Thursday, June 29, 2006

In Defense of Billy Knight

I need to take a quick break from dousing myself in World Cup hysteria to engage in a pet cause of mine - maligned Atlanta Hawks' GM Billy Knight.

Eschewing all clever puns - I need to get down to business here. I know years of mediocrity, followed by years of losing, has caused many a slumbering Atlanta Hawks fans to froth at the mouth, and apparently fancy themselves the Basketball Schuerholz.

You see, they all claim they would have drafted Chris Paul, even though most NBA experts tabbed Marvin Williams was the 2nd best player in the draft. They also would have held on to Boris Diaw (ignoring the fact that he's presently the product of playing on a supremely talented team) scuttleing the trade for the only legit NBA star on the Hawks 2006 roster. Remember - winning Slam Dunk competitions doesn't make you a star, right Kenny Walker?

After reading the morning-after analysis of the Hawks' draft in the comments section Sekou Smith's blog on this morning, I'm convinced Hawks fans would give your average Ole Miss fan a run for their money in the I.Q. department.

Sekou does a great job covering the Hawks, there is no doubt about that, but the folks who choose to comment on his on-line blog have clearly spent too much time buying crack around Philips Arena, and less time actually watching the basketball team that calls it home.

In case you didn't know, the Hawks are apparently only a rookie-Point-Guard-in-a-decidedly-weak-draft away from making the NBA playoffs, and Shelden Williams is the same player as the Joshes and Marvin.

Mind you, The Landlord probably outweighs Marvin and Childress combined, is built like an NFL Tight End, and relishes his role playing post defense. That is somehwere the Hawks were constantly outmanned all of last year, and one of the biggest reasons they were 20th in the leaugue in rebounding, and 26th in team defense. Of course, most of these Fire Billy zealots don't even have enough synapses pulsing to realize that those 3 current Hawks are more suited for the 2-3 positions, while Shelden fits snugly in the Power Forward role. In this era of few true NBA centers, his large frame also should allow him to be the 5 during certain periods of play. Considering the lack of depth behind Zaza, this is something that cannot be discounted.

Don't let that stop the hate, though. These "fans" are all convinced that Randy Foye and Brandon Roy were all we needed in Atlanta, because ESPN's Insiders (never known for overstating things) called Foye the player in the draft "most like Dwayne Wade". Yeah, well I'm the guy on my Trivia team most like Ken Jennings, but don't expect me to rule Jeopardy(!) anytime soon.

To pile on - the AJC's Mark Bradley, who has developed an increasing propesnity to annoy me, criticized the Hawks in his column today. His complaint? The Hawks didn't listen to the fans who wanted to draft Dee Brown with their 2nd Round pick. I didn't think someone could one-up the feeble thoughts of the commenters, but here's someone who thinks those same vacuous souls should have a hand in populating the roster. It's bad enough to have the national media constantly taking their tired, cliched, pot-shots at the Hawks leadership, but to have the local media be so equally clueless is infuriating.

Now, more than ever, I want the Hawks to do well. I've gone on record as being excited about where this team is going. With all these insufferable morons wasting the local bandwidth with their fool-proof solutions on how to fix the team, I really want Knight to be able to shove it back in their face come April of 2007. The best thing about him, though, is that I know he won't.

Friday, June 23, 2006

T.W.I.S. #2 - Nuts and bolts...nuts and bolts...

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingAs the US Soccer Attacks clock on my sidebar appropriately sits at 00:00:00:00, I'm realizing my biggest fear from last week's initial T.W.I.S., and that's having to eulogize the 2006 US World Cup squad. After doing what a proper soccer fan would - smashing in a few store fronts, over-turning and igniting cars, and clashing with riot police - I'm now ready to focus my rage into a blog.

The final nail in the Good Ship Tread Upon's coffin was, of course, shoddy officiating. Believe it or not, I can't quibble too much with Jorge Larrionda, the official from the Italy match. His red card on Pablo Mastroeni was not as rash as some may think. I've watched enough international matches to know that lunging into an opposing player with the bottom of both your cleats exposed can, and will, lead to a red card. It was not a wise play by Mastroeni.

It's also probably not one he makes if he is exposed to pressure cooker situations more often, as opposed to playing in front of lukewarm support at cavernous Invesco Field every other week. The Eddie Pope sending off was also not as dubious either since Pope was aware of the fact that he already had one yellow card, and thus should not attempt to tackle anyone from behind. He did not appear up to snuff at this World Cup anyway, so the wisest decision would have likely been for Bruce Arena to take him off at the half for Jimmy Conrad...who played much better than Pope in his 1 1/2 matches. He also keeps an amusing journal on Soccernet, which I linked to him.

