Thursday, February 12, 2009

US(A) against Them

There are different levels of success in sports, of course. We all want to be “World Champions”, but there is only one on top of the hill. Success then is dropped to division and conference titles and other things to feel good about. Maybe the best of lower-level success is having your way with your biggest rival.

For instance, The United States vs. Mexico in soccer. Rivalry? Yes. Very much so. And in this decade, the United States has stood up again and again to their big rival.

With last night’s win in Columbus, Ohio, the US is now unbeaten on US soil this entire decade. Of course, we won’t talk about being winless on their soil. Baby steps.

I remember when the Bears hired Lovie Smith. He did not talk about the Super Bowl or anything like that. He said that their first goal was to beat the Green Bay Packers. And he did. And then, they went to the Super Bowl.

I would place the United States chances of winning the World Cup very similar to this blog beating in traffic next month, but to appear as a dominant force in its region is a heck of a stride from when we were kids. Heck, when we beat Mexico a decade ago, it was a huge deal. Now, it is something we do routinely.
So, are we that much better? Or is Mexico in a funk? Good question, and I think a bit of both. It seems every time we beat them they fire their manager, so Sven better not rest easy.

Anyway, last night was another indication in a World Cup Qualifier that the balance of power has changed.

Coach’s Kid grabs the headlines

Michael Bradley scored twice to lead the United States to a 2-0 victory over Mexico in a World Cup qualifier Wednesday night, preserving the Americans’ domination in the series over the last nine years.

On a wet and windy night at Crew Stadium — under the threat of a tornado watch — the Americans ran their record to 9-0-2 on U.S. soil against Mexico since 2000. Tickets had sold out in 90 minutes, with many of the 23,776 fans showing up hours before to stand in the rain while waving flags and wearing their national colors.

After both teams played cautiously at the outset, the Americans finally broke through.

DaMarcus Beasley’s corner kick found Landon Donovan at the far side of the 6-yard box, with Donovan heading it back into the scrum. Oguchi Onyewu’s header was stopped by diving Mexico goaltender Oswaldo Sanchez, but the rebound came right into the path of Bradley, who kicked it in from 6 yards.
“It was a great corner from Beas, and Landon did a great job heading it back,” Bradley said. “It was not so hard for me to put it in.”

That touched off a wild celebration just a few feet from the red-clad Sam’s Army, which danced in the aisles and threw confetti up into the jet stream winds.

Then, in second-half stoppage time, Bradley took a pass from Donovan and his shot from 28 yards dipped under Sanchez’s arms. It secured the third straight 2-0 win for the Americans over Mexico at Crew Stadium in World Cup qualifying.

Mexico captain Rafael Marquez was ejected in the 65th minute when he went high to spike goalkeeper Tim Howard as they went for a loose ball. Howard, who angrily threw the ball down while he flexed his leg, also picked up a yellow card for delay of game on the ensuing free kick.

The loss could mean more trouble for Mexico coach Sven-Goran Eriksson. His team, with just one win in its last seven outings, barely made it into the final round of qualifying. A former manager of England, he had been brought on to stop what many Tricolores fans consider an almost unforgivable sin: losing to the United States. Mexico easily controlled the series for decades, but the U.S. team has now gone 13-7-8 since 1990 to narrow Mexico’s advantage to 29-15-11.

“We did a real nice job of getting after them and not letting them breathe,” Bradley said.

The match was the first of 10 in the final round of qualifying for each team. The United States next plays at El Salvador on March 28 before taking on Trinidad and Tobago on April 1 in Nashville, Tenn. Mexico entertains Costa Rica on March 28.
The United States has not lost a home match to a continental rival since 2001, going 37-0 with 10 draws. Included in that domination is a sterling record at Crew Stadium, home of the 2008 Major League Soccer champions. The Americans are unbeaten in eight international games (5-0-3) in Crew Stadium and are 4-0-2 in World Cup qualifiers.

