Thursday, June 22

Allow me to Re-intorduce myself...

Can we diagnose this embarrassment in the World Cup a failure for the US? I am not so certain. Sure they were ranked 5th in the world in the FIFA rankings, their highest ranking ever. Sure they lost to Ghana, a team that has never qualified for the World Cup before 2006. However, this is a US team that finally earned its first World Cup point with their pathetic tie on Saturday to Italy, when the US couldn’t even score their own goal. This is also a US team that plays its games in a country that doesn’t care about soccer, or football depending on which American you are talking to. That can really be a factor in this story. Imagine yourself on a team that trains for 4 years for a tournament that is so popular throughout the world yet no one in America cares. When I tell people I watch the World Cup, or when people see that I am watching the World Cup people always say “why are you watching soccer, it’s so boring”. Is it? I find it very exciting and so do more and more Americans who slowly but surely are coming to terms with this international uber sport.

But back to the real topic... the games being played. The US opened up the 2006 World Cup with a loss to the Czech in which they looked completely flat and a team that didn’t deserve to be in the World Cup. In their second game they played to a tie with usual powerhouse Italy. In their third game they couldn’t handle Ghana, when everything else fell into place and all they needed was the win to advance out of group play. It’s sad, it’s upsetting, and it’s disappointing. The only reason why I don’t categorize the United States showing in the World Cup a failure is because you can see the seeds being planted for the future. The sport is growing in popularity and many more kids are playing the sport. Come 2010, the next World Cup, the US should be ranked even higher than 5th in the world and they should have a better showing than this year.

It’s strange, normally Americans are used to dominating every sport we play, but it isn’t the case with soccer. The rest of the world has a leg up on us because soccer is the only sport they play. And sure this World Cup would have been different if it weren’t for the Ref’s. It’s ironic, Americans are new to this sport and yet we still are quick to blame the ref’s. Now I’m not saying that the ref’s didn’t screw up a ton of calls, because they did, but I am saying that the refs don’t play the game and we need to stop blaming the refs.

The refs in international soccer are also known for taking bribes and fixing games. I am not accusing anyone of anything, but I think it is a very big coincidence that the ref who officiated the US-Italy match, the ref who made a ton of bad calls, was found guilty of taking bribes and fixing matches. How can FIFA let this guy ref? again I am not saying he is still accepting bribes or fixing games, but if a ref were ever found guilty of doing that in the US he would never ref again, not even little league.

I think one of the main reasons soccer hasn’t been widely accepted as a sport in America is because of the rules. The refs are really quick to call red cards which mean you are out of the rest of that game as well as the next. Imagine getting a double technical foul in basketball and then you are done for the next game too. Now imagine that happening during the NBA finals. Does that make any sense? Not really. Another strange rule is the double yellow card. It’s fine that two yellow cards equals a red card, but it doesn’t make sense for yellow cards to carry over from game to game. Finally, you can only sub 3 times? Are you serious? What is the reason for that? Imagine playing hockey and telling the coaches, oh you can only sub 3 times in a game. Would people care about hockey? However, there are some rules I love about soccer. I love that the clock never stops. It makes the game much more intense and more fun to watch. Also well actually that is pretty much it, but I love soccer.

Although the US has been eliminated I will still have vesting interest in the World Cup. I personally thought England would win the Cup, but now that they lost one of their best players, it will be tough for them to make the finals, so I will love to see Brazil just dominate the rest of the World Cup. And I hope that Americans who watched the World Cup know the valiant effort the US gave and applaud them, and I hope the Idiot Americans that didn’t watch, who say soccer is a dumb sport, learn to love the sport and realize it is a great game to watch.

Ways to make Soccer in the US more popular

There a few ways that we, as Americans, can make soccer as big in America as it is for the rest of the world..

Firstly, we need a big name marketable star. We have tried in the past to bring some European soccer stars over to America, most famously with Pele and trying to lure him to the US for a 10 year $110 million dollar contract. However, I don’t think this strategy is a good one. We need a homegrown soccer superstar. We have a guy named Freddy Adu. Sure he is just turned 17, but this kid can play. Now I know he wasn’t born in America, ironically he was born in Ghana, but he is an American citizen, circa 2003. Right now he is rotting away on the bench for DC United. Why? How come this kid isn’t given a chance to play right away? If the kid has talent, which he does, he should be given the opportunity to play right away no matter what his age is. Because of this there is talk of him going to play oversees. This will be a huge mistake. Granted he will make boatloads more money in Europe, but this is what all our good players do. We need to bring the Americans back to America and let them play in our league. We need to build up a solid league with American superstars that the American people can relate to. If this happens we can help the sport grow.

