Sunday, May 30, 2010

US Turkey Player Ratings

Unlike the game vs the Czechs, the US deployed its best players in an effort to win Sat's friendly vs Turkey.

Player Ratings:

Howard 6 - Seriously, he seems to be having an aneurysm every time the defense makes a mistake.  But he was solid and could do little more to prevent the one goal.

Spector 3 - Slow and exposed by Turkey's speed on the flank.  His impressive run was nullified when no one covered for his vacated space, which led to Turkey's goal.

DeMerit 5 - His failure to step to a dribbling attacker several times in the first half led to dangerous chances for Turkey in the 1st half.  However, settled down in the 2nd half.  Also, his distribution and long balls out of the back seem to be more effective than what we've seen from CBs in the past.  One pass led to the US' first goal.

Goodson 4 - Implicated by US shaky defensive line in 1st half.  Came off at half for Gooch.

Bocanegra 6 - Held his own at LB.

Donovan 7 - minimal impact in 1st half, but assisted on both goals in 2nd.

Bradley 6 - usual hard-working self.  Found it interesting that Torres pointed him out for playing great defense.

Clark 3 - didn't do well in defending or holding ball.  Came off at half for Torres.

Feilhaber 4 - started well but faded as 1st half went on.  Came off for Findley at half.

Altidore 5 - poor first half except for one breathtaking run.  Got pushed off ball several times.  However, scored in 2nd half.

Dempsey 5 - couldn't get his feet under him the first half.  However, scored in 2nd half on a great effort.


Jose Francisco Torres 8 - clean on the ball, possessed and passed with authority.  He has the technical skill that most on our team lack.  More impressively, he tackled relentlessly.

Robbie Findley 7 - an absolute revelation.  His speed kept Turkey defense on their heels and his delicate lob enabled the first goal.  However, ran out of room on the endline several times.

Onyewu 6 - improvement in performance from Czech game.  Good partnership with DeMerit.

Cherundolo 7 - immediate improvement over Spector.  His speed allowed him to be a better defender.

Bornstein 0 - worst player for the US.  His speed did not make up for his mental mistakes.

Holden - incomplete.  not enough PT.

Guzan, Hahnemann, Beasley, Edu, Gomez, Buddle were unused subs.  Probably because most played in Tuesday's Czech Rep game.

The biggest story for me from this game is the revelation of Robbie Findley.  I had assumed that he would be the last forward off the bench or in case we need a speed infusion in the late stages of a game.  However, his ability to put pressure on the defense and the touch required to lob that chip in to setup Jozy's goal was nothing short of astounding.  At the very least, it justified his selection to the final 23.

Torres' commanding performance today was a reminder of the future that our team has.  With Torres, Holden, Bradley and Edu sure to be in the mix for years, our midfield is in good hands.  Jose could very well play a big role in any success we have this year as well as long as his defense continues to improve.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Club Breakdown of USA WC Rosters

One way to measure the growth of USA soccer is to see the where our top players are making their living each World Cup.  Are they competing at the highest levels?  We'll start from 1990, the US' first WC after a 40 year absence, and note where the 22 or 23 man squads spent the season right before each World Cup.
Edit: I've updated it after the 2010 roster was announced.

1990 22 Man Roster

Tony Meola (Virginia Univ), Kasey Keller (Portland), David Vanole (Los Angeles) - 1 College, 2 Domestic.

Steve Trittschuch (Tampa Bay), John Doyle (San Francisco), Jimmy Banks (Milwaukee), Mike Windischmann (Albany), Brian Bliss (Albany), Paul Krumpe (Chicago), Desmond Armstrong (Baltimore), Marcelo Balboa (San Diego) - 8 Domestic.

John Harkes (Albany), Tab Ramos (Miami), Eric Eichmann (Fort Lauderdale), John Stollmeyer (Washington), Bruce Murray (Washington), Chris Henderson (UCLA), Paul Caligiuri (UCLA), Neil Covone (Wake Forest Univ) - 3 College, 5 Domestic.

Chris Sullivan (Raba ETO - Hun), Peter Vermes (Volendam - Ned), Eric Wynalda (San Francisco) - 2 Europe, 1 Domestic.

Total: 2 Europe (1 Hungary, 1 Netherlands), 4 College, 16 US Domestic League

1994 WC 22 Man Roster

Tony Meola N, Brad Friedel N, Jurgen Sommer (Luton Town) 1 Europe, 2 Domestic.

Cle Kooiman (Cruz Azul), Mike Lapper N, Thomas Dooley N/Germany, Marcelo Balboa N, Paul Caligiuri N, Fernando Clavijo N, Alexi Lalas N - 1 Mexico, 6 Domestic.

John Harkes (Derby County), Tab Ramos (Real Betis), Roy Wegerle (Coventry City), Claudio Reyna N/Virginia Univ, Mike Burns N, Hugo Perez N, Cobi Jones N, Mike Sorber N - 3 Europe, 5 Domestic.

Earnie Stewart (Willem II), Eric Wynalda (FC Saarbrucken), Frank Klopas N, Joe-Max Moore N - 2 Europe, 2 Domestic.

Total: 6 Europe (3 England, 1 Germany, 1, Spain, 1 Netherlands), 1 Mexico, N (No Club team) 15 - either signed to play exclusively for USSF or in college.

1998 WC 22 Man Roster

Brad Friedel (Liverpool), Kasey Keller (Leicester City), Jurgen Sommer (Columbus) - 2 Europe, 1 MLS.

Frankie Hejduk (Tampa Bay), Eddie Pope (DC United), Mike Burns (NE Rev), Thomas Dooley (Columbus), David Regis (SC Karlsruher), Jeff Agoos (DC United), Marcelo Balboa (Colorado), Alexi Lalas (NY) - 1 Europe, 7 MLS.

Joe-Max Moore (NE Rev), Tab Ramos (NY), Cobi Jones (Galaxy), Claudio Reyna (Vfl Wolfsburg), Chad Deering (Vfl Wolfsburg), Roy Wegerle (DC United), Brian Maisonneuve (Columbus) - 2 Europe, 5 MLS.

Earnie Stewart (NAC Breda), Brian McBride (Columbus), Eric Wynalda (San Jose), Preki Radosavljevic (KC) - 1 Europe, 3 MLS.

Total: 6 Europe (2 England, 3 Germany, 1 Netherlands), 16 MLS

2002 WC 22 Man Roster

Brad Friedel (Blackburn), Kasey Keller (Tottenham), Tony Meola (KC) - 2 Europe, 1 MLS

Frankie Hejduk (Bayern Lev), Jeff Agoos (San Jose), Eddie Pope (DC United), Tony Sanneh (FC Nuremberg), Gregg Berhalter (Crystal Palace), David Regis (FC Metz), Carlos Llamosa (NE Rev), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) - 5 Europe, 3 MLS.

