Thursday, July 30, 2009

Manny & Ortiz were on roids?!?!

A report came out today that Manny and Ortiz are on that 2003 list of 104 anonymous users who were surveyed by MLB. This is the same list that A-Rod confessed to being on earlier in preseason. The big deal with Manny and Ortiz is simply that 2003 is the year that the Red Sox won the World Series after 87 years of suffering from the curse of the Bambino (- the hilarious sale of Babe Ruth to the Yankees in order to finance a play). So what are we to think of those dominant Red Sox years? Do they deserve those accolades any less now that we know this new info?

The uproar from baseball people over steroid usage in baseball is laughable. Ken Caminiti admitted in that 2002 SI article that he believed 50% of all major league players were on roids. Then Canseco stated in his book that the number was as high as 80% and now believes it was more. Experts discounted those claim at first. Nobody's laughing now. So how did this steroids run so rampant in the game?

After the damaging strike of 1994, which was caused by a buildup of the player's mistrust of baseball owners after years of collusion, baseball needed the proverbial shot in the arm to gain back the public's interest. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa provided that in 1998 during their historic and now infamous chase of Roger Maris' 61 homer season. Essentially, the commissioner, baseball owners, baseball management, baseball media and baseball players all overlooked the obvious performance enhancing drug usage because baseball was popular again and they mattered once more.

Since then, much has been documented about Canseco's allegations, the 2003 "anonymous" testing, the Mitchell report, the embarrassing moments before Congress, the Barry Bonds federal saga, the Roger Clemens federal saga and Alex Rodriguez's "admission".

The truth of the matter is that baseball did not protect itself, the players or their records by not implementing steroid testing early on. Canseco clearly had not been hiding his steroid usage since the early 1990's but nothing happened. All parties here are culpable for the steroid era - the owners for caring more about admission numbers than what was right, the players for caring more about their numbers than what was right, and the commissioner for not doing anything right. Baseball writers were so enamored with the stories they could write while the fans were so starstruck by the numbers and records that nobody could see the big picture.

While all these parties are culpable, some were victims at the same time as well . Many players felt the need to use steroids just to keep up with the baseball majority, if Canseco is to be believed. For those players who saw users stay in MLB while they were in danger of being sent to the minors, roids must have been a powerful temptation. Pitchers saw their numbers skyrocket during this power era and must've been tempted to respond with roids as well. Barry Bonds was a hall of fame hitter in the 90s but never gained the notoriety or publicity that McGwire and Sosa "cheated" their way to during the 1998 chase. Barry probably felt anger and jealousy knowing that he was clean but was being overshadowed by these inferior sluggers. So what happens when one of the greatest hitters of all time decides to use PEDs? Greatness like we've never seen before.

Steroid usage is so heinous to the baseball media and fans simply because baseball is all about the numbers. (The game itself would boring otherwise.) Who has more home runs or a higher batting average or a lower ERA? The answers to those questions are now trapped in a murky haze and the greatness of individual feats can never truly be measured. In its greed, baseball did not protect its own history, its past players and its records. How can we ever tell which records are legitimate and which were broken with the help of steroids? We can't and we may never be able to. The idea of adding astericks is laughable - you can't change what you failed miserably to protect in the first place.

And it all really comes down to this question: Who deserves to get in the hall of fame? Baseball is so in love with immortalizing the great ones in their hall of fame. My guess is that it is darn near impossible for most players to win the World Series, so the hall of fame is like their championship. The hall of fame voters, many of which are players from previous eras, are not likely to vote for a PED user who have put up numbers acquired through cheating. The debate will rage on for years to come.

So what do we make of all this? There have been endless bouts of finger pointing and blame shifting. I think everyone needs to point at themselves. They need to admit their own failures during this era and then move on. The owners and the player's union have been flogged by Congress and the public, so together they implemented a PED policy. Good. The baseball media has recognized that they can't both worship the game and its players and still report on it professionally and accurately. Yes, it is their job to report the players who have still yet to admit to PED usage. That's fine. But reporters and commentators don't need to vilify these players as the bad guys, because everyone had a hand this. Players need to admit what they did and not continue to maddeningly deny what was obvious. And the Hall of Fame voters need to recognize that the Steroid Era will always be a big part in the history of the game. It will be impossible to tell who used steroids and who didn't. There's likely already members in the HOF who have used PEDS now. Ultimately, since the greatest hitter and greatest pitcher of the last 2 decades, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, are PED users, the entire era is tainted anyway. I say let their numbers into the hall, and let their actions determine their fame.

David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez used roids? Big deal. Its baseball's fault as much as it is their's. They were baseball's fitting champion.

Major League Baseball, in 1994 your game almost sank into obscurity so you used steroids as a way to gain relevance again. Now that you've been caught, don't get all self-righteous. Admit it and move on.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Pete Sampras, the Greatest of All Time

I got to see Sampras play in person for the first time, courtesy of Konica Minolta, at UCLA last night. It was a thrill, finally seeing the greatest tennis player of all time. Playing as the LA Tennis Open honoree, Sampras still looks capable of beating a lot of decent players as he displayed wondrous moments of the grace and power that he possessed in abundance in his prime. His 2002 US Open win over rival Andre Agassi is still one of the memorable moments in tennis history, for me. Having been given no chance, Sampras surprised the sports world, sealed his legacy and went out on top.

