...but in a backhanded way.
Real soccer-mad nations have a set of distinguishing characteristics: a tendency to shut down whenever the national team even thinks about playing a friendly versus Malta, hordes of singing, face-painted-like-the-flag partisans, and hysterical overreaction to all things at all times. If this was an actual soccer-mad nation, something like Tuesday's 0-3 bitchslap at the hands of the Czechs would be met with headline sizes usually reserved for the outbreak of a World War. ESPN.com would put up a poll discussing the proper punishment for Bruce Arena:
A. Placed in stocks and spanked on ABC by Marv Albert
B. Fired, re-hired, fired again, re-hired again, and then shot.
C. Testicles make fantastic voyage through wood-chipper
D. Put in a room with Dick Vitale, Marcelo Balboa, Stephen A. Smith, and Bill Walton
E. Forced to watch a tape of the game
E would win, as the horror of it would far outstrip even option D.
So it's a mixed blessing that the USA is in no way, shape, or form soccer-ma-- what's this? Do I hear a storm, even a small one, of petulant bitching? Indeed, I do. there are two main themes: "Reality Czech" and "We Waited Four Years For This?"
The latter camp seems to think that soccer evaporates for four years and re-emerges for the World Cup, ignoring the whole qualifying process. That in and of itself is progress of a sort since the USA has gone from scraping a Miracle-on-Grass team of college kids and naturalized foreigners together to the number one team in CONCACAF and a guaranteed entry in World Cups from here to eternity.
Pats on the back for everyone, then, but the guy who guided the team through the last eight years of competency probably needs a result against Italy to prevent a "Fire Bruce" campaign. In almost any other country in the world he'd be a guaranteed goner mere weeks after his fawning coverage in the NYT and everywhere else. This too is progress of a sort, but not the sort that gets you to the second round.
A note on soccer fandom. Perhaps I should have made this clear earlier: I am perhaps the very definition of the undiscerning sports fan. I gave up the ghost a few years ago when I sat at least moderately enraptured by a bunch of dudes riding bikes. I am now resigned to the fact that I'll watch nearly anything that can be vaguely defined as athletic competition as long as there's a chance there might be some nut with a flag and painted face screaming incomprehensibly.
It's actually worse than that, since the aforementioned is not a necessary component. Nor is... well... anything. I am notably silent on the offensive notion of nonstop poker on ESPN because I like televised poker. (There but for the grace of God go you.)
So be gentle with your barbed comments, as I am clearly handicapped.
A second note on the goddamned Mexicans. This is not like a collegiate bowl game featuring some also-ran from your conference. Mexico, despite being the USA's bitch for the past eight years, is seeded by FIFA and their stupid, stupid minds. Thus, instead of Ghana, Italy, and the Czechs they get candy fluffy soft group: Portugal, Iran, Angola. Mexican WC victories only further the Mexican lead over the US. And that's not even getting into the whole "Osama Bin Laden" chants in their country which is smelly and poor or their attempted murder of Cobi Jones or their freakin' ponytails.
You hate Mexico. You root against Mexico. You call the INS on anyone you see rooting for Mexico even if you know damn well they're a citizen, because someone should be told. There will be no discussion.
...that aren't football. First, former Grand Blanc center and erstwhile Rutgers freshman Zach Gibson, a former teammate of incoming recruit K'len Morris, is transferring to Michigan. Gibson's thrilling freshman year stats: 1.1 points and 1 rebound in ten games. He'll redshirt and have three years of eligibility starting in '07.
Second, hockey has picked up commitments from goalie Bryan Hogan and (probably) defenseman Chad Langlais from the USHL's Lincoln Stars according to Bob Miller of the Wolverine and Chris Dilks from WCH. Langlais's commitment is unconfirmed, but the Lincoln Stars website has notification of Hogan's commit for '07. At that point point junior Billy Sauer, sophomore Steve Jakiel, and a freshman Hogan will all compete for playing time: crowded indeed. Hogan is no roster-filler, having driven Jakiel from the starting job at Lincoln a year ago. Hogan posted a .916 save percentage and was named March goalie of the month.
Langlais staples an opponent to the boards.