Claudio Reyna (Sunderland), John O'Brien (Ajax), DaMarcus Beasley (Chicago), Earnie Stewart (NEC Breda - Netherlands), Joe-Max Moore (Everton), Eddie Lewis (Fulham), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado), Cobi Jones (Galaxy) - 5 Europe, 3 MLS.

Brian McBride (Columbus), Landon Donovan (San Jose), Clint Mathis (NY), Josh Wolff (Chicago) - 4 MLS.

Total: 12 Europe (6 England, 3 Germany, 2 Netherlands, 1 France), 11 MLS

2006 WC 23 Man Roster

Kasey Keller (Gladbach), Tim Howard (Man U), Marcus Hahnemann (Reading) - 3 Europe

Eddie Pope (Salt Lake), Oguchi Onyewu (Standard Liege), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96), Carlos Bocanegra (Fulham), Jimmy Conrad (KC), Eddie Lewis (Leeds Utd), Gregg Berhalter (Energie Cottbus), Chris Albright (Galaxy).  Cory Gibbs (ADO Den Haag) and Frankie Hejduk (MLS) both replaced by last 2 after knee injuries. - 5 Europe, 3 MLS.

Claudio Reyna (Man City), John O'Brien (Chivas USA), Landon Donovan (Galaxy), DaMarcus Beasley (PSV Eindhoven), Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado), Bobby Convey (Reading), Clint Dempsey (NE Revs), Ben Olsen (DC United) - 4 Europe, 5 MLS.

Brian McBride (Fulham), Eddie Johnson (KC), Brian Ching (Houston), Josh Wolff (KC) - 1 Europe, 2 MLS

Total: 12 Europe (7 England, 3 Germany, 1 Belgium, 1 Netherlands), 11 MLS

2010 WC 23 Man Roster

Tim Howard (Everton), Marcus Hahnemann (Wolverhampton) and Brad Guzan (Aston Villa) - 3 Europe

Oguchi Onyewu (AC Milan), Carlos Bocanegra (Rennes), Jay DeMerit (Watford), Clarence Goodson (IK Start), Jonathan Spector (West Ham), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96) and Jonathan Bornstein (Chivas USA) - 6 Europe, 1 MLS

Landon Donovan (Galaxy), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Michael Bradley (Gladbach), Stuart Holden (Bolton), Maurice Edu (Rangers), Ricardo Clark (Eintracht Frankfurt), Benny Feilhaber (AGF Aarhus) and Francisco Torres (Pachuca), DaMarcus Beasley (Rangers) - 7 Europe, 1 Mexico, 1 MLS

Josimer Altidore (Hull City), Herculez Gomez (Puebla), Edson Buddle (Galaxy), Robbie Findley (Salt Lake) - 1 Europe, 1 Mexico, 2 MLS

Total: 17 Europe (8 England, 3 Germany, 2 Scotland, 1 Italy, 1 France, 1 Norway, 1 Denmark), 2 Mexico, 4 MLS

In review:

In 1990, we had 2 players in Europe, 4 college players and 16 in the domestic league at the time, which, for our purposes, is comparable to the MLS as its forerunner.  Result: 1st round exit.

In 1994, we had 6 in Europe, 1 in Mexico, and 15 under contract with the USSF.  (Apparently in the early nineties, the US Soccer Federation began signing some of the top US players to exclusive contracts to compete for the US.  Some were loaned by the USSF to European clubs as well.)  For our purposes, we'll equate the 15 to the MLS.  Result: 2nd round.

In 1998, we had 6 in Europe and 16 in the MLS (1995 is its inaugural season).  Result: 1st round exit.

In 2002, we had 12 in Europe and 11 in the MLS.  Result: 3rd round.

In 2006, we had 12 in Europe and 11 in the MLS.  Result: 1st round exit.

This year, we will have 17 Europe, 2 Mexico, and 4 MLS.


So if you look at the stats, we significantly increased our number of European players (to 6) from 1990-94 and we had a successful WC.  From 1994-98, the number of Europeans stayed the same, and we subsequently exited 1st round.

From 1998-2002, we doubled our Europeans (to 12), and we again had a successful WC 02.  From 02-06, our number of Europeans stayed the same - 1st round exit.

From 06-10, we will increase our number of Europeans up to 17 out of the 23.  In 2006, while we had about the same number of European players (12) to MLSers (11), we will only have 4 from MLS this time.  So what's this all mean?  I dunno, but I can't wait for June!

Yes, I'm making a lot of broad assumptions here.  I'm assuming that all these European leagues are superior to the MLS, which isn't necessarily true.  I'm overlooking the fact that many players in Europe were playing in the 2nd division or worse at the time.  (And no, I'm not taking the time to find out.  I'm also not taking the time to debate or compare a 2nd division to the MLS).  I also am not looking at those playing in non-US and non-European clubs, which would be Mexico.  Of course someone playing in Mexico in the early 90s was definitely at a level higher than the MLS but they're excluded from this research because 1) the Mexican league is not necessarily better than the MLS now, while top tier Euro leagues definitely still are and 2) its just too small a sample size (2 or 3 players).  And yes, I know that Landon is possibly our best field player and has been in the MLS the entire time.

By Position:

1990 - 1 College, 2 Domestic
1994 - 1 Europe, 2 Domestic
1998 - 2 Europe, 1 MLS
2002 - 2 Europe, 1 MLS
2006 - 3 Europe
2010 - 3 Europe

Our strongest position through the years.

1990 - 8 Domestic
1994 - 1 Mexico, 6 Domestic
1998 - 1 Europe, 7 MLS
2002 - 5 Europe, 3 MLS
2006 - 5 Europe, 3 MLS
2010 - 6 Europe, 1 MLS

A big jump in Euro defenders in 2002.

1990 - 3 College, 5 Domestic
1994 - 3 Europe, 5 Domestic
1998 - 2 Europe, 5 MLS
2002 - 5 Europe, 3 MLS
2006 - 4 Europe, 5 MLS
2010 - 7 Europe, 1 Mexico, 1 MLS

We seemed to have taken a small step backwards in 2006 but we're back on track this year.

1990 - 2 Europe, 1 Domestic
1994 - 2 Europe, 2 Domestic
1998 - 1 Europe, 3 MLS
2002 - 4 MLS
2006 - 1 Europe, 2 MLS
2010 - 1 Europe, 1 Mexico, 2 MLS

In contrast to GKs, this is obviously our weakest position.  You could argue that this year our Euro striker, Jozy, is not as strong as the Wynalda or McBrides of past WCs.  Also, interestingly, our best showing was in 2002 when we brought 4 MLS strikers.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

2010 US Men's National Team World Cup 23 Man Roster

Tim Howard - backup in 06, clear #1 now. 
Marcus Hahnemann - great EPL season earns the '06 #3 possibly the #2 this time. 
Brad Guzan - Playing behind Friedel at Aston Villa has hurt him. 

