Sunday, May 30, 2010

USA USA USA vs. Turkey - A Review

First off, it was nice to see most of the presumptive Starting 11 start today.  With Gooch joining in the action in the second half, I'd say we say our entire Starting 11 on the pitch, just maybe not all together at the same time.  

It was a tale of two halves, as so many soccer games seem to be, and once again the US started slowly against (arguably) one of the best teams in the world not going to South Africa (we are officially under two weeks away from the World Cup, and I don't know about you, but I want it NOW). 

There were again some serious problems in defense--some of it borne out of a lack of communication that we saw against the Czech Republic that I thought would go away with Tim Howard back in the nets.  Judging by his reaction to some of the rather open looks Turkish strikers and midfielders got, I'd say Tim was surprised by some of those breakdowns, too.  Simply put, the defense was caught ball-watching time and time again, and sagged off of players filling into space, or flat-out losing track of guys.  The US was supremely lucky to only be down 1-0 at halftime, and I think they would admit that the Turkish feet were as responsible for the lack of goals, rather than their own excellence in the back.

Let's talk about that one goal though.  First thing is that it was setting up to be a great opportunity for the US.  A bad clearance from the Turkish defense gave RB Jonathan Spector the ball and a ton of space to operate in.  Spector took his space well initially, but got himself into trouble at the Turkish 18.  That's fine, these things happen--it should not lead to a goal the other way.  The simple fact of the matter is that it launched a counter attack because no one in the midfield rotated back to take Spector's spot; nor did the remaining defenders spread themselves out--they just gave up the entire right side of the field.  This is not an overly technical idea--a halfway decent high school team has a defender who engages in overlapping runs or pushes forward on occasion.  There was no reason for the lapse, and was another reminder that if our central defenders do not include Gooch or Bocanegra, they get disorganized pretty quickly. 

The second half of the game was much more encouraging, but may cause Bob Bradley a bit hair-tearing  scalp-massaging, as the best foursome to play in the midfield seems more muddled than it did before this game (and it was plenty muddled already).  Dempsey seemed more engaged as a midfielder than he did as a striker, which is where I'm sure Bradley has planned on starting him.  Robbie Findley actually looked OK as a striker, though he needs to look up from his dribbles a bit more.  John Harkes was strangely dismissive of the absolutely great ball that Findley fed to Donovan that led to the first goal, but I thought it was a brilliantly weighted ball, over the top of the defense, with some backspin to help let Donovan get to it before the keeper did.  

I think everyone watching the game is probably in agreement that the revelatory player of the second half was Jose Torres.  I hadn't even included him on my projected 23-man squad (though others had, often as the 22nd or 23rd man).  He made his argument loud and clear today that he's worthy of being considered in the Starting 11.  The second center midfielder paired up with Michael Bradley is still the biggest question left to address before this team starts play on the 12th of June.  We've seen Rico Clark, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, and now Jose Torres.  And it is hard to argue that any of them has consistently shown up as the best one of the bunch  (let's not talk about Feilhaber's shocking decision, playing at left midfield, to attempt a cross field pass in the first 10 minutes that led to Turkey's first really dangerous opportunity to score).  Rico Clark continued to play with his trademark reckless abandon that led to yet another yellow card.  John Harkes may be a bit of a dink, and sometimes provides painful commentary, but the man knows how to play center midfielder, and he couldn't say enough good things about the play of Jose Torres.  

There is clearly a poise about the kid, and he's not afraid to get stuck in, even though he's only 5' 5", which is certainly hurting his chances to start.  It shouldn't--there are plenty of great tiny players out there, and while Torres isn't going to win any comparison to Messi or Deco or anybody at that level, he was as solid of a midfield partner to Bradley that I've seen.  I just don't know if Bradley will be able to bring himself to entrust such an important position to such a young player--he's all of 22, compared to Edu's 24 or Feilhaber's 25, or (guh) Rico Clark's 27.  Also, all three of those guy play in Europe, while Torres plays in the Mexican League, which just doesn't have the same cachet.  If I were a gambling man, I'd say the position is Edu's, for now.

Bob Bradley has some tough decisions to make, and it isn't just players--it is positions, too.  Does Dempsey start up front, and slide back as substitutions occur, or do you take a chance on one of the other guys right from the jump?  If you do that, then Dempsey needs to be in the midfield, and it suddenly gets even more crowded back there.  

It says something about this team that Alexi Lalas is most worried about who the strikers are, I'm most worried about the midfield, and Cardillo of That's On Point (see below) is most worried about the defense.

Also, have you joined our World Cup Pick 'Em Game yet?  Why not?  Are you some sort of jerk?

Other opinions:
Noah Davis,
Cardillo, That's On Point (who praises Rico Clark, for some reason)
Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Newest Player Pondering the MLS: Frank Lampard

Or so says Andrea Canales.  She notes that players used to the Premiership will be disappointed by the lack of amenities that are there on the MLS tour.

But there are a couple of assumptions here in this couple of sentences:  "American restaurants do not keep European hours. Good luck, Lamps, trying to find someplace open in Columbus, Ohio, after a match versus the Crew when you've got the munchies."

1.  Columbus has, I'm sure, plenty of 24 hour restaurants besides, as Canales sarcastically suggests, Waffle House.  This smells of more of East Coast reporter bias than anything based in truth.  Most MLS games are done by what?  9pm or 10pm local time?  Lampard can get his grub on no problem in Columbus--he's never struck me as a particularly dainty eater.

