Wednesday, June 30, 2010


When historians examine this blog, they'll be forced to conclude that an oddly high percentage of post titles include the word 'Rafa.'

But today, no problem, because he's back in the Wimbledon semis! It was a tough match for the first 3 sets, but a tiebreak win in the third against Robin Soderling broke the Swede for good. The English crowd got squarely behind Rafa from the get-go, a situation that won't be repeated next round, when he faces Andy Murray, a Scot.

No British player has won the home major since Fred Perry in 1936, and this year looks like as good a chance as any. Perennial champion Roger Federer was knocked out by Tomas Berdych earlier in the day, an even greater shock than his early exit in Paris, and it leaves the final 4 wide open. Rafa will be the favorite, but he's more vulnerable on grass than on clay, and has already been taken to the limit in this year's draw. On the other side, Berdych is untested, and Djokovic has a penchant for poor performance when the pressure mounts.

For Murray and his countrymen, the question is 'why not now?' The answer, unfortunately, might come in the psychological realm. I watched part of Murray's match against Tsonga, and he's still a bit of a loose cannon. On one hand, he certainly feeds off the energy of the crowd. On the other, he gets into short phases where he whines and plays the victim and seems to get down on himself. Against Rafa, arguably the most mentally fit player in the world, those little lapses will be severely punished.

But his skill can't be denied. If he can find a way past the 2008 champion, I expect he'll have an easy time in the final. Getting there is the problem. It should be a truly excellent match, and will at least afford the pleasure of watching Rafa play with his back to the wall. In this case, the wall is composed of anxious, loud English people who've experienced the pain of Wimbledon denial for 75 years. It all goes down Friday, which figures to be a great day in sports. Two World Cup matches, the semis in London, and AJ's first start with Dave Eiland back in pinstripes. And it all happens in the afternoon! I'll have to treat it like I'm a late riser living in a British time zone; up at 6am (noon), exercise at 7 (1pm), mealtime at 9 (3pm), sports from 10-4 (4pm-10pm), eat and drink until 6pm (midnight), fall asleep. Sounds like a plan.

That'll do it for the afternoon. I'm off to Ocean City, Maryland after work this Thursday, so no Friday post, but I'll see y'all tomorrow.

The Return of Google Searches!

This morning I'll be returning to an old feature where I share some of the google searches that led unsuspecting souls to my blog. These are all true and verbatim, taken from my statcounter page. Most of the google searches are either people searching for information about Seth Curry, or just googling my blog title to get here. But occasionally there are some random dandies. I'm only doing the oddballs. Here we go!

June 29

"I'm not weird poem" led to this post. I'm guessing a tortured adolescent was seeking a piece of poetry about how it's okay to be strange, and that above all you should be comfortable with yourself and not let other people make you feel bad. Instead, he found an obsessive's creepy ode to a college basketball player. This is the future, kid! The world is dark!

"Cliff Lee is an Asshole" led to this post, titled "Cliff Lee is Still an Asshole." Two things. First, I love how this dude just types his angry opinions into google. Give me affirmation, internet! Second, I like that this blog reinforced that practice by giving him exactly what he was looking for. Seth Curry Saves Duke: still the official blog of Cliff Lee being an asshole.

"Young Judi Dench" led to this post. Not to get all weird on you guys, but do you think this googler was looking for pictures of a young Judi Dench so that he could...masturbate? Did someone use my blog to pleasure themselves to old pictures of a British actress? That's a weird feeling, gang. It was never supposed to be that kind of blog. It wasn't supposed to be like this!

"omg Yuichi Komano missed" led to this post from yesterday. Again, what's with people just typing their thoughts into google? The 'omg' is the best part of this one. It's like they've just heard a bit of surprising news and are turning to a friend to commiserate. And this one happened at 7pm, a good 8 hours after the fatal penalty miss. Did they just hear about it through a friend? "What! He missed?! BE RIGHT BACK I GOTTA LET GOOGLE KNOW!"

"Baseball 'pop fly' famous quote" led to this post. The googler certainly didn't find what he was looking for there, but now I'm kinda curious too. What is this mysterious quote about the pop fly? I imagine it's something old timey, sort of funny, and really wise. I googled it myself, but nothing. No hilarious pop fly quotes. Which is sad, so I'll invent one:

"Well, I reckon a pop fly ain't too much different from one of them tall pines. Both of them go up high as the eye can see, but it takes a brave man to stand his ground when they get to falling!"

-'Flinchin' Ed Lafray, Knoxville Blue Stockings, 1893

That was from an era when pop flies were considered really dangerous.

"Fe fi fo fom game" led to this post. Unfortunately I did not fully outline the rules to the amazing fe fi fo fum game in that particular entry, but stay tuned for further information in tomorrow's post: "I Smell the Blood of an Englishman."

"Fake Athletes" led to this post. This googler was from Munster, Germany. I don't know why that search combined with that location give me the willies, but they do. What are you up to, sinister German guy? What's with the sudden interest in fake athletes? Are you trying to make a creepily avant-garde modern-art video that uses obese men in gas masks playing baseball? I'm right, aren't I?

"video England Germany ref muttering oh my god" led to the main blog, somehow. The person's next search: "seriously google stop fucking with me I'm talking about the 2010 world cup match between England and Germany and I swear I saw the ref muttering oh my god at one point and it just seems bizarre that there's nothing on the internet about this right now I mean come on there's gotta be something everybody likes the world cup and you couldn't miss it the ref said it right into the camera I mean the internet has every other useless thing you can think of like an injured stork being harrassed by a kid with a water gun so jesus christ just turn something up and be useful for one fucking time FUCK."

June 28 + 27

"duke seth curry saved" led to the main page. This is only notable because it's exactly how Yoda says the title of my blog. That probably seemed like a lame joke, but take a moment and say the words in a Yoda voice. Do it. You had a little fun, didn't you? Is that a smile I seeeeee? Is that a widdle smile?!?!?!

"mason plumlee girlfriend" led to this post. Yup, people still care about this. Is it because Mason Plumlee is ugly? Is that why there's such a fascination? Regardless, my ploy at the bottom of that post has come up huge. There's a google search for Mason' girlfriend at least once ever three days. Hit city, baby!

"dallas braden bad teeth" led to this post. Time to update the scoreboard: Searches about Dallas Braden's bad teeth: 15. Searches about his perfect game: 2.

"Landon Donovan fan fiction" led to this post. Okay, I admit that this person had probably read the post before, or heard about it, and was just trying to reach my blog. But I want to believe in a world where people are searching for Landon Donovan fan fiction. I want that world to exist. Let me have my dream, baby. This is America.

"Landon Donovan philosophical utilitarianism" led to the main page. YES. FUCKING YES!

"World Cup teams and capital cities" led to this post. Looking for: an opportunity to expand my horizons and further my education by researching foreign cities. Found: asshole American making ethnocentric jokes about places he knows one fact about and will never visit. Conclusion: Earth is hopeless.

That rounds out this week's google searches. Later on, I'll probably be forced to give Cliff Lee his props. And I'll get to gloat about Portugal and the insufferable Cristiana Ronaldo being out of the tournament.

And oh man, I almost forgot: it's quarterfinal day in London! Rafa against Soderling. I'm incredibly nervous. Everyone's favorite Spaniard handled Soderling in Paris, but the task on grass will be much more difficult. In fact, I'd say his chances of success are only slightly above 50%. I do expect this one to go four or five sets.

At the moment, Djokovic is up 2 sets to love on the Taiwanese guy who beat Roddick, and Roger Federer is 1-set apiece with Tomas Berdych, and down a break in the third. The upset watch is on. Why do I have the feeling that this is the year Andy Murray will finally break through and win a major on home soil? More coming later...

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Excruciating Injustice of Penalty Kicks

If you missed it, Japan fell to Paraguay in the first match of the World Cup that went to penalty kicks. This sudden death spectacle comes into play often in the tournament format, and it's always horrible.

Here's the deal with penalties: while there's a lot of literature and science out there (none of which I've read) on how to take them, how to save them, and how to increase the percentages in both directions, it's essentially a simple task. The goalkeeper has to guess which direction the ball will travel before it's kicked, and if he guesses right, there's a chance he might save it. Now, this guess might be informed by clues as to how the placekicker is standing, how he approaches, etc. But the kickers know about all these clues, and most of them approach from a straight path in order to disguise their intentions.

In other words, it's an endeavor of luck, and a really shitty way to end a soccer match. Most of the kicks go for goals, obviously. When they don't, it's either a case of the goalie getting lucky, or the kicker screwing up. In both situations, an otherwise talented soccer player has to face the brunt of criticism from media and fans for failing at a specialized task that has little to no bearing on his ability to play the actual game.

