Friday, June 30, 2006

Roger Federer: Fashionable Bad-Ass

Let me preface this post with the admission that I know next-to-nothing about tennis. I’ve only played tennis a few times and I watch matches here and there. By no means am I an expert or really qualified to give any insight. But, I do know that every time I watch Roger Federer play (except on clay) I come away with the feeling that this guy is Superman with a tennis racket.

Federer never seems to struggle, barely breaks a sweat, hits the most amazing shots, and is rather polite. Clark Kent off the court and Superman on it. He just broke the record for number of consecutive wins on grass; he won three majors last year; and he is going for his fourth straight Wimbledon title this year. I’m not the only one in awe. Many commentators, players, former-players, and others have gushed in praise of Federer saying he not only is a great tennis player but also a class act. All of this makes his attire at Wimbledon absolutely awesome.

Federer has been wearing to and from matches a one-of-a-kind cream colored blazer over his tennis outfit. The UK Telegraph describes the jacket and his entrance in a recent match:

The jacket is classically stylish and has a special crest which incorporates a Swiss cross, a tuft of grass, his Leo star sign, an F for his surname and three rackets representing his three Wimbledon titles. After acknowledging the crowd's applause, Federer carefully put the jacket around the back of his change-over chair.

This has to be one of the greatest ways to tell the whole world that I am the greatest and there is no way anybody is going to beat me at Wimbledon. Federer, through his jacket, is saying to opponent, “I am the three-time defending champion see the rackets on my jacket; I intend to win my fourth this year; and, there is no way you are going to stop, just look at my jacket.” What a bad-ass!! But, it says “I’m a bad-ass” in a distinctly Federer way because it is not brash, arrogant, or impolite. Rather, it’s matter-of-fact, simple, and respectful to the conservative tennis club and I think it's great.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Odds and Ends

  • Blazer draft reviews are in and Portland did better than the ESPN announcers were claiming during the draft. Here, here, here, reports Chad Ford gave the Blazers an A and that the Blazers maybe weren't outwitted in the Aldridge and Telfair trades.
  • ESPN ombudsman writes about his network's coverage of the World Cup. Two of the five announcing teams are based in Bristol, Conn. and are not in Germany. I didn't know this but it might explain some of the difficulties the announcers seemed to have in making judgments on air.
  • Video clip of Ronaldo's 15 WC goals.
  • Grant Wahl writes about the necessity of attending a WC once in your life and not just for the soccer. I concur. Although I attended only one game in '94 and was just a wee lad then, I had a great time and wished I could have afforded to attend more games. That said, I got to see the US play Brazil on the Fourth of July. Absolutely awesome!!!

Quite Frankly, The Funniest Thing I've Seen Today

Thanks to the guys over at Deadspin I've probably just had the best laugh I will have all day. Deadspin has posted a video of people heckling Stephen A. Smith at last night's NBA draft. Quite Frankly, Stephen A. Smith is the most annoying personality, among many, on ESPN, and I wouldn't be sorry to see him go. Go ahead, enjoy.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Big Happenings in the NBA Draft for the Blazers.

Today was the NBA draft and my home-state Portland Trailblazers was THE mover and shaker of the day. Big moves by the Blazers have really changed the look of the team and could mark the turnaround the team sorely needs.

Starting things off before the draft Portland traded Sebastian Telfair, Theo Ratliff, a 2008 2nd round pick and cash to the Boston Celtics for the #7 pick, Raef Lafrentz and Dan Dickau. Telfair, drafted in 2004 out of high school, was supposed to be the PG of the future for the Blazers. But, the team drafted another PG in Jarrett Jack the next year in the first round. Telfair was former-GM John Nash’s pick and it looks like nobody agreed with him, and now that he is gone so is Bassy. Portland did take on a big contract in Lafrentz—who has 3 years remaining on his current contract—while Ratliff only had two years remaining.

Then, Portland traded the #4 pick, Tyrus Thomas and Viktor Khryapa to Chicago for the #2 pick, LaMarcus Aldridge and future 2nd round pick. Aldridge gives Portland a big man who can eventually replace the losses of Ratliff and Pryzbilla if he leaves in free agency. He won’t be an immediate help because he is still a little raw. It looks like Portland believes the Pryzbilla is gone so they got LaFrentz and Aldridge.

Some of the ESPN commentators think Portland could have sat on the fourth pick and still got Aldridge. Stephen A. Smith thinks that Portland HAS NO IDEA WHAT THEY ARE DOING!!! He doesn’t say really say why though. Let me just say this right now, I think Stephen A. Smith is a Grade A imbecile who can only make his points by yelling and most of his points are usually way off the mark.

With the 7th pick Boston selected Randy Foye for Portland after Minnesota selected Brandon Roy. However, Portland and Minnesota swapped picks and I think Portland got the one guy they really coveted in Roy. In my book, Roy was the best guy in the draft. He is the most polished of all the players selected before him; he is athletic; he can play defense; and, he can play three positions if necessary. He is a great combo guard. Plus, he is a Northwest product and should help sell some tickets. One downside is that he and Martell Webster, last year’s #1 for Portland, play the same primary position and Roy may take time from Webster, who needs to develop.

Before the Roy trade, ESPN was saying that Portland was making a huge error because they didn’t get Roy—the player they coveted. Stephen A. was killing Portland again, saying that he was sorry that Foye was going to Portland. Well, now they have the player they coveted and Stephen A. doesn’t have anything to say.