2.  Why are we assuming Lampard isn't playing for Columbus?  With Beckham in LA, and Henry in NYC, certainly Lampard is going to have to play in one of the Shitty Cities that America offers up, which in the minds of most Europeans, it seems, is every city but LA or NYC.  As Canales points out, French fop flopper Robert Pires determined Philadelphia not good enough for him to play in.  But if the MLS really becomes the European retirement tour (the MLS rules seem determined to make it so) than some of these guys (as I've pointed out before) are going to have to play in such exciting places as Dallas and Kansas City (it was good enough for Preki) and Toronto and Seattle and the like.  The entire Old Man European Expatriate Squad are not all going to play in New York City.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Minnesota Ladies Are Always Classy, Somewhat Taciturn

Muumuuman Presents: Old School Friday - P.E.

I was listening to public radio recently and they were interviewing the students who protested Arizona's latest racist law outside of McCain's office . All three face deportation, and one of them faces deportation to Iran. Iran folks, now that's a courageous protest. If our government leaders had half the spine of that protester I think our country would be in much better shape. So, here it is: Ladies, gentleman, and otherwise: Public Enemy.

IDYFT Presents A Yahoo World Cup Pick'em Brought To You By...Jesus!

The fine and nice and handsome lads here at I Dislike Your Favorite Team want you to enjoy the World Cup as much as possible.  And what makes any sport better?  Gambling, obviously.  Many sports would not exist without it (Jai Alai, as awesome as you are, I'm looking at you)

So I, as the brains and charisma and other stuff of the site, invite you to partake in what I'm going to call our Fantasy Footie Jam.*

If you have a Yahoo ID, it could not be easier.  (And it is pretty easy to grab a Yahoo ID iffen you don't have one)

You simply want to go to here.

Then, when prompted, enter the following information:

Group ID#: 13716
Password: bradleylizardman

It may seem intimidating at first, but really it is quite simple.  The competition comes in two parts--you predict the games for the Round Robin, who wins, who ties, and you guess the score.  When that is all done, and we get into single elimination, the whole thing resets, and you play Pick'Em.  It's going to be awesome.  And the winner will receive the ultimate proof that their picking is blessed by heaven:  Soccer Playin' Jesus.  And that's not code for Lionel Messi.  I'm guessing, somewhere, Kaka approves:

*I'll instantly regret calling it that.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Old School Thursday: De La Soul

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Jerry Jones - Full of Shit

The LA Times has Jerry Jones weighing in on the benefits and possibilities of a new super-stadium in downtown Los Angeles.  Anytime Jerry Jones weighs in on anything, the first question should be, "How does this benefit Jerry?"  The idea that he is an independent onlooker on anything even tangentially related to the NFL is laughable.  And of course, a base that can fill the luxury boxes and add to the revenue sharing in a way that the Minnesota Vikings or Jacksonville Jaguars don't is probably his primary motive.  The Dollar reigns supreme in Jerry's worldview.

And listen, this sort of paragraph deserves a giant asterisk followed by "*Jerry Jones is full of shit."  From the post:  

"Jones said that a multi-use stadium “makes sense” and that he can speak to that better today because of his experiences with his own new stadium."

Jerry's own experiences?  Wherein he convinced the City of Arlington to tax people who came for Six Flags to build his stadium?  The stadium that has no mass-transit options to get to it, and charges $60 to park, because Jerry and the City of Arlington made independent parking lots illegal?   The stadium that cost twice as much to build as predicted?  That experience?  Fuck Jerry Jones, and fuck any news outlet that treats him like an expert on anything but how to steal money from suckers.  You might as well ask the Ghost of P.T. Barnum what he thinks on the matter--you'd probably at least get an honest answer.

(link via Pro Football Talk)

USA Roster Set

Bob Bradley took some time off from sunning himself on a rock to announce his 23-Man World Cup Squad.

Looking at the list, I think nothing could have made the argument for "Clint Dempsey will be a striker" better than the rest of the guys we are bringing to South Africa.  Edson Buddle might tear it up in the MLS, but there's a reason he went more than half-a-decade between US National team appearances.  He's this decade's Jason Kreis, and that's probably all that needs to be said.  And really?  Robbie Findley?  I am in disbelief that he is on this team.  I could see making an argument for bringing along a younger player to get a taste of what the Cup is like and ride the bench, but Findley is going to be 25 before the end of the summer--he's not young enough to use a spot like that on.  I thought there was a place for Brian Ching on this roster, and after the way he played against the Czech Republic, I presumed it to be a foregone conclusion.  And I'm not a huge Ching fan, either.  But he simply played better.

Aside from that, no real surprises.  Jose Torres is taking a spot that I thought Robbie Rogers earned with his limited time, but that's not a huge deal.  Neither guy was going to be the difference maker, and with Beasley in too, along with Landon and Dempsey and Holden, Bradley probably felt he had enough wing guys to play with.  Still, I liked Rogers' style.

Like I said last night, unlike your mama, this team wasn't going to be 23 men deep (AWWW, SNAP!).  Sweating the 20th and 21st spots seems a touch silly.  Still--Robbie Findley?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

USA USA USA vs. the Czech Republic - A Review

I mentioned in my quick preview of the match that we would have to wait until the line-ups came out to see what "V" extra USA Head Coach Bob Bradley was hoping to find out about his team.  It was either going to be a look at his as-close-as-possible Starting 11, or it was going to be an open audition for the final spots available for the 23-man roster (which is being announced tomorrow on ESPN).