Today was no exception. The Japanese goalie guessed right on the first two Paraguay kicks, but just missed both of them. The Paraguayan keeper guessed right once in four kicks, but the third attempt, taken by Yuichi Komano, smashed the woodwork and bounced harmlessly away. That was the difference in the match, and now Japan has to go home.

But imagine being Komano. Yuck. Psychological stress, shame, disappointment you can probably never atone for, and the miserable situation of taking the entire blame on your shoulders. He's made himself into a target. Granted, this kind of thing will happen in sports. We all know the names of Bill Buckner and Scott Norwood. But when it doesn't have to happen? Get rid of it.

The best solution I've heard is to end the game after 120 minutes, and if it's still tied, have three impartial judges score the match like a boxing bout. The team who exhibited better style goes through. Easy and fair. It would also cut down on crappy teams just being defensive and scared. You want to play for a tie against a better team? Fine, go home. Otherwise, try like hell to score near the end. Boring play will get you 120 minutes of grueling effort for a TKO loss. And this system maintains the integrity of the game without letting it devolve into a novelty act based on fickle fortune. Would you decide a football game with a field goal contest? A baseball game with a home run derby? Basketball with a slam dunk or three-point shooting contest?

Of course not. But this is soccer, so the most backward method is de rigueur.

Anyway, sucks for Japan. In better news, the Yanks and Mariners face off tonight in what should be an excellent game. Phil Hughes is on the mound, and it's a well-kept secret that his last few starts have not been quite as impressive as his opening salvo. The wins keep piling up, but the stuff had diminished as the ERA rises. He's also coming off a lengthy rest due to Joe Girardi's idea that young pitchers shouldn't throw too many innings without first building up their arm strength.

Fortunately, he'll be facing a withered Seattle lineup. Unfortunately, he'll be matched against Cliff Lee, who can make any lineup look withered. I expect a low scoring affair (duh), and a 3-1 Yankee win as Hughes gets his mojo back. I'll probably at the stadium tomorrow, for Javy against Felix, a match-up that looks much better now than it would have a month ago.

Spain and Portugal are tied at halftime in the Battle for Iberia. Loser has to speak with a lisp.

Speaking of that, and before I leave, I've always heard that the reason half of Spain speaks with a lisp is that a conquering foreign king once had a lisp, and his subjects had to follow suit so they wouldn't offend him. Once the people in power were doing it, everyone else got on board, and then their children did it, and etc. until it became a cultural institution. Is that even close to being true? It sounds kinda like something people who hate Spain might make up. But if it's legit, whoa, right!?


Russian Spies!

But first things first: this morning, I had a strange, uncomfortable feeling in the pants region.

(I pause while you imagine where this story might be going.)

It was not some kind of weird affliction, sorry to say. Just a general weirdness with my clothes. I'm in lazy casual attire, wearing khakis with no belt and an untucked button down shirt, so nothing was different in that regard. But still, something was off. Finally, the answer dawned on me. I pulled out the waist of my pants ever so slightly, discreetly peered down, and confirmed my worst fears.

My boxers were on backwards.

I can't remember ever doing this before. I'm sure when I was a little kid, back in the tighty-whitey days, there were some errors, but after age six I reeled off a perfect lifetime of underwear donning. That's 21 flawless years. I certainly can't say that about any other piece of clothing. I've put socks on inside out. I've definitely stepped into shorts and windpants the wrong way. T-shirts?! Forget about t-shirts. THEY'RE THE WORST OF THE BUNCH! Even jackets have been inverted without me noticing until after it's too late. Same for winter hats. And I wear normal baseball hats inside-out on purpose; rally cap!

But until today, I never screwed up with the boxers. It was the one thing I could count on, and now that's all over. I'm a normal, blemished human being. Just like you. Spoiled for eternity. In the handicapped bathroom here at work, with my pants and shoes piled nearby, I wept while I switched them back to their proper orientation.

Enough of that! It's time to talk about something else completely unrelated to sports:


One of my chief guilty pleasures is a good spy novel. If you ever want to be talked at for a good, boring hour, ask me a question about the genre. Here are my top 5, in reverse order:

5) Night Soldiers, Alan Furst

4) The Unlikely Spy, Daniel Silva

3) The Quiet American, Graham Greene

2) The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, John LeCarre

1) The Day of the Jackal, Frederick Forsythe

It is no coincidence that 3 of these 5 involve Russians. So you can imagine my delight when I read this story in the NYTimes this morning. Apparently, 11 Russians had been living in the United States for the past 10 years, under assumed identities, with the mission of "penetrating American policy circles." On first impression, this is just like the Cold War. However, a closer reading leads to a few disappointments. Namely:

1) The Russians weren't even charged with espionage.

2) They didn't really collect any information.

3) They seemed to just use the blank check from Moscow to set up sweet American lives and try to BS their way into keeping them.

That's some lazy spy work, guys and gals. This part was awesome:

There were also hints that Russian spy bosses feared that their agents, ordered to go native in prosperous America, might be losing track of their official purpose. Agents in Boston submitted an expense report with such vague items as “trip to meeting” for $1,125 and “education,” $3,600.

In Montclair, when the Murphys wanted to buy a house under their names, “Moscow Center,” or “C.,” the S.V.R. headquarters, objected.

“We are under an impression that C. views our ownership of the house as a deviation from the original purpose of our mission here,” the New Jersey couple wrote in a coded message. “From our perspective purchase of the house was solely a natural progression of our prolonged stay here. It was a convenient way to solving the housing issue, plus ‘to do as the Romans do’ in a society that values home ownership.”

In other words:

Whatup Moscow,

Good to hear from you. Real good. Listen, I'm gonna shoot you straight: me and the lady are all about Russia. To the extreme, if I can lose my modesty for a second. Believe me, there's nothing we want more than to get some serious intel on these Americans and bring them down. Hard. We ain't been here for 10 years sitting on our hands and watching reality television, homes. I'm still pissed from Soviet times, the Americans belong in gutters, and all that jive. But you gotta understand how things over here work. It ain't like home where you can get jailed for building a door knocker from aluminum foil. I could bore you with a million cultural details, but we're all busy people, so basically it's like this: to have any connections in the USA, you need a sweet house.

The other day I was just on the verge getting my hands on some serious nuclear shit, then the science dude finds out I live in a duplex in a suburb that's only mediocre, and next thing I know he's asking me about my favorite race car driver and doing a thing with his eyebrows that's 100 percent about class. Meanwhile the nuclear stuff is back in a drawer waiting for someone he thinks can understand it. And you and I both know, that theoretical homeboy will probably be from China.

I'm not telling you guys anything new. The Americans are capitalist scum. If it was up to me, I'd live in a gray industrial state-appointed 'condo' like before. That's keeping it real, and we wouldn't be Russian spies if we weren't about hard-knock roots, you heard? I miss elevators that smell like that stale kind of vomit you make after drinking vodka, and how one out of every three people in the building reports you if you even sneeze in an anti-Stalin way. That's good stuff. Motherland stuff, salt of the earth all the way. But when in Rome,'ve heard the saying. We need to live large in some stellar digs as long as we residin' in the evil kingdom. Putin forever,

-Aleksandr Ilianovich Ilianov, aka Davey "Miller Time" Rogers

PS I got your rejection notice about the yacht. I'm cool with that for now, I know money's tight, but it's something we gotta talk about, for real.

Still, it was nice to hear from the Russians again. They're an enemy I can get behind. They're like us, just wicked paranoid and totally missing the belief that life should be anything but really miserable. Their style is way better than terrorism, which is amorphous and frightening. Terrorists give me the creeps.

Okay, enough tomfoolery. I'll write about some sporting events a bit later. Japan and Paraguay kick things off in a few minutes, Spain and Portugal battle for Iberia in the afternoon, and tonight, the Yanks and Phil Hughes take on Cliff Lee and a bunch of guys who celebrate if they manage to hit a foul ball.

Monday, June 28, 2010

El Clutchisimo Cano

With the Yanks trailing by 4 going into the 9th inning of their rubber game against the Dodgers last night, all appearances suggested an impending series loss to a team we may not face again in years. But that, my friends, is when Robinson got clutch. A one-out double scored A-Rod to get things going, and he later scored the second run. The Yanks managed to tie things up, and then, in the first inning of bonus cantos, Sweet Robbie went to work again with a two-run opposite-field blast. It buried the trolley Dodgers, and was the biggest win of the year for the Yanks.

Here were Dustin Pedroia's stats when he won the MVP award:

.326 BA, .376 OBP, .493 SLG, .869 OPS, 213 H, 118 R, 17 HR, 83 RBI

Here are Robbie's stats this year, with the last four stats projected for a full season:

.359 BA, .409 OBP, .593 SLG, 1.002 OPS, 229 H, 119 R, 32 HR, 114 RBI

Granted, Pedroia's MVP was undeserved, and granted its kinda useless to compare Robbie to former winners rather than his current competition. But still interesting, no?

