Sunday, March 21, 2010

NBA: Kings v Clippers

I think this is my first NBA game this year.  Figured this would be a good time to see Tyreke Evans and these new look Kings.  Then Tyreke goes out on Friday night and gets a concussion and other assorted facial injuries that keeps him out of this game.  Great.

I decided to go anyway.  Of course with LA Marathon traffic or maybe just LA traffic, we don't get there until 8 minutes left in the 2nd quarter and the Kings are already up by 10.  The game is already over.

Carl Landry and Beno Udrih were the most impressive as they seemingly scored at will.  Beno had 17 assists.  Unfortunately, Spencer Hawes, Omri Casspi and Jason Thompson all didn't play that well or that much so I didn't really get a good feel for the young talent on our squad.

I did get pretty good feel for the Clippers squad though.  They didn't care about winning.  Or even trying.  A team with Baron Davis, Chris Kaman and Drew Gooden at home shouldn't be trailing a Kings squad without their best player by 10 points the entire game.  This organization is just garbage.  And it starts at the top.  An owner not committed to winning won't win.  They really are the exact opposite of the Lakers who have reached the NBA Finals 15 of the 30 seasons since the Buss family took over.

As for the Kings, I'm glad that my prediction was right about Tyreke.  Again, Sacramento can't sign free agents so they must be drafted or traded for.  Tyreke is the standout Rookie of the Year and the team obviously plans to build around him, as seen by the immediate trade of Kevin Martin, who was easily the best player on the team before.  I guess they were not compatible together but I still have a hard time getting over the fact that we traded away a bonafide 20+ point a game scorer.  I know Carl Landry is a physical power forward that we needed but I have doubts that Francisco Garcia can take over even as a poor man's Kevin Martin.  So, I am still waiting to see what we plan to do with the cap space that the trade also afforded us.

But, in Geoff Petrie I trust.  Except, can we change our away unis from the awful purple getups back to black?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dempsey, Donovan, Becks


Dempsey scored one of the most audacious goals ever by any American in history when he chipped Juventus' goalkeeper with a 30 yarder to cap off a stunning 4 goal comeback.  Fulham beat Juve 5-4 on aggregate goals to move on into the last 8 in the Europa league.  This very well could be the greatest goal in Fulham club history.  Dempsey was quoted to have said, "I just thought, what the heck and tried to put it in far post...".
While Landon Donovan has always been, often frustratingly, cautious and measured (especially with the ball near goal), Dempsey's greatest quality is his daring-ness to let it all hang out and not fearing failure.  While Donovan might possess a bit more raw soccer talent, Dempsey's mindset has allowed him to achieve far more in Europe.  I'm definitely going with a Dempsey shirt this time.


Speaking of Donovan's achievements in Europe, he has far surpassed anyone's expectations with his 2.5 month stint with Everton.  Honestly, keeping in mind Donovan's repeated failures in the Bundesliga, a level below the EPL, I was guarded in my optimism.  Landon operates best in an environment that is comfortable for him and when the manager puts him in a position to succeed.  (Dempsey, comparatively, seems to be able to excel with or without ideal circumstances.  He carves his own niche.)  There is no doubt that David Moyes immediately believed in Landon and gave him the free reign on the wing.

In return, Donovan contributed to an awesome run where Everton tied Arsenal, beat Man City, Chelsea and Man United.  After his goal vs Hull City in his last home appearance (and again after his selfless assist later), his teammates hoisted him into the air in homage while Everton fans, the ones who voted Donovan as the player of the month in February, rained down their appreciation.  Personally, I'm hoping that the MLS has a work stoppage.  I'd really rather Donovan stay with Everton than come back here.

Outrageously, there have been rumors that Donovan is being targeted by Ancelotti to fill Joe Cole's vacancy this summer.  Obviously, Chelsea is able to pay the 10 million plus that the MLS will demand.  However, even Joe Cole didn't play much at Chelsea this season and there's no reason to believe that Landon would get regular playing time.  Plus, with Chelsea's embarrassing Champions League ouster at the hands of Inter and the Special One this week, a massive roster overhaul could occur this summer at Abramovich's command.  Who knows if Donovan will fit in.  Best case scenario, Everton digs deep and buys Donovan this summer.  After all, he's already comfortable there.