Sampras' 2 set exhibition and interviews afterward were quite revealing - while he didn't play his best, his competitiveness was still apparent. Twice he said that he had not played that well even when the moment was really about honoring his accomplishments and contributions to southern california tennis. He did make an uncharacteristic number of unforced errors however. Still, after losing the 1st set 6-4, he did come back and overwhelm Safin in the 2nd set 6-3. Momentum likely would have carried him through the 3rd set to victory.

Federer recently eclipsed Sampras's 14 Grand slam record at this year's Wimbledon. It is hard to say who really is better. Federer, like Sampras, does also have problems with clay courts but finally broke through this year at the French Open. However, Sampras outplayed all his rivals head to head and was clearly the dominant player of his era while Federer has a losing record vs his main rival Nadal (13-7) and likely only won the French Open because Nadal was out injured. Had Federer faced Sampras head to head in their primes, Federer might have had an issue with Sampras' serve and volley (a strategy left unmastered by players today). Perhaps the only opinion that has any validity is of the legend Rod Laver himself, who in May of this year chose Sampras over Federer as the greatest. However, if Federer continues to rack up Grand Slam titles, the argument may be moot soon enough.

For me, I will remember Sampras as the greatest player of all time. I've been fortunate to see Michael Jordan, Zinedine Zidane and Tiger Woods in person and now I've come full circle. It feels complete. (Unless of course they come up with a NFL legends game and Montana and Rice suit up again. haha.)

Tim Lincecum 15 K's

Tim Lincecum threw a career high 15 strikeouts in a complete game against the Pittsburgh Pirates Monday night. The reigning NL Cy Young winner is the best pitcher in the game today and there isn't a GM in the world that wouldn't pick him first if they were building a team from scratch.

Monday, July 27, 2009

all things futbol this weekend

Gold Cup

Mexico's 5-0 whooping on the US was an awful result for Bradley's Gold Cup squad. While the first penalty call was ridiculous - Gio Dos Santos elbowed Heaps in the face and then fell on him - the other scores were great goals. The Vela - Gio attacking force yesterday (plus Nery Castillo) is truly the future of Mexican soccer and the Americans should be very concerned, especially with the dearth of quality LBs to deal with Dos Santos. He is clearly the best player the Mexican Federation has.

Now I know this loss feels embarrassing to the US fan who is used to winning every important match vs the Mexicans on US soil, but I think everyone needs to calm down. We had zero players on the squad yesterday that contributed to our Confederations Cup success. None. Heath Pearce was in SA but didn't play a single minute. In fact, he was third string behind BOCANGEGRA, arguably our slowest CB who was shifted over to LB because of a lack of options, and Bornstein. Pearce had a terrible day defending Dos Santos yesterday. Brian Ching is possibly the only true starter but he is not our scoring superstar - he is a role player who complements our stars. And it can be argued that he lost his starting to spot to Charlie Davies after this summer. The only other 3 players that I think even have a shot at the World Cup roster are Perkins (3rd string GK), Marshall (4th string CB at best), and Holden (the last midfielder in). So basically, our 3rd and 4th stringers lost to Mexico who employed a couple of their most dynamic talents. While it is disappointing to finally lose to Mexico on US soil, I'll be a lot more worked up when our A squad loses a qualifier in Columbus.

However, there is no excuse to completely implode the way the team did after that incorrectly ruled penalty call. The good news is that hopefully this loss will motivate Landon and company to win a historic victory at Azteca in August.

(Edit 8/11 - Mexico called in 12 of their Gold Cup players to the WCQ vs the US. The US called in 3, and only Brian Ching will even have a chance to play. Marshall and Holden might not even make the gameday 18. Everyone needs to calm down. We sent a crap team and we got a crap result. I'd much rather have won that WCQ 2-0 in February than the meaningless 2009 Gold Cup.)

Edgar Castillo

I decided to watch the Tigres' first league match vs Puebla to see Castillo play for the first time. I came away extremely impressed by his speed and technical skill. I think his attacking ability is clearly superior to Bornstein, Pearce or Bocanegra. I didn't see enough to judge his defensive discipline but I think his talent demands that US Soccer take a serious look at this kid, as long as he shows some maturity off the field and some hard work on it. After what Dos Santos did to us, we need to be open to all options at LB.


Becks had a nice assist to Landon for the equalizer vs Kansas City on Sat, but then confoundingly got into another exchange with a fan. This time he did shake the fan's hand but still blasted him angrily after the match. Why is he so thin-skinned all of a sudden? Beckham has endured enough abuse from crazy English and Spanish fans that he should be able to handle weekend US fans by now.


Onyewu played in 2 more games after his debut and was both shaky and solid in both outings. He got the opportunity to play vs Chelsea in the 2nd half but I thought he was a lot more comfortable in his third game in the Milan derby. Even though he was beat in the 4th minute by Milito's near post effort (which should have been stopped by that Frankenstein Kalac), I thought he showed a lot of his value to the team with some sturdy defending and strength in the air. That said, he's got to make sure to minimize his mistakes and not cost his team - which it has twice in 3 games.