His clutch stats are also super, and he's first in batting average, first in hits, 3rd in OBP, 5th in OPS, 4th in slugging, 6th in RBI, and 8th in home runs. He's far from a shoe-in for MVP, but along with Morneau and Cabrera, he's one of three legitimate names in the running.

But the season's still early, so we'll shelve that talk for now. Regardless, all 6 predictions from my annual "Year of Robinson" post are looking pretty nice. Maybe even conservative. Bam.

Other news: Rafa is up 2 sets to love on Mathieu!! On to the quarters, or so we hope. Meanwhile, Roddick is in the 5th against Yen-Hsun Lu, the 82nd ranked player from Chinese Taipei (Taiwan). The last three sets have gone to the tiebreaker, so this one could be a barnburner. Andy Murray is also through, as are Djokovic and Soderling. It's shaping up to be a fairly predictable, yet awesome, quarterfinals.

World Cup:

-This morning, the Dutch advanced to the quarters with a fairly easy 2-1 win over Slovakia. Brazil and Chile are tied in the 26th minute, so stay tuned.

-Here's a nice, downcast article about the US disappointment. Thanks to Kevin for the link.

-Instead of considering video technology, FIFA has decided to take the high road and censor video replays in stadiums. Jesus.

-Klose is questioning the team play of England. Salt in the wounds, but hey, he earned it.

Hasta manana.

The Loss

That's the Ghanese coat of arms, signifying the sad departure of the boys in blue. Yes, it happened again; for the 80th straight year, the United States failed to win the World cup. I watched the match at a bar in the village with a couple pals, and though the loss was hard to take in that atmosphere, which was so willing and eager to become ecstatic, I can't say I'm despondent.

On facebook later in the afternoon, my friend Nick had a status message that said (paraphrasing) "amazing how quick the sting wears off, isn't it?" My feelings were similar, especially in comparison to the aftermath of Yankee playoff losses, where once, in younger days, I wrote a really lachrymose blog posts bemoaning the total tragedy of another disappointment, and blaming myself for not supporting them with enough fervor (seriously, it was embarrassing, and I'm happy to report it no longer exists on the internet). Not so with US-Ghana. I'm okay.

The primary reason for my quick recovery, of course, is that I'm not a huge soccer fan. But within the context of the World Cup, I got fairly excited about Team USA. I was stimulated enough that there was at least a semi-strong investment in their cause. Walking out the of the bar into the very harsh sunshine ("God, it's day out here," said a fellow supporter), I had the sinking feeling of disappointment. It just wore off fast, is all. And the real reason I'm not in a state of despair, despite my enthusiasm, is simple: we weren't good enough. Let's review:

1) In the group stages, we showed approximately nothing other than a weird ability to play better from behind. A very lucky 1-1 tie with England was a good start, but the early goal we conceded to Gerrard initiated a pattern of poor beginnings that continued with Slovenia. Falling behind 2-0 in that second match stung, and left us open to bad luck taking a win off the board at the end. Against Algeria, we almost conceded another early goal, were saved by the crossbar, and managed the win by the skin of our teeth. A great moment, to be sure, but also a sign that Team USA wasn't exactly a powerhouse.

2) We failed to possess the ball on offense in a meaningful way. I've watched a good number of teams, and the ones who can pass back and forth effectively while trying to find a chink in the defensive armor, without being harassed into kicking long or diagonal balls to goal, are Germany, England, Holland, Brazil, Spain, Argentina, Uruguay, Parguay, Portugal, and sometimes Ghana. No surprises. The US can't maintain that control, and they did have to resort to attacking without organization. That's basically asking for luck, a commodity that rarely sticks around for long. I mean, we're not even Irish.

3) Our strikers and forwards are awful. We have nobody except Landon Donovan with any kind of scoring touch. Dempsey, Findley, Altidore, etc. have no ability near the goal. The contrast is especially striking when you compare them with guys like Tevez or Messi (Argentina) or Podolski or Klose (Germany). Team USA had myriad scoring chances throughout the tournament, and for a while the lack of goals seemed like bad luck. But finally, we have to admit that it wasn't luck, just a lack of talent.

4) The early goal conceded against Ghana was an abysmal, and maybe shameful, development. If a team can't learn from their mistakes, they'll finally get burnt. Luck and the ability to come back can't last forever, and the Americans went to the well once too often.

My question is this: why did it keep happening? Was it a lack of motivation? Of the four goals we gave up in the tournament, three came within the first 15 minutes. Did we keep coming out flat? How can that be possible on a stage as nervy and important as the World Cup? And if we performed our absolute best when we played with a frantic, attacking style, like the first 15 minutes of the second half against Ghana, why didn't we play with that energy more often? In that quarter hour, the US looked amazing. The goal had to come, and it finally did. We kept up the attack for ten minutes after, but it was half-hearted, and by the 75th minute the energy died. The rest of the match went just like the first half, with sloppy defense, desperation long balls, and Ghana owning the possession.

5) Defense. Piss poor. We were lucky to play Ghana instead of a team like Germany. They would have scored 10 goals and embarrassed us completely. We do not have world class athletes in the back, sorry to say.

For all those reasons, we didn't deserve to advance. Could we have won against Ghana? Yes. And we could have won against Uruguay too. My pal Wynn, a much bigger soccer fan than myself, put it best in a post-match e-mail when he said "the path to the semifinals will not get any better in the future than Ghana and Uruguay. The semifinal or final would have been misleading about how good we are, but I dont give a would have been really really fun and great for soccer here and it would have made me very glad."

I agree with that. It was a prime opportunity for a team who didn't deserve to be in the semifinals to get there anyway. Like Wynn said, we could easily be paired with a Spain or Argentina in the round of 16 next time (or the group stages, where it looks more and more like getting England as our 'good' team was a pretty handy break). If this was Duke basketball and we missed a similar opportunity, I'd be pretty upset. But as a more impartial observer, attached to Team USA not because of player loyalty or sport loyalty but only a vague sort of patriotism, I'm not bumming.

Here's the truth: in order for the US to become a soccer powerhouse, there has to be a cultural change. Instead of pick-up basketball in cities and towns, kids will need to be playing soccer. That's why these other countries have preternaturally talented strikers and midfielders and defenders. It's not because we lack great talent. That rareified subset of the population exists in all countries. But in Argentina and Spain and Holland and Germany, those kids who possess what we'll call a 'physical genius' grow up playing soccer. They're identified early, and their skill is developed in a national system. Here, that doesn't happen. Until it changes, soccer will be a sport played mostly by upper middle-class Americans and smaller European, Latin American, and African enclaves. And when you look at the best athletes in our other major sports, that's not where they come from.

That's why it's so deceiving when announcers say something like "how extraordinary that Slovenia has only one-tenth of the United States population, and yet they're competing!" Okay, fine, but how big is the talent pool? I bet it's very close to the same size.

I personally don't see that cultural shift happening here. I could absolutely be wrong. And who knows, maybe the growing Hispanic population in America will produce some brilliant players, and we won't need the cultural shift. But as things stand, the US is not situated to produce a Lionel Messi, or an Arjen Robben, or a Cristiano Ronaldo. Even if that potential existed in an American youth, he's probably playing football or basketball. And in the off chance that he's playing soccer, he isn't facing the kind of competition that could bring out those latent gifts and creativity.

That's my diagnosis.

On a more positive note, I think international soccer finally won me over this weekend. Germany-England was the match of the tournament so far, and I was glued to the set. The more you watch anything, the more you're able to pick up on little subtleties, and the more you can appreciate the moments that come in between the dramatic climaxes (in this case, goals). I've slowly come to recognize and enjoy the little intricacies in soccer, and it's a nice feeling.


How stupid is that? Add my voice to the choir, please. It would take about three seconds to determine if Lampard's goal went in, or if Tevez was offsides, or any other outcome-affecting event near the goal. Implement it. Implement it today. Why the resistance? In fact, why is there resistance at all in life? Why is there no BCS playoff system? Why why why?! Why isn't everything perfect?!

Sepp Blatter, FIFA's President, is an ignorant old fool. His big excuse for remaining in the 20th century is that they wouldn't be able to use video at all levels. Oh yeah, that's important, Sepp. God forbid the Yugoslavian youth championships be tainted by an unseen hand ball while the World Cup, the universe's most popular sporting event, unfairly benefits from video. Unbelievable.

There's far too much money at stake to let this system persist. The refs have shown beyond all convincing that they can't manage the job on their own. For one reason or another, it's too difficult, and they're shortcomings harm the sport. As well as Germany played yesterday, both of their late goals came on counterattacks. Do they get those if the game is tied 2-2? Almost definitely not. Does Mexico utterly collapse if the offside Argentina goal is discounted and it's 2-2? Who knows?