Sergio Rodriquez, a Spanish PG, was drafted by Phoenix in the 27 slot, but it is reported that Portland is straight out buying the pick. Not sure about this one. Just another small guard. Maybe he can back up Jack, but I would rather see some size. Greg Anthony is puzzled by all of the Portland trades, saying they could have gotten all of the same personnel without the trades. I call bullshit on that one. No way they get Roy if they don’t trade Telfair. Maybe they could have gotten Aldridge but they were probably concerned about somebody moving up to get him.

Joel Freeland is Portland’s 30th pick. He is a 19 year-old 6-10 PF out of England. Who? Nothing good coming from the commentators except that he will probably stay in England for a year or two. With the 31st pick, the first of the 2nd round, Portland selected James White from Cincinnati. He’s an athletic 6’7” guard.

Overall, I would have to disagree with the ESPN announcers. All they could say is that Portland didn’t know what it was doing, except they never supported the opinions with any facts. The one thing I agree with was that Portland may have gotten Aldridge without trading up. No way they get Roy without trading Telfair. Portland was able to parlay the former #13 pick Telfair into a #6 pick in Roy—a good move if you ask me. In all, the Blazers ended up with 4 first round picks and got two studs in Aldridge and Roy. They also have 3 players to bring in and see how they perform. The team is very young now and Steve Patterson said the Blazers aren’t done trading. So be on the watch for more action.

Update 6/29/06 8:15 a.m.: After tiring of the draft and changing the channel, the Blazers traded 2nd round pick James White to Indiana for two future 2nd round picks and the 45th selection who they then traded to Memphis for another future 2nd round pick. So, the Blazers gave up two future 2nd round picks and picked up three more. Not bad in my estimation.

A few notes on the broadcast:

Thank God ESPN let us know that Shelden Williams color coordinates his closet; and, B-Roy drove a forklift for a job after high school.

Vitale slurping Redick again, asking for free tickets for all the publicity he gave Redick over the past 4 years.

Apparently, Stephen A. hates every move, every draft pick, and every organization that is in the lottery because he is ripping just about every selection.

Awesome interview with a Knicks fan during the NY pick at 29. One guy called Isiah Thomas a bum and said he needed to be fired and that NY needed a guy knew how to manage. Frickin’ awesome.

Best name of the draft: Olexsiy Pecherov, 18th pick of the Washington Wizards.

Revisiting the Round of 16 Predictions

With the round of 16 now completed I thought it would be good to revisit my predictions. I got 6 of 8 correct, but my comments were off on some of the matchups. My predictions are in italics below and my re-cap follows those.
  • Germany v. Sweden: Should be a good game to see if Germany has a real defense, and I think the home crowd carries the Germans to victory. Germany dominated in part because Sweden played with 10 men and the Deutsch defense wasn't really tested. I'm still wary of the defense but the Argentina game should be a classic with the German offense clicking on all cylinders.
  • Argentina v. Mexico: Mexico gets spanked, easy as that. Boy was I off. Mexico played a great game and lost on one of the prettiest goals of the tournament. The Argentina defense appeared suspect on headers and crosses into the box, which may be good for the tall Germans.
  • England v. Ecuador: England should win this and Rooney gets more game fit. Ecuador was lucky to be in a weak group. England's finishing woes continued but Rooney looked fit. Woe to the opponent who faces the Three Lions when Gerrard and Lampard can actually get a shot on goal.
  • Portugal v. Netherlands: Maybe the best matchup of the round. Portugal will get a real test with the Netherlands, but the Netherlands' defense should be tested by the Portuguese attack as well. Netherlands win this one. This could have been a great matchup if a hockey game hadn't broken out. Portugal will be without a couple of key contributors against England.
  • Italy v. Australia: Italy's acting abilities will really test Australia's ability not to go down a man. Should be a physical match but the Italian offense should carry the day. It was Italy who played with 10 men, but the Italian acting definitely came into play at the end of this one.
  • Switzerland v. Ukraine: Switzerland is lucky to get one of the weaker teams to advance. Ukraine was utterly miserable against Tunisia in its last match and the Swiss will probably shut down Ukraine's only real weapon--Shevchenko. This was an awful match. The Swiss did shut down Ukraine, but there was no offense for Switzerland.
  • Brazil v. Ghana: Brazil in a walk with Michael Essien missing. The 3-0 score makes it look like a walk, but Brazil's defense looked like Swiss cheese and Ghanaian attack just went through the holes. Brazil's offense looked good though.
  • Spain v. France: Spain has looked far more impressive than France so far but the Spaniards haven't really been tested. France looked good in the last match and if Zidane can be incorporated into the attack the team had against Togo I will take France. This was the match of the round with the France of old appearing after an old France had shown up in the group stages. Zizou was great, as was Ribery and Vieira. Now only if Henry can have a great game at the same time, then there could be an upset against Brazil next round.

Here are my quarterfinal predictions:

Argentina v. Germany: Tough to go against the hosts on form, but I will take Argentina, who will be the first real test of the German defense.

England v. Portugal: England will win this game because Portugal will be missing a few players. I like England to finally get on track with Rooney putting one in the net.

Italy v. Ukraine: Catenaccio defense of the Italians will keep Ukraine in check.

Brazil v. France: I'll stick with Brazil, but I won't be surprised if an on-form France upsets.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Sacre Bleu!!!

France just played its best game in the World Cup since it beat Brazil in the '98 final. Although that is not tough to do considering how France played in '02 and the group stage of '06, it was truly a great performance. Zidane was his old self, even scoring a goal, and Vieira played like he was 25 and not 30. It pains me to say this but I actually rooted for France today, I wanted to see the team make another run and perform their best, especially with Zizou retiring (allegedly) from the national team after the WC.

