...says Denzel Valentine of Big Ten Tourney favorite MSU, which is 5-7 in its last 12 games. Cumong, man.
Giant orange cables laid sprawled across the front lawn-ish thing this morning. Not coincidentally, this destroy-ified my Internet connection this morning. It was kaput from wakeup to departure for game... much to my frustration. Lo siento.
6/12/2006 - USA 0-3 Czech Republic - USA 0-1-0
Glancing in the windows and seeing no one, I feared that I would have to explain to the bar staff that I wanted to see "the game" and they would ask me "what game?" These fears turned out to be unfounded -- indeed, the place was packed out by kickoff and rowdy during the brief periods during which the US showed any hint of a pulse -- but quickly replaced by another set of fears easily summarized with the words "France" and "98." The USA went down in the fifth minute as half-man, half-giraffe Jan Koller headed in a perfect cross as mach three; late in the first half Rosicky doubled the lead with one of those Adidas-special goals from what seemed like his own half of the field. After that a third goal was academic.
What to say? The United States finds itself in the same position that European powers like England do, in which qualification is taken for granted and the Cup is all that matters. The catch is that it seems that the US isn't a serious threat to do much. (Whether this marks a difference between the Americans and the Brits depends on your cynicism regarding the Brits.) The United States dominated possession essentially throughout the match but without a 6'8" cyborg of a man or a main capable of a Frings-esque cruise missile from forty, possession is window decoration.
But, still... if Reyna's shot off the post is two inches inside, it's 1-1 and the game is different. If Eddie Johnson manages to place his shot a foot closer, there's a game. Maybe against Italy? Halfway through the Ghana game the answer appears to be "no," but persistence is "that American thing" according to some World Cup coach or another.
But, yeah: balls.
6/10/2006 - Trinidad & Tobago 0-0 Sweden - Party Time For 23 Islands
Two days into the World Cup we've found first of the esoteric heroes that emerge from the group stage: 37-year-old goalie Shaka Hislop, former St. John's All-American Brett Sancho, pacey winger Carlos Edwards and the rest of the Soca Warriors. They didn't exactly win, but victory is relative when you are a Carribean nation of 1.3 million people in the largest sporting event on Earth. It's very relative when you have a defender sent off just after halftime.
I figure I'm becoming something of a connoisseur of great World Cup draws, and while this wasn't quite Ireland-Germany 2002, it wasn't bad. There are dire scoreless draws between nearly equal teams with no interest in attack, and then there are scoreless draws with a hopelessly outmatched underdog, one goal under seige, heart-stopping shots launched every minute or so, and only the occasional hopeful riposte from the beseiged serving to relieve the tension.
This was the latter. Swedish attacks were constant, probing the packed T&T backfield almost constantly, but Sancho, who was everywhere, removed seemingly half of the danger, leaving the other half to be squandered by the Swedes or snuffed out by Hislop. Still, it was only a matter of time before one of the guys who play for Arsenal or Barca took the St. John's All-American and broke him, then blasted it past a helpless Hislop.
But each shot that went ten feet over the bar or directly into the seemingly magnetized gloves of Hislop got the Soca Warriors closer. Late in the game, Edwards put in an audacious in-the-box tackle on Arsenal's Freddie Ljundberg as he bore down on goal. As the ball popped off Ljundberg and squirted harmlessly to Hislop, a light -- sure, a gray one -- appeared at the end of the tunnel. By the end of the game each kick and throw from T&T was launched farther away from their net than the last in the vague hope that maybe the damn thing won't come back this time.
It did though, borne on the feet of increasingly desperate blondes. By stoppage time, the Swedes looked at panic-stricken as T&T did in the first minutes. When the whistle went, the roles had been reversed completely: it was the Soca Warriors celebrating with a fervor you won't see exceeded by anyone in this tournament or any other, and Sweden slumping off the field, defeated. Relatively.
Sort Of Upsetting Bullets:
- Adding to the weird saga of Hislop -- dragged into the game at the last possible moment and uncommented upon by the announcers until 15 minutes into the match -- in my world only: I had hired the guy as a coach in the game of Football Manager I had been playing. This only increased my ardor for a T&T victory-like substance as Shaka, blessed with the sacred "20" in 'keeper coaching, had turned my young goalies into robotically efficient killers.
- England striker Peter Crouch looks more like an ostrich than anyone I have ever seen. This and the promise of a robot dance in the event of a Crouch goal had me rooting for him, and only him, on the England team.
- What is with that guy's hair on Ivory Coast? It's like, gray.