But we shouldn't have to speculate. As Jurgen Klinsmann said at halftime of England-Germany, it's a disgrace.

But I'm still loving the World Cup. This one has trumped '06 by far, and the knock-out draw is very exciting. How can you not be pumped for a match like Spain-Portugal (tomorrow, 2:30) or Argentina-Germany (Saturday morning)? It shall be MAD.

Okay, so, today is a great day in sports. The Orange Crush play in a half hour, Brazil later on, and it's the entire men's round of 16 at Wimbledon goes down starting now. Rafa says his knees are in good shape, but I have a feeling he'll be put to the test this afternoon. Already, Federer is up two sets and a break on Melzer, and is two games away from an easy win.

And yes, you best believe I'll be talking some Robbie Cano later on. Until then, go Holland.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Revenge Time

No need for words. Tomorrow, it's US-Ghana. Revenge for '06. A continuation of the run for glory. It's gonna go down, my brothers.

How about some videos to get us there. First, here's a compilation of reactions to Donovan's goal:

Next, you can watch Donovan's goal overlaid with Andres Cantor's radio call here. Cantor is the 'GOLLLLLLLLLLLLL!' guy. It's awesome.

And here are a couple of the greatest World Cup goals of all time. First, Bergkamp. Watch the ridiculous control when they show the replay.

Second, Maradona. A lot of people call this the greatest goal ever.

Lastly, some Johan Cruyff highlights. He was Dutch, one of the greatest ever, a thin whippet of a man, and insanely fun to watch. I would love to know the circumstances behind the goal at the 4:35 mark.

Yanks-Dodgers this weekend, and on Sunday it's England-Germany at 10am. If I remember correctly, those two teams have no history in the World Cup, and they've gotten along along really well historically. See you Monday, and Go America!

Landon Donovan Fan Fiction

(Hello readers. I found this one on the subway this morning. Not sure who the author is. I guess the whole nation is thinking about Landon Donovan. Anyway, it was a bunch of papers strewn about, with scratchy handwriting. It looked kinda hurried, but I think there's real potential, so I decided to transcribe it for the morning post. There were notes written on the margin at certain points, and I've put these in italicized parentheses.)


Hollis Martin was a humongous jerk. He played for the college soccer team and was tall, but his long blond hair wasn't even as good as most people said. He liked to walk around with a dumb smile, being arrogant and winking at girls and saying things like "YA BRO IT'S GONNA BE AN AWESOME TIME!" (think of another authentic quote for character building...)

One day Hollis Martin and his friends were talking about a party they were going to have on campus. They posted flyers on every lamp post and told all the girls. 'The entire soccer team will be there!' they bragged. 'You can't imagine the fun!' Soon a lot of the girls were talking and giggling about the party. You could watch them in their circles, looking out of the corner of their eyes at Hollis and his friends and blushing. It was the big story around campus. Everybody knew it.

David Lawson was an unassuming student who was nice and very handsome when you got to know his personality. He was good at many things that were not obvious right away. In high school he had played on the soccer team, but even though he was plenty good enough to play for the college team, Hollis Martin and the coach who couldn't recognize real talent if HIS ASS FELL INTO IT kept him off the team.

David Lawson didn't talk to too many people and mostly stayed in his room. He moderated a message board about international soccer, and was very popular among the people there. He could ban anyone with a push of the button. Sometimes he would use an IP ban. (go into greater detail about the finality of the IP ban...)

When David was walking to class that morning, he stopped in front of a lamp post. He liked to read the the flyers. That's when he saw the flyer for the soccer team party. At first, he thought nothing of it. But then he saw a shadow on the paper. He looked behind him, and who was it but Hollis Martin.


David stared at him. He was not tongue-tied. He just wanted to make an impression with silence.


"I wasn't-" began David, but Hollis interrupted him.


Again, David used an intimidating silence to speak for him. (make it clear later that he does have a penis...)


At the mention of her name, David recoiled. Marissa Graves was the most beautiful girl on campus. She was also nice.

"Marissa Graves would never fall for a fool like you!" David said in his own head.


David gritted his teeth in anger and muttered a swear word a few minutes after Hollis left. He had never felt so angry in his entire life. One thing was clear: he would have to go to the soccer party. It was the only way he could keep Marissa Graves and her amazing good looks away from Hollis Martin and his cronies. It would be a last heroic effort.

That night as he was sleeping, the thoughts swirled around his head like in the tv shows where people's faces rotate in the air just above the person. First it was Hollis Martin. '8 TIMES A DAY!' he yelled with laughter. Then he rotated away and it was Marissa Graves. 'I don't know what to do!' she said. Then his high school coach Mr. Douglas. 'You will be the greatest goal scorer in the world!' David woke up with a start. It had only been a dream. There weren't people in the room. Also Mr. Douglas never said that and he never had a conversation with Melissa. But the Hollis Martin part was real enough. (add above that there was eerie music playing...)

Saturday night came along after a few days. At 10pm exactly, which is the cool time for a person to attend a party, David set out. He wore his favorite United States soccer jersey. The other soccer players watched him as he walked up the sidewalk to their house. Inside, the music was loud. Upstairs, someone flew out a window. They were thrown by a soccer player no doubt.

David bravely knocked at the door. It opened slowly, and there stood Hollis Martin. Behind him, Marissa Graves was wearing a really short skirt and purple lipstick just like David liked. She seemed nervous and not having fun. Her eyes lit up at seeing David.


David had studied police procedure in his spare time, and he knew that if he just walked in, it could be breaking and entering. Ten years, easy. (confirm this with research...) So with a sigh, he knew the night was over. Marissa Graves would be gone forever.

He started to turn around, but all the sudden he heard a bunch of grunts and saw the college soccer players on the lawn flying everywhere. 'What in hell is happening?' he wondered. That's when he turned around all the way and saw an amazing sight.


Holy shit. The greatest United States player in world history was wearing his full uniform, and just doing a bunch of roundhouse kicks on everyone in sight. He jogged up to the door, put his arm around David, and looked Hollis Martin right in the eye. "Hey Hollis," he said. "I heard a lot about you. I heard you stink at soccer."

Hollis Martin's tongue was hanging out of his mouth, he was so shocked. "UH DERRR UHHHHHHH..." he said.

"I have a feeling you're going to let my friend David into this party. He's easily one of the coolest kids on campus. And your party is about to get a lot more interesting."

With that, the two great friends walked in with their arms around each other. Hollis moved aside. In the background, Marissa Graves was cheering by jumping up and down. "What nice breasts!' David and Landon thought. They looked at each other and grinned. "I think we're really going to get along," said Landon.

After a few minutes of hanging out and laughing like crazy, Hollis Martin interrupted David and Landon. He had regained his composure. "HOW ABOUT THIS," he began. "WE PLAY BEER PONG. IF ME AND MY BUDDIES WIN, I GET TO KEEP MARISSA. IF WE LOSE, DORKFACE GETS HER AND YOU, LANDON DONAVAN, HAVE TO QUIT THE SOCCER TEAM."

Landon Donovan smirked at this offer. He could not have been more confident. He walked to the beer pong table, turned around to face Hollis, and unleased a devastating bicycle kick.


"I guess that's it for beer pong!" he said, and the whole place was laughing and cheering. They knew beer pong was stupid. Hollis Martin's face got really red and he threw his beer against the wall. It broke a television set.

Landon continued to talk. "No beer pong. We'll go outside and play soccer, like real men."


In the background, Marissa agreed to the terms about her having to go with whoever won the game. (should there be a contract? elaborate...)

The soccer game started on the front lawn. It was Landon Donovan and David against Hollis and the entire soccer team. 2 against 11, not good odds. David played in goal and Landon played striker.

It was a tough battle. Landon could dribble like a human possessed, but sometimes the soccer team was able to put together a counter-attack. They also cheated. After 90 minutes of intense action, the score was 16-16. Only ten seconds left in the game. Landon Donovan had the ball, and he nutmegged Hollis Martin by dribbling it between his legs. Then he dribbled like crazy, spun around, backflipped, helicoptered, and almost scored. But at the last second he was taken down hard in the box.

The whistle blew at the same time as the horn. The referee rushed over and pointed to the spot. "That's a penalty kick!" he said. "After this, the game is over. Either your team scores, or the game ends in a tie and Marissa stays with Hollis. That is my ruling."

Hollis didn't like the penalty, and David didn't like the part about a tie meaning he lost Marissa, but both of them had to accept the referee's ruling. He was old and respected.

David expected Landon Donovan to take the penalty kick. But to his surprise, the soccer star approached him. "This is your kick," he said.

"What?!" David couldn't believe it. "But you are the star! Shouldn't you be taking it?"