Carlos Bocanegra - backup in '06, UCLA alumni is El Captain now. 
Oguchi Onyewu - starter in '06, but still recovering from knee injury. 
Steve Cherundolo - starter in '06, last hurrah for the vice captain of Hannover 96. 
Jay DeMerit - improbable rise from soccer-less future in Wisconsin to pinnacle of career this June. 
Jonathan Spector - groomed in the English system, hurt in '06, finally gets his chance. 
Clarence Goodson - impressive play in Norway earned him a spot. 
Jonathan Bornstein - drafted out of UCLA by Bradley to MLS. 

Landon Donovan - greatest US player of all time gets the chance to prove that he can handle the pressure, unlike in '06. 
Clint Dempsey - proven in the EPL, he's a vital part of US success this time. 
Michael Bradley - Young and already internationally proven in Holland, now Germany. 
Maurice Edu - starts for the Rangers, scored gamewinner in derby vs Celtic. 
Stuart Holden - recently transferred to EPL, just recovered from broken leg. 
Benny Feilhaber - Brazilian-born, UCLA alum has had up and down career in Europe thus far. 
Ricardo Clark - recently transferred to Germany, recovering from leg injury. 
Jose Francisco Torres - decision to to play for US instead of Mexico has paid off. 

Josmer Altidore - 20 year old will start perhaps for the next 3 World Cups, but is still learning how to be a professional in Europe. 
Herculez Gomez - former MLSer led Mexican league in scoring this season. 
Edson Buddle - Leads MLS in scoring after rampant start. 
Robbie Findley - Scored RSL's only goal in championship match en route to winning 2009 MLS Cup.

From my last prediction, I was wrong on 3 counts.  Though I knew Hejduk probably wouldn't be selected, I held out hope anyway.  Nope, I guess Bob is comfortable with just 7 defenders, even though many, especially CBs, are banged up.

Secondly, Bedoya was axed instead of Buddle, making me wish I stuck to my gut after the Czech game last night.

But the real surprise for me was Brian Ching's omission.  That's especially sad now since Ching will never be able to say he played in the World Cup, having not stepped on the field in Germany.  Its interesting that in 2006, he was an announcement day shocker pick over Taylor Twellman who achieved almost a cult following with his domestic success and tenacious playing style.  But we realized then that Ching was simply a backup for Brian McBride's target man style, so I didn't have huge hopes for him to be in contention in 2010.

However, his contribution to the US' qualification this time should never be forgotten.  Essentially, Ching was the link between McBride to when Altidore was ready to feature in the starting 11.  And though Findley was THE surprise pick today and Ching the surprise omission, it really was Buddle who beat out Ching as the backup target forward, not Findley.  Bradley did allude to the fact that one of the reasons he was omitted was that hamstring injury.  I wonder if Buddle would have still beat Ching out had this not been the case.

Since Gomez is clearly a 2nd half sub if goals are needed, I'm guessing Findley is the 5th and last forward on the team.  Bradley has likely decided that Findley is the emergency speed option off the bench much like when Sven surprisingly picked Walcott in 2006.  Findley didn't even play last night vs Czech Rep so his role was already secure in Bob's mind.  The more I think about it, we really do lack speed in Davies' absence.

It is extremely noteworthy that Bradley took 3 internationally untried and unproven options at forward.  It speaks to the fact that we still haven't found a striker to play alongside the McBride/Altidore role since the last World Cup, (the pre-injury Davies aside).  Think about this, every single defender and midfielder on this year's squad contributed heavily in this qualifying cycle since 2006.  Bob only chose 3 virtual question marks (you could argue Bornstein is also a major question mark in a completely different way, as in, huh?, why is he even on the team?) and they all play the same position.  (Side note of no real value: interestingly, Findley, Gomez and Buddle all played for the LA Galaxy at one point in the careers.)

Ultimately, none of the 4 strikers from the last World Cup, including campers Ching and Johnson, are returning this year.  Now that is forward thinking, isn't it?

Otherwise, the roster is about as we expected all along.  Howard, Hahnemann, Cherundolo, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Donovan and Dempsey are the only WC veterans returning this year but at least 5 are surefire starters.

Projected starting lineup:
Holden - Bradley - Edu - Donovan

The 7 Cuts:

Pearce - too bad for a guy who was productive in Europe for awhile and had decent performances especially a couple years ago vs teams like Brazil.  Unfortunately, his final showing vs Czech Republic just confirmed to us all that he is not international material.
Marshall - 5th CB had no chance, even before his injury.
Kljestan - I said all along he had no chance.  Probably just picked to come to camp because he's a Bradley favorite.  I never liked the fact that his defense and playing intensity are just lacking.
Rogers - Never had a chance.  Probably shouldn't have come to camp.
Bedoya - Conversely, he would have made the roster had Beasley not recovered from the stupor that got him kicked off the national side after last summer.
Johnson - same old EJ.  Physically has all the tools, mentally just not there.  And he's got the first touch of a brick.
Ching - He's been a warrior for the US in this cycle.  His work rate was admirable and I thought he deserved a spot.  But the fact is that he isn't going to come in and score late in the 2nd half.  He needs to start to be truly productive and he wasn't going to start.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Post Game Roster Czech

In lieu of postgame analysis, I'm just gonna get to the point of tonight's performance and discuss the fringe players' performances and whether they helped and hurt their case.  Winning the game didn't matter to Bradley since he didn't dress his 6 core starters (plus DeMerit and Feilhaber), so it shouldn't matter to us either.  I'm not going to list the players that I think have always been safe.


Gomez - Herculez did what forwards have to do: score.  And he did it as a sub, which is likely his role.
Rogers - surprisingly effective down the left side.  Showed good pace.
Beasley - showed enough of the old DaMarcus.
Buddle - didn't score but clearly outworked EJ.  Instrumental in the 1st goal.

Didn't help:

Pearce - Bornstein was terrible as well but Pearce was actually worse.  together possibly the 2 worst players on the field.
Johnson - lack of touch, never really threatened goal.  And again, I thought he was completely outworked by Buddle.  Its the same old EJ.
Kljestan - Not a good sign for a center midfielder if I didn't even remember he was on the field until 10 minutes left.
Bedoya - I didn't think he saw much of the ball and therefore didn't impose himself in any way.  While it might have been a decent performance, its not helpful when you're trying to make the final 23.
Findley / Marshall - Didn't get on the field which means curtains for these 2 ultimate fringe players.

The Final 7 Cut List

1) I keep waffling on Pearce but after last night's shocker, he's done.  2) Marshall's done.  3) Kljestan was outplayed by Torres badly and I doubt he ever really had a chance.  4) Rogers was impressive last night but is still gone.  5) Findley's done.  6) EJ is out.