Chelsea vs Club America

When Pavel Pardo said that it was a great day for Mexican soccer, I knew that only Chelsea could redeem my day. An upset vs Chelsea would send Club America and all of Mexico into a tizzy. Worst still, Ancelotti opted against sending out Terry, Lampard, Drogba, Anelka, Bosingwa or Cech. Fortunately, brilliant interchanges between young Di Santos and Malouda resulted in 2 goals and a peaceful night for me.

The World Football Challenge was a great treat for soccer fans in the US. Based on attendance numbers and ESPN's full support, it is likely that we will have the chance to see more and more big teams playing each other in the summer here in the US, which will help alleviate the sports boredom brought on by baseball in the summer months. Maybe next summer, we'll see Real Madrid take on Chelsea or Barcelona take on Man U?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Onyewu's debut

It was thrilling to see Gooch in the AC Milan shirt last night. He's the first American field player to be purchased on a free transfer by one of the top 8 clubs in the world. He was a visibly nervous before the game and it was fascinating to watch him receive instructions from Leonardo right before making his start. I was pretty confident about his defensive skills but I was slightly nervous about his passing since AC Milan moves the ball around a lot faster than the US team. Sad to say, the first Club America goal looked to be at Gooch's expense. While it was an exceptional pass over his head, Gooch appeared to hesitate just a moment and paid the price. It can be argued that a more competent goalkeeper would have come out to gather that pass. However, it was intriguing to see him play as a target forward in the waning moments. He actually laid off a perfect pass of his head to a wide open Zigoni, who shamefully shanked it wide (and was absolute crap all night). Gooch also chested down a pass for one last opportunity for Gattuso but it was hit too high. In the interview after the loss, Gooch was visibly upset about the loss and probably worried that his mistake would set him back. But I think the Italian squad had to be impressed by the strength and length of their new purchase especially after having only 1 practice before that game.

Lalas made much to do about AC Milan's unwillingness to make moves this summer, however I think it may be better to allow Real Madrid's summer of spending to blow over and look to spend again next transfer season. I do however think that a move for Luis Fabiano would have been prudent. With Inzaghi getting old and Borrielo still needing to prove himself, Milan may need some more firepower up front. Perhaps Gooch should start up there again. heh.

Ronaldinho seems to be on a mission this summer to become great again. I agree with Lalas that he needs to be much more careful with the ball and that sometimes the simplest pass is the correct one. However, if he works at it, I don't see why he can't regain his form in what should be the prime of his career. Seedorf's touch has not left him yet and paired with Pirlo, Milan can still produce some magical moments. I have always loved Gattuso's tenacity, and he is the perfect destroyer to protect the midfield. Still, I'm starting to think that they could use some speed on their flank - Landon Donovan, anybody?

My AC Milan lineup for this year:

(edited 8/11)

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

This week in sports

Thoughts on "The Open" (Why did we call it the British Open when it was played in Scotland?)

Tiger's temper tantrums were never more evident this week as he reacted angrily to shot after shot landing in that Turnberry rough. Yes, its his first missed cut since 2006, even though he seemed to be on top of his game. But his emotional outbursts seem to cross the line of golf etiquette. You wouldn't think twice about it if you saw Kobe or TO react like that though, would you? Simply put, Tiger is a mainstream American athlete, not just a golfer, and that is how American athletes think they are entitled to act.

Tom Watson's missed 8 foot putt on the 72nd hole was a heartbreaking moment. You just felt like the clock would inevitably strike midnight and the impossible dream would again become just impossible. A 59 year old winning a major would have been one of the biggest stories in all of sports. Still, it was quite an achievement. I appreciated the humility and graciousness he showed even when being on the receiving end of a woodshed beatdown during the playoff holes. His countenance never changed and he didn't utter a complaint or any profanity for that matter. Tiger could learn a thing or two from Tom Watson. In fact, its probably the one last thing Tiger can and should learn from the game and this legend of golf. And also perhaps how to win at Turnberry...

As disappointing as it was to see Watson come up short, I could not be happier for Stewart Cink. If you remember, Cink had a 15 foot putt on the 72nd hole to win the US Open in 2001. Not only did he miss it, he also missed the 18 inch gimme comeback putt, depriving himself a spot in the playoff. (Retief Goosen, who had his own 72nd hole 3 putt adventure, eventually won.) Rick Reilly wrote a good article called "The Cinking Feeling" about his unforgettable gaffe. I'm sure that experience had gnawed a Cink for the entirety of the past 8 years. "Cinking" this 15 footer for birdie on this major's 72nd hole to make the playoff must have been such a redeeming moment. And since he's a class act and a US Ryder Cup member/winner, I was happy it was him. (And not that philistine, Lee Westwood). Mickelson, by the way, reports good news - both Amy's and his mom's cancer seem to be treatable.

US Soccer vs Panama in Gold Cup

The Good: Beckerman's golazo was well taken and I like his tenacity. Too bad for him he doesn't have a shot at SA with our crowded midfield. Chad Marshall's play continues to keep him as the 4th CB on the plane to SA. Perkins was sure with the ball and seems likely to be our 3rd stringer. Ching was his usual productive self and Holden's workrate was impressive. (I also liked his fun personality as shown in the meet with David Akers.)

The okay: Pearce seems pretty decent playing against international B teams. Is that good or bad? Heaps was surprisingly back on the field after his horror of a performance vs Haiti. Fortunately, Panama didn't attack up his side at all.