Really feel bad for the guy.  He had a chance to play in his 4th World Cup.  He had a chance to score in an unprecedented 4 World Cups too.  After the insane schedule he's gone through the last 2 years to position himself to be eligible for Carpello's selection, it is too bad that his body broke down just 3 months before the World Cup.  I guess someone who has it all, just can't have it all, huh?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hockey: Kings vs Blackhawks

I went to the Kings-Blackhawks game with one of my Canadian friends.  Its always more fun to watch hockey with someone who actually understands what they're seeing.

I learned today that hockey's much more about playing the percentages than I had thought.  Sometimes, an attacking player will flip the puck into the far corner even though he had just stolen it and may have a shooting opportunity just so his team can do a line change.  And a goalie will strategically guess where to block especially if his vision is impaired by teammates.

Did you know that the 2nd best hockey league in the world, is the US developmental league?  Not the Russian KHL or the Swedish league, etc.  How interesting that the best players on the planet ply their trade here and yet, so few Americans are found on each NHL roster.  I think I remember it being something like 12% of the NHL are Americans.  But hey, we boast the best goalie in the world in Ryan Miller.  He's got the best save %, according to

Surprisingly, I also learned that out of a 60 minute game, even the fittest hockey players only play 20-25 minutes of every 60 minute game.  That makes the scoring achievements of Ovechkin and Crosby even more impressive.  However, it does make the game a little less appealing.  Imagine if Kobe or Lebron only played 20 minutes of each 48 minute game.  And imagine if they kept going in and out every 2 minutes.

On this night, American Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks were dominant and outshot the Kings 37-17, winning 3-0.  We also got to see a typical hockey fight where both guys grab a handful of jersey with the left and swing wildly with the right.  Still not sure of the reasoning behind letting the fights go on...

Honestly, though it wasn't a great game, I left wanting to see more hockey.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

March Madness

The two best tournaments in sports, aside from the juggernaut that is the NFL Playoffs, are the World Cup and the NCAA Tournament.  Even if you don't know anything about the teams and don't really care about who wins, it is still exciting to follow.  That is how you know a tournament is a success or not.

NCAA's plan to expand the 64 team tournament to 96 teams is the worst idea I've heard in years.  Only baseball would do something so stupid.  Leave it to the NCAA to try and change what is working brilliantly right now but purposely turn a blind eye to what desperately needs fixing: College football postseason.  Does anyone really believe there are more than 35-40 non mid-major, big conference teams that deserve to play for the title?  Ridiculous.  Its perfect right now - 3 weekends of games.  The NCAA really is just about the money.

This year's tourney just feels different, doesn't it?  No UCLA, no UNC, no UConn, no Arizona, no Indiana - its missing a lot of big time schools.  Also, doesn't it seem like the top 5-6 teams are heads and shoulders above everyone else?  Only Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse, Ohio State, West Virginia or Duke can conceivably win it all.

So I've got those 6 plus Kansas St and Baylor in my Elite 8.  I went out on a limb and picked Baylor as the only non #1 to reach the final four cause I just think Duke is not athletic enough (ie too white) and Villanova is overrated.  Yeah, so its Baylor but whatever.

Everyone loves Kansas as the prohibitive favorite but I'm taking Kentucky.  John Wall will be the first pick in the NBA draft this year and freshmen center, Cousins, will be top 5.  Their senior, Patterson, will be top 10.  That's 3 NBA guys there.  I'm reminded of how Syracuse rode freshmen sensation Carmelo Anthony to the title over Kansas' seniors all over again.  Plus the chances of winning any brackets goes down big time if I take Kansas since everyone's got them.  We'll see.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

UCLA Season in Review

The 2009-2010 season has mercifully come to a close.

 Pac 10 Tourney

While we avenged our losses to Arizona this year with a victory in the Pac-10 tournament (mostly because of the return of Reeves Nelson and his 19 points and 10 rebound effort), we capitulated a 9 point lead over Cal with a 1:23 left in the first half and lost by 13 (mostly because Dragovic won't play defense and insisted on repeatedly throwing, not shooting mind you, but throwing the ball directly at the front of the rim in the 2nd half.  He ended up shooting 1-11 on jump shots.  Even vs UofA, he shot 3-12.)

