Thursday, March 29, 2007

Maryland to Drop Out of College -- The Electoral College: "But, Is it Good for the Democrats?" There’s an old joke – a Jewish joke – about a young boy who runs into the family room and excitedly shouts to his grandfather: "Grandpa, Grandpa! Babe Ruth hit three home runs today!" The calm, old man pensively examines the boy’s excited declaration. Finally, he responds by posing this question: "But, is it good for the Jews?" The point of the joke being that some people have a fairly limited frame of reference -- seeing life through one prism that filters everything into just one, all-important question.

Maryland (My Maryland) is on the verge of becoming the first state in the Union to endorse a direct national popular election of the President. Rather than amending the Constitution, which requires support of two-thirds of Congress and three-quarters of the states, Maryland is endorsing an end run around the state-by-state Electoral College. The Maryland Senate has passed legislation, which would give all of Maryland’s electoral votes (10) to the winner of the national vote. It seems likely to become law here, as the House of Delegates is expected to pass the bill, and the Governor is expected to sign it. The catch is this doesn’t kick in unless the other states also pass similar legislation (at least enough to total 270 electoral votes).

Now, this change may seem democratic to you -– assuming that you believe each vote in the U.S. should count equally. Such a change would really change the way campaigns are run in the general election. For instance, New York is barely contested in recent years, since its electoral vote seems certain to go to the Democrats (frankly this is a bit presumptuous -- in the Republican landslides during the 80s, New York followed the national trend). Instead, much time and money is spent campaigning in swing states, even those small states with few electoral votes. If every vote counted equally, there’d be little point in spending much effort in sparsely populated areas. New York and California would suddenly be the focus of most campaigning.

The difference in a few percentage points in New York could mean a far bigger swing in actual raw vote totals than could possibly be gained by campaigning in Iowa. The G.O.P. wouldn’t be upset at losing New York, so long as they were competitive. Similarly, the Democrats would be focused on turning out as many votes as possible in the Empire State, since a big win there could almost guarantee success nationally. In the past, Democrats could live with a low turnout in New York. That would be flirting with disaster, if we’re counting the popular vote nationwide.

It may seem more democratic, but would this change be good for the Democrats? That seems like a fair question to ask. After all, isn’t that what it comes down to, in the end?

In deciding that whether it would be good for Democrats, I think past results are not a great guide. Al Gore won the popular vote handily, but was deemed to have lost the popular vote. Conversely, though, John Kerry was whipped nationally, but nearly squeaked out an Electoral College win.

California passed a similar bill last year, which was vetoed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. This suggests that the G.O.P., at least, fears a national vote. I’m not convinced that we’re back to the days when Democrats are more popular nationally – I’m not even sure there ever really was such a time, since Ronald Reagan won when the Democrats had strong majorities in Congress. It really depends on the candidate.

The best questions should be: Why would we make such a change? Is it a good idea? As to why, the answer seems obvious – to get away from the focus on a handful of swing states, and to avoid the travesty that occurred seven years ago – with the spectacle of the legal battle over Florida, and the end result of Bush taking office, instead of the popular vote winner. Proponents of the Maryland legislation hope that a national campaign will force the candidates to stop ignoring Maryland. I don’t know that there would be that much more attention paid to Maryland, although the DC metro area would suddenly become a hotly contested media market.

As to whether this would be a good idea, the answer doesn’t appear obvious – at least, not to me. In a close election, the Florida recount debacle could be repeated nationwide. If the Bush v. Gore precedent means anything, it would suggest the possibility that a recount within a popular vote system needs to be done on a national basis. State borders – state electoral systems would be arbitrary, meaningless divisions, so a statewide recount would seem as arbitrary as the Gore strategy of calling for selective recounts in various counties.

More importantly, we ARE a nation of separate states, each with their own political cultures. States that are greatly skewed in favor of one party or the other could unduly influence the outcome – even beyond the force the electoral votes they possess under the current system. Is that something to be respected or concerned about?

I’m not sure I agree that it’s a good thing to have a national election. I do accept that the Presidential election is different than all other elections, which must be organized by states. It is a national office, and it seems that it ought to be chosen by a national vote.

I guess, if ALL the states came together on this system, it would be hard to have any objection. However, under the Maryland proposal, the national vote would choose the President, even if just an electoral majority of states agree to the system. In fact, it’s not really dispensing with the Electoral College – it’s just using that system to deliver an Electoral College majority to the popular vote winner (regardless of how the individual states adopting this system actually voted). That doesn’t sound entirely American or really democratic to me, since it would allow a majority of the states to effectively impose a constitutional change that might not have been agreed to by the requisite three-quarters of the states, nor the full two-thirds votes in Congress.

In short, I’m not convinced this change would be truly democratic. It certainly sounds as if it would be good for the Democrats. I’m not sure that should be our barometer. Besides, it might not be good for the Democrats. Under that system, Kerry could have pulled out Ohio, but he still would have lost the election.

There are problems with our system for choosing a President. The change I'd most like to see would be to get rid of the Electoral College, but use it to require that the winner be decided by a majority vote -- providing for a run-off if there is no majority winner that first Tuesday in November.

Yeah, I know that no one would want two voting days -- with all the costs, and the expense of running a second, brief campaign. But, we could accomplish two things -- it would encourage third-party candidacies, which I think would be a good thing, so long as they are more than spoilers. Having a run-off between the top two vote-getters would eliminated the spoiler problem – Nader in 2000 proved that a third-party candidate can interfere with the public choice. The spoiler problem exists in the Electoral College, but it might be worse in a national vote system, where a three percent nationwide vote could swing an election.

I am convinced that working on a Constitutional Amendment would force us to confront defects in our Presidential system. There are a host of issues to consider. In fact, I’d like a new Constitutional Convention during which we could discuss possibly adopting a parliamentary system. That’s not likely to happen.

On the other hand, the Maryland bill might catch on. As it gains momentum nationwide, I predict there will be increasing criticism that this end-run on Constitutional reform is actually anti-democratic. In response, I expect to see an effort to reform the Electoral College by amending the Constitution – which I believe is more appropriate. That will also begin a dialogue on exactly what our Presidential election system should look like. I hope for an end to the Electoral College – a nationwide poll, but one that calls for a majority to elect the President, either on the first Tuesday in November, or in a run-off election within a month thereafter.
Guatemala ties the U.S. -- It was a home game, a friendly, against a CONCACAF rival -- the kind of game the U.S. should win. Unfortunately, the U.S. showed only a little offensive creativity, and even less finishing ability. Guatemala was the more dangerous attacking side, especially in the second half. Justin Mapp did have an excellent chance at goal in the second half, but he sent his shot just wide. Eddie Johnson had a good chance in the first half, but couldn't get past the goalie. Later in the half, Dempsey put a weak header on to the end of a well-taken free kick by Landon Donovan. That was it for the U.S. -- except for a badly flubbed attempt by Jonathan Spector, in the second half. I know he's young, but I've yet to be impressed with him -- at any level. Coming off his brilliant game over the weekend, Landon Donovan was largely invisible. Hopefully, the U.S. and Donovan can learn something from the way Guatemala defensed him.

