Sunday, December 21, 2008

The week that was...

It is difficult for me to imagine how bad things are going for Charlton at the moment. It is even more difficult to imagine how things are going to be turned around at The Valley this season. The current tailspin is not what I anticipated, but it must be a hell of a lot worse for people who have spent a lot more time invested in the team than I. For the first time, I am embarrassed to call myself a supporter, not because the team is no good, but because I have no reason to lay claim to the agony that this must be causing most "real" supporters.

In any event, I was able to listen to the first half of Saturday's match before having to leave for Georgetown's game against Mount St. Mary's. I was unprepared for the sour reports awaiting me of another disappointing day for the Addicks.

The Hoyas were not impressive in their matchup against Mt. St. Mary's, but they ultimately escaped unscathed. It is still difficult to predict how this particular squad will fare in Big East play, but they have performed much better than I had anticipated when the season began. JTIII appears to have settled on an eight-man rotation, with freshman Jason Clark one of the first off the bench, followed by Julian Vaughn and Omar Wattad (leading to unfortunate chants of "Let's Get Wattaded" from the bored preppies in our section). Henry Sims and Nikita Mescheriakov saw some playing time in Saturday's game, but neither improved on one of two of Georgetown's glaring flaws: free throw shooting and defensive rebounding. The most troubling aspect of the last game was how much the Hoyas big men got moved around by a clearly inferior team in the post. Also troubling is how the free throw shooting appears to be deteriorating further rather than improving. DaJuan Summers had the worst game that I've ever seen him play in a Georgetown uniform. One more tune-up before conference play: Tuesday night versus Florida International Union.

Goff carried two interesting notes on his blog recently. First, after the Terps wrapped up their second national championship in four years with a win over North Carolina in an ugly game in a sparsely attended stadium in Frisco, Texas, three of Maryland's underclassmen announced they were leaving the school. The first two (Jeremy Hall and Omar Gonzalez) were not entirely surprising as both Hall and Gonzalez appear to have done everything that they could have in the college game and they should both be able to make an immediate impact professionally, given the right circumstances. The loss of Rodney Wallace, however, is unexpected. Wallace never seemed to enjoy taking on his role as left back and dropping back from midfield. Maryland frequently looked like a team with two left wingers, with Hall and Wallace playing on top of each other, rather than a 4-4-2. And Wallace never seemed to fully commit himself to defending, perhaps based on a conclusion that his career would be in the midfield or on the front line. Wallace was the reason we started going to watch the Terps and picked up season tickets this year, so we're not thrilled to see him go. We hope that he has made his decision based on good counsel and not based on any frustation with his role on the team this year. Whatever else might be said about Rodney, he played hard in every game we attended and he always presented a dynamic offensive threat off the backline for Maryland.

Goff also noted that Stephen Appiah was interested in coming to play in the United States, potentially with DC United. Appiah is a former Accra footballer from Hearts of Oak. We visited the club's training ground when in Ghana and were impressed by how much Appiah overshadows Chelsea's Michael Essien in Ghana's capital. Appiah will not, however, be finding his way to our fair shores. That DC United will not be pursuing Appiah is less disappointing than Charlton's decision to shop fledgling Ghanaian international Chris Dickson without ever having given him an extended shot in the starting XI. I have no idea what goes on at the training ground, but given how poorly Charlton's strikers have performed all season, Dickson's inability to get an extended look is incomprehensible.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Centennial II

After missing Georgetown's game against American on Saturday (and Maryland's win over Creighton in the quarterfinal match of the NCAA Soccer Tournament at the same time), I was pumped about tonight's game against Savannah State, even if I could not convince my family to join me. But even heading over to the Verizon Center with this enthusiasm, I was not prepared for how much I would enjoy the 62-point drubbing of a decent (although not good) Tigers team.

Georgetown may get thrashed Saturday by Memphis and they might not yet be ready to run with the big dogs when the conference season begins on December 29 with a visit to Hartford, but this is a fun team to watch grow. People much smarter than me note that the Princeton offense can be run at any speed and JTII has a very young team running that offense at mach speed.

With only three upper classmen -- Jansen, Sapp (seniors), and Summers (junior) -- it is difficult to tell what the team's ceiling is, but it has got to be pretty high. Greg Monroe, Chris Wright, Austin Freeman, Jason Clark, Henry Sims, Julian Vaughn, Omar Wattad, and Nikita Mescheriakov are certainly improving as the young season has progressed. Tonight they decimated a team that was simply outclassed, but any pity that one might have for Hoya alum Horace Broadnax's Tigers gave way to awe at the precision of the offense run by JTIII's players and their disciplined defense.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Coaching Matters

There are hard reminders that coaching, in fact, matters. Witness, for example, tonight's embarrassment of the Chicago Bears in Minneapolis. In particular, witness a first and goal from inside the two play call following a long Matt Forte scamper that involved a play action pass to the right side and a third and goal play call from the half yard line that could have been predicted by anyone who pays any attention to the Bears season thus far: fullback dive. Or, witness the defensive play calling -- in particular, a third and four, where the front eight sell out, but the design is for the defensive ends to stunt inside (with one of the defensive ends being the extremely non-speedy Israel Idonije). Or witness a team that had penalties called for an illegal formation and twelve men on the field during key moments of the game.

And then, of course, there are bittersweet reminders that coaching matters, today exemplified by the matchup of JTIII's Hoyas versus Gary Williams' Terps in the third place game of the Old Spice Classic. Thompson's Georgetown simply demolished the Univeristy of Maryland early tonight and the twenty-seven point margin of victory leaves the false impression that the game was much closer than it actually was. Here, JTIII spent his time telling a sideline reporter that, regardless of a significant lead at the end of the first half, Gtown needed to improve on rebounding and that the key was improving and getting better for later on in the season, while Gary Williams screamed obscenities at his players and the referees (earning a technical that should have been called much, much earlier in the game). Georgetown and Maryland will not meet during the regular season not just because the Hoyas would win four out of every five games, but because Georgetown, for the foreseeable future, simply outclasses Maryland in nearly every aspect of a basketball game. And that cannot be good for recruiting in College Park.

Finally, there are those unequivocally sweet reminders that coaching matters, most recently demonstrated to me by Sasho Cirvoski in Saturday's 2-1 revenge win over Cal in the third round of the NCAA Tournament. When the season began, I had a tough time understanding why Jeremy Hall was starting at left wing while Rodney Wallace wallowed at left back. Wallace, I thought, was more dynamic, more dangerous on the ball and a more potent threat to score. I was wrong. Maryland's second goal, the one that would end up proving to be the game winner, was a thing of majestic beauty -- a high shot that looked cursed to find its way towards the Crew in the stands behind goal that, instead, dipped sharply into the net. Hall placed the ball beautifully and sent yet another warning of the dangers of leaving him any space near the goal box -- Jeremy's amassed seven goals in his last ten games and validated all of the faith that Cirvoski has showed in him throughout the season. Maryland will have to beat Creighton at home next Saturday in order to advance to the final four.

Quick facts about the tournament: The elite eight features three ACC teams (Maryland, North Carolina, and 2007 Champion Wake Forest), two Big Ten teams (Northwestern and Indiana), two Big East teams (South Florida and St. John's) and Creighton. Three of the four fourth round matches will be hosted by the ACC teams left, while the fourth will be played on St. John's campus. The three highest seeds have all survived to the Elite Eight (Wake Forest, St. John's, and Maryland, respectively), as did the six, seven, and eight seeds (Indiana, Creighton, and South Florida, respectively), but one of the final four will be either thirteenth-seeded North Carolina or unseeded Northwestern, which took out fifth-seeded Akron, twelfth-seeded Notre Dame and unseeded Loyola (Ill.) to advance to the fourth round.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


There is something beautiful about the fact that all three of the professional sports teams that I follow in the winter are horrible. I caught portions of both the Lakers and Blazers games lost by the Bulls earlier this week and, wow. Derrick Rose is phenomenal. The rest of the team, not so much. The Bears played to the depths of how bad they are against the Packers, embarrassing Chicago in epic fashion. Nothing, however, can quite match Charlton Athletic in terms of futility: finally, Pardew Out!

But that's ok. Because Georgetown's season has begun and they are a fascinating team. Three freshmen saw substantial playing time in today's blowout win over Drexel. Only two of the major contributors to the team are upperclassmen (Jessie Sapp, senior; DaJuan Summers, junior), making it very difficult to imagine what the team's ceiling will be this year. In two games this season, Greg Monroe has been, by far, the best player on the court. But fellow freshmen (and local recruits) Henry Sims and Jason Clark have also been impressive. The two sophomore guards, Chris Wright and Austin Freeman seem to offer more potential than what they currently display on the court and may improve significantly as the season winds on. With what appears to be a solid seven player rotation, JTIII will nevertheless have to get something out of Julian Vaughn, Nikita Mescheriakov, and Omar Wattad, but that might not be possible and Wattad, in particular, has been overmatched and outclassed against Jacksonville and Drexel.