Ironically, my biggest issues are with the decisions of the 2-time FIFA World Referee of the Year, Marcus Merk, who essentially gift wrapped both Ghanaian goals in the US' swan song. While Haminu Draman's disposessing of Claudio Reyna in the brief lead-up to his opening goal may not have been a foul in other games, it was by the standards Merk had applied earlier in the match - and would later. Those same hyper-sensitive standards (which were absent in Draman's reverse dead-legging of Reyna) conveniently reappeared when Razak Pimpong took a dive in the American penalty box - leading to the subsequent, damning, Ghana penalty kick. The only way Merk could have enraged me more, is if he adopted this style of officiating:

Okay, that actually might have made it easier to take, because that's pretty damn funny. Obviously, being down 2 questionable goals to your 1 legitimate tally, is a hard pill to swallow. That alone, however, cannot be blamed for this forgettable 3 game stretch.

In my preview, I predicted the US would find a way out of this group before capitulating to Brazil. I can't say I really believed that. Ever the optimist, though, I had to say it in hopes that it would come true. In all honesty, I never really felt that good about this team. There were just too many holes, and the promising players from '02 who should have been much better by now, really weren't. I'm speaking primarily of Landon Donovan and DaMarcus Beasley. While Beasley initially appeared to have benefitted greatly from his move to PSV Eindhoven, he seemed to regress this year under the weight of heightened expectations.

As for Donovan - this may be picking at low hanging fruit - It's so frustrating to watch someone who could potentially be a star in a World Class league be perfectly content to be the big fish in the small pond that is Major League Soccer. He claims to want what is best for soccer in America. I he really meant that, he would sack-up and head to Europe for 4-6 years. The fact that casual fans only quadrenially pay attention to soccer in this country seems lost on him. No amount of winning MLS Cups, or scoring goals domestically, will cause Joe Six Pack to take notice. Helping your team to the World Cup Semi-finals, or beyond, will. There are dozens of teams in Europe's top leagues who could use his services. Time for him to find one.

As for Bruce Arena - I think this should be the last time we see him on the sideline for US Soccer, barring resurfacing after a successful stint in Europe. While he's definitely been valuable in this period of US Soccer, he was a little out of his depth in this World Cup. Despite all the rosy memories of '02, we still were a goal post away from suffering this same fate after failing to show up against Poland. What this team now needs is a proven winner on the international level. Someone who can mesh our propensity to be unselfish, entirely to a fault, with some attacking juice. Who that man is remains a question mark. I'm guessing he'll come from Northern Europe (but not Sweden), and is currently preparing for his next match in Germany.

As was our format from last week (By the way, ESPN still sucks at broadcasting soccer), some individual plaudits from the last 7 Days:

Best Managerial Moves: Spain's Luis Aragones, while unhappy with his team's performance against Saudi Arabia, effectively turned a tenuous game against Tunisia on it's ear by inserting Raul, Cesc Fabregas, and Joaquin very early in the 2nd Half (something Arena could learn to do). 3 goals later, Spain was on their way to the 2nd round.

Interestingly, as it stands right now, they could possibly face South Korea. I'm sure the Spanish would relish the opportunity to avenge their 2002 ouster, which came thanks to the requisite shady World Cup officiating.

Best Forward: It's a tough pick, but we'll go with the current tournament leader, Germany's Miroslav Klose. He seems to score in 2's notching a pair against Costa Rica, and again in Der Nationalen Mannschaft victory over Ecuador. Nonetheless, he seems to show up for Group play, scoring all 5 of his '02 goals in this stage. For Germany to advance into the latter stages of this Cup, he'll need to finally get some braces in the Knock-out Stage.

Best Midfielder:: He's here, he's there, he's every f$#*in' where, Joey Cole!! Joey Cole!!. He seemed destined to waste away on Chelsea's bench behind all the high-priced talent pouring in. Now, he seems indespensable to Club and Country. His opening cracker against Sweden, and his deft chip - leading to Steven Gerrard's goal - propelled England to the top of their group...even if they still can't beat the Swedes.

Best Defender: Okay, my last chance to be a homer in this World Cup. I'm going to be lazy and give it to Oguchi Onyewu. Despite a rough start against the Czechs, Gooch played out of his mind against Italy. He neutralized the scoring machine that is Luca Toni (he was eventually subbed out), and played very well against Ghana, even though he'll most be remembered for being the victim of Marcus Merk's sense of self-importance. If he had another center back of comparable quality back there with him from the beginning, this could have been a very different trip for the Americans.