The only question is whether Bedoya or Buddle makes the team.  It hinges on what Bradley thinks Dempsey's role really is - a forward or wide right?  7) I think Bradley will have Dempsey play forward, so Buddle is cut.  I would rather take Buddle because I was impressed with his work rate last night.

USA Mural and other random thoughts

I liked that ESPN did murals for every team in the WC, especially the ones that incorporate some of the country's history such as Italy's warriors in the Coliseum.  But none are nearly as appropriate as the US tribute to George Washington in his struggle and victory over England.  Epic.

Random Thoughts

Its funny that keepers always complain about the new adidas soccer balls before every World Cup (unless they're signed with adidas of course) but there's no way new "advancements" in ball technology won't continue to come out with every new tournament.  You can't tell me that the ball now isn't infinitely better than what we had before Adidas took over the World Cup contract.  Personally, I like seeing what Adidas (and Nike) comes up with every couple years.  Anyway, more goals is better for the game, just not keepers.

During yesterday's ESPN visit (or carwash), I found it interesting that Dempsey wasn't among the 5 representatives.  He's arguably the 2nd most popular player in the squad right now.  Maybe US Soccer doesn't think that he really is the best leader or spokesman for the team yet.  I guess his maverick and cavalier attitude might not ever earn him the captain's armband.

The word is that Beasley has been a standout in camp, which would automatically secure his spot in my opinion.

Torres, while superior on the field to Kljestan, also basically represents any Mexican Americans who will have to choose who to play for in the future.  We can't leave Torres home.

After re-watching our match vs Mexico in Feb 09, I really appreciated Ching's contributions on the field.  After hearing that he's been impressive in camp, I think he has a chance to start for us for a game or two.

I would pick Gomez instead of Buddle because of his magic trick.  Seriously, I watched that like 10 times and couldn't figure out when he slipped the card in.  But honestly, I thought that Buddle had the upper hand because of his familiarity with Donovan but Gomez seems to be making an impression on the field as well as developing camaraderie off of it.  I always thought that Buddle was not a good replacement for Davies anyway and Gomez is clearly a difference maker in coming off the bench especially if we need a late goal.  I'm just tired of big forwards coming in at the end of games and not hustling.  I think Gomez will hustle.

Findley seems to be making an impression but I don't know if Bradley can get over how lost he looked vs the Netherlands.

Tonight, I think the only players who can really tip the scales of Bradley's favor are Bedoya, Pearce and Buddle.  Its likely that out of those 3 men, only 1 will go.

Okay, I guess if any forward had a brace or hat trick, that would change things too...

Friday, May 21, 2010

UCLA Players in World Cups 1990 - 2010

Proudly, UCLA has always been a powerhouse in American soccer and has been represented on the US Men's National Team at World Cups probably more than any other school (maybe Virginia).  This year, captain Carlos Bocanegra, defender Jonathan Bornstein and midfielder Benny Feilhaber will play for the US in South Africa.  I thought I'd list the UCLA players who have made a World Cup squad since 1990.

GK David Vanole (81-85*) 14 caps
D Paul Krumpe  (82-85*) 25 caps
M Chris Henderson (89-90*) 79 caps
D/M Paul Caligiuri (82-85*, 2 time all American) 110 caps

GK Brad Friedel (90*-92, 2 time All American, Hermann Trophy '92) 82 caps
D Mike Lapper (88-91*, All American) 44 caps
M Cobi Jones (88-91*) 164 caps (Most all time US)
M/F Joe-Max Moore (90-92*) 100 caps
D/M Paul Caligiuri

D Frankie Hejduk (92-94) 85 caps (2006 knee injury right before WC)
GK Brad Friedel
M Cobi Jones
M/F Joe-Max Moore

M Eddie Lewis (92-95) 82 caps
GK Brad Friedel
D Frankie Hejduk
M Cobi Jones
M/F Joe-Max Moore

D Carlos Bocanegra (96-98, 97*) 77 caps
D Jimmy Conrad (96-97*) 28 caps
M Eddie Lewis

D Jonathan Bornstein (04-05) 29 caps
M Benny Feilhaber (03-05) 31 caps
D Carlos Bocanegra

By my count, 14 different UCLA players have been selected for a World Cup squad since 1990.  It is interesting to note that out of the 14, only 4 did NOT win a national championship at UCLA (1985, 1990, 1997 all under UCLA legend, Sigi Schmid).  I did memorably attend several UCLA soccer games in 1997 as a freshman.

While US Soccer has traditionally been fueled by great college programs such as UCLA and Virginia, this pattern will likely slowly decrease as we become a better soccer nation.  Younger players will have more options to enter the youth training programs of the large European clubs, much as John O'Brien did with Ajax or Jonathan Spector did at Man U.  Also, the US has its own residency youth programs, IMG Academy, that players like Landon Donovan attended.  Consequently, the better players will be professionals far earlier and could forego college completely.  But there is no reason why UCLA will not continue to churn out soccer talent who will one day help the US win the World Cup.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Remembering Deutschland 2006 Roster

GK: Kasey Keller, Tim Howard, Marcus Hahnemann

Def: Eddie Pope, Oguchi Onyewu, Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Jimmy Conrad, Eddie Lewis, Gregg Berhalter, Chris Albright.  Cory Gibbs and Frankie Hejduk both replaced by last 2 after knee injuries.

Mid: Claudio Reyna, John O'Brien, Landon Donovan, DaMarcus Beasley, Pablo Mastroeni, Bobby Convey, Clint Dempsey, Ben Olsen

For: Brian McBride, Eddie Johnson, Brian Ching, Josh Wolff

Czech Republic

Dolo - Gooch - Pope - Lewis
Convey - Reyna-Mastro-Beaz
----Donovan - McBride-----

subs: EJ, JOB, Wolff


Dolo - Gooch - Pope - Bocanegra
Dempsey - Reyna - Pablo - Convey
------Donovan - McBride--------

subs: Beasley, Conrad


Dolo - Gooch - Conrad - Bocanegra
Lewis - Dempsey - Reyna - Beasley
-------Donovan - McBride-------

subs: EJ, Convey, Olson

Remembering S Korea/Japan 2002 Roster

GK: Brad Friedel, Kasey Keller, Tony Meola

Def: Frankie Hejduk, Jeff Agoos, Eddie Pope, Tony Sanneh, Gregg Berhalter, David Regis, Carlos Llamosa, Steve Cherundolo

Mid: Claudio Reyna, John O'Brien, DaMarcus Beasley, Earnie Stewart, Joe-Max Moore, Eddie Lewis, Pablo Mastroeni, Cobi Jones

For: Brian McBride, Landon Donovan, Clint Mathis, Josh Wolff


Sanneh - Agoos - Pope - Hejduk
Stewart - Mastro - JOB - Beasley
-------Landon - McBride-------

subs: Joe-Max Moore, Jones, Llamosa

South Korea

Sanneh - Pope - Agoos - Hejduk
Donovan - Reyna - JOB - Beasley

subs: Lewis, Wolff


Sanneh -Pope - Agoos - Hejduk
Donovan - Reyna - JOB - Stewart
-------Mathis - McBride------

subs: Beasley, Jones, Moore


Mastro - Pope - Berhalter - Sanneh
Donovan - Reyna - JOB- Lewis
-------McBride - Wolff--------

subs: Stewart, Jones, Llamosa


Sanneh - Pope - Berhalter - Hejduk
Reyna -- JOB--- Mastro - Lewis
------Donovan - McBride-------

subs: Mathis, Jones, Stewart

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My starting XI from WC Snubbed Players

Check out some of the names that have been omitted from their respective World Cup rosters.  And while there could be more to come, its more likely that the big names invited to training camps are already guaranteed spots in their 23.

