Monday, June 29, 2009

Confederations Cup Logistical Roundup

Yes, the Confederations Cup is over. Yes, congratulations to Brazil for giving the USA a two goal head start before pummelling them into submission. Believe it or not, on-field performance was not my major concern with the tournament.

You see, as a resident in the glorious R of SA, few conversations go by here that don't stray to our readiness for the World Cup next year. In my worst nightmares, I see the new stadiums falling to pieces under too much strain and vibration, and a line of muggers waiting outside the major airports a la LA Story.

Unfortunately I wasn't around for most of the tournament, but here's what gathered since I got back last week in time to watch the semis and the final.

1. FIFA President Sepp Blatter gave South Africa 7.5/10 for the tournament. Take it for what it's worth.

2. Trust nothing you read on SA's official 2010 website, its sole purpose seems to be leaking government propaganda under the guise of a legitimate news site.

3. Security was a major issue, and was the main reason Blatter marked us down from 10. Not a big surprise seeing as security for the tournament was still up in the air until a few days before the start. Once things got underway the approach taken for games was apparently no where near good enough. My favorite quote from this last article:
"The OC’s Rich Mkhondo has persistently denied any safety breaches and Fifa president Sepp Blatter suggested at a press briefing on Friday that those doubting the effectiveness of security plans were racist."
For those of you not living in South Africa, this is pretty standard argumentation protocol. Here in politics, here in sport, and, oh right, here in the banking sector. Racist players from Brazil and Egypt also reported having their possessions stolen from their hotel rooms.

4. A German journalist died in a car crash. Even though it sounds like the accident didn't involve another car, I've always regarded driving here, especially in Gauteng (the province with most of the confed cup games), as an extreme sport. Potential motoristsneed to be aware that driving here can be particularly dangerous, and it doesn't help when you A) have to drive on the other side of the road and B) need to be able to handle manual transmission, as most rental cars are not automatics.

If I may be a bit cynical, all the stadiums used were upgrades and not from scratch. I still say a prayer every time I go by Green Point stadium. I just hope they've used different companies than the ones who built the gaggle of auto-collapsing shopping malls. But, hey, it's hard to mess up concrete, right? Anyway, the big problem isn't really the stadiums, or even security, it's the OC. Their attitude exhibits a sense of denial that would even make Mohammed al-Sahhaf proud. Read all about it on the aforementioned 2010 website. Hopefully they actually do a proper post-mortem on the confed cup and figure out what went wrong and what still needs to be done from an operational perspective. Otherwise be prepared to have your wallets ready as you exit the terminal.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Timberwolves Draft: Who Shot Who in The What Now?

I'm nonplussed, but in a good way.

When Ricky Rubio falls to you at #5, after you were planning on moving up to grab him or Thabeet, you take him, that makes sense. But I'm not sure I get drafting the exact same position at #6, again at #18, and again at #45.

As Wolves beat writer Jerry Zgoda points out, following up Ricky Rubio with Jonny Flynn because of the questions around Ricky Rubio's contract in Spain, and whether he'll be able to get out of it--he has to be pay his own buy-out clause; the Wolves can't help him in that regard.

But on the other hand, hand, Wolves Brain Guy, David Kahn says he thinks they can play together in the backcourt. Dick Vitale (DICK VITALE!) said that would be crazy, and career suicide for any coach that attempts it. Luckily, there is no Wolves head coach, so no one is sweating their job yet.

The other point guard they took at #18, Ty Lawson, who I like a lot, got traded to Denver for a draft pick next year. The pick technically was Charlotte's, and it is Top 12 protected, so we'll see about that. But we all knew that the Wolves weren't going to keep 4 First round picks, so instead they have a chance to have 3 picks in the first round two years in a row. Nice little move there.

I don't really understand at all taking at #45 Nick Calathes. Calathes is just one of those guys who never seems to be the sum of his parts. Jay Bilas may have identified the problem with him--that he doesn't seem to be aware enough of what the other guys on the floor need from him at any given moment. That's a troubling tendency in a point guard. He's also got contract issues, as he's signed to a Greek squad already.

Kahn really doesn't seem concerned about what this team will look like this year, which is great. He's clearly looking down the road, as he's assembled a bunch of point guards, a couple of whom may not play at all next year. He also drafted a Dutch big man in the 2nd round--Henk Norel, who will also probably be on the shelf for a year or two.

The guys drafted to help right away--Jonny Flynn and Wayne Ellington, have a chance to really do that. It will be a nice combo--Flynn slashing and dishing to Jefferson, and Ellington patrolling the perimeter, ready to punish double-teams on Jefferson. I don't know if the record will reflect much of an improvement, but with some guys stashed away, and another 3 first round picks next year, the Wolves could be quite good in a few years.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

USA 2, Spain 0 Analysis

Believe it or not, the USA did win and did shut out Spain. These are two related, but different events, superimposed over the same patch of grass and the same 90 minutes.

First let's talk defense--the US was giving up a lot of the same crap it has been giving up, and some of it started with their own defense--instead of outlet passes, they were just sending long balls up relatively blindly, which led to just a ton of pressure on the US backline and Tim Howard. Tim Howard played brilliantly, and was aided, it looked to me, by a slightly off David Villa.