Regardless of how the season unfolds, this certainly an entertaining team to watch. The Hoyas will face their first major test at the Old Spice Classic on Thanksgiving Day with a game against Wichita State. The mini-tournament also features our local Terps, Gonzaga, Siena, Michigan State, Tennessee, and Oklahoma State, of which Gtown will play against two in addition to Wichita State. Agreeing to participate in the Classic explains why, outside of Memphis home and Duke away, the Hoyas' non-conference schedule lacks compelling match ups (Drexel, Savannah State, Mount St. Mary's, Florida International University, Jacksonville, and American do not exactly constitute must see basketball).

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Sun-Times' Obligatory Idiot Version 1.2

Although back in Chicago, I did not insist on exposing my infant child to the onset of early winter at Soldier Field today and instead took in the Titans-Bears match on television with family.

This is a very bad Bears team. And little of that conclusion is due to the actual players, who are, as a general matter, as talented as any of the players that they line up against. Instead, the poor performance -- exemplified again today -- appears to be the result of a stubborn coaching staff on both sides of the ball that refuses to make adjustments in response to in-game developments or to take responsibility for its own debacles. Yet again, Babich/Smith's pass rush failed to have any impact... every time Collins dropped back he had four to five seconds before even a hint of pressure was applied by the defensive line. Yet again, the inability of the defensive side to adjust led to absurd numbers posted by a subpar quarterback.

On the other side of the ball, more of the same. It looked as if Rex had one opportunity to make a throw that he is comfortable and competent at, a pass he overthrew to Devin Hester by three steps. Other than that, Grossman was repeatedly asked to make throws that are not within his wheelhouse, largely because they are the plays that Ron Turner likes to call. A horizontal passing game, versus the vertical game that Grossman has proven himself in the past to be adept at, was just a silly, bizarre approach largely responsive to Grossman's shaken confidence after the staff failed to challenge the play that resulted in Rex's sole turnover (and should have been reversed).

But I am less disappointed in the Bears' performance than I am in the mind-numbing continued idiocy of Chicago's sportswriters. The Tribune and Sun-Times reward peevish, small-minded, inflammatory commentary from their columnists in the same way that the Republican party now encourages willfully ignorant, mean-spirited, affected folksiness. Greg Couch's rant pinning blame principally on Rex Grossman for today's loss is fairly representative of the new genre. My bookshelf at home is replete with the works and compilations of great Chicago sportswriters who augmented my love of sports in the city as a child. Now, in the new vein of insufferable judgmental morons like Skip Bayless and Jay Mariotti, I am treated to analysis like that proferred by Couch when simply trying to read about how the coaching staff absolved itself of blame from yet another loss. Focusing on Grossman as the locus for the Titans' win is roughly equivalent to blaming Josh Brolin for how the film "American Gangster" ended up becoming a derivative piece of gangster-genre-film fluff destined to be ignored and forgotten (perhaps this is too forced, but when I think of this year's Bears team, I think of disappointment, and when I think of disappointment, I think of Ridley Scott's "American Gangster"). Gee, Greg, do you think that after Grossman completed the nine-yard pass to Olsen to begin the last drive, he then overruled Turner and called an off-right tackle run for Forte, seeking to run time off the clock rather than secure the tying score? Perhaps Grossman's inability to pressure Kerry Collins explains the 30-41, 289 yard, 2 touchdown performance from the 36-year old quarterback who came into the game having thrown three touchdowns in seven previous starts and who's previous best performance this season amounted to a 199-yard passing effort? And it was Hester's returns and not Maynard's punting (or Turner's playcalling?) that put the Bears' in poor field position throughout the game?

By no stretch of the imagination did Rex have a good game, but singling him out for criticism is stupid, unfair, and cynically intended to incite fans against a player who has already proved his mettle and worth by saving the Bears from a truly embarrassing loss to the Lions at home last week. I don't know what it is going to take to get good sportswriters back to becoming the rule and not the exception in this town, but surely the first step is booting every blowhard angling for face time on ESPN outside city limits.

Saturday, November 8, 2008


I missed a trip to Chicago earlier today, thereby missing my first trip to the United Center and a fairly impressive win by the Bulls tonight over the Suns. To augment the harm, I also missed Maryland's last regular season home game, their eighth consecutive win, beating the Tar Heels 2 to 1 and secure a #2 seed for the ACC tournament because I was sitting at my office until 10:30 this evening.

Life rolls on...

And this thing happened on Tuesday and I am having some difficulty shaking the effects. Thousands of people from around the world have written some pretty amazing things about what this year's Presidential election meant to them or to the country/world generally. Any comments I might have are undoubtedly derivative and certainly not any more interesting. But at the same time, it meant something to me. As the returns rolled in, I came to the realization that I was more excited about this than the prospect of the Cubs winning the World Series (which is how it should be, of course) and that when Wednesday rolled around this country would be different.

Since a young boy, I've been told that you can make yourself into anything you want to, in this country of endless opportunity. I believed in that shared myth more strongly than I believed in what I was taught each Sunday at mass -- I believed it so much, I won some ridiculous essay contest for my school district in the seventh grade on what the American flag meant to me. And then an experienced reality challenged the idyllic view of what was possible -- la migra stopping me so frequently that I have carried my passport every day from when I was thirteen years old until earlier this year; stuck in remedial classes as a freshman in high school despite being an honors student in junior high because, well, I don't know why; had my achievements in high school and community college that got me into a great college at the age of 16 wiped away by teachers telling me that any admission must be chalked up to affirmative action. Nevertheless, throughout, my faith in the country did not crack, and in two decades I have been able to take advantage of all the opportunities that have been there to take. For me, the promise of the American dream has been unquestionably realized, from the barrio to solid middle class in one generation.

But I've never been wholly convinced that my experience was not aberrational. That somehow or other I slipped through a net that ensnares almost everyone else in the same circumstances. But Tuesday night, while weeping reading the accounts of others as to what the election meant to them, I looked over at my sister who sat next to my wife, and I thought of my daughter and those doubts washed away. This is the country I have always believed in. This is the country that draws people to its shores despite great peril to those who seek to make the sojourn. This is the country that burns the dangerous light of hope in the hearts and minds of those that have little else.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Mind Has Wandered...

Super weird political season: Even Danny Elfman is weighing in. Now there is nothing particularly impressive or interesting about a celebrity endorsing Sen. Obama while simultaneously decrying, stridently, Sen. McCain and Gov. Palin. But this is Danny Elfman. And I love me some Danny Elfman -- I puy my infant daughter to sleep by singing Oingo Boingo's It Only Makes Me Laugh.

Starting his comments with a reference to departing this country if the election goes one way is unfortunate. I struggle to understand the logic that underlies the threat of flight... but that's not important. The hammer to tank metaphor, on the other hand, resonates. It's why we'll be in West Virginia this weekend. Just a few more hammer blows and well, we shall see...

In any event, while on the Green Line on the way home, I was thinking about Elfman's piece and West Virginia and remembered that I had half-written a post many months ago that I never finished.

So let me reminisce over you...

I've had my love of sports and sporting events reaffirmed over the last few weeks and never more so than yesterday. Packed in the upper deck of Verizon, I had my first opportunity to take in the pagaentry of the NCAA tournament yesterday. And that included Belmont's remarkable run against Duke. Much has been written about the game and I would be unable to add much to the reactions and analysis that have already spilled out over the web. Witnessing the Mountaineer faithful throw their full (and berzerkerish) support behind a christian school from Nashville was a privilege. Watching, over an hour later, the fans at the stadium show their appreciation with raucous applause when Coach Byrd appeared again to catch some of the West Virginia-Arizona game was a treat.

However, what happened after the standing ovation for Belmont's players once they left the floor, after things calmed down a bit and the Mountaineers and Wildcats came out for shootarounds, will probably stay with me just as long as the feelings inspired by seeing the Bruins go toe to toe with the Blue Devils for a full forty minutes. Unfortunately, while the latter experience was largely shared by all but the Duke partisans in the stands, the other spectacle that will stay with me will probably have meaning only for me.

Anyone who's familiar with the University of Arizona is familiar with the school band's unique performance material. I, however, was not. And so for the first two minutes of the band's rendition of Oingo Boingo's Insanity, I was dumbfounded; my ears had to be deceiving me. A university's band was playing a song with the following lyrics:

Christian nation, make us alright
Put us through the filter and make us pure and white
My mind has wandered from the flock you see
And the flock has wandered away from me
Let's talk of family values while we sit and watch the slaughter
Hypothetical abortions on imaginary daughters
The white folks think they're at the top ask any proud white male
A million years of evolution, we get Danny Quayle

And they were playing Insanity before a game with West Virginia in the NCAA Tournament?

It is a great song and beautifully played by the Wildcats' band. It is a particularly nice thing to hear in a basketball stadium (in the Verizon Center) as an unexpected break from the silliness of the tournament.