On the positive, Justin Mapp showed good acceleration and desire, as did Kenny Cooper, who came on very late. Frank Simek, earning his first cap, was the defensive standout. Jay DeMerit joined him in earning his first cap. Making his first start, Michael Bradley showed a lot of toughness. I think he will soon become a fixture in the U.S. midfield. Goalie Kasey Keller did a good job of screaming at his teammates every time a Guatemalan took a shot. I guess that's a good thing. He didn't seem as shaky as Howard has -- but Keller is the past. Howard is supposed to be the future.

I'd say the U.S. might have been a little more solid on defense than they have in recent games, but it seems to have come at the expense of an effective attack. The coaching staff has to find a way to open up the field without opening up the defense. Speaking of the coaching staff -- I guess the draw didn't help Bob Bradley's cause. Another win would have put enormous pressure on Sunil Gulati to drop the "interim" from Bradley's status as national team coach. I expect that Bradley will remain in the position for the Gold Cup and the Copa Libertadores, but that the USSF will start looking at other possibilities following the end of the European season. Bradley should have a chance to nail down the job if the U.S. successfully defends its Gold Cup title -- and could lock up it, for sure, should the U.S. advance out of its group in the opening round of the Copa Libertadores, which begins right after the Gold Cup ends.

So much for national team news -- except to report two gossipy items. Brian McBride had an audience with the Queen. Along with Don Johnson, and a couple of American rowers at Oxford, McBride was presented by fellow American Kevin Sullivan, a Washington Post reporter (and Sullivan's wife). Sullivan joked with the Queen that McBride was in England "teaching the English how to play football." The Queen shot back: "A different kind of football." Indeed.

The other item? The Garciaparra-Hamm union has produced twin girls -- young midfielders, who should start dominating play during the Women's World Cup, in about twenty years. You heard it here, first?

Next week: the rematches in the CONCACAF Champions Cup, and the MLS opener, with DC United at Colorado. A busy week ahead for United and the faithful. And, of course, Opening Day in baseball.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

A side note on US-Ecuador Game: With one pass, Brian Ching might have gained more respect than he has in years of play, including previously earning a spot on the World Cup roster. I can't begin to count how many internet posts and American fans I hear from who thought Ching didn't belong on the national team roster. To my way of thinking, Ching is a terrific role player. Ching set up Landon Donovan's second goal, a breakaway, with a perfectly placed lead pass. Donovan talked up Ching's effort, after the game. Perhaps the most remarkable comment came from ESPN's Jeff Carlisle, who wrote "If Donovan is going to play forward, Ching should be the first option to partner him up top."

In truth, Ching's on a pretty good run. He scored the winning goal in the MLS Cup, also scored a game-winning bicycle kick in the regular season that earned him goal of the year honors. And he's come up big for Houston in the Champions Cup -- scoring against Pachuca not long after coming on as a second-half substitute. In some ways, we are seeing what happens when a supremely gifted athlete finally puts it all together. However, I think it's been there for a while -- largely unrecognized by the public. I think Bruce Arena didn't appreciate how much Ching could contribute, how well he could hold his own at the highest levels. In Nuremberg this past summer, I was in the front row, desperately screaming for Arena to sub in Ching, against Ghana. The U.S. might have done a lot better with Ching in the lineup. Today's game showed how much better Landon Donovan can be when he gets to play with Ching.
Landon Donovan -- He's Coming Out: Perhaps the biggest disappointment of the World Cup for the U.S.A. was the timid performance of Landon Donovan. Today, in a friendly against Ecuador, Donovan stepped up with three terrific goals - two great shots and a thrilling breakaway that he finished well. He had another excellent chance, with a sprint through the defense, but his shot was parried by the diving Ecuadorean goalie. Donovan played with confidence and determination. If this was his coming out, it was most welcome. The U.S. is developing a stronger supporting cast, but it comes down to Donovan -- as he goes, so goes the U.S.A.

Overall, the U.S.A. looked pretty strong -- they dominated the second half, and created opportunities throughout. The speedy, powerful Ecuadorean attackers bedeviled the U.S. defense through much of the first half, but the defense did settle down, as the midfield play improved. In the second half, with young Benny Freilhaber, and the even younger Michael Bradley in the central midfield, the U.S. controlled the play -- in fact, the second half had one of the more dominating performances I've ever seen the U.S. turn in. The defenders, especially Oguchi Onyewu, can still be shaky -- but, this team is starting to look pretty darn good. What a difference a year -- and maybe a coach -- can make

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Presidential Politics (On Al Gore and John Edwards) -- I wanted to comment on the events of the last couple of days. On Wednesday, Al Gore had one of the more remarkable days any former losing Presidential candidate ever had. He took his mission, leading the fight to reverse global warming, to Capitol Hill. Testifying before a House committee in the morning, and a Senate committee in the afternoon, he suffered the slings and arrows of the ignorant and incredulous Republican opposition. As Gore argues, this shouldn't be a partisan issue. Most Republicans would agree. However, those Republicans, like James Inhofe, who have been bought and paid for by the oil and gas industry, couldn't resist playing politics.

Inhofe tried to get Gore to pledge to use no more energy than the average American. This was a shameless ruse. The fact is Gore already conserves more energy than the average American. The Gores use fluorescent bulbs throughout their home. They have fought to have the local community change rules to allow them to install solar panels, which they are now putting in. They pay a premium for "Green Energy" -- renewable, carbon neutral power. Considering that Al Gore runs two businesses from his home, with significant numbers of staff -- perhaps even a shadow Presidential campaign -- his power usage will certainly be higher than the average American homeowner. Inhofe's gambit was a cheap, meaningless ploy -- unfortunately, we haven't heard the last of this bogus line of attack.

Inhofe also put up a list of a hundred or so "scientists" that purportedly do not accept Gore's premise that global warming has been caused by human activity. The fact is the only meta analysis shows an unwavering scientific consensus on this point. Reviewing approximately 25% of the available literature, the study authors found that there is not one single study or academic paper that challenges the premise that the Earth's climate is changing because of human activity. Not a single article or study that offers any evidence to challenge the premise. This is a spectacular degree of scientific consensus that is rarely achieved on any question. The scientific debate is finally over on this question -- the real political question is what are we going to do to try and save this planet?

I say this is an example of Presidential politics for two reasons. First: Gore hasn't ruled out the possibility of running. I'm part of a movement that thinks Al Gore would be the best candidate for these times. We will hold out hope for his entry into the campaign, until and unless he rules it out -- or until it becomes too late for him to gain the nomination. The second reason: The Republicans, including Inhofe, clearly fear Gore's candidacy, and take every opportunity to take their potshots at him. To them, this was Presidential politics, even if Gore isn't running.

