Sunday, December 31, 2006

Another 'Yank in Europe' Post -- Beasley Gets it Done! DaMarcus Beasley came on as a second-half substitute for Manchester City against West Ham United. In a pouring rain (they do get a lot of rain in England, don't they?) Beasley turned in rather spotty, chaotic play during his first fifteen - twenty minutes after coming on. In the 83rd minute, however, Beasley quieted a lively West Ham crowd, with the dramatic, game-winning goal.

The play began unassumingly enough with Beasley taking a pass, with his back to the goal, about thirty-five yards out. Though Beasley did not appear to be in a threatening position, he immediately proved otherwise. Beasley quickly turned on the ball, and then turned on the afterburners. DaMarcus ran past his man, then split the two remaining West Ham defenders, as he raced by them. Finally, Beasley drove the ball just inside the near post for his first goal in the English Premiership, breaking a scoreless tie. After the game, DaMarcus got a nice hug from West Ham's American international Jonathan Spector, who turned in quite a good game, even if he didn't produce the results of DaMarcus Beasley. Bravo, DaMarcus!
A One-Man Gang -- Tiki Beats the 'Skins All By Himself: There are no words that can adequately convey what a performance Tiki Barber delivered in what is promised to be his final regular season game. This is one long-time New York Giants diehard fan who is very glad he decided to shell out the outrageous funds it takes to procure a ticket to Redskins games these days. It's been years since I saw the Giants play in person -- the last time I saw them play, Barber was averaging less than 4 carries a game.

The Giants' defense looked like Swiss cheese, and Eli Manning still can't throw the ball to a spot. On this night, however, Tiki Barber outplayed the other team. He ran for 234 yards and three touchdowns, and he had a thirty-plus yard run called back for a holding penalty. As good as the numbers were -- and Tiki saved his best game for last -- the numbers really don't adequately convey his performance. On each of his touchdowns, Barber ran away from the defense. In the past, he's never been the type of back to take the really long runs all the way, as he tends to get caught from behind. Not on this night, though. There was no catching Tiki Barber tonight.

The play that really epitomized his brilliance was the final touchdown. The Giants were trying to control the ball and hold on to a precarious six-point lead. On the previous play Barber ran for a first down, but lost the ball as he hit the ground. Though the refs ruled Tiki down by contact, there was a scramble for the loose ball, which was recovered by Giants' tackle Kareem McKenzie.

As the Giants were huddling for the next play, McKenzie struggled to join his teammates, limping badly, as he dragged his injured left leg behind him. McKenzie then limped to the line of scrimmage, barely able to walk. Surely the Giants would have enough sense to run their play to the other side? Instead, Manning handed off to Barber again, who followed his blocking off right tackle. It might have seemed like a foolish play-call, but Tiki Barber could not be denied this night. Barber picked his way through the Redskins' defensive line and then sprinted past the secondary for a 50-yard touchdown run that proved to be the decisive score.

Outside of Barber's heroics, the Giants' did not look like a playoff-caliber team. Manning threw behind or over his receivers on almost every toss. Tyree made a nice grab on a pass behind him, for a crucial first down on the first touchdown drive. Manning was more accurate on his only touchdown toss, to Carter. Other than those two plays, the Giants best passing plays were those that resulted in defensive penalties. I'm willing to bet the Giants have drawn more defensive holding, illegal contact and pass interference penalties than any other team in history. But that does not make for a passing attack.

If this was Barber's last regular season game for the Giants, it was more than merely memorable. It was a truly historic performance. I feel honored to have witnessed it. One-Man gang? Barber was a one-man football team. He practically beat the Redskins by himself. If this was Barber's last regular season game, the Giants are in deep trouble next year.

On the other hand, the Giants will be under new management, and probably new coaches. It's no secret that Barber has been highly ciritical of the Giants' coaching for the last year. Is it possible that these impending changes will be enough to change Barber's mind about going into retirement? I can dream, can't I?

If you're a Redskin fan, you can be cheered by the play of Jason Campbell. He was by far the better quarterback. He is as good a young quarterback as there is in the league. Though the offense sputtered on the final possession, Campbell played a very strong game, making big plays with his feet and his arm. If the Redskins can put together a competitive defense, this team will go far.

By the way, as much as I enjoy the "Hail to the Redskins" fight song, the team has to change it's nickname, and trademark image. I watched Redskins fans gather after the game for photographs with that iconic fan who dresses in red and wears a feathered headdress. I'm not saying it's not without kitschy charm, but it's really grotesque to continue to use that name in this day and age. It's hard to imagine a more racist or politically incorrect nickname than "Redskins." Come on, Daniel Snyder. Find another name -- start a new brand, a new tradition.

While I'm beseeching the rich and famous: Please, Tiki -- give us another year or two?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Americans are coming - Yanks do in Chelsea!! In a driving rain at Chelsea's Stamford Bridge stadium, Fulham rallied to gain a tie against the world's most expensive soccer team. Credit for the tying goal went to a combination by Fulham's American stars, Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra. A Fulham free kick gave Chelsea defenders fits as it bounced through the penalty box, before McBride hit a one-touch, grass-cutting shot that almost found the back of the net. Only a terrific, stretching kick save by Hilario denied McBride, but the rebound came right to Bocanegra, who knocked home the game's biggest goal, with less than 10 minutes left to play.

The game's finest bit of skill came early in the second half, as Frank Lampard chased down a loose ball in the penalty box. After sighting teammate Didier Drogba in front of the net, Lampard, in one motion, gathered the ball, turned and chipped a perfectly-placed cross to the head of Drogba. The Ivorian striker, Drogba, headed the ball home to put Chelsea ahead of a Fulham squad that had seemed the the more likely side.

In the end, the Yanks, McBride and Boca, were able to work their magic and deny Chelsea the victory. In fact, they might have done even better. In stoppage time, McBride was probably in position to gain the victory for Fulham, but he was unable to react in time to play a nice cross, as it sailed past him, right in front of the goal. Though he may seem a little lead-footed for the E.P.L., McBride is clearly Fulham's most dangerous player, and needs to find a way to get more touches on the ball. For tonight, his efforts, and Boca's memorable finish were enough to win the day for Fulham, if not actually win the game.

Back in the U.S.A., in American Football, the New York Giants play tonight here against the hometown Redskins. The Giants have the chance to gain a certain amount of pride and "earn" a playoff spot with a win at FedEx Field. I'll be there, cheering on the Jints, and will provide a first-hand, Fisch Fry report for those who don't get the NFL Network.

Finally, I hope to close out the year (or start the new one) with the much promised and much awaited next chapter in the saga of "My Crazy Neighbor."

Sunday, December 24, 2006

The New York Giants are so bad....How bad are they? There isn't one thing they do especially well. Tiki Barber is still a great back, but his effectiveness has been limited lately, as the rest of the team has completely broken down. Moreover, the future isn't looking too bright. Barber maintains he's played his last home game, as he heads into a very early retirement. Michael Strahan can't be too far behind, as he finishes his 14th season. So, how bad are the Giants, really? Let's break it down:

The Giants' defense can't stop the run. Their tackling is abysmal, and the line gets pushed around too much. The Giants also have as bad pass coverage as I've ever seen. Even their vaunted pass rush hasn't that impressive either, this year. They have given up more big plays than any other team. Whatever success they have had on some first and second down plays, they erase by allowing other teams to move the chains at will, on third down.