To me this was one of the best games so far in the tournament. It had two teams with immense talent. It was experience versus youth. It had excellent execution. And, quite simply it was a magnificent game despite the 3-1 scoreline. It was much closer, with France going ahead only in the 83rd minute.

Ribery was excellent at creating opportunities and exploiting the Spanish defense on the wings and got the equalizer late in the first half. Zidane controlled the game like old times and took the free kick that Vieira nodded in to take the lead. He also had a beautiful stoppage time goal to put the game away. On the Spanish side El Nino, Fernando Torres, showed great speed and worked hard on the attack. But, the French defense held only yielding a penalty kick in the first half.

It was a very hard fought match but there were relatively few cards because the ref prevented dirty play by talking to the players and calling the game very closely. The only blemish was when Henry duped the ref into giving France the free kick that led to the second goal. Henry ran into the Spanish defender and pretended to have been elbowed in the face. The ref only had a look from the back and it could easily have looked like an elbow, but it wasn't.

If France continues to play like this and get Henry involved in the match, Brazil should be worried. The French attack could thresh the porous Brazilian defense, especially with Ribery attacking on the wings.

Beavers Win!!!

Let's take a break from the World Cup action for a bit to extoll the Oregon State Beavers' win in the College World Series. In the championship round OSU had to win two in a row after dropping the opener to North Carolina and the Beavers did. The team was down 5-0 in the second game and came back to win and squeaked out the win in game 3 last night.

I'm not the biggest baseball fan but this was compelling baseball. First, I am from Oregon and spent a part of my childhood in Corvallis where OSU is located. Second, OSU was a big underdog in this matchup. UNC had two first round draft picks on the pitching staff who threw some nasty stuff. OSU really doesn't have much power and grinds out wins in smallball style off of some pitchers who are hard to hit. Third, OSU had faced elimination in six games during the CWS and won all six games under that pressure. Lastly, there were some heroic pitching efforts on the part of OSU. Kevin Gunderson, the OSU closer, pitched 5 innings of relief in game 2 and saved game 3. Even more impressive was the performance of Jonah Nickerson. He started 3 games in the CWS and three over 300 pitches and had two victories. Incredible. I think his arm might fall off. Either that or he has a rubber arm. Nickerson was the MOP of the CWS and deservedly so. That's him below. Congratulations Oregon State!

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Man Hates Little Kid Soccer

The IRS is investigating a youth soccer association for tax violations. Damn! The US government really wants to prevent soccer from taking off.

A Few Words About WC Referees

The referees in the World Cup this year have received a lot of criticism, especially from the ABC/ESPN announcers and supporters of the US team. Some of it is deserved and some is just relocating blame that rightly should be placed on the US team. However, I found this page on that rates the WC referees and, interestingly, the referees the US had are ranked quite low. I don't think there was a conspiracy or anything like that but make of that what you will. Carlos Amarilla, who officiated the USA-Czech Republic game, is tied for 15th out of 22 referees in the WC. Jorge Larrionda--the USA-Italy official--is rated #20, and Markus Merk--the USA-Ghana official--is tied for 18th. It is unclear how these rankings are determined but I assume it is not public opinion.

On the other hand, I have watched every match thus far and must say that the referees have generally performed very well. I tend to agree that the officials have reached for the cards rather quickly to the detriment of the players and games. In some instances the cards are meant to prevent a game from getting too physical that is anticipated to be played that way, but usually I think it has been just antsy refs trying to meet FIFA's demands to the detriment of the games. Larrionda was officiating in this manner in the US-Italy game and the only call I would quibble with was Pope's second yellow, but Pope was playing with fire at this point.

However, there have been some serious blunders this year. Referees do make mistakes and I can't say whether this year has been above average for the WC or not. Here are some the most obvious errors in my mind. Markus Merk awarding the PK in the US-Ghana match; Benito Archundia and his assistants not seeing France's second goal against Korea; Carlos Amarilla in the Tunisia-Ukraine match where he awarded Shevchenko a PK on an obvious flop and missed a clear Ukraine handball in the box for a Tunisia PK (I think this was the worst because it could have cost Tunisia an advancement to the second round); and Graham Poll and his 3-yellows to one player debacle in the Australia-Croatia game.

The officials in today's first knockout games were very good and I expect the officiating won't be as big of an issue from now on. If it is you can go to here to read about an actual soccer referee's view on the performances of the referees. I really recommend this page if you have any interest in a more objective, or at least less impassioned, view of the officials.

Update 6/25/06 2:04 p.m.: I would like to add the list of bad performances by officials Valentin Ivanov, who officiated the Portugal - Netherlands match. He gave out 16 or so yellow cards and 4 red cards (a new record). It wasn't just one or two calls in this match, it was the complete loss of control by the referee from the very outset of the match. Too bad because it could have been a really good game.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Pre-World Cup Predictions

Now that the first round of the World Cup has finished I would like to admit that Nostradamus I am not. Of the 16 teams that advanced I was correct on only 10 teams.

