Thursday, June 29, 2006

WHEELING AND DEALING:

It is not often that the NBA draft is going to upstage a pitching match-up like Pedro Martinez returning to Fenway Park for the first time since 2004 and facing new ace Josh Beckett. No one had any idea what was going to happen Wednesday night. Most people had no idea what happened after Wednesday night and are still trying to put it all together Thursday morning.

Randy Foye – selected at number seven and traded with PG Dan Dickau and PF Raef LaFrentz to Portland for PG Sebastian Telfair, C Theo Ratliff, and a second round pick. Portland then dealt Foye to Minnesota for number six pick Brandon Roy. The amazing thing was that the Celtics shed the LaFrentz albatross: no not the player, he was a decent big guy who played 20 feet from the basket, but rather his contract (35.4 million over the next three years). With Dickau thrown in and picking up the contracts of Telfair and Ratliff, the Celtics save about $13 million.

The Phoenix Suns, at number twenty-one, picked PG Rajon Rondo, who was clearly the favorite of Boston GM Danny Ainge, and traded him and the contract of Brian Grant to the Celtics with and traded the first round pick the Celtics got from Cleveland for Jiri Welsh (so much talent, so little ability to put it all together). So basically the Celtics bought their preferred point guard in the draft for the $2 it will cost to buy out Brian Grant.

Ainge, even without a pick, could not resist the siren song of the second round, as he traded a future number two for Cal forward Leon Powe. Powe, who I know absolutely nothing about, apparently played college basketball at Cal, who started all their games when I was freaking sleeping anyway. Apparently, Orien Greene, second round pick of much hullabaloo last year, is gone to make room.

Whispers persist of an Allen Iverson trade, though I wonder who the Celtics have to give up to get him. That $13 million in savings looks like it could be earmarked for the Answer about right now. The way I see it, a guard will have to go, one way or another. Likely Wally, although where talk centered on a three or four team trade, teams would be more likely to want a piece of the talented young core of the team. Iverson and Pierce: now that is a championship 1-2 punch!

* * *

MAJOR MELTDOWN:

Pedro Martinez, like a king returning to his former territory, was treated with respect beforehand, but his former teammates and the Florida Marlins Northeast Edition disrespected him on the mound like he was a green rookie. Eight runs (six earned) and one strikeout over three innings was clearly not the Roger Clemens Luxury Booth pointing performance with 16 strikeouts over 8 innings that many expected to see from Pedro.

To be blunt, he had nothing. Darren Oliver, the former Sox lefty, had better stuff than Pedro when he came into the game in the fourth inning. Pedro had a curveball that just hung, a change-up that he could not keep down in the zone, and a fastball that barely hit 90 mph. Suffice to say, that is not going to beat anyone, especially a team as hot as the Red Sox are on their double-digit winning streak.

Granted, Pedro has not been that bad this season, but he is far from the pitcher he was back before the shoulder injury took away that dynamic fastball. Which begs the question, if Pedro is not good enough to dominate American League line-ups, and the 2004 Pedro was the real deal and the pitcher you were going to get (if the shoulder stays healthy, and remember he is only in year two of his deal), does it not make sense to not overpay or overextend his deal and take a shot on getting a young pitcher with that explosive fastball who can dominate the A.L. lineups?

On the other half of the inning, it is ridiculous not to pay attention to the job that Josh Beckett did on the mound last night. Beckett looked like an ace out there, mowing down the Mets in rapid succession during the first three innings as his team built up an eight run lead. Then, like smart pitchers are expected to do, he began pitching to contact and throwing his fastball more often. He was pitching to get outs quickly. The fact he gave up two solo home runs is immaterial. He did his job to near perfection. No team wants to be out in the field with a big lead watching their pitcher nibbling away and walking batters.

Beckett has now won his last three games in impressive fashion, and is now 10-3. Not bad for the former Marlin who had to listen to the Negativity Nervous Nellies trashing him and his Florida Marlins Northeast Edition buddies this spring when they were not perfect (and Mark Loretta who, as I recall perfectly, was, according to the idiots in the pressbox and on the rant radio: old, washed-up, had no power, and the Sox should have kept Tony Graffanino to play second base).

Beckett, Mike Lowell, and Alex Gonzalez have been rocks for the Sox this season. Gonzalez is (well I must say Pokey Reese was pretty awesome as well in the short time periods he has been healthy enough to play) the best defensive shortstop I have ever seen. Period. Better than Ozzie Smith. Yes, Ozzie had the flair, the personality, and the acrobatics, but his arm deserted him near the end. But late seventies/early eighties Ozzie, maybe a tie with Gonzalez and Pokey Reese. Surprise, surprise (well, not to me or anyone else who reads this site regularly) Gonzalez is a pretty fair hitter. Once he has gotten comfortable, he has been a solid bottom of the order hitter who is learning to work pitchers deep into counts and has a little pop in his bat.