And the alcoholic bastard waved his finger at me
His voice was filled with evangelical glee
Sipping down his gin and tonics
While preaching about the evils of narcotics
And the evils of sex, and the wages of sin
While he mentally fondles his next of kin
My mind has wandered from the flock you see
And the flock has wandered away from me
And he waved his hypnotizing finger at me

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Turn the page

The Bulls' season opener was an unexpected pleasure. A very competent debut by Derrick Rose and a great game by a focused Tyrus Thomas added to the joy of watching Scott Skiles bomb out at the United Center. Gordon, Hinrich, Deng, and Noce also played well. Suddenly dropping a buck seventy on the NBA package doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

Unfortunately, the stupidity of spending $40 per ticket for CONCACAF crap at RFK came to a head tonight. The match was a trifecta of suck: (1) it was cold (and rainy); (2) we were surrounded by Marathon fans that got progressively more obnoxious as the Honduran team blew the game open in the second half; and (3) it was a fantastic display of CONCACAF refereeing. An early yellow on McTavish for a body block and non-calls on elbows thrown to Francis Doe's head set the tone. Santino Quaranta's sending off, based on vigorous dissent at a poor call, was probably deserved, but the calls were ridiculous. So two hours of Marathon players flopping, with a man advantage, at least culminated in Janicki scoring and Doe turning in another excellent performance up front (before destroying a Marathon player in what seemed appropriate comeuppance).

Nevertheless, while freezing my rear off and thinking about how I can possibly justify giving a thousand dollars to this team for season tickets for next year, I found myself getting agitated not about the circumstances of the game but about Professor Rashid Khalidi of Columbia University. Sen. McCain's campaign lost its moral bearings some time ago, but the efforts to demonize Prof. Khalidi are a new low. In a blog post for Harper's, Scott Horton succinctly sets out the intense dishonesty of the McCain campaign's new gambit. Setting to one side the loss of integrity here (which McCain seems to be comfortable with), this is a twofer for the moron conservative movement. Not only does Prof. Khalidi's name sound Arab (and thereby dangerous), but he is also a tenured academic at a respected Ivy League institution. Where others, like myself, might see the realization of the American dream -- meritocracy unbound -- nimrods cloaking themselves in the rich tradition of conservative intellectual thought perceive conspiracy and treason.


Prof. Khalidi will survive the pathetic efforts to debase his life's work. Indeed, perhaps, the attention will help the good professor sell more books on subjects of importance to those who care about our country's foreign policy.

And the support of Sen. Obama from conservative quarters makes a little more sense. Professor Charles Fried, a brilliant libertarian resident at Harvard Law (and author of the very good extended essay Modern Liberty: And the Limits of Our Government -- only $6.99?), will vote for Sen. Obama because Gov. Palin was a terrible choice as wingman. Another Ivy League professor, Jeffrey Hart of Dartmouth (formerly of The National Review), has also decided that Sen. Obama, and not Sen. McCain, is his choice for President. Double Harvard grad (BA and JD), Gov. William Weld has enthusiastically endorsed Sen. Obama as well.

If the choices are, on one side, Andrew McCarthy, the rest of the folks at The Corner, and Rush Limbaugh and, on the other, Prof. Fried, Prof. Hart, and Gov. Weld, then great, I'm on the right side. But what do I know? I have some books on Lebanon and Palestine to buy...

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I have not been thinking much about sports lately and doubt that any one could fault me under the circumstances. Two weeks ago, a Bears team that I once loved played its most brutal game in my lifetime: a 48 to 41 debacle at Soldier Field against a staggeringly incompetent Vikings squad. DC United lost a heartbreaking game on Sunday against the Columbus Crew that keeps them out of the post-season. And Charlton, well, Charlton is terrible. Listening to the game on Saturday, the shock of Luke Varney's failure to slot home a horrible mistake by Burnley's back line two minutes from time had me in total shock (and wondering how many times the young man will fail before Izale McLeod or Chris Dickson is given a chance up front next to Todorov or Gray). Charlton is now two points ahead of Southhampton. Oh well, basketball season is coming up -- Vinny's Bulls open up tomorrow at home against Skiles' Bucks... the Derrick Rose hype has already begun. And Gtown's basketball season starts in a few weeks (7th in the Big East preseason poll?).

So, instead of sports, I am way, way too focused on the upcoming elections. We've spent the last two weekends in West Virginia volunteering at a phone bank and canvassing in the Eastern panhandle for the Obama campaign. With thousands of volunteers from the DC/Maryland area heading to Virginia, we headed west to where there were significantly less carpetbaggers. It has been an honor to support the incredibly nice and committed folks in Jefferson County that are the backbone of Obama's campaign out there. Good times had by all.

The problem, however, is that I am ostensibly a Republican and while I have been a relatively proud RINO for the last five years, the level of my disloyalty has now reached absurd heights. Nevertheless, at this point, I am comforted by the thought that there is little question that the party has left me as much as I have wandered a bit astray. Earlier this month, we had the misfortune of being in Clearwater, Florida when the first major rally featuring Gov. Sarah Palin took place in the town. Moving past the rally's attendees, we were shocked by the level of anger and frustration radiating from the group and were not terribly surprised by Dana Milbank's take on the event. Since that day, I have been stunned by how the McCain campaign appears to be stoking the irrational fears of people who desperately want the country to turn around for them. The scenes from Palin-McCain rallies have been almost uniformly marred by vitriolic hate and stupidity spewed by some comically imbecilic people that would struggle to be taken seriously at 9/11 Truth Movement meeting. As Senator McCain, a man I greatly admire and the only member of Congress that I have ever personally lobbied (taking my mother along for the experience), continued to fuel the fires of this insipid lunacy by loudly, frequently, dishonorably implying that Sen. Obama had a soft-spot in his dark heart for TERRORISTS, I swallowed hard, gave the maximum amount to the Illinois Senator's campaign (well after firing off a pointless e-mail to Bill Burton months earlier swearing that I would give nothing further to the campaign after the primary) and agreed to help my wife with any volunteer activities she wanted to participate in. Sen. McCain is unquestionably a national hero; completed copies of Citizen McCain and Worth the Fighting For sit on my bookshelves in the basement; I get and accept this premise. But the scurrilous campaign that he has allowed to be waged in his name, aimed at inflaming divisions in America, and provoking anger from the populace has been shameful.

The most amazing thing of all, however, has been the nomination of Gov. Palin, an unforgivable act proving that even the Peter Principle is insufficient to predict the levels to which incompetence can rise in this nation. The presently offered conventional wisdom excuse that the economy doomed Sen. McCain's campaign might have worked if not for the stunning way that the Alaskan Governor has galvanized opposition to Sen. McCain's campaign by simultaneously energizing scary crowds with quips of brilliance about who Sen. Obama pals around with and bewildering duplicitous media types who elicit from the candidate the conclusion that a right to privacy exists in the Constitution (through gotcha questions like "do you believe there is a right to privacy in the Constitution?," but if not for that infernal media filter, everything would be just hunky dory).

Check that, Gov. Palin is an irritating sideshow in this mess, the most amazing thing has been the fact that, at long last, there are those in my party who are finally willing to speak what could only previously be whispered: The Emperor has no clothes (whether from Neiman Marcus or elsewhere).

When Gen. Powell made his preference known to Tom Brokaw on Meet the Press two Sundays ago, we were sitting in a diner in Charles Town. I fought back tears surrounded by dudes in Redskins jerseys when the good General decided not only to back Obama but repudiate the bile that has characterized the McCain campaign throughout October and capped his criticism with the following:

I feel strongly about this particular point because of a picture I saw in a magazine. It was a photo essay about troops who are serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. And one picture at the tail end of this photo essay was of a mother in Arlington Cemetery, and she had her head on the headstone of her son's grave. And as the picture focused in, you could see the writing on the headstone. And it gave his awards--Purple Heart, Bronze Star--showed that he died in Iraq, gave his date of birth, date of death. He was 20 years old. And then, at the very top of the headstone, it didn't have a Christian cross, it didn't have the Star of David, it had crescent and a star of the Islamic faith. And his name was Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, and he was an American. He was born in New Jersey. He was 14 years old at the time of 9/11, and he waited until he can go serve his country, and he gave his life. Now, we have got to stop polarizing ourself in this way. And John McCain is as nondiscriminatory as anyone I know. But I'm troubled about the fact that, within the party, we have these kinds of expressions.

Gen. Powell's stand comes nearly two months after the person who probably is more responsible for my party affiliation than anyone else broke with the Republicans and gave a brilliant (though greatly under-appreciated) speech in Denver to the Democratic National Convention where he offered the following terse and unquestionably accurate rebuke of his party:

The party that once emphasized individual rights has gravitated in recent years toward regulating values. The party of military responsibility has taken us to war with a country that did not attack us. The party that formerly led the world in arms control has moved to undercut treaties crucial to the defense of the earth. The party that prides itself on conservation has abdicated its responsibilities in the face of global warming. And the party historically anchored in fiscal restraint has nearly doubled the national debt, squandering our precious resources in an undisciplined and unprecedented effort to finance a war with tax cuts.

Now, others have similarly come un-moored. Francis Fukuyama, once the darling of the neo-conservative movement turned outspoken apostate, recently endorsed Sen. Obama in the pages of the American Conservative. Prof. Fukuyama opined:

McCain’s appeal was always that he could think for himself, but as the campaign has progressed, he has seemed simply erratic and hotheaded. His choice of Sarah Palin as a running mate was highly irresponsible; we have suffered under the current president who entered office without much knowledge of the world and was easily captured by the wrong advisers. McCain’s lurching from Reaganite free- marketer to populist tribune makes one wonder whether he has any underlying principles at all.

Christopher Buckley, two weeks past, added his voice to the cacophony of those so troubled by the Republican voter-suppression/country-dividing/Palin lovin machine (and alternatively enthralled(?) with the purported brilliance and poise of Sen. Obama) by lending the Buckley name to the Obama movement.