One other reason why the debate smacks of Presidential politics is that the Democratic nominee may take up the cause, even if it's not Al Gore -- especially if the nominee turns out to be John Edwards. The former VP candidate, Edwards, has the clearest agenda of any of the candidates. One of his top priorities is the effort to combat global warming. Earlier this week, Edwards' campaign issued an action plan that adopts many of Gore's own planks, and adds the goal of moving the U.S. to 30% renewable energy production by 2020.

Edwards is a fundamentally decent guy, which I think everyone could see during the press conference today. He is also personally courageous, and dedicated to the cause of his campaign -- not for personal ambition, but because he believes in the goals he has set out: Universal Health care, withdrawal of U.S. forces in Iraq, aggressive efforts to curtail greenhouse gas production, bolstering the middle class, and a renewed effort to lift all Americans out of poverty.

As for the Senator's wife, Elizabeth Edwards: I've had the pleasure of talking with her briefly, after her husband's speech at the DNC winter meeting. It was obvious that she adores her husband, but also admires and respects him. More to the point, she is devoted to the cause, perhaps even more than her husband, if that is possible. She had the enthusiasm of the true believer. She wants to win, because she believes that John is the right man for the job. She was thrilled that his speech was so well-received and so well-delivered. It's no wonder that she is so universally liked -- even more popular than her husband.

Obviously, it was terribly disheartening to hear the news that Elizabeth's cancer had metastasized. The couple's optimism was encouraging. Most of all, I was heartened by their continued dedication to the campaign. Certainly, they are right to continue. She will have to live with cancer, but there is no reason to stop living. I hope people will be as accepting of this truth as they are.

The announcement that the Edwards' campaign will continue was also personally very encouraging. I prefer John Edwards to any of the other candidates. Bill Richardson has the experience to lead the country, as does Chris Dodd. Barack Obama is an exciting new persona, who can inspire the voters. Even Hillary Clinton would be a decent President. For me, though, John Edwards is the best candidate in the race. With any luck, John and Elizabeth Edwards will serve this nation as its First Couple for eight, successful years. While I hold out some hope that Al Gore might yet enter the race, I wholeheartedly support Edwards' candidacy. America: Take another look at John and Elizabeth Edwards. I think you'll find a great future President and First Lady.
March Madness - More on Spring Training Baseball: The Washington Nationals whipped up on Houston tonight, by a 16-2 total. This follows the Nats' thrashing of the Mets last Saturday, by a 13-1 score. It's just Spring training, but the Nats are showing a surprising degree of explosiveness. Ryan Zimmerman and Christian Guzman continued their hot hitting. Ryan Church, refusing to conceded the left-field job to Chris Snelling, finally awoke from his coma. Church had a three for five, five RBI day, that included his first home run of the Spring. Jerome Williams and Lavelle Speigner shut down the Astros' bats, as Williams allowed just two unearned runs.

One interesting development was the positioning of Kory Casto at first base -- his debut there. Though he went 0 for 2 at the plate, Casto showed some ability to adapt to this new fielding position by starting one double play. Perhaps this is the position for the youngster. He can spend most of the year learning the position at Columbus. This would allow the Nats to deal Nick Johnson after the All-Star break. Johnson is a classic, consistent baseball player, when healthy -- and still the Nats' best player. He is a slick fielder, and hits for a high average. However, Johnson is no longer a young up-and-comer. He doesn't have the power stroke one would like to see in a first baseman. His greatest value to the Nats' rebuilding plan may be as trade bait. I'd love to see an infield with Zimmerman and Casto at the corners, next season.

More March Madness: What is up with the New York Mets? O.K., Spring training results don't mean much, but what if the team goes virtually zero-for-the Spring? Only Tampa Bay has won fewer games than the Mets so far this Spring. The Mets got pasted again today. Glavine, Maine and Pefrey look fine in their starting rotation, but Hernandez does not, and Oliver Perez seems hit-and-miss. They actually got a good outing today from Aaron Sele, who is still in the running for a rotation spot. Sele outpitched John Smoltz, but Scott Schoeneweis gave up the winning run, and Billy Wagner was knocked around for five runs in his one inning of work.

The biggest danger signs for the Mets have been at the plate. Their hitting has been almost uniformly anemic. The young stars Jose Reyes and David Wright have strong averages, as does rookie outfield candidate Lastings Milledge, and Jose Valentin seems to have cemented his second base job. While Carlos Beltran has had a decent Spring, the other big-name veterans, including Moises Alou, Shawn Green, Paul LoDuca, and Carlos Delgado, are all batting at or below the .200 Mendoza line. These struggling vets are not young guys -- perhaps it will just take them a little longer to get started. Still, manager Willie Randolph has to be wondering if they will be able to turn it on when the season starts. Ditto for his bullpen, which has been atrocious during the exhibition games.

Finally: The Red Sox have given up on the Jon Papelbon experiment. Right now, the guy belongs in their bullpen. He was unbeatable last year as their closer -- the strength of the team. This Spring, with Papelbon in the rotation, the closer's spot was shaping up to be the biggest weakness for this year's team. Jon Lester looks like he'll be ready to start later this season. In the meantime, Tavarez is a better option for the Sox as a starter than as the closer. Props to the Red Sox' management for showing the flexibility and good sense to change direction when it was needed.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Nationals' Mid-Spring Report: Will the Washington Nationals be as bad as we feared? There are some good signs for Nats' fans -- tonight's game against the Atlanta Braves being a prime example. The Nats put together four straight two-out hits, followed by a HBP and a game-winning walk for Chris Snelling, completing a three-run rally in the bottom of the ninth.

Chris Snelling has been one of the big surprises of spring training, and is about to nail down the starting job in left field. This is a position that probably should go to young Kory Casto, who has probably been the Nats' best hitter this Spring. Unfortunately for him, Casto has a bunch of minor league options left, so he will be sent to the Nats' new AAA team in Columbus. This might not be the worst thing for him, as he still has to learn the outfield. Casto is in the process of making the switch from third base, a job that belongs in perpetuity to Ryan Zimmerman. The Z-man seems to be back in the groove -- no sophomore slump in store for him.

Other good signs for the Nats: Brian Schneider is a million miles ahead of where he was last Spring with the USA World Baseball Classic squad. Christian Guzman is swinging the bat well -- not for power, but he's got a quick bat again. Austin Kearns is looking fairly steady. Felipe Lopez got his first home run of the Spring tonight.

Tonight's game also saw another good outing by the Nats' other Spring surprise, middle infielder Josh Wilson. Wilson went 2 for 2, including a two-out RBI single in the bottom of the ninth. Wilson is out of options with the club. Barring a trade, Wilson seems to have played his way on to the squad.