Mike Lowell continues to be steady at third base. Just as a note for everyone that wanted to keep Bill Mueller at third base in Boston forever, he is out for the year as his knees failed on him once again, and I hear that this time it may be a career-ender as he is not improving. I wish no malice Bill Mueller. He was one of my favorite Red Sox players with steady defense at third and the sweetest swing in these parts by anyone not named Wade Boggs. But the Sox made the right move to let him go. I said it at the time and I think it bears out now that Theo and the gang absolutely made the right call.

I think the best way to summarize: Pedro, thanks for the memories. But anytime you step on this mound in a different uniform, our batters are going to smack you around like the junkball Frank Tanana you have become.

* * *

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

U.S. gets airmailed home

Facing elimination and a win-or-go-home scenario, getting banged up and red carded off the field vs. Italy, facing a red-hot Ghana squad who shocked the Czechs. This all sounds like the working of certain doom or some serious magic. Unfortunately for the Red White and Blues, it was the former. This was a hard fought game, with Ghana scoring first, but the US equalized with a nice goal from New England Rev Clint Dempsey, one of the lone stars in the US squad this World Cup. Unfortunately, as is seeming to happen a lot in this tournament, bad refereeing won the day for Ghana with a highly questionable penalty in the box for Oguchi Onyewu. This led to Stephen Appiah drilling home the penalty kick and the game winner. Fate of the US soccer team sealed. See you in South Africa?

Italian Diving Team:

The Italian diving team are at it again. In the round of 16, the upstarts of Australia, the Socceroos, are riding high. Scoring their first goals and notching their first World Cup win vs. Japan in the group stage, the Aussies are already betting with house mone after far exceeding expectations this tournament. Their first test in elimination rounds was the defense and skill of the Azzurri. The match was remarkably even, with both teams going for their strength, the Aussies trying a physical, everything-at-you approach, whereas the Italians were trying to control the pace of the game and methodically work their defense. Into stoppage time we went, with an almost certain overtime to be played, it looked like the first 90 minutes would be a draw. However, with about 5 seconds left, Lucas Neill challenges a defender in the Australian area. Penalty. What???!! Yes, the Italian defender trips and rolls around as we see too often in this World Cup, leaving Neill the unfortunate goat of the match. Needless to say, Francisco Totti nails home the game winner, and game over. Anyone watching the replays of this dubious challenge would agree that it was a poor judgement by the ref. Everyone, that is, except Marcelo Balboa, the commentator. Two things I'm pissed about regarding this World Cup, the refereeing and the ESPN commentators. Give me Univision anytime. Who cares if I only understand 10% of what's being said?

Russian Refs Gone Wild:

I settled down this weekend to watch the Netherlands take on Portugal. I thought this was likely to be the game of games, even given the outstanding goal in overtime to put Argentina ahead for good vs. Mexico. I thought Holland v. Portugal would top it, and that the players would put on a clinic of essential football skills. Not so. Portugal scored a nice goal in the 1st half, leaving Netherlands the tough task of coming back from behind. I figured they'd be up for the task. However, the referee had something to say about that. When all was said and done, 16 yellow cards were handed out, most were needless, and 4 red cards were handed out, 2 for each team.

The game spiralled out of control. Players pushed and jostled with each other between plays, and benches cleared and tempers flared. An ugly scene, to be sure. FIFA wanted the refs to be enforcers out there on the pithc this year. Well, they got their wish, and all we watching at home can say is, what hath FIFA wrought?

Ronaldo:

They said he wasn't match fit. They said he was out of shape. They went so far to say he was fat. What was Ronaldo, perennial Brazilian international striker, doing on the pitch in Germany? He was obviously slow and obviously not match fit. Well, they can say today that Ronaldo leads all players in World Cup goals scored, notching one vs. Japan in the group stage and bringing home another today vs. Ghana. Ghana looked good vs. the Czech republic, as I have said, but Brazil were way too much to handle, as Ghana's cinderella run comes to an end with a 3-0 loss vs. the World Cup 2002 champs. While it may be true that ronaldo is older, slower, and heavier than he was in his prime, one must not say that he has also forgotten the skills that made him such a dangerous player on the pitch in the first place. Look for Brazil to win it all. When Ronaldo and Ronaldinho are in prime form, no team will be able to stop them, even if you can find a team of 10-legged space aliens.

-Brigs

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

BEST WISHES FOR THE BEST WRITER

The breaking news is that ESPN.com writer, Baseball Tonight Analyst, Music Guru, former Boston Globe writer, and the greatest and most influencial baseball writer of the past 20 years Peter Gammons had a brain aneurysm. Gammons was med-flighted from Cape Cod to Boston, had surgery, and is out of surgery and in intensive care. Prayers, well wishes, and hopes for a speedy recovery for Gammons.

