Thursday, June 28, 2007

The State of US Soccer


It was about one year ago that the US bowed out of the 2006 World Cup with a disappointing and frustrating loss to Ghana. The highlight of the US run (or lack thereof) had been the gritty 1-1 tie against Italy, who ultimately went on to win the entire thing. The lowlight was the seeming lack of desire for anyone on the squad to actually put the ball on goal.

Well, a year has passed, and in that time the US has replaced its coach Bruce Arena with Bill Bradley, and has witnessed the international retirements of some key players (Brian McBride, Eddie Pope, and Claudio Reyna). This has given the squad the opportunity for a fresh mindset as well as the opportunity to introduce some fresh faces. And Bill Bradley has done just that, mixing in a lot of youngsters (and honestly a lot of guys I had never heard of) with the aging but not aged “stars” of the US team, like Landon Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Gooch.

So how has it gone so far?

Very well, as Bill Bradley worked to get the interim dropped from his title, the team went 4-0-1 in friendlies, although all of the games were at home. That warmed the team up for The Gold Cup, the CONCACAF championship, which also took place in the US. The team, again relying heavily on a mixture of youth (particularly in midfield) and experience (in central defense and up front), was the only team among 12 to win all of its group play games. 2006 World Cup qualifiers Mexico, Costa Rica, and TNT were unable to do the same.

That led to the knock-out stage, where the US won each game 2-1, including a great come from behind victory against Mexico, its bitter archrival and one of the better teams in the world. You probably didn’t know this happened, as from what I saw it got about 15 seconds on ESPN News and wasn’t even really discussed on the next day. But it was still a big deal. If the World Cup is the NCAA tournament, then the Gold Cup is the Mountain West conference tournament. It’s not the Big East, but it’s not the NEC either.

A few troubling issues have emerged over the past 16 months that will need to be corrected before the next World Cup:

-Lack of a top-tier striker has been magnified by timidity around the goal by nearly everyone on the team
-Left and right fullbacks show flashes of skill, but never inspire confidence
-Gooch can’t go a game without getting at least a yellow card
-When up, the US can’t put games away. They let Canada and Panama back in those games, and Beasley missed an open-net point blank shot that would have been the nail in the coffin against Mexico.

And a few promising signs have come about in 2007’s 10-0-1 start:

-Landon Donovan seems to have his swagger back. After a lame World Cup, the highlight of the Gold Cup was hitting a game tying penalty kick against Mexico. It wasn’t just that he scored, it was that he did so with a perfect strike to the far right corner, against an on-fire goaltender who had seconds earlier been blowing him kisses to rattle him. And it was a pressure packed situation (missing probably meant losing the Gold Cup) in front of a 90% Mexican crowd (even though they were in Chicago).
-Bill Bradley seems to know exactly when to make substitutions, and seems to make very intelligent personnel decisions. Arena would do a lot of things that I just didn’t get. I seem to be able to accurately predict all of Bradley’s moves. I’m no soccer genius, but at least his moves seem to make sense.
-The young midfielders (3 of them) show a lot of promise.
-More people seem willing to shoot!

So, where does that leave us?

We’ve got some promising young talent, and continue to be the dominant force in CONCACAF, which suggests that we should be a threat to make it to the quarterfinals in 2010. 2006 World Cup was a wake up call, however, and the team does need to continue to improve to make that threat a reality. Unfortunately, Donovan remains our best player. I like Donovan a lot, and realize he has many critics. I think the problem is that he is the US’s best player. He is very good for what he is, but he isn’t world-class and never will be. If we had more players of his talent level, or, better yet, 1 or 2 players who are better than that, he would be even more reliable. Right now, he is a very good point guard without a big man who can score down low.

And what’s next?
The US has been focused on winning the Gold Cup, and mission accomplished. Now, the team is in Copa America for the first time, joining Mexico to take on South America. That’s right, Brazil, Argentina, etc. With the focus on the Gold Cup, Bradley is taking a relatively inexperienced team down there where they will no doubt be thrashed, starting with Argentina tonight (on the Spanish channel if you are interested).

Which is why I wanted to get this post finished off today. If you hear something about the US getting slaughtered, bear in mind that they are without their best players and just finished off a great tournament run. US soccer continues to build, and we’ve got some reasons to be excited and begin to forget about the summer of 2006.