A final bit of good news comes at first base, where the Nats came into the pre-season wondering who would fill in while Nick Johnson continues to heal. The Nats seemed to have done well there. Veterans Travis Lee and Dmitri Young are still in competition, but the Nats would do well with either. Young isn't much with the glove, but he would add needed power. In contrast, Lee has a slick glove and may be showing signs of regaining the hitting stroke he had, when he first came up as a young phenom a decade ago.

There have been some negatives, to be sure. Nook Logan has not swung the bat well. If Ryan Church were hitting much better, he'd be handed the centerfield job. Unfortunately, no one has really taken command there. The long shot, Alex Escobar is hitting well, but his old injury bugaboo continues to bite at him. Right now, his shoulder isn't responding to treatment, and he cannot play the field.

The upshot is that the Nats won't have much power, or speed, and won't hit for a high average. On the other hand, their lineup won't be embarrassingly bad. Which brings us to their pitching, where everyone has feared the Nats would be thoroughly embarrassing.

It's entirely possible that the Nats might have four decent starting pitchers -- perhaps as good as any four they've had before. Now, that's not the highest praise, but it's more than the Nats had a right to expect. On the other hand, spring training statistics are notoriously deceptive. Sure, Patterson, Hill, Simontacchi and Chico have been consistently good -- certainly good enough to be competitive almost every time out. The real question is whether that will carry over to the regular season.

The jury is still out on that question. Patterson is coming off an injury that robbed him of most of last season. Hill also was injured last year, and lacks enough experience for anyone to make an educated assessment of Hill's ability to pitch consistently in the majors. He had some good outings last year, but was sent down after a terrible outing. Simontacchi has had an injury riddled career and hasn't pitched well in years. Matt Chico is a rookie, trying to make the jump from AA ball. Chico doesn't have the greatest stuff, but he throws like a mature pitcher -- at least in exhibition games.

The fifth spot in the rotation is still wide open. Tonight, Tim Redding came back from a rough start, while Sean Bergmann pitched a couple of strong innings before breaking down in his last inning. Jerome Williams pitched well in his last outing, still vying for the job, despite some shaky outings early on. Redding and Williams are two former starters with other teams, trying to rebuild once promising careers. The Nationals are hoping one of these two is able to nail down the final rotation spot.

Less likely contenders include Bergmann and Rule V draftee Levale Speigner. Though Bergmann and Speigner have pitched well, the two would seem better suited to the bullpen. The Nats, however, may not have a better option for the fifth slot in the starting rotation. The last, or least candidate is Joel Hanrahan. The longest of the long shots, Hanrahan still has a chance to pitch his way into the rotation.

In truth, the Nats have not had a credible five-man rotation since that day in 2005, when they traded Toma Okha for not giving Frank Robinson the ball one afternoon, after Robinson came out to call for a relief pitcher. So, Nats fans are used to the patchwork rotation. This year's version may not be much worse than the rotation has been since the sudden Okha trade. On the other hand, it could still prove to be much worse.

One reason why spring training games can be so deceptive is that pitchers are evaluated on two, three, perhaps four innings. A major league pitcher should be able to shut down the other team the first time through the batting order. Even the bad ones. Even most AAA pitchers ought to be able to get through two or three innings against major leaguers, especially in the Spring, when the hitters are working more on their timing than anything else. It's foolish to expect that a pitcher who throws three strong innings each time out in the Spring, will surely turn that into six or seven strong innnings each time out during the regular season.

The long and short of it is that I am far from convinced that this will be a competitive team, with four or five legitimate major league starting pitchers. However, hope springs eternal, and this Spring, the Nats are starting to look halfway decent. There's not much chance that they won't finish in last place in the National League East -- the other teams are just more talented. Either they have much more power or much more pitching, or both. Still, the Nats just might keep the games close enough to make for some fun days and nights as they bid adieu to RFK this year.

Speaking of RFK: I've got 2 tickets coming, for the season opener against Florida. Unfortunately, I didn't realize Passover begins that night. My calendar listed the wrong dates for Passover, leading me to think it didn't start until over a week later. Anyway, I've got 2 tickets that I can't use. I'll entertain offers from interested parties. Write me at

Friday, March 16, 2007

More on D.C. United and the Beautiful Game: While watching Jaime Moreno labor through the first half of tonight's game, I was really struck by the transformation in D.C. United, from the plan for the squad that appeared to be coming together a few years ago. It wasn't that long ago that D.C. United seemed determined to bring together the finest soccer-playing American teenagers. There was Bobby Convey, Santino Quaranta and, of course, Freddy Adu. Convey went to England, Quaranta struggled through injuries and was dealt to L.A. last year. When Adu was dealt in the offseason, the youth movement project was officially over and done.

Instead, United has embarked on a much more interesting, and promising strategy. United's ship has tacked to the south, where United has carved out a unique model in pursuing underappreciated South American talent. By and large, United is aiming for 'tweeners -- those players who have shown ability, but who are not being considered for national teams, or even top European leagues. That makes them expendable in their South American and Central American leagues, and approachable by United at salary levels that make them attractive additions to the United roster.

There have been successes: Christian Gomez exceeded all expectations, becoming the league MVP last year. Facundo Erpen has become a fixture in the starting lineup, even if an unspectacular one. Of course, the model for this approach is the veteran Jaime Moreno, who may be the league's all-time leading scorer when he finally retires. Of course, there have been a few misses, as well -- including, recently, Luciano Filomeno and Mathias Donnet. The successes have been well worth the few misses, and the latest moves may bring United its fifth MLS title.

This off-season, United added Luciano Emilio. After three games, the decision to sign Emilio is looking like the best player move any MLS team has ever made. This isn't just because of his own prodigious scoring skills, but also because of the way he has so neatly fit into United's game, taking their offense to a new level.

As exciting as Emiio's debut has been, his signing is already old news. United has added another potential star this week. If early scouting reports on United's latest addition bear out, the team will have the most formidable attack the league has ever seen. This latest signing is the Brazilian known as Fred (Helbert Frederico Carreiro da Silva), who starred for Melbourne, helping them to the recent Australian Grand Championship. Still waiting for visa work clearance, Fred should join the lineup soon. Fred's an attacking midfielder with a knack for producing goals.

Apparently, United made a failed pitch for former Argentina national team star, Martin Palermo. No matter. If the quartet of Moreno, Emilio, Gomez and 'Fred' can stay healthy, United should be the heavy favorite to bring raise the MLS Cup, when the final returns to RFK this October.

There is a blog on the ESPN site that examines United's bargain-basement South American strategy. Jen Chang contrasts the strategy with that of other teams which have pursued big-name European stars. Certainly, Youri Djorkaeff wasn't enough to make winners out the New York team. Apparently, the Chicago Fire, having been turned down by Zinedine Zidane, are on the verge of signing the aging Mexican star, Cuahtemoc Blanco -- for more money than United will be paying in total to its 'Fantastic Four'. Chang argues that Blanco's biggest impact may be in destroying the good team chemistry that the Fire have enjoyed.