On Feb. 28, 2001, the Americans won 2-0 in 28-degree weather, with ice fringing the field — a match now called Guerra Fria, or the Cold War. They won by the same score in much warmer weather in September 2005 to help secure a spot in the 2006 World Cup in Germany.

Tonight, Another shot at the Celtics

Scouting the Celtics

This will be the second of a six-game trip that bridges the All-Star break. ... They had a 12-game winning streak snapped last week by the Los Angeles Lakers and had lost two of three going into Wednesday's game at New Orleans. ... They are an impressive 30-4 against the East but are just 12-7 against the West and only 4-3 on the road against the West. ... Much is made of the Big Three of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, but it was Eddie House who threw in 23 points Jan. 25 when the Mavericks were trounced in Boston. ... Rajon Rondo had 14 assists in that game.

Scouting the Mavericks

They have won six of their last seven and have won nine of their last 10 at AAC. ... A big issue going forward will be the bench, since Jason Terry's 20 points per game will be missing. The Mavericks have outscored opposing reserves by more than nine points per game. Keeping that advantage will not be easy. ... Jason Kidd has had eight or more assists in eight of the last nine games. ... This is the beginning of what the Mavericks hope is a redemption stretch. They lost by 24 points in both Boston and New Jersey earlier this season. The Nets will follow the Celtics into AAC in the first game after the All-Star break.

David Lord with a nice piece on the trade options ….I think you should read the whole thing, but here is a bit that I take issue with:

My earliest ideas theorized that Phoenix badly needed to make a change, and Shaq and Matt Barnes for Josh Howard and Jerry Stackhouse would be a deal that would make Amare, Nash, and Suns’ fans ecstatic over a return to their up-tempo style, while putting an extra $30M or more (from lower payroll, lower tax, and additional NBA welfare) into the pocket of frugal Suns’ owner Sarver over the next 1+ seasons. (Let me say that again, so its impact in this economy isn’t lost: $$ Thirty Million Dollars Extra $$) At the time, it seemed like a logical idea, with Dallas getting Shaq, and Phoenix gaining not only J-Ho but also landing two huge upgrades by reaping re-energized versions of Amare and Nash for what they have now.
Unfortunately, the ensuing talk out of Phoenix was that the Suns’ brass preferred the Shaq style attack.

But the times they are a-changin’.

Only weeks later, the whole NBA is competing for any cash-increasing deals they can land, the Suns are now in all-out seller mode, and reports say they now would love to keep the younger Amare and unload Shaq if only they could find a taker.

But if I’m sitting at that negotiating table now – with only nine days to go until the Feb. 19 deadline – I’m driving a hard bargain. How much do the Suns want to move money? Top off the trade with the aging-but-still-very-effective Grant Hill who would fit hand-in-glove into the Mavs in place of J-Ho, and send back two young energy guys in his place (Green and Singleton) to supplement their restored running game after Shaq leaves. Oh and by the way, we don’t need any cash like others will demand if they eat such a lopsided deal financially, so instead you can drop us one of those No. 1 picks you’re always giving to others.

Your Bucket O’ Cash is awaiting, Mr Sarver, you might wanna sign here before we find a better offer.

Do I want Amare? Of course. Sure there’s the knee and the immaturity and the lack of defense and the unfortunate background, as well as the contract that ends in 2010. But if the Suns really would rather trade Amare, and want a cousin of the above proposal (J-Ho and Stack) in exchange, sign me up. He's big, young, and talented.

The bigger issue would be, do I have enough young talent, expiring contracts and (gulp) draft picks to be involved? It depends on the Suns’ priorities. If they primarily want young talent and picks – and that’s the word -- they’ll probably shop elsewhere. (Like, um. … Portland? I hate to say I told you so, but. …) But if the Suns are mostly shopping for Money For Sarver, they might like to shop here: they can include Leandro Barbosa, who is a bit overpaid and whose contract stretches beyond 2010, along with Matt Barnes and reap that $30M+ windfall that begins by shaving their current payroll by over $5 million and immediately putting them under the tax threshold for 2008-09. How would those pieces fit in Dallas? Who cares! We'll make 'em work, just do the dang deal.