What will the party do in response? Apparently, per Rush Limbaugh, celebrate the departure of the moderates. Wonderful. A party run by know nothings for know nothings. Ladies and gentlemen, the platform of the minority party in 2010: Taxes bad! Government bad! Expertise bad! Excellence in academic achievement bad! Science, insofar as it makes me question my deeply held religious views, bad! Different people bad! Environmental protection bad! Endless, pointless wars good! Unregulated super corporations good! Stunning inequity in resources amongst the American population good!

It may well be that the angry, ranting denizens of the hard right inhabiting the fantasy black/white world of conservative talk radio take control of the party after this election. But what will they do once in control? Out secret Muslims? Construct a new communist threat from whole cloth? Identify those of us who hold non-pro-American views?

Until the day the hard-right takes control and purges the disloyal moderates, its not their party. Until that day it is still my party and, if those folks think they are going to simply take the party of Lincoln and bastardize it into the party of ditto-heads, they at least ought to be aware that we're spoiling for a fight.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Back in Black

RFK was rocking tonight. I had forgotten how much fun United matches can be and this evening, this night was a blast.

Where did this come from? When the match started, we surveyed the field and saw a backline of McTavish and Burch moved from the center to fullback positions and Greg Janicki and Gonzalo Peralta -- no Namoff (red card in the Dynamo match)? no problem. A diamond midfield with Clyde Simms and Santino at the south and north and Guerrero and Khumalo at the west and east, with (what's this? two strikers?) Luciano and Francis Doe up front. And everyone in the stands knew that DC United was trying to win the game.

The squad was dynamic, threatened constantly, and kept a frenetic pace. A goal was always in the works, it was just a question of when. By the time I was back at my seat with a phenomenal carne asada plate from the pupusa stand for the start of the second half, my expectations were high even after Janicki had to make way for Gonzalo Martinez after a knock (sliding McTavish back inside).

The goal by Taylor Twellman on what seemed to be a horribly blown offsides call dampened enthusiasm a bit, but a score seemed to be always in the works, and five minutes later Doe knotted things up. But there was true joy in Whoville when Doe popped home the game winner ten minutes from time. Santino Quaranta compensated for an otherwise poor game with a flick on from a nice launch by Crayton allowing Doe to shrug off a Revolution defender, put the ball expertly over Matt Reis, and start the party.

I have all kinds of concerns about how Soehn has handled the team over the last two months, but leaving Doe up top by himself and letting him get battered by two center halves on a routine basis certainly has improved his game. Doe was amazing. He held the ball up well, touched it back well, and, when the opportunity presented itself, gave United's moribund season some hope. That Doe made himself the story of the match is particularly impressive given that the second half saw the introduction of Jaime Moreno and Fred (what season ending injury?) for Gonzalo Peralta and Boyzzzz. But the bottom line is that United now has two legitimate forwards: Emilio and Doe.

It is only a shame that the season is ending, but things are shaping up for a great end of the season match between United and the Crew in Columbus at 5 pm on the 26th.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


The Maryland-Lehigh match tonight was certainly entertaining, but also implausible. Lehigh has dropped games so far this season to Presbyterian and Farleigh Dickinson, and was statistically dominated tonight -- Maryland had 15 corner kicks to Lehigh's 3; the Terps had 24 shots on goal, Lehigh had 7, Lehigh committed 14 fouls and Maryland 6, Lehigh was issued 4 yellow cards and a straight red (all deserved), and Lehigh's keeper Jonathan Nydell made seven saves (including parrying a Jeremy Hall penalty kick) while Zach Macmath made 1. And yet, with 84 minutes played in the game, Lehigh led by a goal. A rocket low shot taken at least ten yards beyond the goal box off the foot of Omar Gonzalez deflected off of a Lehigh defender and into the back of the goal. After that ridiculous goal, Lehigh was beaten and the inevitable was confirmed seven minutes into extra time when a nifty back heel in the box from Jeremy Hall was hammered home by Casey Townsend.

The Terps have to find some way to convert their opportunities within the box. Townsend has 8 goals on the season, but Jason Herrick has only added another two... and Hall seems to be the only other major threat to score until Omar Gonzalez is allowed to venture forward. Beyond the frustration with Maryland's inability to score, the most notable event of the evening was watching diminutive Lehigh defender Jordie Ciuffetelli knock down Rodney Wallace in the box, Wallace seek to make a meal of the light foul and go to ground, and Ciuffetelli standing over Wallace exhorting him to "get the f))k up!" Game was a wee bit chippy.

One other quick note: I was saddened to read in the Chicago Tribune the news of former Cubs' pitcher Kevin Foster's death from renal cell carcinoma. Foster pitched for the Cubs while I was in college in Iowa and spent a little time with Iowa Cubs in AAA during my tenure at school. I cannot vouch for Foster's character and have no knowledge about his life off the field, but his performance on the mound as a Cubs pitcher made me proud to be a Cubs fan. Foster started 82 games for some pretty weak Cubs' teams and managed a 32 and 28 record. He was a solid back of the rotation performer who did everything he was asked. And he passed away way too early.

Monday, October 13, 2008


It may not bring out the best in me, nor be real "sport," but I thoroughly enjoyed Saturday's World Cup CONCACAF qualifying match between the US and Cuba at RFK. The U.S. was clearly going to be moving past the group stage and the quality of the opposition has not been high. Nevertheless, the U.S. soccer team has neither been an entertaining nor dominant team thus far in the qualifying rounds. In the first match with Cuba, the U.S. was totally unimpressive.

Not so Saturday night. DaMarcus Beasley drilled home two, Landon Donovan scored again, Brian Ching netted a goal, and Onyewu finished off the scoring. And the standard, comfortable starting XI of the U.S. team looked dynamic and dangerous.

But the story of the match was Bob Bradley's bench, which featured former Terp Maurice Edu, former United star Freddy Adu, Jozy Altidore, and debutant Jose Torres. The latter three joined the game as subs and for those concerned about the future of the U.S. team, well, the future looks pretty bright. Torres did not waste much time taking a good screaming shot on goal. Adu set up the final goal with a cross to the head of Onyewu. And Altidore was awesome. On his first break on goal, Jozy shrugged off a Cuban defender, but failed to score. On his second break on goal, Jozy showed a flexibility that Kenny Cooper could not, Altidore broke down a defender, dinking the ball off his right foot while juking the defender to his right and then laced the shot near post under the sprawling Cuban keeper.

The 18-man team for the away game against Trinidad and Tobago on Wednesday promises yet more new blood. Brad Guzan is joined in goal by former United keeper Troy Perkins, who did not make the cut for Saturday's game. Charlie Davies and Robbie Rogers will buttress Altidore's play up front. And Jonathan Bornstein, Marvelle Wynne, and Michael Orozco may also earn their first caps in a World Cup qualifying match.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Bush League

Earlier this week, John Kass penned a curious piece for the Chicago Tribune that argued that if Senator McCain wanted to effectively sow seeds of doubt about Senator Obama, McCain would push on Obama's failure to take on corruption in Mayor Daley's machine in Chicago. Kass titled his editorial "A presidential debate, the Chicago way" A few days later, the Republican National Committee took Kass's advice, and has now released an ad ingeniously titled "Chicago Way"

Mr. Kass has his reasons for taking shots at Obama; they are not terribly compelling, but there are reasons. So I cannot question his motives. And it is also possible to set aside the mythical quality that Mr. Kass assigns to himself -- as the intrepid, incorruptible reporter turning the screws on the hypocritical pol that had been given a free pass by his spineless, fawning colleagues. But what makes Kass's hit job so impressive is the stunning, improbable naivete of the outrage.

Chicago is, unquestionably, a town plagued by corrupt politics. But, in context, Chicago is the Kane County Cougars of political corruption -- it is bush league.

We moved to Washington DC in 1997 and over the last decade have enjoyed a first row view of venality perfected, political corruption unbound. Much of the staggering misappropriation of the public trust has come at the hands of the leadership of my political party, personified by the misadventures of Jack Abramoff and cultivated by Rep. Delay's ingenious K Street Project. The culture of corruption in this city has become so pervasive that few find self-dealing and blatant derivation from the public interest by our public servants to be worthy of extended comment or, gasp, protest.
Witness, for example, the brief coverage of the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General's stunning takedown of the Minerals Management Service -- and only because it described tabloidish escapades of sex and drug use. Otherwise, the work of Inspector Generals throughout federal agencies and the hearings of Congressional oversight committees is routinely ignored by the American public. And that is too bad, because what they almost universally describe are government bureaucracies run amok, fed by a cynical, destructive theory of governance that holds that government service is, by definition, something to be denigrated -- all that matters is the creation of wealth.

Over the last two years, I have sat at a banquet celebrating a high ranking bureaucrat's service to a federal agency, hosted by the industry regulated by the bureaucrat's agency, where the public servant openly lobbied for a position representing the industry before his employer -- after, of course, he spent the necessary time outside of government to meet ethics restrictions. While my stomach turned, my colleagues shrugged their shoulders. I have watched government officials ask, without embarrassment, for help finding jobs in the private sector moments after the bureaucrat was asked to do his or her job. (At the same time, I have also run across a substantial number of government officials that love their jobs, love serving the public, and do a tremendous job despite laboring under this administration). Our local Congressman, Rep. Al Wynn, paid back his constituents for losing a 2008 primary by quitting Congress effective in June of this year to join the law firm of Dickstein Shapiro, thereby allowing him to lobby his former colleagues six months earlier than had he served out his full term. Rep. Wynn is hardly the only member of Congress to take this route, but since we frequently shop beside him at local stores, his decision to put country, well, way down on his priority list hit home.