On offense, their offensive line is hurting, to be sure -- but, it has become one underwhelming unit. Finally, their passing game is almost negligible. The quarterback really can't throw downfield, and he isn't very accurate with the short ones, either. Their most effective play of late has been the high throw resulting in a defensive penalty. Occasionally, the underthrown long ball beats the defense, as the receivers are able to adjust to Manning's errant tosses more easily than the defenders.

Even their special teams are atrocious. Their coverage unit routinely allows the other team good starting field position, while their own kick returners haven't been especially dangerous. With Chad Morton tearing his ACL in today's game, the Giants would be well-advised to rebuild their kick-return unit from scratch. I could say the same about their offense and defense.

There are a couple of players they could build around. Burress is a good receiver, and Shockey has his moments -- both good and bad. But, I don't think Shockey will want to hang around much longer, so long as Eli Manning is manning the QB position. On defense, Strahan is still one of the finest players ever to don the uniform, but he can't have more than a few years left, if that. They have a couple of young defensive lineman who might develop into top players, in Uyemyiora and Kiwaunuka, but the rest of the defense should be traded in. Ditto for the coaching staff.

The Giants are headed into a long dark night that will likely last years. The amazing thing is that they could stil sneak in the playoffs, if they can upset the Redskins next Saturday, and a few games break their way next Sunday. Hooray for mediocrity. Actually, mediocrity is too kind a word -- I guess parity is the appropriate word. Right now, the Giants are a long way from mediocre.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Arjen Robben Wins it for Chelsea -- With a stoppage time goal to break a 2-2 deadlock, the Dutch international broke the backs and dashed the upset hopes of Wigan Athletic. The goal was a terrific individual effort, as Robben deked the defender, Baines, with a feint down the right wing, and dribbled past him towards the middle of the field. With the defense all bottled in the middle, Robben cut back a step and then drove the ball wide of the defense and just inside the near post for the winning goal. It appeared that Chelsea was going to be denied their three points by a game Wigan side, and two terrible calls by the linesmen. However, Robben, playing the game of his life, won the day.

Robben assisted on both of Chelsea's first half goals, including a nice threading pass that set up Frank Lampard in front of the Wigan goal, and a beautifully delivered corner kick, headed home by Kalou. Wigan drew closer with Heskey header off a free kick, seconds before halftime. Early in the second half, Robben set up another goal, which was waved off for offsides, though the replays did not back up the call. Wigan knotted the score, when Heskey took the ball all alone by the post, and pushed it home. It's hard to understand how offsides was not called on this play, since Heskey was standing level with the goalie and behind every Chelsea defender still on the field of play. One Chelsea defender, Boulahrouz, was beyond the end line, as his momentum had carried him beyond the field of play. Boulahrouz had a rough match, and his misplay led to Heskey's chance, but the goal was scored from an offsides position and should not have been allowed.

Despite the poor refereeing that might have given the tie to Wigan, Chelsea earned the victory, with a fantastic game and timely final effort by Robben, and is really putting the pressure on Premier League-leading Manchester United. Chelsea came into today's matches trailing the Red Devils by only two points. I've been critical of Robben in the past for selfish play, but there's no denying his talent. He scored a memorable winner, but he also delivered with two (should have been three) fine assists that show his continuing growth as a team player.

Friday, December 22, 2006

X-Mas present for D.C. United fans? The Washington Post is reporting this afternoon that United has sold popular forward Alecko Eskandarian to the expansion Toronto FC. This comes on the heels of a flurry of deals, as United retools, and might be the biggest loss yet. Having traded Freddy Adu, Nick Rimando and Brandon Prideaux earlier this month, United has now dealt the MVP of the 2004 MLS Cup. The son of a former New York Cosmos fan favorite, Esky has become a fan favorite himself, in D.C. He missed most of 2005 with post-concussion syndrome, but he had a strong comeback this past season.

United's technical director, Kevin Payne, indicated that the money received for Esky will go to the signing of one or two Latin American players. According to Payne, United is "on the verge of signing major contributors." The Washington Post's Steven Goff writes that an announcement of at least one signing may come next week. It will have to a heckuva holiday gift to make up for losing Eskandarian.

Of course, United built its brand largely on the play of Latin American stars, including Marco Etcheverry, Raul Diaz Arce and Jaime Moreno. In recent years, United has had rather mixed results with Latin American signings. Christian Gomez has exceeded all expectations, and Facundo Erpen has found a regular starting job, but other signings have not been especially successful. The problem is that United has been trying to get lucky with castoffs. It sounds as if United will be aiming much higher with the upcoming signings, seeking proven talents. Post report on Eskandarian trade.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Reading tea leaves - Hot Stove Baseball/Soccer report: The N.Y. Mets went a-courting yesterday, to meet with Barry Zito, but they also met with Jeff Suppan. The thinking is that they want to send a message to Zito and his agent, Scott Boras, that they have a back-up plan. So, are they testing Zito's desire to play for a New York team that might be a serious World Series contender for years? If they're asking Zito to take a lot less money to come to the Mets, I expect that Zito will go elsewhere. My instinct tells me that he will stay at home in the Bay area -- signing with the San Francisco Giants, who will beat the Mets offer, in years and dollars. So, the Mets will be left with Suppan, for whom they will probably over-pay...and run the risk that he falls into the New York-itis that has afflicted other Yankee and Mets free-agent signings.

MLS -- DC United fans had some news last week to celebrate. The league has awarded the 2007 MLS Cup to RFK Stadium. That will likely mean the largest crowd in the facility's history -- close to 58,000 (the record was set for the 1997 Cup when 57,431 turned out at RFK -- if they can find a place for more spectators, I'm sure they will come).

In the future, United may have its own, smaller stadium, which would not be as attractive to the MLS. Still, I expect that RFK may get one other shot to host the Cup final. 2007 will be the Nationals' final year there. In subsequent years, the soccer pitch will not be marred by having to cover over a baseball infield. I would guess that another 57,000+ sellout, in 2007, will encourage MLS to give RFK one more shot, before the old grey lady goes off into that good night.

This evening brings more interesting developments for United fans. Coach Peter Nowak's status has been in doubt for a couple of months, but he surprised everyone by jumping ship to join Bob Bradley's national team staff. Nowak will be replaced at D.C. United by his top assistant, Tom Soehn. As I have noted before, United has a pretty good record with new coaches. The team has had three head coaches. Each won the MLS title during their first year as head coach.

Is 2007 the year for DC United's return to the top, with Tom Soehn at the helm? United has taken a few steps backward in the off-season, but we are led to believe that all these moves have set the stage for a big international signing. Perhaps this will set the stage for a return to the top. Strive for Five!

The Nowak development is especially surprising in that it comes on the heels of the trade of Freddy Adu. This seemed to be an endorsement of Nowak's plan for the team. It also brings up the question as to whether Adu would have pushed for this trade, had he known Nowak would not return to DC?

Curiously, as it stands now, Adu may be stuck with Nowak again. If Adu continues to play for U.S. national sides, Nowak will be the assistant for Bradley on the Olympic team -- likely Adu's next stop. If Bradley stays on with the national team, Adu will have to prove himself to Nowak all over again, in order to get a spot on the top team...and he will have to contend with Nowak's ideas as to where Adu should play. Could this hiring push Adu to reconsider playing for Ghana instead?