It became pretty clear when the players took the field that Bradley was seeing this game as an audition for his borderline players.  Hardly any of the presumed starters even dressed, much less played.  The only guaranteed exception to that rule was Oguchi Onyewu, who is in definite need of getting some burn, after being sidelined for seven months.  The Gooch played 65 minutes, and made one really bad play on defense--failing to get up for a header on a set piece that led to one of the Czech Republic's four goals on the evening.

The rest of the team was made up of possible starters in South Africa (like Stuart Holden), players who probably won't make the cut (Eddie Johnson, Edson Buddle, and Jose Torres) and a bunch of guys who will fill out the bench (Maurice Edu, Jonathan Bornstein, Clarence Goodson, and Steve Cherundulo).  There is one more category of guy to include--Guys I thought were probably on the bench until they played tonight--I'll give that, reluctantly, to DeMarcus Beasley.*

The first half was an ugly affair from both sides--little in the way of control or flow or possession, or even much in the way of good chances generated.  It is telling that the there were two goals scored in the half, and both came off of set pieces--the USA goal in particular was an ugly scrum in front of the net.  There's nothing wrong with scoring like that, but it doesn't really inform anyone on the relative merits on the players involved, except that they might have a nose for garbage goals (which Maurice Edu seems to have).

The defense was sloppy throughout the first half, and that continued throughout the second.  This is hardly a shock at this was the area most lacking the likely starters in two weeks.  No Tim Howard, no Carlos Bocanegra, no Jay DeMerit, and no Jonathan Spector (though, it should be said that Steve Cherundulo did a very good job on the right side).  There was little defensive shape to be seen for most of the game, and it didn't get any better when Bradley experimented with the line-up by removing Gooch, and dropping Maurice Edu into the back four.  It should be said that was probably out of necessity rather than any great plans of making Edu a permanent feature back there.  If that was the thought, it was quickly quashed after the mistake Edu made in the crucial moment leading up to the fourth goal.  If Goddson's role on this team was not cemented before that mistake, it was then, despite looking pretty shaky himself in the back for several key stretches.

The second half, all told, saw all six substitutions used, and some made a very strong case for themselves--particularly the players who came in for offense.  Brian Ching, Herculez Gomez, and Robbie Rogers all showed more flair and poise and a willingness to attack than the guys they came in for.  I think only Ching was  definitely already on this team--Gomez and particularly Rogers made a strong case to be included in the roster of 23.  The team had a totally different flow particularly on the wings with Rogers and Holden, playing with and through Ching.  They generated chances, attacked space, and (finally!) challenged a goalkeeper from distance.  They gave Peter Cech some netminding to do, and that's a promising feature from a team that has historically struggled to put the ball on net from distance (remember Chris Armas?  I do.)

A couple of fringe guys definitely played themselves off the roster--most glaringly, Heath Pearce, who was a longshot before he entered the game.  His two most crucial mistakes led as directly as mistakes can possibly lead to goals.  He let an attacker cut in front of him ball side, deep in the box.  Raising a hand fruitlessly in an attempt to get an offsides call is not defense, and that's all Pearce did in his attempt to stop his man from scoring from point blank range.  The second goal that gets hanged on Pearce was another scrum in front of the net, but it all started with a sliding tackle from Pearce that connected with nothing--not ball, not the back of a leg--nothing.  You can not slide in your own box, giving up defensive positioning and space, and come up absolutely empty.  Pearce wasn't going to make this squad anyway, but he hammered some nails from inside his own coffin tonight.

Another guy who I think played his way out is Sacha Kljestan--his brief appearances with the ball in midfield were minor league disasters, and helped spark some of the goals I've mentioned up top.  On a corner kick rebound, surrounded by no one, Kljestan opted to dump the ball into the middle of a pack of players recovering from the deflected corner, rather than giving his defense time to recover, or his offense to get some order to itself.  His blind pass sparked the counter-attack that led to horrible, no-good Pearce sliding non-tackle.  The Edu mistake in the back (that led to the fourth goal) might have never happened, had Kljestan handled the simple pass Edu had sent his way. Instead, he misjudged it, and the ball taken right off of his foot.

Assuming that 3 of the 23 spots will be goalkeepers, I think based on what I saw tonight, and what I know of the general inclinations of Bradley, and depending on injury recovery, the other 20 will shake out like this (starters in bold, first sub in italics):

Marking Backs:  Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Spector, Steve Cherundulo, Jonathan Bornstein
Central Defenders:  Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson, (with Bocanegra able to slide over)
Midfielders:  Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Benny Feilhaber, Robbie Rogers (wing) Maurice Edu (center), Ricardo Clark, DeMarcus Beasley* (guess there is room for him after all)
Strikers:  Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Brian Ching, Herculez Gomez (situational)

That's 22 players, and frankly, looking over the lists, I had a hard time coming up with that many.  We could go into this cup with 21, and that'll be all we need.  If the 23rd guy gets clock, we are in serious trouble.  The starting 11 is about as solid as I've seen in awhile, so let's just hope we don't use more than 15 or 16 guys this entire tournament.

Monday, May 24, 2010

USA vs Czech Republic: What are We Going to See?

Tomorrow night, the USA National soccer team is getting its second to last actual game before it leaves for South Africa (they'll play another friendly against Australia once they arrive).  They'll be playing a Czech team that is rebuilding, having lost their chance to go the Cup this year.  They aren't bringing a bunch of savvy veterans, they shouldn't find themselves with the kind of Home Crowds that CONCACAF teams find when they travel to the US, though I don't know--maybe East Hartford is a hotbed of Czech Fervor.