I'm not taking anything away from the US defense--they didn't distribute the ball particularly well for large segments of the game, but I give them all the credit in the world for the sheer guts they played with. It seemed that every shot that Spain took had a US defender, sliding in front of them, blocking shots, changing shots, clearing crosses. The few open shots they had, Tim Howard more than rose to the occasion. He was brilliant. The backline of the defense played the best pure defense I've seen them play in quite awhile. I wasn't sure about Bocanegra at back left, but he played great, and moving him there left room for Onyewu and Demerit to challenge in the middle. I've enjoyed Jonathan Bornstein's play, but the backline gets much more intimidating with those 3 guys back there all together. (Jonathan Spector has done very well at right back, but isn't intimidating. He's just solid, and a great overlapping runner on offense).

There are still too many pockets opening up for crosses, and that's on the wing midfielders to some degree. But on the other hand, the US is strong in the middle, and if they are comfortable with letting teams challenge them with crosses, so be it. I don't think it is a winning strategy--they were outshot a lot in this game--at one point, 29-9. But again, when it came down to it, and the shot or cross was coming in, the US stepped in and got the job done.

Quick note #1: Michael Bradley's red card was absolute bullshit. It was barely a yellow, and not just in a "real" game, but also in a friendly. There was no intent, there was barely a charge--he shortened his slide to keep it from being a foul. Horrible call from the referee in this instance.

The goals are about two players, and two mistakes. The player of the first goal, obviously enough, is Jozy Altidore. His defender made the mistake of crowding Jozy, thinking that a US player that big couldn't possibly have the skill to hold him off and turn with the ball at the same time. Jozy turned him so easily it reminded me of bull bucking a rider in a rodeo; Jozy turned and the defender was just too close on him, and too on top of him, and found himself riding the momentum onto his ass. Jozy had a decent finish; not a great finish, but good enough.

Quick note #2: Dear ESPN/International Media Feed, please stop showing Charlie Davies' way off target bicycle kick, just because the ball bounced up and hit the camera. It was not newsworthy in any way, aside from the news that Charlie Davies thinks he can hit a bicycle kick.

The second goal wasn't about the scorer, Clint Dempsey (who I have savaged of late, but played quite well tonight, including getting back on defense, something that has been lacking), or assist man Landon Donovan, who really should have taken the shot himself, instead of slotting a ball that hit two Spanish defenders (I'll get to that in a second) before Dempsey got to it. The player that this goal was all about was Benny Feilhaber, a guy I've been singing the praises of for awhile. He was a substitution with about 30 minutes or so left to play, and his awareness and poise on the ball is something that the starting duo of Bradley and Clark both are lacking.

When you see the ESPN highlight, they will bust out the AXIS technology and show you the questionable nature of Donovan's pass. But look at the work Feilhaber did preceding it--he took what was basically a 50/50 pass from Michael Bradley, moved past one guy with his first touch, exploded into the Spanish defensive zone--he had two defenders in front of him, and the guy he faked out looking to get back into the play. Feilhaber faked a shot, which sucked in the two defenders in front of him into a tiny space, dribbled just twice more to suck in one more guy, before he sent a gentle touch in front of Donovan, right at the top of the 18, with no one in front of Landon but the keeper. It was a brilliant little play. Everything that follows is a series of fuck-ups that just worked out well.

Quick Note #3: Dear Bob Bradley: I don't care if Rico Clark reads the bedtime stories you don't want to read to your son--no more starts for him. He's high energy, yes. He's an absolute worthless spaz with the ball, as is your son, and we need a true offensive midfielder in the middle. Please, no more Rico Clark, even though he played well for him. He's no Benny Feilhaber.

Donovan's cross was a poor idea. But the worst idea of all belonged to Spanish defender Sergio Ramos which was, "Hey, this ball came to my foot, and I'm pretty sure there isn't a skinny, rapping American behind me, I can take my time, look upfield, and clear this ball in a calm fashion." I had just been singing Sergio Ramos' praises this week, and he does this? Embarrassing for him--if this had been a World Cup final match, he'd probably have to find a new country to play for. As it is, he's going to get hammered for his cock-up. Look at this--Sergio has just stopped the ball on his own 6 yard box. He can't be unaware of Dempsey, Ramos was trailing him for a good portion of this play, but he clearly thinks he had more time than he did:

All in all, this was pretty much the game the US had to play to win--take advantage of mistakes, and not letting their own mistakes crush their own chances. Excellent play from the best players on the US, especially Howard, Dempsey and Donovan. Intriguing play by youngsters who deserve more time, like Feilhaber and Altidore. I'd still like to see Freddy Adu, but you know what? Let's just enjoy the fact that the US shutout Spain!

upcoming in July: Gold Cup, and the reassuring arms of the CONCACAF.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Wolves Move Foye, Miller Analysis

It is now being reported pretty widely (but first broken, it appears, by Ian Thomsen at SI) that the Wolves have traded Mike Miller and Randy Foye to The Washington Wizards for their #5 Pick, and a bunch of lightly used, slightly irregular basketball players--Etan Thomas, Darius Songaila, Oleksiy Pecherov. No disservice to those guys, but they are clearly not linchpins of the trade--presumably they were included to help even out the salary numbers between the two sides, and most of them are probably not part of the Wolves long or short term plans. It is a commentary of how bad the big men of the Wolves are that they do all have a shot of making the team--Mark Madsen won't instantly get his accustomed role to sit on the deep end of the bench next season.

So the Wolves have four first round picks now, with two of them being in the Top 6. It's hard to imagine GM David Kahn is done dealing--who wants to have to sign four first round guys? But no one seems quite sure what the plan is. Jerry Zgoda of the Star Trib reports the various pieces of the rumors that he has heard--some of them seem pretty fanciful to me.