The early comments on the Washington Post article all mention Freddy Adu. Great United fans think alike. WaPo article on Nowak's move.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

World Cup 2014 -- The Brazilian Federation announced it will be submitting a bid to host the 2014 Cup. This virtually guarantees that Brazil will be chosen as the host. No South American country has hosted the Cup since Argentina in '78. In fact, Brazil is regarded as such a shoo-in, that it's unlikely any other country will bother to submit a bid. Unless the 2010 South Africa plans collapse and FIFA decides to award that Cup to the U.S., we can look forward to spending some time on the beaches in Rio in the summer of 2014.

Yanks Abroad update -- Possibly the third most recognizable player in the MLS (after Adu and Landon Donovan), the New England Revolution's star, Clint Dempsey, is reportedly headed to Fulham in the English Premier League. Dempsey was the only American to score in the World Cup this year. At Fulham, he would join fellow U.S. nationals Brian McBride and Carlos Bocanegra. The New York Times reports that the London-based team will pay a transfer fee of $2.5 million. That tidy sum could go higher, depending on Dempsey's playing time. This would be a great move for Clint, who may be expected to take over Claudio Reyna's role as field general on the national team...unless Freddy Adu is ready for that job in three years. NYTimes note on Dempsey's move.
Iraqi Soccer -- On a day that had unusually cruel violence and a truly obscene death toll, Iraq had some good news. The Iraqi national team upset South Korea in the semi-final of the Asian Games. I don't imagine that Iraqis will put aside their blood feuds, should the team win the tournament, but I'll say a prayer for that result, anyway. Under the murderous and terroristic reign of Saddam's sons, Iraqi sports teams were decimated. This would be a welcome step forward. Hardly "situation normal" -- more like: "Situation normal, all f***ed up." But, it could be a sign of hope within the madness.
Holy Cow...manure! Adieu Adu?!? Freddy Adu was traded, not to a European team, but to another MLS team..and not the Red Bulls, either. Real Salt Lake?!? Adu will get to be the attacking midfielder that he didn't really get the chance to be in D.C. In the tug-of-war between Adu and D.C. United coach Peter Nowak, it seems that Nowak has won the battle. Adu may yet win the war. The best revenge, in soccer, is playing well.

I understand why RSL would want to add a gate attraction like Adu. They hope that reuniting him with RSL's coach John Ellinger, along with the increased role, will induce Adu to stay stateside with RSL, for a few years. Ellinger coached Adu while Adu trained in the U-17 residency program in Bradenton, Florida

The trade will make sense for Adu, if he can develop into the central midfielder he'd like to be. He dreams of wearing the no. 10 jersey, in role, if not the actual number. It's a special role in soccer history. Pele and Maradona are just the most famous -- Roberto Baggio another who wore the #10 with distinction -- and, in recent years, Zinedine Zidane wore the number and the role with matchless skill. That is how Adu conceives himself -- as a master dribbler and ball distributor, dribbling around and through defenses, before finally blasting home another goal, or passing of to a wide open teammate for the goal.

Who knows? He may get there, though the early returns are not convincing. Even if he develops better instincts and greater touch, Adu lacks the size and strength for that role. I wish he had not burned his bridges here in D.C. He was a local kid, on the verge of deserving the stardom foisted on him as a child. Moreover, he had much better talent around him here than he will find in Salt Lake. However, he may be the piece that RSL needs to make Jeff Cunningham into the star striker he believes himself to be.

Does the trade make sense for D.C.? Certainly, not at the gate. Though he was not flourishing in United's system, Adu was still the fan favorite. The roles he'd like to have were already filled by league MVP Christian Gomez, and long-time fan favorite Jaime Moreno. This may be Moreno's last season, as he continues to duel with RSL's Jason Kreis for the all-time league scoring mark. Since Adu is likely to leave for Europe sometime in the next year, there was little sense in holding on to Adu for the future. For Adu, the future in the U.S. is now. Ditto for United, which will feel tremendous pressure to win the title next year.

This will free up some salary for United to use to re-sign Gomez and add another highly-regarded player. For a foreign player considering the M.L.S., D.C. United is probably the most attractive place to land. It's a world capital, and the team is invited to international tournaments, based upon earning the most points this year. In the near future, when the team is more competitive, the L.A. Galaxy might be more alluring, but right now D.C. is where it's at. So, if trading Adu allows D.C. to add a player who is more effective in their system, I guess it would make some sense.

The two teams also swapped back-up goalies. United deals Nick Rimando, their all-time leader at the position, for Jay Nolly, who was a star at Indiana, but a back-up since turning pro 2 years ago. Nolly is much bigger than the diminutive Rimando, and may be a better bet down the road for United. RSL gets a proven professional. On the face of it, it seems that RSL gets everything in this deal, and United only gets a back-up goalie. This isn't one of those addition by subtraction deals. United can justify this deal only if they bring in a top player to replace Adu.

This trade comes as a complete shock. It will take some time to digest, but I wish Adu well.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Another E.P.L. Thriller -- If you don't watch the English Premier League on Fox Soccer Channel, perhaps you need to examine why not. It's hard to imagine a more entertaining game, in any sport, than today's tilt between Chelsea and Arsenal. The fans at Stamford Bridge were desperately rooting on the Chelsea Blues in this North London Derby, with Manchester United holding a nine-point lead in the E.P.L. standings. The Gunners have been a little disappointing this year -- at least inconsistent, and Chelsea is a little surprised to be trailing Man Utd., at this point in the season. Without Thierry Henry and several other key players, Arsenal would have seemed to be severely undermanned, and Chelsea's coach, Jose Mourinho had never lost a home game as the Blues' coach.

Still, these are two of the deepest teams in the world, and they are expected to put on quite a show when they tangle. Tonight's affair was no disappointment. Chelsea's Frank Lampard hit the post in the first half, on a shot that had Arsenal's keeper, Jens Lehmann, completely flatfooted. Emotions ran high all game, but the first real release did not come until Arsenal scored in the 78th minute to take the 1-0 lead.

Trailing so unexpectedly, Chelsea put on a furious assault. Ghanaian Michael Essien struck a truly awesome shot, a one-touch blast from long-range, that curved around the defense and back in to ricochet off the post and in for the tying goal. In extra time, Essien took a pass right in front of the goal, and again one-touched the ball, beating Lehmann, but shooting just a tad high, as the ball hit the crossbar. Seconds before the final whistle, Lampard again hit the post, after stealing the ball from Lehmann's reach, and dribbling past the sprawling keeper.

It may be true that some ties are be like 'kissing your sister,' but some ties are truly exhilarating efforts. This was one such special game. A wonderful advertisement for the beautiful game.

One observation I might make -- what is the deal with Shaun Wright-Phillips? I've hardly ever seen him play very well. He has some speed, to be sure, but I can't understand what he's doing with Chelsea. He came on as a late substitution (in the final 30 minutes), but he was in the game long enough to really stink the house out. One horrible touch after another, he kept giving the ball way. These were mistakes that in the parlance of tennis would be "unforced errors." His play really stood out in a seriously negative way, in a game that otherwise was rich with individual brilliance.