Here's what I predicted and what actually occurred:
Group A -- Predicted: Germany (1st), Poland (2nd); Actual: Germany, Ecuador
Group B -- England, Paraguay; Actual: England, Sweden
Group C -- Argentina, Cote D'ivorie; Actual: Argentina, Netherlands
Group D -- Portugal, Mexico; Actual: Portugal, Mexico
Group E -- USA, Italy; Actual: Italy, Ghana
Group F -- Brazil, Croatia; Actual: Brazil, Australia
Group G -- France, Switzerland; Actual: Switzerland, France
Group H -- Spain, Tunisia; Actual: Spain, Ukraine

Not bad, not great. Definitely some reaches for the second place teams and a little homerism on the part of the US. Oh well. These are the matchups for the round of 16 and my thoughts:

  • Germany v. Sweden: Should be a good game to see if Germany has a real defense, and I think the home crowd carries the Germans to victory.
  • Argentina v. Mexico: Mexico gets spanked, easy as that.
  • England v. Ecuador: England should win this and Rooney gets more game fit. Ecuador was lucky to be in a weak group.
  • Portugal v. Netherlands: Maybe the best matchup of the round. Portugal will get a real test with the Netherlands, but the Netherlands' defense should be tested by the Portuguese attack as well. Netherlands win this one.
  • Italy v. Australia: Italy's acting abilities will really test Australia's ability not to go down a man. Should be a physical match but the Italian offense should carry the day.
  • Switzerland v. Ukraine: Switzerland is lucky to get one of the weaker teams to advance. Ukraine was utterly miserable against Tunisia in its last match and the Swiss will probably shut down Ukraine's only real weapon--Shevchenko.
  • Brazil v. Ghana: Brazil in a walk with Michael Essien missing.
  • Spain v. France: Spain has looked far more impressive than France so far but the Spaniards haven't really been tested. France looked good in the last match and if Zidane can be incorporated into the attack the team had against Togo I will take France.

Update: I am going to provide my predictions for all of the knockout stages as Complete Sports has done. Above are my Round of 16 predictions.

  • Argentina over Germany
  • England over Netherlands
  • Italy over Switzerland
  • Brazil over France
  • Argentina over England (Semifinal)
  • Brazil over Italy (Semifinal)
  • England over Italy (3rd place match)
  • Argentina over Brazil 3-2. (Final)

Odds and Ends

  • Apparently, the legal prostitution business in Germany is not doing as well as it hoped during the World Cup.
  • It looks like Claudio Reyna and Bruce Arena have some criticism of Landon Donovan's decision to come back to the US to play soccer.
  • If you really want to be a Brazilian soccer player, you are going to first need a cool name.
  • explains the magic behind the magic spray injured soccer players receive.
  • ESPN selects the best hair of the World Cup. I have my own selections that will be up soon.
  • Fox Sports tells us who at the World Cup is pimpin' all over the world.
  • Croatian soccer players get three yellow cards before they are sent off. NOT FAIR!
  • Ozzie Guillen offends the homosexual community by insinuating that Jay Mariotti is one of them.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Bill Plaschke is an Ignorant Fool and Maybe Racist

On ESPN's "Around The Horn" yesterday (6/22/06), Bill Plaschke of the LA Times, during a discussion on the US World Cup team, made perhaps one of the most ridiculous statement of the day. While I don't have the exact wording, Plaschke in essence asked where were all the minorities for the US team since this was a sport played largely by ethnic minorities in the US. This statement is about as foolish as it gets and it brings three things to mind: (1) has Plaschke ever watched a National Team game or looked at its roster?; (2) is Plaschke being racist?; (3) does Plaschke's foolish statement somehow miraculously stumble bass-ackwards into a salient issue regarding the development of soccer players in the US?.

First, Plaschke is an idiot and obviously has never paid attention to the US soccer team. One glance at a team picture and roster reveals the diversity of the team. There are four African-American players (Beasely, Howard, Johnson and Pope) and one (Oguchi Onyewu) who is the son of Nigerian immigrants on the team. Three players have a Latino heritage (Reyna, Mastroeni and Bocanegra) and one is Asian-American (Brian Ching). Of these players six made starts in the World Cup, one played significant minutes and two didn't get an PT. Reyna was the team captain and Onyewu led the defense. Needless to say, the US team certainly doesn't lack ethnic diversity as Plaschke suggests.

Second, Plaschke's statement may be borderline racist and is definitely a stereotyping of ethnicities that is unnecessary and unwarranted. Plaschke seems to suggest several things with his statements. The first is that white athletes are not good enough to compete on the world stage in soccer and second is that black and latino athletes are naturally better than white ones. To say this is just utterly stupid because obviously there are many great white soccer players, many great latino soccer players, many great asian soccer players, and there are many great black soccer players in the world. Just look at the successful teams in the World Cup and the leading players in Club play--they are comprised of players of all ethnicities. So, maybe Plaschke is suggesting that white Americans are not good athletes compared to latinos and blacks? Despite the many stereotypes that exist about blacks, whites, asians and latinos in America, particularly in sports, it is clear that each ethnicity has produced excellent athletes. Ultimately, it is this sort of uninformed, prejudiced and stereotypical statement that perpetuates such views especially from a so-called sports columnist and is incredibly irresponsible.

Third, from Plaschke's statement we can look at how the US soccer system develops its players. Plaschke wasn't thinking about this when he made his statement but he almost stumbled into an important issue for US soccer.

Initially, one has to look where our soccer players come from in the US. ESPN Soccernet's Fred Guzman writes far more eloquently and knowledgeably about this topic than I do. But, I will try to summarize what Guzman writes and add to it from my own personal experiences.

Guzman writes that soccer is a predominantly middle-class sport in the US, which is quite different from other countries. Elsewhere, soccer is played by all and the poorer communities have produced many of the best players in the world such as Maradona and Tevez. Soccer is a way out of the poverty for these people. To me the comparison is obvious. Soccer is the equivalent of basketball, football and to some extent baseball in the US. It is the path for to untold riches for the poor and may be their only way out. US soccer doesn't draw from this pool because soccer is obviously not as lucrative a sport in the US.