This is a unique spot for the US to be in.  As SI's Steve Davis says, in the olden days (like the last cup) the final roster had already been set, and there were no cuts left to make.  This time around, we are bringing 30 players with 23 spots.  Which raises an important question--what is the goal of this game?  Is it to determine the best chemistry possible for the starting 11, and which players are genuinely healthy?  Or is it to see who the bottom 5 players they are bringing to the Cup, and making this game a try-out for the players who haven't yet proven their worth?

We don't know the answer to that question yet, and we won't until we see the starting line-ups announced.  There are some injury concerns that could keep the ideal back four from starting.  That said, I personally want to make sure that the team that starts the game (and finishes the half) is as close to the starting 11 as possible.  Those guys need to get some real game-time under their belt, and it needs to be a quality number of minutes.  They'll have six substitutions to play with the second half, and they can audition some folks then.

My ideal starting 11, injury concerns aside:

GK:  Tim Howard (the man who needs the least amount of work, but also the man who is least likely to need a substitution in South Africa)
Backs:  Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit (both of whom have some injury issues) Oguchi Onyewu (first time playing in months), and Jonathan Spector.
Midfield (left to right):  Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Benny Feilhaber, and Stuart Holden
Strikers:  Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey

I think the starting line-up will be pretty close to this, with the injuries causing some changes, and more than likely, Rico Clark ahead of Feilhaber (a move I hate).

NFL Doesn't Get Anti-Trust Exemption; Evil Cackling Delayed

Back in January, I predicted that the NFL had committed some overreach in trying to get super powerful anti-trust exemptions from this American Needle case.

The Supreme Court backed up the impression they gave when they were hearing the case, ruling conclusively 9-0 (seriously, getting this court to agree unanimously is a serious accomplishment) against the NFL.

Here's the best summary I've found locating the importance of this case in the greater context of the NFL and the looming labor lockout in 2011.  It's from ESPNNewYork's Jane McManus, and while it focusing on New York City based players for quotes, it also gets reaction from some pretty savvy sounding folks, like Stanford sports economist Roger Noll.

Also, we've talked about players who seem to get it, and I'm ready to add Bart Scott to that list.  He's a goldmine of great quotes about the importance of the Collective Bargaining Agreement, and I think this is worth remembering--the next time someone asks why they should care about millionaires fighting with billionaires, you can say that Bart Scott said, "It's just part of my history.  Would I like a work stoppage? No, but if its the right thing to do for the betterment of the game for the players, the people who have to deal with arthritis, deal with the injuries, deal with the dementia, whatever you want to want to talk about, why not?"

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Death Sport Update

With fucking golf and baseball taking up three quarters of the sports news and the Worldwide Flopfest about to commence, here's a little reminder that Death Sports are still viable. If you forgive the pun.

I'm just retransmitting something from Deadspin, but this picture is too awesome to not re-post.

Yes, the bull's horn goes into the fella's throat and comes out his mouth.

To use the punchline from one of my all-time favorite jokes: "Well you see, the bull doesn't always lose."

Champions League Final: A Half-Assed Preview

For the first time ever, the Champions League Final is being held on a Saturday.  The Europeans are pretty excited by that themselves, so I hesitate to mention that I think that the move was made to accommodate the growing American audience.  In the past, the game was on a Wednesday evening, which was fine for all of Europe--but meant Americans were having to DVR that shit, or simply escape work awfully early.  No longer--now it is a middle of the day, weekend experience (2:30 Eastern, 1:30 Central)  which will work just fine for us fans.

For those not in the know, the Champions League Final is probably the biggest annual soccer game of the year, pitting the two best professional soccer teams in the world.  As I've described it previously, imagine if the Super Bowl was actually a World Wide event, with Canadian teams playing American teams to determine who is the best team in the world.  And then imagine a Canadian League that isn't just taking American cast-offs, but signing the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Ray Rice and Aaron Rodgers.

Saturday's game has a definite favorite in Inter Milan, an Italian League (or Serie A) team led by a brilliant, yet pain in the ass coach, totally stacked with talent, and a commitment to defense that sometimes looks like it is a bunch of Agent Smiths from The Matrix--they flow and commit as one to a scary degree.  The underdog is Bayern Munich, from the Bundesliga, despite the fact that they have beaten some top-flight talent to get to this final.  They would be the first to admit that it took some miracle goals to get to this point.  In getting ready for this game, I'm sure they are telling themselves, "It only takes one goal to change the match."  And they are right on that.

There will be a lot of quality on display on both sides--players to watch include Milito, Robben, Eto'o, Lahm, Van Bommel, Klose, Super Mario Gomez, Lucio, Maicon, Wesley Sneijder, Marco Balotelli (a dangerous substitution, if ever there was one), and lots of others who will be representing their nations come World Cup in a month.  These are some stacked, stacked teams.

Here are Arjen Robben's thoughts on his teammates.  Here are old man Zanetti's thoughts on his Inter Milan mates.

Prediction:  Inter Milan 2, Bayern Munich 1, or 3.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Old School Thursday: Digital Underground

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

History Repeats Itself: The Wolves, and Media Reaction

I already spent some time on the bad luck of the Wolves, and whether if this time around, it is really bad luck or not.  "Some people" are calling this a two person NBA draft, though Chad Ford might disagree with those people:  "there are eight to 10 very good players before you see a drop-off.  The Wolves should have no trouble getting a player who can step right in and help them."

The story of the  unlucky draft history might not work out, but that won't stop the Twin Cities press from repeating themselves.