Just look at the attackers staying home: Benzema is not in the French squad.  Kuranyi not playing for Germany.  Van Nistelrooy was unsuccessful in his comeback bid for Holland.  Totti and Toni are overlooked by Italy.  But no one has bigger names than Brazil - 3 of their starting 4 attackers from 2006 (Kaka remains of course) are out: Ronaldinho, Adriano and Ronaldo.  Young AC Milan striker, Pato is left behind by Dunga as well.  And here the US is, rummaging through the MLS and other 2nd rate leagues for anything we can find.

Defenders and Midfielders include: Samir Nasri - the biggest shock.  Patrick Viera - a veteran presence.  Cambiasso, Zanetti and Riquelme from Argentina, even though Riquelme would only get an invite over Maradona's dead body.  Guti never had a chance for Spain.  Alex from Brazil.  Just crazy world class players not going.  And we're here debating whether to take Bornstein or Pearce - hilarious.

Of all those names, Benzema is a big surprise for me.  Though he is not getting a lot of playing time at Real Madrid, he is still nearing his prime playing age and France will need him for the next decade.  Maybe he really was terrible this year.  Maybe he is getting taught a lesson for a certain indiscretion.  Or maybe Raymond Domenech is still just an idiot.

Did you see the other strikers Domenech picked?  There's 4 guys - Ben Arfa, Valbuena, Briand, Gignac - that I've never heard of.  You're telling me that Benzema's not a better option off the bench in the 70th minute when you really need a goal than those guys?

But the biggest oversight has got to be Nasri.  You could argue that he was Arsenal's creative engine this year.  I would fire Domenech just for that stupidity.

This starting lineup could make the knockout stages of the WC.

Friedel (yeah, he retired internationally but he's still that good)
Zanetti - Alex - Garay - Marcelo
Guti - Cambiasso - Nasri
Ronaldinho - Benzema - Pato

Totti, Viera, Riquelme, Adriano, Diego, Mexes on the bench

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Davies falls short in comeback bid & other roster thoughts

The biggest news in US Soccer today was the fact that Charlie Davies didn't make the training camp 30 man roster, much less the World Cup roster.  While it is rightfully the major headline, it comes as no real surprise that he won't be going to South Africa.  7 months after his body was broken in that fatal car accident, I'm just shocked that he has recovered so quickly that he is able to train at all.  Bob Bradley must've really wanted to bring Davies but he knew that we are extremely weak at the striker position and must have all the able-bodied options available off the bench.

Perhaps Bradley didn't want the distraction or perhaps Sochaux really didn't release Davies to practice but I wish that Davies would have been told up front that he was not making the team but still allowed to come to camp as a reward.  Ultimately, I admire Davies' positive attitude throughout this comeback and my view of him is reinforced by his selfless encouragement and congratulations to the chosen 30 today on twitter.

Freddy Adu was also not chosen and many fans seem to be critical of his omission.  For the life of me, I just can't understand why he is so revered when he has barely played at any of his club teams the past 3 years.  Though anointed as the savior of US Soccer since he was 14, Adu has simply not produced even in training to the point that team managers in Europe are unwilling to play him in matches.  Given his immature and sometimes petulant attitude, in addition to his lack of form, he should in no way be considered for the senior team now.  However, he is still young and his soccer prime is still ahead of him.  There is still hope.  Maybe he should follow Brian McBride around for a year and learn some professionalism and maturity.

The 30 man preliminary roster released today was just about as expected.  I still wish Frankie Hejduk would find a spot but he'll have to take solace in the fact that he played a huge role in helping us beat mexico in Feb 09.  I'm sure he'll be useful in some capacity to US Soccer in the future.  Really love that Heydude.

I'll list the players that I think are going to SA for sure.  Then we can break down the camp battles.  Howard, Hahnemann and Guzan are the GKs.  Onyewu, Bocanegra, DeMerit are the CBs that are in.  Fullbacks Spector, Cherundolo and Bornstein are likely in.  Midfielders Donovan, Dempsey, Bradley, Holden, Edu, Clark, Feilhaber and Torres should be in.  Jozy is in.  That's 18 of the 23.  We still need 5 more.

1) Def battles: Goodson vs Marshall for the final CB spot.  I don't see how Goodson, who has been productive in Europe, will be overlooked.  That's 1.

2) Def vs Mid: With Bradley favorite Bornstein likely in, Pearce could also already be in as the 8th defender.  But if Bornstein isn't considered the starter at LB, then there's no real reason to bring 2 backup LBs.  Pearce then is battling for a spot vs a midfielder.  (Pearce has been playing at midfield in the MLS this year so that's another plus for him.)  I'm changing my mind from a few days ago to say that he's out.

3) Mid battles: Bedoya, Beasley, and Rogers are the wingers that could be battling for either 1-2 spots.  We already have 8 in.  So if Dempsey's mainly used as a forward, then that opens another slot.  Again, if Pearce is left behind (meaning Bradley only takes 7 defenders), then that opens another slot.  Bedoya and Beasley are the choices here.  Rogers hasn't had the dizzying display of MLS form needed to displace the other two.  That's 2 and 3.

4) Mid battle that's not really a battle: Kljestan vs no one.  No one wins (and by "no one", I mean everyone - seriously, did you see him at the Confed Cup?).  I think he's a Bradley favorite.  But would he really supplant Feilhaber or Torres?  Would he ever be deployed on the wings?  How about as a striker?  The answer is highly unlikely.  So he's not going.  At least I hope not.

5) Striker battles: Ching, Findley, Johnson, Gomez, Buddle.  If Dempsey plays up top as expected, then there could only be room for 2 of these five.  Findley has speed but is not in form in the MLS and did nothing vs the Netherlands.  He's out.  Ching is in if he is match fit.  So it comes down to Gomez, Buddle and EJ for the last spot.  I hope Bradley has not already made up his mind here.  Let the camp battle begin!  I like Gomez's speed as a better replacement for Davies.  I think EJ has exhausted his opportunities and scoring in the Greek League is not necessarily better than Buddle's MLS performance.  So I think Bradley will take Buddle.  That's 4 and 5.