The bad: I know Cooper earned and scored on a very nice PK, but I thought he was extremely underwhelming again on the field. I don't remember any truly dangerous chances that he was involved in and he is running out of time to prove his value to our WC squad. Unless he busts out in the next two games, assuming we win Thursday, or makes a move to Europe, he is out of the picture. Rogers had an ineffective game and seemed determined to just beat his man on the outside for a cross, every single time he had the ball. Too bad he failed most of the time.

Beckham vs AC Milan (or is it LA riot squad)

I think its interesting that right after Landon calls Becks "unprofessional", Becks actually acts that way during this game. Footage clearly show Becks gesturing to those fans and eventually baiting a member of the Galaxy's riot squad to come down, which resulted in that idiot jumping down to the field level and earning a lifetime Home Depot ban. At first, Beckham's loss of self-control in a Galaxy friendly does seem strange, since he's been in many many more high pressure situations that this before. In the past, his temper has flared up against opponents, such as the incident vs Argentina in the 98 WC in which he was red-carded, but not usually with fans, especially fans from his own team. But, I think this time he was actually really embarrassed by the booing and the signs simply because AC Milan was there. Beckham still wants to return to AC Milan after this MLS season and he didn't want Pirlo, Nesta and company to think he was anything other than a god, here in LA.

Big picture, Beckham came to the US at a time when he thought his international career was over and his Real Madrid career was over. By the time he was accepted back into the national team fold, he had already committed himself to the Galaxy. We all know that his first priority is to play for his national team, and in order to compete for a spot, he has to play in a top tier Euro league. Ultimately, he should just admit that he is more committed to England than he is to the Galaxy right now. However, he should also promise up front that he will come back to the Galaxy permanently after next year's WC. From the MLS' perspective, Beckham is too valuable to just let walk away. But he won't be a happy or productive player unless he is allowed to pursue his dream. Galaxy have a fully committed Beckham for 2nd half of this season and the 2nd half of next season. Beckham furthers the Beckham brand at AC Milan early next year and plays in the WC. Seems like the best outcome to me.

Michael Vick's return?

After a 2 year exile, I don't have any problems with Vick returning to the NFL in the fall. I think he has done his time and as long as he follows through with his committments to the Human Society (who cares about peta), he should be reinstated. Chris Carter of ESPN thinks that there aren't 31 QBs better than Vick, but after a 2 year layoff, there's probably 62 QBs who are better. Its not like Vick was a world beater before he left - he was probably around the 15-20th best QBs out there. I think it would be a better fit to start Vick off as a backup or situational QB. Hopefully he still possesses his agility and speed - we haven't seen his type of talent before (Vince Young, you don't hold a candle to this guy and according to Norm Chow, you're probably two grades dumber), but playing QB in the NFL is the hardest position in all of sports. It requires more than just mere athleticism, no matter how supernatural the talent.

Inter vs Chelsea

Jose Mourinho vs his old squad here in LA? How could I miss this game? Will Ferrell (how does he have an old school Chelsea shirt) and Charlize Theron sure didn't. Its nice to see some mainstream personalities embracing the sport. But as for the game, it was complete domination by Lampard and company. They were in midseason form while Inter looked like a completely inferior squad. How did they win a Scudetto with that bunch? It can be argued these days that Serie A is falling more and more behind the EPL and La Liga in quality and star power. But that is for another day. I think I would have regretted not attending had Ibrahimovic had an incredible game. But he seemed uninterested and lazy. His failed bicycle kick may be the only memory we have of him from that night.

Side note: why would Barcelona risk their team chemistry on the field for a look-at-me kind of player like Ibra? Look at Henry's popularity since he left Arsenal - he is just one afterthought on a squad of stars. But he seems to be willing to play his role. Would Ibra do the same? I'm not so sure. I'm also not so sure that he's an upgrade from Eto'o. You know Eto'o is great and he fits with Messi and Henry so well. Why risk bringing on a personality like Zlatan? From Inter's perspective, Eto'o plus lots of cash would be a great deal. In my opinion, Eto'o is as productive of a striker as Ibra.

For Chelsea, they were exciting to watch and should have no problems contending for trophies, even if they don't have any big name signings this summer. If it were up to me, I'd sell Ballack and Sheva. 2 players that can and should take their places were really impressive last night: Deco and Anelka. Deco's play reminded me of his creative brilliance and its confounding that he can't get much time. Perhaps the EPL is too rough for him? Anelka scored 19 goals last year in league play but I still can't get over his distant demeanor. oh well.

My preferred starting XI:
Bosingwa Terry Carvalho Cole
--Lampard- Deco- Cole-----
-------Drogba Anelka-----

Big Ben

I seriously hope this allegations against Roethlisberger are not true. The authorities are not pursuing a criminal case, which seems strange, but all judgement needs to be reserved until more facts come out. Until then, his lyin, gold-diggin psychotic accuser needs to go away. Heh. And Big Ben, learn from AC Green and stop all intimate activity until you are married.

