nathen mcvittie

6

And Now You’re Gonna Believe Us, by Zack Goldman

By now, you almost certainly know the story.

If you don’t, it goes something like this: Leicester City Football Club, the unfancied, fearless Foxes—hailing from a city known less for winning football trophies and more for curry, Kasabian, and King Richard III—began the season as 5000-1 underdogs to win the Premier League.

Tonight, they were crowned champions. With two matches to spare.

Attempting to find an equivalent in the history of professional sport is futile; there is nothing remotely ripe for comparison.

Seriously, there’s nothing.

It’s impossible not to sound platitudinous about this, particularly after a season’s worth of “Do You Believe in Miracles?” think pieces, but the fact is that what Leicester have done is truly a singular, stupefying, utterly ridiculous story.

Ask anyone how they did it, though, and you’ll get plenty of answers.

They might point to the fact that this was a season typified by turmoil, underperformance, and distraction for each of the league’s favourites—from Chelsea, to Arsenal, to the red and blue halves of Manchester.

Or that Leicester rode their fortune, outperforming almost all statistical indicators during their run, and built a title-winning campaign from seemingly unsustainable performances that would be unlikely to even secure them fourth place and Champions League football in another simulation of our reality.

Or they might tell you that this was a team masterfully moulded from a motley crew of ragtag castoffs, brilliant role players, and diamonds in the rough. That this title was the product of refined research, impeccable recruitment, and intelligent coaching, which gave rise to a squad that played to its strengths, took its chances, and clinically diagnosed tactical advantages and systemic inefficiencies in opponents. That this was a success story built upon seamless, almost providential pivots from attacking particle accelerator to defensive fortress, in a season that contained fewer matches and fewer injuries than opponents had to endure.

They might say that it was Riyad Mahrez’s grace in the box, or his magic wands for feet that led to a PFA Player of the Year Award after being bought for only £400,000 the year prior.

Perhaps they’ll tell you it was Jamie Vardy’s unsparing breakaway speed, or his ruthless near-post lashes, which saw the man—who, yes, half a decade ago was playing in the seventh division for £30 a week while working in a carbon-fibre factory—break the Premier League record for consecutive goalscoring appearances.

Some will assure you it was N’Golo Kante’s tireless running, incredible transitional ability, and outrageous intuition, which have now catapulted him from the French second division to the French national team in a few years.

Or maybe it was Danny Drinkwater’s inch-perfect tackles, or inch-perfect through-balls, that have seen him transformed from “Midfielder with a Funny Name” into “Midfielder with a Funny Name in the England Squad.”

Or the aerial commitment, rugged marking, and run-tracking of a defence that beats with one heart, that unabashedly tussles, that like an accordion, squeezes the air out of an opponent’s attack before expanding into the counter.

Or Kasper Schmeichel, the son of a goalkeeping legend—unrelentingly treated as though he bears “The Lesser” as an epithet trailing his surname—who has now written his own legacy, with a host of highlight-reel saves and a consistently diligent command of his eighteen-yard kingdom.

Or Claudio Ranieri, the manager once mockingly known as “The Tinkerman” for his ceaseless rotational policy, who has uncharacteristically settled on a first-choice lineup, whose motivational tactics over the course of the season have included rewarding his players with pizzas and beers for shutouts, and whose easy-going charm and modesty in front of the cameras have given us a second impression of a man eminently capable of keeping feet on the ground and morale sky high.

Or, perhaps, they might just tell you this was all meant to be.

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4

Predicting the World Cup with the Soccer Power Index (SPI)

With the World Cup only a day away, all eyes are on Brazil. From tournament previews to the bookmakers’ odds, everyone is trying to figure out who will impress and who will fall flat on the grandest stage.

Fortunately for us, we’ve managed to procure the one thing that can definitively offer us the answers: The Soccer Power Index.

The Soccer Power Index was developed by ESPN and is a tool almost too powerful for the eyes and minds of men. It is the world’s first sporting precog. Its knowledge is earth-shattering, its power unmatched, its validity unquestionable.

The only question is: Can you handle it?

The Soccer Power Index is three feet tall and weighs 27 pounds (just over 12 kilos). It was being transported to Brazil from its birthplace in Bristol, Connecticut when we were able to make our move just outside of Bridgeport. We jostled it free from ESPN’s truck, scooped it up, and never looked back. After hours of decryption (nice try, Paul Carr), a number of trips to a local hardware store, and a regrettable number of human sacrifices, the SPI finally opened up to us, its captors, and told us everything. Our findings are below:

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10

Away Days: America in Europe

Words and Photos by Nathen McVittie, from USA vs Czech Republic in Prague.

After the World Cup dust has settled, soccer continues.

International teams take to friendly matches to tune up ahead of competitive fixtures or to test the youth of tomorrow.

Their fans turn up, from near and far, to pay respect to old heroes or to catch a glimpse of heroes-to-be.

This past week, close to a thousand American fans took the plunge and traveled to Central Europe from all over the world in order to witness the continued evolution of an emerging power.

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9

Alone in a Crowd

Photos and Words by Nathen McVittie, writing from Dublin after the Ireland-United States friendly

In a stadium that holds 52,000 people, you would expect to feel surrounded. Attending a football match - or any major sporting event - is often synonymous with a strange mix of being cornered, covered, but also cozy alongside fellow fanatics. However, in some places and certain situations, that comfort can fade. The away end at Aviva Stadium in Dublin has a funny way of making you feel vulnerable.

The occasion is an international friendly: Ireland vs USA on a breezy night in Dublin. The glass wall of the North end acts as a window to the outside world, exposing you to imaginary feelings of being observed, watched or just plain alone.

The American Outlaws have brought nearly 1000 fans. They come from everywhere. The States, Europe and beyond. Still, the feeling of individuality permeates throughout. The chants begin. The scarves go up. The Irish supporters in the stands, towering above, casually glance down on the inconsequential away fans - some of whom have paid thousands of dollars to sing for 90 minutes.

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