Chang is spot on, when he notes the MLS shot itself in the foot, with the inflated pronouncements regarding the value of David Beckham's contract with the L.A. Galaxy. That contract, as it turns out, will pay Beckham a bit more than one-tenth of the purported $250 million the MLS originally claimed. That announcement torpedoed negotiations with a number of European stars, as well as United's own talks with Martin Palermo.

The international stars, including Edgar Davids, increased their salary demands in response to the suddenly inflated expectations generated by the Beckham announcement. By creating false salary expectations, the MLS' priced itself right out of the market for these players. On the other hand, if the other teams were to take the money they have saved, by not signing overpriced big-name talent, and use it following D.C. United's model, they might be better off.

Chang concludes by naming three foreign players who would fit the D.C. United model, as talented players, who are playing in lesser leagues and would jump at the chance to play in the U.S. I don't know the first thing about any of these players -- and I urge you to read Chang's blog -- but here are their names: Ismail Matar, who plays for Al-Wahda in the UAE; Ledesma, a young Brazilian, with Kaunas, in Lithuania; and Allan Delon, another Brazilian, but one who has stayed at home, with Brasiliense. They may bear watching.

For now, it is D.C. United that bears watching, The Dynamo may be the defending champs, but United are the team to beat in the M.L.S. This promises to be a fun year in the nation's capital. The Washington Nationals may stink, but politics isn't the only sport worth watching in D.C. this year. Go, United!

Thursday, March 15, 2007

A Gutsy Finish by D.C. United -- Emilio Does it Again! Things were looking pretty grim for the home side, as the game clock reached 90:00, with D.C. United trailing 1-0. Despite being the better side in the first half, United couldn't put together any really dangerous chances. The rain seemed to be getting to them, especially Jaime Moreno, who seemed a step slow, winded, and just maybe showing his age for the first time. Their new Brazilian sensation, Luciano Emilio also seemed to be struggling in the rain. United's top threat in the first half seemed to be Josh Gros, but even he was only able to produce one good shot. On the defensive end, United looked a little shaky, but held the scoreless tie thanks to a nice save by Troy Perkins, and some strong defensive clearances by Bryan Namoff.

In the second half, CD Guadalajara (Chivas) started to find the holes in the United defense. After some close shaves, the D.C. wall finally gave, when Omar Bravo's header deflected off the charging Namoff's leg and into the United goal. United goalie Troy Perkins may have had Bravo's header covered, but he had no chance, when the deflection sent the shot just inside the near post. Down a goal, with their backs to the wall, United did pick up their game. Jaime Moreno, especially started to look dangerous, and he nearly had the tying goal on a slicing blast that the Chivas 'keeper was able to get his hands on. As the game clock wound towards 90:00, United seemed to be out of luck, out of chances and out of steam.

Just when United seemed beaten, the home team got a great opportunity. A foul was called in the 90th minute, giving United a free kick just outside the box. In fact, it seemed one more disappointment, as United probably deserved a penalty kick. The referee, however, ruled the foul occurred outside the box. The game slipped into stoppage time, as Christian Gomez approached the ball. Hearts stopped for a few seconds, as Gomez lifted the ball across the goal. Somehow, Gomez' kick found the head of the charging Luciano Emilio, whose header miraculously tied the game.

Emilio had scored in his two prior outings in a United uniform, but it seemed the dreamlike start to his tenure with United about to bump up against reality. In one improbable moment Emilio kept his goal-scoring streak alive, and saved United's chances of advancing to the Champions' Cup final.

Of course, United has a tough task in their rematch in Mexico -- much tougher than does the Houston Dynamo, who have a two goals to none lead in their series against Pachuca. United has to go into the Estadio Jalisco and beat the home team. This will be no easy task, but it's a lot more realistic than it would've been, but for the game-saving Gomez-Emilio effort in stoppage time tonight.
CONCACAF Champions Cup - The Early Report: Is an all-MLS final in the works? Though badly outplayed and outworked during the first half, the Houston Dynamo counterattacked well in the second half and left College Station with a surprising 2-0 goal lead after the first leg of the home and home series. Brian Ching took a chipped pass, from Paul Dalglish, over the defense, and headed it home into the corner of the goal. It appeared that Ching was in an offsides position behind the Pachuca defense. Despite protestations from Pachuca defenders no offsides was called. With the Dynamo working to protect their one-goal lead, Craig Waibel headed a ball of the line and preserving the lead. The Dynamo's best player, Dwayne DeRosario came on as a late substitution to get his feet wet against Pachuca, and he soon reaped an unexpected dividend. DeRosario played a nice ball into space for Brad Davis. After catching up to the ball, Davis delivered a great cross that was knocked home by Chris Wondolowski.

In the second-half of the TV doubleheader treat, D.C United take on Chivas of Guadalajara, from rain-soaked R.F.K. Stadium in D.C. Still suffering from a bug of some kind, I've chosen to stay warm and dry, watching the game on TV. Hopefully, D.C. will have one more home game in the Champions Cup tourney, hosting the first leg of the final. I'll make sure to be there, whatever the weather. You can look for my take on tonight's game in a couple of hours.

Monday, March 12, 2007

The Simon suspension: I'm going to be a bit controversial and contrarian here, but I think the NHL needs to take a second look at the situation involving Chris Simon. The league handed out one of the two stiffest penalties ever, suspending him for the rest of the year. It's funny timing, because the incident happened between the taping and the actual airing of last week's HBO's Real Sports broadcast -- The program ran a profile of Ted Nolan, now the Islanders coach, and included a bit of a focus on Simon and his relationship with Nolan -- because they are both "First Nation" (Canadian for Native Americans). The program detailed how Nolan had straightened Simon out in the juniors, when Simon had a drinking and a brawling problem...and how Nolan brought him to the Isles, where he was playing regularly. It's actually a very moving profile of Nolan, and the problems that the First Nations face.

Having read the New York Times article about the suspension, I think Simon is getting a raw deal. First off, this wasn't as vicious an attack as the one by McSorley years back. This was instantaneous -- though he used the stick as a weapon, he didn't wind up and swing it lethally. But, the real reason it's a raw deal is because the Isles are saying Simon suffered a concussion when he was checked into the boards. If true, that should inform the league's response.

When I saw the replay, it seemed to me that the "victim" was skating back at Simon to take another shot at him, after he climbed to his feet. I'm sure it seemed that way to Simon. Suffering from a concussion, he acted in a hostile manner, striking out as many concussion-sufferers do. Some people who have had concussions really can't help themselves. Sometimes, they just snap at others, and sometimes they lash out physically. No way should the NHL coddle Simon, or tolerate his using a stick that way. If, however, the evidence bears out the Isles' contention about a concussion, this should mitigate the punishment -- at least somewhat.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Nationals vs. Orioles - Preseason Report: I might stir up a hornet's nest if I dare to call both these teams the 'local' baseball teams, but Washington's team took on Baltimore's team, in Ft. Lauderdale today. Cable and satellite subscribers were treated to a rare treat. MASN broadcast the game right into my home, and my sickbed. The Orioles beat the Nationals 4-3, but the only thing close about this game was the score. The Nationals sent up a "B" team against the Orioles "A" squad, and it showed.