To be fair, I don't see where in ESPN's reporting what Zgoda says they report, which is that the Wolves are keeping both the #5 and #6. I think Zgoda just misread the report here, which says what we've heard in Minnesota all week, which is that Wolves want to keep two lottery picks, and they are hoping to package ONE of the Top 6 picks with other picks or players to move up to #2.

In fact, most reporting seems to agree that the Wolves are trying to move up to #2, but there is some argument as to who they are after. Zgoda thinks this is all work to get Ricky Rubio, which I don't fully understand. In a draft loaded with talented guards, why go for Rubio? And why blow so much effort and capital? I get that he is super-talented, though I haven't seen him play much myself. The Wolves just spent a good deal of time looking at just about every first round bound point guard that the draft has to offer not named Ricky Rubio. And from all reports, the Wolves would be quite happy with Tyreke Evans, Jonny Flynn, Steph Curry, or even crossing their fingers and hoping Ty Lawson is available to them later on. I just don't see it them spending all of this time for Rubio.

I think it is Thabeet that they are gunning for. The common concerns of Thabeet--his hands, his offensive skill set, his ability to defend against guys shorter but more physical than him, are at least somewhat mitigated given the guys he'd be playing with. Al Jefferson and Kevin Love could be drawing double-teams deep in the paint; they'll also be covering the guys sized like DeJuan Blair, who was such a headache for Thabeet during the Big East season this past year. He'd also become, instantly, the most talented big man the Wolves have drafted, with the obvious exception of Kevin Garnett. Have you seen the list of guys the Wolves have played at center over the past two decades? When that list is topped by the likes of Rasho Nesterovic and Dean Garrett, you can understand the desire, the lust even, in acquiring a true center. Plus, with a real center, Al Jefferson gets to play his real position of Power Forward, and good lord, would that do him good.

Oh, a note that seems so minor I hesitate to bring it up, but...Ricky Rubio hasn't experienced a real winter in his life. I can imagine him experiencing his first 2 foot snow fall, or his first -20 degree day, and deciding that he's made a horrible mistake. Thabeet, on the other hand, has been spending his winters in Stoors, Connecticut, and won't be in for the same kind of shock. That sounds trivial, I'm sure, to anyone who hasn't lived in Minnesota. Believe me, it is the kind of the weather that drives people away.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Kevin Slowey Wins 10th Game--National Media Notices

Congrats, National Media, for finally noticing. Someone tell the PTI boys there's another pitcher in the running for the Cy Young besides Justin Verlander or Zach Greinke or CC Sabathia (they threw out fatty fatty fat-fat as a dark horse, ahead of our Kevin Slowey, for fuck's sake. Admittedly, back when they were discussing it, Slowey was only 9-2!)

Just for the Hell of It--Live Blog of $25,000 Pyramid

Join us whilst we watch dated game shows on the Game Show Network on Friday Night/Saturday Morning--1:30. It will be fun, and kind of stupid. Or stupid, and kind of fun. Hard to say.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Ladies and Gentlemen, Kris Kristofferson!

Thank you, Sundance and Elvis Costello for putting this on TV.

Your Finest Role Yet, My Friend

Head Coach of Brazil, and former player Dunga may not be an actual person, but simply the finest performance by a Portugese actor ever.

Here's "Dunga"

Here's actor Joaquim de Almeida. CONSPIRACY?

Brazil 3, USA 0 Analysis

To quote The Iron Sheik, "America, Ptooey." Once again, the US succumbed to a shockingly early goal, and an overzealous, stupid foul, leading to a somewhat harsh red card, leaving the US down a man for a good chunk of the game. Both of those aspects should sound familiar--one part Costa Rica, one part Italy games coming together against an opponent that is far too talented to give one such mistake, nevermind two or three or four.

The frustrating thing is that the US didn't look horrible for long stretches of this game. Of course, a good chunk of their best offense came when they were already down 3-0, and Brazil had already started thinking about Italy--Feilhaber came awfully close to making my prediction exact with an absolute thunderclap from the top of the box that banged off the bottom of the crossbar. The Answer to the Question No One Asked, Conor Casey, also had a header skip off the top of the bar (oh, and Jere Longman of the NY Times? Casey's header was hardly "lashed", but we will get to you in a bit).

But the US made some more of the same stupid mistakes we've seen from them for the past few weeks. Michael Bradley, who has somehow escaped criticism despite play that seems spazzy and stupid at times, helped set up the first goal by attempting to correct his own giveaway by fouling a Brazilian about 30 yards away from goal, setting up a free kick that made it 1-0 in a hurry. Yes, Spector lost his mark on the free kick, but the US knew that they couldn't give away free kicks to Brazil in their zone.

The contrast of the 2nd goal, and the way it was talked about is particularly galling to me. Yes, it was a short corner kick that Beasley let roll under his foot, helping to start a Brazilian counterattack. Harkes jumped on that as proof that Beasley was no damn good, and the US braintrust agreed, swapping him out at half with the at best clumsy, at worst comically overmatched Conor Casey. Longman in the NY Times also spits some venom at Beasley: "He made an elemental mistake that led to Brazil's second goal" and later calls the mistake "amateur."