- ESPN/ABC's decisions as to who to put in the announcer's box continue to mystify. While Dave O'Brien has been competent on the top team, he lacks the breadth of knowledge someone like JP Dellacamara has.That is a small irritation compared to the color situation, however. The intolerable Marcelo Balboa inflicts his presence upon us when Eric Friggin' Wynalda -- for my money one of the best color guys in any sport -- is relegated to blathering with washed up members of the women's team at halftime.
Balboa seems like a nice guy, but he has a weird combination of Hubie Brown's sycophantic positivity and Joe Buck's tendency for school-marm lecturing. He offers only rare insight, and even when he says something useful he repeats it eighty-five times. By that point, you're looking for the "strangle" button on the remote.
- Torsten Frings' audacious cruise missile of a goal in the Cup opener -- a forty-yard rocket that took a sharp right turn after thirty-five of those yards -- presaged a barrage of similarly ridiculous shots from Paraguay and everyone else looking to match it. This has not been a good idea.
The hockey recruiting class is looking better of late. First, Trevor Lewis turned into the USHL's best player. He seems poised to make your proverbial instant impact. Then it turned out that NHL teams are hot after incoming defenseman Chris Summers, who garnered a first-round rating from the CSB and features in the top ten of Red Line Report's latest NHL mock draft:
10. Florida: Chris Summers. The Panthers surprise many by grabbing the smooth-skating Summers this early. Summers is tough mentally (a must on any Mike Keenan team) and plays a solid two-way game. The Panthers can use his versatility.
Red Line also has Mitera at #22:
22. Philadelphia: Mark Mitera. The Flyers are happy to get the huge stay-at-home banger who gives them another gritty player for the future. Should look good paired with Pitkanen in five years.
Neither of those projected draft slots mean quite as much as they would have a couple years ago, as the new CBA puts a serious brake on the Euro draft tide. You must sign all Euros/Junior players within two years of drafting or you lose their rights. On the other hand, you have four years to evaluate college players, which will artificially boost their draft stock. Still, that's not bad, especially because Lewis is widely regarded as a second-round pick and could go in the late first.
The upshot: Summers is good. Conveniently, The Wolverine's Bob Miller had a brief interview with him recently.
Fish in a barrel: Chances are if there's a picture of someone committing a crime these days, he's delighting Michigan fans everywhere with his choice of apparel:
The countdown to an MZone pictoral history of the Ohio State sweatshirt featuring Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, and Nixon starts now. (Via EDSBS.)
Meanwhile, Deadspin has taken up the cause of library masturbator Mike Cooper. Leitch notes his bail was set at a half-million dollars, which is both hilariously out of proportion to his crime -- the judge has given accused murderers far less -- and uselessly excessive -- I think a fifty would have been sufficiently outside the LM's means. Radley Balko says free LM!
Vijay is back and ornery, slamming the 70-some D-I teams who are fattening up on I-AA cows and making a good point: the "we couldn't find anyone to play" excuse rings hollow when a dozen teams are all playing goofball opponents on the very same day.
Do not click this link.
Etc.: TNR echoes my praise of Kenny, Charles, and Ernie; "Real Football 365" has an article on Michigan receivers, not much new but it's freakin' June; Paul Westerdawg's dug up audio that refers to Joe Paterno as a "dark invader"; Golden Tornado does the Big Ten mascot thing.
PS: ECUADOR GOAAAAL! ALLAH ALLAH ALLAH ALLAH!
So, yes: the Internet and cable went out at the worst possible moment that doesn't involve a Michigan football game. Voracity coming soon-ish.
June really is dumb time in the college football blogosphere. The old season is a fading memory; the new season is still horrifically far in the future. Certain parts of the country melt, and everyone gets ornery. Thus: this. Completely useless, but fun!
It was bound to happen eventually: someone in East Lansing would wake up in a pool of their own vomit with only the hot flush of shame, hazy memories of livestock, and an insatiable desire to start a blog. Then, in typical Spartan fashion, he would spend most of his time talking about Michigan. Ladies and Gentlemen, I present Spartan Bob, and when he says "Spartan," he means it with extra inferiority complex:
He also writes for the most spoiled and ignorant fans in all the land -- a Soviet Union of NCAA Football less than 100 miles down the street, in a town where burning leaves is illegal and burning flags is encouraged. A twisted, un-American place, where freedom is in chains, and they go to court to defend an Orwellian speech code and a racially-based admissions department. Consider this blog to be their message of hope and liberation. Their "Radio: Free Ann Arbor."