THE WHO FIRED WHO?

Bruins fire Coach Mike Sullivan. Call me when someone other than Sonny cares.

PICK A WINNER:

Lucky number seven. What in the world is Danny Ainge going to do with the pick? Is a trade going down? What veteran player would they target? Are the Celtics trading up or trading down? Is there some fishy deal with Kevin McHale and the Timberwolves and the sixth pick? Who the heck is going to be around at number seven? Do you draft for need or draft the best player available? Is character an issue and how much will it factor in the equation in relation to talent? Will marketability come into play by drawing fans from the once fertile Connecticut region with a UConn player? Is there a European player worth taking and waiting a year to play in the NBA? Those are the questions that Danny Ainge faces before making his move Wednesday night at the 2006 NBA draft.

Suffice to say, I pity the man. The Celtics have a legitimate all-star (Paul Pierce), a near all-star who can score (Wally Szczerbiak), a veteran who can help out off the bench for instant offense and rebounding (Raef LaFrenz), and a whole heck of a lot of youth, athleticism, and inexperience everywhere else. And Dan Dickau, Kandi Man, and Scalabrine are trade bait, right?

Is Big Al ready to make the next step? How about Big Perk? What is the future role for Delonte West? Or for that matter, Ryan Gomes? Should we expect more out of the Green Greens(es): Gerald Green and Orien Greene. Will Tony Allen return as the player with potential or the injured troublemaker of last season? Finally, what do the Celtics have in Dwayne Jones?

Of course, look at the names thrown around in trades for the number seven pick. Allen Iverson? Sebastian Telfair? Chris Duhon? How about the potential draftees? I have heard all of the following: Brandon Roy, Adam Morrison, Rudy Gay, Villanova Wildcat Randy Foye, Rajon Rando, Ronnie Brewer, Marcus Williams, Shawne Williams, Sheldon Williams (how many freaking Williams are there in this draft?), and LaMarcus Aldridge.

All-in-all, there are more questions than anyone could ponder with this draft, but at least on Thursday morning, we will have some sort of idea as to where the Celtics are going with the team next season.

* * *

TO BOO OR NOT TO BOO? THAT IS THE QUESTION.

Welcome home, Pedro. Yes, despite all the venom I directed at a certain Mr. Martinez in the past (and I am not talking about his dead-arm brother, Ramon), I will be applauding Pedro as I sit on the couch watching the Sox take on the Mets on Wednesday night. The hatchet has been buried. My seven years of loving Pedro and watching in awe as he made batters look silly have undone the hurt.

The fact is that Pedro disrespected and all but spit in the face of the Red Sox ownership triumvirate and GM Theo Epstein for having the audacity to bring in curt Schilling and not bending over far enough to kiss his skinny Dominican arse. Pedro, like Nomar before him, became jaded by the Dan Duquette/John Harrington reign. They expected the management team to bow to their demands. To ask their opinions on players and deals, to give them the red carpet treatment. Henry, Warner, Luccchino, and Epstein did not play that game. They looked for bang for the buck, for players who took the ball without whining to the press, who did not cry about the media haunting them in the clubhouse.

Pedro Martinez was a bad match for the Boston Red Sox going forward. He, like Roger Clemens before him, needed a change of scenery. He needed a new challenge, a new market, a fresh start. I truly think the team understood it was in his best interest to part ways. Sometimes players, heck, PEOPLE, need that for whatever reason. Nothing too serious, but just a new challenge; Pedro had done everything he could do in Boston. Schilling was the new bulldog. Jonathan Papelbon and Jon Lester were climbing the ladder, a new star was just a trade away (Josh Beckett), and Manny Ramierez and David Ortiz have survived, somehow, without Brother Pedro there to look out for them.

Pedro, from 1997 through 2002, was the greatest pitcher I ever saw in my lifetime. Better than Clemens, better than Randy Johnson, Schilling, Greg Maddux, Ron Guidry, Dave Stewart, and everyone else who has pitched since the late seventies. He made it look so easy, and before he had to rebuild his shoulder and lost that fastball that Jonathan Papelbon has these days: 97 mph and up that just explodes when it gets to the plate, he was too good to believe. He should have had a dozen no-hitters over those five years, but he was too smart. He, like Clemens, knew enough to save pitches and pitch to contact with the bottom of the order and often paid by having a number eight or nine hitter poke a single. Of course, by the same token, he probably lost a few shutouts by NOT backing down to the number three and four hitters and challenging them every at bat rather than nibbling and giving them a walk.