So basically from my prediction yesterday, I'm replacing FB Hejduk with LM Beasley in the final 23.  I guess Beasley can play LB if we really, really need it.  Now that I've said it, I'm thinking there's no way a defensive-minded Coach won't take 8 defenders.  And if multiple strikers, like Gomez, impress in camp, Bob Bradley very well could leave Beasley or Bedoya at home, since he's comfortable with Dempsey moving back to the wing.  Oh well, that's what blogging is all about.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Final Prediction for US 2010 WC Roster

If there's one thing soccer fans love to do other than argue about formations ("I say we try a 4-3-2-1, you know, like a Christmas tree!"), its predicting the 23 WC roster spots.  So before my final prediction, I'm going to list some of my 2010 WC roster predictions starting from 2006. 

June 30, 2006

GK - Tim Howard

Carlos Bocanegra or Steve Cherundolo
Cory Gibbs
Oguchi Onyewu
Jonathan Spector

DaMarcus Beasley or Bobby Convey
Ricardo Clark - I read that he's a great athlete at D mid
Clint Dempsey
Landon Donovan or Freddy Adu

Kenny Cooper or Nate Jacqua (I want to start a big guy)
Eddie Johnson 

Obviously this prediction 4 years ago intrigues me the most.  Not too shabby, eh?  For starters, I didn't realize that Boca's a LB and Dolo's a RB.  But its possible that I was right on 3 of 4 defensive spots.  Not bad.  And I hear Gibbs is doing well enough to have an outside chance at training camp.  I think he's got no shot but I saw so much potential back then before that wicked knee injury.  In fact, he might've been the answer at LB in '06 so that Eddie Lewis wouldn't have been caught back there in the first 5 minutes vs Czech Rep.

As for midfielders ... well, I thought that Landon's best position was central attacking mid with Beaz and Clint on the wings.  Ricardo Clark was a good guess at CDM since he wasn't on the map then.  All indications are that he'll make the 23, even though I'm not high on his recklessness.  We don't need another Pablo.  Beasley has a chance at the roster too, even though his precipitous fall the last 2 years has been disappointing since we all thought he'd be on par with Landon and Dempsey by now.  Dempsey was just an MLS'er then so his emergence as a star now was unforeseeable.

You can tell that I was drawing straws at forward back then.  Not much has changed I guess.  But Kenny won't even make training camp.  EJ could but only because of a late season push.  The big target forward that I was looking for turns out to be Jozy, but we're back to looking for that speedy accomplice that Charlie Davies was in '09 and we hope will be again.

September 10, 2007

Tim Howard
Spector, Gooch, Bocanegra, Pearce
Dempsey Bradley Feilhaber, Beasley
Donovan, Cooper or EJ

After beating Mexico 2-0 in Feb, then again in the Gold Cup Final, then playing Brazil in Chicago (to a draw in my mind - saw this one live), I was sure that newbies Bradley and Feilhaber would be our new central engines all the way to South Africa.  Bradley as the no nonsense enforcer and defensive hustler; Benny as the creative engine behind our strikers.  In fact to me, every position was set except for the 2 fullbacks and the target forward.  Funny thing is LB and one F are still the two positions up for grabs 3 years later.

June 16, 2008

Dolo, Gooch, Boca, Pearce
Dempsey, Bradley, Edu, Beasley
Donovan, Altidore

A horrible defensive performance by our 2 "C" team fullbacks vs Mexico in Feb awards them the 2-2 draw.  It also makes me favor the veteran experience of Cherundolo.  Then a triumvirate of friendlies vs England, Spain and Argentina (like a WC group schedule - great planning by US Soccer) that summer shows how far we have to go to compete with the best.  Good performance: Argentina.  Bad: England (what can we take from that game anyway?  Mostly the fact that we can't play at Wembley.)  It also shows that we are still wanting in the Striker position.  After seeing the potential (and consequent hype machine) of Jozy early in the year, I'm already hoping he'll be experienced enough by 2010.  Feilhaber falls off the map and Maurice Edu emerges as a more competent choice than Clark, especially if Coach Bradley wants two defensive minded center midfielders.

July 15, 2009

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard (S), Guzan, Perkins
Defenders: Cherundolo(S), Onyewu(S), DeMerit(S), Bocanegra (S), Spector, Marshall, Bornstein, Heydude
Midfielders: Dempsey (S), Bradley (S), Jones (S), Donovan (S), Feilhaber, Edu, Holden, Torres, Beasley
Forwards: Jozy (S), Davies (S), Ching
Finally, I actually start listing my 23 man roster.  The epic change in the lineup from the last 3 years is Donovan's switch to left wing.  This tried and true tactic change from the Confederations Cup alters our team makeup completely.  Secondly, the emergence of Charlie Davies up top is an answer to our prayers.  Thirdly, Jay DeMerit's solid play in the Confed Cup moves Bocanegra to our problem spot at LB.  At the time, these last 2 changes seemed to be the best solution to our 2 problem spots: LB and F.  How could the two positions we knew needed work in 2006 still be a problem 4 years later?  Beasley is completely in the dog house but I still thought a two time WC veteran could play his way back in the next year.

However, Bradley's 2 goals vs Mexico in Feb shuts up his nepotism critics and cements his spot.  As does Jozy's hat trick in a WC qualifier.  But the biggest news is the fact that the top Bundesliga defensive midfielder, Jermaine Jones, was switching to USA, due to his American serviceman father.  We are all disappointed that he also was plagued by a non-healing leg, literally for the entire next season.

March 4, 2010

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

Hahnemann rightfully re-emerges and takes over the backup keeper slot after a great season in the EPL, while Guzan apprenticed under Friedel.  Edgar Castillo was all the rage for a couple months but now looks out as Pearce/Bornstein climb back above him onto the plane.  Goodson seems to have snagged the 4th CB spot by having a nose for the ball.  Alejandro Bedoya lands on the map as a winger option in front of Rogers and maybe even Beasley.  Jermaine Jones may have visited the team in the Netherlands but Clark is his only substitute if no miraculous recovery is on JJ's horizon.  Charlies Davies' replacement is still up in the air.

Final Prediction:

GK: Howard, Hahnemann, Guzan

CB:Onyewu, Bocanegra, DeMerit, Goodson
FB: Spector, Cherundolo, Bornstein, Hejduk

CM: Bradley, Edu, Clark, Torres
WM: Donovan, Holden, Feilhaber, Bedoya

ST: Dempsey, Altidore, Ching, Buddle

GKs: The 3 keepers are obvious.  I'd bet Howard or Hahnemann (or Friedel for that matter) would start for England.