"I have played almost one million games of soccer for this country," said Landon. "And I have never seen anyone with your kind of spirit. If I had to choose one human in the entire world to take this penalty kick, it would be you. You are a hero."

David narrowed his eyes. He knew Landon Donovan was right. He had to take the kick. That's what great people did.

The goalie got ready, but Hollis Martin came over and shoved him out of the way. "I'M IN NET! THERE'S NO WAY THIS TOTAL DORK IS SCORING ON ME!" he yelled. All the other soccer players laughed. They thought he was right.

David lined up thirty yards behind the ball and began sprinting. Like a gymnastics person, he did a series of flips and tumbles as he approached. Then he yelled like a ninja samurai and kicked the soccer ball with all his might. It shot out to the right, and low. Hollis dove, and the soccer ball hit his hand. It deflected slowly, and as everyone in the audience gasped (there were over one thousand people), it rolled across the line.

"It's a goal!" everyone shouted. Then they erupted in joyous cheers and hugged one another. The noise was heard for a hundred miles in either direction.

Hollis Martin was so angry and ashamed that he couldn't look at anyone. He kicked the grass. He left the college and became a janitor in Texas. The whole soccer team disbanded. Some later went to prison.

David and Landon Donovan jumped up and down in each other's arms. "This is the best day of my life!" they both shouted.

Then Marissa approached. "I guess I'm your girlfriend," she said with a hesitant smile.

"Yup," said David.

Landon Donovan winked. "It looks like you two will be needing a bedroom."

The entire place roared with laughter. When they finished, David spoke. "Yes, we'll definitely be having sex. I hope it goes okay."

As he and Marissa left to go upstairs, Landon Donovan and the rest of the partiers danced until 4 in the morning. They had never been so happy. It was the best party on record. Nothing would ever beat it. The End.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Mariano Saves!

Turning away from the World Cup for the briefest of moments, it's worth a mention that Mariano managed an impressive high-wire act last night. The Yanks tied the Diamondbacks in the 9th inning with an A-Rod sacrifice, and went ahead with a Granderson home run in the 10th. Mariano came out for his second inning, quickly loaded the bases, and looked to be in real trouble.

Then he remembered he was Mariano Rivera, and got three straight outs without letting a single run across the plate. Game and series to the Yanks. It seems like he never lets us down. So in Mo's honor, here's a picture of him as a rookie:

Stunning. He already has greatness etched all over his face.

Of course, I didn't get to see any of it since the game started after 10, and Mariano's heroics came at roughly 1am. I hate west coast swings. And we've got another coming up before the All-Star break. This is going to sound crazy and maybe controversial, but I don't think there should be a west coast.

Or, if they want to maintain it, the time zones should be the same (and go by east coast standards). That would mean west coasters would have to start work at what they currently call "5am." But if we've learned one thing from history, it's that people can get used to anything. Anticipating your next question, yes, I would extend this to the entire world. People in Australia would have to be nocturnal. But at least we wouldn't have to suffer through another Sydney Olympics, when everything was alway spoiled. It just isn't fair.

Some quick points:

*I've been meaning to tackle this for some time: people who give Portugal shit for beating North Korea 7-0 don't understand the World Cup group qualification process. If final points are equal between two teams in the standings, the standard for advancement becomes goal differential. Portugal had already tied the Ivory Coast, and it was reasonable to suspect that they would each lose to Brazil, leaving both with 4 points. So yes, Portugal needed to score as much as possible against North Korea. What if they had stopped at 4, and Ivory Coast scored 5 to advance? In a match like that, you can't hold back. It sucks for North Korea, but that's the nature of the game.

*The Rockies beat the Red Sox, but Ubaldo didn't have his best game. He gave up 6 runs over five innings, his highest total this season. Like I said, he stinks.

*Today, John Isner wrapped up his match over Nicolas Mahut with a tidy 70-68 win in the final set. It's the longest match ever, the two are now tops in the record books for most points in a match, most aces, and blah blah blah.

Conspiracy theory: this was collusion. Nobody has agreed with me thus far, but I'm sticking by it. The highest previous total for a fifth set in a grand slam was 21-19. Nobody gets that high. Something inevitably happens, especially when people are tired. I just don't believe it. It's too absurd, too long. We're going to find out this was a set-up. It doesn't make sense.

*Jim Caple almost successfully pulled off something funny. He fucked it up, of course, with too much verbiage and a failure of comic timing. But there were a few moments when I thought history was being made. Particularly here:

Strasburg has lost every start he's made since the Isner-Mahut match began, including a loss to Kansas City.

I laughed when I read that, and it took a while before I remembered that Caple doesn't have a good sense of humor. But if you want to see a joke get hammered into the ground with no remorse, check it out.

That's it for today. Time to watch the Clockwork Orange do their work against Cameroon.

Still Abuzz

Watching that Donovan goal has not gotten old, and I don't suspect it will before Saturday, when we meet Ghana in the round-of-16. It was your quintessential "good" soccer match: an surreal amount of tension building up, countless chances gone begging, the deserving winners on the ropes, and salvation at the last moment.

Nobody has really talked about this (because why should they?), but if Donovan hadn't scored, that game would have been one of the most unfair, unlucky, and heartbreaking losses I can remember. Unfair because Dempsey's goal was disallowed. Unlucky because we had scads of chances that were separately blown in new and unique ways. And heartbreaking because US Soccer was invested in this World Cup after the disaster in Germany, and lasting at least to the knockout stage was essential to our (battered) self-esteem.

And now we're there. Wild! I may be about to jinx the team and the country, but I don't care, I'm saying it anyway: Ghana will not beat us. They haven't scored a goal from offensive maneuvering in group play; two penaltiy conversions (at least one of them dubious, if I remember correctly) is the sum total of their output.

My Ghanese co-worker, who knows more about African soccer than I will ever learn about any subject, says the deficiency is no fluke. The Ghana defense is strong, but the US attack is run-and-gun anyway. It's not like we were going to pass the ball around on our half for ages looking for a slim opening the way Holland or Brazil or Spain might. We couldn't even do that if we wanted to- the style and skill is missing. It's all long passes and crosses and desperate charges. That's basically the antidote to "good" defense. If you try to get lucky enough, it might happen. Also, we never stop running. Without our excellent conditioning, yesterday's goal would not have happened. There is no pause button, and certainly no quit, in Team USA.

Do you believe in national character? As in, psychological traits that emerge within a country, despite individual variance? The book I keep talking about here, "Brilliant Orange," is written by an Englishman and based on the theory that something in the Dutch mindset or ethos or whatever makes them simultaneously original and defeatist. They produce brilliant, unique teams who lack toughness and the capacity to win in a grinding fashion. So they lose World Cups, and Euro Cups, despite the talent. The Germans, on the other hand, equally skilled, develop more utilitarian systems and breed the kind of unblinking commitment among their players that's allowed them to win three World Cups.

This stuff is theoretical and will only ever be partly true, but I think it's too compelling to dismiss as mere stereotypes. And if we're going to explore this thread within our own borders, you have to say that the American team demonstrates a kind of stubborn resolve and a weird flair for withstanding hardship and earning good results despite early setbacks. In a broad sense, this kind of thing has defined our history. The Revolutionary War started poorly. The Civil War nearly broke apart the union. The Great Depression sent the country into an economic and spiritual spiral. But as a young nation gifted with a lot of luck, a dogged optimism ended up prevailing. We've been at our strongest when faced with long odds and counted out.

Granted, today's America is something wildly different. We're once again stuck in the mire, but it's impossible to ignore that the quality of our citizenry has declined. And I'm not even talking about morality; our history is full of bad guys, and there are probably the same amount now as ever. But there are new qualities that hamper our recovery.

A sense of entitlement is one. Our predecessors weren't burdened by this for the simple fact that they weren't entitled to anything. Opportunities had to be manufactured, futures had to be forged. Laziness is another. Obesity and a dependence on easy technology have softened the nation's underbelly. That wasn't possible before we became a place where even our poor are fat. Last, community spirit has dwindled. Even when the people do come together, as with Obama's election, the enthusiasm and commitment does not endure. Or, when it does, as with the Tea Party movement, the purpose seems a bit muddled, and based on vague individual anger rather than a positive energy of change.

But let's look at US Soccer. They bear a strong resemblance to the hard-nosed qualities of earlier America. There's nothing entitled about them. Soccer is a second sister in this country, and most of the national players are not household names. They aren't heroes. They're mocked far more than they're idolized. Nobody expects greatness from their ranks. They certainly aren't lazy. When you're trying to forge an identity, and its attendant respect, there's no room for arrogance or sloth. And the community spirit burns bright. Soccer fans in America may have smaller numbers than their counterparts, but they're no less ardent.

