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Confederations Cup? Ah, Warm Memories of South Africa 2009

June 22nd, 2017 · No Comments · Fifa, Football, soccer, Spain

It was the biggest week in U.S. national soccer history.

The 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa.

In this order:

(And we are not messing with you here; this actually happened.)

U.S. 3, Egypt 0

U.S. 2, Spain 0 (!)

U.S. 2, Brazil 0 — at halftime of the championship match.

It ended Brazil 3, U.S. 2

I was watching the 2017 Confederations Cup on Fox, this week, and recalling when the U.S. tended to represent North America at this quadrennial tournament … only to watch Mexico take over in 2013 and 2017. (Thanks Jurgen; the gift that keeps on giving.)

And eventually I thought back to the 2009 tournament, when the Americans came as close as they are likely to get (in our lifetimes) to winning a Fifa global championship.

Let’s return to those glory days of yesteryear.

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Ranking North America’s Sports Drafts

June 21st, 2017 · No Comments · Baseball, Lists, NBA, NFL, soccer

The draft. Whichever you want to talk about … is very much an American thing.

The rest of the world, you collect players in a youth system and watch them develop. You keep a few, loan some others, release the rest. Especially the case in world soccer.

In the U.S. however, talent is typically distributed via a draft — and ordered system in which teams take turns making selections. Often based on “worst drafts first”.

Which makes drafts in North America a huge offseason news story. It has spawned an industry of people who do nothing but speculate over who should go first … and who should go 31st.

I was thinking of this, with the NBA draft coming up tomorrow, and decided to rank the drafts from the perspective of greatest interest to the average fan.

So, here we go, with five leagues on the clock, ranked from fifth to first.

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Juiced Baseballs? Let’s Remove Some Zing

June 20th, 2017 · No Comments · Baseball

Major League Baseball hitters are on pace to obliterate the record for home runs in a season, a record set in 2000, during the height of the steroids era.

An analysis done by The Ringer traces this homer binge to the second half of 2015 and suggests the surge is due to a bouncier, slightly smaller ball held together by seams lower than before.

Of course, not everyone would use the word “culprit”.

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Lakers Draft: Lonzo, George or a Surprise?

June 19th, 2017 · No Comments · Basketball, Kobe, Lakers, NBA

How hard must it be to be the top brass of the Los Angeles Lakers, at this moment?

They have the No. 2 pick in the draft, but no first-round pick next year, and they have some hard decisions to make — with the very real possibility if they get things wrong, come Thursday, their hopes of becoming relevant in the near term, in Los Angeles and the NBA, will vanish.

Typically, when you spend a lot of time thinking about a particular sports team, you eventually find your way to a plan you are confident is the best.

Not this time. Not for me.

It looks something like this:

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For Baseball, Back to the Future

June 18th, 2017 · No Comments · Baseball

We have an interesting and alarming piece of journalism on espn.com today, as one of the site’s baseball writers projects 20 years into the future, and what the game might look like.

For long-time fans of the game, nearly all the changes foreseen by a dozen people closely involved in the game … are appalling.

The way ahead for baseball is not by changing the basics. It is by embracing the game’s deep traditions and tweaking the game around the edges. And by keeping it more human and less data driven.

To wit:

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Taking the Ikea Test

June 17th, 2017 · No Comments · France

Ikea exists to test me.

The Swedish masters of flat-pack furniture seem to have been designated by the universe to ask hard questions of me.

“We know you are not a home-improvement guy. Not mechanical at all. Ignorant of electrical workings. Not to be trusted with anything plumbing-oriented, aside from (perhaps) a plunger.

“But can you follow fairly simple directions and assemble a piece of furniture? Directions so basic that no words are printed in the instructions?

“The only tools needed are a screwdriver and a hex-headed version of same, and a hammer. And an Allen wrench, which is included.

“Can you manage that?”

I can almost hear the contempt in a Swedish voice.

Well, yes, I can do it! (Or so I say until the thing is in front of me.)

And I readily concede … it often is a close-run thing.

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Futbol Diaries, Part 7: Mexico Sends a Message

June 16th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Road trip, soccer, World Cup

After the road trip came the game, the reason former colleague Damian Secore and I drove a rented Chevrolet Chevy to the Mexican capital for a 2006 World Cup qualifying match.

