Thursday, December 07, 2006

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.

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