Sunday, March 27, 2011

US Soccer - hard fought draw v Argentina

On paper, a 4-2-3-1 seems like the perfect formation for the US, since we have an abundance of quality midfielders, but not many experienced forwards.  With capable offensive minded players such as Donovan, Dempsey and Holden as well as more defensive minded players like Bradley, Jones and Edu all comfortable starters for us, not to mention a variety of interesting options off the bench such as Feilhaber, Diskerud, Torres, etc, it makes sense to deploy 5 instead of 4.

On the field, 4-2-3-1 was a unmitigated disaster vs Argentina.  Obviously we should not expect to have an equal share of possession vs Messi and co, but it was worse than that.  Our formation seemed to play right into their hands.  Landon and Dempsey, the wings of our formation, seemed to be tucked way inside to help out defensively and we conceded both flanks to them.  Also, with Bradley, Jones and Edu occupying the central roles, it seems that we didn't know how to cohesively and systematically defend centrally.  Three defensive mids seemed always out of shape and a step behind.  Messi always had easy options to pass to as he waltzed right down the middle.  It could just be that Messi can waltz through anyone since it seems impossible to take the ball off him, but it was especially ridiculous in the 1st half.

It could also be that Holden would have fared much better in the advanced CM instead of Edu and he might have given us a chance to hold the ball for longer periods of time.  Nevertheless, we were pinned back and just grasping at straws.  Bradley responded by subbing in Juan Agudelo, a 2nd striker, and removing one of our 3 DMs, in Jermaine Jones.  Jones was over-aggressive and fouling the entire 1st half.  He also seemed out of sorts with his ball-control and passing.  Still, I probably would've taken out Edu instead.

Either way, we reverted to the 4-4-2 and the difference was obvious.  Perhaps we were more comfortable with the formation, but it seemed to close some of the holes that Argentina was exploiting and got Altidore a lot more support going forward.  Jozy, by the way, needs to learn not to try and take on 3 defenders.... no, 3 himself.

Juan Agudelo's fortunate putback goal off Boca's header means that he has scored 2 goals in 2 games with the senior team.  Not bad for an 18 year old.  Not bad for a team in dire need of somebody with a scoring touch up front.

Timothy Chandler, a 20 year old German-born Nurnberg starter at RB that I must confess I've never even heard of until mid-last week, was competent going forward and could be the future after Cherundolo's eventual retirement.  Eric Lichaj could have something to say about that before this cycle is through.

On the other hand, LB, currently filled in by Bocanegra, is still a disaster.  Bocanegra does not have the on-the-ball skills to go forward and he does not have the speed to shut down a fast winger.  Its not his fault, he's still probably our best CB, but he's also our best (only) LB option.  Scary.

But on this day, it did not cost us.  A draw vs Messi and Argentina where we scored?  I'll take that every day of the week.

Tim Howard, man of the match.  One of the best performances I've ever seen from him.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Clint Dempsey EPL Record

Clint Dempsey became the first American to score 10 goals in a single season in the English (Barclays) Premier League, breaking Brian McBride's record set in 2005-06 and repeated in 2006-07 (also at Fulham).  Dempsey broke the record by left-footing a shot into the left bottom corner against, coincidentally, fellow American Tim Howard and Everton.  There are 8 more games this season for Clint to increase his tally.  Of the 10 goals, 5 were scored with his head, 4 with his feet, 1 from the penalty spot.  Clint also missed a PK against Chelsea that would have been his 10th, but that is old news now.  Congrats to one of the most successful Americans in Europe ever.

2006-07 - Dempsey transferred to Fulham in January and scored 1 goal (saving Fulham from relegation) in 10 appearances (9 subs, 1 start)
2007-08 - He scored 6 goals in 29 starts, 7 subs
2008-09 - He scored 7 goals in 28 starts, 7 subs.  (Also 1 goal in 5 FA Cup appearances)
2009-10 - He scored 7 goals in 27 starts, 2 subs. (Also 2 goals in 5 Europa League appearances, including ridiculous Juventus chip)
2010-11 - 10 goals in 28 starts, 2 subs.  (Also 1 goal in 2 Carling Cup games).  8 games left.

This is a good time for Americans in the Premiership.  Having Americans like Claudio Reyna and Brian McBride pave the way before, many teams are more willing to sign on a US international.  Landon Donovan's highly successful stint at Everton didn't hurt either and it seems that the American midfielder especially has earned a measure of respect in England.  Currently besides Dempsey, Bolton's Stuart Holden is having a great season (although his season ending knee injury this past Saturday is a heartbreaker for the kid who was still recovering from a broken leg during the World Cup last summer).  Aston Villa has brought on Michael Bradley, Blackburn's got Jermaine Jones and West Ham has moved Jonathan Spector to midfield with much better results.  (Also, Maurice Edu is solid contributor for the Rangers in Scotland as well.)

Had Holden been healthy, I would've loved to see a 5 midfielder lineup (with a lone forward) like this for Sat's Argentina match:

Donovan - Holden - Dempsey

Friday, March 18, 2011

2011 NCAA Tourney, Round 1 UCLA 78 - MSU 76

What a relief!  In the end, all it will say in the record books is that UCLA advanced out of Round 1 (what's that you say? Rd 2 is it?) of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, and Michigan St. didn't.  This game was a microcosm of UCLA basketball this season.  We are capable of beating anyone in the country and also capable of maddeningly inexperienced play, all in the same half.