Guzman goes on to state that the US soccer system exacerbates this system because the Olympic Development Program (ODP) caters to the middle- and upper-class, to the detriment of players from poorer backgrounds. ODP is like AAU All-Star teams in basketball and costs a significant amount of money to join. Unfortunately, there isn't the corporate backing of ODP as there is for AAU because there is far less money to be made in soccer than basketball in the US for these companies. Consequently, ODP fails to cultivate players from poorer backgrounds that have produced many great soccer players around the world and great athletes in the US.

Bill Plaschke obviously wasn't thinking about this aspect of the US soccer system when he made is foolish comments on Around The Horn but his statement does provide an opportunity to think about the development of US soccer players. Fred Guzman makes some excellent points as well, but this issue needs far more attention from the US Soccer Federation to help raise the US program to an elite level.

Update 6/24/06 9:29 p.m.: Interesting NY Times article about Brazilian soccer and how most of the stars come from poverty.

Well, That Was Disappointing

The US suffered a 2-1 defeat at the hands of Ghana in the third and final game of the group stage for the US and will leaving the land of sauerkraut finishing last in the Group E. Overall, it was a disappointing World Cup for the US. The team had been hyped by Sports Illustrated, ESPN, its coach and many other people as the best US team ever. But, in the opening game the Czech Republic mopped the floor with the US. In the second game versus Italy, the US came out and showed some heart and ended up with a tie, although it is tough to say how the game would have turned out if there had not been so many red cards.

It's hard to believe this was the best US team ever now after it failed to advance from the group stage this year and the 2002 team reached the quarterfinals. However, it must be noted that this was a much more difficult group than the one it faced in 2002.

In the next few days there will be quite a few post-mortems on this team, much of it will be quite reactionary and I will provide mine now. In the order of the games played I think we can give an overall grade of (1) utterly miserable, (2) gutsy and determined, (3) average to slightly below average. A lot of people will be griping about bad calls in games 2 and 3 that went against the US and this cost the team dearly. This may be true (and I think the US got the wrong end of the deal on a few crucial calls) but it wasn't why the team is going home. The blame must fall on the players and the coaches.

It is quite clear after these three matches that the US is in desperate need of offensive polish and midfield creativity. Only one goal was scored by a US team member in three games and it had but a handful of shots on goal. A WC match cannot be won that way. In the next four years the US needs to develop somebody that has the ability to create their own opportunities and be dynamic in the final third, someone like Didier Drogba, Miroslav Klose, or Wayne Rooney (it doesn't need to be one of the best strikers in the world but definitely somebody that worries the opposition). This could be Eddie Johnson, but I'm not sold he has the skill to reach that level. Maybe Clint Dempsey who showed real potential in the last two games. Maybe somebody new. Heck, maybe we could just naturalize somebody from Brazil like Japan, Spain and other countries have. It seems clear now that Landon Donovan doesn't have the chops to step into this role. He crumbled under the pressure.

In the midfield, the US is solid but doesn't have a dominating influence. The team needs a player that can dominate the ball and create opportunities for the forwards. This may have been the biggest hole in this team. Nothing really seemed to be created by the midfield, rather it was used to slow things down to a deliberate pace and just try to cross balls into the box. Maybe Freddy Adu can do this. Who knows.

The defense of the US seemed ok, but had too many fouls and mistakes. I was ready to be sold on Oguchi Onyewu but he didn't close the deal. He looked a little slow for international play and had too many fouls, but he played solidly for the most part. In the goal, the US will be fine. Keller definitely looked ordinary this year, but to be fair he had some really tough shots to defend. Tim Howard will be the man for the next two WCs I think and that's good for the US.

And finally, my final thoughts are reserved for the US coaching staff. I may be a little harsh here given how soon after the US exit I am writing this but oh well. For all the good Bruce Arena has done for the US in the last 8 years, these 3 matches have shown his time has come. The man was able to create a system and develop the players after the '98 debacle to make an unlikely quarterfinal run in '02 and that is great but I don't think he is the one to take them over the top. His mindset is still the one where the US needs to play stifling defense to win anything. This may be partly true but the team has to score to win as well and it seemed that Arena wasn't worried about this with his line-ups. Each game was a 4-5-1, which I assume was designed to slow the pace and try to prevent the other teams from building an attack. But, it clearly didn't work and our offense suffered.

Arena's inability to adjust his system, especially with a nonexistent offense was disturbing. Was he that scared of giving up goals? Was he scared that we didn't have an offense? What was it? He also didn't have much creativity when it came to adjusting his selections to try and get something going. How come Eddie Johnson only played 60 minutes when it was clear that he really wanted to be out there and was creating chances? How come he played Beasley in a uncomfortable position? Moreover, how come his team came out so flat? There are just too many questions regarding his decisions for him to stay on with the national team.

In all, this was a disappointing but maybe not that unexpected result. Obviously, some changes are needed and hopefully 2010 will be better for the US.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Is That Spicoli At The World Cup?

Pavel Nedved (left) of the Czech Republic appears to be channeling Jeff Spicoli (right) of Fast Times at Ridgemont High at the World Cup this year.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Couldn't Be Prouder

After the woeful display by the US team in its match against the Czech Republic on Monday, I have to admit I was quite down and didn't think the US had the heart to do anything in the Cup this year. But, today's 1-1 draw with Italy showed otherwise. The US came out with aggression and an offensive mindset. The team took it to the Italians who were content to sit back and counterattack took an early lead in the 22nd minute. The Americans battled back and evened the score when a poor clear on a dangerous cross was knocked into the Italians' goal by Italian defender Cristian Zaccardo. There was no scoring after that but there was plenty of action.