Pedro was the best ever. He is still damned good. His shoulder/back/body will not last past 2007, a breakdown is inevitable, but I will stand and cheer for him before he throws a pitch and raise a glass to him for all the memories. Then I will root for the Red Sox to tag him for eight runs and get to the bullpen by the fourth inning, just how I want every opposing pitcher to be treated because those socks Pedro wears are blue and orange now.

* * *

Saturday, June 24, 2006

CUP RUNNETH OVER WITH BECKS

Yeah, that Josh Beckett, what a bum, eh?

Beckett was dynamic again as he carried a no-no into the sixth inning, and other than a mistake to Chase Utley, Beckett was about as unstoppable as he has been this season. The much maligned Beckett, who won his ninth game to go to 9-3, also brought his ERA down under 5.00. Nine wins at this stage of the season is not too bad for a pitcher who the local media insists on calling the trade for him a mistake because we gave up a shortstop prospect who may or may not be an impact player and also received a thirdbaseman who is playing gold glove defense while having reaquired his bat speed.

Also, Manny Ramierez crunched a couple of home runs, as he continues to make the early season discussions about if THIS IS THE YEAR OF DECLINE FOR MANNY. Yeah, that sounds like it was yet another great analysis.

* * *

CUP:

Let the 2006 World Cup debacle serve as a lesson to all those sorry whiners who pop out of the woodwork every time the Red Sox play Anaheim, Baltimore, the Mets, or any other team with a member of the 2004 World Champions. You do not slowly run out of steam over the next couple of years to keep the same schmos together (or as we call it with a snide smile, the 21st century New York Yankees). The Red Sox, like the Patriots before them, realized that championship teams that remained stagnant did not win more championships (for example, look at how the Anaheim/California/Los Angeles Angels have slowly declined since their championship run in 2002, never bringing in the players needed to take the next step).

So what was the deal with the US team marching out the old fogies and leaving the exciting young kids who can create opportunities, score goals, and wreak havok on the opposing team back stateside? Every team still in the running has at least a couple young players who can change a game or provide a spark and a quick goal. A couple of kids who run out, create havok, and create opportunities. Instead, the US team appeared hesistant to break-up the 2002 team and kept deserving players back home.

Just like all those teams that tried to keep all the guys together for another run instead of making moves to improve, the US team paid for it by going home early.

* * *

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Wins and Grins

Funny how a five game winning streak by the Red Sox removes every last drop of controversy from the team. Suddenly the future is now, and the Yankees and Blue Jays have been put on notice. Well, a five game winning streak is definately what the Red Sox desperately needed at this point of the season, unless they get it up to a hot stretch of something like 16 out of 20 and get a 7 or 8 game lead over New York and Toronto, I am not going to get too excited.

Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett are settling in well as the 1-2 punch the Sox need at the top of the rotation. For all the abuse heaped on Beckett in the newspapers and on talk radio, he is pitching very effectively. His ERA is high as he transitions to the American League, but remember he is still learning and is only 25. There are very few young pitchers who can switch from the National to American league and dominate. Schilling, as well, is adapting to being a very good, instead of a dominating, pitcher. While he may not strike out a dozen batters a game, he is still able to compete with any starter and give the Sox a chance to win every night.

The Young Guns in the bullpen and rotation (Jonathan Papelbon, Craig Hansen, Manny Delcarmen, Jon Lester, David Pauley, and new Fenway legend Kyle Snyder) are suddenly all the the rage again and proof positive that this team is unstoppable. Look, I support the development of young pitching more than anyone this side of the Florida Marlins, but these kids are going to be inconsistent. I applaud the team for going forward with them, because they need to develop and the available options via trade are no better and will cost an arm and two legs.

The Red Sox have the talent to win the East, and beat whoever upsets the White Sox. Of course, so do the Yankees, Blue Jays, and Tigers. The White Sox are and should be the favorites, but they still have their hands full with Detroit within their division. In the West, no one seems interested winning the division, as Seattle and Los Angeles/Anaheim/California are both inconsistent, Texas is still shaky on the mound, and Oakland cannot seem to put it together yet.

But, hey, who am I to be a sour puss? Savor the five wins in a row. Enjoy them. As the 1986 Boston Celtics taught us, you never know when the end is arriving.

* * *

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Glimmer of Hope and A Beautiful Game

The USA came into Saturday's bout vs. the Italians having a.) never won a World Cup match on European soil, and b.) never defeated the Italians.

Sounds pretty daunting, eh? Especially considering the way the boys of the red, white and blue fell flat vs. the Czech Republic. After AC Milan man Alberto Gilardino scored the first goal for the Azzurri off of an indirect free kick, the whole Tavern On The Square let out a groan of despair.