I despise Dragovic (the bball player, not the person) more than I've despised any Bruin in my 13 years of following UCLA basketball.  He plays without consistency, without passion, without basketball IQ but yet possesses just enough ability to somehow stay on the court.  While he can score 15 plus points on any given night, he allows more than that with his ridiculous "o-ley" defense.  In addition, his lack of leadership or Senior example renders him worse for our program than James Keefe, who was only incompetent on the court.  I will never understand how a terrible defender gets all that playing time when he is also a terrible perimeter shooter, AND has a tendency to get arrested for physical violence.  I am glad this season is over simply because I will never have to watch him play again.  Time will only tell what residual effects our team has suffered as a result of Dragovic's presence here.  Had to get that off my chest first.

In comparison, Michael Roll's career high 27 point performance deserved the standing ovation he received from UCLA and CAL fans alike when Howland brought him out in the last minute.  He is now the 49th player in UCLA history to score 1,000 points.  It was a good moment when Mike Montgomery went out of his way to speak well of Roll's career in the postgame interview.  He will be remembered fondly.

Season in Review

Many fans are upset at Howland this year for the inconsistencies and sometimes just outright horrible play of our squad.  And I do agree that there are facets of our play on the offensive end that Howland could improve on.  I also agree that there are probably aspects to Howland's coaching style that makes it tough to consistently recruit the most talented kids to UCLA - and this is a whole 'nother conversation for another time.  That said, UCLA fans need to calm down.  They should see this year as I have: nothing more than a long practice season for next year's run.

By the end of the season, freshmen Honeycutt and Nelson were the only players that held my interest.  Don't forget the number of players that we've lost since our last final four run in 2008.  That year we lost starters Kevin Love, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Russell Westbrook (more on him later).  Moute, by the way, is the only starter in all 3 of our Final Four runs.  He was missed badly in the subsequent season when we disappointingly finished 1 win short of the Pac 10 championship.  From that team led by Collison, we also lost seniors Josh Shipp and Alfred Aboya and a 4th starter in Jrue Holiday.  By the way, only Collison and Holiday were NBA caliber and Jrue was not a big contributer anyway.  Its clear now that Collison didn't have much to work with last year.

So, that makes a total of 7 starting players that left Howland's program in 2 years.  We didn't just lose a few players, we lost a whole playing rotation.  8 good players if we count Mata as well.  (Also Chace Stanback, a SF recruit would've been a junior this year but he transferred to UNLV after 2008 and played big minutes in the NCAA tourney this year.)  Jrue Holiday's early defection especially sabotaged our chances this season before we even started.  The legacy of Jordan Farmar and Darren Collison rested on the inadequate shoulders of Jerime Anderson.  Then the impetuous Drew Gordon moronically exhibited no self-control and was rightly kicked off the team.  Unfortunately, I would argue that he would have been our best player this season.  Had no player left early, our starting lineup this year would've been: Kevin Love, Drew Gordon, Michael Roll (over Dragovic), Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday - easily a national championship contender if not the favorite.  Roll would have been a great outside shooting role player.  Instead, he is now our leading scorer and team leader.  He did a remarkable job as it is, having garnered a place on the All-Pac 10 team by year's end.

So with Roll, the madly inconsistent and defensively-deficient Dragovic, and completely useless James Keefe as our senior leaders, we needed exemplary play from our underclassmen to have a chance.  Reality?  Our exciting "fab five" recruiting class from last year actually turned out to be the "overworked one": Malcolm Lee.  Jrue Holiday left early and cost himself millions as well as the respect of Bruin fans everywhere; Drew Gordon was banished for insubordination; Bobo Morgan was benched for too much weight and too little skill; and Jerime Anderson lacked the paramount skill of any good point guard, namely decision-making.  Was Howland to blame?  Maybe a little, but there's no doubt it was primarily the fault of these players.

Malcolm himself played the whole season seemingly overanxious and constantly pressing too hard.  He also lacks any form in his jumper and will never be a great outside shooter without a major overhaul of his mechanics.  He is at his best, however, when he has the ball in open space or is in the paint.  His athleticism is phenomenal.  I also still think he has the tools to be a shut down defender.  Moving forward, he is a major piece of our team as the best, and perhaps only, scoring guard on a guard-thin roster.

So in retrospect, a 5th place finish (tied) in the Pac-10 is actually not that far from what should've been expected - many experts predicted 3rd behind Cal and Wash.  We essentially had 4 new starters (even worse, it was Drago, not Roll who started last year) and literally zero bench experience to count on.  Howland's teams requires a solid PG.  With Jerime struggling and Malcolm having to master both guard positions, we were bound to struggle.  There is clearly no Farmar or Collison on this team. Also, with injuries plaguing the majority of the roster before Pac-10 play which hampered much needed development time for a young team, as well as the Drew Gordon debacle, we should be pretty happy that we were actually tied for 1st place halfway through the schedule.