That's all well and good and accurate, but even in a lengthy discussion of the first goal, there's no mention of exactly who got that foul called on him--and it was Michael Bradley. There's a lot of chatter about how Brazilians were diving, but look--Bradley got the ball taken off of him, raced back, and put his hand on Maicon's shoulder. Maicon sold it, but guess what--you aren't allowed to reach forward and put your hand on your opponent's shoulder. If they choose to go down, that's your problem, not theirs.

Here's the problem I have--both Bradley and Beasley made mistakes. Beasley made his 20 yards away from the opponent's goal--blaming him for an 80 yard counter-attack that was not once slowed by a US defender at any stage seems silly to me. I blame tactics in part--Bradley apparently talked at length with his team about the dangerous Brazilian counterattack, but did nothing special to address it--otherwise, how does a turnover 80 yards from your own goal become a easy 2-on-1 finish a few seconds later? Even if Beasley handles that ball, and feeds it into the mixer, the counter-attack could have broken the exact same way. The US was pressing on that cornerkick like it was the 85th minute, not the 20th. That does not excuse Beasley's brain fart, but good God--as a defender, I would never blame a goal on a turnover inside the other team's defensive zone, no matter what the circumstances were. Brazil was much, much faster than the US, and they did nothing to compensate for it. I don't see Beasley's mistake as more egregious than Bradley's, and yet no one is talking about how stupid it is to put your hands, with your arms outstretched, from behind, on an attacker 30 yards from goal. They could.

Oh, and yes, Klejstan's Red Card was a Yellow Card, at best, much like Rico Clark's was against Italy in the first game. Guess what--this tournament is an exhibition, in the middle of World Cup qualifying. Acting shocked that the referees were (more than likely) told to put a tight rein on the professional fouls is just stupid. Know the situation, USA, and don't dive in, cleats up, after the ball has left. Also, Clint Dempsey? Dribbling until you fall over doesn't count as offense.

Ugh. Technically, even though the US has lost their first two of three games by a combined 6-1, they still have a chance to advance, thanks to Egypt beating Italy 1-0 today. But the US would have to beat Egypt, and I don't know that they can do that--Egypt has played very well--scaring the fuck out of Brazil, and beating Italy at their own game of the 1-0 match. Fully expect the US to exit the Confederations Cup with zero points. Let's hope they can get their shit together in a hurry.

Bob Bradley is most definitely on the hot seat if they lose in the kind of fashion I kind of expect them to lose to Egypt.

In other news, the Brazil - Italy tilt should be a barn-burner. Italy needs that win, and I'm sure that while Brazil would normally not take that game too seriously, they haven't officially punched their ticket to the next round, and they will be playing the defending World Cup champions. Motivation enough to match Italy's motivation, I should think.

I should also quickly point out that despite the rumors I am going to start, Brazilian Head Coach Dunga is not actually Joaquim de Almeida of Desperado and Clear and Present Danger fame.

Hold Onto Your Hats, Timberwolves fans

We've already seen one big trade rumor floated and then busted (Al Jefferson + #6 Draft pick for Amar'e Stoudemire). We didn't think that one made a whole lot of sense--as Garwood B. Jones said to me, "That can't be for real; Amar'e doesn't want to be here, and he's a similar player to Jefferson, just older. That's a bad trade." The folks at Ball Don't Lie might not agree, but we win the day, simply because of the very first point Garwood makes--Amar'e would play here for a year, and then opt out in 2010, while Al seems quite happy in Minnesota, and is under lock and key for the next 4 years.

Thankfully, that rumor has already been quashed. But Jerry Zgoda, the Star Trib's Timberwolves beat writer says to expect a very busy week heading into the the draft. He's looked into Kahn's eyes, and he sees a sharky dealmaker type.

It’s already clear the Kahn is very much concerned about a player’s value, his salary and how it fits into the big picture with the cap. He really is focused on managing the cap.

That’s why I think Mike Miller definitely will be traded by draft night and why Randy Foye likely will be as well. I’m betting Kahn is looking ahead to Foye’s next contract and saying to himself what it will cost to re-sign Foye is beyond his worth...

Expect Kahn to try to use Miller or Foye and the team’s additional draft picks to try and get another top 10 pick in addition to their No. 6 pick so they can get UConn center Hasheem Thabeet, a true shot-blocker.

I'll tell you what--if Kahn can successfully blow up the franchise and rebuild on the basis of Thabeet and Jefferson sharing the paint, I'll be most impressed.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

US vs. Brazil Preview

Brazil Wins 3-1. wants you to believe that Brazil is going to come out more cautious than they did against Egypt, and that the US proved in a 3-1 loss to Italy (with two goals coming from an American born Italian player) that they were "formidable".

I won't say that the US isn't potentially formidable in areas, but I have a hard time believing that Brazilian head coach Dunga is worried about anything aside from a letdown from his squad--they barely got 3 points from Egypt, and they've got Italy coming up next, so I could understand how he might worry that the Brazilians might overlook the US.

The sad truth is that they could probably afford to overlook the US and still put the hammer down when necessary, and win this game. People will tell you, "Hey, Brazil needed a 90th minute PK to squeak by Egypt--maybe they are vulnerable." I'd tell those people to shut the fuck up, because right now, Egypt is playing much better soccer than the U.S.

We are about a year away from the actual World Cup, and the coaching staff of the US doesn't have any idea who is going to play in several key positions, in part because the coaching staff are apparently a bunch of idiots, and because of a serious dearth of quality in some key, key spots.

