Thursday, March 29, 2007

Back in the saddle again

Well, I took the weekend off to go to Washington, DC (no, not to apply for a coaching vacancy at DC United) and now I'm back, and likely, the only one who missed my additions to the BostonSportPage.com blog was me.

Late night in DC, I had the opportunity to view a match in the Euro 2008 qualifying round. Norway was playing host to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The first half was all Bosnia as Zlatan Muslimovic scored one of the first two goals of the game to make it 2-0 at the half. Norway, even though I say they have plenty of quality players, did not look like they were up for the game. Early in the second half, a foul on Morten Gamst Pedersen in the area allowed a chance for a penalty kick and John Carew hit home a sloppy but effective goal to make it 2-1. That was as close as the Norwegians got, as the match ended with the 2-1 scoreline. I was disappointed by the level of play of the Norwegians, and, if they had made the Euro 2008 tournament, they would surely be eliminated easily as they seem to have the same problems the USA did in the World Cup: mainly that the players aren't used to playing with each other, and effective communications were hard to come by.

Hasta Manana:

As the Swedish disco legends Abba would say, and it's apropos to another European qualifying match, Italy vs. Scotland on Thursday. The Tartan Army have every chance of leaving Italy with the advantage and knocking the Azzurri out of the Euro 2008 contention tomorrow. Italy's coach is feeling the pressure, and the Azzurri have underperformed thus far in the qualifying rounds, losing to France and drawing against Ukraine. It would be a sad day indeed if the reigning World Champion was unable to compete for European dominance only 2 years after winning the title.

In other Euro news, Wayne Rooney has taken it on the chin from Coach McClaren after England's lackluster draw vs. Isreal. Rooney has been inconsistent of late, in the Premiership, in the Champions' League, and in international competition. Luckily, he's very young still, and still quite capable of getting into a groove and really producing some results for England or ManU.

In the Prem:

Not a lot of goings-on in the Premiership recently, due to all the international matches. Blackburn lost a heartbreaker at Ewood Park to lowly West Ham United. ManU is up next for the Rovers at Old Trafford. Everton are looking strong, especially after a 1-0 defeat of injury-plagued Arsenal.

The Toffees will likely take European competition by storm next year.

ManU is still on top. Man City is looking like they will implode, ans Stuart Pearce's job is by no means secure. Watford will not avoid the drop.

Reading just signed Dave Kitson to a 3 year deal, and are looking like they'll stay in the Premiership for a while. Chelsea are still strong, but will Jose Mourinho bolt for Spain? Newcastle have tons of talent, but always seem to come up short. This year is no different.

There are only a handful of games left in the regular season. The FA Cup semifinals are going to happen later on. Blackburn will face Chelsea, which is a scary proposition for the Rovers, as the Blues are incredibly strong. Watford face ManU, which should be an easy contest for the Red Devils.

Champion's League action returns next week. More later...

-Christopher J. Brigham

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

MOMENTS OF CLARITY

Not that I ever have them, but rather I always thought that would be a great name for a political blog, not that I would ever write one since I am so middle-of-the-road in my political leanings that I think Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan were good presidents for different reasons. No, I will not add to that last line, like I said, politics is always off limits in conversation. Now off with the mask, and on with the show:

PRE-SEASON BASEBALL:

Set my alarm for April 1. I cannot take anymore of these non-games. That said, this sad so-called controversy over Daisuke Matsuzaka not talking to the hallowed press after a spring training start is just plain stupid. Who cares. What, is it news when Shakey Wakey does not talk to the press? Would anyone notice?

The important thing to take is that Matsuzaka had trouble getting his pitches over and still did not allow a hit. That is impressive. I said it before, and I will say it again: this kid is Pedro circa 1997. EVERYONE is going to be glued to the edge of their seat when he pitches because there is always the chance he could twirl a no-hitter or strike-out 20. Roger, Pedro and Daisuke all in their prime: Sox fans are going to realize how spoiled they are to see such consistently fantastic pitching some day.

Speaking of Matsuzaka, Tom Verducci over at SI.com and in the magazine appears to have cornered the market on Daisuke-mania this spring. Check out his most recent myth of the gyroball here. This is intriguing:

He's going to be very tough, especially the first time people see him, said one AL executive. His first three [scheduled] starts are against Kansas City, Seattle and the Angels -- three of the most aggressive swinging teams in the league. Look out. You might see some big strikeout games right away.

MORE HOT SOX:

Courtesy of Michael Silverman in the Herald:

The rotation for the Royals in the first series will be Gil Meche, Odalis Perez and Zach Greinke. The Red Sox expect to face Robinson Tejeda, Kevin Millwood and Vicente Padilla in Arlington, Texas, in the second series against the Rangers. . . .

So I guess we pencil in that 6-0 start to the season? Actually, say 5-1 because Kevin Millwood always pitches well against the Sox. 4-2 if Zach Greinke is back for real.

PARTING SHOT:

Brigs, what the heck is with Jolly Old England tying Israel nil-nil in the Euro Championship Qualifier? Do I have to start my ROO-NEY! ROO-NEY! chant as he is now at zero goals in three years? A sad showing indeed, with the controversy centered around the fact that the substitutions were too little too late.

* * *

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Question: What is a slow news day in Boston?