Italy's Daniele De Rossi was shown a red card in the 28th minute after elbowing US forward Brian McBride in the face creating a cut that required 3 stitches. Then in the 45th minute Pablo Mastroeni of the US received a red for a hard, late tackle. After the half, Eddie Pope of US received a red card in the 47th minute for another hard, late tackle. It was 10 against 9 now. Both of the US red cards are being called excessive in the US, but others around the world believe the contrary. There are also reports of the Uruguayian referee having been suspended for "irregularities" in 2002. Either way, dems are the breaks and the US fought through them. And, that is why I am so proud. Now all they have to do is beat Ghana (which will be tough) and hope for an Italian win.

Friday, June 16, 2006

Day 8: World Cup Recap

Argentina 6 - Serbia & Montenegro 0: In a route of epic proportions, Argentina thoroughly manhandled S&M six-nil, which leads to thoughts of Argentina escaping bondage (S&M, get it). Leo Messi made his first appearance and had a goal and an assist. S&M literally gave up in the second half and didn't even try.

Netherlands 2 - Cote D'ivorie 1: With the Netherlands victory, Argentina and the Dutch escape the so-called "Group of Death" with only the seeding remaining to be determined in the Argentina-Netherlands match. A couple of Vans scored for the Orange: Van Persie with a rocket free kick from outside the 18 found the left side netting and Van Nistelrooy scored on a pretty run-of-play goal. Unfortunately, the Ivory Coast now only has one game left in the World Cup because the Elephants were immensely enjoyable to watch.

Mexico 0 - Angola 0: In the surprise result of the day, the Black Antelopes managed to tie the Tricolors. It was a thoroughly disappointing showing by the Mexican side.

The Best World Cup Names

Now that every team has played at least one game, it is time to do a serious evaluation of aspect of the games...particularly the best names involved in the tournament. Some guidelines in determining these names is required and there are three important aspects to a name: first, it must be fun to say; second, does it have some humorous, unusual, or unintended meaning; and, third, did the player have a good showing thus far in the Cup. Here is my starting XI and honorable mentions along with explanations. I'm going with a 3-4-3 lineup because there were not a lot of defenders to choose from.

Shaka Hislop, T&T—the Trinidad & Tobago keeper is a must have for his gutty performance in a draw against Sweden and how fun it is to say his name quickly and repeatedly. SHAKAHISLOP!SHAKAHISLOP!!SHAKAHISLOP!!!

Defenders – frankly, there were not a lot of options for this position.
Cafu, Brazil—a defender who goes by merely one name has to be included in this list.
Giovanni Van Bronckhorst, the Netherlands—when somebody says “Van Bronckhorst clears,” it makes you want to say Gesundheit.
Oguchi Onyewu—merely a fun name to say. It is like a rollercoaster ride, “Ooo-guuu-chiiiii! On-yeee-wu!!!!.”

Midfielders -
Bastian Schweinsteiger, Germany—It may not seem like a great name but his last name loosely translates to Pig Climber.
Gilles Yapi Yapo, Cote D'ivorie—How fun is it to say Yapi Yapo?
Kaka, Brazil—This may be my favorite name. It’s fun to say and it looks like it is pronounced like caca—the Spanish word for poop.
Fred, Brazil—This is a very interesting name only because it is so out of the ordinary for a Brazilian soccer name. Think, “Ronaldinho passes to Kaka, Kaka knocks it to Ronaldo, and Ronaldo drops it off to Fred.”

Stern John, T&T—It’s great when your last name is a first name and your first name is an adjective.
Luca Toni, Italy—it just rolls off your tongue.
Omar Bravo—This is a very appropriate name for a goal scorer. When you score the fans chant Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!

Coach – Otto Pfister, Togo-really? He's a Pfister and his coaching saga with Togo is amazingly humorous, as is his wardrobe selection (see left). I like the shirt open to the navel and blue jeans on the World Cup sideline.

Honorable Mentions
Oliver Kahn, GK Germany—Whether you support or oppose the German side, you can always have fun yelling KAHN!!! whenever he does something great/bad.
Oswaldo Sanchez, GK Mexico—Oswaldo is just a funny name.
Dejan Stankovic, M S&M—when he played poorly, he really stank it up.

Update 6:06 p.m, 6/17/06: Just found this post that talks about the best names of the World Cup.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

By the Long Hairs

After 83 minutes of lackluster play England broke a 0-0 tie with Trinidad and Tobago off of a Peter Crouch header. David Beckham knocked a perfect cross from the right side and the 6'7" Crouch easily outjumped T&T defender Brent Sancho to score the gamewinner. Steven Gerrard tacked on another goal in injury time to finish the scoring. While ESPN showed the replays of Crouch's goal it looked to me that Crouch had pulled Sancho's dreads to keep him from jumping. Lo and behold, the World Cup Blog confirmed this by posting the picture cap.

Seriously, if you're 6'7" shouldn't you be able to out jump the 6'1 defender without going all catfight and pulling the guy's hair?

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was in a serious motorcycle accident yesterday. Apparently, Big Ben was riding his crotchrocket and hit another car with his head that has resulted in numerous facial injuries requiring seven hours of surgery yesterday. Getting in a motorcycle accident is bad enough, but Roadrashberger wasn't wearing a helmet, which isn't against the law in Pennsylvania, but it is very stupid. It's not like he wasn't aware of the dangers of riding a motorcycle. Last year, when Kellen Winslow, Jr. of the Cleveland Browns blew out his knew riding a motorcycle, Ben was talked to about his riding by Coach Cowher and others. He said he was safe and didn't ride crotchrockets. Guess part of that isn't true. Also, reports are appearing that he didn't have a motorcycle license. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!

I hope he makes a full recovery but that was a dumb move.