For the life of me, I don't understand why DeMarcus Beasley's failure at left back, which he had no business playing in the first place, has relegated him to garbage time substitutions. I don't understand the continuing patience for Clint Dempsey's over dribbling, psuedo prima donna play on the field. I've talked before about the curious decisions of Bill Bradley made for the Costa Rica Debacle.

But that's hardly the only problem--and one problem is so obvious that even John Harkes touched on it today during the surprisingly compelling first half of Spain vs. Iraq today.

One is a simple compare and contrast--I felt pretty sort of OK about the current back four of the US--(Bornstein, Gooch/Demerit, Bocanegra, and Spector) and then I watched 23 year old Sergio Ramos for Spain play again (warning: Canandian "punk" music). And it is frustrating to watch him and know that he could join the US squad, and be one of its best midfielders. Sergio Ramos, have you considered becoming an American? You might be a striker on their squad!

The other problem is that complete lack of identity in the midfield. Harkes pointed to the wing midfielders, which is where I see a simple solution--go with whichever talented players belong on the wing--and to me, it is simple enough--that's got to be Beasley and probably Dempsey, even though Clint "Deuce" Dempsey has been pissing me off lately.

One of the reasons he's pissing me off--and if you watched him in that the Costa Rica game, you saw it too--he's cheating into the middle of the field, because he has no faith, zero faith, an atheistic approach, if you will, in his center midfielders. He's right to be full of righteous doubt, when Coach Bob Bradley sends in tandems like His Son and Pablo Mastroenni, or His Son and Rico Clark. To me, at least two of those guys--Clark and Mastroenni--have played themselves off any serious consideration for the national team, in anything outside of emergency roles. It was curious from the get go that either was getting any serious consideration in the first place.

Harkes made the point in a roundabout fashion--just prior to complaining about the lack of quality on the wings, he mentioned the lack of roles in the middle--"Who's the holding midfielder? Who's the attacking midfielder?" Ponder that for a second--it isn't just that we don't know who the starting midfielders are--we look at them, and can't figure out what role they are going to play? May I kindly suggest a new way of looking at the midfield--like maybe, two quality attacking center midfielders, with a belief or a trust that either center midfielder can track back and play some jockeying defense?

My starting 11 for the tomorrow, and the next qualifier, and probably the next qualifier after that (excepting Bocanegra, who should play when he is healthy. Here's the thing--when Bocanegra comes back, I'm not sure it should be in place of Jay Demerit. It, maybe, should be in place of Oguchi, who has played well for 85 minutes in every game, but makes one huge mistake in every game, that always seems to lead to a goal. Get Tim Howard drunk, and ask him which two starting center backs he'd like to have in front of him.)

Starters in a 4-4-1-1
GK: Tim Howard, of course, of course:
Defense (L to R): Bornstein, Gooch, Demerit, Spector)
Midfield (L to R): Beasley, Feilhaber, Kljestan, Dempsey)
Forward: Donovan
Striker: Altidore

Smell Ya' Later, Kevin McHale

The inevitable separating of ways has finally happened.  Kevin's disappointment aside, it really really, really had to happen.  Once an owner declares that you have his ear no matter what your place in the organization, you've got to go.  Especially when between you and the owner, you've made such decisions as:

1.  Risk draft picks (and lose them) by giving Joe Smith a huge illegal deal. 
2.  Trade for Marko Jaric, giving up a first round pick and a ton of money to keep him.
3.  Throw good money after bad attempting to make Troy Hudson a reliable guard who didn't spend his offseason recording awful rap CD's.  
4.  Draft Nbudi Ebi, Will Avery, and in the second round chase overrated Big 10 talent year after year (Bracey Wright, Rick Rickert, Marcus Taylor,  etc)
5.  Trading away Brandon Roy, Mario Chalmers and OJ Mayo on draft day (the latter may still work out OK)

 I bear a lot of ill will towards McHale's role in completely funking up my NBA franchise of choice (considering #2 are the DC Bullizards, I am kind of stuck with the Wolves).
But I do remember the McHale of old, who provided color commentary on the radio (along with Kevin Harlan) during the early, dark years of the franchise, when Andres Guibert occasionally plodded up and down in a 2/3rd empty Target Center.  I wish that McHale all the best.  He's the one who took a shitty franchise and made it entertaining, and continued that streak through his first couple of years working directly with the franchise.

The other McHale, who took an entertaining franchise and made it shitty, and basically became the living embodiment of the Peter Principle, can go screw.  

Photo Credit: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Two Possible Transfers to Keep An Eye On

Fellow IDYFT'er miwacar already discussed the biggest transfers in recent/all memory. Speaking with me, he also dismissed the Ronaldo/Paris rumors, with a blithe acceptance of their truth, "They're perfect for each other." I don't think he meant that in a good way.

But let's talk about who Paris will be banging in a couple of years--or if you prefer, up and coming footballers. Fox Soccer Channel reports that both of these guys are in the midst of some serious negotiations with some big league teams.

Eden Dzeko
nationality: Bosnian.
Currently with: Vfl Wolfsburg
Rumored Interested Parties: A clusterfuck: Chelsea, Arsenal, AC Milan, to name a few.

Cachet: He's all of 23, and was named the Footballer of the Year in the top German League, aka The Bundesliga. That happens to be the most underrated national league in Europe, in my opinion--there is fantastic talent playing in Germany--they aren't 3 steps down the ladder from England, Spain and Italy, as say, the French league is. Dzeko put together 26 goals and 10 assists in 32 games. Sounds like a talent ready for the next level.