Landon Donovan

Livorno may want you but I hope you don't settle for a Serie A side that's about to get relegated. Hold out for something in Spain, like Valencia or something? I'd guess that he'd be more acclimated to a technical league like Spain instead of the defensive minded Serie A or the rough and tumble EPL. Then again, he's 27 and might not get a lot of looks after this. There's no guarantee that he'll have any takers after the WC next summer.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Remembering US 2 - Espana 0

Even though USMNT didn't win the Confederation's Cup, they should be remembered for the big step they took that night against Spain. It should be seen as the game that gave us the confidence to absolutely believe that we can compete with the best teams in the world. No longer should we just settle for a "good performance". And while USMNT didn't win any trophies that night, the American public did award them with the most American of awards: Best Upset. For once, Americans could cheer for their very own underdog.

Donovan, Bocangra, Dempsey, Altidore, Clark, Spector, Bornstein, and Kljestan were on hand to accept the award. (Kljestan, of course, is the only one who didn't play vs Spain, thankfully). Landon had a memorable line in his acceptance speech when he said, "we are looking forward to the day that other teams are winning awards for upsetting us". Its a perfect quote that recognizes where we are now, what we accomplished and where we want to be.

Coming into the Confed Cup, Spain had taken the international soccer world by storm after dominating Euro 2008 and thrilling everyone with their aesthetically beautiful style of soccer. In addition, several of Spain's players including Xavi and Puyol had just propelled Barcelona to an unprecedented treble including the Champions League title (La Liga and Copa del Rey). Spain was on top of the soccer world and rightfully held the #1 FIFA ranking. They had not lost a single game since Fall of 2006, tying Brazil's world record of 35 straight games. They had won a world record 15 straight games. They had not lost to a non-European team since 1999. Coming into the match vs the US, they had held opponents scoreless through 400 plus minutes.

As for their Confed Cup personnel, I would rate Spain's forwards, Fernando Torres and David Villa among the top 5 forwards in the world. Spain's midfielders can easily claim the mantle as international football's best group, including the forementioned Xavi, Arsenal's Fabregas, and Liverpool's Alonso. Defensively, their back line all hail from Spain's elite clubs, Barcelona, Real Madrid, Valencia and Villareal. Not to be forgotten, their goalkeeper, Madrid's Iker Casillas, is generally considered as 1st or 2nd best in the world.

In comparison, the US squad boasts no world class field players. Goalkeeper, Tim Howard, might be considered among the best, but our top field players competing in Europe are seen as role players, not stars, on their squads. Furthermore, the US team was in turmoil. Having been flogged 3-1 at Costa Rica and needing to stage a hard fought comeback vs Honduras to avoid full blown panic mode (in the 2 recent WC qualifiers), the US was in dire need of a good showing in the Confed Cup. The first two games were anything but. Against Italy, the worst case scenario occurred when American born and bred traitor, rossi, stuck 2 daggers into US soccer fan's hearts everywhere and won the game for Italia. In the next game vs Brazil, Coach Bradley inexplicably started two badly out of form players, Beasley and Kljestan, into the starting lineup and both contributed to the 3-0 disaster. US Soccer had reached rock bottom. Just 1 year before the World Cup, critics were questioning Bradley's tactics and player selections and calling for him to be replaced.

The last game vs Egypt was likely a mere formality and looked like a good opportunity to try out some of our younger players. To advance out of the group, the US needed a 3 goal victory AND they needed Brazil to beat Italy by the same margin. No problem, its just the same Italy that is renowned the world over for their defense. Oh and Egypt had scored 3 goals on Brazil (losing to a penalty in stoppage time) and actually beat Italy. Did I mention that the US hadn't scored a goal from the run of play (non penalty, non set piece) in 5 straight games? With seemingly little hope, Bradley stubbornly trotted out the "A" squad anyway (minus Howard who was probably scheduled to rest).

Brazil proceeds to drop 3 bombs in the first half against Italy and shuts them down in the 2nd half while the US frantically chases 2 more goals after Davies' opportunistic 1st half score. Donovan tees one up for Bradley (Happy Father's Day coach) and Spector sends in the most beautiful and pinpoint perfect cross I've ever seen from a US player, directly to Dempsey's head, who promptly bashes it home. After 2 straight dispiriting losses, the US actually make it out of the group? On 3 goals from the run of play? Miraculous, yes. But the best is yet to come.

The US effort vs Spain was one for the ages. Many would have assumed that the US would try to emulate what Chelsea did to Barcelona (to almost near perfection I might add had it not been for Iniesta wonderstrike) months before and play pure defensive soccer. However, the US did not, and actually attacked with much speed and numbers. Jozy's 1st half goal was a display of strength and speed. His shoulder turn threw Villareal teammate Capdevilla aside like a rag doll, and he powered a shot off Casillas for the shocking lead. As Spain displayed their typical flowing possession attack, the US responded with the type of scrappy effort that they are known for. They threw their bodies to block shots. They sprinted tirelessly on counters. Tim Howard did his best impression of a brick wall. (Fitness, workrate, and great goalkeeping are typical US qualities.) Eventually Feilhaber, who really is our best version of Xavi or Iniesta, set up a perfect ball to an open Donovan, who inexplicably crosses insteads of shoots. However, Sergio Ramos dallies a split second too long on the ball and Dempsey slots it home for the 2-0 lead. While the soccer world watches with mouths agape, the US finish off the incredible upset.