Secondly we need to get MLS a major network TV deal. I don’t even know where you can watch a soccer game. I don’t think I have ever seen a regular season game on TV. If a network, let’s say ESPN, who no longer has Hockey, and doesn’t really show anything but Baseball on TV over the summer. (The MLS season run from the beginning of June until the end of October.) If ESPN picks up TV rights for MLS starting for the 2007 season that will give America 3 years of prime time exposure until the next World Cup in 2010. And of course along with a big network TV contract comes more advertising money that can be pumped into the sport allowing teams to spend more money on stars which will then allow teams in the MLS to keep the few superstars we have.

Now I don’t know what it was like when any other major sport was first introduced to the mainstream, (I’m only 22), but I’m sure they faced some of the same hardships that MLS does. People don’t fully understand the rules of soccer and until they do people will remain uninterested with the sport. I’m not too sure on how to fix this problem with American viewership other than the onus in on the fans to learn the sport, and the only way to learn all the rules is to watch the game of soccer.

No sport can grow in popularity without a big time TV contract. The fastest growing sport, the Arena Football League, didn’t start to boom until it received a TV deal with NBC. Once the AFL received its TV deal it was exposed to mainstream America and people learnt the rules of the sport, and learned to love the fast paced alternative to the NFL. Why can’t this be the case with MLS? Well it can. I beg ESPN to pick up TV rights to this great league.

Wednesday, June 21

NBA Champs: The Miami Heat

“We wanted it, we took it.” D Wade after the heat game 6 victory to win the NBA title.

Last night the Miami Heat won their first NBA title in franchise history. They came back from 2-0 series deficit to stun the state of Texas as they thought they would be crowned NBA champs this year. In game 6 last night, Wade, excuse me I mean the Heat came back from an early first quarter deficit to win the game. Now I have a few thoughts on this series and you are about to read them…

I had Dallas in 7 to start the series. I thought Dallas was the better team coming into the Finals. I thought Dallas had the momentum coming in, but I guess the series with Phoenix took too much out of them.

To start things off I would like to congratulate the Heat on winning the NBA title, because no matter what anyone will say, the Heat won the series and Dallas did not. But with that said I do believe that something fishy happened in this series. Now, I am not the kind of guy to yell conspiracy theory like the next fan of the NBA, but I am the guy who will point out some reasons why their may have been a conspiracy.

First things first, the free throws disparity was in huge favor of Miami. I went back and counted up the attempts and it backed up my statement (Mia:207, Dal: 155) and also included the deciding game in the series, game 5, in which Miami doubled up on free throw attempts (49-25). That is a huge disparity in free throw attempts for the game considering Shaq only took 12 FT’s. Now I know it has become commonplace to blame the ref’s for losses in every sport. The losing team never really lost the game, the ref’s did. It is very similar to Shawshank Redemption; no one in the prison committed any crimes. But with that said the Ref’s suck and something needs to be done.

The play that will be looked at forever is the phantom foul call on Dirk in overtime of game 5. While watching the game live I thought it could have been called a foul, but the more I look at that play there is no way that is a foul. No one even touched Wade on his way to the hoop. So you ask why Wade is getting a call that even Jordan wouldn’t receive. And there are two simple answers. The first is the NBA is in dire need of the next loveable superstar and Wade fits that bill. The second is the NBA does not want Shaq and Kobe on the same level. As long as Shaq didn’t win another title, fans could say Kobe or Shaq couldn’t win titles on their own. But now that Shaq has one without Kobe, David Stern can market Shaq as the better of the two and bring Kobe down another notch, and we all know how much the NBA loves to hate on Kobe now.

There was a second controversial call in game 5. While Wade was in middle of sinking the game winning free throws Avery Johnson signaled to Josh Howard to call a Timeout after the second free throw, however the Ref’s see this and think that Johnson was calling a timeout for then. Which is absurd, there is no reason to call a timeout there. Now, on the one hand the ref’s are not there to determine what the coach really means, but they are there to be the cooler heads. They are there to make sure the game is running as it is supposed to. So technically they had no obligation to huddle up and be like ok he didn’t want the timeout now, he wants it after the second free throw. But, at the same time they should have known the gravity of the situation and should have huddled up and corrected the situation. Now of course if the ref’s did do this it didn’t mean that the Mavs would have won the game, but they would have had a much better chance.

The ref’s weren’t the reason why the Dallas lost this series. They definitely hindered their chanced to win the series, but the reason why Dallas lost was because Dirk didn’t show up. He was shut down in the final four games of the series. Give credit to the Miami defense because Dirk was playing the best individual ball in the playoffs until Wade completely took the next step to the pantheon level of greatness. Wade completely raised his level of play in the finals, and put on one of the greatest performances in NBA Finals history.