All-in-all, a brilliantly exciting game. I can only dream of the day when M.L.S. play might even begin to approach such skill, pace and excitement. In the meantime, while I hope for such heady days, I'd like to but together an ownership group for a future M.L.S. team in New York City. If you're interested and you've got beau coup bucks to invest, please get in touch.....

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Klinsmann Ist Kaput -- In a huge shocker, the United States Soccer Federation will not be announcing that former German coach Jurgen Klinsmann has agreed to take over the reins of the U.S. national team. Neither side is saying exactly what happened, but Klinsmann has withdrawn his name from consideration. I hope whatever has transpired might be reparable, should the USSF come calling again in a few years, or in four years. In the meantime, the Washington Post is reporting the Chivas USA's coach Bob Bradley has been named the interim head coach. It's not clear if this is meant to be a temporary appointment, allowing Bradley to return to Chivas for the MLS season. The U.S. team needed a coach, with its first post World Cup friendly schedule for Dec. 20, against Denmark. Washington Post article

The leading candidate for the coaching position would now likely be the former Argentina coach, Jose Pekerman, but the naming of Bradley as interim coach suggests that the USSF is not anticipating a big hiring announcement in the next few weeks. The other leading candidates are believed to be Carlos Queiroz, and Gerard Houllier. On the other hand, Bradley may have moved to the top of the list. According to the report in the New York Times, Bradley will be given a chance to earn the job on more than an interim basis. He will also be coach of the 2008 Olympic team. New York Times article on Bradley hiring
Sports Grab-Bag: Some Baseball; Some Soccer. First, I want to comment on the Mets surprising and ill-considered trade today. The Mets traded Brian Bannister. Anyone who saw how well he pitched in the early part of the season, before he hurt his hamstring, knows this guy can pitch effectively at the major league level. Because he did not pitch nearly as effectively, when he returned from his injury, he was dropped down the pecking order of Mets' pitching prospects. I think the trade was a mistake. I saw Bannister pitch, and he was very impressive against the Nationals. He has a good, long career ahead of him, probably like his dad's own mostly successful career. Now, Bannister heads to the Royals, where his dad, Floyd Bannister, saw his own career wind down.

In return for Bannister, the Mets got a flame-throwing reliever, but one who has not been very effective in his brief career: Ambiorix Burgos. The Mets couldn't resist his fastball, but most batters have done a fine job resisting swinging unnecessarily against this control-challenged righty. The Mets are hoping that pitching coach Rick Peterson can straighten out the youngster. Right now, the trade makes little sense to me.

I couldn't resist some soccer chat: It's going to be a little harder for CONCACAF to send a fourth team to the World Cup in 2010, which is still scheduled to be held in South Africa, despite growing doubts about the country's chances of pulling it off. As it was in 2006, CONCACAF will be guaranteed three spots, but the fourth place team will have a chance to qualify for the finals -- by winning a playoff against the fifth place South American squad. This will be a tough mountain to climb. On the other hand, it will really put the pressure on the region to become more competitive internationally.

As for those rumors about FIFA giving up on South Africa: The organizers didn't help quell those rumors when they failed to show yesterday for a scheduled press conference, during which they were expected to detail the progress made in the preparations for the tournament. Earlier rumors had FIFA interested in moving the tournament to the States, but the latest rumors have FIFA looking at Australia, instead. It would be a blow to South Africa if the tournament were taken away, but it's not the end of the world. Colombia lost the chance to host the '86 Cup, but that was the least of the country's problems. If South Africa does lose the right to host this time around, they won't have to wait as long as Colombia for another chance.

D.C. United is learning how the growing respect for American soccer is affecting their ability to hold on to players. There is serious question as to whether Freddy Adu will return for another season. Now comes word that Brian Carroll is getting a long look from Olympique Marseille. In addition, while United has offered MVP Christian Gomez a raise and a contract extension, there is concern that he might seek greater riches elsewhere.

Finally, a note on women's soccer: This from the Washington Post: "The Washington Freedom, formerly of the WUSA, will become a full member of the semi-pro W-League next summer, the league will announce today. The Freedom, which will play home games at the Maryland SoccerPlex in Germantown, have played unaffiliated exhibition schedules in the three summers since the WUSA disbanded. The club still hopes to become part of a relaunched women's pro league in the summer of 2008, Coach Jim Gabarra said." Washington Post article

My feeling is that this is a good move towards a more realistic conception of a women's league. Smaller facilities like the SoccerPlex, located in the suburban heart of girl's soccer, are perfect venues for a future, nascent women's league. I know the girls are still out there hungering for soccer -- I've seen packs of teenagers at D.C. United games. I imagine, as with other sports there is more appetite, even among women, to watch the men's game. But, there is definitely an audience for the women's game. If they can structure the economics so that the league can make some money with crowds between 3,000-4,000, I think that would be a realistic goal. I don't know if the salaries will be attractive enough for the women, but I'd like to see the women have another shot.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Mission Accomplished! Hooray! 1,000 visitors! I did it. I can now shut down the Fisch Fry. Well, I could, but I won't. No cut and runner am I. Besides, I still haven't posted the promised next chapters in the "My Crazy Neighbor" series. The Fisch Fry is not closing up shop any time soon....

Sunday, December 03, 2006

The Countdown Is On - 1,000 visitors. The count is unofficial, since I didn't have a counter for much of the first week. Still, at this writing, the counter is about to roll over to 1,000 -- clearly, a cause for celebration. 997, and counting. Who will be the lucky #1,000? Fabulous prizes may await you....
More NFL stuff -- Is the Ball Juiced? There have been some long field goals in the league this year, including two game-winning 60+ yard field goals. This has to give rise to the question: Is the ball in the NFL juiced?
This Just In: Tony Romo is Really Good! A hugely disappointing loss for the Giants. Eli Manning played as good a game as he has in his short career, but the biggest plays were made by Tony Romo, the Cowboys' first-year starter. I've been trying to think who he reminds me of. His arm is reminiscent of Marino, but he's more in the mode of Brett Favre, who was always more effective rolling out and throwing on the run. There are hints of Elway, even Donovan McNabb in his play. Whomever Romo is most like -- he may even be an original -- he's undeniably a top-flight NFL quarterback.

The real difference might have been the Giants defense, which returned to its early season play, where they looked great on first and second down, but not so good on third down. Another obvious key in this game was the Giants decision to forgo a fairly routine field goal late in the first half, but failing to make the first down on the fourth and one yard to go play. Mostly, the Giants were done in by a pass rush that couldn't contain Romo, a defense that tackled poorly and a secondary that failed to make enough big plays.

This was a terrific game, though. As exciting a football game as I've seen in years. Lots of plays to talk about. Two good teams going at it in a game for first place in the division..and it came right down to the wire.

The Giants can take some solace that Manning played a very good game, although he could have looked more confident in the red zone. The Giants seemed to think the only way they were going to score was with a size matchup in their favor. While Manning did hit a clutch pass to tie the game up with just over one minute to play, he did miss some big passes for touchdowns. Still, this was a big step up for Manning who hadn't played this well in over a month. The Giants are probably out of the division race, but if they can play like this over the final four games, they should make the playoffs. They still have tough games left in Carolina, and home against the Saints, but the Giants do have a chance to win three or all four of their final games.