Jim Souhan had his grumpy pants on, and access to jokes that were made 5 years ago, when he wrote his column reacting to the #4 news.  The Target Center is empty, and cursed!  Corey Brewer is skinny!  The Cubs and Cleveland have curses!  (Of course, the Target Center wasn't cursed when it had Garnett, Cassell, and Sprewell, but I suppose that's an issue of history not fitting in with the narrative, and thus, should be ignored).

He then segued into the worst read on this incredibly deep draft that I've seen:  "All that painstaking losing and not playing defense and shooting like a drunken paintball team yielded the fourth pick in a draft that promises one star and one standout."

Jesus, that's not just cynical, it's just wrong, wrong, wrong.  And hey, the last time I checked, the Wolves were rebuilding.  The media here just don't seem to understand what that term means.  If you drive by a construction site that is only halfway done, you don't yell out the window, "Hey, your building is extremely ugly, and I don't care for it."  At least, sane people don't.  "Rebuilding" is a nice way of saying "building all over again, after the previous owner burnt the building down for the insurance money."  Criticizing the project before it is anywhere near completion is silly.  And Kahn has done a nice job thus far, I think--when your oldest player at the beginning of the season is 26 years old, you are not thinking about the season at hand--you are looking a year or two into the future.  But the Twin Cities press would like to know--why look to the future, when you can look to the past?

Tom Powers, speaking of old jokes, would like to remind you that the previous regime drafted some bad players.  Why is that relevant?  Wasn't it ousted VP Kevin McHale who picked Nbudi Ebi and traded Brandon Roy for Randy Foye?  Who cares?  It's all the same history, apparently.  Let's blame Abraham Lincoln for all the mistakes that Franklin Pierce made.

Powers is more optimistic than Souhan--he doesn't think it is a 2 person draft with Wall and Turner.  He thinks it is a 3 person draft, with Wall, Turner and Cousins.  Of course, I've seen multiple mock drafts in which at least one of these guys falls to the Wolves.  John Wall is locked in at #1, no doubt, but teams don't base their picks on what will hurt the Wolves most--they'll go with need.  I'll be shocked if Cousins and Turner are both off the board before #4.  And even if they are, there's plenty of options left--Wesley Johnson, for example.

It is just so damn easy to mock a team that is has some bad luck, but it doesn't seem right to do so here--the Wolves are rebuilding after a half-decade of negligence at the hands of Kevin McHale, who was always sure they were only one great free agent away from being good (ah, remember the Ricky Davis era?  Me neither.)  Kahn seems to have a plan, and that plan has resulted in 2 Top 10 picks in this years draft, with a core group of guys that I like.

When in doubt--if Tom Powers and Jim Souhan agree on something--go the other way.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Timberwolves Get Screwed Again on Draft Night - But Did They?

It is distressingly regular tradition for any Timberwolves fan, and it happens in two parts.  Part the first--the Timberwolves have a Lottery Quality season (which happens way too often, with the oasis of Kevin Garnett aside).  Secondly, they enter the Lottery with odds being in their favor to hit a certain spot on the draft, and always end up a spot or two below that.

This is a favorite refrain of long-time, long-suffering Timberwolves fans.  And it is deserved (Wolves lovers shall never forget the year they were practically guaranteed either Alonzo Mourning or Shaq, and ended up with Christian Laettner).  I will not mention the own shooting of their feet that Timberwolves management has done with draft day trades of Ray Allen and Brandon Roy for Stephon Marbury and Randy Foye, respectively.

This year revealed no change in the bad juju--Timberwolves had a decent shot at the #1 pick, were likely to get the #2 pick, and ended up with, of course, the #4 pick.

But is this the draft to rend the garments and pull the hair?  I'm not so sure.  The Timberwolves were not favorites to grab John Wall--he was supposed to be destined to help turn around the New Jersey, but will now probably end up in DC--neither are the Land of the Sky Blue Waters.  But if the Wolves had actually moved up in this draft, and grabbed the #1 spot, they would have been in a position where the must-draft player of the year played a position that the Timberwolves stocked like crazy last year in point guard.  John Wall will be fantastic, of course--but the Wolves are committed until further notice with Johnny Flynn and yet-to-be-seen Ricky Rubio.

Evan Turner seems to be the de facto #2 pick, and he might well be the most talented player after Wall, but he also plays the same position that last year's revelation Corey Brewer does, and steady, reliable Ryan Gomes plays.  At some point, the Timberwolves have to get a little bit older, a bit more veteran, and the best way to do that is to lock up the best players on the team, and draft to needs.

The most glaring need on the Timberwolves (and believe me, on a team that had 15 wins, that need must be glaring) is power, beef, defense and guts in the middle.  The Timberwolves were, like they have been since Garnett left, woeful at times in defense in the paint.  They lacked a center with tenacity and ability to finish that even the Dean Garrett-era Timberwolves had.  And there are plenty of big-bodied, powerful young men who will be available at #4, or even lower down in the draft--it is worth noting that the Star Tribune already has a quote from Timberwolves GM David KAAAAAHHHHNNNN that he'll be "very surprised if we were [selecting] at [No.] 4, 16 and 23 on the night of the draft."  (Another position of need--shooting guard, with the caveat that Wayne Ellington started to look like the real deal towards the end of the year.  You can't have too many good-to-great shooting guards)

That obviously leaves a lot of wiggle room--and I won't get into all the permutations of trading those picks up or down, or deferring a year, or whatever.

