May 31, 2006 

Why The Doom & Gloom For USMNT?

Landycakes Donovan
Originally uploaded by wonderbread74.

I think the scant amount of quality soccer coverage in the United States may account for the apathy and consternation over our national team.

Why the doom and gloom?

This is, after all, reportedly, the most talented World Cup entry in American history, right? We heard this in the run-up to World Cup '98 when our country was still trotting out foreign nationals like David Regis and Thomas Dooley to plug important holes in the backfield. In 2002, we heard it again. The arrival of golden boys like Landon Donovan, DeMarcus Beasley and Clint Mathis were the new generation of American players. Donovan was actually touted as the greatest soccer player the land had ever produced. In 2002, they were actually right.

Gone are the days when European professionals with dubious American bloodlines were thrown on the team at the last minute. If the pundits were correct about the talent in 2002, then why not 2006.

It seems in this country, if you don't know a lick about American soccer you reach for the default opinion of trashing the national team's chances. In 2006, this will lead those people sounding foolish when the cup is hoisted in July.

American soccer has never been as healthy as it is today. With Bruce Arena, the country has it's most astute manager and with Germany '06 being his second consecutive World Cup at the helm, it also has continuity that no other national team possesses.

The emergence of Donovan and Beasley in 2002 has been fortified with world class talent in Bobby Convey, Onyewu Uguchi and Eddie Johnson, among others.

As opposed to other European sides filled with primadonnas, the U.S. has none. In contrast to those mega-millionaires, the U.S. squad looks positively working class. Hard-working forward Brian McBride is not going to pout if his coach chooses to take him out of the game as might Germany's Michael Ballack, Brazil's Ronaldo or any player on the Italian team.

The U.S. is solid in goal, a starting lineup filled with players playing at the top rung of European soccer, youth, depth, health and most of all, a single-mindedness that their exploits will do more to expand the game of soccer in their country than any other squad in the entire competition.

Why the gloom? The Czech Republic is highly regarded but with some key stars on the mend, in addition, also has a penchant for performing poorly when expectations are high and astonishing great when they're low. Italy is notorious for slow starts in the World Cup and prone to eeking out 1-0 defensive bore-fests. Ghana is a newbie in this part of the soccer experience.

The U.S chances are far better than "Why Not?" and much closer to highly likely. Now, get on the bandwagon!

May 29, 2006 

America's Disconnect With The Beautiful Game


When Americans eschew the popularity of soccer in our country they point to the unbelievably miniscule television ratings and that the game is only played by 10-year-olds and effectively dropped by high school.

This transcript of the radio call of Diego Maradona's imfamous "Hand of God" goal in 1986, posted at the New York Times' World Cup blog, illustrates one reason why there has always been a disconnect between soccer and the American public.
…passes the ball to Diego, now Maradona with the ball, two people on him,
Maradona touches the ball, the genius of soccer heads to the right, and
leaves the third and passes to Burruchaga…
Always Maradona! Genius! Genius! Genius! ta-ta-ta-ta-ta-ta…
I am going to cry! Oh, my God! How beautiful soccer is! What a goal! Diego! Maradona!
I am crying, forgive me please….
Maradona, with a memorable run, with the most beautiful play of all time….
cosmic podge…. which planet are you from? You let it seem so easy,
and the whole country is a closed fist, is screaming for Argentina…
Argentina 2 - England 0…
Diegoal, Diegoal, Diego Armando Maradona…
Thank God, for soccer, for Maradona, for these tears, for this
Argentina 2 - England 0…

This game is placed in many peoples heart as close to their faith in God than anything in America including sports. Americans do not praise God in this manner when their team's reach the ultimate glory.
When Bill Mazeroski famously won the 1960 World Series with a walk-off homerun, the announcing crew in Pittsburgh did not elevate him to the right hand of God as this Argentine announcer did with Maradona. When Barry Bonds passed Babe Ruth on the all-time homer list yesterday, the Giants' television announcer did not thank God for the presence of Bonds in their midst (maybe Lucifer, but that's another posting).

As a country, we have no inkling of how important these World Cup games can be. It's the glory of competition, national pride and religious faith contained on a finely manicured pitch with 22 men with the hearts and minds of millions.

May 27, 2006 

FIFA WORLD CUP 2006 On The Tailgate


May 19, 2006 

Please Don't Hit #714 In Oakland


It would just be the Athletics' Nation's luck that Baroid Bonds ties Babe Ruth for second on the all-time homerun list.

The scene of seeing #714 majestically arching over the Coliseum's right field stands will be one of the very few facts that Giants' fans would be able to throw at their more successful East Bay brethren.