Forgot to do this one last week, Best Keeper: Gianluigi Buffon - while dealing with his name being soiled in the Italian media, came through with a strong effort against the Czechs. He held off a rasping strike from club teammate Pavel Nedved, and several other Czech attacks, before his fellow Azzuris finally got on the board and clinched their advancement. I give it to him not only for his solid play, but for doing so on a day he could have potentially been indicted in the Italian soccer scandal. It turned out to be a doubly great day for him, as he was spared that ignominy.

By the way, I had meant to give this award last week to Trinidad and Tobago's Shaka Hislop for his stunning display against Sweden. I am sure he was fuming after my snub.

That's all for now, stay tuned for next week's Yank-free addition of ThisssWeeek Innn Soccer!

Friday, June 16, 2006

This Week In Soccer

Oh, if only I had a little claymation Mel Allen to narrate this post, and some TWIS Notes. Mmmm...TWIS Notes.

I couldn't find a picture of ClayMel, so I figured I'd use one of my second favorite component of the World Cup.

As I write this, Argentina is laying waste to Serbia & the same time!
Sorry, I had to. This is their last World Cup, and they are about to be mathematically eliminated.

The S&M Boys were considered to have one of the best defenses in Europe. Argentina being able to hang 3 on them in the first half (edit: ouch, and 3 more in the 2nd) seems to indicate that we'll see a bloated Maradona rooting on the Albicelestes deep into this tournament.

So, we've reached the end of the first week of the World Cup. Ecuador (of all teams) became the first to advance to the 2nd Round, with half of their team playing professionally for the global juggernaut that is LDU Quito. How 'bout that?!

Because when you think massive soccer clubs, you think Manchester United, Real Madrid, and...okay, not LDU Quito.

Speaking of LD, you quit-o...

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Landon Donovan and the US didn't really show up for their first game, in case you haven't heard. I self-imposed a moratorium on blogging about their 3-0 shallacking at the hands of the Czechs, because I didn't really feel the need to pile on a team that had just been kicked off the Hype Train. It also gave other bloggers to beat me to the "trod upon" punchline. Curses!

Certainly, I was disappointed. But, as I said in my Preview, I really do feel that this is the team before "The Team". I hope they can prove me wrong tomorrow by pulling off an upset of Italy.

As for the World Cup in general - three things have become apparent to me in this first week:

A) ESPN does not know how to broadcast soccer - From weak broadcast crews, to overly busy graphics, they make it a painful experience. Soccer is a game where the whole field is important, yet they insist on a long black strip of a scoreboard up top, and the Bottom Line down low. This eliminates a good bit of the viewing area on the wings, where a fair amount of action occurs.

On top of that, they love throwing out these huge "fact boxes" that block off another 25% of the screen, usually while someone is dribbling towards goal. They also seem to enjoy treating all us viewers like we're morons-constantly explaining Yellow Cards and Red Cards...and using their beloved scoreboard to remind you that you're watching the FIFA World Cup, and it's, in fact, live.

I really wish Fox would pick up the rights to this thing.

B) Brazil = Beatable - After watching their less than inspired performance against a solid Croatian team, I just don't see it. I don't see the invincibility. Granted, they have 3 or 4 phenoms on the field, but they also have chinks in their armor. For one, they have 2 outside backs in the latter stages of their career in Cafu and Roberto Carlos. They also have Dida in goal, and their manager, Carlos Alberto Parreira seems willing to wait out Ronaldo's corpulency, which was in full display the other night. You couldn't miss him...he was the guy standing still, about 30 yards from the Croat Goal.

C)Eric's DVR Is Dragging Down World Cup Scores: I've recorded 2 games that I avoided knowing anything about while at work. Croatia-Brazil and Poland-Germany. Both have ended 1-0. Following bad logic, I need to call in sick to work for the next 3 weeks, or this will be one boring World Cup.

And now, my first set of superlatives for Week 1 of La Copa Mundial:

Best Managerial Moves: Guus Hiddink - 2 subs, Tim Cahill and John Aloisi, scored all 3 goals for the Aussies in their comeback over Japan. Of course, you could also say it was a bad move if you were wondering why both guys weren't starting in the first place. But, I digress.

Best Forward: Paulo Wanchope, Costa Rica - despite playing for a crap team, Wanchope notched two lovely goals against host Germany. While he is 30 (old for a striker), I have to think some team would be interested in luring him back to England. He can still put it in the net.