Let's say that the Wolves hold onto that damned, doomed pick #4.  Let's look at some of the projected picks right quick. has the Wolves taking Syracuse swingman Wesley Johnson.  He is potentially a great NBA player, but again--he's playing the position that Corey Brewer and Ryan Gomes are playing at the Wolves, both of whom have gotten better and better each year.  Players of note still remaining at #4:  DeMarco Cousins, Greg Monroe, Patrick Patterson, and Cole Aldrich. has very similar results, which makes me wonder if any of these draft sites have taken actual team needs into account.  I like Wes Johnson as much as any Georgetown fan can like a Syracuse star, but I strongly doubt that the Wolves will take yet another 6-7 small forward.

DraftExpress predicts the Wolves takes DeMarco Cousins.  Can I say how much I back that idea?  This draft isn't rife with badass 6' 5" shooting guards--it's rife with quality swingmen, and big men who may take some time to develop, and if you look at the Wolves frontcourt, a big powerful man who is prone to foul trouble, but is young and can be taught by the likes of Al Jefferson and Kevin Love sounds like a great match.

HoopsHype likes Cousins for the Wolves, too.

I don't think the Wolves pass on a guy who is 6' 11", 270lbs, with a love to dominate in the paint like DeMarco Cousins.  He may have maturity issues--duh, he's not old enough to drink.  Of course, he's going to have to mature--name a 19 year old who didn't.  If he doesn't slide to the Wolves, don't be shocked if they reach a little bit for Cole Aldrich.  All in all, the Wolves can address their biggest need with their first pick in a draft in which they hold three first round picks.  Seems reasonable enough to me.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Thierry Henry and all the Problems That Arise

Reactions are coming in swiftly from all over the soccer commentating world as reports from Spain have Thierry Henry coming to the MLS.  Sports Illustrated is covering the story as if they know it is gospel truth, even while Henry himself is still (kind of) denying any agreement has been reached.

There is a question about whether this potential move is even worth discussing at the moment.  Let's assume that their is something to the rumors--Henry has made no secret that he loves New York City, and has for a long time.  The rumors make it clear that he'd be going to the Red Bulls.  

There have been people waiting for this to happen for awhile now--Martin Rogers of Yahoo Sports has been breathlessly predicting this move for almost two years.  I've been against these type of Big Splash moves for the MLS since the Beckham deal.  It doesn't usually have much to do with the players in question--I just don't like the model--there is no way to replicate this thing league-wide (unless, as I joked previously, you can lure out of shape players to Kansas City on the promise of kick-ass BBQ).  The big time players from Europe are always going to want to go to NYC, or somewhat less likely, Los Angeles.  That's great for them, but for Kansas City or Denver or Dallas or Houston--forget it.  No 32-year old striker used to the temperate weather of Spain in the winter is going to want to get burnt to a crisp in a Houston summer, or for that matter, have to live in Kansas City, even for just a few months.

People can pretend all they want that getting guys like Beckham or Henry is going to help legitimize the MLS--but it hasn't worked so far, and I don't see Henry, who has never looked older than he did this past season, change this simple fact.  I quoted the London Guardian when the rumors first started to fly about Juan Pablo Angel, and they nastily described that move as "yet another washed-up Premiership has-been...heading Stateside in a bid to play out his twilight years in the sedate surroundings of the MLS rest home."

Is there anything about the career arc of Thierry Henry that suggests this would be any different? Of course, it has to be noted that Angel came over and revitalized New York--for about a year.  Since then, he's struggled with injuries.  Beckham has struggled with injuries.  Henry has already struggled with injuries, and what certainly appeared to be a declining interest is soccer.  

If (when) Henry ends up in the MLS, I'm sure he'll have his fair share of impressive goals--I won't be surprised if he leads the league in scoring for a year or even two.  But again, that will say more about the talent and ability of the average MLS defender then it will about the savvy veteran signings of the MLS.  And in the end, a shit-ton of money will be thrown at an old, temporary stop-gap celebrity, as opposed to doing the hard work of finding and recruiting young, exciting talent.  

I wrote about this back when Beckham was first coming over, and the risk of sounding like Chet, I'm going to paraphrase myself.  Heck, I'm going to quote myself.  It should be noted that the MLS has altered the so-called Beckham Rule a bit in the past month--expanding the number of players allowed over the salary cap.

But my original point stands, was originally written here, and explains why I hate this model of bringing big name guys here to ply their old, beaten-down wares in the MLS.  "Yes, Beckham is a special personality, if not player (I happen to think he could be a special player, which is why I say the problem isn't him). But for every team that has $40 million dollars to spend on one player, there is another team that has $5 million dollars to recruit 10 young and talented players that no one has ever heard of. I'll tell you what--if I have a choice to watch an MLS team made up of the most talented youngsters the World over, playing for one year, and $500,000, and a chance to make the Premiership, or a team with one guy who is famous, I'll take the fun, attacking, young team every time. And that team would beat David Beckham's Galaxy almost every time. The MLS, in its infinite wisdom, has made sure that team could never exist."

Defusing the Haynesworth Issue

Although fans of the Washington football team have a right to feel disappointed that their highest-paid player isn't making an extra effort to be with his team, the anguish has been out of proportion to the issue.

In addition to a decade of bad football and nearly twenty years since being a World Champion, fan fears have been stoked by reactionary media coverage. As I documented recently, reports of teammates turning against Haynesworth are manufactured nonsense.

Philip Daniels, whose inarguable statement that "it says this is voluntary, but for us, what we went through last season after a 4-12 season, it's mandatory. He should definitely be here. And it's a shame he's not," was used as a fuse to ignite this bogus controversy.