However, the emergence of Reeves Nelson and then Tyler Honeycutt was definitely unexpected.  Already, they are 2 out of 3 of our core players, along with Lee.  Brendan Lane is another bright spot as well.

Projected starting lineup next year: Lazeric Jones, Malcolm, Honeycutt, Nelson, Josh Smith.
Bench possibilities: Lane, Anderson, Tyler Lamb, Anthony Stover, Mike Moser, Bobo Morgan. - probably 4 of those 6 will play.

Howland did say that he expects 2 more recruits to sign with UCLA soon.  Hopefully one's an All-American PG.

So its still a young team next year with predominantly underclassmen, 3 juniors (one of which is a juco and another is Jerime), and no seniors.  Therefore, we are on track for a 2012 national championship, barring any early defections, of course.

Malcolm and Honeycutt, I'm talking to you.  Come back, work hard and you know Howland will show you the way to success in the NBA.

Games I attended this year - plus what was memorable for me.  Not including the 2 exhibition wins, I actually saw 7 wins and only 4 losses.

Concordia W - Mustafa sucks at PG but hits game winning 3.
Humboldt St W - Michael Roll is key to season.

Cal St. Fullerton L - Embarrassing loss but Reeves shows potential.
Pepperdine W - Drew Gordon is a monster inside.
Kansas L - Played #1 team tough.  Reeves outplayed Aldrich.
New Mexico St. W - 100 point game.

Arizona St. W - We lost a 17 point lead in 2nd half.
Washington W - Mustafa's stunning game winner.
Washington St. W - Reeves is a force inside.
Stanford W - Only 5 TOs.  Tied for Pac10 lead
California L - Cal shot 50% from 3.
Oregon St. W - Honeycutt's 18, 10, 5 block, 4 assists, 3 steal night
Oregon L - Jerime's 2 TO in the clutch loses the game.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Darren Collison and other things UCLA bball

Darren Collison had 20 assists last night.  TWENTY.  Amazing.  Not only that, he made the clutch floater to seal the game.  Since Chris Paul went down to injury (the 2nd time) this year, Collison has put up allstar numbers.  Not just great numbers for a rookie, but great numbers for an perennial allstar point guard, averaging 21 points and 10 assists.  He's shooting 50% from the field and over 40% on 3s.  Couldn't be happier for him.  Again, he stayed 4 years under Howland's tutelage and it is certainly paying off.  Now I know that his stats may not be replicable in a different environment or a different team, but it simply means that he has what it takes to be a long-term success in the NBA.  Now if we can only get him off Chris Paul's team...

Though Kevin Durant is the one in all conversations for league MVP, Russell Westbrook has quietly made a name for himself in the NBA.  This year, he has averaged nearly 17 points, 8 assists and 5 rebounds a game.  For someone who didn't have a real Div 1 scholarship until UCLA came around and then was roundly panned by critics for being a top 4 pick in the draft, he has been an absolute revelation in the NBA.  Even though the frosh/soph allstar game is just a showcase, he was absolutely the standout (along with Tyreke Evans).

I just know that Howland wishes he could replay that fateful Final Four game vs Memphis.  Had he put Westbrook on Rose (and Moute on Chris Douglas-Roberts), we should have won.  A lineup with Kevin Love, Moute, Westbrook and Collison should've won a championship.  (ok, exhale).

Matt Barnes mixed it up with Kobe in Sunday's Magic win over the Lakers.  Their physical confrontation led to technicals as well.  Barnes resented Kobe openly throwing elbows without penalty from the refs and was willing to stand up to him.  The day after, Lamar Odom called Barnes "Ric Flair" for his physical style.  Awesome. Anyone willing to stand up to the Lakers is good by me.  I'll never forget Matt Barnes running off the court after a bad home loss at UCLA, pausing in front of our student section just long enough to yell, " Our coach sucks!".  Of course, he was referring to Steve Lavin.  Barnes is still his outspoken self, apparently.

How are our Bruin alumni doing this year anyway?