Props to Joe Buck: When the camera caught Manning using a certain four letter epithet, Buck came back with: "Manning says 'My fault.'" Good stuff, Bucky.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Freddy Adu to the E.P.L.? After his two-week training stint with the team that used to be the great prize in club soccer, Manchester United, Freddy Adu returns to the U.S. The question of how he did over there seems to have been answered.

“Freddy has done all right,” Alex Ferguson, United’s manager, told BBC Sport yesterday. “He is a talented boy. He’ll go back to the U.S., and we’ll keep a check on him. When he is 18, we will have to assess what we can do next. I can’t do anything with him because he’s not 18.” See the article in the New York Times.

Adu turns 18 on June 2nd. Until then, he will be with D.C. United. What will happen after that is anyone's guess. I'm inclined to believe that Adu will finish the M.L.S. season in the States, but many think he will go...I've already written that I think it would be a mistake for him to go Man Utd., where he is not going to have much of a shot at playing. Alex Ferguson would love to have him on their develomental squad, and can afford to pay him handsomely for it, but if Adu wants to really flourish, he will need to go somewhere else first.

Meanwhile, Tom Glavine has signed for another year with the New York Mets. If he gets the 10 wins he needs to reach 300 career victories, he will probably retire after the 2007 season. This works for both sides. Glavine should get what he needs to earn a spot in the Hall of Fame, and the Mets will have the no. 1 or no. 2 starter they need as they hit the free-agent market in search of the final pieces for a World Series champion.

Look later this weekend for the return of the most popular FischFry feature: another installment of the My Crazy Upstairs Neighbor series. This series is sure to be an internet classic, and it's all true.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

A Nats' survey. The Nationals sent out an email survey for their fans. I concluded by telling them to be better neighbors and citizens, and to invest in the future. Specifically, I told them to give in on the garage question. The city could do with some below-ground parking there. The additional cost to the city would be worth it. And the Nationals would benefit, in the long run. One hopes that the city wouldn't go overboard with a plan for that property that would destroy the architectural plan for the stadium to provide vistas of downtown, from the ramps.

What else? Spend. Invest in the future, by spending in the present. Give the fans a reason to come besides the new stadium. Make that bond with the fan base, and they will keep coming back for generations to come. Give the fans good reason to resent the team and its owners, and you'll be amazed at how fast the stadium empties out. Even though the Nats are hamstrung by the shotgun deal with Angelos over TV rights, the Nationals are still in a profitable market. They can afford to be a little generous and pay for a competitive roster.

It will be years before the minor league system can be rebuilt and restocked. In the meantime, the Nats need to find a way to put a competitive major league team on the field. This year, in RFK, and in the years to come, in the new park. The next couple of years will offer the new owners a unique shot at connecting with the community. Build a strong foundation and the house will weather strong storms. Ignore the foundation, and there won't be much left when the storms hit -- and they wil hit, sooner or later.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

D-Mat?!?! Agent Scott Boras has rechristened his new client, Daisuke Matsuzaka -- He is to be called "D-Mat." A guy gets a nickname like that, he just has to sign with the BoSox. Now, let's not have any "doormat" jokes for a little while -- at least not until the Yankees show him 'who's his daddy'.....

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Will the Real Eli Manning Please Stand Up? There are two Eli Mannings. One is a clutch, cool customer that makes big throws, and is a true student of the game who can read defenses and make perfect audibles. The other is a guy who often can't hit the side of a barn, can't figure out where the coverage is and makes some really stupid throws. It was this latter version that showed up for the New York Giants' game tonight against Jacksonville.

We need one Eli Manning, consistently. I'd prefer it to be the first. Then, the Giants would b a top team. If it's the latter, then the Giants could admit they made a huge error and move on. But we need some consistency. Stop teasing us with promise of another Phil Simms for a few weeks each year, only to dash our hopes by looking like another Dave Brown down the stretch.

Meanwhile, I will continue to insist that much of what is wrong with the Giants could be cured with a coaching change. Bill Parcells, please stop this foolishness, and come home, already.

NBA -- I don't normally write about the NBA, because I don't enjoy the pro game very much any more. However, I saw a highlight tonight that was truly amazing. If you haven't seen it, you must check out a replay of the incredible smackdown, in-your-face block/stuff that the Knicks' Nate Robinson put on Yao Ming. The 5'9" (or smaller) guard really elevated to stuff an attempt, by the 7'6" Yao, to go over Robinson in the paint. Yao jumped, so the Knicks guard had to make up over two feet (and that's without considering Yao's considerably longer reach) to stuff Yao's attempt and knock the ball out his hands. The play is even the headline on the New York Times article on the game. On behalf of short guys all over the world: Thanks for bringing a smile to our faces, Nate.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Sayonara, Soriano - Adios, Alfonso. The Cubs must have a lot of money. They're giving Alfonso Soriano one of the richest contracts in baseball history, exceeded only by the madness of the Alex Rodriguez deal with Texas some years back, and Derek Jeter's and Manny Ramirez's deals with their current teams (Soriano's deal is roughly equal to Carlos Beltran's deal with the Mets sidned two years ago). In a deal that will pay Soriano an average of over $17 million a year, Alfonso will take his big wood to the friendly confines of Wrigley Field. This means that the Nationals had one nice season with the best player who may ever wear their uniform.

Losing Soriano means the Nationals can take his money and get two or three top players -- or several middling players. One wonders how much the Nats will actually spend. The team has gotten an enormous subsidy from the District (over $600 million for the new stadium), and couldn't be a decent enough civic-minded resident to allow the District to take the time to put the parking garages underground. That would have allowed the District to develop what would have suddenly become one of the most potentially lucrative, desirable, commercial locations in the city. Instead, the land north of the stadium (land between the Metro station and the stadium) will be occupied by two multi-story garages -- garages that will go unused for 280 days or more every year.

As a final slap in the face, the Nationals have allowed the best player most of will ever see here just walk away. Instead of building the team around this prodigious talent, the Nats will wallow in the cellar for years. Thanks, Nats.

A couple of days ago, I got a Nats t-shirt with Soriano's name on the back. I plan to wear it to the stadium. Not as a protest -- the Cubs offer to Soriano was ridiculous. I can't protest the Nats' not matching it. I'll wear it as a tribute to the Nats' best. If the Nats don't put that saved money to good use, and do what it takes to put a winning team on the field, my protest will be to stay away.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Just one more about MLS -- The expansion draft is over, and there were surprises. The list? Toronto took the following players:

Paulo Nagamura (L.A. Galaxy); Danny O'Rourke (N.Y. Red Bulls); Jose Cancela (N.E. Revolution); Adrian Serioux (Houston Dynamo); Nate Jaqua (Chicago Fire); Rod Dyachenko (D.C. United); Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake); Tim Regan (Chivas USA); Ritchie Kotschau (Columbus Crew); Will Hesmer (Kansas City Wizards)

The least surprising pick was Nate Jacqua -- the player with the greatest upside of those available to be selected -- though he may still insist on a move to Europe. A little more surprising was the selection of Serioux, although he would make sense for Toronto. Serioux is a Canadian, and would have counted as a domestic player for Toronto, but he was dealt to Dallas for Ronnie O'Brien. So, the Hoops did not lose Mina, as expected, instead traded a top player, O'Brien, for Serioux -- apparently, part of the deal was Toronto's agreement to pass on Dallas' unprotected players. RSL did lose Kreis, the MLS' all-time scorer, but only briefly, as Toronto worked out a deal to return Kreis to Salt Lake.