Thomas Frank's recent book, "The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Rule", is the single best account that I have read of the current environment that defines our nation's capital. Frank ably describes the rise of lobbyists and the massive wealth transfers that have corroded our government over the last decade. In our city, work is not done under the Capitol domes unless the right palms are greased or significant contributions to reelection efforts are made. Every crisis facing Americans is quickly perverted into a vehicle to push some hare-brained initiative that benefits a particular special interest. And all of it is just "the way things are done."

In this context, Mr. Kass's lecture is quaint. It is cute that he has the intestinal fortitude to decry the shenanigans at City Hall. But Mr. Kass misses the bigger point. Because if you want to talk about corruption, you need to look east to comment on anything of consequence. And while some might be distracted by the narrative of historical machine politics, the story that Mr. Kass misses is the culpability of those that sat idly by, at worst, or failed to prevent, at best, the corruption of their party leaders. Mr. Kass can explore Sen. Obama's ties to the underbelly of Chicago all he wants to, but it does not make the narrative any more relevant. On the other side of this election is a man that has been in Washington since 1993. And in our town, Mr. Kass, we offer an American hero inside a nice suit, the Washington way.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Back on a winning path...

Cubs collapse, DC United is collapsing, but I would rather spend a few moments tapping out a note about the Maryland-UNC Charlotte match we attended last night. Having spent the weekend in Florida, I had not read much about the Terps' opponents and, in result, was surprised to learn that Charlotte was ranked in the top 25 of men's collegiate soccer. Maryland dominated the match, but was not able to convert numerous opportunities on goal. The Terps constantly threatened with set pieces and corners, but there was underwhelming quality in the headers that met Kassel's passes into the box.

Charlotte scored first, shortly after the break, on a long ball that the 49ers' striker, Evan James, ran onto with AJ Delagarza desperately pleading with the linesman for an offsides call. James finished one of the very few chances that Charlotte had on goal with soft ball lifted over Zac MacMath. James' expert touch stood in stark contrast to Maryland's performance before the net -- Maryland's first goal, scored by Jeremy Hall, was hammered into the goal after several other thunderous touches were repelled. We walked out at the end of regular time (prior to the Terps' victory) after yet another Maryland striker attempted to score by blowing a hole through both a center half and the keeper (failing miserably).

Ultimately, what matters is that Maryland rebounded from a terribly disappointing loss to Clemson. And while I would otherwise dwell on frustration with Maryland's continued failure to convert good chances on goal, there were moments in the match, particularly in the second half, where watching Jeremy Hall and Rodney Wallace on the left flank was a thing of beauty. There are many quality players on Maryland's squad -- Kassel's great; the entire backline of captain Costanzo, Delagarza, and Gonzalez (in addition to Wallace) is impressive; freshman Kaoru Forbess is getting more playing time and making the most of it -- but when Hall and Wallace are tuned in and rolling.

Three more regular season home games left: Lehigh; Evansville; and UNC Chapel Hill.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

State of the Game

Greg Lalas has a great piece up on Sports Illustrated now about the state of American futbol.

Lalas's thoughts about the relationship between the MLS and the USL is of particular moment, as I have opened up the $1,200 bill that DC United is asking me to put down for my seats next season. I am still bitter about being held up for $240 for this pathetic run in the CONCACAF Champions League, even more so because I am happily giving up my tickets for the impending Cruz Azul debacle on Wednesday in good conscience as the Cubs NLDS series begins at about the same time. Season passes to The Valley would be cheaper and, worse, of late I had a better chance of watching decent soccer at UMBC with CP USA on the pitch than what United has presented at RFK. There are many good players toiling in the USL, both at the USL1 and USL2 level as evidenced by the immediate impact that Boyzzzz Khumalo has had on United. And yet, with injuries to DC's premiere players, the players coming off the bench to fill in are generally inferior to what USL supporters are treated to on a regular basis. If a structural problem is forcing players that are good enough to play in the MLS (and better than what currently resides in our "top" league) into lower divisions, that problem must be directly addressed. The performance of the MLS teams in the Champions League is a travesty and should be a wake-up call to the league that there is something very wrong with how the cap is structured and salaries are allocated.

Also, Craig Stouffer has a good article covering the Wake Forest - Maryland match up on his blog. Looking forward to Binghamton's visit tomorrow night.

Monday, September 29, 2008


1910 -- World Series -- Athletics win 4-1

1918 -- World Series -- Red Sox win 4-2

1929 -- World Series -- Athletics win 4-1

1932 -- World Series -- Yankees win 4-0

1935 -- World Series -- Tigers win 4-2

1938 -- World Series -- Yankees win 4-0

1945 -- World Series -- Tigers win 4-3

1984 -- NLCS -- Padres win 3-2

1989 -- NLCS -- Giants win 4-1

1998 -- NLDS -- Braves win 3-0

2003 -- NLCS -- Marlins win 4-3 (NLDS -- Cubs win over Braves 3-2)

2007 -- NLDS -- Diamondbacks win 3-0

2008 -- ?? -- ??????????

In my lifetime, the Cubs have been to the postseason five times, the sixth will begin on Wednesday at 6:30 est. I have only been in Chicago for one of those seasons -- the heartbreaking collapse against the Padres in 1984, that was also the unfortunate harbinger of a move to San Diego shortly thereafter.

In 2003, we were at Turner Field for the Cubs' first playoff win since 1908 in what was the single greatest sporting event I have ever attended to date.

Without question, however, this is the single best Cubs team that has represented Chicago in the postseason in my lifetime.

The 1984 team had a better offense -- six players with more than 80 rbis (Ron Cey; Leon Durham; Jody Davis; Ryne Sandberg; Gary Matthews; and Keith Moreland) although none had more than 100 and Cey put up the best power numbers with a meager 25 home runs (Durham was the only other Cub with more than 20). The pitching, however, was Rick Sutcliffe and well... not a lot else. Lee Smith and Tim Stoddard were great out of the pen. Steve Trout was decent, Eck had a decent season, and Scott Sanderson was my favorite pitcher on the staff, but when you look at the strikeout numbers for the starting staff, it is shocking. Steve Trout walked 59 batters and struck out 81 in 190 innings.

In 1989, Sutcliffe and Sanderson were joined by Greg Maddux and Mike Bielecki to make up an amazing starting rotation. Wild Thing closed games out from the pen, and the bridge to Mitch was the quality middle relief work of Paul Assenmacher and Les Lancaster. But the offense was remarkably impotent -- no one batted in more than 80 runs, Sandberg hit 30 home runs, and Dawson added 21, but no one else even approached 15 home runs. Mark Grace was the story, but Vance Law, the third baseman, was a better representation of the offense -- .235, 7 home runs, 42 rbis, and 38 runs scored in 408 at bats.

In 1998, the offense came from the triumvirate of Sammy Sosa (.308, 66 home runs, 158 rbis, and 134 runs scored), Mark Grace (.309, 17 hrs, 89 rbis, and 92 rs), and Henry Rodriguez (.251, 31 hrs, 85 rbis, and 56 rs). Kerry Wood struck out 233 batters, Rod Beck successfully closed out 51 games, Kevin Tapani won 19 games, and Terry Mulholland had an amazing win. But Mark Clark and Steve Trachsel (despite winning 15 games) did not offer a lot on the back end of the rotation and North Siders were subjected to their first year of Felix Heredia in the pen.

In 2003, the rotation was tremendous but young: Matt Clement, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Carlos Zambrano -- all with more than 13 wins. The bullpen had Kyle Farnsworth, Mike Remlinger, and a surprisingly effective Joe Borowski in the pen. But the offense was carried again by three players: Sosa (.279, 40 hrs, 103 rbis); Aramis Ramirez (.272, 27 hrs, 106 rbis); and Moises Alou (.280, 22 hrs, 91 rbis). And the rest of the team did not add much.

Last year, the offense was four guys: Derrek Lee (.317, 22 hrs, 82 rbis), Aramis Ramirez (.310, 26 hrs, 101 rbis), Mark DeRosa (.293, 10 hrs, 72 rbis), and Alfonso Soriano (.299, 33 hrs, 70 rbis). Zambrano was joined by Ted Lilly and Rich Hill in a good rotation and Carlos Marmol exploded into Cubs' lore. Dempster only managed 28 saves, but the bullpen was rounded out by Bob Howry (who had a good year), Michael Wuertz, and Kerry Wood.