After talking myself down off the ledge that is the only word that I can find to adequately describe the US performance against the Czech Republic on Monday. The US team conceded 3 goals against a very good Czech team and scored none. A lot of credit has to be given to the Czechs because the team played superbly and capitalized on nearly all of its opportunities. On the other hand, the US never gave itself a chance by playing passive soccer and never attacking. Ultimately, the Czechs have most likely stomped, as the Czech player on the right seems to be doing, on the US heart and chances in the Cup.

Nobody on the team showed up to play except for second half substitute Eddie Johnson, who showed considerable spirit in getting a number of quality shots off. In particular, those missing in action were Landon Donovan, DeMarcus Beasley, and Brian McBride. Although, McBride’s performance can partially be blamed on Donovan and Beasley’s disappearing act because he did not get any good playable balls from the midfield. In fact, I don’t believe Petr Cech was seriously tested by the US in the entire game.

To be sure, there is plenty of blame to go around. The players came out dispirited and flat in the game and only to get worse after giving up the early goal to Jan Koller. After that goal, the team had no drive and looked lost. Coach Bruce Arena deserves a considerable amount of blame as well. It appears he and his team bought into the hype surrounding the team coming into the World Cup and caused them to lose their hunger. Ultimately it is the players’ responsibility to be ready but the coach has to get them there, and then after the game he sold his players out. Arena laid plenty of blame on Beasley and the midfield, but did not accept any fault for himself.

Arena surely had to share in the blame because of his managerial decisions. He played Beasley out of position on the right side and it was clear he was not comfortable on that side. (Interestingly, I heard on ESPN this morning that Beasley and Arena are having a significant dispute about Beasley’s role.) Arena also came out with a line-up that was obviously going to slow the tempo down and judging by the play this is what he coached the team to do. In the end, this was exactly the opposite of what he should have done because it played right into what the Czechs wanted to do—slow down, hold the midfield and counterattack—and once they scored the US didn’t adjust until it was too late.

In the end, this was the worst possible outcome for the US. It was not surprising that the Czech Republic won, but the manner in which it did has destroyed a lot of the advances US soccer had made home and abroad in the last 4 years. If the US fails to respond in its next game, this could be a disaster just like in ’98.

In Other Games

Australia 3 - Japan 1—The Soccerroos, led by Tim Cahill, scored three times in the final 15 minutes to come back and defeat Japan. It was quite remarkable.

Italy 2 – Ghana 0—Italy looked very good against a spirited Ghana squad. Chelsea player Michael Essien was superb for Ghana although he could not his team over the hump. Italy will be very tough for the US to score against. If Ghana had just a little more technical ability this game could have easily been a win for them.

South Korea 2 – Togo 1—Korea had two exquisite goals, one from a set piece, to come back from a one goal deficit, only the second time that has happened this Cup. This comeback came after a Togo player was sent off early in the second half for a tackle from behind that stopped a goal scoring chance.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Recap -- Sunday's WC Action

Netherlands 1 - Serbia & Montenegro 0: The Dutch looked very strong but couldn't put the ball in the net more than once. Arjen Robben looked impressive on the field while causing all sorts of trouble for S&M including the lone goal. Some have complained that Robben wasn't passing the ball.

Mexico 3 - Iran 1: Mexico looked good on offense with precise passing and inventive play. However, the defense left something to be desired.

Portugal 1 - Angola 0: Portugal dominated the game but couldn't really put it away, like the Netherlands earlier. Angola had a much more solid game than I thought the team would.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Argentina 2 - Cote D'ivorie 1

Quick note on probably the best matchup of teams so far. Argentina looked ruthlessly efficient and precise in the first half. If they continue to play like that they will be around for a while. However, the Elephants' speed and athleticism did cause the defense some serious trouble. If not for some bad finishing and luck, the Ivory Coast could have won the match.

The Ivory Coast looked very talented but they need to corral that talent. Clearly, the team was far more athletically gifted than Argentina but it did not have the precision and organization of Argentina. I still like the Ivory Coast to come out of this group.


In-friggin-credible!!!!! Trinidad and Tobago just tied Sweden in the country's first ever World Cup match. Sweden is one of the better squads in the world and has members that play in the best leagues in the world. It also has 9 times as many people as T&T. It was an inspired effort by the Soca Warriors led by the backup keeper Shaka Hislop (see right). T&T's starting keeper was a late scratch after an injury during warmups. Hislop stopped everything Sweden sent at him. To top it off T&T had a player sent off in the early moments of the second half and played down a man the rest of the way. Sweden missed a ton of opportunities and seemed to press in the second half. Even though it was a tie, T&T has to consider this a victory. It was like a 15 or 16 beating a 2 or 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

God Save the Queen...

England has won and a collective sigh of relief comes from its fans. It was a good first half for England, but the team shut it down in the second half to preserve the win. England's defense really stymied the Paraguay attack. The ref, with a serious environmental disaster on his oil slick of a head, really seemed to favor Paraguay in the second half. He really let Paredes and Valdez (maybe that was the ref's name too?) get away with a lot of dissent and flopping when England could barely do anything.

Halftime Update: England 1 - Paraguay 0

So...the last 30 minutes of soccer was far less exciting that the first 15. England scored on the own goal and had several good shots in the half. Beckham has looked very sharp with his kicks, passes, and possession. Good for him. He needs to have a quality Cup after some very disappointing competitions in the past. England has dominated the half and has a significant lead in awkward 6'7" forwards. Peter Crouch surely doesn't look like a world class athlete.

One thing to note...the shadows at the stadium are crazy. The shadow looks like a 100-legged spider. See left for the cause of this awkward shadow. I'm sure it's not optimal for the play. It reminds of a reverse of the Dallas Cowboys stadium shadow.