However, not to worry, shortly thereafter, off of a corner kick at the Italian goal, the Italians let the US back in with an own-goal that dribbled past Juventus keeper Gianluigi Buffon. The rest of the game was highly sloppy, with 3 red cards being handed out (at least one, to Paolo Mastroeni, not deserved) and multiple fouls. The score, at the end of it all, was a
1-1 draw. Pretty good, considering the USA was down to 9 men, and, as we repeatedly learned over the course of the match, no team has ever scored when down to 9 men. This result gives the USA a glimmer of hope. However, the US MUST beat Ghana...

Speaking of Ghana, there is a reason soccer is called "the beautiful game"
by some. Ghana came out in Saturday's match vs. the Czech Republic ready to play. Their ball movement was skillful, their athletic ability unmatched, and their technique and patience rivaled some of the best teams in the game today, of which the Czech Republic was supposedly one. Right away, Michael Essien bewildered the Czech goalkeeper at 2:30 minutes and put home a score to make it 1-0 in favor of Ghana. After masterful gamesmanship by the Ghanan squad, a second insurance goal was put home by Asamoah Gyan.

Excellent play, also, by Ghana's goalkeeper, Richard Kingson. He showed complete control of the area and rushed out with conviction to make save after save. Kingson gets my vote for man of the match. A lot of Ghana players certainly helped their own careers that day, as undoubtedly European clubs are salivating with the thought of signing them to a lucrative deal.

What remains to be seen, however, is how Ghana handles the USA. Both teams will be eager to prove themselves on Thursday, and move ahead to the round of 16. Expect me to be out of work on Thursday morning.

-Brigs

GOALS, RUNS, AND MULLIGANS

A great Fathers Day weekend for sports: World Cup in full-swing, the Red Sox sweeping the traitorous Braves (well, they were once the Boston Braves, you know), and a display at the US Open that made even me feel good about myself.

GOALS:

Truly, an exciting match against Italy for the US team. Amazingly, there is a chance the team could survive the first round and be that team no one wants to play throughout the march towards the Cup. Kudos to Clint Dempsey, who stepped in and played a solid game (Revs Representing on the Big Stage!). Second, I cannot believe the US team could not use Jay Mohr, I mean Taylor Twellman, and his finishing touch near the goal. The number of missed opportunities boggles the mind. If Bruce Arena is to be replaced as the US Soccer General, the keeping of Taylor Twellman at home can be pointed to as one of the many reasons.

Of course, the game was a roller-coaster of emotions throughout, with the soaring low of Italy scoring, to the triumphant roars when the US benefited from the kooky own goal by Italy. At least the US was crashing the net, in contrast to the stinkfest against the Czech Republic team. The US seemed to have it in the bag with a tie game and an11 on 10 advantage mid-way through the first half; however, the two red cards earned quickly put the US in a 10 on 9 disadvantage before the too long. The US gets credit for hanging strong and getting at least one point out of a match that could have been disastrous.

The lack of scoring could still very much haunt the US. The US needs to first and foremost beat Ghana, which they should do, but considering how the Black Stars wiped out the Czechs who wiped out the Americans, nothing is going to be easy. If the US wins, they still need the Italian team to wipe the floor with the Czechs. Letting it get down to goal differential will kill the US squad, considering their inability to score. Exploding for five goals seems very unlikely.

* * *

RUNS:

The Red Sox roller-coaster took another turn this weekend following some fantastic starting pitching. Showing that once again that the Sox go as the starters go, the Sox rode solid starts by Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and Curt Schilling into a three game sweep of the Braves (who, I believe, are not officially referred to as the Reeling Braves, since that is the only way they are referenced anymore since they have lost 17 of 20. I am not going to pile on, but it looked like the 80s again in Atlanta: I swear Rick Mahler was going to pitch a game and Chief Knock-a-Homa was out in his bleacher teepee).

Other than more inconsistent work from the bullpen pitchers not named Papelbon, the Sox had a good weekend in Atlanta. The highlight of the entire weekend was the third inning play by Alex Gonzalez on Edgar Renteria Sunday night: with Marcus Giles on first for the Braves and the hit and run on, Renteria punched the ball in the shortstop hole just vacated by Gonzalez on his way to cover second base. Putting on the brakes, Gonzalez skidded down on his rear, still managed to reach back and nab the ball, and throw out Renteria from his knees. The best part was Giles, who actually rounded second and almost trampled Gonzalez. Giles had this expression on his face of HOLY $&!#, before he put on the brakes and scampered back to second. Truly a remarkable play by Gonzalez

* * *

MULLIGANS:

The less said about the 2006 US Open at Winged Foot, the better. Those professionals looked like Brigs & I trampling Olde Scotland Links out there. I expected to see an official come up to some of the players looking for their ball in the rough and offer them a cart so that they do not slow down play for the duffers behind them.

* * *

Thursday, June 15, 2006

THE WORLD CUP SO FAR...