In fact, it may be the opposite. How many times has a soccer fan tried to convince you of the game's merits? They wear their fandom proudly, and they try to spread their love of the sport like a Christian missionary among the savages. This doesn't happen in other sports because it doesn't have to. I don't need to go far to find a thousand Yankee fans, or New York Giants fans, or Duke basketball fans. Those structures are already in place.

In that sense, soccer in the United States can be seen as a modern metaphor for the freezing soldiers in Valley Forge, or the migrant workers in the Dust Bowl, or Lincoln's unwavering belief in an undivided America. It's a very American attitude- things will turn out well after a period of suffering. Maybe it's a symptom of youth, feeling young and chosen. Not entitled, but blessed. Involved in your own story of redemption. Rejecting the stoic idea of fate. And, coupled with that rejection, an enduring sense of responsibility for the future.

In that light, Donovan's goal should not have come as a surprise. Ditto for the comeback against England and Slovenia. We're witnessing a distant reflection of a resilient nation with a tradition of winning. And unlike the bulk of their countrymen, our players exist without the benefit of a rich and powerful history. They're throwbacks to the early Americans, gauranteed nothing, toiling anyway. So resonant, in fact, that they're impossible not to love.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


A commenter in the last post said: "Sounds like you just had some sweet makeup sex with Landon Donavan."

Yes indeed!

How quickly disappointment can turn into triumph. Golllllly.

You can imagine what happened, because it may have happened to you: I was at the bar, felt awful, felt frustrated, Landon scored, went crazy, hugged strangers, jumped, yelled, chanted "U-S-A," and felt giddy.

That's what World Cup soccer is all about. It immediately became the greatest soccer moment of my life. It even trumps US over Mexico in 2002. Easily, actually. The bastard Algerians decided it would be smart to play for a tie, since they knew we'd score ten goals on them if they ever attacked. We still created a ton of solid chances, but bad luck and another referee screw-up...

We interrupt this rant for a bit of emphasis:


What the hell is going on here? Is it time to start talking about an anti-American conspiracy? Why does every call go against us, especially ones where we score legal goals?

Rant resume:

...kept us off the scoreboard for 91 horrible minutes. And then it happened. Landon motherfucking Donavan, the face of US soccer and our greatest nation player ever.

It couldn't be anyone else. It just couldn't.

Fly your colors high, boys. We won the group. We're on to the knockout stages. Bring on the Krauts, bring on the Ghanians, bring on the Serbs, bring on the Aussies. Doesn't matter. This was spectacular. Donavan scores, and we won't forget it.


Soccer and I: "It's Complicated"

You know how some people seem to have a constant and bottomless litany of complaints about a romantic counterpart? They come to you, frustrated and even outraged, enumerating the offenses their awful boyfriend/girlfriend/love interest has committed since the last reckoning. We all have friends like this. We've probably all been like this at some fragile point or another. Believe me, I'm not pinpointing a gender here; males and females are equally guilty. They inevitably portray the other person as uncaring, indifferent, and oblivious. Maybe cruel.

If you're hearing these types of complaints for the first time, or have just lost interest, you might pipe up right away with something logical like "you're right, it sounds like this person is bad for you. Why don't you break up?" The response is inevitably a drawn out "wellllll..." followed by a silence that signifies brain matter colliding, neurons in a traffic jam, and soon gives way to a renewed round of griping. If you're an old hand at the listening game, maybe you hold your tongue for hours and days, and only tentatively offer the break-up suggestion when the whining has you utterly fatigued. Doesn't matter: the response is the same.

The reason the split doesn't happen, or only happens after an absurd history of abuse and disappointment, is a bit of a mystery. At the very least, it varies person to person; maybe it's weakness, maybe there's some secret draw they aren't telling you (or can't even identify), maybe it's fear of being alone, maybe the significant other has some behavioral tics that resonate with a compelling character in the person's past, or maybe the s/o is actually not that bad, and your pal is just a complainer by nature. Whatever the cause, the attachment is strong. It's love or some approximate corruption thereof. The lengthy protests mean next to nothing.

This is what's happening right now between me and soccer. I realized it last night. If you read some of my recent posts, the complaints are manifold: ties are frustrating, horrible referees unduly influence outcomes, diving and faking and writhing smash the game's integrity into tiny pieces, and there's a sick culture of violence and hatred and racism bound to the sport. Good enough reason to stop watching, right? If you were my friend, you'd nod your head, try to be sympathetic up to a point, and finally say "yeah, wow...maybe it'd be better if you turned the tv off." And I'd have the same logjam of the brain, ignore you, and go on and on.

After all my anti-soccer rhetoric, let's look at the facts:

1) I keep watching.
2) I keep caring.
3) I've bought and read two excellent books about the sport.
4) I follow the coverage online.
5) I exhibit moments of great passion when things go well.
6) Complaining about soccer has become a favorite pasttime.


After the infuriating foul or offsides or whatever-the-fuck-it-was nonsense against Slovenia, I ranted for a while over g-chat to my friend Spike. He listened patiently while I claimed to hate soccer, then unleashed a classic line: "On the other hand, we all knew what we were getting into being excited about soccer."

I might as well have been a sobbing girl hearing "you knew when you got involved with Motorcycle Bill that something like this could happen." (Editor's Note: that last sentence probably proves how little I know about women...'Motorcycle Bill,' which seemed two seconds ago like a real badass hunk of a name, now seems like the most unattractive one I could ever have cooked up.)

Anyway, "it's complicated." I'm psyched for the US match today, I'll tell you that much. All we have to do is beat Algeria, and we're through. If Slovenia wants to tie England and give us a sweet bonus by keeping the limeys out of the knockout stages, I'd take that too. Whatever. But most of all, I want the win. Kickoff is at 10am. I'll be watching the first half here in the office, and the second hopefully at a bar somewhere close by.

What else...

-Andy Pettitte notched his 9th win of the season last night, and, like Hughes, is still on pace for 20. A-Rod jacked a home run, which is hopefully indicative of a new trend.

-Tonight, Ubaldo Jimenez and his frightening 1.15 ERA take on the Boston Red Sox in Colorado. I'll be very, very curious to see how he does. The Sox are 1st or 2nd in every major offensive category, and even though you can't take anything away from Mr. Jimenez, it's also true that he hasn't yet faced a lineup like this.

-Calvin Tomkins, who it turns out is 84 years old (wow!), wrote a great piece on Roger Federer for The New Yorker this week. Unlike a lot of Federer obsessives, he even managed to discuss Nadal with respect. As with most great articles in that magazine, you can only find the abstract online. Well worth a purchase, though. It adds a lot of details to the Federer backstory, at least for me.

-One of the soccer books I was talking about is "Brilliant Orange: The Neurotic Genius of Dutch Soccer." It's a strange, fascinating book, linking the country's soccer philosophy to their politics, art, architecture, and landscape. Somehow, none of the connections seem fatuous, and one of the central themes is really interesting: an overwhelming number of Dutch (fans, media, coaches, players) care more about playing 'beautiful' soccer than winning. It's led to the development of a gorgeous, fluid style defined by possession, crisp passing, and a revolutionary style of efficient movement that came to be known as 'Total Football.'

It's also led to their collapse in a multitude of huge continental matches. Unlike their more driven rivals, the Italians, Spanish, and especially the Germans, they steadfastly refuse to subsitute practicality for beauty. Call it arrogance, call it idealism, or call it a fearful inferiority complex masking itself as the above. Regardless, it's an odd way to think, and it's cost them dearly. David Winner's book is laced with interviews, synopses of big matches, and local lore, all of which nicely offset the strong analytical sections. I can't recommend this one highly enough.

Here's an article by the author from the Times last year. The ideas expressed are similar to those you'll find in the book. And this interview is pretty good too.

Okay. We're 30 minutes away. Time to end this post and start getting nervous. Come on you Yanks!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The Pecking Order

Did you guys know that the term 'pecking order' comes from actual FUCKING HENS? This blew my mind:

The famous study made by biologists W.C. Allee in the 1920s establishes that the pecking order among hens has a definite prestige pattern, hens, like many humans, freely peck at other hens below their rank and submit to pecking from those above them.

It seems like a logical origin, right? If you'd asked me to come up with a creation story for that phrase, I probably would've concocted something similar. But still, wow. Years and years of saying it, and never a clue.

Hens are sick bastards, by the way. What kind of culture permits overt physical violence based on rank? It should at least be more subtle, right? People are always ranting that humans are the most destructive animal, but at least we're more civilized about our hierarchy. Can you imagine if hens had nuclear bombs? It would be absolute chaos. They could not manage it. You couldn't even give them knives. It's bad enough that their mouths are slightly pointed.

I hate hens now. And I finally have that leak-proof argument in favor of animal cruelty.