Crap...It's Early To Be Watching Soccer


5:55 a.m. PST: drag myself out of bed for the England v. Paraguay match.
6:00: kickoff
6:03: England scores of an errant header from a Paraguayan defender in the third minute after an Beckham free kick from 40-45 yards out. Thank god I'm up!
6:06: In the 7th minute the Paraguayan keeper has to come out because of a calf injury.

Wow! A lot happened in the first 15 minutes I was up. England is dominating the control and Paraguay can't really get any buildup or momentum. The team had some bad luck to begin with and has finally settled down a little bit.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Ecuador 2 - Poland 0

In what has been termed the first upset of the World Cup, the Ecuadorians beat the Polish team 2-0. I really don't think it was that much of an upset because the Poles haven't been in great form as of late, but did have a good qualifying run. And, Ecuador performed well in a tough South American qualifying. That said, this game was a complete letdown after the high scoring (but lacking in defense) Germany-Costa Rica match. Ecuador looks to be in good position to make it to the round of 16.

Germany 4 - Costa Rica 2

Germany prevailed in the first game of the 2006 World Cup. In a break from tradition, it was the German offense that performed very well without its superstar, Michael Ballack, while its defense looked suspect. Lahm for Germany scored a beautiful goal at the 6 minute mark from the left corner of the penalty box. He scorched it past the Ticos' keeper into the upper right V.

In a sign of things to come, Costa Rica's excellent forward, Wanchope, scored on a breakaway from a through ball after the Germans failed in an attempted offside trap to even the score in the 12th minute. In the 17th minute, Klose put Germany up one on an excellent pass from Schneider. From then on the Germans controlled the half.

In the second half the Germans continued to dominate the ball but had defensive lapses as well. Klose scored his second goal off a rebound of his own header after an excellent cross by Lahm. But, the German defense again let Wanchope score after the offside trap failed in the 73rd minute. Although, Wanchope was offside the linesman didn't call. Scoring ended in the 87th minute when Frings scored a rocket from 35 yards out.

In all, it was a good first outing for the Germans to work out the nerves. But, the Germans defense was very suspect in allowing two goals to Wanchope who was Costa Rica's only real threat for scoring. I bet the German fans are a bit nervous right now, but glad to have the country's World Cup under way.

And we're off! a dress on prom night.

Germany v. Costa Rica is underway and there have been 3 goals in the first 17 minutes.

The Big Lead points us to a NY Post story about the US Men's Team checking out the prostitutes in Hamburg, Germany. These women-of-the-night are apparently not that attractive and are flocking to Germany to meet the World Cup demand for sex.

From experience, not with prostitutes, but with living in Germany, I know that Germany has very loose laws for this industry. Just around the corner from my apartment in Berlin were two "massage parlors" with pornographic advertising in the windows. I assumed these weren't the normal spas that women go to. And, I used to ride the streetcar back to my apartment and would see women on the street wearing only heels, hose, thongs, and bustiers while holding an umbrella in 30 degree weather on Oranienburger Strasse. I was amazed by their toughness. I know I wouldn't be out in the Berlin winter with that little clothing on. Anyway, I suppose that these women will be quite busy for the next month. Just look at Windsor, Ontario, which was just across the border from Detroit, the host of this year's Super Bowl.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

The World Cup Is Nigh

Tomorrow, the World Cup begins and I, for one, could not be happier. It means oodles of soccer on the tube for the next month and being unemployed means I can watch the majority of the games. That is, if I can get my lazy ass out of bed to watch the 6 a.m. games. I'll try to, but I'm not sure how long it will last. I will attempt to briefly write about each game I watch.

For what it's worth, below are my predictions for the matches. It looks like a lot of straight chalk but there are a few surprises in there. Most notable is the USA winning its group. A lot of that is pure optimism and patriotism, but I definitely think it is a possibility. If Italy ends up winning the group then I would put them into the semis and have USA losing to Brazil.

Cote D'ivorie (this is the spelling the country wants regardless of the language) is my sleeper because the team has some spectacular talent that plays in the top leagues, but I don't know how the rest of the team will respond. I really think England and Argentina have the best shot to win the whole thing outside of Brazil. The defense of Brazil might be its weakest point, but if the offense dominates the ball it doesn't really matter.

Group A
Costa Rica

Who will advance (1st, 2nd): Germany, Poland

Group B
Trinidad and Tobago

Who will advance (1st, 2nd): England, Paraguay

Group C
Cote D’ivorie
Serbia and Montenegro

Who will advance (1st, 2nd): Argentina, Cote D’ivorie

Group D

Who will advance (1st, 2nd): Portugal, Mexico

Group E
Czech Republic

Who will advance (1st, 2nd): USA, Italy

Group F

Who will advance (1st, 2nd): Brazil, Croatia

Group G

Who will advance (1st, 2nd): France, Switzerland

Group H
Saudia Arabia

Who will advance (1st, 2nd): Spain, Tunisia

Round of 16
A1 v. B2: Germany defeats Paraguay
C1 v. D2: Argentina defeats Mexico

E1 v. F2: USA defeats Croatia
G1 v. H2: France defeats Tunisia

B1 v. A2: England defeats Poland
D1 v. C2: Cote D’ivorie defeats Portugal

F1 v. E2: Brazil defeats Italy
H1 v. G2: Spain defeats Switzerland

Argentina defeats Germany
France defeats USA

England defeats Cote D’ivorie
Brazil defeats Spain

Argentina defeats France
Brazil defeats England

Third place match
England defeats France

Argentina defeats Brazil