Sunday, November 25, 2012

"It's Sunny Jane Time!"

With about half an hour left in the match against Coastal Carolina, Mikias Eticha collected a loose ball on the right side of the goal box and flipped it to his left to an awaiting Sunny Jane.  At the upper left-hand corner of the box, Sunny had one defender between him and the keeper, Mark Petrus, a transfer from George Mason.  As Jane brought the ball down, kids in our section shouted "It's Sunny Jane Time!"  Sunny beat the defender off the dribble and then drilled a grass cutter beyond Petrus's reach off the far post effectively ending the game.

Maryland's supporters have been waiting for it to be Sunny Jane time for much of the season.  It was tonight.  Maryland's first goal came twelve minutes in off of superb wing play by Jane after he sent a fantastic cross that Eticha notched home.  Four minutes after Sunny scored, he, in turn, enjoyed the fruits of the incredible individual effort of Christiano Francois.  Francois refused to give up on a ball being shepherded over the end line by a Chanticleer defender, stole it, and then slotted it back to Jane for the brace.

In a little over an hour on the field, Jane terrorized Coastal Carolina's wings.  He wasn't the only one.  Maryland's smaller, faster players ran circles around the Chanticleer's behemoths.  Maryland's active roster features one outfield player listed at 200 pounds, Jake Pace.  Coastal Carolina has three in its starting lineup: both centerbacks, Uchenna Uzo and Kjartan Sigurdsson, and their central midfielder playmaker, Pedro Ribeiro.  The two sophomores, Uzo and Sigurdsson, along with the 6'0", 182 lb. freshman Jhamie Hyde, were often left trying to snuff out runs made by Jane, Francois, Eticha, and Schillo Tshuma on their own.  All three held their own, but their margin for error was slight and, given the circumstances, holding Maryland to five goals was a testament to their competence.

The one blemish for Maryland came off a poor back pass from Dan Metzger to London Woodberry that led to Woodberry losing possession and Ashton Bennett drill home a long-range goal past Cardona.  Bennett made the most of limited offensive opportunities and it was easy to see why he's considered a lock to be picked in the MLS draft next year.  The most impressive player for Coastal Carolina, for me, was their sophomore left back Henrik Robstak, a big, fast, skilled attack-minded fullback who put all kinds of pressure on Maryland's right flank.  Ultimately, Jordan Cyrus took some measure of revenge for Robstak's assaults by beating his man off the dribble four minutes from time and laying off a terrific ball for Jereme Raley to put in the back of the net for the fifth and final goal.    

It was only one game, but Pedro Ribiero (who has also been talked up in advance of the draft) did not make much of an impression.  Ribiero struggled contending with Stertzer and Metzger in the middle of the field.  His size caught him out, where lilliputian teammates Justin Portillo and Ricky Garbanzo seemed to find more space.

For Maryland, it was a very good showing by almost everyone who saw the field.  Patrick Mullins worked and worked and worked the full ninety minutes, with a confounding free kick that eluded Petrus.  Other than the flub that led to Bennett's sole goal, the backline -- anchored by two freshmen -- was terrific.  John Stertzer was solid for ninety minutes and Keith Cardona made a couple of tremendous saves.

And their profit on it?  A chance to fully avenge last season's early exit against Louisville back at Ludwig on Saturday.

Joseph Ngwenya was on hand to see his alma mater go down tonight.  As much as I like him, I hope Nick DeLeon leaves Ludwig next week the same way he did on August 26th and Ngwenya did tonight.

Friday, November 23, 2012


One of the lingering irritations of living in the Washington D.C. area is the poor quality of sports writing at the major dailies.  Over the last several years, other than Michael Wilbon, there have been exactly no sports journalists or columnists that I have taken any particular interest in or note of.

Happily, this is changing.

While at Comcast on Tuesday night watching Maryland dispatch Lafayette, I was struck once again by how well Pe'Shon Howard plays the point.  He committed a terrible turnover late in the game, looked very uncomfortable attempting open jumpshots, and occasionally failed to flash out fully at a Leopard looking to pop a three.  But when he was on the floor, he ran the Terps offense with poise and dropped some sizzling dimes.

I figured that I would come home and tap out another homage to Howard, one of the most underrated players on the squad.  But, as it turns out, this ground has already been covered much more competently by the Washington Post's excellent Alex Prewitt in a short post on Terrapins Insider on Sunday.   Prewitt really is terrific and does an incredible job providing context for what we're seeing on the court or on the field.  He seems to have little interest in mindlessly promoting Maryland's athletic program, nor does he appear to have any particular agenda in attacking coaches or administrators.  Instead, Prewitt provides insightful analysis and background.  He's a must-read for every Terrapin supporter.