The US fairytale continues with a 2-0 lead vs Brazil at halftime, but precocious Brazil cannot be held down and answer with 3 (actually 4 but one was wrongfully called back) to win it. Heartbreaking yes, but its clear that beating Spain was the true story of the tournament.

As a result, ESPN and therefore the US sports world began to take notice of the US team. Not bad timing considering we're 1 year away from the big dance. Secondly, Bradley probably has a good idea of who can be relied upon and who still needs to prove himself. Lastly, and possibly most importantly, our players are starting to get more respect from clubs around the world. Defensive standout, Oguchi Onyewu was recently signed by AC Milan, which marks the first American to be signed by a top 10 club in the world on a free transfer. (Hopefully he gets to play alongside Italian stalwart Nesta to further his development.) So to be honored in front of the greatest American athletes with the ESPY as the best upset of this year is definitely icing on the cake. Hopefully with a little luck and a lot of effort, US Soccer can be honored in view of the world next summer. Okay, okay, its a little ambitious I know. But so was beating Espana...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Milestone Games in US Soccer history

(In chronological order)

1) 1950 vs England - 1-0 victory in the World Cup is still one of the greatest upsets in sports history.

2) 1989 vs T&T - "Shot heard round the world". Paul Caligiuri's goal propelled the US into their first World Cup in 40 years.

3) 1994 vs Columbia (WC) - A stunning upset, through the defensive efforts of Lalas and Balboa, which sends the US to the 2nd round. Andres Escobar is consequently killed for his own goal, likely by the Colombian cartel.

4) 1998 vs Brazil - Kasey Keller's effort vs #1 Brazil in the Gold Cup was called by Romario as the best night of goalkeeping he had ever seen. US Soccer's 1st upset of the #1 ranked team in the world.

5) 2002 vs Portugal - Title contender Portugal's hopes were given a jolt when Sanneh's perfect cross which McBride speared home in the 36th minute gave the US an early 3-0 lead in the opening group game of the WC.

6) 2002 vs Mexico - Donovan's dominance over Mexico truly emerges in this dos a cero victory. It also puts the US in the quarterfinals - the farthest they've ever gone in the modern WC age.

7) 2006 vs Italy - Okay, it wasn't a win. But they were the only team to get a point off World Cup champion Italy and they held the Azzurri with only 9 men on sweat, blood (literally - see McBride) and guts. Okay, its also because I was there. It was the greatest sporting experience I've been apart of. Never heard the national anthem sung so loudly.

8) 2009 vs Spain - Miracle on grass. Arguably the best game US soccer has ever played.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Becks & Donovan in this galaxy

Donovan's critical comments of Beckham likely came around December when it looked like Becks was going to transfer to AC Milan permanently. Grant Wahl had been with the Galaxy for over a year preparing to write his book so Landon probably felt pretty comfortable in being honest with him. Now that the comments are coming out as Becks making his return, I think Landon did a pretty good job apologizing for not talking to Becks privately.

Becks has discounted Wahl's book was "unofficial", which is code for not getting paid to do official interviews for the book. Obviously there's been tons of unauthorized biographies on Becks over the years and he's probably been paid millions for the few official ones he did authorize. But this book was not just about Becks. Wahl received permission from the Galaxy to write this book so its official by any measure. Becks needs to calm down. Wahl isn't some 2 cent ambulance chasing hack. Its called real journalism - something that Becks probably isn't always accustomed to, especially in football crazed Spain and England.

Becks was also ticked that Donovan called him "unprofessional" which I completely understand. If you remember, Becks was incredibly professional when he was kicked off Real Madrid's squad for no reason and stripped of England's captaincy, all within months after the 2006 WC. Eventually, by keeping his mouth closed, head down and playing his behind off, he earned his way back into Madrid's lineup, (winning La Liga), as well as being chosen for England qualifiers for Euro 08 (which they missed out on). Still you can imagine that Becks may have lost some sort of motivation in the middle of a terrible season on a terrible team, so Donovan might have a gripe there. Anyway, they "squashed" it and you can expect the two of them to coexist just fine.

Many, including Wahl, have questioned how Becks can maintain his focus on the Galaxy as well as trying to make the 2010 WC squad. I don't have any problems with Beckham pursuing his WC dream. They say the problem is that Becks will have to leave the Galaxy in January to ply his trade with a top Euro team in order to be considered for England's squad by Capello. So what? Donovan and other national teamers will be gone from their MLS squads for long periods of time leading up to June 2010 as well. I think the easy solution is to let Becks go on loan after this season (hopefully after some postseason success) with the promise that he will return permanently to the Galaxy after the WC. How can Becks playing on the world stage next summer hurt the MLS?

Meanwhile, Eskandarian might be the most important piece - he just scored another golazo in Beckham's return.

Okay, Donovan's golazo is equally impressive. I hope he's as aggressive for the USMNT.

Whoa. Eddie Lewis scored a third golazo! 3 stunning goals. Man, that Galaxy starting lineup is looking pretty solid. Becks and Lewis (the american Beckham as he was known in the EPL) throwing in crosses left and right; Donovan dominating the center while Buddle and Eskie take shots up top? They should make the playoffs this time.





Wednesday, July 15, 2009

WC 2010 US Lineup Prediction

After the biggest non-WC performance to this date by the US soccer team vs Spain, I'm going to predict the 23 man squad one year in advance, starters denoted by (S).