Examples of skills: (as always, when dealing with European Footballers on YouTube, please be aware of shitty, European dance music added to a perfectly good compilation video).

Yuri Zhirkov (pronounced as something awfully close to Jerk-off)
Nationality: Russian! Really!
currently with: CSKA Moscow
Rumored Interested Parties: Chelsea, Barcelona (kind of)

Cachet: 25 years old, and has the nickname, granted to him by overzealous managers of "The Russian Ronaldhino". No offense to Zhirkov, who I'm sure is a very nifty player, but this nickname strikes me as overloaded and unfair. Like when Man U fans started calling Paul Scholes "The Ginger Pele", but less egregious.

Examples of skills: apparently included in his skill set is diving, and diving in. But regardless, the video suggests a lot of skill. As always: warning: shitty European music used.

Get Up, Gates of Shinto!

Congratulations to one of our favorite former Twins ever, Torii Hunter, aka "T-Hunt", aka "THUNT", aka "The Gates of Shinto" on his first career 3 home run game. We miss you, Gates of Shinto Hunter.

Also, congrats to the current Twin squadron, who have a nice 5 game winning streak against the National League in general, and the National League Central in particular--eat it, Brewers and Cubs. In particular, congrats to Jason Kubel for his 4th home run in five games. Have I mentioned lately that he looks like a corn-fed version of the kid from About a Boy? I have? OK.

Friday, June 12, 2009

MIlton Bradley and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Between the Penguins Game 7 win (the first Game 7 win on the road in any major US sport since 1979's Pittsburgh Pirates) and Luis Castillo's humbling fielding error that gifted the Yankees a win over the Mets, it is possible that Milton Bradley's Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad day went unnoticed by a good chunk of the sporting nation. It's a shame, because it was a pearler of a bad day.

First off--how well do Twins fans travel? Very well, judging by the number of jerseys, and how loud the crowd got when Nathan was closing the game. Awesome. Suck it, Chicago.

But let's talk about poor Milton Bradley and his horrible, no good day. To quote the AP:

"He lost Jason Kubel's pop-up in the sun for a single, couldn’t catch Michael Cuddyer's RBI bloop double, made a baserunning blunder and, most egregiously, flipped the ball into the stands after catching Mauer’s one-out sac fly.

Fans even booed Bradley when he was robbed of a hit on a diving catch by left fielder Delmon Young."

Let's be fair--Delmon robbed him, and the crowd booed--it took a sliding catch to keep Bradley from adding to his RBI total. And he did plate 2 of the Cubs four runs. And he wasn't the victim of any Kevin Slowey's 10 strikeouts (Soriano, at the lead off position, had two of them). Soriano, for the season, is hitting .237. So while Cubs fans like to jump on the problem of the day, and to be sure, Milton Bradley had a horrible, no good day--their problems go much deeper than one guy having a super Brain Farty day. Like Geovany Soto's 0-4 day, with 2 K's, and 3 men left on base, and his .213 average.

Or their bullpen, aside from Sean Marshall, was hittable--in the final three innings, the bullpen of the Cubs gave up 6 hits, 3 earned runs, which included a fantastic mistake to Jason Kubel, who parked a homer deep into the bleachers of Wrigley. So congrats, Cubs and National Media--you have a new person to blame for why your teams sucks--but there will be another person soon enough.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Superbowl XLIII: Xmas in June!

NFL training camp begins in a month. Before the previews, prognostications and pith drowns us in excitement for the 2009 season, I thought it would be worthwhile to return to Superbowl XLIII for a final farewell.

With arguably the most exciting 4th quarter in Superbowl history, the Steelers v. Cardinals conflagration has begun to fade from our collective conscious. And so I'd like to bring y'all back to February 2008: no one had heard of swine flu, President Obama had just changed the address on his Netflix account, and people around the country were pulling for the Cardinals.

How They Got There
NFC West Champ Arizona Cardinals defeated young upstart Atlanta, buggered Delhomme's Panthers and out-gunned the Eagles to get to the Superbowl. In the regular season the offense ranked 4th in points and yards, and ranked #2 in passing.

The defense was fast and dynamic but prone to penalties and mistakes, ranking 28th in points allowed. While QB Warner had yet another outstanding season, team MVP was WR Larry Fitzgerald. In four playoff games, Fitzgerald posted 546 yards and 7 TDs.

AFC North Champ Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the talented but Norv-laden Chargers and the hard-hitting Ravens to get to the Superbowl. In the regular season, the #1 ranked defense in the NFL destroyed opponents throughout the year. They had no weaknesses.

The offense was capable but hardly elite, relying on QB Roethlisberger's arm with RB Wee Willie Parker slowed by injuries.

The team's MVP was the Linebacker unit. Led by J. Farrior's tackles, L. Woodley's sacks (six in three postseason games), L. Timmons's pass excellence, L. Foote's run excellence and NFL Defensive MVP J. Harrison, the Steelers LB unit was assuredly one of the very best in history.

The Steelers were the #2 seed and were 7 point favorites over the 9-7 Cardinals who were only in the playoffs because their division was so lachrymose. The Steelers had already won five Superbowls. The Cardinals? One playoff win since 1947.

But then, that's why they play the game itself.

Next Post: the game itself.

Brad Childress has a Beard, Is Not on Drugs

When Brad Childress was asked if he was stressed out about the Favre thing, he said, "I'm not on mood elevators, or anything."