Kevin Love 15 points, 11.2 rebounds, 2.3 assists
Trevor Ariza 15.4 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists
Matt Barnes 8.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 1.7 assists
LRMA Moute 6.7 points, 5.5 rebounds, 1.1 assists
Ryan Hollins 6.8 points, 3.0 rebounds, 0.8 assists
Jason Kapono 3.9 points, 0.9 rebounds, 0.4 assists
Dan Gadzuric 2.5 points, 2.6 rebounds, 0.5 assists

Russell Westbrook 16.7 points, 5.1 rebounds, 7.9 assists
Baron Davis 15.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 7.9 assists
Darren Collison 11.0, 2.3 rebounds, 5.0 assists
Arron Afflalo 9.0 points, 2.8 rebounds, 1.7 assists
Earl Watson 7.4 points, 3.1 rebounds, 4.5 assists
Jordan Farmar 7.6 points, 1.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists
Jrue Holiday 6.5 points, 2.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists

Friday, March 5, 2010

USMNT 2010 WC Jersey, pic history

(5/16/12 - Updated chronological pictorial jersey history can be found here: US Soccer Jersey History 2012)

(Go here for: US Soccer Jersey History Pt 2)

I used to be a bigger jersey guy but now with a fulltime job and a family, when the heck would I ever wear any of them?  And for what purpose?  They're just sitting in my closet mostly waiting just to remind me of what a dork I am.

The only jerseys I still would get would probably be a UCLA football every decade or so and then the USA World Cup jerseys every 4 years.  Those look enough like a regular t-shirt or sometimes a polo, that I can get away with wearing them around periodically.

Generally, Nike releases new jersey designs every two years, including a home white jersey and an away jersey.  Sometimes they throw out a 3rd jersey or a specialty design that the US wears for a specific game.

So with the release of the 2010 US World Cup kit, I thought I'd post a pictorial history of US Soccer jerseys through the years.

The 2010 Home jersey as worn vs Turkey on 5/29/10:    (Post Edited: 6/2/10)

The 2010 Away jersey as worn vs the Netherlands on 3/3/10:

Notice any similarities with the one from 1950?

1950 Home

It has become instant legend after the 1-0 upset of England.  Retro throwback special release jerseys with sashes have been released 3 times now, I believe, mostly to a rousing response, but none were the actual jersey that is worn for a 2 year cycle.  Clearly, the 2010 edition is again a nod to the 1950 edition and its coincidental that we are again facing England on the biggest stage.  As for the 1950 version, I love the crest/shield but I'm just okay with the sash.  4.5 out of 5.

1990 Home (Paul Caligiuri)

The first thing I noticed was that the US hadn't settled on a crest yet.  As for the design, while unique, it doesn't have a cool or memorable feel to it.  Sometimes, it almost has a native indian look.  2 out of 5.

1992-1994 Home (Cobi Jones)

Adidas unleashes its new logo and brings a modern look to US jerseys for the first time as well.  It seems simple but the the 3 colored stripes on one shoulder look good.  The US crest is not much of a crest at all.  But I can't shake the feeling that it looks like a girl's jersey.  3 out of 5.

1992-1994 away (Kinnear)

The away version is not as good.  The 3 white stripes on the shoulder look out of place this time.  Plus, why is the blue so light to begin with?  2.5 out of 5.

1994-1996 Home (Alexi Lalas)

One of the most memorable jerseys in US history.  Also one of the worst.  Who decided that a denim look would work on a soccer jersey?  And why unleash this thing during the first World Cup we ever hosted?  Alexi Lalas is probably the only one who can pull it off.  1 out of 5.

1994-1996 Away (Alexi Lalas)

Yes, I get how the wavy red lines looks like our flag just like the white stars on a blue background in the home version.  But I just don't like vertical stripes on a jersey.  These two efforts probably led to the switchover to Nike.  1.5 out of 5.

1996-1998 Home (Tab Ramos)

Nike takes over US Soccer and starts with a solid effort.  I like the polo shirt look to it and the solid stripe across is a respectable look for a soccer jersey.  The US crest also appears here for the first time.  3.5 out of 5.

1996-1998 Away (Eric Wynalda)

Nike decided to go away from the lighter blue to the navy blue, you know, like the color we have on our flag.  3.5 out of 5.

1998-2000 Home (Brian McBride)

Nike keeps the stripe-across-the-chest-polo-shirt-look going.  It does looks a little like a tennis shirt but I like the classic feel overall.  One of my favorite designs.  4.5 out of 5.

1998-2000 Away (Claudio Reyna)

This is one of my favorite US jersey of all time.  I like the vibrancy of the red as well as the usage of white and blue.  It has to be paired with the blue shorts, however.  5 out of 5.

