Sunday, June 27, 2010

Backtime Guest Column: Team USA According To Z

Personally, I don't get caught up in hyper-nationalism. That said, my head nearly hit the ceiling when I jumped off the couch after Landon Donovan's extra time goal against Algeria, the seminal US moment in the history of the sport.

And while we have gotten caught up in the gaffes and grit of the American squad in the knockout round, I feel we haven't given Ghana enough credit.

The difference-maker was the stellar goalkeeping from Richard Kingson. Without his constant thwarts of American opportunities, Asamoah Gyan's brilliant individual moment in extra time never would have been possible.

But I'd rather leave the big picture to a soccer enthusiast. Someone who's played, followed, and covered the sport. Jimmy Z lends his perspective of the Yanks' run:

By Jim Zirolli

The United States (the “Yanks” to the rest of the world) were brave to the end in the 2010 FIFA World Cup, but a bad habit sunk the ship… allowing a goal in the first 15 minutes in soccer is akin to giving up 3 runs in the first inning, the opening kickoff return for a touchdown, a 15-0 run to start an NBA game, you get the point. Nothing that is insurmountable, but a hill to climb nonetheless. Only so often can you go to the well of courage, of the adrenaline needed to save yourself late in a game.

That well has a meter that must be recharged before use, and when using it in consecutive games, it often runs dry… that is what happened to the USA in South Africa. Everyone has a “want to”, but in the end, it is execution that counts… why do you think the Germans are as good as they are? For all time, they have been known as cool and calculating, as a people and as a soccer team, both attributes that work well in pressure situations.

USA are a very close knit team, one that has fought for each other and for their shield, but in the end it was execution that failed them, not a lack of heart. Poor defending and the inability to wake up in time to avoid an early deficit eventually wronged this team. Asamoah Gyan of Ghana scored what could be the best goal of the World Cup in extra time, but in the end, should never have gotten a foot to that ball.

Watch the better teams defend those long passes, and you will find that none are complete. The goal Ghana scored in extra time was the equivalent of a Hail Mary, and once that was completed, the United States’ fate went with it. The why’s and why not’s are irrelevant, as soccer in this country will unfortunately be in about a week.

If the USA had advanced to play Uruguay in the quarterfinals (a game they would’ve been a pick’em in), a spot in the semifinals would have been well within reach. They didn’t look past Ghana, but somewhere deep in their hearts, they knew that a semifinal match with Brazil was in their sights, and the thoughts of the furor for that game in the US, of what could have been, will invade their sleep.

The core of this team now has this sour taste of dashed hope in their mouths, and when World Cup 2014 comes around, this group will be what we would call ”experienced”, and a mix of the two may be enough to see the same type of result, a result, though, that isn’t good enough for this nation to take seriously.

In the end unless somewhere in America the next great US-born goal scorer (or maybe the first), is 16 years old playing for his high school dreaming about being the one to bring glory to the red-white-and-blue, going any deeper in this tournament would be an upset to say the least.

For a nation that excels in international sport, the effort showed in South Africa can make us proud, but we must also see how far behind the rest of the world we are. Major League Soccer provides a rising level of talent, but a world-class team won’t be built in our domestic league, as the best teams in the world are (England’s entire team play in the Premier League in England), so where the future of US Soccer is now is unknown.

Bob Bradley’s future is also unknown, but I hope he stays on, even after his horrible decision to take Maurice Edu out of the starting lineup for the Ghana game. Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey should be ready to take a last run in Brazil 2014, their place in the tournament through qualifying is all but a foregone conclusion over the last 20 years, so a chance will again be there for the Yanks.

But until this nation pays attention more than once every 4 years, and starts to demand success, the US Soccer program will continue to be what it is now, a competent side who at times look like world beaters, and always play to the final whistle, but in the end are a beatable team that was a welcome sight in the round of 16 for Ghana.

Say that out loud, “Ghana were happy to have to play the USA in the round of 16”… it just doesn’t sit right with me. I am proud of the way the USA battled and continued to play hard to the end, and a little amazed that we aren’t more interested if only because we are going to play this event as long as it exists, and I for one would like to see the USA go to a World Cup as one of the favorites to win, instead of a team just hoping to get out of the group stage.

I am not sure I will see that in my lifetime.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Going Green(e) Isn't Always Healthy

The South Carolina electorate was the butt of jokes all across the nation following the "Super Tuesday" primaries last week.

Alvin Greene won the Democratic primary to represent The Palmetto State in the US Senate. He had no job, no campaign, no website, and a pending felony charge. And he won big, by a 59-41 proportion over "established" candidate Vic Rawl.

So the finger got pointed. The conspiracy theories heated up. Democratic leaders in South Carolina cried "shenanigans" and claimed he was a "republican plant" and sent mathematicians in to re-examine the voting trends.

Greene became one of the Top 50 google searches (as I was guilty of on multiple occasions). The whole situation was captivating. But nothing untoward was unearthed. Did South Carolina voters select him because his name was first alphabetically? Or because his name seemed more "regular" than Vic Rawl (which I dare you to say without a southern drawl)?

My favorite piece of video came from a story from our friend, WSAV's Holly Bounds, who interviewed a SC voter, and said that she voted for Alvin Greene because it reminded her of the soul legend Al Green. The video has gone viral.

The truth is there were a lot more voters like her. Studies have shown that Vic Rawl had only 4% name recognition in his home state. And when blogs first started dissecting this absurdity last week, several referred to Rawl as Rawls (with an "s" like soul legend Lou Rawls).