Defense: We have several players who are versatile.  Spector can also play LB and even CB if absolutely necessary.  Bocanegra is a better CB, but could very well start at LB for us.  Bornstein, though I have no comprehension as to why (- he's short and frail, not tall and strong), seems to be an option at CB as well.  I would bring Hejduk as my 8th defender - his energy is contagious and this might be more beneficial than anything Pearce or Bornstein can do on the field.  Also, he plays RB in a pinch.  I nearly opted for Cory Gibbs, who tore his knee right before WC '06 but Hejduk (who also suffered a knee injury after being chosen) deserves it more.  I guess there's little chance Hejduk will actually go so maybe this isn't so much a prediction as a wish, but there's always surprises, right?  Lastly, I would personally rather take Pearce instead of Bornstein (even though he's a Bruin) because I still think he crosses the ball far better.

Midfield: Edu and Clark are the options at defensive midfielder to play alongside Bradley.  Torres and Feilhaber are the other selections at CM although both will need a Edu/Clark/Bradley paired with them.  Donovan, Holden and Bedoya are our wingers, (Feilhaber can play there too) since Clint is our best option up top.

Forward: As much as I'd love for Davies to reach his goal, I just don't think he can regain his speed and strength to be effective internationally.  So Dempsey and Jozy are our starters with veteran Ching booking a place with his ability to do dirty work (as long as he's fully recovered).  Lastly, in a battle between in-form strikers, Gomez and Buddle, I would hope Gomez wins out because of his speed.  In my opinion, if Buddle were to make the plane, Ching should not.  But since Buddle is Landon's current teammate, Bob will opt for the benefits of that pairing.

Possible campers left at home: Pearce brings little more than Bornstein does so Bob picks 1.  EJ and Gomez lose out to Buddle.  Adu and Kljestan can't overtake talented duo Feilhaber and Torres.  Conor Casey's overlooked because of Ching's superior work rate.  Beasley's lack of form disqualifies him in what is likely the last cut.

Tomorrow, we'll learn the identity of the (no more than) 30 players invited to US training camp, from which the final 23 are chosen.  Interestingly, of my 23, only 8 were on the 2006 WC roster - Howard, Hahnemann, Onyewu, Bocanegra, Cherundolo, Donovan, Dempsey, Ching (Hejduk also chosen but injured).  However, 6 of our 11 starters this time will likely be WC veterans - Howard, Gooch, Boca, Dolo, Donovan and Dempsey have more or less been firmly entrenched in the starting lineup throughout this entire 4 year cycle.



Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Jozy Freakin Altidore

My first NBA Playoff Game, Pt 2

After seeing Kevin Frazier (did I mention that he was sporting a brand new US Soccer track jacket?) take his seat at the bottom of my section, a familiar figure walking down the steps caught my eye.  I could only see the back of his head from 40 yards away in the dark, but it really really looked like Jozy Altidore's sizable and uniquely shaped dome.  Nah, it couldn't be.  He just got red-carded for pulling a Zidane on some bloke who threw the ball at that dome in England last week.  He's supposed to be reporting to national team camp on the east coast soon.  He's not even from SoCal.  But, then again, it is a laker playoff game so its possible.  The guy got to the bottom of the steps and took his seat in the first row with his friend.  As soon as he turned his head, I was pretty sure it was Jozy Freakin Altidore.  I'd recognize him anywhere.  Good thing my friend brought binoculars.  Yeaaaap.  Definitely Jozy.

Now there's only a few players on the current US Soccer squad that I think are core to the team.  Let's see: Donovan - the face of US Soccer, Clint Dempsey - my personal favorite who's scored 6 goals in the 11 games I've seen in person (Landon only scored 2!), Tim Howard - former EPL goalkeeper of the year, Michael Bradley - stalwart in CM for years to come, Carlos Bocanegra - current captain and UCLA alum, Gooch Onyewu - AC Milan defender and Jozy Altidore.  Okay, throw in DaMarcus Beasley, who's currently out of form but still a veteran of 2 World Cups already.  But those are it.

So why Jozy?  Because he's the answer to the enormous hole at forward vacated by Brian McBride (maybe my favorite US player ever.  Has any other player become legendary at their club like McBride is at Fulham?  They named their fan pub after him).  Because he's on his way to being what Freddy Adu was supposed to be.  Because a Spanish team, Villareal, spent a MLS record $10 million to buy him.  Because he's the Neo in our matrix.  Get it?  This 20 year old may very well be a stalwart for us for the next THREE World Cups.  I digress.

Naturally, Jozy immediately gets up to talk to Frazier.  I must admit, I kept thinking Frazier was Allen Hopkins this entire time because I knew whoever this guy was formerly worked for Foxsports and hey, he was wearing a US Soccer track jacket.  Except that I knew that guy's name was Kevin and told my friend so.  I just thought that Kevin was Allen Hopkins, even though they look nothing alike.  (I can't really explain this but I would guess that Kevin's much better looking.  And taller.)  Yeah, that's some kind of weirdness, I know.  By the way, I have a friend who plays recreational soccer and once told me he played in a match vs Allen Hopkins, probably on Hollywood United.  Apparently, Hopkins is a bit of a dirty player.  Anyway, I knew something was wrong when Kevin/Allen started hanging out with Pat O'Brien at halftime but it wasn't until I started typing this out that I realized that he was Kevin Frazier, not Kevin Allen Hopkins.
Back to Jozy.  I decide that I've got to get an autograph or get a picture with him.  That is now my night's mission - nothing else matters.  The game was just a means of keeping Jozy seated for a couple more hours so I can plot our meet.  My wife has convinced me over the years that its better to have a picture with someone instead of their auto - so that's the goal.  Of course, my nice touch screen phone has everything, except a flash.  Darn those freakin dimmed laker lights.  But, my friend has a blackberry with a flash.  Then I ask him if he has a pen.  He says, "Do you want ballpoint or Sharpie?".  Whaaa?  This just cannot get better.  I seriously feel like hugging myself.  So I shoot off a couple of over-excited texts to my wife and my soccer buddy instead (he and his wife traveled to WC 2006 with us).

So what should I say if I get to him?  "Hey, sorry about getting suspended."  Umm, no.  "Congrats on that goal vs Spain?"  Maybe.  "Hey, what number are you wearing for the WC so I can get your jersey?"  Too stalker-ish.  Millions of other conversation starters flooded in.  Eh, I'll wing it.

Halftime comes and we figure he'd head up to the concourse for a break.  The entire section is now crawling up the stairs.  He doesn't move.  And the usher is checking tickets for anyone trying to get to the bottom floor.  So, I make the call.  We're going down.  My buddy's a good sport and follows me down, probably expecting to get tasered and thrown out by security after I man-hug Jozy like he just scored on Spain.