Hurt So Good (reprise)


With Frank Thomas just hitting his 500th home run, I thought I'd rerun this post from April 2006:

I didn’t get as much sleep as I wanted to last night, and it’s all Michael Kay’s fault.

With my wife out late, I left on the YES network as I drifted off to sleep, only to be jolted awake by the following statement that I’m paraphrasing from Kay:

“You know, back in the ‘90s Frank Thomas looked like a sure-fire first-ballot hall of famer, but at this point you’d have to say he’d be hard-pressed to get in.”

He used the phrase “hard-pressed” and then as Ken Singleton (to his credit) vigorously defended Thomas, Kay somehow found a way to compare Thomas’s hall of fame credentials to Dale Murphy (“but he won 2 MVPs”) and then Don Mattingly (“he was great for nearly a decade before injuries slowed him down”).

So obviously, this jolted me awake as I started yelling at the tv, but now that I’ve had 12 hours to sleep on it…it’s still just about the dumbest thing I’ve heard an announcer say. So Joe Morgan, congrats, you just moved down the list a bit.

I seem to recall reading in about 2000 or so, that Frank Thomas was high in the top 10 in all time OPS+, which takes your OBP + SLG and adjusts it for era and ballparks. This is generally a good measure of comparing offensive firepower, as everyone at this point seems to accept slugging and on-base as probably the most important stats. Thomas was basically surrounded by Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, and a few other absolute hitting legends on this list. He’s now “only” 14th, surrounded by guys like Jimmie Foxx and Stan Musial.

And it’s not like people weren’t noticing - Thomas finished in the top 3 in AL MVP voting five times over a ten year period. And nobody was more feared by opposing pitchers and teams during the 90s, no matter how bad he was with the glove.

Quite simply, when you think of offense and the 1990s (and you can’t think of one without the other), you think of Griffey, Bonds, and then Thomas. I can imagine a 17 year old who only remembers 1997 and on questioning Thomas’s hall of fame credentials, but not a baseball “expert” who has been around the game for years.

In looking up Thomas’s numbers, I stumbled across this Hardball Times article that lays out the defense in much more detail than I can. But by every offensive measure, Thomas is a first-ballot hall of famer. Read the article if you want to remember just how good his career has been, but when analyzing Thomas, the comparisons are more Ted Williams, Frank Robinson, Rickey Henderson, Eddie Collins, not Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly.

The problem with guys like Kay, is they can only focus on a limited number of career counting stats. How many all-star games? How many home runs? Oh yeah, well this guy has more, and he’s not in! Thomas has a career .427 on-base percentage – only six guys in history are .01 better. And not to spoil the Hardball Times article, but Thomas is the only guy with seven straight years of hitting .300, 20 HRs, 100 RBI, 100 Runs, and 100 Walks. Only guy to do it six straight? Ted Williams.

Frank Thomas is no Ted Williams. But he sure as hell ain’t Dale Murphy.

I promise not to rant this much at every stupid Michael Kay comment, as it would lead to my job firing me, my wife leaving me, and me forgetting to bathe, as it will become a 24-hour a day hobby. But I thought it worth a reminder just how great the Big Hurt’s career was. And even Kay admits, it is widely believed that he did it all without steroids.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007



This morning on Mike and Mike, the discussion was that a Garnett to Lakers trade would include the Celtics getting involved (as reported yesterday). The Celtics would be getting Jermaine O'Neal while giving up Al Jefferson and the #5 pick. I don't know how reliable that report was, but fortunately, this morning I read that:
Later on Monday, the Times reported that the deal in that form had fallen apart because the Celtics did not like their end of the deal.
You think? The fact that any Celtics fan or NBA expert would tell you that they didn't like what the Celtics were doing when the thought was they would trade Jefferson and the draft pick for Kevin Garnett, then the O'Neal trade made absolutely no sense.

Unfortunately, I wouldn't have put it past the Celtics to do it. So now we hold our breath for the next 3 days and hope that they don't do something that will kill the team through 2012.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Oh. My. God.


Digby's a woman.

Who knew?

Bigger than the law


It goes without saying that when the US becomes a nation of men and not of laws, we're pretty much done for. When the Vice President of the United States refuses to comply with the law and does so with impunity, it might just be time to fold up our tents.

It seems to me that our nation's only hope is that the next administration is able to turn back the tide of lawlessness with which the Bushies have infected our national government.