This season? The only real question is the bullpen. Dempster has been tremendous as a starter this season (17-6, 2.96 era, 187 ks in 206 2/3 ip), Ted Lilly set a career high with 17 wins (4.09 era, 184 ks), Zambrano was erratic, but impressive overall (14-6, 3.91 era, 130 ks), and Rich Harden has been an amazing addition (5-1, 1.77 era, 89 ks in 71 ip). The offense was remarkably balanced: six guys hit 20 or more home runs (Ramirez, Lee, Soriano, Geovany Soto, DeRosa, and Jim Edmonds) and five players had more than 75 rbis. Aramis set the pace with a .289, 27 hrs, 111 rbis, 97 rs line. Ryan Theriot hit .307 at shortstop, with 22 stolen bases, and 85 runs scored. From 1 through 8 in the lineup, there is no real weak link in the chain. Carlos Marmol anchors the pen with video game like numbers (and a video game like slider), but Wood has blown six saves while converting 34. Bobby Howry has been horrid, Neal Cotts is awful, Chad Gaudin has fallen apart, leaving a lot of pressure on Jeff Samardzija to shoulder an incredible burden in his rookie season.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Political Consciousness

Despite the disappointing result at Ludwig Field on Friday night, I do not regret in the least standing in a downpour for two hours watching a clinical Wake Forest team prove that they deserve to be called the best program in college soccer. I would quibble with the University's contention that there were 6,500 in attendance at the match -- there were substantially fewer people at the Wake Forest match than at the Duke game a week previous -- but the atmosphere was fantastic, more akin to a college football game than what would generally be expected at a soccer match on a university campus. The game was broadcast nationally on the Fox Soccer Channel and that certainly contributed to the frenetic energy surrounding the game.

FSC's broadcast also led to the attendance of Ethan Zohn, the winner of Survivor: Africa (which, frankly, means nothing to me, but he was instantly recognized by the people I was with). Mr. Zohn attended the match to promote Grassroot Soccer United, part of a non-profit organization (Grassroot Soccer) that he founded after the Survivor success. Grassroot Soccer has the ambitious goal of using futbol as a tool to provide an education to kids in Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa (and nine other African countries through implementing partnerships) about HIV/AIDs.

A ten minute conversation with Mr. Zohn should be sufficient to sell anyone on Grassroot Soccer. Ethan played professional soccer as a keeper, including for Highlanders FC, a club team in Zimbabwe that has employed a number of American players (including Melrose Place's Andrew Shue; who, by the way, will join Kuno Becker, David Beckham, Stevie Gerrard, Wayne Rooney, and Sven-Goran Eriksson in Goal III, which I will go out on a limb now and state that it will be another step down from Goal II and Goal). He is, in result, extremely knowledgeable and passionately articulate about his cause and refreshingly self-deprecating about himself and his role in the effort. Meeting Ethan was an absolute pleasure for all of us and we look forward to supporting Grassroot Soccer's endeavors.

Changing gears and sports, the family spent yesterday afternoon at The Historical Society of Washington D.C. I do not have any burning desire to go the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton or the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown -- although when Ron Santo is finally enshrined, we will make the trip to New York. But I would like to travel to Kansas City to see the Negro League Baseball Museum. One of my proudest possessions is a signed baseball from Buck O'Neil that I bought at a charity event several years back. His short book, I Was Right on Time, adorns my bookshelf and is a must-read for every diehard Cubs fan (it is an important reminder of the sins of the franchise and, ultimately, the redemption of the North Siders). In Mr. O'Neil's honor, we will provide some small support to the development of his hall of education at the NLBM.

The story of Negro League baseball is, to me, one of the most important historical narratives of the United States and, in turn, one of the central reasons why I have adopted unwavering faith and optimism in this country. It also justifies the disproportionate attention I pay to what is, at best, recreational activity. Although my legal education has attempted to convince me that the equality of races in the United States was established in the courts through the heroism of the NAACP, the truth, I think, is that equality -- and acceptance of this bedrock principle of the American experiment with respect to race -- was established through myriad means and none less important than the exceptional achievements of athletes on various playing fields. It was, therefore, a singular pleasure to spend a few hours at the "Separate but Unequaled: Black Baseball in the District of Columbia" exhibit yesterday, with homage paid to the greats of the Homestead Grays, particularly Cool Papa Bell and Josh Gibson.

This Saturday, the Historical Society will host a talk on the journalist Sam Lacy by his son, Tim Lacy, and the founder of the Negro Legends Hall of Fame, Dwayne Sims, which should be fascinating for anyone interested in the history of sports or race relations in the United States.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Number 3

6,083. That is, apparently, the number of people that were at Ludwig Field (including the four of us) Friday night to watch Sasho Cirovski become the most victorious gaffer in the college program's history.

6,083 -- 22 less than the total attendance at RFK for United's CONCACAF match against Saprissa.

Although United is in a tailspin (the 5-2 drubbing at the Home Depot Center can be attributed in equal halves to inexcusable giveaways on poor touches and horrific refereeing), this has been a banner six months of soccer fandom for me. I have gone from watching the likes of Mbuta, Robson, Healy, Brooks, Teixeira, and Harada perform well for CP Baltimore to following Wallace, Hall, Gonzalez, Delagarza, Kassel, Yates, Zusi, and Swaim ("Will's got skills") at the University of Maryland.

Much of the attendance can be attributed to a promotion that got soccer-playing kids from the surrounding are out to the match, but Friday night's matchup against current #1 and reigning NCAA champs Wake Forest should be able to draw big numbers all on its own.

The Terps are fielding a very talented, very entertaining team this season and demand attention from area soccer fans. A Tuesday night game against American at home precedes the Wake Forest match.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Val Away

Cheers to Val Teixeira as news from Chesterfield is that he has signed on with the team for a four month deal pending international clearances. Going from the third division in the U.S. to the fourth division in the UK is nothing to be ashamed of. Val was a big part of the reason why we hauled our infant daughter up to UMBC, Annapolis, and Baltimore to watch CP USA play.

Congratulations Val, best of luck.

For any curious Spireites out there, Val played principally on the wing for his U.S. club and occasionally filled in adequately at fullback when he needed a breather. Teixeira can deliver good crosses and can create space with his creative control of the ball.

Hopefully, Val will have the opportunity to develop his goal celebrations a bit more out in the UK:

Pura Vida

On Tuesday night, the group stage of the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League started at RFK. Not a shining night in the history of D.C. United: ridiculously few supporters showed up and United was simply outclassed on the pitch by a superior Saprissa side. On the latter point, the situation has become so dire that even United's players (Stouffer has a remarkable quote from Santino on his blog) freely acknowledge that the Costa Rican team was the superior side. On the former point, it would be difficult to blame United's supporters for the low turnout. After all, this is what RFK looked like during the U.S. Open Cup final against USL1's Charleston:

But since that title -- which ensures that United will have an opportunity to play in next year's CONCACAF Champions League -- United's play has been exceedingly poor, largely the consequence of injuries that have devastated the side throughout the season. There could not have been many people who follow the team who expected much out of United facing Saprissa. But neither this expectation, nor the fact that it was guaranteed that Dyachenko would see serious time on the field, would justify the pathetic attendance. However, the front office's absurd decision to hold out for more money for the Champions League games, when the team has played horrible football for sometime, doomed the enterprise from the start. Blind and stupid loyalty led me to drop $240 for the three CONCACAF games for my two season tickets and I completely regret doing so. There were, in total, 8 (I repeat, eight) United supporters in our section and the two sections immediately adjacent. None of the other season ticket holders bothered to show up, likely because they balked at the $40 per seat ticket price for each game. Throughout the match, I could not shake the dread derived from the thought of having to attend the Cruz Azul match under similar circumstances, completely surrounded by hostile fans while forced to root for a team that conceded the match from the opening kickoff. I believe that United is a well run franchise and very much appreciate their efforts to reach out to fans, but the Champions League will prove a disaster for both the club and its management.

Nevertheless, despite all of the foregoing, I do not regret going to the match. First, the Saprissa fans were tremendous and their full throat support for their side was justifiably rewarded by the Saprissa players at the end of the game, when many made time to personally thank their supporters. And although United was outmatched and Thompson, Quaranta and Cordeiro failed to impress in a makeshift midfield and frontline (Ryan was put up front), the game vastly improved when Fred relieved Emilio at the start of the second 45. Despite being down to ten men after McTavish's straight red, Fred's possession skills changed the entire dynamic of United's attack as, finally, the team had a player on the pitch who could turn and move forward rather than slot balls backwards every time a touch was possible. Namoff, again, was quality at the backline and Martinez played well. But the most impressive United player, for the second game in a row, was this man:

Khumalo has stepped right into DC's starting XI and provided the team with a dangerous second option at striker (something that neither Doe nor Rod have yet been able to provide). And if there is one reason to be optimistic about the league fixtures and Champions League matches yet to be played, watching to see if Boyzzz is as good as he has shown in his first games with United. I have another, ulterior motive for cheering for Boyzzz's success as I was convinced throughout CP Baltimore's season that the players in USL2 merited a chance at the MLS. Khumalo, the former Riverhound, has such a chance and I doubt he will waste it.

The days of these guys

has passed. And United will certainly not be able to realize (this year at least) the lofty expectations created by the club's own history. But, I think, it also means that United supporters should be able to some extent write this year off as the product of a remarkable string of injuries that have robbed the team of its depth and skill.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

CP Baltimore's Players Out and About

Crystal Palace Baltimore's Mathew Mbuta is now, officially, part of the NY Red Bulls, a fair reward for a heck of a performance against the team on a high school pitch in Annapolis.