His latest salvo is deliriously entertaining evidence that since Michigan State has been spurned by this universe, Spartan fans happily create their own worlds where junior could get into Michigan and daddy could afford it. Bob takes two bits of news -- no night games at Michigan Stadium and the whole renovations brouhaha -- and spins them into a fantasy fairyland where the Motor City Bowl is an attainable dream for MSU. I excerpt only the most entertainingly detached-from-reality bit:
Yes, this tailgating beast needs to be strictly controlled. The inmates might come to the misunderstanding that hanging out with their friends, for hours on end, soaking up the tradition and atmosphere of their favorite team could become... a tradition. Next thing you know, they'll start showing up the night before, with their gauche RV's, camping out, singing the fight song, playing cards...
...and attempting to impregnate anything with the proper number of legs: four to eight.
The irony is palpable. Which city is busy shutting down every outdoor space that could possibly contain a student with a can of beer again? That would be East Lansing and its never ending crusade against the very idea that people under 35 should be allowed to grab a beer outside. Of course, given that State fans get to feudin' and a fussin' like they're on Rocky Top after a couple of beasts, maybe East Lansing has the right idea. Ann Arbor, on the other hand, has to convert every bit of available land and the golf course into parking.
Finally, Bob attempts to bring it:
No night games. No advertising. No tailgating. No standing and yelling. No modernization. No fun of any kind. We're a whole bunch of cranky people crammed into a small space with a bunch of rules, and we can't wait to get to our cars and drive home.
Sounds like jail. No wonder they call it the Big House.
These accusations are clearly unfounded, as anyone who's been to the stadium could tell you, but that's not the disappointing part. (Maize 'n' Brew tackled the night games thing already.) This, in the parlance of our times, is "smack." Bob is talking smack at us, no doubt in an attempt to front. He's bringing it, or at least attempting to. Other charmingly outdated urban slang goes here.
The problem is that the smack is weak: a recitation of some fictional facts -- one of which, "no advertising," is a net positive for the game day experience -- followed by the OMG Prison(!) zinger that Michigan fans get from uncreative Spartans... in third grade. Injected into our veins, this smack would cause no more than a slight tremble and briefly elevated mood -- no dead ceiling babies here. In short, there is no "stank" on it. The lesson, as always: never trust a Spartan to do... well... anything right.
Meanwhile, at Spartan Stadium a man-doll in a leather skirt comes out of the tunnel on a Lego chariot while the video boards show state-of-the-art-in-1982 computer animations sponsored by Meijer, Doritos, and the Michigan State Soybean Federation featuring Sparty and his frickin' eye lasers blowing up the logo of the school they're going to get spanked by as Def Leppard or Starship or that goddamned "Hey" song play on the PA. While I can't decide whether or not it's admirable, pathetic, or just plain retarded that 70,000 people show up every year to witness each epic loss against Central Michigan or Rutgers or Louisiana Tech, I do know that Spartan Stadium has all the atmosphere of your local Walmart and the class of the woman selling herself outside of it.
That, as they say, has some stank on it.
It seems the best way to shore up your average comment count is to declare that the World Cup is of interest and that you intend to post on it. It also helps if you then mis-date the next day's post so that the shocking revelation that you are some sort of hippie euro-snob fairy remains at or near the top of the blog for all red-white-and-blue blooded to see and fret over. If you, the blogger, do this, then you will return to see the soccer-sucks-no-it-doesn't sniping has bloomed like algae across any surface it can attach itself to. It's so bad that other noted college football bloggers have retreated to obscurer interwebs in a (thwarted) attempt to avoid serious loss of street cred.
In a way this fevered bitch (H!IKM!) is no suprise. A brief survey of essentially any country in the world that isn't this one or Canada will reveal that the game lends itself to mad passion better than any other. Generally this results in bickering between two fanbases representing different teams, but in the United States the camps are divided over the game itself. On the one side are people like Tom Power:
No one who actually is from here cares about the most over-hyped, mind-numbingly boring event in the world.
Thirty years after soccer was supposed to be the next thing here, ESPN and ABC will attempt to "educate" as well as entertain American viewers during the World Cup, according to an article in Sunday's paper. The arrogance is astounding. The networks still are subscribing to the tired old chestnut that Americans aren't interested in soccer because we don't understand it.
All that tactical beauty is somehow slipping past us. We aren't smart enough to understand the nuances involved in the most popular game in the world.
In fact, just the opposite is true. We don't like soccer because we do understand it. And it's awful.