But as grateful as I am for Mr. Prewitt's contributions, I am even more grateful for the work of the Washington Examiner's Craig Stouffer.

This has been a bittersweet season following D.C. United.  The dominant storyline is the team's return to competitiveness and falling just short of the MLS Cup game.  Despite limited interest for the bulk of the year, fans turned out for the playoff matches and the last regular season game (against Columbus).

We bucked that trend -- after going to home fixtures throughout the year, we gave away our tickets for the last three matches.  Although we fell in love with many of the players on this season's squad -- particularly Nick DeLeon -- by the end of the season, I was disenchanted and found myself rooting against Ben Olsen's favored sons.

My negativity has been further fueled by the lack of any meaningful analysis of the Olsen regime, as we are instead treated to inane hagiography.  I am, at this point, almost constitutionally incapable of giving credit to Coach Olsen for any one of the many undeniable things he has done to improve the side and develop certain individuals.

Craig Stouffer's summation of the season, published Monday, provided a balanced review that has been utterly lacking in the work of others covering the team.  As Stouffer observes, "Olsen’s coaching job will be universally lauded, but that doesn’t mean it was perfect."  Stouffer specifically questions Olsen's utilization of Branko Boskovic and Hamdi Salihi, something that has driven us nuts as we watched some really horrible performances in the midfield and at forward by players possessing nothing remotely close to the talent that Boskovic and Salihi offer.

Since United has bowed out of the playoffs, DC has parted company with Boskovic, a player who, along with DeRosario, offered the most innovation in attack we've seen in five years.  United has also locked up Dejan Jakovic with a new contract after Jakovic managed to play twenty games for the first time since 2009.  All signs point to Ethan White, again, being persona non grata in 2013.

But I take solace in the prospect of somebody actually holding management responsible.  Absent constructive critiques coming from those covering the team, there is little prospect that man management or personnel decisions will improve.  Stouffer can fill that vital role.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


For a decade now, our love of men's college basketball has been requited at the Verizon Center.  Georgetown's been the fulcrum, John Thompson III the muse, and two years of NCAA tournament games the unexpected bonus.

Nevertheless, our tickets for Wednesday night's tune up against Liberty went unused.  I'd wanted to see how much Mikael Hopkins and Greg Whittington had developed over the summer.  It would also have been our first opportunity to watch D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera in person. 

But as nice as getting to know the 2012-13 Hoyas would have been, for the first time, I wanted to be at Comcast more.  I was there for the Terps' home opener against Morehead State Monday night and loved every minute.  For the most part, gone were the frustrating defensive lapses, gone was the sniping, and gone was the one on four offense after play designs broke down.  Instead, on the floor was a cohesive unit of charismatic players.  Nothing about the win was particularly impressive, but a new day has dawned.  Scoring, for example, was balanced:  Nick Faust had 12, Alex Len 11, James Padgett 9, Shaquille Cleare and Dez Wells 8, Jake Layman 7, and Seth Allen 6.  And others contributed by adopting specific roles:  Charles Mitchell pulled down 9 rebounds, Pe'shon Howard didn't take a shot but posted 7 assists.

With only 8,724 inside the stadium, the vibe was relaxed -- low pressure -- and incredibly family friendly.  Tonight's game against LIU-Brooklyn was a 7 pm tipoff and it seemed as good a time as any to bring the kids out to the new look Maryland under Coach Turgeon.  The cost was foregoing Georgetown's game Wednesday, but the reward made the tradeoff well worthwhile.

Students clearly heeded Coach Turgeon's request for more active support.  At 12,785, Comcast was rocking.  Often, the intensity on the court matched the intensity in the stands.  Dez Wells had a ridiculous stretch of three consecutive blocks.  Seth Allen went five for six from beyond the arc.  Pe'shon Howard had thirteen assists and one turnover.  And my kids, a four-year old and one-year old, stayed with the game until the last minute.

We've been to some great games at Comcast, games that had my eldest bouncing out of the stadium.  But all of those were women's games.  We've been to some great men's basketball games, games that had my eldest bouncing out of the stadium.  But all of those were Georgetown games.  Tonight was the first time that our kids walked out of Comcast grinning after a men's game.