However, given the experience Connecticut has had with the macaroni and cheese baking anti-Rowland, I'm not exactly optimistic.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

This and That


Governor Clubwoman has struck again with a veto of a medical marijuana bill that passed both houses of the Connecticut legislature with overwhelming majorities. The cancer survivor justified her veto by stating,
There are no pharmacies, storefronts or mail order catalogs where patients or caregivers can legally purchase marijuana plants or seeds. I am troubled by the fact that in essence, this bill forces law-abiding citizens to seek out drug dealers to make their marijuana purchases.
In other words, the whole thing is just too icky for her suburban sensibilities.

The consolation is that, given the votes in the legislatures (a vote of 23-13 in the Senate and a vote of 89-58 in the House of Representatives), this moronic veto may be overturned.

For more on our macaroni and cheese baking governor—in this case, her subservience to the upper crust—take a look here.

And, in a totally different area, I see that Mayor Big Apple has left the fold with the predictable reaction. Needless to say, this could make the next 17 months extremely interesting—in a catastrophic sort of way.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

One small step ...


The Bushies' contention that they can do whatever they want regarding the Fourth Amendment got a jolt yesterday when a panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va. ruled that the "administration can't continue the indefinite military detention of a Qatari man who was arrested in Illinois but never charged with a crime."

This victory for the notion of habeas corpus may be short-lived, however, as the Republifascists are sure to appeal to the entire Court of Appeals so that this turrist can continue to be incarcerated without being charged with a crime.

The majority's decision is pretty clear, containing such strident gems as
The president's constitutional powers do not allow him to order the military to seize and detain indefinitely Marri without criminal process any more than they permit the president to seize and detain without criminal process other terrorists within the United States, like the Unabomber or the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing.
To sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the president calls them "enemy combatants," would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution and the country.
Of course, these "disastrous consequences" have been what the Bushies have been after since day one.

For example, AG the AG (a person Senator Sanctimony apparently has full confidence in) can't contain his disappointment with what should be a no-brainer—if one cares about the future of the nation:
I would remind you that this is an individual who was in Osama bin Laden's training camp in 2001, met with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and, we believe, is in fact a dangerous individual.
These accusations from the man who hasn't been exactly accurate in his memories of various meetings he had concerning the firing of some US Attorneys.

Be that as it may, the case may well go to the Supreme Court where the five jurists appointed by Republican presidents will have an opportunity to invalidate the Fourth Amendment.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

No one wants to start a war in Iran more than he does.


Senator Sanctimony on "Face the Nation" this morning:
"I think we've got to be prepared to take aggressive military action against the Iranians to stop them from killing Americans in Iraq. And to me, that would include a strike over the border into Iran, where we have good evidence that they have a base at which they are training these people coming back into Iraq to kill our soldiers."

... He added, "If they don't play by the rules, we've got to use our force, and to me, that would include taking military action to stop them from doing what they're doing."

"... We cannot let them get away with it. If we do, they'll take that as a sign of weakness on our part and we will pay for it in Iraq and throughout the region and ultimately right here at home."
I suppose I could pardon the 60% of Connecticut's voters who voted for this lying Arabiphobe last November, but it's not as if he hadn't done this kind of stuff before.

It's virtually impossible to recall a senator in Connecticut, and, of course, Pollyanna in the governor's mansion would think it was a bad idea, so I guess we're stuck with this hideous moron until at least 2013.

What a contemptible, prevaricating, disgusting putz our junior senator is.

And it's certainly no better within the Land of Steady Habits. This is certainly a time when former Connecticut denizens can be glad they moved.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Mindless surfing


An ad on Surviving Grady reminded me of Mark Bellhorn and made me wonder what he's doing these days. It turns out that the hero of the first game of the 2004 World Series is now playing second base for the Reds' Triple-A club, the Louisville Bats.

In the middle of the team's web page, there's a headlines section wherein site visitors can vote for the Triple-A all-stars. One can vote up to 25 times from the same computer. I voted for Bells (and only Bells) eight or nine times before I got tired of it. I may give him the rest of my 25 votes if I get the chance.

I figure it's the least I can do.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007



As much as I loathe Kansas's Westboro Baptist Church, it makes me nervous any time governmental bodies try to curtail free speech. Case in point:
State legislators and Gov. M. Jodi Rell worked together Tuesday to fast-track legislation that limits protests at funerals before members of a radical Kansas church appear at a Norwich soldier's funeral Friday.

The Senate and House approved a measure Tuesday night and immediately sent it to Rell, who was expected to sign the bill as soon as possible, said spokesman Rich Harris.

