Month: June 2014

The Round of 16…

A clever opening escapes me so on with the business.

BRAZIL v. CHILE

This is by a good margin the most intriguing game of the round. Brazil has gotten results with functional play interpersed with Neymar’s individual brilliance, but they have yet to inspire the aura of a prohibitive favorite. Chile, with it’s ten toes in commitment to pressure, is the tournament’s most idealistic tactical side and will take the game to the home side. Optimistically, this game will be the crucible by which Brazil’s championship credentials are forged, or it will render them exposed and insufficient. Pragmatically, this could be an ugly game decided by a dubious penalty or red card. May the glass be half full. Brazil 2-1 in extra time.

COLUMBIA v. URUGUAY

Columbia is undefeated through group play and highly entertaining though bereft of any pedigree to suggest they are full on contenders. They do present an uplifting underdog’s tale, which is in stark contrast to the Suarez-saddled Uruguayans. After a Suarez-less lost to Costa Rica and a Suarez-inspired win over England, it was possible, for at least a few hours, to consider the difference a goal-scoring genius brings to an otherwise mundane side of hacks, and to contemplate larger questions of our feelings toward greatness measured against the occaisional transgression, balanced by the thought that people mature and grow. Piss on all that as Suarez has again disgraced himself, and in equal measure, anyone taking his defense now. What is inescapable is that but for the tolerence of this crass, classless animal, Uruguay would not even be in this game. With due sorrow to the rest of the players on the team, I hope they get their ass kicked. Columbia 2-0.

NETHERLANDS v. MEXICO

The mere sight of Patrick Kluivert pretending to be an assistant coach stirs emotions in me dating back to the 1995 Champion’s League final in Vienna, when as a substitute, he came on to score the decisive goal against AC Milan for the AJAX team that formally introduced me to futbol. There are very few scenarios that will have me pull against this team, and as entertaining as they may be, Herrera’s sideline histrionics do not present one. That said this is an extremely dangerous game for the Dutch Masters as they have conceded goals in this tournament, and a fearless Mexico will undoubtedly produce a few chances. This will be a classic encounter. Netherlands 2-1.

COSTA RICA v. GREECE

Costa Rica is a wonderful story of improbably first round success, and Greece is a long tragic yarn of miserably, unentertaining futbol perpetuated by a truly gut-wrenching injury time penalty. Much like Columbia and Uruguay, the lines of morality are clearly drawn, but the viewing value of the game is unlikely to be noteworthy. Costa Rica 1-0.

FRANCE v, NIGERIA

The French have been the tournament’s most complete team, and Nigera seems hard-pressed to have a chance of beating them. For the sake of entertainment, an early Nigerian goal would be a gift and force the French to test their mettle. Viva Le France 3-1.

GERMANY v. ALGERIA

Germany has been good, but not great. Algeria has been wildly entertaining, and has a chance to torment the beleagured German defensive flanks. Again, an early goal to the North Africans would make things compelling. I expect, however, a German show of force and a comprehensive 2-0 win followed by the gloating commentary of Michael Ballack. I respected Ballack as a two way player at the peak of his powers and was sympathetic to his 2006 World Cup exclusion due to injury, but man is he great in the studio with his unique brand of gentlemanly arrogance.

ARGENTINA v. SWITZERLAND

There is something amiss with this Argentine side. It is visibly disconnected by levels of talent and the absence of cohesion, and their coach appears as pleasant as a prison camp guard, but Messi is delivering for his country in heroic terms. The Swiss are much like their cheese, substance (midfield) and holes (defense). Argentina 2-1.

UNITED STATES v. BELGIUM

We have history. The United States has fallen twice to Belgium in contemporary times, but there is a certain confidence that familiarity breeds. There will be no awe in US boots on Tuesday night. Belgium, for it’s part, has failed to live up to it’s billing, but has found decisive goals in the final quarter hour of all of it’s games which breeds a different kind of belief. The United States too often looks panicked in possession, and randomly inept in defense, but they are fighters and I am one of them….fuck it we win 2-1.

The Perils of the Park

In the hope of sucking a bit more enjoyment out of my 43rd birthday, I followed my morning work out with a trip to Trotwood Park to get some shots up and maybe find a game.  I found something, but even an hour later, I am not sure I would call it a game.  To the extent it was a game, it was among the worst I have ever played in.