The Orioles hitters tagged a lot of balls, although a stiff wind in from center field proved to be the Nationals' best friend. It spared Matt Chico, when Corey Patterson drove a sharply hit fly to center, that would have left many ballparks. Chico did not get much help from starting third baseman Ronnie Belliard. In the first inning, Tejada smacked a bouncer down the line, which Belliard couldn't get a glove on. Ryan Zimmerman probably would have made that play. Instead, the Orioles had a run-scoring double. In the third inning, Belliard failed to cleanly field what became a leadoff single. This led to the wheels falling off Chico's outing. Chico didn't make it out of the third inning, and the Orioles grabbed a 4-0 lead.

Paul Shuey came on in the 7th, trying to complete a comeback from hip-replacement surgery. Things did not go well for Shuey, who was very wild. He left the game quickly, though, because he hurt his Achilles tendon running to cover home after a wild pitch. The Nationals turned a hit by pitch, a throwing error, a groundout, and the wild pitch into 2 runs.

In the eighth inning, the Nationals finally hit the ball well. Rookie Kory Casto came on and tripled off the difficult submariner Chad Bradford. Chris Snelling hit a strong sacrifice fly to score Casto, and make the score close, but that's where it ended.

For the Nationals, the good news came from decent outings by their relievers, especially Lavele Speigner, but also Emiliano Fruto, and Billy Traber. The other bit of good news was Kory Casto. If Casto rips a few hits a few more like his eighth-inning triple, the Nationals' best prospect should nail down the left-field job. The Nationals also showed off a slick-fielding prospect in second baseman Joe Thurston.

On this day, though, there was far more bad news. Chico had looked good in his earlier outings, and hope was beginning to form that the Nationals top pitching prospect might nail down a job in the rotation. He's going to have to do better than he did today. Ryan Church is (not) hitting himself out of contention for the left-field and center-field jobs. Larry Broadway is similarly coming up short in his effort to grab hold of the interim starting job at first base, while Nick Johnson recuperates. Broadway also had a mixed day in the field, with some nice plays, but one misplay that proved harmless when Thurston fielded the ricochet and made the throw to first. In the field, Thurston looked very professional. He has great range, a strong arm, and he has some fast legs, too. He could be a good prospect, if he can turn into a stronger hitter.

The Orioles turned in a very workmanlike performance. They won't be pleased with three errors, but they did everything else right. Their starting lineup hit the ball fairly well. The starting pitcher, Jaret Wright, looked good. Given he was facing an anemic and largely inexperienced bunch of hitters, but he showed good movement, good command, and some pop in his fastball. The bullpen, with the exception of Shuey, was pretty sharp. Bradford gave up a couple of sharply-hit balls, but otherwise pitched well, as did Jeremy Guthrie, Todd Williams and Michael Doyne.

It's still early Spring, but the Nationals show every sign of confirming our worst fears about their pitching, and their hitting, and even their fielding. Of course, I wouldn't make too much of one game, especially when the Nationals rested their entire starting lineup. However, the press reports on most of their other outings have been similarly discouraging.

On the other hand, the Orioles have quietly put together a pretty good team. It seems silly to suggest they could contend in the American League East (with the Yankees and Red Sox), but they certainly could contend in any other division. They may surprise folks this summer. If you want to see real major league baseball this season, in the D.C. metro area, you're going to have to head up I-95 (or the B-W Pkwy) to Camden Yards.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Al Gore – The Week that Was: I am an Al Gore fan – I have been, since 1988 – and, I thought I’d offer my perspective on the past week, as well as the prospects for the much-discussed, much-fantasized (almost fetishized) possibility of an Al Gore run for the Presidency. It certainly was an eventful week for the former Vice-President, and for his many admirers. There won’t be any thing like this attention again on Mr. Gore, until the week of the big concert on July 7th. He may take that as an indication he would be wise to stay out of the race. For my part, I think he should draw the opposite conclusion, because he truly offers something no other candidate can – something we desperately need: An incontrovertible mandate for change, and the standing to lead the effort.

First, a review of the obvious: The Vice-President got the lion’s share of the attention at the Academy Awards, and much of the press afterwards. His global warming slide-show was forever immortalized when “An Inconvenient Truth” won the Oscar for Best Documentary. This well-earned high point was followed by the right-wing hatchet job, attacking the former Vice-President for his admittedly large utility bill.

What the critics did not acknowledge or understand was that the Gores had signed on to TVA’s premium-priced Green Energy program. Their entire bill goes to the generation of Green Energy, so that they are net carbon-neutral. They also have solar panels on their home, so that they generate some of their own power, and they further conserve by using fluorescent bulbs. The critics also glossed over the fact that the Gore’s home is more than a residence, since the Vice-President runs so much of his political causes from home. The critics set out to show that Mr. Gore was all talk, but they provided the focus to show that he also walks the walk.

As the week drew to a close, however, the attention switched to the high fliers among the declared candidates. First, Ann Coulter’s staggeringly unfunny, hateful and self-destructive “faggot” remark served as a reminder that John Edwards in still in the race – and maybe as an indication that Republicans are a bit fearful of Edwards as the Democratic nominee. As for the great oxygen sucker-uppers, Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama, they headed into the Southland to make their appeal for (stake their claim to?) the African-American vote, with their separate appearances as the commemorations of the March on Selma. The media fell all over themselves covering this titanic struggle.

For those of us who are political-junkies, it probably seemed as if everyone was as fascinated by and engrossed in the race as we are. Those in the game will feel as if Clinton, Obama and Edwards have all the focus, and the only serious chances of winning the nomination. Over the next four months, the “Draft Gore” talk will subside, and gradually (perhaps even quickly) recede into the background.

Since the rush to announce candidacies began in earnest in December, there has been regular discussion about Gore, and his shadow has loomed large over the race. His supporters, myself included, have regularly expressed their desire to see him join the race – and we have joined in efforts to persuade him to join the fray, with petitions, diaries and letters to the editor. That will change in the coming months, greatly slowing down, though not completely going away. There will be big blips on the 'Draft Gore' campaign's EKG monitor, in a couple of months, when the former Vice-President goes on tour to support his forthcoming book, "The Assault on Reason." There will be another round of speculation about Gore’s intentions at that time.

Indeed, back in December, the Washington Post published an article suggesting that the timing of the book release is no coincidence, and that Gore’s intentions may be made clearer, come May. As the article stated, while “he has no plans to run for president in 2008, former vice president Al Gore has nonetheless left the door ever so slightly ajar. It's a good bet that door will swing open a good bit wider come next May.”

I suspect the Post is wrong -- the issue will not be clearly settled then. Mr. Gore will find that his current formulation of having ‘no plans to run for office at this time’ is working for him. He will continue to deny that he has any plans to run, but he will also not rule out the possibility.