Anyone who is a soccer fan should see a game in Azteca Stadium, if they get the chance. I have been there three times, and each time it impressed.

The passion in the stadium is intense, and the stadium is special both for its enormous capacity (100,000-plus) as well as its very vertical layout, which seems to put people in the top deck nearly over the field of play.

In the past, when nearly all of Mexico’s players competed in the local league, the stadium also conferred an advantage for the home team, which usually was better prepared than opponents to play at 7,300 feet above sea level.

Both sides eventually qualified for the 2006 World Cup, so we cannot say the result, back in 2005, was decisive, but the event was memorable, again.

A comment piece, out of the match:

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Futbal Diaries, Part 6: Arrival in Mexico City

June 15th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Road trip, soccer, Sports Journalism, World Cup

I am perversely proud of driving from Tijuana to Mexico City for the 2006 World Cup qualifying match of March 2005, at the Estadio Azteca.

The report, below, recounts the final leg — from Guadalajara to the distrito federale.

As it turned out, co-pilot Damian Secore and I encountered just about zero problems across a stretch of country that, in the 12 years since, has come to be associated with drug cartels and the violence between (or among) those cartels.

But going south of the border not all that long ago was considered a fairly safe event.

I remember that one of my uncles, who must have been in his 50s, at the time, drove right through Mexico and then into Central America via the Pan-American Highway, which took him through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras … and he came back with a slide show to narrate for the family. This would have been in the middle 1960s.

Now, whether it is unreasonable alarmism or demonstrated danger, it is easy to find U.S. sources (such as U.S. Department of State advisories) arguing strongly against doing what we did, back in 2005. Especially driving at night, which we did in the mostly empty desert the first night out of TJ.

Landon Donovan’s reaction (below) to seeing us in the team hotel perhaps sums up the U.S. attitude toward the road system of it southern neighbor.

So, here we go: Guadalajara to Mexico City.

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Futbol Diaries, Part 5: Mexico Seeks ‘Total Destruction’

June 14th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Road trip, soccer, Sports Journalism, World Cup

Another installment in the 2005 Tijuana-to-Mexico City road trip report on a 2006 World Cup qualifying match pitting the United States against Mexico.

I had forgotten about spending time, the previous night, in steamy San Blas watching the festivities for Holy Week. It was Mexico at its most festive and friendly.

The 425 miles to Guadalajara were not difficult, once we got past the one-lane-in-each-direction portion and back on the toll road that made a left-hand turn about halfway and sent us into the mountains.

It was a Friday, and more and more people clearly were thinking about the match, two days away, in massive Estadio Azteca.

I also had forgotten that this was the day that news broke that Landon Donovan, already the star of the U.S. national team, at age 23, was apparently headed home from Leverkusen of Germany’s top division in a deal that landed the Redlands native with the LA Galaxy. As we know that turned out well for all parties: Leverkusen got paid, the Galaxy got the best-known American player; Donovan led them to four MLS championships in 10 seasons.

Let’s return now to the Wayback Machine:

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Futbol Diaries, Part 4: Into the Jungle

June 13th, 2017 · No Comments · Football, Road trip, soccer, Sports Journalism, World Cup

This was one of the more interesting legs of the 2005 road trip across Mexico to see the United States’ World Cup qualifier at Estadio Azteca.

We had seen the map, and we knew we were leaving the desert, but we did not fully anticipate the massive shift in climates, once we entered Nayarit state.

Also, looking back at the installment, below, I made no mention of Culiacan’s status as the home of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the most powerful and successful drug gangs in the world. Was I trying to be polite? Probably not.

It was possible, even in 2005, that I had not followed the Mexico narco-lord topic closely enough to know we spent our second night in Mexico in the citadel of global gangsters. I remember it as being a fairly lively, modern city; I have no recollection of feeling like I was domiciled in a monster’s den.

And then San Blas. I had never heard of it, before the trip. But it comes up now and then in the news, and it takes me back.

A few years after we stopped there, San Blas was the focus of attention after the presumably miraculous survival and rescue of three local fisherman who had drifted from Mexico across the Pacific for nine months, followed by stories from those, perhaps a majority, who doubt the survivors’ story of being out fishing for sharks.

San Blas was the first touristy town we encountered.

So, to the story:

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