Inspired performances

Let's talk about some inspired performances for a minute. Japan, leading Australia (via a cheap goal, but a goal nonetheless) by 1 goal to nil for basically the whole match, basically seems to be cruising and looking to shut the door by the 84th minute, right? Well, if Jeanie Zelasko, or however the hell you spell her name were doing commentary with Joe Buck, they'd be talking about how Australia STILL has not scored a goal in World Cup, and how they STILL do not have a World Cup win. Maybe they'd even take a little of our precious time to chronicle Australia's World Cup futility. Japan's got it in the bag at minute 84, right? No so, according to Tim Cahill, a phenomenal Aussie midfielder (and one of the reasons that Everton will be near the top of the EPL next year). Cahill, on in the 51st minute as a sub, found himself in the right place at the right time after a scrum in front of Japan's goal. All that was left to do is for Cahill to kick it in and we have a tie game. Australia's first World Cup goal, done. Good show, game ends in a tie, right? Not so, according to Cahill. In the 89th minute, Cahill finds himself in a position to make a powerful strike at the top of Japan's area, and sends the ball into the back of the net. 2-1 Australia. Amazing! Australia's first World Cup victory, which was actually a 3-1 win after a third goal in stoppage time. Inspired performance indeed. This also leaves Australia as the team to beat in their group.

Who else is in their group? If I'm going to talk about inspiring performances, I'm going to talk about Brazil. The team that is chock full of superstars took the pitch today vs. Croatia. Croatia, unbeknownst to many, is an up and coming soccer power. They showed it on the pitch today with a brave fight, however, a 1-0 loss was the fate of the men in checks. Ronaldinho, the best player in the world, was masterful, playing truly great football. The coup-de-grace came in the 44th minute, a dagger before the half, by Milan star Kaka. His play was not ka-ka as the speedy midfielder continues to impress. Croatia had several bright points in this match, with Rangers FC striker Dado Prso the man to beat up front, and athletci save after save by the Croatian keeper. My prediction is this, Australia continues with their momentum to a well-played loss to Brazil and a tie vs. Croatia, earning them a possible spot in the round of 16.

In the uninspired play category, I give you the USA. In what was apparently to be taken as a warmup match vs. the Czech Republic, the US decided to hang out in the midfield and do not much. No attacking and no defense, just lazing around out there, while Tomas Rosicky shined. Rosicky knocked in two goals in what can only be described as a frustrating night for Bruce's boys. Don't get me started on Landon Donovan, who continues to leave me unimpressed. I look forward to the match vs. Italy on Saturday, mainly as the New England Revolution star Clint Dempsey will be taking the pitch. The unimpressive DeMarcus Beasley will be sitting down. The US needs to beat Italy, otherwise, the American people will continue to greet soccer and their national team with a lukewarm reception.

-Brigs

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

MAJOR MATCH-UP

Curt Schilling and Johann Santana hook-up tonight in a match-up that, if in Boston, would have the average Red Sox fan on stubhub.com and out front negotiating with the scalpers in order to get into Fenway to watch the game. The best young gun in the AL (Roy Halladay is no longer young, I guess) against the last old gunslinger in the AL who still packs bullets (the Big Eunich will not rejoin this list until he shows he can last past five innings and dominate a game again). Both pitchers have picked-up their games after some rough outings this spring. Unfortunately, the game is being played in the hideous dome in Minneapolis and the half-filled stadium will hardly generate the necessary buzz that that game deserves. At least for the Red Sox Nation zealots in front of their computers, listening to the radio, and watching on TV, the game will have a big fame feel.

* * *

A WORLD-CLASS DISGRACE:

Hideous showing by the US footy squad in World Cup on Monday. I do not subscribe to the argument that the US fails because the best athletes are in the NBA, MLB, and especially the NFL. Where is the spark, the youth, the aggressiveness of the US? Sitting at home and playing in the MLS. Taylor Twellman and his finishing touch around the net was not necessary for the team? Freddy Adu sitting at home? Sure, because USA Basketball and the Dream Team would have been the same with Michael Jordan sitting at home. Bad selection, bad coaching, and bad playing. For all Bruce Arena has done for US soccer, it is a shame that this is how it is going to end.

The only hope for the US is to go out and kick the crap out of Italy on Saturday, and hope that Ghana is a walk-over for the Czechs. Then, a rested Czech team beats up on Italy while the US cranks out a big win against Ghana. It is not a likely scenario, but at least it is still possible; however, after the Monday performance, I find it unlikely that this team will morph into the 2004 Red Sox and put on a show the rest of the way.