My teammates included a large, well built guy wearing sunglasses and a doo rag, a tall athletic guy missing double digit teeth, and a smaller athletic guy who announced he hadn’t played in three years.  I hoped to facilitate a victory with my team-oriented play.

It was not to be.  We fell 15-13, and the final score line was flatteringly deceptive. My teammates, or more accurately the three strangers who occupied the court with me, interspersed exactly five passes live ball passes into a cavalcade of contested three point shots. 

Most possessions involved three guys standing well above the arc while I flashed into the post, or moved to set unused screens on and off the ball.

Defensively, we stood in front of our men until they actually moved at which point they were cut loose to do as they pleased.  Anything resembling a screen caused rubix-cube confusion, and the release of a shot invoked a unique brand of paralysis.

The stagger-toothed wonder banked in two of his four made threes, and was involved in three protests over imaginary violations.  He was, however, the only player on the team beside myself to cut off the ball.  It happened once at half speed.

Captain doo rag, for all his strength, ventured into the lane once with an eight dribble back down of a smaller defender before missing a turnaround jumper, and was credited with one rebound.

And after his three year sabbatical, the third guy held himself scoreless while being shredded on defense.

I did not have fun.  It was not basketball as I know it.  It sucked, but it is the peril of playing at the park.

The Evisceration of a Champion

In the past week, we have bore witness to the evisceration of two champions, the Miami Heat and Spain.  A champion in my conception is not simply the one off winner of a championship.  A champion wins big and more than once, while setting a standard of greatness that constructs an aura that is part article of faith, part object of disdainful envy.  A champion builds a belief in itself and it’s followers that all will end right.  In the closing minutes of tight games the seek affirmation in the certainty of victory, while their humbled opponents find harbingers of defeat.

This week has been a double evisceration because the Heat and Spain were not simply beaten, their belief and championship qualities were shredded and ripped from their proud chests, and they were left to look humbled and small.  The feeling at the final whistle Sunday night and this afternoon was pity.  Pity that proud teams we have come to admire or fear were left floundering about without an answer to what was happening to them.  They each looked incompetent and helpless as if suddenly and inexplicably the game they had dominated had passed them by without so much as a head’s up dude.

The Heat were torn asunder by an outstanding Spurs team, but the lack of competitiveness spoke to an aging imbalanced roster that could not find the extra gear that had been their defining quality.

Spain too dealt with an aging core and were pushed off balance by a robust Chile team that in the glory moments now gone, they would have passed into exhaustion before nipping a goal midway through the second half to secure the three points.

Both teams are at a crossroads,  where loyal servants of the past will be left behind, and hopefully too any romantic notions to past achievement as any new achievement is contingent on embracing the present and constructing a new championship identity.

A Special Kind of Suffering

It could not have started any better.  Germany mauled Portugal 4-0 in the first game of the group.  Ronaldo looked less than 100% and the Portuguese suffered a red card and two injuries likely to sideline starters from the second group game against the USMNT.   It got better :34 seconds into the Ghana game when Clint Dempsey cut inside the box and gave the USMNT a 1-0 lead. 

For a moment, it seemed possible that a quantum leap of competence had been made, and that the USMNT could dominate a World Cup game simultaneously serving notice of arrival and bad intentions.  It was a few moments later that a time-honored reality set in.  The early goal fortuitous, but burdensome given our inability to possess the ball and stretch Ghana to break again.

By the fifteen minute mark, the clock was our only friend.  There would be the odd counter resulting in a half chance, and a few set pieces of note, but the pattern of this game was cast in steel.  Ghana would attack, and the USMNT would defend sometimes valiantly, often in chaos in hopes of not conceding an equalizer or worse.

Since 1994, we have cycled through five coaches as the game has “grown” in this country, and infinite platitudes about progress.   There have been truly amazing moments of National pride with wins over Spain, Brazil and Italy, a quarterfinal appearance against Germany in 2-0,  a mastery of CONCACAF in general and Mexico specifically as well as Landon Donavan’s goal against Algeria in 2010.