2000-2002 Home (Claudio Reyna)

This design is simple and clean but in the end, it looks like a lazy effort.  Its basically a white t-shirt with blue trim.  great, thanks.  Okay, so this t-shirt is still better than the 94 jerseys.  2 out of 5.

2000-2002 Away (Ernie Stewart)

Since it has color, it rates better than the home whites.  While red is a great soccer jersey color and I loved the 98 edition, I still think our main away color should be navy blue.  Red has been the predominant color of just about all US enemies including the redcoats, the nazis, the communists, the devil, etc.  That's why I say if we wear red, it has to be paired with blue shorts.  2.5 out of 5.

2002-2004 Home (Brian McBride)

When these first came out, I was completely in love with the shirt.  Now I think I was just in love with the success of the team.  Some critics have said it just looks like a volleyball jersey, but I still do like the angular designs under the arms.  I also like the font used for the numbers.  This would be the first US jersey, I ever owned.  I got a Reyna 10.  3.5 out of 5.

2002-2004 Away (John O'Brien)

The away edition loses the collar but preserves a cool athletic look to it.  Too bad we lost both games in the WC in which we wore it.  4 out of 5.

2004 Third 1950 Throwback (Jonathan Spector)

This throwback to the 1950 shirt was not worn nearly enough.  I prefer this crest to our current one as well.  The 3/4 sleeves keep this one from perfection.  4 out of 5.

2004-2006 Home (Claudio Reyna)

Again, Nike goes to a simpler look during the non World Cup cycle.  This time, the front has a one piece framed design, which I grew to like a lot.  What I did not like so much was the dark patch on the back where the name is supposed to be.  I also did not like the circle around the number font, however.  I know its on the Nike soccer balls, but did it have to be on the jersey too?  I got mine plain.  3 out of 5.

2004-2006 Away (Taylor Twellman)

Again, it is merely the reverse of the home jersey but somehow even more boring.  2 out of 5.

2006 Third Don't Tread on Me (Landon Donovan)

This "Don't Tread on Me" special release was worn just once in a warm-up game to the World Cup.  The look of it is beautiful, again with the rich red and a two toned sash.  I also prefer the collar.  The only downside to this jersey for buyers is that the version released to the public was made of a cheap polyster material, or something like that.  4.5 out of 5.

2006-2008 Home (Clint Dempsey)

Nike's Dri-fit age begins here as well as their more fitted look for jerseys.  I do not mind the collar-less look of these because the two toned stripe down the left side is unique and instant classic.  The stripe extends down the shorts to the left sock.  Awesome.  The crest is nicely enlarged here and outlined with a gold trim.  Lastly, I also like the college font used for the numbers.  I got a McBride 20 to honor the Fulham captain.  4.5 out of 5.

2006-2008 Away (Damarcus Beasley)

Nike brought back the 96-98 away look for the 2006 world cup this time without a collar.  I liked how the home and away versions were completely different but I marked this one down for unoriginality.  3.0 out of 5. 

2006-2008 Third (Michael Bradley)

This third jersey was unleashed for the Copa America, in which we sent our C team.  By itself, I don't think its so bad, but the shade of blue is not to my liking.  Since the A team never wore it, it can't grow on me either.  2.0 out of 5.

2008-2010 Home (Landon Donovan)

This off cycle jersey again goes for the plain look but this time has big light blue hoops.  While I'm not sure I like the hoops, we did pull off the Spanish conquest in these.  3.5 out of 5.

2008-2010 Away (Carlos Bocanegra)

For the first time, the US uses a color other than blue or red for the away jersey.  I'm not sure what color this is, anthracite?  I actually went months thinking that it was a dark blue but its actually probably closer to black?  Who knows?  Let's stick to the navy blue please.  3 out of 5.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Dutch friendly was not so friendly

Why is it that the Netherlands are also called Holland while their people are called the Dutch?  Anyway...

The game vs the Netherlands went about as well as expected.  They were clearly technically superior to us on the ball and thus were able to control possession and game flow for much of the game.  Specifically, I noticed that their midfielder's were composed on the ball and were able to shield it from pressure while looking to make a forward pass at the same time.  In comparison, our midfielders would automatically turn back and send it to our defenders whenever any kind of pressure came.  Essentially, there was a clear difference in confidence level on the ball between the two sides, probably as a result of skill level.