* * *
Curt Schilling and Johann Santana hook-up tonight in a match-up that, if in Boston, would have the average Red Sox fan on stubhub.com and out front negotiating with the scalpers in order to get into Fenway to watch the game. The best young gun in the AL (Roy Halladay is no longer young, I guess) against the last old gunslinger in the AL who still packs bullets (the Big Eunich will not rejoin this list until he shows he can last past five innings and dominate a game again). Both pitchers have picked-up their games after some rough outings this spring. Unfortunately, the game is being played in the hideous dome in Minneapolis and the half-filled stadium will hardly generate the necessary buzz that that game deserves. At least for the Red Sox Nation zealots in front of their computers, listening to the radio, and watching on TV, the game will have a big fame feel.

* * *

A WORLD-CLASS DISGRACE:

Hideous showing by the US footy squad in World Cup on Monday. I do not subscribe to the argument that the US fails because the best athletes are in the NBA, MLB, and especially the NFL. Where is the spark, the youth, the aggressiveness of the US? Sitting at home and playing in the MLS. Taylor Twellman and his finishing touch around the net was not necessary for the team? Freddy Adu sitting at home? Sure, because USA Basketball and the Dream Team would have been the same with Michael Jordan sitting at home. Bad selection, bad coaching, and bad playing. For all Bruce Arena has done for US soccer, it is a shame that this is how it is going to end.

The only hope for the US is to go out and kick the crap out of Italy on Saturday, and hope that Ghana is a walk-over for the Czechs. Then, a rested Czech team beats up on Italy while the US cranks out a big win against Ghana. It is not a likely scenario, but at least it is still possible; however, after the Monday performance, I find it unlikely that this team will morph into the 2004 Red Sox and put on a show the rest of the way.

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Roethlis-ham-berger

Ben Roethlisberger, QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers, suffered extensive facial injuries after a motorcycle accident on Monday morning. While he should be able to play this season, his accident underscores an important point that the media needs to continue to drive home: WHY WAS HE NOT WEARING A HELMET?

Certainly, the accidents of NBA player Jay Williams (horrific and potentially career ending) and Cleveland Browns TE Kellen Winslow Jr (out for a season) as precursors to the accident by Roethlisberger should have been a reminder. Apparently, someone has to die before action is taken.

Now, I am in no way trying to limit freedoms or insist on rules, but I think wearing a helmet while riding a motorcycle consists of common sense. In fact, while not a Steelers fan in any way, I certainly have come to have a large amount of respect for Roethlisberger as a football player. His intelligence comes across on the field, and I am disappointed he showed such poor judgement off the field. Certainly, many football, baseball, basketball, etc players have shown poor judgement off the field, but I guess it is more disappointing because Roethlisberger is the Tom Brady of Pittsburgh.

Could anyone in New England imagine Tom Brady wiping out on a motorcycle and not having a helmet on? Of course not, but I could picture offensive linement Matt Light or Dan Koppen riding a Harley and flipping off their helmet as they hit the Rhode Island or New Hampshire border (two neighboring states with which allow riders not to wear helmets).

Roethlisberger was damned lucky. There is no way around it. Broken jaw, teeth, gash on the back of the head, and brusing will heal in time for him to play at minimum 10 games. But just as he should wear a helmet on the field, he should be out doing public service announcements to encourage riders to wear helmets on their bikes before a young, invincible and indestructable athlete pays for their ignorance and arrogance with their life.

Monday, June 12, 2006

The World Cup so far

Currently, I am observing Netherlands vs. Serbia and Montenegro (by the way, don't look for Serbia AND Montenegro in the next world cup as the two countries have split, which begs the question: Who gets Dejan Stankovic?) and I can say the Netherlands are the real deal. Dutch attacker Arjen Robben has scored a goal in the 18th minute with a convincing strike assisted by Robin van Persie (whose talents are being wasted at Arsenal). This Holland team should go far. Look for it.

England needs to play more inspired football than it did against Paraguay on Saturday. The only goal the English managed to score was a Paraguay own-goal. I was told Beckham was going to light it up in Germany this year?

Sweden was stunned on Saturday with a 0-0 draw vs. little Trinidad and Tobago and their goalkeeper, Chaka Hislop. Hislop was in the zone as he saved numerous shots from the Swedish players. I'm not looking for much out of the Swedes , unless they can improve their performances in their next group match. Trinidad is looking good, especially if Hislop continues his form. They could even squeak out 6 points if they can beat Paraguay, who are not up to the task of World Cup football.

The surprise of the year has to be Ecuador's convincing beating of Poland. Poland did make it interesting late in the second half with two shots that went off the goal post. Still, Ecuador got the win, and a whole lot of respect from the world footballing community.

Argentina looks good as they beat a strong Ivory Coast squad 2-1. Didier Drogba did his part for Costa de Marfil and scored late in the game to make it interesting. However, you just can't stop Argentina and their man Juan Riquelme right now. Look for Argentina to make a serious run at the Cup.