After witnessing the diarrhea flood powered by his words, Daniels clarified his remarks by posting directly to the official message board, where the Haynesworth-hating has been the hottest:

"Just wanted to drop in and say that I have read a lot of the comments on here and some of the fans on here really do believe everything that they read. Articles tend to leave things out and when you talk general stuff sometimes it comes out a different way. I am not upset with Albert at all but the whole team would love for him to be here with us getting ready to win a championship. When a reporter asks a question, we answer it but sometimes that answer is twisted in so many ways. None of the good stuff you say ever comes out in the article. They chop your words as they see fit and in the best way to sell papers or go public. Albert is a key part of the team and he will be ready to go. Just wanted to clear things up a little for the people who believe everything that writers put out there. Like the old saying goes: Believe none of what you hear and only half of what you see ... I have tough skin and that don't bother me. Albert and I are cool and he knows the truth. I wish some of the fans could have been on the other end answering questions that later get chopped up in a negative manner. I laugh at the comments because really they don't know and take things way too seriously before knowing the truth."

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Old School Thursday: The Goats

a group that languished, despite their pretty kick-ass liberalness, especially for hip-hop in 1992.  Here's the closest thing they had to a hit, "Do the Digs Dug"?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Looking at the US World Cup 30-Man Roster

First of all--end of the line this time around for Charlie Davies, which is a shame, not just because it would have been a hell of a compelling comeback story, but the US is distressingly shallow at the striker/forward position.

You can see the entire 30 man roster here.  That initial roster needs to be cut down to 23 by June 1st, and that will be the team that goes to South Africa.  It is safe to assume that it will break down along the lines of 3 Goalkeepers, 7 or 8 defenders, 7 or 8 midfielders, and 5 strikers.

Let's put together a list, with guaranteed starters in bold, followed by likely starters, and then likely bench players.

I'm going to start with the strikers first, because I think that's the most difficult position to sort out an obvious starting group, much less the ones that make the team as bench players.  I'm also going to kind of cheat a bit right off the bat, because while Clint Dempsey is listed as a midfielder, he may be one of our best striking options, and has shown himself throughout the qualifying to be a potential liability in the midfield.

Strikers (5, starting 2):  Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey   Bench:  Brian Ching.

I think the last two spots, if that's how it shakes out, are wide open.  The players coming are a mix of once young, exciting players who have cooled (Edson Buddle and Eddie Johnson) a journeyman getting his first real chance (Herculez Gomez) and a young dude with something to prove (Robbie Findlay).

It is tempting to remember the player Eddie Johnson had been in the not-so-distant past, but recent history is troubling.   He hasn't scored for the US since 2008, during an 8-0 drubbing of Barbados.  One goal in 2010 Qualifying versus 7 goals in 2006 Qualifying--it's a difficult thing to overlook. He hasn't fared well professionally either, particularly since leaving the MLS.   Really the only thing that recommends Johnson over the others is a question of experience--he has 33 more caps than Buddle, Gomez and Findlay combined, and has outscored them 12-0.  But the USA has an experienced striker in Ching.  They may look for something else with these spots.  My money is on Edson Buddle and Herculez Gomez, neither of whom are notably young, but have shown the best form of their careers this past season, and both are still in their late 20's.

Midfielders (7, starting 4)  Landon Donovan, Michael Bradley, Stuart Holden, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber  Bench:  Maurice Edu, Robbie Rogers

The midfield is more easily sorted as a whole, but more troubled in terms of starters, and defined roles.  In fact, it contains within it some of the most troubling questions the US has going forward.  Which is surprising, considering how well I like the guys I've put in bold up top--Donovan is without question the finest overall player America has ever produced.  Bradley has a toughness, and a reputation for finishing that hasn't been shown much in international play, but should come along.  Stuart Holden was one of the most exciting revelations of the qualifying season, and one of the reasons that the US should push Dempsey up top.

The question lies with where to put these guys, and how to balance them.  The most common set-up we've seen is Donovan on the left, Holden on the right, with Bradley and Clark patrolling the middle.  This is a disaster waiting to happen, as Clark hasn't shown enough discipline on the field to keep himself from getting ejected, or giving up fouls in very dangerous spots.  Nor has he shown much in way of poise on the ball.

I'd like to Feilhaber in the middle, but I know he hasn't been getting much playing time, so he'll need to show in camp.  Barring that, I'd rather have Donovan in the middle with Robbie Rogers and Holden on the wings.  Rogers has been more of a second half substitute, so again, that'll have to get sorted in camp.  That leaves DeMarcus Beasley, Sacha Kljestan, Aljandro Bedoya, and Jose Torres on the outside.

Defenders (8, starting 4)  Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Jonathan Spector, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo/Heath Pearce, Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall

The most solid corp of starters that we have anywhere on the field.  A couple of years ago, I'd be worried about Bocanegra out on the wing, but he's been playing out there for Rennes, and he's done well enough, and gives the US a tough, big back line, with some weapons to come forward on free kicks.  If Gooch can return and form, and Spector can continue his smart attacking runs, overlapping with Holden (who he worked with extremely well late in qualifying) than the defense, which desperately needs to be a strength will be. Bornstein may be called to play left back if match-ups demand it, but generally the bench players should stay there, barring late game blowouts or injuries.

Goalkeepers:  Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann.

As solid as a trio as one could hope for--but let's face it--this is going to be Howard's Cup--this team will get as far as his exceptional ability allows them to.

You can learn more about the 30 man roster on the internets, like at's Noah Davis' reaction.

La Joie de Merde

The evolution of bullshit from lil' turd to monster dump illustrates, yet again, that the headless dervish of modern media has spun itself off the cliff. Or is that too many metaphors?

Object lesson: Albert Haynesworth did not attend the second voluntary Washington mini-camp.