As tonight’s game wore on with errant passes and panicked clearances, it is inescapable that genuine progress has eluded us.  Ghana is a respectable opponent, but like the USMNT not a threat to win the World Cup.  This was the precise moment to show technical and tactical development, and we could not string three freaking passes together to relieve their unrelenting assault.  Nevermind playing keep away on a steamy night in Natale.

Predictably,  we conceded an equalizer and damn near lost the game, but we are the United States and that means something.  We pushed up a bit for the first time in 80 minutes, and won a corner.  Nothing real impressive, but functional.  A strange optimism took root in our minds that this might be our moment….and it was as John Brooks, a 21 year old defender from Germany, headed home the winning goal.  He didn’t start the game, and only entered at halftime due to injury.  He had some shaky moments prior to the goal, and literally appeared overwhelmed in the aftermath of the goal, but he is a hero and we are winners.

Same ole, same ole.

The Father

The moment I became a father I looked through a window at my son.  He was sorta purple and wrinkled with oversized hands and feet.  He was screaming at the top of his lungs, and my only thought was “wow, this guy is gonna be a handful.”  He was my handful and I would do everything in my power to handle him.

I had dreams, mostly of sports, together.  I would coach and distill in him all the knowledge my sporting obsession have given to me.  So educated, he would be better than me and carry us both to the levels of sport I couldn’t.  I dreamed also of being a fountain of wisdom, a clever quote or adage for every imaginable situation that life might throw our way. 

I thought of my father, and the security his presence gave my life.   I thought of the pride I felt that people respected my father, and generally liked him and his corny sense of humor.  He was engaged in my life not so much with rules and discipline, but a broader conversational wisdom from which I drew many of my values.   Like any son, I scoured the margins to find some disagreeable ground that would be the fuel of my own fatherhood.

I became a father to twins twenty months later, and that was probably too short a window for me to reach certain realizations about myself and fatherhood.  Fifteen years later, I have a bit of perspective.  Perspective guides me to a pair of quotations.

“In nature, there are only consequences”

Fatherhood is the same.  Everything that I do has a consequence.  The consequences are not always linear as the action resonates in the mind of the child with everything thing that you and life have shown them before revealing itself in the realm of value and belief.  Sometimes the value and belief comforts me, and at others, it scares me half to death.  I place faith and draw comfort in the knowledge that nature and age tend to balance things over time.

“Success is a journey, not a destination.”

I now have a musician, a cheerleader and a soccer player.  They are all good students and in my biased opinion good people.  They have sifted through life and found their passion, and as their father, I have followed them to open Mic nights,  auditorium, cheer gyms, football games, and damn near every patch of grass with goals in Central Florida.  Being there, wherever there may be, is the journey that we share and in the best of moments become partners.  It’s ultimate destiny remains unknown,  but as long as we make it together it will be ours and it will be ok.

Happy Father’s Day

The Triple Crown

First off, I know little or nothing about horse racing, but I am disturbed by the indignant abuse being heaped on Steve Coburn for his comments after his horse, California Chrome lost it’s triple crown bid.  I know enough that the triple crown is the gold standard for equine accomplishment, and even flirtation with the triple crown is on some level historic. The clear frustration of falling short combined with Coburn’s inarticulate rant have combined to obscure a rather obvious bit of bullshit.

Coburn’s point is that only three horses ran all three triple crown races, and advantage was gained by the horses  who were fresher for not having run all three races.  This is a perfectly logical point that validly calls into question the meaning of the triple crown.

In Coburn’s conception, the triple crown is akin to a championship to be pursued by a defined field of competitors under standardized rules, like NASCAR or even an NBA title.   Horses qualify to compete in the triple crown races, and but for injury are obliged to compete in all three insuring a level playing field of sorts.

I assume, though there responsive indignation has left this open to interpretation,  the opposing view is that the triple crown is an individual pursuit of historic glory, and that by sheer talent, ambition and audacity, a horse may take it’s place along side Secretariat and other legends by choosing to run and win all three races regardless or in spite of competition.  This is more like Jesse Owens or Carl Lewis seeking multi-gold, multi-discipline glory.

Each conception has it’s place, but let it behind defined by thought not blowhards.