Speaking of pecking orders, Roger Federer is still at the top of the tennis totem. I was planning to write a bit more about yesterday's match, which I did not see, but time is not making itself available. So I'll just say, quickly, that it was a classic example of stature and experience overcoming skill. Alejandro Fallo, ranked 60th in the world, gave him all he wanted. The Colombian won the first two sets, had a chance to break for a 5-4 lead in the third, and was up a break in the fourth. He even found himself with a chance to serve for the match, up 5-4 in the fourth.

But the key to beating Roger Federer at Wimbledon, unless your name is Rafael Nadal, is not thinking about the fact that you're beating Roger Federer at Wimbledon. It's an unreal accomplishment, a feat that boggles the mind if considered too carefully. It's like a solar eclipse: you best look at it askance.

Fallo seemed to control himself for long enough. But when the crucial moment came, he thought about it. He let the idea creep into his conscious mind, and, like Wile E. Coyote stopping to consider that he overran the cliff and is coasting on nothing but thin air, the upstart fell. He could not hold serve in that crucial 10th game, and the rare Federer break was like gravity re-asserting itself.

Of course he couldn't do it! After a 7-1 tiebreak win (Fallo, I imagine, was by this point half-heartedly flailing at the ball) and a 6-0 fifth set win, order was restored, and Fed had advanced to the second round.

Clearly, forgetting your surprising circumstances in such a heavy moment is easier said than done. How could Fallo not think about the coup when he was on the very cusp? It's in our nature to fantasize. It's coded. And this is why Federer is Federer; greatness, when it comes, brings with it a bit of luck, a bit of aura, and an ineffable something that serves as final hillock for the usurper to surmount. A person's anticipation can be used against him. Whatever you'd like to call this last obstacle, it waylaid the unfortunate Fallo. Federer, grown increasingly less invincible as time wears on, still must be shorn of many layers. In tennis, where each player stands by himself, he is never alone.

Things Are Getting Real in SUTHEFREEKA

Before we begin, a quick diversion into the world of cars. Do you consider auto racing a sport? What about just normal driving, in rush hour traffic?

For two summers in college, I manned one of the most boring desk jobs imaginable at the Department of Labor in Albany, New York. A lot of people say they do nothing at work; I often say that even today, in fact. But it's rarely true. I have some responsibilities, and at least part of my day is occupied (ruined) by the runnings of the office. But up in Albany, I did not do shit. I had to actively try to find something to occupy myself.

Once, I tried to see how long I could go without doing anything. Literally nothing. I made it three weeks. And keep in mind, I only worked at this place for three months at a time between school. That was about 33% of my summer, collecting state money for jack shit. I remember one horrible day when I had to give a status report in a meeting, and just spouted bullshit for five minutes about some workforce management project I was kinda supposed to be working on. Afterward, the boss actually said he was proud of my work. I've never felt more ashamed.

Anyway, the worst and best part was the commute between Albany and Saratoga. It took a half hour or so in the morning, an hour in the afternoon. It sucked, obviously. But I also learned to be a pretty kickass rush hour driver. I hated my job so much that I felt this compulsive need to hold on to youth. Therefore, I didn't pause for even a moment to consider consequences before taking insane risks. If I happened to sustain a fender bender, or flip over into a ditch, it would've been one of the better moments of my summer. So I'd make three-lane changes, accelerate into spaces barely the size of my car, and go well above the speed limit when the option was available. Somehow, I never crashed or got a ticket. That's completely down to luck- I was good, but also idiotic.

And really, the most it ever saved me was like ten minutes. Which I would then use to screw around on the computer (remember AIM? Boy, those were the days!), get yelled at by my mother for something, worry about a variety of girls I thought I was in love with, and feel bad that I wasn't doing something more productive. Drive faster! You'd hate to miss that!

(I like that they framed that photo. "Hmm, it's a nice picture depicting a driver who might be irate or triumphant, but I feel it's missing, we have to give Miguel his props for the sweet work...')

Anyway, the girlfriend and I got a car a few months ago, and driving in New York City has re-activated those atavistic instincts. Unlike me, the gf is super cautious. However, she still fancies herself a strong driver. Over time, we created a special feat to test our skills. It's called the 'Gowanus Run,' and it involves going from our place on 16th street* up to Atlantic Avenue (about 25 blocks) without getting stopped by a red light (we named it after the Gowanus Canal, a disgusting little 'body of water' near us that you can apparently catch gonorrhea from if you jump in naked). It's difficult under normal conditions, but during rush hour it's almost impossible, even with staggered light changes.

*Those of you plotting to kill me now have a great clue. Act fast, though, I'm only around for another month.

This morning, she was driving, and things looked good. You have to get a little lucky with the Gowanus Run. Good driving can only take you so far; if there are two buses side by side, or a slow-driving dumbass toddling around in his pick-up truck, or an asshole cabbie wildly switching lanes at the wrong time, you're screwed. Today, it started out well. Light traffic, good luck with the lights, and she was at the top of her game.

Still, a rush-hour Gowanus run had never been done before. The streets went by, and it was like a perfect game unfolding- nobody wanted to say anything. Finally, we made it to Bergen, then Dean, then Pacific. One more street. Atlantic on the horizon. The little crosswalk hand was flashing. The light would turn red soon. I couldn't hold it in anymore. "You're going for the record!" I shouted. "Step on it!"

Then the light turned orange. "You have to go!" I yelled. She understood the moment, and made the uncharacteristic move of throwing caution to the wind. Her foot hit the gas, and she turned hard on the yellow. The cops stayed put, the pedestrians didn't get hit. VICTORY! THE GOWANUS RUN! The man in the crosswalk gave me an odd look when I cheered in his face.

Then, unbelievably, she also made the Atlantic run. We were all the way on Adams Street, approaching the Brooklyn Bridge, before the light got us. A truly fantastic morning drive. It's a record that may never be broken. Unless...unless...someone makes the mythical Brooklyn Run. An entire borough, no reds.

Well that story got long. Luckily, I don't have much to talk about. Let's hit the main points:

*AJ still sucks. The word from the experts is that his mechanics are off, and he has trouble finding the muscle memory to repeat his most effective delivery over and over. There's even word that the absence of Dave Eiland, our much maligned pitching coach, is having a negative effect. Never thought I'd hear that one.

*The dismantling of Hughes as an effective starting pitcher has begun.

*Robbie Cano reached 100 hits last night. He's the fourth-fastest Yankee to do so since the Steinbrenner era began in 1973.

*FIFA is 'very, very satisfied' with the referee situation. In related news, Roger Clemens is very, very satisfied with his recent sexual performance.

*At 10am this morning, the third matches in World Cup group play begin. France is desperate for a win against South Africa (so desperate, apparently, that they can't be bothered to practice), and Mexico faces Uruguay in a win-and-in situation for both. These games go off at the same time so no team can gain a distinct advantage by knowing other results ahead of time. It would take a miracle for the hosts to advance, but I hope it happens.

*Has anybody else been seeing the awesome World Cup posters on bus stops around New York? ESPN outsourced them to an ad agency in the city, and they're pretty cool. This website has the posters for all 32 countries. Denmark, Slovenia, Greece, and Switzerland. The US one is pretty cool too. I'll post that below, and will be back later with some chatter about Federer's first round scare, and more World Cup.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Important Moments in History Ruined by the Vuvuzela

1) English barons approach King John in Runnymede Meadow to present him with the Magna Carta. Their supporters are in the background, blowing vuvuzelas.

Baron Edward: Thusly do we present thee with the ‘Great Charter,’ and ask that, inspired with our great urgency, you do affix thy signature-

King John: What calamitous thrum assaults mine ears?

Baron Edward (looking back): Oh. Right. Well, of late, our supporters have taken to blowing upon a celebratory horn of local creation.

King John: Is that utterly necessary?

Baron Edward: It can be a trifle nettlesome, I grant thee.

King John: Uh, a trifle? Thou hast made the foremost understatement for the year of our Lord 1215. Go to! (angry pause) Yet I suppose circumstances dictate that I acquiesce to these demands forthwith. And so, with this signature, I forever alter the destiny of the monarchy and OH MY GOD, I SWEAR I SHALL JAM MY VERY FIST INTO THE BOWELS OF THAT FUCKING HORN.

2) Nathan Hale, hands tied behind is back, is facing death in New York City. British soldiers have placed him astride a horse, beneath a high tree next to the Dove Tavern public house. They slip the noose around his neck. A crowd has gathered.

British hangman #1: Nathan Hale, the execution procedure shall soon commence. Once we have read the charges aloud, I will blow the ceremonial vuvuzela, and then you will have time to say a few words. I trust you’ve prepared something?

Nathan Hale: I have indeed.

British hangman #1: Very well.

(Charges are read, the vuvuzela is blown, and a horrified gasp rises from the crowd.)

British hangman #2 (annoyed): And yet again, the horn has spooked the horse. But no, let’s not move that part to the end. That would be too logical! God forbid!