Toronto coach Mo Johnston dipped into his New York past to pluck Tim Regan from Chivas, but there is already speculation on MLSnet that Regan will be moved again. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that Johnston passed on the Red Bulls' top scorer, Edson Buddle. Everyone expected Johnston would pick Buddle, but he went for youth instead. Johnston used his familiarity with the Red Bulls' roster to go deep into their pool and pluck out Danny O'Rourke. A former Hermann Trophy winner, O'Rourke hasn't made much of a mark in New York, even during Johnston's brief stint as coach there. The really odd part is that Johnston then traded O'Rourke and a goalie, Hesmer, to Columbus. Apparently, Columbus must've had plans for O'Rourke, all along. Another talented, but overlooked selection was the Revs' Cancela. I expected Adrian Hernandez would go, but Johnston sees Cancela as the better talent.

In contrast, Johnston found himself in agreement with another coach's evaluation, plucking Rod Dyachecnko from United. The Ukranian-born teenager, Dyachenko, is a favorite of United coach, Peter Nowak. To me, Dyachenko was pretty far down the list among United's available players. I was not impressed with Dyachenko's showing in United's games, although one of his last touches was a nice one, as he came close to scoring the tying goal in United's Eastern Conference final loss to the Revolution. On the other hand, he's big, strong, and young.

Speaking of D.C. United and Coach Nowak -- in his final press conference of the year, Nowak had a lot to say about Freddy Adu's dreams of playing in England. As Nowak was clear about, playing in the Bundesliga (which Nowak knows personally) and the English Premier League, is not like playing anywhere else in the world. It's not that the level of play is so much higher, that the competition in the league is so intense, it's that the level of competition in practices is so intense. As Nowak says, if you're playing in one of those leagues, "the game must be reward for you. So actually the game is lighter than the practice." Benny Freihaber made similar comments about his current experience at Hamburg SV, in the New York Times article I discussed earlier in the week. Freihaber lamented the lack of comraderie among teammates, as a result of the intense competition between them.

Nowak tried to put the fear of G-d in Adu, talking about the level or training required just for practicing as a member of a team like Manchester United. Moreover, Nowak said, the teams that "really develop young kids in the right way are the Dutch league and some of the Spanish league. Because it's more technical instead of being hard." According to Nowak the "English league is very hard, and...there are guys that cost $20 million sitting on the bench. They just don't care."

As for his handling of Adu to date, Nowak explained his side. Though Adu wants to play centrally, where United already has league-MVP Christian Gomez, Nowak has tried to convince the young star that he will be more successful on the wing, where he will find more one-on-one situations he can exploit. To illustrate his point Nowak noted the success that Ronaldinho has had on the wing. "This is the reason Ronaldinho is a 200 million dollar player and...already the FIFA Player of the Year. The best player on the planet, and he's playing outside."

Nowak wanted to sound an encouraging, if cautionary note. "I think Freddy has a great future," he said. "It's just up to him, how he's going to make up his mind. He can achieve great things, if he just knows what to do with his career as a player -- not the guys who are around him, or agents or family. This is what is best for him and he needs to know that." The question is what did Nowak mean by that? Did he mean that staying in the M.L.S. is what's best for Freddy now, or did he mean to find a team in the Dutch league or La Liga in Spain? And the bigger question: What will Adu decide to do?

For the MLS, waiting on Adu's choice, it'll be an interesting off-season. To my MLS posse: Thanks for coming 'round. See you next Spring. On the other hand, if you're interested in what I have to say about life, politics, baseball, football, and everything else under the sun, keep coming back.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Soccer Tidbits – Probably my last post on soccer, for a little while, until the U.S.S.F. names a new coach for the U.S. national team. Whoever that next coach is, he will have to take a long look at Benny Freihaber. The New York Times has a story on the young (21 years old), Brazilian-born, Jewish-American international. Benny has started six straight games for the Bundesliga side Hamburg SV. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the article was that there was no mention that Freihaber was Jewish, except for the subtle inclusion of a quote from Benny about playing in the Maccabiah Games (an Olympic like tournament for Jews).

It would have been interesting to hear a little about the reaction of the German fans to Freihaber. I’m sure he’s not the first Jew to play in the Bundesliga in the post-war period (two Jewish players appeared for the German national side before the war – Gottfried Fuchs and Julius Hirsch), but my brief research on the 'net hasn’t yielded any results. In any case, it would be interesting to know how that’s been for Benny – but the real news is that Freihaber has worked his way into the Hamburg top eleven, which bodes well for a young man who has yet to appear for the U.S. Men’s national side.

Speaking of the national side, one U.S. player made World Cup history this past week, sort of. FIFA has ruled that the first ever hat-trick in World Cup competition was scored by the U.S.A.’s own Bert Patenaude in 1930. Previously, that honor belonged to an Argentine who scored his triple a couple of days later. A scoring change awarded one goal to Patenaude, instead of another American, so Patenaude gets this honor – posthumously. He died in 1974.

The Times article also reports that MLS Commissioner, Don Garber, has his sights on expanding the league to 16 teams by 2010. I wonder if that is realistic, given the talent levels. Perhaps, I’ll be proven wrong on this, but the league is talking about improving the quality of its play – making that its top priority. Adding 4 teams, including the Toronto squad that starts play next year, would make it impossible to improve the overall talent level.

I understand the league wanting to penetrate a few more markets. The MLS front office might believe that the league needs to reach a critical mass, in that regard, before it’s taken seriously as a major national sports league. I think, with national TV exposure, and the internet, that having local teams in all the major markets isn’t as crucial as it once was. I don’t see that the league will get more national coverage if it puts a new team in the Bay Area, the Philadelphia exurbs, St. Louis or San Diego. The media will take the league more seriously when the crowds get bigger and the games get better.

The MLS expansion draft is on Friday. Here’s the players I’d be considering (if I were Toronto’s GM): Chicago’s: Nate Jacqua or Zach Thornton; Chivas: Tim Regan or John O’Brien; Colorado: Jovan Kirovski or Mike Petke; Columbus: Jon Busch or Sebastian Rozental; D.C. United: Jamil Walker (other possibles are Matias Donnet, Clyde Simms and Nick Rimando); Dallas: Roberto Mina, Bobby Rhine or Greg Vanney; Houston; Craig Waibel (possibly Adrian Serioux); Kansas City: Alex Zotinca (or GK Bo Oshonyi); L.A.: Cobi Jones, Paulo Nagamura or Kyle Martino; New England: Daniel Hernandez, Avery John, Joe Franchino or Jose Cancela; New York: Edson Buddle, Steve Jolley, Tony Meola or John Wolyniec; Real Salt Lake: Andy Williams, Jason Kreis, Douglas Sequiera or Scott Garlick.

There isn’t a lot of young talent on that list. I’d expect Jacqua, Kirovski, Busch, Walker, Waibel, Zotinca, Nagamura, Hernandez, Buddle, and Kreis to get the nod. But, surprises are always possible.