Next game is Mexico vs. Iran. I'm calling a 3-1 Mexican victory right now. Iran has some stellar players, but I don't think it will be enough for the skills and the athletic ability of the top Mexican squad.

The U.S. plays Czech Republis tomorrow. Talk about trial by fire, this will probably be the best match of the group stage. The athletic ability of the U.S. players vs. the skills of the Czechs. The U.S. looking for Man City-man Claudio Reyna to boss the midfield and for Landon Donovan to provide the goal scoring punch. The Czechs will be looking for an all around good performance from Juventus-man Pavel Nedved. So far, the World Cup has been exciting, and is hopefully encouraging a budding soccer fan base in the U.S.A.

-Christopher J. Brigham

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

STRING HIM UP

Josh Beckett is 7-3. Before the Bozo Express (WEEI Talking Empty Heads, Horrigan at the Herald, etc) tries to run him out of town (because anyone who thinks Hanley Ramirez would be outperforming Alex Gonzalez in the Boston pressure cooker is nuts) because of a not-so-perfect transition to the American League, everyone in the media and the morons with no life and able to hold on the line at WEEI for an hour to scream like an idiot needs to take a step back. He is still the same age as most rookie pitchers (see Jonathan Papelbon), and was the best pitcher available last season. Who else out there was better? Josh Beckett is 7-3. He will be an all-star for many years to come. Everyone needs to relax and let Beckett take the ball every five days.

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TRADE WINDS BLOW:

Let the Bethel Johnson era end at last in Foxboro, and not a day too soon! That the Patriots got anything for Johnson is a miracle. He was just the latest example of why teams need to draft football players instead of decathaletes (is that a word? Bruce Jenner was a decathalete. Either way, I just made the word up if it is not.). Johnson may do alright in New Orleans and contribute as a fourth receiver, but I am not holding my breath.

Getting Jonathan Sullivan in return takes a load off my mind. With no back-up at nose tackle to fill in for Big Vince Wilfork (Dan Klecko and the undrafted free agent parade were not much reassurance), Sullivan should at minimum fill that role. It is almost impossible to believe that he went number six overall and seven spots ahead of Ty Warren.

The best part of Sullivan in New England should be the presence of Richard Seymour. A former teammate at the University of Georgia, Seymour should be able to help him learn the defense, and hopefully keep him in line and keep him in the weight room the rest of the offseason. This is the first test for Seymour in his role as the newly appointed leader of the Patriots defense. If Sullivan shows one-half the talent he flashed in Georgia, the Patriots have a steal.

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VACATION ENDS

Yes, sorry to disappoint, but I am back from a refreshing week of vacation in the beautiful White Mountains of New Hampshire. So much going on in Boston Sports, and so little time on the train ride home from work to write, so here we go:

RED SOX:

Was there ever a more rushed series than the three games in Detroit? The feeling was one of: Get this over with and get to New York ASAP. I admit, there is nothing in sports more exciting than Red Sox-Yankees in the new millennium since the days of Celtics-Lakers, Celtics-76ers, Bruins-Canadians back in the good old days in the early 1980s (although, Patriots-Colts or Patriots-Steelers is right up there. A little bulletin board material from Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger or Peyton Manning and this is ready to blossom into a real knock-down, drag-out rivalry), but the Red Sox desperately needed to take 2 of 3 from the Tigers. Fortunately, and barely, they did pull it off. The Tigers, although they have lost 4 of 6 to the Yankees and Red Sox in the last week, are a very impressive team. Built around some very good, very young pitchers, they are a few big-time bats away from being able to make some noise and make a run at the Wild Card. Without former Red Sox farm hand, Mike Maroth, who is out on the DL for an extended stay, the Tigers will not make that run this year, but they are getting very close.

Ahh, but it is all-Yankees, all the time, for the next few days in Boston. The Yankees and Red Sox are both a bit dinged-up, but are both hanging in at the top of the division, waiting for Toronto to realize that Edgardo Alfonso is washed-up and in no way should be at 2b, and that Shea Hillenbrand is hitting .352 on his way to.265 before the calendar hits August. The Yankees, who I must give credit to, have cobbled together an effective, if not pretty, group of dirt dogs (Whoops, I may be impinging on a trademark there) who have battled and hung in this season. Melky Cabrera has been better than expected, Bernie Williams has not embarrassed himself, Kelly Stinnett has proved adequate at catcher, and Andy Phillips has done well since finally getting his long overdue chance to play in the major leagues. Kudos to Brian Cashman, he may have made a deal with the devil, but he is doing better than expected with all the injuries the team has absorbed.

Red Sox and the Yankees. Evenly matched for all intents and purposes since 2003. Ready to battle again.

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