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard (S), Guzan, Perkins

Howard is our undisputed number 1 and possibly our best player overall. Guzan is a favorite of Bradley even though he didn't get an PT last year. Personally, I would prefer Hahnemann as a veteran leader.

Defenders: Cherundolo(S), Onyewu(S), DeMerit(S), Bocanegra (S), Spector, Marshall, Bornstein, Heydude

If Dolo stays healthy, his experience and speed earns him the nod over Spector. However, Spector is likely our future RB as well as a capable backup to other defensive slots. Left back Edgar Castillo seems to be a prima donna off the field and hasn't played well enough to make us overlook it. I doubt he'd be called in for qualifiers unless he turn it around in a hurry. However, he seems to have the talent to start, (troubling rumors of defensive liabilities aside), especially at the hole known as US Soccer's LB. Bocanegra seems to be too slow there while Bornstein doesn't inspire confidence either, so Boca is my guess since, you know, he's the captain and all. The search continues...

Midfielders: Dempsey (S), Bradley (S), Jones (S), Donovan (S), Feilhaber, Edu, Holden, Torres, Beasley

Dempsey, Donovan and Bradley should be and currently are entrenched as starters for next summer. I'm tired of hearing complaints of nepotism against Bradley Jr. - we have no other box to box central midfielder who has started and produced in a top-level european league in our entire pool like he has. Hopefully that will change when Jermaine Jones enters the fray. He has been rated among the best defensive midfielders in the Bundesliga and as long as he leaves his ego behind in Deutschland, he should start immediately. I personally think Feilhaber is our most creative midfield playmaker and should contend for a starting spot as well, as long as he plays consistently this year. Edu is Jones' backup while Torres and Holden can provide cover for multiple midfield positions. I expect Beasley to work hard after this summer's debacle and regain his form and hopefully speed. Bradley will give him a chance if that's the case. If not, Rogers or Szetela may get a call.

Forwards: Jozy (S), Davies (S), Ching

Davies' vast improvement this summer merits him the start next to Jozy. Ching deserves to make the trip and will likely be counted upon as well. I would only take 3 "forwards" since Dempsey and Donovan can both play up top as necessary. Casey, Cooper, and every other MLS pretender haven't shown any real value to the MNT. Former anointed savior of US forwards, Eddie Johnson, can possibly put himself back on the radar with a strong showing at Fulham this year but I wouldn't count on it. Maybe Brian McBride would be willing to answer the call? As for Adu, he has disappointed at the club and international level so far, and until he gets PT at Monaco, he will likely not make the trip to South Africa.

2009 MLB Allstar game... and baseball's other problems

Last night's MLB allstar game was lame just like all baseball games before October outside of Yankees-Red Sox games (or when Tim Lincecum pitches). When the President showing up is the most interesting part of the whole night, you know your sport has a problem. (And Fox only showed 1 replay but President Obama's first pitch did NOT reach the plate. Pujol's greatest achievement this weekend was to keep that thing from bouncing. [And why does our President throws like a teenage girl?])

I love sports. I can't watch baseball. A few thoughts...

Bad Management

  1. The players union is too strong – it seems like nothing ever gets accomplished. Performance enhancing tests were off the table from negotiations until way too late. Salary cap is still not even on the table.

  1. No Salary Cap – The Yankees payroll is above $200 million while the A’s are around $60 million. (The next highest after the Yanks are the Mets at $135 mill.) How can lower payroll teams compete year after year with that kind of inequity? Basically, the good players are always lured by richer and more successful clubs and paid exorbitant salaries which lower payroll clubs can’t match. These clubs (such as the Nationals) will never compete consistently because they can’t afford good players, which causes them to lose, which hinders their ability to earn enough revenue to attract free agents. Even if they develop a good player in the minor leagues, they lose him to a rich team after a few years. So the same teams make the playoffs most frequently. Yeah, there are always the random teams like the Marlins that win it all here and there, but that's a result of true sport shining through even when its held down by a corrupt system.

  1. PEDs - Why is there such an outcry about performance enhancing drugs? It was a "rule” that MLB was powerless to enforce so of course this would happen. Pujols is the last major big name slugger who is still clean. Hope he actually is. The owners ignored steroid usage after the player's strike in the mid 90's because they needed the power surge to bring crowds back. Now they're claiming ignorance and blackballing players for it? You know you have a problem when Jose Canseco is the only voice you can trust.

  1. Inept, Incapable and Corrupt commissioner – Bud Selig was basically a part owner of the Brewers (transferring ownership to his daughter to avoid being accused of partiality). Of course he's going to do what's best for the owners. Of course the player's union won't trust anything he wants to do. The best commissioners in sports (see: Stern) do what’s best for their sport regardless of what owners and players want. Selig is both powerless and corrupt.

  1. American’s pastime refusal to market itself to the black American athlete is slowly killing the popularity of the game in relation to the NBA and of course, the NFL. So while baseball gets a boost by the influx of the Latinos, Asians and other foreigners, MLB refuses to market to inner-city kids. Show Ryan Howard hitting a HR set to Jay-Z, how hard is that? Sheez.

  1. And why does MLB not have any apparent charity work? NFL runs United Way ads every commercial. NBA has its read to achieve initiative. MLB? Don't do steroids slogan, at least?