The legislature already passed such a bill earlier in the session, but the law wouldn't have taken effect until Oct. 1. This new law takes effect immediately.

The Westboro Baptist Church of Kansas has announced plans to picket Friday's funeral of Army 1st Lt. Keith Heidtman, 24. Heidtman was co-piloting a military helicopter that was shot down in Iraq on May 28.
Now the reason said "church" wants to protest is that its members believe "that the deaths of soldiers are punishment from God for the country's tolerance of homosexuals."

Incredible, right? However, once legislatures start limiting people's right to assemble and speak out, who knows where it'll end? I mean, are we looking at the possibility of the US becoming an armed camp? God knows things like seven-mile-long eight-foot-high fences aren't unprecedented in other developed countries.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Waterbury Politics


Ah, yes. From the delightful town that brought us Philip (The Pedophile) Giordano and Joseph (The Graftman) Santopietro, we now have Louis (The Threatener) DeLuca. This would easily be one of the most amusing state political stories since the heyday of you-know-who (another Waterbury politico, needless to say) if it weren't so sordid.

To make a long story short,
Chastened state Senate Minority Leader Louis DeLuca pleaded guilty to threatening Monday and was given a suspended sentenced after apologizing for asking an alleged mob associate to intervene in what DeLuca has called an abusive relationship between his granddaughter and her husband.
DeLuca—who is one of the state's true political Neanderthals—apparently asked known racketeer Jimmy (The Garbageman) Galante (amazingly, not from Waterbury) to "talk to" one James Colella, who he thought was abusing his granddaughter. Apparently, the colloquy never occurred.

What's got state denizens scratching their heads is why DeLuca would feel it necessary to bring Galante into the episode. I mean, let's face it, DeLuca has a certain amount of pull; certainly he could have gotten local police to investigate this situation to his satisfaction.

Meanwhile, his grandson-in-law isn't exactly taking a conciliatory attitude in all of this:
The 40-year-old Colella announced that he is "100 percent Sicilian" and not afraid of anyone, including Danbury garbage executive James Galante, who allegedly offered to have Colella slapped around to stop any abuse.

"Do I look like I'm afraid of anyone?" the 5-foot-5 Colella asked, sounding as tough as is perhaps possible when surrounded by news microphones. "It would have been a mistake if anyone ever came to my house. As far as anyone going to see me - Mr. Galante or anyone else - just make sure they bring a lot of bullets."
Hoo boy.

Another repercussion to the story is that state Republicans certainly don't think that DeLuca should do anything so drastic as resign. Apparently, since he's already demonstrated he's a slimeball, there's no need to do anything ethical at this late date.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Surge Schmurge


The "news" this morning contains the not-so-newsworthy item that the Bushies have screwed up again.
Three months after the start of the Baghdad security plan that has added thousands of American and Iraqi troops to the capital, they control fewer than one-third of the city’s neighborhoods, far short of the initial goal for the operation, according to some commanders and an internal military assessment.

The American assessment, completed in late May, found that American and Iraqi forces were able to "protect the population" and "maintain physical influence over" only 146 of the 457 Baghdad neighborhoods.
No doubt, Deadeye Dick thinks he could've pulled this off with more success.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Midsummer Classic


While cramping up from the lengthy sitting required for yesterday's Sox-Yanks game that ended after 8pm, I decided to hop on and vote for the all-star game. I'm one who likes to vote for those guys who I think most "deserve" to go based on what they've done this year, though in the end I know it doesn't really matter.

But I found myself on many of the positions unable to pick a guy who has really stood out this year, especially with Kevin Youkilis reserved to write-in status (thanks to no DH slot and David Ortiz on the ballot at first).

The reason why I had trouble was made a bit clearer when I saw that Hardball Times had (finally) introduced the 2007 Win Shares standings. Here are the top 5 guys in each league so far. Maybe I should just vote for my favorite players this year:

1. Vlad Guerrero
2. Orlando Cabrera
3. Grady Sizemore
4. Magglio Ordonez
5. B. J. Upton

1. JJ Hardy
2. Russell Martin
3. Jose Reyes
4. Prince Fielder
5. Kelly Johnson

And not to kill my own point, but I did actually vote for all of those guys on the AL ballot without seeing the Win Shares standings. Didn't do quite as hot in the NL, but really who wants to vote for a guy who is a. on the Atlanta Braves and b. named Kelly?