Mood Elevators! I hope that phrase comes back, thanks to the new beardy Brad.

Ronaldo Goes Kaka

The "Portuguese Piledriver", no that doesn't about the "Portuguese Pistol", nah...anyway Cristiano Ronaldo, 24 year-old soccer phenom is now on his way back to the Iberian peninsula. For a record setting price, $131.5 Million, Manchester United has agreed to ship Ronaldo to Real Madrid.

The idea of Ronaldo playing in the midfield with Kaka is very interesting. They both posses the trifecta of offensive skills. They are fast, with impeccable ball control, and they can finish in variety of effective ways (and Kaka is a very good passer, is that a quadfecta?). I assume the Real Madrid leadership was feeling some pressure after Barcelona won the Spanish Primera and the Champions League (not to mention a couple of other titles) this past season. There is also talk that Spanish national striker and current Valencia star David Villa will join the club. That would make perhaps the most formidable attack trio in european football.

Interestingly, Ronaldo leaves one of my least favorite teams in any sport and joins another. It just fits his personality so well.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Hey Rocky, Watch Me Pull a Farmer Out My Hat

I watched Jeopardy today and I learned something that I didn't know and didn't want to know--apparently, there are dairy farmers who cover themselves in the stink of baby moose so that they can milk moose.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I ask you--if you have to coat yourself in the stink of the calf of an animal just to get close enough to milk it, isn't that a sign from nature that that particular animal isn't meant to be milked?

I was shocked to learn that moose are milked. But don't worry, my friends, the milk is not used for drinking--unless you are looking for a miracle cure for the stomach that ails you. According to the a-little-on-the-nose named website, people travel to Russia to get a daily dose of moose milk:

Moose milk is believed to help people recover from disease and manage chronic illness more effectively. The moose milk cure is especially targeted at adults with stomach ulcers and children with digestive disorders.

As to the science, the main explanation is the effect of a high level of enzyme (lysozyme) activity. Compared to cow's milk, moose milk also has a higher fat (10%) and protein (8%) content, and much higher levels of aluminium, iron, selenium, and zinc.

You can hear all about it here, from NPR'sarchives. The guy who loves fresh moose milk sounds exactly like a guy who would love fresh moose milk.

It should also be noted that Moose Milk is often (well, not often) is made into one of the world's most expensive cheeses. As of a few years ago, there was apparently one dairy in the entire world that made moose cheese, so it is has not taken off yet, per se. The good news is that it sells for about $500/lb.

Hey American entrepreneurs, there is something that people in Europe have paid $500 a pound to acquire, and it apparently does not yet exist in America, home of people willing to pay a lot of money for anything. I smell business opportunity! Let's get some moose babies and start milking.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Awesome Test of Live Blogging: Late Night GSN

I've never liveblogged before. I'm not saying that in a coquettish way--it's just the simple truth, man. And whilst I'm pondering liveblogging the USA vs. Honduras game Saturday night, I'm not sure I want to learn on the job, given the fact that the US could give up 2 goals in the first 10 minutes.

So why not try it out with something very definitely old, but incredibly entertaining? Like late night, classic Family Feud?

Thursday, June 04, 2009

8 Ball Bunny

For reasons too convoluted to go into at this late time, I've had this cartoon in my head all day. Enjoy!

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Costa Rica 3 - USA 1

Never you mind the goal in the 90th minute off a foul in the box off a fucking throw-in that gave the US its first goal in Costa Rica since 2000. Never you mind how tough it is to play in Costa Rica's stadium, with the artifical turf from the 70's, hostile crowd, and brutal heat. This was an ugly game from the United States. Alexi Lalas just called the game "Garbage--total garbage. From top to bottom." More disturbingly, Rob Stone just said,"The United States really missed Frankie Hejduk." Hey, Rob Stone--Frankie Hejduk's dog doesn't miss Frankie Hejduk. It was an awful outing from the US, and if someone can say that Hejduk was missed, and not get laughed out of town--well, it is cause for concern. It is worrying, I am saying.

Where this game went wrong is from minute Zero, which explains why Costa Rica was up 1-0 after 2 minutes of play. It starts with some coaching decisions that seemed from the start to be questionable, and by the end, very wrong-headed.

Let's start from the back and move up the pitch. I don't understand the decision to put DeMarcus Beasley at left back. The guy is (and has been his entire career) a left midfielder. If the US played a 4-3-3, he'd probably be a left winger. He attacks with speed and a bit of panache, and he tracks back beautifully. He tracks better at left midfielder than right back Marvell Wynne did tonight from his right back position. But Beasley isn't a defender by nature, he's an attacker. It is one thing to play a unspectacular player at left back, like say Eddie Lewis, who can take advantage of defenses ignoring him to serve balls into the box. No one is going to lose track of DeMarcus Beasley at the leftback position, except maybe the US attack. And the other team is going to go at him, and prove he can play stand up defense. Which is what The Ticos did, and guess what? Beasley got himself skinned a bit in the first 2 minutes of the game, and it led to a goal. That's not Beasley's fault. That's on Coach Bob Bradley, for playing him way out of position, and taking him out of a position where he could have been regularly dangerous on offense, instead of occasionally. and meanwhile, who played Left Midfielder for the US? Can't remember? Neither can I.

