Run of Play

by Jarrett Link

The Run of Play (original)

Run of Play (tumblr)

As editor, Brian Phillips managed The Run of Play, as it was formerly known, from 2007-2011. Now, the blog is located on a tumblr page and is referred to as simply Run of Play. This description will be split into halves—one for the former, another for the latter iteration of the blog.

Zach Dundas, Fredorrarci, Alan Jacobs, Supriya Nair, Richard Whittall comprised the eclectic group of contributing writers to, as they claim,

a blog about the wonder and terror of soccer.

While the sentiment of this description accurately, albeit vaguely, describes the essence of the blog, it does not elucidate the diversity and sheer volume of the posts present. Although this website essentially became dormant in 2011, the main page provides virtually countless relevant essays that are tactical, historical, political, technological, cultural, psychological, etc.—the list goes on and on. Not necessarily for the casual soccer fan, posts on The Run of Play captivate the fanatic—who must also not fear sometimes spending 15 minutes or so to navigate an article—with opinionated, poetic prose arguing the necessary qualities of a great referee, ubiquitous racism that threatens to undermine the beauty of the game, and so on. However, the writers manage to also include pure sports pieces relating to a contemporary player (i.e. Landon Donovan), team (i.e. Arsenal), or tournament (i.e. Euro 2012 qualifiers).

The main portion of the blog would have been more than enough to entertain, educate, and enthrall someone looking to understand soccer from every angle—with somewhat of a Western bias—imaginable, yet Phillips decided to go further through the use of subcategories, which are termed Features and titled as follows: Brooklyn Asylum FC, Pro Vercelli, Portraits, Adventures of Vandal-prone, and Dr. Chesapeake Marchpane. Brooklyn Asylum FC tackles an oft glossed over golden-age of American soccer—the 1920s—through the lens of a nearly collapsed club that shares the name of the title. In typical fashion, Pro Vercelli is a world apart from the previous category. Brian Phillips humorously, perhaps sardonically, relays his progress in developing the small town Italian club in what is to some the hypnotizing virtual sports world of Football Manager. Portraits is artistic in a different manner. Instead of solely relying on writing about a player, manager, or icon, as one might expect from a category termed Portraits, songs are often chosen to represent a specific person involved with soccer. For instance, Fernando Torres post ACL tear and subsequent psychological collapse is humorously subjected to the Louis Armstrong ballad “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.” Adventures of Vandal-prone provides a venue for The Run of Play’s MLS/Champions League correspondent to describe games he attends throughout the world and the adventures that result. The smallest category of the bunch, Dr. Chesapeake Marchpane sheds light on some of the gritty, insidious, and occasionally downright morbid issues—present or historical—that exist within soccer.

The Run of Play—the 2007-2011 version—contains such well-crafted essays and excerpts that I would support the notion to print and bind the posts from this blog into a soccer encyclopedia of sorts, an encyclopedia whose bounds would exist far outside the realm of soccer as merely sport. Transferring to the tumblr account and experiencing a change of name had no effect on the quality of the posts. That being said, posts are now relatively infrequent and typically are linked to Grantland articles written by Phillips himself, thus promoting a greater Western bias. Moreover, Run of Play lost some of its artistic flair following the transition, yet it still manages to achieve the same if not improved levels of complexity, humor, and creativity in its posts. Indeed, the most recent piece involves an extended Bible metaphor in which Luis Suarez plays the villain. Sacrilegious to the pious and devout maybe, but to those who appreciate the antics of Suarez and are able to step outside of their social norms, it is genius satirical comedy.

Departures of the other contributing writers has exposed Phillips’ tendencies to write about certain aspects of the sport, one of those being the United States Men’s National Soccer Team (USMNT). Ranging from analyses to recent performances to suggestions for future directions to an exposé on an oddly erotic photo-shoot for the 2002 USMNT, Phillips provides fans of the red, white, and blue with detailed, witty insights into the activity of Jürgen Klinsmann and his players. And yet, despite writing for Grantland, which has a largely American audience, he still manages to write rousing pieces about match fixing in soccer or creative essays like a faux letter from Pep Guardiola to Xavi. Personally, I would have preferred The Run of Play continue to exist in its original form, or at least maintain a similar quantity of content on its new site. But considering he is writing the blog all on his own, credit must be given to Brian Phillips for his laudable pieces that I attempt to read as soon as they hit the blogosphere. If you love soccer and reading, I suggest you read them too.

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