  1. The individual’s numbers are more important than team success. PEDs are such a big deal simply because baseball is all about its stats. And about making the Hall of Fame. And probably also because most teams have no shot of making the postseason much less winning a championship.

  1. Instant Replay. Its 2009. Viewers can see multiple replays within 4-5 seconds of the actual play. There's nearly 30 seconds until the next pitch. So why can't they review every close play? There’s no running clock. Baseball is literally the only sport that can be called correct - on every single play. And why is there a changing strike zone based on umpire’s preference from game to game? Why not consider letting a computer call balls and strikes? It would provide complete consistency without basis for argument. Baseball is so stuck in tradition.

  1. Guaranteed salaries make for lazy players. The Yankees can afford that but the A's can't, so this hurts the small payroll teams more.

Bad Structure

  1. Not enough teams in the playoffs (Must win division or 1 wild card spot). Why do you have to win the division to make the playoffs? In the AL, you know either the Yankees or Red Sox will usually win their division and the other team will take the wildcard. So that leaves 2 spots left for the rest of the entire freakin AL? stupid. There should be 8 teams playing 11 game series. You can cut down on the regular season if you have to.

  1. And teams plays too many games – it creates 162 irrelevant games. They say that every team wins 60 games and loses 60 games. Its what you do with the 40 that count. So how do I know if the game I'm watching is one of the 60s or one that counts?

  1. Why is the World Series home advantage determined by outcome of all-star game? That doesn't make any sense. How about best record gets home field? Or at least go by interleague play record. Selig says it must be decided early so plans can be made, hotels reserved, etc. So that's why the NBA can't manage to put on the NBA Finals every year...

  1. Why is interleague play still such an issue? Purists don't even want it. LOL. They think its BETTER that the Yankees or Red Sox NEVER come to their hallowed NL stadiums. hahaha. stupid. Every team should play every team at least every other year. Heck, with 162 games, you should be able to play every team every year. Why do the Diamondbacks need to play the Padres like 15 times a season anyway?

  1. Why does 1 league have the DH and the other doesn't? Its like two different sports. Baseball purists need to shut up about this. What ends up happening is that the AL has 30 more sluggers than the NL. The NL has Albert Pujols. And NL fans are subjected to having to watch pitchers HIT. Are you trying to drive away fans? And don't give me the strategy stuff. The strategy only exists as a result of a stupid rule. Pitchers shouldn't ever hit. Its a sure out. Its boring. Its when people go to the bathroom. Wake up! Why do you think the NL hasn't won an allstar game in 12 years and get dominated in interleague play?

  1. Why are baseball playoffs in October and November? This is one of the only outdoor sports that can't be played in inclement weather (which is stupid in itself) but they choose to play the most important part of the season in November. stupid.

My complaints with the game itself

  1. There’s only 10 minutes of actual action per every 3 hour game. And only 3 players are actually playing the majority of the entire game. The pitcher, the hitter, and the catcher. And baseball fans say soccer is slow. ha!

  1. The game requires relatively little tactics and strategy, which makes it boring. Baseball lovers, calm down. I’m just saying any manager can manage any club in any particular game.

  1. Inherent in the game is the fact that the best player in the game can be taken out of the game with the intentional walk. (In basketball, you can never take the ball away from Jordan so that he can’t even attempt to play).

  1. Baseball requires the least team play out of all team sports. That’s why Barry Bonds and Jeff Kent could be mortal enemies and MVP candidates at the same time.

Okay - a few things I do like about baseball.

1) HR - hardest thing to do in sports.

2) the smell of the glove.

3) crack of the bat

4) The intricacies of pitching.

5) Baseball's roots in Americana.

6) Visiting famous ballparks - Fenway is the best old school park / AT&T Park is the best new school

7) hot dogs. not dodger dogs - those are nasty.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Real Madrid - new galacticos

I've always said that Madrid President Perez' biggest mistake was letting Makelele walk away, which marked the downfall of the first Galacticos era. Makelele basically redefined the defensive/holding midfield position. All that firepower up front - Ronaldo, Raul, Figo, Zidane with no midfield anchor spelled disaster.

With the new Ronaldo, Kaka' and Benzema and other additions, Perez better make sure his defense is up to snuff. It'll take some strong midfield defensive play to knock Iniesta and Xavi off their game. Man, if Barca get Fabregas and Villa this summer too, it would basically be the Spanish national team out there. Madrid would probably have to go after Jozy and Dempsey to beat them. LOL.

Madrid should probably give up on Ribery this summer since Bayern doesn't want to sell anyway (and you still have Robben remember?), and concentrate on acquiring Xabi Alonso. He's Spanish, which will go over well with the fans, but more importantly he'll help provide a link between your defense and your new attacking force.

CR ----------Kaka'

Robben, Ruud VN, Raul, Negredo off the bench. I'm a big fan of Sneijder but I'm assuming the other two Dutch contingent, VDV and Huntelaar will be sold.

Of course, if they do get Ribery, the lineup would be sick.

So how would the 2009 galacticos stack up with the first galacticos era?

Galacticos I / II
Roberto Carlos--Alonso (no big name defenders unless you count Ramos)

I've got to say the first galacticos are still bigger. RM would have to go get Messi or a Fernando Torres to make it even.