There are surely a number of reasons why Mr. Gore continues this dance, and it is tempting to speculate on each possibility. First, he may actually be sincere that he has no plan in mind to run, and equally sincere in saying he has not completely ruled it out. If so, he is studying the race and the world situation to see if circumstances will favor or call for his entry into the foray.

Second, Al Gore is astute enough to realize that he gets far more attention so long as he holds out the possibility of jumping into the race. The prospect makes him a far more attractive guest speaker, and will bolster his book tour tremendously. “Speculation about presidential ambitions and book tours have long enjoyed symbiotic relationships. In 1995, Colin L. Powell released his memoirs, "My American Story," in the midst of fevered expectations about his own presidential intentions. He ended up not running, but he did produce a runaway best-seller.”

For someone more interested in promoting his ideas, and his overarching political crusade, than in the income from book sales, the public spotlight is even that much more crucial. The spotlight that shines on Gore while he may yet jump in as the potential front-runner, will allow the Vice-President to be heard on his issues. During his May-June book tour, Gore will speak repeatedly about the importance of evidence-based policies, and “fact-based analysis.” He will offer criticism of the conservative political culture and its “unwillingness to let facts drive decisions.”

This is a message that deserves to be heard, and Al Gore may be uniquely suited to deliver this message. During the two decades he has been warning about the coming peril of global warming, he has been attacked politically and personally, ridiculed as “Ozone Man.” A cottage industry rose up to delay and obfuscate, to challenge both the science and the conclusions of those climatologists who were presenting the theory and the accumulating evidence that mankind was driving a process of climate change.

According to the climatologists, the incipient climate change held the prospect of massive forced migrations and the possibility of climate/weather-related catastrophes killing millions. Gore, and his comrades-in-arms, warned of massive species extinctions, floods and famines, droughts and rising sea levels that would drastically remake the maps, as the oceans reclaimed large swaths of land.

Throughout the debate, Al Gore has been a focus of the criticism of the politics and science of global warming. Even when he ran for President, he was careful not to overplay the issue, focusing on social security and other domestic issues. Suddenly though, almost everyone is willing to accept that global warming is a real phenomenon, and that mankind is driving the process with the generation of “greenhouse gases.”

So much time has been lost, while industry bankrolled a handful of scientists and conservative politicians to question the reality or severity of the threat posed by man-made climate change. The lost time may prove disastrous, even as few politicians to this day, seem truly willing to insist on new energy policies that might actually reduce emissions. Al Gore would be able to talk about the importance of having policies that are in line with the facts – with the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be. Because he IS Al Gore – because he was “Ozone Man,” people will take his admonitions to heart.

His message, however important it may be, will be only as effective as its reach. So long as people speculate about a possible Gore candidacy, there will be many more people paying attention to the former Vice-President, than would be true otherwise. Therefore, it is unlikely Gore will be quick to shut the door on the prospect. That would work against his intention to bring as much attention as possible to his appearances, and to his political causes.

That will be true for his critique of “The Attack on Reason,” and it will be even more so for his crusade on global warming, which he calls his great mission in life. His effort in organizing a worldwide concert in July to raise awareness about climate change will get that much more attention, as long as Gore holds out the possibility of running for President.

He may also believe that he would take away from this far more important, issue-focused campaign if he embarked on a personal Presidential campaign. I certainly understand this fear. If he remains outside the campaign, he remains above politics, and he can keep his personal focus on global warming, while the candidates quibble over past Iraq policy and nuances in proposals to end the U.S. role in the conflict.

For example, he has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Winning the prize would be a tremendously satisfying public acknowledgement of his work, but there could scarcely be any single event that would do more to raise worldwide consciousness of the threat and the need to take action. “Think globally. Act locally.” How much more resonance would that slogan have if the Nobel Prize Committee bestowed the world’s greatest honor upon Mr. Gore for his efforts to win over the public in the political fight over climate change science?

He may even be planning to use the Prize, should he be awarded it, in a whirlwind world tour to make real changes in energy policies. It would be a shame if the Nobel Committee shied away from giving Gore the prize so as to avoid the unseemly appearance of meddling in American electoral politics. It would also be a bit awkward for a Presidential candidate to receive such an international recognition. If he is engaged in an election campaign, just how much use will that award be in terms of a broader campaign to change energy policies both here and abroad?

All of these considerations ought to suggest that, while Gore may find it useful not to squelch speculation about latent Presidential ambitions, he will ultimately stay involved in his global warming campaign, to the exclusion of running for President. At the risk of showing great hubris, however, I wish to argue that these considerations ought to suggest to the former Vice-President that the time has come again for him to run for President. In addition, I believe there is a compelling case to be made that Al Gore would bring to the table qualities and assets that no other candidate possesses, and that he should feel an even greater obligation and mission to gain the White House.

His book tour, his concert in July, even a possible Nobel Prize announcement (and tour) – these are just blips on the screen. There is a much bigger picture, and a much bigger prize to be had. Gore can still achieve a great deal as a private citizen in terms of raising consciousness about the threat of climate change, but that isn't enough. The United States is responsible for fully 25% of greenhouse gas emissions. There is no way to combat global warming, without significantly changing the nature and scope of energy consumption in this country. No one can achieve greater impact in effecting needed policy changes than the President of the United States.

Moreover, I believe that no one – not any of the current or future candidates for President – would be able to effect the rapid changes that are needed – or rather, no one, other than Al Gore. The other candidates might put out strong environmental position papers, but they will lack Gore's passion for the issue. More importantly, if elected, others would also lack Gore’s potential mandate to act.

Whatever other Democrat that might get elected will face some tough obstacles on putting in real carbon-emission limits, and will find it impossible to fight the corn-ethanol lobby. If Al Gore were elected, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the American people did not know what they were voting for, in terms of real change on energy/emissions policy. He would have a mandate to act on emissions and energy policy – a mandate that no one else could claim.

I believe also that Al Gore may be uniquely positioned to lead the United States at this time, to reestablish our respect, our standing and our moral authority in the world. Already, he is universally respected -- perhaps in ways that ex-Presidents Carter and Clinton haven't even been able to achieve, since he is crusading on what may prove to be the paramount issue of our time, and has endured a great deal personal criticism for a crusade that wasn’t always universally appreciated.

Try to imagine the impact it would have upon our nation’s global image, if we were to elect Al Gore President, after he had received a Nobel Peace Prize for his decades of dedication to a truly global threat! He would bring new respect for the United States. I'm not sure the other candidates could match this.

If Hillary Clinton is elected, she will be warmly received by a world that remembers the Clinton years fondly, and respects what Bill is doing these days. If Obama is elected, that may be well-received on the African continent, and throughout the Third World. Richardson is respected for his UN Ambassador days, and his diplomatic missions in Korea and Sudan. Edwards would have some international regard for his efforts to bring attention to Sudan, and Uganda crises. On the Republican side, Guiliani might remind the world that America was once the victim, and did not go into the terror war willingly.