There's your answer. If you don't know either candidate, you point and click. And you don't have to recognize a name, just identify with it. An incredible case study.

Cheers, Alvin Greene. Go forth and take down that swanky incumbent GOP Senator Creme De Menthe. Or is it Jim DeMint? Who knows, just shut up and pour.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Time running out on the Big 12?

As someone who's invested years of his life in Big 12 country, this is somewhat heartbreaking. It's the stupid idealist in me, but moreso it's very shocking how quickly we got to this point.

I don't think anyone saw the seismic change that's about to occur coming...even a month ago.

Through the years I've had many off-the-record conversations with Big 12 conference and school administrators, and writers and broadcasters, and the changes discussed were always incremental.

From Ames, IA to Columbia, MO to OKC, salt and pepper shakers were moved around and there were scrawlings on cocktail napkins, but it was merely about pieces moved on a chessboard, not one domino creating complete chaos.

And this is how it got started:

I. The Big Ten needs a 12th team so they can have a football Championship game. Who do they take, Missouri? It's a natural fit geographically. And it's a big state school with a ton of competitive athletic platforms.

II. Who replaces Missouri in the Big 12? Arkansas seems like the right fit. Geographically, they're closer to the Big 12 schools than to the SEC ones anyway. And they've only been in the SEC since 1992, so it's not like they have great history there.

III. So who does the SEC take to replace Arkansas? Whomever they damn well choose. Florida State? Georgia Tech? Clemson? Virginia Tech is another football powerhouse and in the DC TV market. Or they can go after North Carolina and put them in the same hoop league as Kentucky.

But this was all speculation among low-level people who thought they knew something, myself included.

This week, Nebraska (not Missouri) moved to the Big Ten and Colorado went to the Pac-10. So now the Big Ten has 12 teams and the Big XII has 10 teams.

On Tuesday we will learn if Texas, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, and a reluctant Texas A&M join the soon-to-be newly-minted Pacific-16 Conference, whose league mission is not to gain the financial windfall of a conference championship, but rather 2 BCS bids, and a possible BCS title game between the two divisional champs.

What we learned this week is that there's College Football, and there's College Everything-Else. How else would a storied, transcendent program like Kansas basketball be left holding the bag in a remaining shell of a Big 12 conference with Iowa State, Kansas State, Missouri, and Baylor?

It's because while March Madness is a phenomenon, college basketball (and countless other collegiate sports) all amount to a pimple on the ass of college football.

But there is a loophole in all of this. The Big 12, so long as they maintain an 8-or-more team league, is still in the BCS - at least until the ruling class votes them out. They could add TCU, Utah, and Boise (maybe they should have waited a week before joining the Mountain West) and still remain viable in football.

It would be a similar situation to what the Big East was in a few years ago. After the defections of Virginia Tech, Boston College, and Miami to the ACC, the Big East was decimated - the stepchild of the BCS.

Then a funny thing happened, West Virginia beat Georgia in the 2006 Sugar Bowl. Mike Tranghese, the Big East commissioner for 19 years, called that game the highlight of his career.

It was a two-decade regime that saw his conference take 3 men's basketball titles, and saw the UConn women's program become a dynasty. But it was that Sugar Bowl, when the Big East was so maligned in football, and the Mountaineers were such heavy underdogs to Georgia, that gave Tranghese the satisfaction that no national title in any other sport could have delivered.

So maybe the Big 12 has its head on the chopping block. But maybe it's just an opportunity to reinvent itself. The one thing we don't know is what the future holds...even if it appears to unfold in front of us.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Why Armando Galarraga Can't Be Awarded A Perfect Game

Yes, Detroit Tiger RHP Armando Galarraga pitched a perfect game. Yes, his performance deserves to go down in history next to the 20 other such outings in the 134-year history of Major League Baseball.

But here's the problem if Umpire Jim Joyce's brain-dead call were overturned: it would take apart the very fabric of baseball.

And I'm not talking about "the human element," that umpires represent. I could care less if the umps existed or not, or if every call was dictated by video. I don't care how long baseball games take (though you could see that this one was 1:44).

What I do care about is the integrity of the scorecard. Unlike any other sport, each at-bat is framed for posterity inside the scorekeeper's grid - whether that scorecard is filled out by the official scorer, a writer in the press box, a broadcaster, or a 7-year old kid in the stands.

When you look at the box score, Indians' leadoff batter Trevor Crowe was 0-for-4. That means that 28 batters took a turn at-bat, not 27. If Galarraga were awarded a perfect game, how could you explain the extra batter? It's like a player going from first base to third base with no explanation. Baseball is linear. Each event affects the next. Period.

Now could the hit be turned into an error, and the no-hitter still stand? Yes, that's possible. Except Joyce thought the runner beat the throw, he wasn't swayed by the snow cone catch Galarraga made covering first. So no to that too.

If we could fix all the fallacies that affect history, then Al Gore would have won the 2000 Presidential election, and who knows what would have happened from there. Now Gore is getting divorced, and as a clever friend of mine posted on Facebook, "Who gets custody of the internet?" Each event affects the next.

What may get lost in the history of Wednesday night's events is the catch made by Tigers CF Austin Jackson (former Yankee prospect), which may well have gone down as one of the greatest in history.

But on the scorecard, it's just an F8. The first out of the 9th inning of a Complete Game, 1-hit shutout on June 2nd, 2010 in front of 17,738 in Detroit.