoubtedly inspired him to return to his beloved Blues for one more season...

Drogba moments before he signed my Chelsea book, which undoubtedly inspired him to return to his beloved Blues for one more season...