Not similar outcomes, I think, for CP Baltimore's Pat Healey and Shintaro Harada, who were not able to convert their loan spells with the Chicago Fire into a longer term run with the MLS team. Healey, the runner up for USL2's rookie of the year (and a player who can also lay claim to a great family cheering section at CP Baltimore's home matches) was not able to win himself a roster spot after playing on DC United's reserve team at the end of August. Not great news for either, but at least they got a look based off of what they managed to do with the third division team.

As did Val Teixeira, who managed to win a trial with the parent club in London but did not manage to impress Warnock enough to merit a deal. As the linked article notes, Teixeira has not left the UK and participated in a reserve match for fourth division Chesterfield FC, where he managed a hat-trick as a first impression against Wolverhampton's reserves. His performance was not, however, sufficiently impressive to lead the club's official web-site to actually learn his name (designated as "unnamed trialist"). (Wolverhampton, on the other hand, gave credit where it was due). Nevertheless, it was a heck of a first impression:

Palace's loss is Chesterfield's gain as Teixeira has made an immediate impression after netting a hat-trick in their 4-0 reserve win over Wolves on Tuesday.

Spireites boss Lee Richardson is likely to have been impressed with the striker's display, although he has refused to state whether a contract will be in the offing.

"I was impressed with the lad and it was our best performance of the season. We could have had seven goals," Richardson told the Derbyshire Times.

So all that is left is for Teixeira (and it is spelled "Teixeira" not "Tiexeira"), is for Val to prove that he is capable of "coping with the physical demands of League 2 football" as the Spireites seem terribly concerned about hiring out a fragile player regardless of his skill.

Val was a highly entertaining footballer to watch stateside and should Chesterfield decide to extend him a contract, their supporters will find much to enjoy from the flair with which he plays the game.

Monday, September 15, 2008

The Measure of a Man

The plans are set for our annual trek to Soldier Field for the Bears-Titans game a couple of months from now. And yet, I have no real rooting interest in the Bears this season. Even the amazing performance against the Colts on Sunday night in Indianapolis was not enough to change the feeling of dread I have about this year. So, the victory that slipped through the Bears fingers in Charlotte on Sunday afternoon was not a surprise, it was simply confirmation of something that Bears fans are going to have to live with: Ron Turner is the offensive coordinator and Ron Turner's ego is the biggest thing on the team.

As David Haugh noted in his story for the Chicago Tribune yesterday, Turner's quip about Orton's poor decision to change a pivotal third and one call from a run to a short pass to Marty Booker was "I could have given him a better call and not given him that option." Now, certainly, taken at face value, Turner's comment takes responsibility for something that otherwise would reflect poorly on his young quarterback. But after multiple years of following Turner's teams (both with the Illini and the Bears), Turner's comment is part of his ignoble, unbroken tradition of decimating the confidence of his players with asinine, priggish comments to the press. The ridiculous fall out from Griese's post-game comments after the win over Philadelphia last season (when Brian was taken to task for claiming credit for the play-calling on the game winning drive) should have marked the end of Turner's tenure, but, instead, the insistence that coaches, and not players, win games continues to pervade on the lakeshore. And that insistence has hamstrung Chicago even where the talent that Angelo has managed to bring to the field is top shelf.

Two things tell you what anyone needs to know about Ron Turner. First, for the second week in a row, after Matt Forte exceeded expectations with his performance and work ethic, Turner called McKie's number on the goal line for a gimmie touchdown. Second, with the game on the line, and the need to get one yard to put themselves in a position to win, Turner again called McKie's number and used Forte as a decoy. The message from both: the game is about executing Turner's game plan and not about any player, regardless of how tremendous his achievements.

So now the team is one and one. Greg Olsen is the goat for the first loss and there is very little chance that anything will happen in the locker room that will boost the first-round draft pick back up to where he can be a vital contributor to the team. And Chicago's fans will continue to be split on whether the first round picks of Grossman, Benson, Olsen, and, in the seasons to follow, Chris Williams were mistakes by the front office or whether Turner has failed to develop the talent entrusted to him. I know where I stand on the argument and I think banging away on Turner's play-calling misses the point. How is a fullback dive any more important than the fact that Ron has stewardship over Devin Hester, Matt Forte, and Greg Olsen? Ron Turner is the Bears offense, not any of those guys.

The sensitivity to the ego of the coaching staff trumping the players on the pitch has grown with the start of the NFL's season. And, so, when at RFK on Saturday night and Soehn insists on putting Rod Dyachenko (who has, admittedly, played much better of late) in for an injured Ivan Guerrero over Ryan Cordeiro -- even after impressing as a substitute in San Jose (and making the trip to College Park the night before to promote DC United along with Terp alum Dominic Mediate) -- it is difficult to take as a fan. It is even more difficult to take after the tinkering that doomed Charlton in the second half of last season began again from Pardew with Cranie supplanting a dynamic Moo2Kill at right back in their collapse against Wolverhampton. Whatever.

On the other hand, it makes watching the Cubs all the more enjoyable. The Cubs are not about Lou Pinella. The Northsiders are about the players on the field and Lou's comment after Zambrano's historic outing -- the first Cubs no-hitter in my lifetime -- was perfect. If people want to criticize him for leaving Z in, well, they are welcome to go and try and remove Carlos from that game. Lou clearly has a massive doghouse, but he does seem to reward performance as evidenced by the way he has managed to juggle the roster.

Saturday, August 30, 2008


Another 24 hours packed with soccer. Charlton's unraveling at Preston North End barely warrants mentioning... I was not able to catch the match on tv or radio, but, by all accounts, Charlton was not very good. One might legitimately ask how many times Pardew can rip the commitment of his squad (as he did throughout the second half of last season and after the Carling Cup disaster against Yeovil prior to the PNE match this season) before he is held accountable as the gaffer of the squad.

On the other hand, Maryland's trip to the Home Depot Center and huge comeback victory over UCLA does seem to justify further elaboration. The football itself was not great but coach Sasho Cirovski's unwavering dedication to winning the match bodes well and evinces massive confidence in his side. Down a goal since the 27th minute, Cirovski brought Omar Gonzalez forward, opting for a three-man backline, and bringing in sophomore Sean Flatley to cover as the lone center back. The Terps consistently threatened but looked awful when any opportunity on goal presented itself. I had resigned myself to a hard-fought, unfortunate loss when Flatley lashed home a Graham Zusi corner with his head forty seconds from time.

For much of the second half, I was disappointed with Rodney Wallace's play who I may have unfairly built up in my mind based on two very good performances last year late in the season. Wallace had an excellent chance on goal late in the second half that he seemed to play poorly and managed only a wayward shot from his left foot that had no chance on goal. I was, therefore, greatly heartened to see Wallace's perfect break seven minutes into extra time that saw him free in the box, juke the goalie with a decoy move to his left, calmly cross back to the right, and net the game winner. Wallace's pace creating the chance and the enthusiastic celebration of the goal made clear why I watch the sophomore play, even when Cirovski has seemingly chosen to use him at fullback, rather than an attack-minded winger.

Tonight I made it to RFK and had a great time. Despite the disappointing result (a scoreless tie), the game was a blast. A full-throated display by United supporters drowned out the meager offerings from the ESC until the very end of the match (the Emperor Supporters Club traveled with only slight more in number than were at the embarrassing thrashing in Annapolis at the hands of Crystal Palace Baltimore). Louis Crayton was phenomenal. Although he may make fans nervous with the flair he shows -- choosing on two separate occasions to dribble around Dane Party Richards rather than clear the ball -- he is rock solid in goal and fully deserved the man of the match designation based on some incredible saves (and his third clean sheet). Gallardo subbed in late and looked healthy. Joe Vide was amazing and continued a run of quality performances with United. Tonight was the first time that I wanted to get an autograph at a United match, if only to commemorate Vide's wonderful effort. (Vide's game follows a great piece last week from Goff on him (registration required)).

Not all was roses. The refereeing for the match was horrible and served as an unfortunate reminder as how generally good the refereeing has been for United's matches this year. The poor, inconsistent calls put the players on the pitch in jeopardy. And while I came into this season with mostly apathetic feelings towards the Red Bulls, I have now developed a healthy antipathy for the club. The classlessness of the ESC at an Annapolis high school during the US Open Cup and the dishonest play of several Red Bulls tonight -- principal amongst them the detestable Mike Magee, who flashed his cleats several times to the back of United players on challenges but whined incessantly when Vide gave him the same treatment (followed up by similar cynical complaints after his manhandling of Moreno lead to an apparently accidental smack to his face; Magee's complaints would be comical if not for the danger he posed to other players on the pitch and the pathos he was able to muster to support his false charges) -- has made them the only side I truly dislike in the MLS.