Also, Sneijder's awesome playmaking as their "Zidane" exposed the fact that we really lack that kind of impact player in our attack.  Worse yet, the best playmaker we have is Landon and he was nonexistent last night.  He displayed none of his dangerous attacking prowess that has been all the rage at Everton the past 2 months.  Perhaps he's still affected by that missed sitter from 2 yards out last weekend which would have salvaged 1 point vs Tottenham.  So maybe its good that we were in a close game even though our best field player didn't contribute at all.

I was impressed with this new Dutch kid, Eljero Elia.  His lightning fast play on the wing, along with Robben, gave our fullbacks all that they could handle.  Spector lacked the speed while Bornstein lacked the experience to slow down this combination of skill and quickness.  If England deploys a Shaun Wright-Phillips or an Aaron Lennon against us, it could spell trouble.

De Jong's tackle that broke Stuart Holden's leg last night deserved a straight red and further disciplinary action, which of course won't happen.  I was also amazed at how classless the Dutch were.  They committed bad fouls, complained constantly and dove left and right.  In some ways, they reminded me of Mexico's crap antics whenever we face them.  De Jong's dive, when he misplayed a ball and gave Beasley an open chance on goal, was just shockingly obvious, but of course, called incorrectly.

Bornstein's grab of Sneijder was stupid, even though Sneijder dove for a penalty.  Huntelaar's goal was also because of an unlucky Bornstein deflection.  So even though we gave up 2 goals, they were soft goals and the result could've easily been a shutout.  DeMerit, in his comeback NT game since his eye injury, was one of our best players last night.  He was strong in the air and didn't allow the Dutch forwards past him.  I'm hoping that Bornstein never sees central defense again for us.

Robbie Findley got to audition as Charlie Davies' replacement and he was terrible.  While his speed was an asset, he never linked well with anyone and didn't know how to create scoring opportunities the few times he had the ball in the final third.  If we don't have Davies, I'd rather see the experience of Brian Ching up there instead of Findley or Eddie Johnson.  Actually, I'd rather see Dempsey up there with Jozy and I'm betting that's what will happen come June.  Speaking of Jozy, I thought he was outstanding.  He held up the ball well but was also dangerous several times in the attack.  His powerful shot in the waning moments would have been wondrous had it been not at the goalkeeper.

If Holden doesn't recover by May, there leaves a huge gap on the wing.  Beasley's comeback to the squad is a welcome sight as long as he gets playing time with the Rangers.  He was more effective than Donovan, even assisting on Bocanegra's goal.  This Bedoya kid has a promising work rate and we'll see how he does at his club team the next few months, knowing that Bradley's tracking him closely.

As for our central midfielders, I like Torres' savvy but his lack of defense is probably what will hamper his playing time in South Africa.  Still, his dipping shot on goal early in the game is something that most of our squad seems to lack, isn't it?  Bradley Jr started again and will start in June.  I am fine with that.  He plays hard and plays better than anyone else that we have.  I much prefer Maurice Edu to Ricardo Clark simply because I think he has a much better touch on the ball so I'm glad he's healthy.

Too bad we didn't have Jermaine Jones last night. This would've been the last chance to play with the national team before Bob Bradley picks the final 23. Its good that he made the trip to Amsterdam this week though to visit with the team. If he is fit and makes an impact in Germany in the next couple months, I've got to think Bradley would think long and hard about calling him.

My 23 for South Africa (explanation, if I think its needed, in parentheses)

Tim Howard
Brad Guzan
Marcus Hahnemann

Oguchi Onyewu
Carlos Bocanegra
Steve Cherundolo
Jonathan Spector
Jay DeMerit
Jonathan Bornstein
Heath Pearce (His crossing has been great.  Bornstein's been terrible)
Clarence Goodson (Has a nose for the ball, even though he's twig-thin)

Landon Donovan
Clint Dempsey
Michael Bradley
Stuart Holden
Jose Torres
DeMarcus Beasley (Alejandro Bedoya if Beaz is not fit)
Maurice Edu
Benny Feilhaber
Jermaine Jones (Ricardo Clark if JJ's not healthy)

Jozy Altidore
Brian Ching
Charlie Davies (please make a miraculous recovery.  please.  okay fine, Robbie Findley then)

Starting Lineup if everyone's healthy

Donovan-Jones - Bradley-Holden
Spector - DeMerit-Gooch-Dolo

Monday, March 1, 2010

US v Canada and other thoughts on hockey

Hockey grabbed the front page of sports life here in the US as they beat Canada in the group stage to setup a great run to the gold medal game.  While they lost 3-2 in sudden death overtime - the best OT in all of sports by the way - I feel proud to be an American today.  Yeah, it would've been nice to win that game.  Yeah, this is America so we only really celebrate champions.  And I realize that the greatest moment in US sports history is a hockey moment - the 1980 Miracle on Ice.  (Yes, its even better than the 1950 World Cup win over England on the greatest moment scale since we didn't follow it up with a championship).  But, while the 2010 edition won't be remembered in nearly the same breath, I must applaud their effort.  Ryan Miller was rightfully cheered by the Canadians as he was indeed the tournament MVP.