The Giants have always had the short end of proverbial stick when it comes to the business of actually winning anything. They earn more dollars, gain more media attention and have a "prettier" ballpark, but when it comes to the act of actually calling themselves champs, the debate becomes decidedly one-sided.

The likelihood that Bonds connects sometimes during this weekend's Bay Bridge series is good, if not, eerily predestined.

For one, he's due. Bonds has not hit a homer since the mammoth blast May 7 in Philadelphia. Second, Friday's starter for the A's, Danny Haren, has had a propensity for allowing a few bombs this season with 11. The aching steroid slugger will also be able to play all three games as the designated hitter while playing in an American League park.

Bonds has also ripped the A's since interleague play began. He's hit 16 homers in 123 at-bats against Oakland. Check out the stats:

AB 123, AVG. 325, 16 HR, 27 RBI, 17 IBB

A's manager Ken Macha and Art Howe before him have been like the rest of the league--hesistant to pitch to Bonds--with 17 intentional walks as proof. Let's hope that strategy stays in place.

I wouldn't advocate hitting Bonds like Houston's Russ Springer did last Tuesday, at least, not so obviously. A curveball in the middle of the back would be fulfilling. But, by any means possible, do not give up #713 in Oakland. Haren, Joe Blanton, Brad Halsey DO NOT give Giants' fans any ammunition, even when it's akin to BB's.

Here's what Barry Zito told the USA Today:

"If he were here, that'd be unbelievable," Zito said. "That'd be so cool."

Yeah, that would really be cool. So cool, in fact, that a general boycott of the A's should be called to quell the inherent coolness.

Of course, what should Zito say? The truth. No Hal Bodley, I think the A's clubhouse would suffer with a cranky and sometimes hostile specter lounging in the clubhouse.

Such a transaction would never happen. While the A's loosey-goosey clubhouse generally absorbs malcontents like Jay Payton, Frank Thomas and Milton Bradley and welcomes such players, the personality of Bonds is unprecedented. Besides, I remember the final season of Reggie Jackson in Oakland and it wasn't pretty.

May 18, 2006 

Springer's Assault On Bonds Tinged With Racism


This may sound strange coming from one of Barry Bonds’s most vocal detractors, but Russ Springer’s five-pitch attack Tuesday on the steroid slugger may have been racially motivated.

The apparent single-mindedness of Springer to plunk Bonds is the determining factor. Bonds is hated and, in some places, loathed unlike any athlete, but that anger has never filtered onto the field in such a personal manner.

Generally, the gentlemen’s agreement amongst clubs is that the simple brush back is an acceptable tool in self-regulation. The first Springer pitch, a whirling slider that swung behind Bonds should have been enough to say “you’re a cheat” or we’re just plain unhappy because your Giants are whipping the tar out of us.

When Springer again threw up-and-in and actually grazed Bonds’s bat the act begins to become sinister. Succeeding with the fifth pitch activates problematic reasons for why such a punishment was deserved by Bonds.

Pinning the episode on racism is problematic and uncomfortable but suspicious. The hatred for Baroid goes beyond skin color. The values of honesty and integrity are held by every skin color. Blacks dislike him as much as whites. But, the blatant assault by Springer and the Astros (such an act was sure to have been discussed in the dugout) causes concern.

That the Houston crowd was understandably booing Bonds only becomes complicated when the stadium erupted in ovation for Springer as he walked to the dugout after being ejected by the home plate umpire. Crowds are fickle, but when they wildly rejoice in Bonds's bodily pain, they run the risk of allowing him some sort of sympathy, when within the big picture of this steroid scandal he deserves none.

While Bonds rests one homer shy of Babe Ruth’s homerun tally, the anxiety and focus began to build with every at-bat. The main factor, though, in speculating a racial factor is that Ruth’s 714 homeruns is second all-time and technically the American League record. Would passing the rusher with the second most yards in NFL history garner such outrage?

When Henry Aaron passed Ruth’s mark 32 years ago, the racial aspect was more vociferous than today even with the specter of steroids looming over the game. Has America become less color blind or was the drama in 1974 dealing with an African-American eclipsing the quintessential white superstar athlete. Babe Ruth and the vaunted homerun record was 1920s America at the dawn of superpower status.

Conversely, Aaron’s record of 755 evokes the dismal, do-nothing era of the 1970s, which in some ways mirrors the 2006 with high energy prices and bitter entanglement in the Middle East.

By drilling Bonds, Springer wasn’t protecting that romantic version of pre-depression America as the enemies of Aaron believed in 1974, but he was protecting the perceived racial superiority of the caucasian Babe—the second greatest homerun hitter of all-time.