I like the idea, but allow me to be clear here: There is no way that the Mavericks would pay $40mm to have Shaq for next season. No way.

Now, let’s figure out his Tyson Chandler idea! Feb 19th approaches:

Tim Macmahon on the Kaman – Baron stuff

It'd be worth sacrificing financial flexibility to make a trade that would transform the Mavs into a serious contender. But it's unlikely that adding Davis and Kaman and subtracting Kidd would make the Mavs better at all.

You can't count on Kaman making a contribution this season. He's only played 15 games for the Clippers because of a foot injury. When a 7-footer has a serious foot injury, that's a banner-sized red flag. (The Mavs might think for a second before saying no if Marcus Camby was part of the proposal instead of Kaman. Camby has a contract that is up at the end of next season and averaging 11.6 ppg, 12.7 rpg and 2.37 bpg. They still wouldn't pull the trigger, but they wouldn't snicker after hanging up the phone.)

Davis also has serious durability issues. He's played more than 67 games once in the last six seasons, and that just happened to be his contract year.

And Davis been awful when he has played this season, shooting 35 percent from the floor. He's a big-bodied point guard with a game based on explosiveness who turns 30 in April. Wonder why the Clippers are trying to get rid of him and his fresh five-year, $65 million deal?

This deal wouldn't improve the Mavs' (slim) title chances this season, and it'd do significant damage to their future plans.

This link doesn’t say it , but all signs indicate that McGrady is done for the year again….

Hockey Time

Blame Brian Burke. I do. Ilya should be in Atlanta or Washington.

There is no reason Ilya Nikolayevich Bryzgalov should be playing the Stars 6 times a year if Brian Burke doesn't allow Ilya to stay in the division. But, thanks to Burkie, he now owns the Stars, it would seem.

Last night's shutout or the last one, always have me pointed back to the curious decision of the Ducks GM back in 2007 to not find a trade he liked - and thus allowed the Coyotes to find their best goalie in years by simply plucking him off waivers from Anaheim.

How do you let the kid of that talent stay in your same division? I never understood it. And perhaps you are saying that he had no trade to make? A 7th rounder. Future considerations. A bag of pucks. Just make sure you send him out east. When you move a goalie, always get him out of your division. Mike Smith? Sure, I wish the Stars had him behind Marty right now, but if he isn't here, you don't want to face him for the rest of his career right?

But, for reasons I don't understand, Burkie let him stay in the Pacific, and now when the Ducks face him, they risk him sticking it to them as reward. Well, he doesn't own the Ducks, but his grasp on the Stars continue.

Last night, he stopped every puck at him, and the Stars worked hard to beat him. Now, in 5 starts against the Stars this season, he is 3-1-1, with a GAA of 1.56, and a save percentage of almost 95%.

The Stars have to figure out how to play more intense for all 60 minutes, but it would appear they have Ilya in their heads. The good news is that a Coyotes-Stars pairing in the playoffs seems a bit unlikely.

And it is all thanks to Burkie.

Stars lose to Phoenix

The bar has been raised for the Dallas Stars. On Thursday, they didn't clear it.
While they played hard, created a ton of scoring chances and got great goaltending, a 1-0 loss to the Phoenix Coyotes left them wanting more.

"This is a good dose of reality for us," coach Dave Tippett said. "We thought that maybe we deserved a better fate and didn't get it. So you've got to get back to work tomorrow. Every day is going to be a grind from here on out, and you better show up with even more desperation to get the next one."

The Stars (26-20-7, 59 points) came into the game on a 7-1-0 run. The Coyotes (25-25-5, 55 points) had lost six straight. Today, the teams wake up four points apart in the standings.

Yes, the Stars have played two fewer games, but the message was clear that the standings in the West aren't very forgiving. One week you can be in fifth, the next in 13th.

Number 1 picks are no sure thing in any sport – baseball ….