Etc., etc. It's the same column you've read a dozen times every four years, hitting all the high spots:
- OMG soccer is boring!!!
- OMG soccer fans are loco nuts man!!!
- OMG ferrigners is teh dumbs!!!
- USA Number One! Hotdog sauce!
A large number of these arguments showed up in the comments -- though to be fair to the commenters they had the decency to not be published by a major newspaper -- and I'm here to say that all these criticisms are completely accurate. Soccer, by in large, is boring. Soccer fans, and by "soccer fans" I and everyone else means "English soccer fans," are not people you want to invite into your house. Ferrigners are by and large teh dumbs. And, of course, USA Number One. Hotdog sauce.
For a large portion of my life I could have written the same column, though undoubtedly it would have had much more wit and savoir faire. I came to soccer young as a participant -- five or six, playing on shrunken fields with shrunken goals and no goalies -- but late as a spectator. I was fifteen when I watched a soccer game for the first time. The United States was playing in the World Cup, and I looked upon a game that had previously always been accompanied by water bottles and orange quarters with somewhat alarmed interest: you mean people watch this? On TV? After the US went out, soccer disappeared from my consciousness entirely for eight years. No Doc Martens-clad hooligan I.
So why bother? First you have to accept that there is this... thing about the game. Tom Power refuses to believe that there is any such power possessed by the game, chalking it all up to ferrigner stupidity:
It's time to quit apologizing and tell the truth. When it comes to soccer, we're right, and the rest of the world is wrong. If they want to dance in the streets of Cameroon or Belgium over this stuff, fine. But the sport does not suit American taste, and we should stop feeling guilty about it.
If this is you and your opinion, than we can speak no more of this, as I will lose. You are free to click somewhere else and spend your time more productively. But I submit that in the case of soccer, billions of people can't be wrong by definition.
All right: so we accept that there is a mysterious thing about soccer. There are mysterious things about all sports that persist to this day. They have survived because they appeal to certain facets of human nature. The truly dull things, aside from auto racing, have shuffled off the mortal coil. But that doesn't mean they're all the same thing. As anyone who's watched Sportscenter can tell you, baseball is intolerably dull without context. Literally nothing happens in a baseball game that you haven't seen a thousand times before: a strikeout, a diving catch, a homerun. Baseball's big moments are all about timing or numbers. It's a game of familiarity. Basketball provides a constant stream of moments both good and bad, but even the most spectacular play is only two points of a hundred. Both sports offer thousands of little compartmentalized events of minor signficance and string them together like beads on a rosary.
On the other hand, soccer and hockey* -- soccer's spiritual cousin and frequently a fellow object of American sportswriter ridicule -- are games that flow from one end to the other, steady as the ocean. This is the boring bit. A lot of nothing happens in any hockey or soccer game. This is granted. At any one point in either game, someone has the ball at a certain point and all that muck that happened before may as well have not existed. But if you will permit me to be zen for a moment, a scaffold of anticipation is built from the nothingness. Where your rosary sports feed you little bits of feedback all the time, with soccer and hockey there is nothing apart from great giant thunderbolts that bring feast or famine, with nothing in-between. The infrequency of these events, the unlikely ways in which they come about (there are no Ronaldinhos or Ovechkins in rosary sports because they restrict heroes to realms of the possible), and the sheer power of them lend them the same sort of magic that caused early men to dream up the idea of gods in the first place. It makes a lot of sense that the most infamous play in soccer history is called "The Hand Of God." These things are a religion, and watching them is a vigil, as anyone who's sat through four overtimes knows. It isn't for everyone, but if you can stand the nothing then your reward is the occasional moment when everything comes together that sears itself in your mind and lingers on like an old friend.
Which is why when I close my eyes I can see Eric Nystrom pass back to Jed Ortmeyer; I can see Charles Woodson slice through a morass of bodies into the great white open air; and, yes, I can see Robbie Keane blasting a ball past -- through -- Oliver Kahn long after all hope had gone. When it comes to religion, you've either got some or you don't. Myself, I say hallelujah.
*(Football is left out of this equation as its genius is that it takes all the mucking-about-in-midfield/neutral-zone stuff and remembers it. This turns every play into something relevant for the future. You are here on yard Y because of plays X,Y,Z, and everything else that happened after the last score. Each score is the culmination of everything that goes before it. When you can combine total relevancy with the moment of spine-mangling horror when a corner jumps an out and the ball hangs in the air as God decides which team he will favor this day, you are cooking.
By the way, God always pick
s Notre Dame.)