More negatives: Emilio looked like he hurt his groin fairly significantly and I cannot imagine that we will see him Wednesday at the U.S. Open Cup final. Moreno's horrific miss wide left on the penalty kick stunned the crowd. Perhaps not as much as the introduction of Dyachenko for the unimpressive Doe, but it is a close call regardless. At this point, there is no reason to have Dyachenko in any close game. The fact that Dyachenko is a senior player on the roster and Vide is now a developmental player is an embarrassment to the club and to all of its supporters. I can understand what Dyachenko is supposed to bring. He's a big target on set pieces and should be able to get his head on some crosses. He's a big target for Crayton to hoof it up to and, to be fair, he had one good flick on off of a Crayton boomer. But United fell apart when he got on the pitch. Rod cannot hold position, cannot distribute, and wanders around aimlessly (at one point, Rod, likely in frustration, showed annoyance with Crayton after a ball was sent up to the other side of the field -- what Dyachenko seems to have not realized is that Crayton had singled him out and was waiting for Dyachenko to set himself up as a target before giving up and launching the ball elsewhere). He was only able to avoid his obligatory yellow card after the clueless ref chose not to punish him for a pathetic late challenge to the back of a Red Bulls player at midfield. Nothing in Dyachenko's fifteen minutes on the pitch justified leaving Quavas Kirk off the bench for this match and I think it is now well past time for Soehn to be called out for his continued reliance on a player that has failed to bring anything to the proverbial table for the bulk of the year. After the game, Dyachenko came over to our section, along with Marc Burch and Francis Doe to sign autographs and thank the fans. While seeing him up close and passing up the opportunity to be an a^^hole, I confirmed that I do not dislike Dyachenko. He is a quality human being. He works hard and he is unfailingly nice to fans. But there are a lot of players who I have liked that were simply not good enough to play even at this level. Last year Kpene and Addlery, two of my favorite players to have ever worn the shirt, were told to look elsewhere. It is pointless to blame the player for his shortcomings, but the same does not apply for the manager that continues, inexplicably, to overlook those failings and put the player in a position where he cannot succeed on a routine basis.

Oh well. I only have to wait until Wednesday before United gets a chance to reverse the disappointment from tonight. Charlton's off until September 13th and the only thing really to look forward to from the Addicks is the departure of Zheng Zhi (really? the only midfielder on the roster that has the ability to get into the box and create goals and there is no serious thought that he might be retained?) and, perhaps, the addition of another Premier league reject who will poison the dressing room -- bitter for having had to slum it in the Championship (at least it won't be McShane, who will have an opportunity to shine in Hull's porous backline).

Friday, August 29, 2008

Junior League

Ives has a remarkable story up on his web-site about the Red Bulls' pursuit of talent from the USL to supplement their surging team. Of initial interest is that the Red Bulls are considering trying to add Mathew Mbuta to the team (why isn't DC United considering Mbuta?), although Mbuta has previously indicated that he is not interested in playing for any other club in the United States and has his eyes set on Europe.

Of more importance, however, is Ives' characterization of the MLS's reaction to the Red Bulls' attempt to acquire Macoumba Kandji from USL1's Atlanta Silverbacks. Per Ives (although the story has been denied by MLS and Red Bulls sources), MLS has vetoed New York's move to obtain Kandji because a $200,000 transfer fee paid to the Silverbacks would create a bad precedent for future transactions between MLS clubs and USL teams.

It is possible that this story is not empirically accurate. Regardless, most U.S. soccer fans who read it will believe it because few have faith that the MLS' leadership is capable of acting in the best interests of the league and its fans.

Any move to try and control the market for player acquisition from lower U.S. club teams -- beyond MLS' already existing complicated and absurd regulations -- would be both stupid and, ultimately, horrendously ineffective. What lesson are USL teams and players supposed to draw from this inanity? That USL teams must hold out for European and Asian clubs to come in and make pitches for their best talent in order to obtain fair market value for such players? That the MLS perceives the USL as such a threat that it must resort to draconian interventions to prevent USL squads from improving their balance sheets?

The possibility of futbol talent being developed at multiple levels in the United States is not just good for fans, it is good for Major League Soccer, as the more meaningful opportunities for players to hone their skills in this country means that the talent pool from which players are drawn is substantially expanded. Moreover, anyone paying any attention to international soccer knows that there is a remarkably fluid market in contractual rights to soccer players. Entities all over the world are focused on discovering any place where arbitrage is possible -- European teams see such opportunities in Africa; DC United in South America -- and club teams outside of the United States will quickly pick up on the possibilities presented by the USL, punishing the MLS for its petty despotism.

The reason any effort by the MLS to prevent USL teams from getting market value for people on their rosters is so incredibly offensive is not simply that such efforts are intellectually (and commercially) indefensible, it is that any such efforts are so obviously and inexplicably incompetent and inept. There is no way that the MLS can force -- on a regular, routine, and continued basis -- the USL to provide it with talent at less than going rates for a player's skill. Clubs outside of the U.S. will see the arbitrage opportunities and they will take advantage of it (perhaps not today, tomorrow, or next week, but soon, very soon), further fracturing the relationship between the USL and MLS. In the interim, the MLS will be denying itself a pool of US-oriented, skilled players (for whom MLS clubs have a competitive advantage in scouting vis-a-vis clubs outside the United States), thereby making the league weaker in terms of the caliber of play and the level of competition on the pitch.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Happy Happy Joy Joy

DC United dominated the Colorado Rapids tonight at RFK and, yet, I cannot publish a first hand account of how (a) Emilio threatened to add to his scoring total throughout the evening (instead settling for a beautiful holdup and feed to Vide for the game winner outside of the box); (b) Patrick Crayton notched his second clean sheet in league play with good work between the posts; (c) Quavas Kirk poached a late goal that sealed the Rapids' humiliation; (d) Santino proved that there is more to his goal-scoring repertoire than cheeky lofts, nailing his own laser into the top corner for DC's second goal; nor can I file a report of how (e) the perennially injured (frankly tragic) former Addick Cory Gibbs played full time in the back line for the Rapids (even managing to collect himself after a knock following a failed block on a shot stopped from the back of the net by the face of Colorado's keeper off the foot of a marauding Emilio).

I cannot report on the above -- despite having tickets in hand and a full intention on making the short trip down to the Capital -- because the Charlton-Reading match was broadcast early this morning. Because, having been treated to a fantastic display of football, my day began at 7:30 am and ended at 10 am.

If there is only one Charlton match that I am privileged to watch this season, I would be hard-pressed to express any regret that it was the one this morning and not any that will come in a season that looks much brighter because of it. The craven attitudes of cavalier players looking for a better deal, a bigger club, more coverage in tabloids, that infested the atmosphere at the Valley last year appears to have been fully wiped away. Left behind, instead, is a team of strivers. Anyone can count up these players' flaws and anyone can claim that there are better footballers out there, but no one can reasonably claim that there would have been a better team to watch today. I woke up a few hours after watching Messi's masterpiece in the gold medal final fully expecting to see a Charlton side whipped by Steve Coppell's impressive group of players. I expected long punts, porous defending, lost possessions, and confusion amongst the players both going forward and back. Instead, what I witnessed was a team that menaced consistently, ran the channels, played dangerous balls into the box, and coalesced as a team. Remarkable. Goodbye Marcus. Goodbye Jerome. Goodbye Amdy. Fare thee well.

While much of the commentary will focus (appropriately) on the effective partnership of Andy Gray and Luke Varney up front, I was more heartened by the promising partnership between Lloyd Sam and Yassin Moutaouakil on the right side. Sam's shortcomings have frequently been lumped in with Jerome Thomas' and I have always believed the negative feelings surrounding him to be unfair. Although I have read some mild criticism of his performance today, I did not see any justification for it. He and Yassin appear to have a good understanding of each other that will likely improve and provide for more excitement in league fixtures to come. On the other side, while Basey looked overmatched and seemed to have had his confidence affected, Hameur Bouazza was tremendous and looked every bit the player I highly rated at Watford two seasons back in the Premiership with Watford. I would tune into Watford matches whenever broadcast simply to watch Ashley Young and Bouazza play on the wings and followed each last year with Aston Villa and Fulham respectively. While Young has flourished, I could not understand why Bouazza could not break into what was not a very good side at Craven Cottage. Bad for him, but, at the moment, great for Charlton.

I still lament the seemingly inevitable departure of Zheng Zhi, a player who I am extremely fond of. But the grief that I may feel has been substantially muted by the addition of Nicky Bailey. It is one thing to lose Zhi and see Darren Ambrose fill his spot (Ambrose is a fine player, but does not pose the same threat to goal that Zhi does). It is another to see Bailey step in, control the center of the field and free up the wings to hammer down on the other side's defense. Nicky Bailey's performance today was the stuff of legend and marks a pitch perfect introduction to home supporters.

I was truly afraid that after Stevey Hunt's ridiculous penalty miss (originating from a Jon Fortune foul that could just as easily have not been called) and the absurd decision forcing a retake, Charlton would wither. They did not and when Varney leapt into the gaffer's embrace, I was dancing around my living room.

Pardew has stressed that his side is young, inexperienced, and that play may be uneven. All of which is undoubtedly true, but the flip side is that the team now plays with genuine desire. The starting XI today were a perfect mixture of players 25 and under (Bouazza (23), Basey (19), Varney (25), Sam (23), Moutaouakil (22), and Bailey (24)) and veterans (Weaver (29), Hudson (26), Gray (30), Fortune (28), and Holland (34)) [note, however, that Pardew's starting XI for the corresponding fixture last year, against Sheffield Wednesday, featured as many U-25s: Reid, Ambrose, Thomas, Semedo, McCarthy, and Bougherra, and, obviously, that did not turn out so well going forward]. Today's performance is the hope that such a side provides and we need only wait a week to see if it will continue at Preston North End.