As I look at it, my list is heavy on strikers – but scoring is at a premium, and Jacqua, Kreis and Buddle are at the top of the list. Toronto could go for a more established goalie, but Busch has the biggest upside. On the back line they could put Waibel with Zotinca, and rely on Walker, Nagamura and Hernandez to carry the load through the midfield. Then Kirovski seems like a luxury at forward, and Toronto might prefer an unguided missile on defense like Mike Petke – or one of the Dallas defenders. Toronto just might take a chance on the health and willingness of John O’Brien to play north of the border. If he were healthy, he wouldn’t be available, but he is the best player on the list.

Friday is the day. Toronto gets ten picks, and cannot take two from any single team.

Finally, a big soccer game tonight at College Park. Maryland takes on St. John’s in the second round of the NCAA Men’s Div. 1 Tournament. I have to choose between that, and a John Edwards book signing.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Baseball Blog - Warm Stove Edition: Seems the New York Yankees aren't the only team with lots of money to throw around. ESPN is reporting that the Boston Red Sox are the completely insanely profligate winners of the Daisuke Matsuzaka negotiations bidding sweepstakes. If a negotiations bidding sweepstakes sounds ridiculous, so was the Red Sox bid. They bid $42 million (The New York Times reports the bid was $45 million) for the right to negotiate with the right-handed Japanese pitcher. That's twice what the Yankees reportedly bid. Presumably, the Seibu Lions will accept the bid, and allow the Red Sox a month to ink a deal with Matsuzaka. Otherwise, his rights revert back to the Lions. The official announcement will be made Tuesday.

This is the same process that led to the Mariners signing Ichiro Suzuki. Rumors have it that the Mariners have never paid the full bidding price in the Ichiro sweepstakes -- that there was a prior agreement with the Japanese team that owned Ichiro's rights to allow the Mariners to pull a fast one. MLB has said it will scrutinize this transaction to make sure it's on the up-and-up. There is speculation that the Red Sox made the bid to keep Matuzaka out of the Yankees hands -- that they do not expect to actually sign him. MLB has also said there would be consequences if such a tactic was employed. They're expecting the Red Sox to negotiate in good faith.

According to ESPN's Peter Gammons, the bid does make sense for the Sox. Gammons says scouts that have seen Matsuzaka pitch believe "he's a top of the rotation-quality pitcher who would improve the Red Sox staff." Futhermore, if Boston GM Theo Epstein can sign Matsuzaka, "it would effectively plant a Red Sox flag in the growing Far East market." To be sure, signing Matsuzaka would give the Red Sox a real foot in the door of Asian baseball, giving the team a significantly enhanced profile there. The Red Sox want a slice of the "marketing revenues from the Japanese market." Matsuzaka would give them that.

True, the Red Sox have blocked the Yankees from getting their "evil empire" mitts on Matsuzaka, by ensuring they won the blind auction with an outrageously high bid. But Gammons thinks the Red Sox have more serious revenge on their minds. By signing Matsuzaka, "they would gain the same kind of advantage the Yankees gained when they signed Johnny Damon away from Boston. "

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Tom Coughlin Must Go! Like a doctor, a football coach's first rule should be to do no harm. Tom Coughlin did serious harm to the New York Giants tonight. The Giants were still very much in the game, trailing the Chicago Bears by four points, early in the fourth quarter. With a third and 15 at the 35-yard line, the smart move was to try and get 7-10 yards with a short pass or draw play. It's harder to throw downfield, and if they could get at least 8 yards, that would set up a makeable field goal on a miserably rainy night in New Jersey. Instead, the play call was to throw down field, and the pass was incomplete. I'm not sure whose bad judgment to fault -- Coughlin's, the offensive coordinator's, or the quarterback's, Eli Manning.

The next decision, though was Coughlin's -- and it was just plain stupid. The Giants went for a field goal, a 52-yard attempt. Jay Feeley's attempt came up way short. The Bears return man, Hester, caught the ball 8 yards deep in the end zone, and deked the Giants into believing he was not going to try and return the kick. Then, Hester took off down the sideline, and turned the play into the longest in NFL history. The game wasn't quite over yet, but after Manning was intercepted on the next series, it was.

Coughlin, after the game, acknowledged that a return is a risk, because the coverage team on a field goal isn't that good. Indeed, the players are selected to block the defense -- they're not speed and tackling people. Coughlin copped to the responsibility for the decision to try the field goal, but he didn't admit to the sheer stupidity of the decision.

There has been a lot of grumbling in the locker room about Coughlin, ever since the playoff disaster last year, when Jeremy Shockey said he team was "outcoached." There has been an expectation that Coughlin will be shown the door after this season. With the Giants on a roll all that early season talk has been forgotten. It shouldn't be.

The Giants will probably make the playoffs, but they have the wrong man at the helm. Because the Giants sit on top of their division, it's almost inconceivable that Coughlin would be let go in midstream. Still, I think the possibility should be considered. If nothing else, management should begin evaluating possible replacements.

LaDanian Tomlinson update: 4 TDs for L.T. today. He's really good. I wrote last month that Barber is the best back in the N.F.L. this year. That might have been hasty hype -- an overreaction to the news that Tiki Barber plans on retiring. Barber is awesome, probably the greatest offensive player the Giants have had. Tomlinson, though, is just a cut above -- one of the best offensive players in league history.
MLS Wrap Up: the MLS Cup Final - I wasn't too far off, predicting the Houston Dynamo would be a 2-1 winner. The Dynamo nearly lost this one, falling behind 1-0 on a Taylor Twellman overtime goal, set up by a fantastic powerful run and pass by MLS playoffs revelation, Khano Smith. The Dynamo struck back, though, less than a minute later, as Brian Ching got his head on the end of a nice cross, and beat the New England Revolution keeper, Matt Reis.

Going into the penalty kicks (the first time the MLS Cup was to be decided by a shootout), one had to think the Revs had the advantage, with the long-armed Reis in goal. But, a miss by Pat Noonan left the Revolution on the brink. Down 4-3, Jay Heaps stepped to the penalty spot, trying to keep the Revs' hopes alive. Heaps struck the ball terribly and indecisively -- with no power and very much within Pat Onstad's reach -- and the championship belonged to Houston...the third title for the franchise, but a first for Houston, as the franchise was in its first year there.

So, the Revolution are starting to look like the Minnesota Vikings of the MLS. They've been to the MLS Cup Final dance three times and come out the loser each time. On a more positive note, the Denver Broncos used to be a latter-day version of the Vikings, having lost four Super Bowls, as well. But, the Broncos did break through, before John Elway retired, winning a couple of championships.

The Revolution might have to retool a bit, if they want to get back to this position. There's a good chance that two of their best players, Shalrie Joseph and Clint Dempsey, will make the jump to Europe. On the other hand, it seems the Revs have a replacement ready for Joseph, in super-sub Khano Smith. The Revolution substitute is very big and very fast -- for his effort, Smith should get most of the credit for Twellman's go-ahead goal. Smith had a similar run late against United, and just missed scoring on that play, with his powerful drive just over the crossbar.