Best Midfielder: Thomas, Don't Call Me Ro-sick-ee, Rosicky, Czech Republic - It's pronounced, Ro-sitz-kee, ESPN announcers. Nothing I hate more than people not doing their research. It's not like the guys and unknown. I hate to give a nod to the man who helped dismantle my team, but what a game. The only thing I fault him for is giving Julie Foudy the chance to make the statement "Ro-sick-ee is sick-ee". Clever...clever...

Best Defender: Lots of options, with all the clean sheets being posted on the scoreboard. I'm going to go with a defender who came through in the clutch, Tunisia's Radhi Jaidi(Big #15 in the photo below).

The hulking defender scored on a last gasp header to pull the Carthage Eagles (love those African team nicknames) level with Saudi Arabia in the dying moments of the most unexpectedly exciting match of the tourney. Granted, his backline did surrender 2 goals, but why quibble with details?

And a special award, I'll dub the Bill Snyder Trophy. No college football coach got more mileage out of transfers than Snyder at Kansas State. Apparently, Germany was inspired by this. After starting a pair of Polish born strikers in Lukas Podolski and Miroslav Klose, the Germans were pushed to victory over said Poles by Swiss born super-sub, Oliver Neuville slotting one home in the 90th minute. Let's not forget they also had Ghanaian born Gerald Asamoah on the bench. Geez...and Eurosnobs give the U.S. crap for Freddy Adu.

That's it for this week. Hopefully I won't be eulogizing the U.S. in my next edition. Thanks for reading Thisssweek...Innn Soccer.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Steven Seagal Will Kick, And Then Rock, Your Ass

I was dining at the local Pita shack ("the", as in probably the only one in Atlanta), when my friend looks up, and queries, "Is That Steven Seagal?"

Hoping to see the Jewish Bruce Lee making his way down Ponce, I turn around, and see this picture:

Holy Shonen Knife! Is this for real?! Yes, yes, it is. I give you Steven Seagal and Thunderbox.

Apparently, He of The Clever 3 Word Action Movie Titles fancies himself quite the axe wielder. Reading Variety Playhouse's bio of the show yields some entertaining lines like "Watch those hands - they are capable of many surprises." And How!

If you are looking for some entertaining reading material, check out his entire Wikipedia entry. He may be one of the oddest people in Hollywood, and that's hard to do.

The thing that blows my mind is that they are actually charghing $20 for this concert, all while keeping a straight face. I am not saying I wouldn't pay money to see Steven Seagal front a band with a name that sounds like it could be the title of a Native American porno, but not $20. Maybe $10, but not if there's a service charge.

I know what you're thinking - "Eric, where can I, the reader, see this man with magic hands?"

Well, here's his tour (yes, I said a whole tour) schedule:

Sat 06/10/06 Mission, TX Pepe's On The River

Sun 06/11/06 New Orleans, LA House Of Blues

Wed 06/14/06 Memphis, TN New Daisy Theatre

Thu 06/15/06 Nashville, TN Exit / In

Fri 06/16/06 Mount Pleasant, MI Soaring Eagle Casino

Sat 06/17/06 Belleville, ON Empire Theatre

Sun 06/18/06 Chicago, IL House Of Blues

Tue 06/20/06 Pittsburgh, PA Rex Theatre

Wed 06/21/06 Cleveland, OH House Of Blues

Thu 06/22/06 Hagerstown, MD Maryland Theatre

Fri 06/23/06 Atlantic City, NJ House Of Blues

Sat 06/24/06 New York, NY TBA

Sun 06/25/06 New York, NY B.B. King's Blues Club

Tue 06/27/06 Alexandria, VA The Birchmere

Get your tickets while they last!

Thanks to Pollstar for the dates. I felt so wrong typing Steven Seagal into your search box, which usually provides such bountiful and enriching information. Please, forgive me.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

If I May, A Political Statement...

You Got...


Excuse my juvenility. I hate to celebrate death, but his will save more lives than it will cost.

I don't necessarily know why stuff like this should affect the price of oil, but it did.

Dead terrorists, cheap(er) gas, World Cup starting tomorrow...and I didn't even have to use my AK.

I'll get to a darker subject tomorrow...Steven Seagal as a rock star. Stay tuned.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Rampant Speculation - My World Cup Preview

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingFirst, my random thought for the day:

If your car is having battery trouble, it seems the last thing you would want is an extra light coming on, just to indicate this problem. I know, you should be notified, but there has to be a less power draining way. car had said troubles.

On to my preview. I swear, this is my last soccer blog for a few weeks. I know you are dying to be regaled with tails of catsex and iced-coffee as it relates to life, so I must put my World Cup Fever on hold until the U.S. begins play on June 12th.