The San Diego Padres drafted shortstop Matt Bush with the No. 1 overall pick in 2004. He was a local kid out of Mission Bay High School in San Diego. He was suspended before even taking the field for fighting outside a nightclub. After hitting only .221 in his first three seasons, the Padres gave up on Bush as a position player and moved him to pitcher in 2007. He tore an elbow ligament and missed the 2008 season. The Padres finally had seen enough, trading Bush to the Toronto Blue Jays for future considerations Tuesday, after he was accused of a drunken assault involving players of a high school lacrosse team. A witness told The San Diego Union-Tribune that Bush was drunk, threw a golf club, picked up and threw a freshman lacrosse player and hit another one. Bush also yelled "I’m Matt [expletive] Bush" before driving over a curb in his Mercedes when leaving the campus. He just might be the worst top pick in baseball history. Here are the other contenders:

Steve Chilcott, New York Mets (1966): The Mets drafted Chilcott, a high school catcher from California, one pick ahead of Reggie Jackson. Chilcott never made the majors. Jackson hit 563 home runs and made the Hall of Fame. Ouch.

David Clyde, Texas Rangers (1973): Clyde was rushed to the majors straight out of high school at age 18. He went 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in his first three starts, including a complete-game victory against the Kansas City Royals, but his career quickly fizzled. He retired in 1979 with an 18-33 record.

Danny Goodwin, California Angels (1975): Scouts thought so highly of Goodwin that he was drafted No. 1 overall twice. It was a mistake both times. The Chicago White Sox drafted the catcher out of high school in 1971 but he attended Southern University instead. Four years later the Angels drafted him. He spent seven years in the majors but finished with only 13 career home runs and a .236 lifetime batting average.

Al Chambers, Seattle Mariners (1979): Chambers, an outfielder who was drafted out of high school, looked to be fulfilling his promise when he batted .331 with 12 home runs and 20 stolen bases as a 22-year-old at Triple A in 1983, but that proved to be his ceiling. He had a career .208 batting average with two home runs during three brief trips to the majors.

Shawn Abner, New York Mets (1984): His biggest impact on baseball came when the Mets traded him along with future All-Star Kevin Mitchell to the Padres for Kevin McReynolds. In six major-league seasons, Abner batted .227 with 11 home runs.

Brien Taylor, New York Yankees (1991): The hard-throwing left-hander was given what at the time was the largest signing bonus ever for an amateur at $1.55 million. Baseball America named him the game’s top prospect after he dominated Double A batters with a high 90s fastball in his second season, but he injured his shoulder in a fight and his fastball was never the same after surgery. He became the second player taken No. 1 overall to never reach the majors.

Matt Anderson, Detroit Tigers (1997): Anderson was an All-American at Rice on the strength of a 100 mph fastball. He amazingly lasted seven seasons in the majors despite a career ERA of 5.19 out of the bullpen. He tore a muscle in his armpit in 2002 that cost him his dynamic fastball. Compounding the story is that — depending on whom you believe — it may have happened during an octopus-throwing contest for a cross promotion with the Detroit Red Wings. Anderson says he was injured warming up afterward. Anderson is trying to make a comeback. He pitched last season in the Chicago White Sox organization, posting a 5.60 ERA in 15 appearances at Triple A.

Bryan Bullington, Pittsburgh Pirates (2002): It’s still a little early to rule Bullington out, but the jury is getting pretty close to rendering a verdict. He’s pitched only 33 innings at the major league level and he hasn’t exactly torn his way through the minor leagues either. At 28 years old, he’s running out of time to prove himself.

And, there is no reason for this link, But here it is …The Rangers winter spending plan…And before you ask, “Well, Bob, who did you want them to sign????”, here is my answer: Nobody. They are perfect. Not a dollar – save for the non-roster signees.

1 comment:

Jay said...

Bob thank you for your courage in calling out the David Lord thing on Shaq. I keep reading that and thinking!? If he could put Shaq in a time machine and give me 1999 Shaq that's one thing but old broken down Shaq, I think the Mavs would be the laughing stock of the league for getting everybody's aging players.