British hangman #1: Enough, Terrence. You’ve made your point. Fetch the body when the convulsions have ended.

3) Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, one of the last Native American tribes to surrender, is captured by the U.S. army only miles from the Canadian border. He faces them bravely during the formal surrender, while behind, his men blow on vuvuzelas.

Chief Joseph: Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more- okay, honestly guys, if there was one time not to blow the horn, it’s right now. I mean…am I imagining this? Can you possibly be that dumb? Am I really hearing that goddamned devil horn? I just- this must be a bad dream. I’m incredulous. Someone pinch me and tell me I’m not awake. Really, I mean it. Pinch me, because this must be a nightmare, and- DAMNIT, STARING DOG, DON’T ACTUALLY PINCH ME. IT WAS A FIGURE OF SPEECH. IF YOU’RE EVER CONFUSED IN THE FUTURE, ERR ON THE SIDE OF NOT PINCHING ME! (He kicks the dirt and throws his headdress down.) Unbelievable. You’ve all outdone yourselves.

4) Winston Churchill is about to unleash one of his devastating witticisms at a cocktail party in pre-war England. Beside him, Neville Chamberlain holds a vuvuzela.

Angry woman: Sir, if you were my husband, I would poison your drink!

Churchill: Madam, if you were my wife, I dare say I’d-

A loud drone is heard. Churchill angrily looks to the side.

Chamberlain: Too early, right?

5) On Iwo Jima, four U.S. soldiers begin to plant an American flag in the ground. Below, out of sight, victorious troops celebrate with vuvuzelas.

Todd: On the count of three. One, two…

Steve: AIRPLANE! I hear an airplane, everyone down!

(All four drop to the ground. After a moment, Eric cautiously creeps over and looks below.)

Eric: You guys are gonna laugh. It’s not a plane, it’s the vuvuzelas.

Mike: Too funny!

Todd: Is it just me, or does anyone else really not feel like planting this flag anymore?

(All murmur their agreement.)

Photographer: Guys, I need a something.

Eric (excitedly): Mike, do that thing where you pretend to be a horny walrus!

6) Martin Luther King, Jr. is on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, speaking to over 200,000 supporters with vuvuzelas.

MLK, Jr: Not that anyone can hear me, but there are two things really bothering me right now. First, this was a pretty fantastic speech. I’m my own biggest critic, and even I think it was going to be great. Second, someone taped one of those horns to Lincoln’s mouth. I’m not sure why that pisses me off so much, but it really, really does.

7) Neil Armstrong takes his first step on the moon.

Armstrong: This is one small step for man, one giant-

A loud buzzing sound is heard. The camera pans back to the landing module, where Buzz Aldrin is leaning out the window with a vuvuzela. He lowers it to grin at the camera, and makes a goofy face before being tackled by an irate Armstrong.

8) Supreme Court, Bush v. Gore, 2000.

Justice Stevens: And so, invoking the principle of fairness, I dissent to halting the Florida recount, and hope that my colleagues will adhere to this common sense approach and- hey, Antonin? We’ve got a presidential election at stake here. Can you put down the horn for a second?

Justice Scalia: It’s a vuvuzela.

Justice Stevens: I really don’t care. This is not the time or place.

Justice Scalia: I vote for Bush. Case closed.

Justice Stevens: That’s not how this works, and you know it.

Justice Thomas: Can I see the horn?

Justice Scalia: Do you vote for Bush?

Justice Thomas: Yes?

Justice Scalia: Blow away, my friend.

Justice Thomas: Sweet.

Justice Stevens: Fuck me.

Post #400

Yet another milestone for the most popular Seth-Curry-themed blog on the entire internet in America.* We've done it together.

*There are some really popular Korean blogs about Seth Curry.

This was a wild and wooly weekend, and I have no idea where to begin. So in honor of Father's Day, I'll use some advice my dad gave me a while back: 'when in doubt, begin with Lady Gaga.'

Music's resident weirdo paid a visit to the Yankee clubhouse after the game on Friday, wearing lingerie and an open jersey. As you might guess, I have a few favorite excerpts.

The New York Post reported on Sunday that Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner was furious at the display Lady Gaga put on in the clubhouse -- dressed in a half-buttoned Yankees jersey and a bikini bottom, she swilled whiskey and fondled her chest, the Post said, citing sources -- and that Steinbrenner had permanently banned Gaga from the team's clubhouse.

Hal Steinbrenner needs to lighten the fuck up. My advice: swill some whiskey and fondle your chest.

"There is just a time and place," said Cashman. "It is not her fault."

Cashman did not specify the proper time and place for swilling whiskey and fondling your chest in the Yankee clubhouse.

Gaga has been making her presence felt in New York baseball. Less than two weeks ago, Gaga, who says she is a Yankees fan, attended a Mets game at Citi Field and decided to give the finger to Mets fans, providing a treat for photographers.

If there's a better summery of the differences between the Mets and Yanks, their history, and their place in the city hierarchy, I haven't found it. The Mets get the finger, the Yanks get chest fondling.

Also, I like that Lady Gaga giving fans the finger is a 'treat' for photographers. Honey, guess what?! Today, at my job, I got to snap a photo of a talentless trainwreck of a human making an obscene gesture! It was the first time I've smiled since Billy Crystal punched an usher in the groin!

There were reports that Alex Rodriguez met with Gaga on Friday, but Cano says he was the only player to see her.

"She can sing, I'll tell you that," Cano said.

Amazing. As if I needed more reasons to love Cano. He definitely got laid. And A-Rod was definitely jealous, and tried to act like he'd met her too, but everyone called bullshit on him.

So that was fun. Meanwhile, the Yanks took 2 of 3 from the Mets, beating Mike Pelfrey and Johan Santana over the weekend, to break even on the season series at 3 games apiece and claim the top spot in the AL East. The hitting woes might be kinda sorta on the ebb, though we've yet to have that nice breakout game where everyone gets in on the action. Today, the extended nightmare that is interleague play continues with a west coast swing. It's Arizona first, then LA for a set with Torre's Dodgers. When that ends, it's finally back to good old-fashioned American League business.

Brace yourselves: it's soccer time.

As you may have read in my last two entries, Friday was not a fun day. Some no-account referee from the back woods of Mali screwed us out of a win against Slovenia, and also booked one of our strikers for not touching the ball with his hand. My better instincts are telling me to dicuss this logically, but I'm a man of base character, and my black heart is screaming 'RANT!' Struggling...struggling....


Seriously, that blew. And I was watching Brazil-Ivory Coast yesterday when this happened:

Kaka, one of those best players in the world, got his second yellow card for that "infraction," and will have to miss Brazil's next game against Portugal.

This diving is unbelievable. At least this time, the British dudes announcing the game called the Ivory Coast douchebag out on his behavior. They said he should be ashamed, and that players in general should realize that "the eyes of the world are upon them." In other words, a bunch of Americans like me are watching soccer and deciding whether we should become full-time fans, and bullshit like this is not helping the cause.

But in some sense, even though that particular player is an undisputed worm, it's not his fault. As we saw, that behavior is rewarded. Not a single referee saw what happened, and somehow Kaka still got a yellow card. What the fuck is that? How can that happen? As long as it does happen, you'll continue to attract people who exploit it. It's sort of like the Enron scandal, or any big business snafu up to and including the credit-default and housing bubble crises. When it's over, people are like "oh my God, how could that ever happen?" Because it was allowed, and encouraged, and because people are programmed to push their luck until things are so fucked up that the heavy arm of the law must descend.

So, duh, have a rule. If someone gets caught diving, automatic red card. Enforce it, maybe with video, and things will change overnight. Guaranteed. Create a culture of toughness in soccer, like most other sports (I say 'most' because the NBA, with its influx of Euro influence, is going this way too), and maybe the sport will be better.

This is the last time I'll complain about this, I swear, at least until a bad call screws in the knock-out stage. But bad referees and divers are ruining the World Cup, and making the matches even more arbitrary than they were before. I will keep watching because the drama is fun and the nationalism makes things intense. But the sport itself, in its current incarnation, is stupid. End of story.

Good lord, Portugal beat North Korea 7-0. I guess that one wasn't arbitrary. This is what I expected in the Brazil-DPRK match. I still don't understand how that one could end up 2-1...

Another thing I don't understand: how could we let a fucking foreigner win the US Open? That's our golf tournament! It belongs to us!

Just kidding, of course. Graeme McDowell, a lovable Irish scamp, took the title by being the only guy who could shoot even par for the weekend. Aside from that, it was your typical major; Tiger came close and was a grumpy, entitled douche afterward, Phil had his crazy eyes going and took ridiculous chances that cost him the title, Easy Ernie looked inflappable until the back 9 on Sunday, and a Frenchman failed to win.

More stuff later today. It's the first day of summer. Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the city.