The line-up was also stung from the beginning by the choices at center midfield. In an ideal starting eleven 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1, as the US seemed to be playing), you've got two center midfielders who are equally adept at offense and defense. In reality, this is a shockingly rare feat to accomplish, so you've got one center midfielder who has defensive tendencies, and one who likes to push up into the offense a bit. They will switch around a bit to keep offenses guessing--but in no way in hell is it a good idea to start two center midfielders who are a little spazzy on defense, and not very skilled on offense. Bob Bradley did his team no favors by throwing in Pablo Mastroeni and Michael Bradley into the middle together. There's no offensive skill to be generated there. Both Bradley and Mastroeni are crunchers--they hit, they take balls away, and they create some fouls (hopefully far away from the US' goal mouth). In what universe is Mastroeni a viable starter for this team? If the purpose was to jam up the middle of the field, it failed spectacularly. It led to turnover after turnover from the US midfield, and didn't seem to slow the Ticos down in the least. There should have been an offensive minded midfielder in the game from the get go: Adu, or Klejstan, or Landon Donovan, who always seems to do better running at a defense than being butted up against it.

There were some bad coaching decisions here that handicapped the US from the kick-off, but there was some bad play, too, from players who were, at least in theory, playing their favored positions.

Let's call some of those fuckers out, too.

Marvell Wynne was playing right back the entire 90 minutes. (the fact he played that long could be considered another fuck up by Coach Bradley, but I digress). Marvell, along with Oguchi Onyewu, got skinned on a give and go that was embarrassing. Both Wynne and Onyewu were worked by simple quick passes, because they followed the ball, instead of following the men they were supposed to be marking. It is the number one rule, drilled into every player from at least college on--don't get turned around by a ball that is passed by you--keep your mind on the player you are supposed to stop. Both of those defenders forgot that rule, and that play, combined with Carlos Bocanegra biting on a fake shot so hard that he looked like he was trying to take a charge in the NBA, left 3 Costa Rican attackers on the right side of the 18 being defended by poor, out of position DeMarcus Beasley.

That was Wynne's one mistake that cost a goal, but he had plenty more. Getting caught with his man behind him and the ball over him (two cardinal sins in one) he was lucky to not be responsible for at least one more goal. His overlapping runs were a nice component to his game, but when neither he nor his right midfielder, Clint Dempsey (who was invisible most of this match) tracked back, they left the back right empty, with big, slow, foul-prone Onyewu attempting to guard wingers.

As was just mentioned, Clint Dempsey was completely invisible. Remember when he was going to be Nike's big urban marketing move? I fucking do. I'm going to include his Don't Tread video at the end of this post, just to remind ya'll. He was nowhere in this game. I barely recall his presence. Landon Donovan was somewhat more present, but not much more--he will be remembered for shots fired wide of the goal, or above the goal, or that 90th minute PK. Nothing that actually changed the game in any fundamental way. Again in part because he was playing out of position. And in part because he simply seemed off.

Michael Bradley had no business playing 90 minutes, and between the 60 and 75th minutes, he really drove the point home--he picked up a Yellow Card, which will keep him out against Honduras on Saturday, which might be a good thing, as Head Coach (and Lizard in Human Form) Bob Bradley was punished mightily for his faith in his son this game. Troubling idea: Bob Bradley will replace his son Michael Bradley with the equally spazzy Rico Clark. Promising Idea: He'll start Sasha Kljestan and/or Freddy Adu, and see then we will question what they can or canna do. (interior couplet for you poetical guys there)

Ah, Michael Bradley is also on the hook for the third goal, as he fell victim to fatigue, spazziness and one of the slowest turns I've ever seen in a soccer match. Bocanegra was also, in theory, there, though he was so slow to react to the play that I question whether his mind wasn't already in Chicago for Saturday's game with Honduras.

final take, the next starting 11, against Honduras
GK: Tim Howard, of course
CB's: Bocanegra and the Gooch will be fine, as long as they aren't constantly covering for wing backs adventuring up the sidelines.
LB: Jonathan Bornstein
RB: Jonathan Spector
Midfielders, L to R: DeMarcus Beasley, Freddy Adu, Rico Clark, Landon Donovan
Strikers: Jozy Altidore, Charlie Davies (who went unmentioned in this post, because he played sparingly, but well)

Oh yeah, Don't TREAD!:

USA! vs Costa Rica Soccer Qualifier Tonight

If you've had your full of pretty, dazzling European football, than you are in luck--The US playing Costa Rica is never pretty, and frequently brutal.  ESPN, 10 pm EST.  

This is not your typical CONCACAF match-up either, in which the USA goes to a place, mops the floor with them, and leaves feeling good about themselves.  They are playing in one of the toughest stadiums to play as a visitor (particularly an USAer) in the Western Hemisphere.

There's a reason that the US is looking to get its first point in Costa Rica since 1985.    USA Today's Beau Dure has a great article on some of the memories US players have of the Estadio Ricardo Saprissa, the stadium the game will be held in tonight:

"That mass [of Costa Rican fans] arrives early. Eddie Pope, who played several qualifiers in Saprissa, remembers turning on the TV in his hotel room a few hours before an early-afternoon game and thinking he had found a game to watch before heading over to the stadium. He was wrong. The packed stadium on TV was Saprissa. And it was live.

By the time the teams get on the field, the visitors face a storm of abuse. The words don't hurt, but batteries, bottles and other objects can leave a mark. 'Coins are a favorite,' [Jeff] Agoos says. 'Tim Howard probably picked up a couple of extra dollars by being in goal.'"

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