The stinkin usher stops me.  "I just want to say hi to someone."  She's not buying it.  Okay, fine.  I take step back and the usher turns away.  So I lean over and bravely yell, "Jozy!".  He's talking to his friend and doesn't hear / ignores me.  "Jozy!"  He looks.  Yes!  "Can I get a picture with you?!?"  He's comes over.  He's only taken one step but I've anointed him as the greatest guy ever.

I mumble something unintellible / dorky about congratulating him on a great start to a career.  Ugh.  He looks like he wants to get this over with.  Then, I think he realizes that I'm wearing an old US Soccer jersey at a laker playoff game.  My friend quickly takes a pic and checks it.  Jozy actually waits to see if the pic turns out.  In the meantime he asks, "Are you enjoying the game so far?".  I was so stoked that I didn't even comprehend the question at first.  What?  What game?  He repeats it.  So formal and polite.  I'm an idiot.  At this point, I should've asked him a question that shows what a huge fan of US Soccer I am.  You know, one of those awesome questions that I had been planning for the last 45 minutes.  Or just told him what I was actually thinking: "I don't even care about this game anymore - I just want to have a cool conversation so I can tell everyone we did".  I don't even know what I said.  Probably something lame like "good luck this summer".  Ugh.

He shakes my friend's hand which I thought was very nice of him.  I thank him and head up the stairs.  My friend knows I'm excited even though I'm keeping a calm exterior - this laker botox crowd has no idea who Jozy is anyway - so he turns halfway and gives me a congratulatory fist bump.  I feel like telling him to check, double check and triple check that he didn't accidentally erase the pic.  When we got back to our seats, he accommodatingly emails it to me immediately.  I have great friends.

Shoot!  I realized that I didn't even ask for his auto.  Not on my jersey.  Not on my game ticket.  Stupid!  Oh well.  A picture is better than an auto, remember?  I'm sure most people would rather pay big bucks for my picture instead of a Altidore signed jersey.

Okay.  I know, I know.  No, this is not the first athlete I've ever met.  I've interviewed Kobe, Malone and Phil Jackson before.  I've almost been eaten by Shaq.  I've even seen how small Derek Fisher's ... towel is.  (Why can't NBA players get beach towel sized bath towels after games?  A regular towel around his waist is a hand towel around ours.)  And that's just the lakers, not to mention other LA teams as well as random ex-professionals, many of whom won championships, doing analyst work from almost every sport (and some obviously drank before going on TV - ahem Eric Kramer).  But that was when it was just a job.

Its a bigger thrill when you meet an athlete on a team of which you're an actual hardcore fan.  For me that's UCLA Ball and US Soccer.  I classify those two teams differently simply cause they are the only two teams I've ever spent money to travel and see them play.  I'll never forget the day I "conducted" Jordan Farmar's press conference when he signed with UCLA (I was told many other media members would show up.  Nope, just me).  Or the time I interviewed Coach Howland.  But even then, they're local and it was still on the job.

This time I randomly met a member of a team that I've been following passionately the past 8 years, mere weeks before their biggest moment.  That's what made it awesome.  And a little dorky, I know.

My first NBA playoff game

I'm not a lakers fan.  I'm still sore at the fact that my Kings were robbed in game 6 of the 2002 Western Conf Finals by the refs.  But a couple $338 playoff tickets for free? (Via an office raffle - yeah I'm pretty lucky, I won Michael Buble tix for the wife a month ago too.  Each time there was probably a 3 in 50 chance - 6%.  Funny thing is I got more monetary offers for those Buble tix than these Lakers playoff tix).  Even if its the lakers, how can I not go experience an NBA playoff game?

Now I've been in Staples for playoff games before, most memorably when the Shaq, Malone and Payton lakers were slogging their way through that epic postseason failure.  But back then, I mostly spent my time in the Foxsports studio, lakers locker room or the bowels of the arena.  The 2 most memorable moments from then are 1) when Shaq sauntered into the locker room and slowly looked me up and down as if I was fresh meat - he is the biggest man I have ever seen - and 2) when KG's T-Wolves were eliminated and I walked passed a visibly crushed Garnett in the narrow hallway, with his head bowed, eyes closed, silently smoldering, waiting his turn in the press room.

Anyway back to this game, I took my friend whom I would describe as a fledging lakers fan and an all-around semi-casual sports fan at best, so I didn't want to ruin his night with my laker hate.  Plus, the way I saw it, there was zero chance that the lakers would not advance especially vs that midget Utah frontline so I didn't want to waste my energy outwardly rooting against them now.  Also, there's this ridiculous stat that I just can't get over: of the last 30 years, the lakers have been in the NBA Finals 15 times.  FIFTEEN TIMES.  Half the time.  Get it?  How do my Kings compete with that?  Sacramento has never been and the one time we were close, we were ludicrously held back by the refs so that the preferred golden child of the NBA could go instead.  So, I decided to just enjoy the experience of NBA playoffs and inwardly hope that Deron Williams would steal one.  So I did wear a Kings shirt as an inward protest under a US Soccer jersey which is all I really care about for the next 2 months anyway.

Shockingly, there was little traffic on our commute to Staples and our parking pass was literally across the street.  The night was off to a good start.  Our seats were in section 110, which is basically courtside opposite the visitors bench.  I even liked that we were in the last row (backs to the PR section) so that I could lean back or stand without fear of infringing on anyone's view or space.

Laker playoff games really are quite a production, aren't they?  I found it interesting that the arena lights dim above the fans and only the court is lit so that it feels like we're at the theater, taking in a show.  I guess that's really is what it is.  The biggest show in LA.  Millions of people would love to trade places with me at that moment, I realized.  And for half a grand, I would've done just that.  The giant curtain they unfurled pregame was awesome.  The purple and gold streamers released at the end of the victory even said on it.  Some of the celebs that we spotted include soon to be free agent Chris Bosh, who sat baseline courtside with his significant other who is half his height in heels, Kevin Frazier (former sports and current entertainment broadcaster) who was sporting a brand new US Soccer track jacket, Pat O'Brien, George Lopez, Red Hot Chili Peppers' Kiedis and Flea, and of course Jack.

Game analysis?  Kobe can get any shot off at any time.  Bynum and Gasol are so much taller and longer than both Boozer and whatever white stiff the Jazz rotated in in lieu of Okur.  The lakers scored at will in the paint (32 of 40 field goals) and blocked the Jazz 13 times, mostly in the paint as well.  Rebound margin?  58-40.  Jordan Farmar hit a couple 3s to top it off.  lakers win, ho hum.  If they play like this, they won't be challenged until the Finals.

So it was a good experience.  Even the freeway entrance was right by the parking structure.  In LA, that's a big deal, okay?  Might've saved 45 minutes for that reason alone.  I know I'm going to hate myself for even enjoying it a little bit if the lakers win it all this year.  Go Lebrons.

But who cares, this night will forever be remembered as the night I met Jozy Altidore, one month before the World Cup!