Apparently this was the 100th tournament game for UCLA, a March Madness landmark to be sure, but it almost became a March moment of another kind, a collapse of Gonzaga-like proportions.  A 23 point lead with 8:20 to go (64-41), we were outscored 35-14 the rest of the way.  Can that be right?

They scored 35 points in 8 minutes and 20 seconds!  That's 7 three pointers, 5 other baskets, and 4 FTs.  How did we do in that time?  1 layup.  12 made FTs.  7 TURNOVERS!  10 missed FTs, including 9 of our last 11!  In the last 2 minutes, Reeves missed 2, Smith missed 2, Lazeric missed 2, Honeycutt missed 2 and Lee missed the last.  That's our entire starting lineup.  Not exactly confidence inspiring stuff going forward.

The good news is that we had dominated them for the first 32 minutes so badly that it was too hard to make up.  Also, for the ref's enlightenment: a dead ball foul with 4.4 seconds left should result in 2 FTs AND the ball.  MSU's Lucas should've never had opportunity to travel.  It would have been a travesty to lose on a buzzer beater 3 there.

Anyway, there's no way our team can dwell on this, especially since Florida just blew somebody out in the 1st round.  Its the tournament, there's no time to get too high or too low.  Howland knows this.  Plus, he knows that a close win will keep us on our toes better than a easy win would have.

Our frontcourt had a great game.  Nelson had 12, Smith finished with 14, and Honeycutt had 16.  Even Lane contributed with 8 points.  However, the MVP goes to the defensive showing by Malcolm (in addition to his 16 points) in shutting down Kalin Lucas.  With 8 minutes to go, Lucas hadn't scored yet.  And we all know its easier to make jumpers when you're down by 23.  Lucas finished the night 4-14.

Also, we ran a lot of plays for Honeycutt and Malcolm moving toward the rim.  They both flourish in that kind of movement where their skill and athleticism gives us the advantage.  When they're not passing down low to Smith and Nelson, that's where they need the ball.

In 2004-05 season, Howland's 2nd year, a very young team also brought UCLA back to the tournament after missing out, but lost in the first round as a #11 seed.  This year, our team has exceeded that already.  Its time to play as if there's nothing to lose.  Don't forget, in 2005-06, our team went straight to the finals, only to lose to Florida.  Lets get a jump on next year, now.

Sat 3/19/11 - no longer gator bait.  Go Bruins.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

March Madness Predictions

68 teams?  really?  Okay, I can understand wanting to give more little guys a chance to battle it out for the right to lose to the #1 seed.  I'm fine with those play-in games.  But why do we need five #11 seeds and five #12 seeds?  Why do they need a play-in game?  And even more ridiculous than that, why are the first 4 play-in games called the first round?  NCAA's money-grab just further make them seem small and pathetic.  The first round starts on Thursday and Friday when all 64 teams play.  That's the true first round.  Did anyone get excited about the play-in games?  Didn't watch, but at least I'm glad VCU eliminated u$c from making the tourney in their play-in.

I haven't seen a college basketball game this year that UCLA didn't play.  And I didn't have the energy to read all the experts and figure out consensus upset picks.  So my bracket is a complete guess - I'll probably do better than normal.

Upsets in the first round: Villanova, Marquette, Missouri, Illinois, Richmond, Old Dominion, Utah St.

Sweet Sixteen: OSU v Kentucky, Marquette v UNC, Duke v Texas, UConn v Temple, Kansas v Louisville, Purdue v ND, Pittsburgh v Wisconsin, St. John's v UCLA

Elite Eight: OSU over UNC, UConn over Duke, Kansas over ND, Wisconsin over UCLA

Final Four: OSU over UConn, Kansas over Wisconsin

Champ: Kansas over OSU

Friday, March 11, 2011

KLove's 52 straight double doubles

Kevin Love now has the NBA record for consecutive games with double doubles at 52.  Other random facts (stats as of Friday morning before any games):

- He's only been in the single digits in points twice this year, both back in November - 8 points vs Sacramento on 11/10 and 0 points vs the Lakers on 11/19.

- He's only been in the single digits in rebounds 5 times, all in the month of November, the last of which was that 11/19 game vs the Lakers.

- On the season, he has 61 total double-doubles, which is most in the league.  To put that in perspective, only 3 other players have more than 40 - Blake Griffin (56), Dwight Howard (52), Zach Randolph (46).

- 11/22, the first game of the streak was vs the Thunder when he scored 24 and grabbed 17 boards.

- The record breaking game was on 3/9 vs the Pacers.  He had 16 points, 21 rebounds.

Out of the 52 games:

- He finished with less than 15 rebounds only 15 times.

- He also finished with 20 or more rebounds a whopping 11 times.

- 11 times, he grabbed more rebounds than points scored.

- 8 times, he had a 20-20 night.

- He scored 30 points or more 8 times.  Of those 8 games, he grabbed 20 or more rebounds 3 times.

- His highest point total of the year was on 12/18 vs the Nuggets.  He had 43 points (and 17 boards).

- His highest rebound total of the streak was 24 vs Boston on 1/3.  However, he did grab 31 boards (and scored 31 points) vs the Knicks before the streak on 11/12, which was the game that announced his claim to all star status.

- The closest call to breaking the streak was his mortal 10 point, 10 rebound night on 2/2 vs Memphis.  Man, that was close.

- He grabbed a total of 244 offensive rebounds during the streak, which is about 29% of his total (853).  Per night, he averaged about 4.7 offensive rebounds (which is also his season average and it leads the league as well).

- During the streak, he averaged 21.7 points, 16.4 rebounds.  (Season average: 20.8 points, 15.8 rebounds)