Official NFL East blogger Matt Mosely dug around, trying to find a teammate to criticize Haynesworth. He was unsuccessful, and team leaders ignored this distraction. Perhaps they are more focused on the fact that one hundred players were at the camp (I believe the largest mini-camp Washington's ever had) and offseason changes that include a new defensive scheme, a new starting QB and a new coaching staff.

Then Mike Wise wrote a column (that is, an opinion piece) that claimed everyone thinks Haynesworth is a bad teammate. He created this narrative from quotations such as Caucasian-American 3rd string safety Reed Doughty's "there's nothing I can really say to [Albert] except the more that we're here together, the more that we're working together."

The most damning words came from DE Philip Daniels (remember him?), who made the inarguable point that "it says this is voluntary, but for us, what we went through last season after a 4-12 season, it's mandatory. He should definitely be here. And it's a shame he's not."

Wise hangs his entire column on this statement, and weaves a magical tale of everyone-hates-Albert. Well, that's fine: his job is to create compelling stories and sell newspapers. How's that working, by the way?

One day later, the Worldwide Leader in Sports runs with the Sportscenter headline "Redskins Upset." Paid hacks refer to Haynesworth repeatedly as "a big baby." And we're off! Full speed ahead!

You should read the comments of fans. Unless intellectual abortions of spelling, grammar and logic bother you as much as they bother me.

The follow-up story to "Redskins Upset" is that QB Tom Brady is also missing voluntary mini-camp. Literally seconds later, the same hack has a very different take on Brady, saying that voluntary mini-camp is of no importance and Brady wanting to spend time with his family is noble: "that's what fathers have to do."

Thanks for everything, modern media! There's a reason it's not called journalism any more. How about a courtesy flush next time?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Jamarcus Russell Salary Crunch

What is your annual salary? Chances are, it's less than what Jamarcus Russell "earns." The recently released heavyweight bust will still be receiving guaranteed money in 2010, even though it is unlikely he will play professional football.

If you want to make yourself sick, go to this page and learn how much Russell accomplished to earn your yearly pay.

Rent-A-Center Magically Makes PlayStation3 worth $2400

via Kotaku, please to enjoy the story of a woman suing her boyfriend for her $2500 Playstation3.  Thanks, Magic Johnson, you dick.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Dear MLB 10: The Show Programming Team

I applaud your accuracy in capturing Target Field, months before it opened to the public.  You've even got the skyscrapers in the background right.  It is impressive.

But hey, what the fuck?  I'm playing a season at the Twins, and I have not started like a house on fire, as my version of the Twins is under .500 in late April, but do you really think that would translate to less than 15,000 fans on a weekend game?  

I'm staring at empty seats everywhere in the park, and that, my friends, is ridiculous!  It's outdoor baseball, in Minnesota, for the first time in 30+ years.  I'm sure you have a very complicated programming metric that determines the number of fans in the stands based on record, etc. 

But you should have recognized, and programmed for, a new stadium excitement factor.  It would not have been hard to do--if you've got room to animate the occasional pitch being fouled off and hitting the umpire, you've got enough room to program a special routine for Target Field--the Twins could be 5 games under .500 in April, and it would still be a sell-out.  We are not Atlanta, or Cleveland.  

You fucked that up, and you should fix it.  And hey, while you are at it, maybe you can add our Kestrel?

In general, though, your game is fucking awesome.  

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Target Field Has a Posse of One Kestrel

The Kestrel hangs out on the right field foul pole, leading to Bert Blyleven to suggest that it should be named "Poley."  Which is a perfectly fine suggestion, but it sure looks likely that his official name is going to be Kirby the Kestrel, in honor of video game character great Kirby.  Or perhaps, Kirby Puckett.  Presumably, it has noticed that baseball stadium lights are a great hunting ground for moths and shit.  And the camera crews caught in action on Thursday night.  More information about the American Kestrel can be found on the internet.

Rojo Johnson is a Brilliant, Beer Swilling Pitcher, not Will Ferrell

Friendly Reminder: ESPN's Mike Greenberg is Stupid, Reactionary

Just a quick follow-up to some of my predictions in reaction to Mike Greenberg (of Mike & Mike in the Morning, a show so important it is simulcast on radio and ESPN2 every weekday morning).

Mike Greenberg predicted that the NFL Draft was going to be the #1 show on Thursday night.  That was hilariously incorrect.  It basically tied the vampire teen show on the CW.

Mike Greenberg also suggested that the Twins without Joe Nathan were doomed to finish in 3rd or 4th place in the AL Central. How's that prediction working out so far?  Horribly, that's how--because as I predicted, the Twins have one of the most dangerous offenses in the league, and as I also predicted, have found a very solid closer in their in their bullpen in Jon Rauch.  (OK, sure, I guessed it would be Pat Neshek, but the point stands)

What's my point?  Mike Greenberg gets paid money--a good amount of money--to talk about sports.  And he doesn't know shit, half the time.  And that's not even mentioning the time he tried to bring the phrase "womanned down" (the opposite of "manned up") into the American vernacular.  Seriously, he tried.

Let's be clear--I'm not saying I could do his job better than he does.  The idea of waking up at 3 am so I can drive into Bristol, CT and stare at the flapping jowls of Mike Golic frightens me terribly.  It would be a form of hell for me.  I could not do the job that the Mikes do, day in, day out.  But I can point out, quite fairly and reasonably, that they are idiots, and Mike Greenberg is a fucking waste of space who doesn't know what he is talking about, even as he weighs in on the topics of the day (that he knows nothing about) with supreme confidence.  
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