Ching gets the big goal in this game, and he gets the Goal of the Year award, for his game-winning bicycle shot against D.C United. I wrote that night that Ching's goal was arguably the finest in league history, so I can't quibble with the selection. I voted for Christian Gomez' effort in week 11, because he had to beat several defenders, while Ching was strangely unmarked when he struck his award-winner.

On other matters, I was very pleased by the half-time interview with MLS Commissioner Don Garber. With the questions and Garber's answers, it was clear that the MLS will make it a high priority to place a team in New York City, as soon as 2010. I've already written that I think this the direction the league needs to go in -- in fact, I asked about this possibility in an email online chat with the Commissioner earlier in the week.

Having two teams in the New York region will be good for each team. Ultimately, it will help the league, as it will increase the visibility in New York, and double the chances of a championship for a New York-area team. The history of the NASL shows the value of a winner in New York. The difference will be in the MLS' ability to sustain the interest that might generate.

Along those lines, the MLS has announced that each team will be allowed to sign one star player without impacting the salary cap. Having the money for one top, international-level player isn't ideal, but it is better than none. It means that the league could attract stars like David Beckham, who are interested in playing in America, but need to see the money. It might also be helpful in enticing some aging Americans, like Brian McBride to return to our shores while they still have some productive years ahead of them. It's a good start, and the decision to crack open the pocketbook is a welcome signal that the MLS is more confident in the future economic health of the league.

That leaves a few questions for the off-season: What to do about the Kansas City Wizards? Who will coach D.C. United? Will Freddy Adu return for a full season? And, who will MLS be able to attract with the salary cap exception slots? Someone needs to start the ball rolling? Will it be Becks? Maybe Zidane? Ahhhh -- the speculation will be half the fun.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Nationals will name new skipper -- Manny Acta. The Washington Post has confirmed the prediction I made six weeks ago, that the Mets' first base coach, Manny Acta, will be their new manager. Acta got high praise for his job managing the Dominican Republic team in the World Baseball Classic earlier this year. The Mets' manager, Willie Randolph, has been hyping Acta's potential as a major league manager. Though the Nationals were rejected by their first couple of choices, Acta is probably the right choice.

As a Dominican, Acta might be more popular still in New York, but hiring Acta will go some way towards repairing any ill-feeling in the minority community over the dismissal of Frank Robinson, the Nats' previous manager. Acta also was a former member of Robinson's staff when the team was still in Montreal. This gives him some familiarity with several of the Nats' top players. In addition, although he is only 37, Acta has a fair amount of managerial experience already, both in the D.R. and in the Houston Astros' farm system, before he joined the Expos' staff.

Hiring Acta does raise one interesting question, though. I wonder if this means that the Nationals are conceding in the Alfonso Soriano sweepstakes. Apparently, Soriano is seeking a contract in the range of Carlos' Beltran's mega-blockbuster deal with the Mets two years ago. Given the results that Beltran had in his first year, I think that contract is not viewed favorably anywhere in baseball. Ditto for Alex Rodriguez' even bigger deal. Soriano will have to be more realistic about the market this year.

What does any of this have to do with Manny Acta? Well, Acta was Soriano's manager during the W.B.C. During the first games of the tournament, Soriano played badly in the field, at second base, and did not hit either. Acta benched him fairly quickly, in favor of Placido Polanco. If Soriano bears any ill will towards Acta over that very public rebuke, he may be thinking of crossing the Nationals off his list.

The Post's story is at:
How I Won the Election -- in Virginia: I was pretty terrified of a George Allen Presidential campaign. It's why I dedicated a good part of my blogging over the summer to the then basically unreported story of Allen's denial of his Jewish ancestry, and apparent antisemitism. I'll give Webb the credit for the 8,000 vote difference, but excuse me if I feel a little of personal pride every time I think of "Senator Webb." I've also really grown to really respect and admire Jim Webb. Hell be a damn fine Senator. And a Vice-President Webb wouldn't be such a bad thing, either.

This was an unusual campaign for me. I usually get much more involved on the ground. This time, I worked in different ways -- lots of letter writing and I was blogging a lot -- but it may have been the biggest contributions I've made. I can't prove it -- at least not without asking one reporter why she asked a certain question -- but I feel like a played a part in helping George Allen beat himself. On the other hand, I couldn't help Andrew Hurst get elected to Congress. I still think if the Democratic Party had given him some money at the right moment, it could have made a huge difference.

When one considers the war chests that the Presidential candidates have, the notion that some candidates might have had a real shot of winning if they'd gotten some monetary support -- well, it's very disappointing. Hillary Clinton held on to millions -- although she gave $2.6 million to fellow Democrats, she held on to much more, and spent an absurd sum on a race that was in the bag. John Kerry held on to a large sum, as well -- for a Presidential run that probably went up in smoke during the final days of the '06 campaign. I understand that they do campaign hard for the money they raise, and Sen. Clinton may believe she was quite generous. Still, Kerry and Clinton both lost friends in the blog set for not being more generous.

Senator Clinton will be the front-runner as the primary season begins in a little more than year. I, for one, am anxious to see how well she does at making the case for her Presidency. I haven't made up my mind which candidate I expect to support in the primaries, but I promise to get much more involved on the ground.
Why There Needs to be a New Vote in Florida -- My earlier post elicited comments from one reader (on DailyKos), disagreeing with me, saying basically that one has to respect the vote total and work for electoral reform in the future. Here's my response :

I'd been having this argument with another DKer in context of the Virginia race -- our discussion started when Allen was still ahead in the count. The question was what to do if evidence pointed to the Allen campaign -- maybe Allen himself -- in efforts to supress the vote -- perhaps criminal efforts (the calls threatening voters with arrest, for example).

I argued the other side -- that all we have is the vote -- we can't engage in conjecture as to how the election might have been different without those dirty tricks. No way to know how people might have voted, had they come out to vote -- or maybe, witness Maryland, how they might have voted if they weren't duped by phony endorsement flyers. Presumably hardly anyone fell for those flyers, but hypothetically they could have.

In those cases, I made the point that we would be stuck with the actual vote. Because there is no reason to believe those votes were cast as recorded -- deliberately and knowingly (even if ignorantly) -- and no way to know how some hypothetical voter might have voted -- the vote needs to be respected. At least, the vote should be certified. If the wrongdoing were truly egregious, the elected person could be driven from office -- by expulsion or impeachment. But, that would be different than invalidating the vote.

The situation in Florida calls for a different response. The vote totals are not accurate. It's ridiculous to suggest they are. It would be a terrible precedent to knowingly certify an inaccurate total. In this respect, it's in some ways worse than 2000. The question in 2000 was could you look at ballots and find other votes that might change the result? Here there is no way to do that -- no way to come up with an accurate result. Given the closeness of the race, and the probability (basically 50-50, because the race is so close) that the wrong person is leading, the only logical response is to invalidate the result.

To do otherwise would be to say it's OK to rig an election. I'm not saying THIS election was rigged. I doubt the undercount is due to deliberate malicious code. But, if you certify this vote, you must certify them all.

Will the voter base be different in a second vote? Of course. If nothing else, it will be an expression of people interested in the one race -- not people who came out to vote for governor or senator, and then voted on down the line. That isn't the worst thing -- but that wouldn't be the point of a new election. The idea would be to produce a result that one could be confident reflected the will of all those who turned out to cast their ballots, on that day. Can you ask for more out of an election?