Before I do that, though, I must subject you to my hastily researched, partially unfounded, World Cup predictions. That way, if any of them come true, I can edit these last two sentences off my blog, and say "I told you so".

We'll begin with my biggest concern, my beloved Americans. They managed to stave off Fret Level Red with a couple of victories before heading to Germany. I'm still concerned that neither of them were as convincing as their thrashings of Uruguay and Jamaica in the run-up to '02, or really even their loss to The Netherlands in that same series.
Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
Nonetheless, a few of the young guys showed their wares, and seem to have offered Bruce Arena a few options to throw at our opponents in Group E. Eddie Johnson looked dangerous once again (even though he's still waiting for his next goal in the US uni), Bobby Convey showed why he was regarded as one of Reading's best players this year, and John O'Brien appears to be rounding back into form. These are all things that will make Bruce's selections difficult, and exciting at the same time.

Here's my thought on this edition of the U.S. team. It's the calm before the storm. That is, this is the team before "The Team". The '06 edition may find it hard to make it out of their difficult group, and even then will surely be sent home by Brazil in the 2nd Round. The 2010 Nats, however, appear poised to not only earn a seed in this quadrennial event, but make a fair amount of noise. The number of Americans being placed in crucial roles on their European clubs is rising every year, and that could make the '10 edition very young, and very exciting.

As for the aforementioned "Group of Death". I expect Italy to win this group. Conventional wisdom has The Czech Republic advancing. I'm not so sure about that. The Czechs have the unfortunate task of being the new "it" team for this World Cup, and that often comes with added pressure, and a pinch of haughtiness. The last two times the U.S. faced this team, it played under the names Colombia and Portugal. Neither responded very well to their new found adoration, and failed to qualify for the 2nd Round. Based on Arena's experience, and the weight of expectations, I believe the US will progress as the #2 team out of this group, before making an almost guaranteed exit against Brazil.

Even if they are knocked out in Group E play, I don't expect them to lose to both Italy and the Czechs. There is enough talent there to steal at least a tie from one of these sides.
Ghana, of course, is the real wild card in this group. My biggest hope is that even if we don't advance, that American fans are smart enough to realize how harshly the odds are stacked against us...and how kind FIFA was to our neighbors, Mexico.

My overriding thought on this Cup is that Brazil won't win. They are certainly good enough to be the first non-European team in a half-century to win a Euro-based World Cup (when they became the only team to do so), but the sheer effort it would take to win their 3rd trophy in 4 tries is daunting.

As for the rest of the Cup - In a nutshell, I see it going something like this:

Group A - Winner: Germany (Mmmm...Land of Chocolate)
Runner-Up: Poland (Isn't that always the way?)
Dark Horse: Ecuador

Group B - Winner: England (Inability to dance a proper Robot aside.)
Runner-Up: Paraguay (Will still be confused for Uruguay)
Dark Horse: Actually, Paraguay

Group C - Winner: Netherlands
Runner-Up: Argentina
Dark Horse: Cote d'Ivoire (That's Ivory Coast to you soap enthusiasts)

Group D - Winner: Portugal
Runner-Up: Mexico
Dark Horse: Iran (The only team in the Cup I'll root for Mexico against)

Group E - See Above

Group F - Winner: Brazil (Duh)
Runner-Up: Japan (All thanks to Arnold's energy drink.)
Dark Horse: Anyone other than Brazil, really. Japan, Australia, or
Croatia could all finish 2nd here.

Group G - Winner: France (Henry comes up big, Zizou goes out in style)
Runner-Up: Switzerland (But they'll regret being so agressive)
Dark Horse: Switzerland, most have S. Korea making it out over The Swiss

Group H - Winner: Tunisia (My one crazy pick, and the requisite "Surprise Group Winner")
Runner-Up: Spain (Will consider firing coach in mid-tournament)
Dark Horse: Ukraine

Semi-Finalists: Netherlands, *Surprise Team, Portugal, Brazil
Finals: Netherlands vs. Portugal
Winners: Netherlands
3rd Place: Surprise Team over a disinterested Brazilian squad.

*In the last 3 World Cups, there's been at least one surprise Semi-Finalist. They always seem to come from Eastern Europe as well. While I feel good about my Final Four, I wouldn't be surprised if a team like Ukraine, Croatia, or Serbia & Montenegro crashed the party.

There you have it. My semi-baseless take on the World Cup. I'll be sure to act like a smug prognosticator, whether I'm right or wrong. That's what we pundits do.