Yet, none of these candidates have the international stature that Gore already possesses, and none could match the appeal of a Nobel Peace Prize winner. Internationally, Gore is so admired that Cuba recently aired "An Inconvenient Truth" on the national, government run TV, and Raul Castro praised Gore. I would say that, on a subconscious level, here and abroad, Al Gore represents a vision of an America that might have been, but for the enormous foul-up in Florida in 2000. If Al Gore is elected President, it would an act of tremendous symbolic significance, and would be recognized as such everywhere.

On the issues, Gore has repeatedly shown exceptionally good sense and judgment. He was right on Iraq – to my way of thinking, right both times. Most Democrats opposed the first Gulf War, a view I found deeply misguided. Gore voted for it, but he also “felt betrayed” when we left Saddam in control, massacring Shiites and Kurds alike as a “betrayal.” I believe that misjudgment set the stage for a far worse calamity when the U.S. did depose Saddam in 2003.

Gore was most tragically correct about how the planned ’03 invasion of Iraq would be a grievous mistake, and about how the preparations for it were compromising our efforts on the real front in the war on terror. His speech to the Commnwealth Club, in opposition to the war, may go down as one of the most prophetic in history. Most of all, though, when no one else stood with him, Gore struggled to force the Senate to recognize the coming climate crisis. No one seriously doubts now that he was right then.

As I noted above, Gore may win the Nobel Peace Prize this fall -- which would be the crowning achievement in his global warming effort. He will be able to trade off that recognition to promote his cause for months, even a couple of years. After that, it's all downhill for him personally, in terms of what he can do on the issue of the growing climate crisis.

If he were President, Al Gore could do a lot more than just hustling to get some face time with Oprah. As President, Gore would have a bully pulpit even bigger than the Oprah show could provide, though I'm sure he could still get on Oprah, if he were President). Most importantly, as President, Gore would be in a position to direct policy – to propose and be taken seriously by the Congress, and other world leaders…in a way that no private citizen could be.

With respect to questions about running, I believe Gore is deliberately being a teeny bit coy, because he knows that brings more attention to him. More attention to him means more attention to his cause(s). The film was the crux of his new campaign -- not for President, but for a new carbon-correct ethic. I think he can do both -- that a run for President is the biggest step he can take in his campaign to fight global warming. On this point, I'm in august company -- former President Carter says he's carried that same message to Mr. Gore.

Ultimately, I think Gore won't run -- and I think that's an almost criminal abdication of the role he could be playing -- I won't say he has a responsibility or duty to run, because that's not fair to put that on one person. On the other hand, it's a fairly decent description of the way I view his position. Campaigning for President need not detract from his efforts on global warming. If he wins the office, it would be just the start of a far more significant effort to take on the climate crisis. It will be months until we have the final word on a possible Presidential candidacy. Though I believe it likely that I shall be disappointed on this account, I will continue to hope he does jump in those waters, feet-first.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Dynamo join United in the Semifinals -- The Houston Dynamo came into tonight's game knowing they had to win by two goals (or one, and penalty kicks), and they were able to pull it off. Despite looking simply awful and overmatched in Costa Rica last week, the Dynamo put on a determined, and exciting effort to best Puntarenas 2-0. The Dynamo did it with spirited play that matched the spirit of the 4,286 full house in College Station.

In goal, Zack Wells was nothing short of spectacular, with three game-saving stops. On the other end, Puntarenas goalkeeper Shane Moody-Orio was equally spectacular, making almost impossible saves on two Dynamo shots, only to see other Dynamo players hustle to the rebound and score, despite Orio's heroics. The first goal was scored by Paul Dalglish off a rebound in front of the net. The second, decisive goal came about a minute after Brian Ching came on as a substitute, when the Belize-native, Orio, got a hand to a seemingly certain goal-scoring header by Ching, deflecting it enough that it hit the post, instead of net. For Houston, though, Kelly Gray pounced on the loose ball and knocked home the series-winning goal.

Tonight's results set up an interesting pair of matchups in the semifinals of the CONCACAF Champions' Cup series, with the MLS' best teams taking on the top teams from the Mexican Primera Division. D.C. United v. Chivas (Club Deportivo Guadalajara), and the Houston Dynamo vs. CF Pachuca.
Bienvenidos, Luciano Emilio (Wilkommen, Welcome to D.C.) -- Luciano Emilio made his RFK debut tonight, and really started off on the right foot, scoring twice to give D.C. United a 3-2 victory. CD Olimpia had taken the early lead on a penalty kick, after Bryan Namoff was flagged for a sliding tackle in the box. Namoff reacted angrily, but the penalty was awarded by referee Mauricio Navarro, infamous for helping to set up Landon Donovan's breakaway goal against Mexico last month. United, to its credit, did not go into a defensive shell to protect the series lead. Jaime Moreno set up Emilio with a pass back through the box, which Emilio took wide, and then drove the ball low, past the Olimpia 'keeper for the tying goal.

In the second half, Gomez put DC ahead on a penalty shot, after Ben Olsen had his legs cut out from under him. United squandered the lead in the 75th minute, when Wilson Palacios and Jose Pacini combined for a a beautiful bit of attacking magic, with Pacini racing past flat-footed Facundo Erpen, taking Palacios' pass, and touching the ball past Jay Nolly, who had replaced the injured Troy Perkins a few minutes earlier (Palacios was quite impressive -- one has to wonder if he has any interest in coming north sometime soon. Perhaps he would like to rejoin Emilio in a year or two? Palacios probably enjoys life with Olimpia, where he is joined by two of his brothers, but it would be worth finding out if he's interested in conquering new territory).

United could have sat on the tie, and a 6-3 aggregate score lead, but they continued to attack. Jamil Walker had several close chances, looking very fit and healthy after missing the final two months with an injury, last year. The winner came when Emilio took a long pass from Gomez, controlling the overhead pass on the run, and coolly pushed another sharply-angled shot past the charging goalkeeper.

This was a great game to watch, with lovely attacking soccer on both sides. I'm sorry that my health and a steady rain kept me home. I'm guessing that the crowd was held down by the weather, the temperature, and United's decisive victory last week, which meant Olimpia had to outscore United by 3 goals, or go home. I hope for a better turnout in two weeks, when United hosts Chivas of Guadalajara in the first leg of the semifinal series of this CONCACAF Champions Cup tourney.

My impression? United still looks very shaky in the back -- with a Swiss cheese defense. United fans have to hope the injury to Perkins will not prove to be a long-term problem, because United will need his steady presence. On offense, however, they are as good as they have ever been. Emilio was a fantastic signing, who will help United bring home a number of titles, if he sticks around for awhile. Hola, Luciano Emilio. Pleased to meet you.

In the night's other match....(check back later for an update, with my report on the Dynamo-Puntarenas tilt).