While watching SportsCenter this morning, Tim Legler said DWade is the "greatest combo of athleticism and control that I have seen". Is he really? Kobe, Jordan, LeBron these guys aren’t better than Wade? Of course not, the guys in the media are trying to market Wade as THE next big thing in the NBA. It is crazy, because Wade is good, but how good is he really? I think most people can play the way Wade does when they have the Big Fella with them. Everyone is slurping what Mighty Mouse does. Wade deserves most of the praise he receives because he did play well even when Shaq isn’t around, but still the "greatest combo of athleticism and control that I have seen” that may be taking it a little too far.

Mark Cuban. This guy gets fined for all of his comments; of course they are all warranted, but even still. Is there any other sport that has an owner and commissioner clash so much as Cuban and Stern do? With that said, I totally think Cuban said to Stern about the league being fixed. I completely believe that Cuban would say something like that to the Commish, but there is a time and a place. You don’t yell that courtside after game 5, you do it in private and I’m sure David Stern told Cuban that.

As a whole the NBA Finals, as well as the rest of the NBA Playoffs were very well played and very exciting. This just adds to the growing popularity of the sport. Now all the League needs to do is solved the problem with the ref’s.

Just some quick thoughts on the Sox now…

I am very happy to see them on a 5 game winning streak after that embarrassing series with the twins last week. They really turned it around and they are playing much better baseball. I am very happy with Lester being our number 4 starter and we just need to get rid of Clement and find a new number 5 starter.

I am also pleased to see that they are taking the wheels off of our young arms in the ‘Pen. Craig Hanson, Manny Delcarmen, and Abe Alvarez should prosper with the big club and I want to see them in more pressure spots. And as I saw on Boston Sports Tonight this morning, Andy Gresh said that we finally have that flamethrower that can come in and just blow away the Yankee hitters late in the game. It will be very exciting to see how these kids turn out by the end of the year and if the plans stay on course, we will be raising another World Series Title come this October and all because of the kids.

Wednesday, June 7

NBA Finals Prediction

Tonight marks the beginning the NBA Finals. The matchup is between the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat. The Mavs got here by sweeping the Grizzles. They then took care of the Spurs in 7. In the Western Conference Finals they slowed down the Phoenix Suns in 6. The Heat held off the Bulls in 6. Then they crushed the Nets in 5. In the Eastern Conference Finals they dethroned the Pistons in 6. The Mavs showed they can win on the road, they can win a defensive battle, and they can win a speed game. They are playing with the best player on the planet right now. Dirk is taking care of business and he is looking like a guy hungry for a championship. He has finally put the Mavs on his back and carried them. Now the Heat on the other hand have coasted through playoffs a little bit. They had a blowout loss on their home-court to start the second round of the playoffs.

Let me just remind everyone that The Closer and Saved both start in 4 days. I’m very excited.
Before I pick my champion I will compare the two teams.

The Mavs have the best player on offense. However, the Heat have Shaq. This guy can still put up 22-10, but he isn’t the same Shaq that he used to be. He isn’t far from what he used to be, but he is just mortal enough. The Heat also have DWade. He has stepped up in the playoffs this year. The Mavs have averaged over 102 PPG when the Heat scored only 97.5. I like the way the Mavs move the ball on O and like their offense over the Heat.
Advantage: Dallas

This edge clearly goes to the Heat. Shaq can still hold down the fort in the paint. They have James Posey who is an excellent one on one defender. And their team defense is better than the Mavs.
Advantage: Heat

The Mavs have more versatile players coming off the bench. While the Heat have ‘ZO, Posey, and Payton, the Mavs have Stackhouse who can score, Devin Harris’ speed, and Griffin and Dampier to defend and crash the boards.
Advantage: Dallas

Dallas has Stackhouse. He needs to play well in order for Dallas to truly dominate.
Miami has Walker. If he is able to hit his 3’s and help out with the point a little bit.
Advantage: Push

Mavs have first full year coach Avery Johnson. He won Coach of the year and led Dallas to the second best record in the NBA. The Heat have Pat Riley. He wanted to take over this year when he replaced half his roster. I think Pat Riley’s experience coaching the NBA Finals will help a little bit, but not enough to give the edge to the Heat
Advantage: Push

I liked these two teams at the start of the post-season and now they are set to square off against each other. I’ve liked what the Mavs have done all season long, and I didn’t really think the Heat reached their peak until the final weeks of the season. This has allowed them to reach the finals. This series will be hard fought by both teams as both franchises are making their first Finals appearance. While I think the Heat have the talent to win the series, I think they will come up just short and lose in an exciting game 7 in Dallas. Dirk will be too much for the Heat to handle and think Shaq has lost just too much to lead the Heat past the Mavs.

Once again Saved and The Closer are coming in four days!!!!! Set up those Tivo’s.