You gotta realize that we were playing an all-star Canadian hockey team.  They had such star power that maybe 1 or 2 players from the US squad would even have a chance to make theirs.  This is Canada's national sport.  4 million people tuned in just to see who made the team.  I couldn't have named 2 players from our team 1 week ago.  Canada's national identity rode on the outcome of this game.  And don't forget, last week, we beat them with guts and effort, and yesterday, we made up a 2 goal deficit, including Parise's goal with 24 seconds to go.  It took the best player on the planet to score a sudden death goal to clinch gold for them.

Bob Costas said that it could be the greatest moment in Canadian sport's history.  I was shocked to hear that.  Just shocked.  Can you imagine someone proclaiming a USA basketball gold medal a great moment in US sports history, much less the greatest moment?  I don't think so.

Why would any Canadian take that much pride in this victory?  Sure, it was won on home ice by their greatest player - a great moment to be sure, but the greatest?  They were supposed to win.  And don't forget, every Canadian kid out there wants to play hockey for Canada.  The American hockey players are the white guys who didn't play football or baseball or basketball AND live in the the cold, northern cities.  Canada was celebrating the fact that they beat the vastly underdog Americans who are playing on hostile ice?  They should be embarrassed they lost to us the first time.  They should be relieved, not overjoyed.  Also, don't forget, they won just 2 Olympics ago on US ice, after decades of defeat.  That seems like it should be a bigger day.

Honestly, this is the equivalent of Americans barely beating Canada in the World Cup of American football in OT on a Peyton Manning TD in Cowboy Stadium.  Yay.

So did this game ignite US interest in hockey?  Only time will tell, but it will difficult since the NHL is on some obscure cable channel that many don't get.  I certainly appreciate the game and the skill it requires to excel.  Also, I'd say that hockey players are generally regarded as the nicest athletes to their fans. Baseball players are jerks, basketball players are primadonnas and football players are somewhere in between. But hockey players seem to be mostly well-adjusted and modest on the athlete ego scale. Them and golfers.  I've met many athletes in my time but one of the nicest, most down to earth athlete I've ever met is hockey enforcer, Marty McSorley.  (The other stand-up guys are Mark Gubicza and AC Green.)  Yeah, the dude that did this:

He was suspended for whacking another player in the head with his stick and suspended for 23 games, which ended his career.  He was also charged for assault and served 18 months probation.  I didn't know what he'd be like but he was surprisingly ... no ... shockingly sincere, kind and paid attention to even the little people (interns, PAs) at Foxsports where I used to work.  Maybe he was trying to make up for what he did.  Or maybe off the ice, he's just a nice guy.  Either way, I'll never have a bad thing to say about the guy.

As for the game of hockey, I definitely like attending games because of the breathtaking speed and skill of the players.  It is a lot more difficult to watch on TV though.  Without seeing the lightning speed of the players in person or hearing the swoosh of the skates, it just isn't the same.  I used to joke that if the score was tied in the 3rd period of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup, then maybe, just maybe I'd watch.

I probably won't ever be passionate about the game.  I didn't grow up watching it and I can't even skate.  It doesn't help that the best players in the world aren't even American.  And only 1 significant tournament for national teams every 4 years can't sustain my interest.  Soccer at least has national friendly games all the time and important tournaments or qualifier games every year.  Maybe if US hockey had that, I would follow them.  All that to say, I've got too many other sports I'd rather follow.

Ultimately, the Canadians might remember Crosby's goal forever, but in a couple weeks, most Americans are going to think Ryan Miller is a point guard on a Valparaiso or Gonzaga who might pull off a Sweet 16 run.

Still, I do think that its interesting that US' greatest sports moment was in hockey.  As much as worldwide dominance makes us feel good about ourselves, deep down we really love the underdogs.