Langlais, like Hogan, is a product of a Michigan high school, having attended Cranbrook with his twin brother Chase. There's an actual Oakland Press article on the pair and something from the USHL on Chad. Of note: Langlais is tiny, standing 5'8" and weighing 170. Despite that, he was selected in the second round of the USHL draft. Another Eric Werner, perhaps.
Michigan is now set on goalies until at least '09, but waits on Pat Kane and Jeff Petry amongst others unmentioned to finish up the '07 class. Kane is reputed to be favoring the OHL at the moment; Petry is between Michigan and Michigan State.
Update 6/10: Added IL OL Dave Molk, who checks it towards the bottom of the Scout 100 and plans to cap for a day. There's also this fantastic, fantastic story. Linked to article on Dionte Allen (will camp) and Marshall Jones (M in top four). Removed Justin Trattou (ND) and John Ditto (PSU). Linked to large thing from Fox Sports that contains notes on MI WR Mark Dell and WI RB John Clay.
Editorial Opinion: Apparently the Notre Dame staff forgot to slip the E they give everyone else into Molk's lunch:
"We had a lunch after the camp but the (Notre Dame) coaches all sat in one corner and didn't talk to anyone and I didn't get that. When we left, Coach Ianello told me that he'd be in touch."
He lists about half of the Big Ten plus West Virginia as favorites:
"My favorites right now are Wisconsin, Michigan, West Virginia, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan State and I'd probably say.....Northwestern." Molk said.
"As far as commitment is concerned, I'd like to get it done before the season, hopefully by August."
Cautious optimism in this corner. Molk projects as a center.
There's been mild concern about Dionte Allen, widely presumed to be a Michigan lock but hesitant about committing already, dammit. If you like obsessively reading between the lines (and who doesn't?), this article should be reassuring. Allen has repeatedly asserted that his childhood dream school was FSU, so a visit there seems threatening until this quote implies that he isn't taking it very seriously:
"The coach said I didn't have to come to that [camp], so I'm not going," said Allen regarding the FSU camp. "I'm just going down there to visit a bit in July. I'm just going to see what it's like."
Also, speaking of "E," that's what he calls charismatic new defensive coordinator Ron English:
"I was talking to Coach E (AKA, Michigan DC Ron English) about it and I'm probably coming down for the camp."
The power of E compels you to commit! Er.
There's been much confusion about the status of WI RB John Clay: does he have an offer? Why the hell wouldn't he, being OMG shirtless and all? Well, this FoxSports article claims he has one, so there's that, but also implies that Wisconsin is the probable destination. This can't bode well, either:
"I'll definitely see how loaded they are," he said. "If they are very deep, I won't look at them. I want to get my degree and I'm looking at schools with a good grad rate. I also want a running program that has a good tradition of running backs."
Pay no attention to the Brown/Grady/Minor behind the curtain.
That same article says still no offer for MI WR Mark Dell, though Dell still lists Michigan in his top four. With a bunch of offers already out for guys like Clemons and Hemingway, Dell might end up on the outside looking in unless he impresses at camp.
We're still hanging in there with Marshall Jones, but if you would like my opinion I am less than bullish on the prospects of pulling him away from the West Coast. He says he'll visit, so there's a chance.
Finally, this is a month old aaaand from Tom Lemming, but there are assertions in it that you can take or leave at your pleasure. First, M leads for IL RB Robert Hughes, who is, um, "getting pounded by everybody." Illinois leads for IL OT Miles Stroter; Michigan is in the chasing pack. And Martez Wilson is a very bad man:
As for defensive linemen, perhaps the best pure pass rusher in the country is Simeon product Martez Wilson (6-4, 235 lbs.), who runs a 4.5. This is a high school best known for its basketball players. Last year, Martez was a 6-3, 200-pounder being recruited more as a wideout even though he had 20 sacks. Now, since he's grown, people have realized he has natural instincts as a pass rusher. He runs the 100 meters in 11.0 second and is a terrific all-round athlete. His favorite schools are Michigan, Notre Dame, Illinois, USC and Texas -- he's been offered by all of them. He'll be one of the most recruited players in the country. The relentless style he demonstrates on film reminds me of Simeon Rice, who came out of the Chicago area 10 years ago.
Lemming is noted for just guessing at leading schools and sometimes being hilariously wrong, but that assertion seems to agree with the general opinion of the Internet.
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!