Answer: March 21, 2007. Why? Because I am subjected to 5,234 articles, stories, WEEIdiots and news broadcasts about Manny Ramirez allegedly selling his grill on eBay. Stop the madness! I do not care if Manny is selling his neighbor’s grill, his neighbor’s dog, locks of his hair, his batting practice hair-net, or the lost last turd of Elvis Presley. Talk about Kason Gabbard and the great spring he has had. Debate about why the Sox should rotate Devern Hansack, Julian Tavarez, and Joel Pineiro in the closing role until one grabs it and runs with it, or simply outlasts the other two (which is EXACTLY what they should do). Alas, it looks like Theo is going to cram Papelbon back to the back of the bullpen yet again.

A-Rod:

Was listening to the Mike & Mike show podcast on the train home the other day with Mike Kurkjian on it (3/21 show I believe). Anyway, Kurkjian is the FIRST analyst I’ve heard to make a case that A-Rod will NOT back out of his contract and run from New York with his tail between his legs. Let me be clear, the choice does not belong to A-Rod. Scott Boras is not going to let A-Rod stay in a contract if there is more guaranteed money potentially on the table. Anaheim, I mean California, I mean Hollywood, I mean Los Angeles by way of Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno will dole out $25 million plus a year for five or more years for A-Rod in a heartbeat. That kind of guaranteed moolah is not going to go unclaimed. Sure, A-Rod is a toolbag, but he WILL do as his agent demands because the choice is not going to be his to make.

Pats wide receivers analysis:

Here is where the Patriots weakest position in 2006 stands BEFORE the draft (where they will likely grab another wide receiver in the middle rounds with a compensatory pick):

Donte Stallworth: Finally the Patriots have the speedy receiver they have needed since Branch held-out and punched his ticket out of time. Stallworth should make himself a lot of money this coming season.

Wes Welker: The new Troy Brown. Nuff said!

Reche Caldwell: As the number 3 or 4 guy, he is a perfect fit.

Jabar Gaffney: See Caldwell above.

Kelley Washington: The big guy to catch touchdowns and first downs, take seven.

Chad Jackson: Injured Reserve. Is Chad the new Bethel Johnson? Oh God, I hope not.

Bam Childress: Mr. Everything is back! Play the man!!!

Kelvin Kight: Umm, special teams, maybe?

Jonathan Smith: Practice squad prospect fighting for a spot. Sorry, but nothing more.

Troy Brown: Who? Seriously, I doubt that Brown will be back in New England.

* * *

Premiership wrap-up:

Hooray! Finally got off my arse and listened to the podcasts available at EvertonFC.com. We Blues supporters are still bummed about Tim Cahill being out, but pumped and jacked like we were the most recent coach of the Pats not named Belichick about beating Arsenal (who, admittedly, are not ARSENAL this season). But to pull out the win in bad weather at home in stoppage time (ninety-first minute) on 3/18 against a team like was HUGE. Andy Johnson banged home his twelfth goal in thirty Premiership games this season for the winner for the surprise three points. With Man U and Chelsea slugging it out at 1-2, Everton is fighting for a top five spot, and with the three points they are only 1 point behind Bolton for fifth place and 8 points behind Liverpool. Fourth would get them to the Champions Cup; fifth or sixth will let them into UEFA cup. The win jumped them over Tottenham (who continued to surge, winning three straight matches) and Reading, where they SHOULD stay with only ten matches left.

Checking in on my brothers-from-other-mothers playing for Charlton (Darren & Marcus Bent), they are four points from saving the season and getting out of the relegation station with West Ham and Watford. With Sheffield United only four points ahead and Wigan and Man City (with a game in hand) only six points ahead, Charlton has a chance to escape. Also, as the bottom bottles up, I would be neglect to not mention that Fulham and Aston Villa are only seven points from relegation. But West Ham has been, well, stinking out the joint lately and all signs point to their free-fall continuing. The best thing for Charlton is that my brother-from-another-mother Darren Bent is back from injury and looking to be back to the form he displayed two years ago when he replaced Wayne Rooney at Everton and was scoring goals all over the pitch.

* * *

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Brackets, Sox, & Fantasies

BUSTED BRACKETS:

I pick two number four seeds for the final four (Texas, Maryland) and they both get knocked out in the first weekend. Well, I guess that saves me from being glued to the March Madness telecasts on TV anymore. As usual, I went with my heart over my head (I picked Texas to win it all, but in truth, they had no shot), and as always I lose. Yet another good reason why I keep my gambling to a minimum. Wah-wah, I lose again, no one cares. OK, I get it, time to move on to a new topic.

OF DICE (K) AND MEN:

Tom Verducci, in case anyone missed it, filed a great piece on SI.com about Daisuke Matsuzaka and his potential impact on major league baseball. The most interesting (at least to me) point he made:

Matsuzaka is a potential agent of change. It's his throwing regimen, rather than his place of birth, that makes him the ultimate foreigner to major league baseball. If he succeeds in the U.S., he could transform the accepted industry practice of overprotecting pitchers. The system guarantees diminishing returns: Despite advances in medicine, nutrition and training, teams work pitchers less than ever before and yet pay them more.

The babying of pitchers is a point of contention of mine since I was oh so much younger. Why with all the advances Verducci mentions, why are pitchers not pitching MORE innings MORE frequently? I can tell you. They do not throw enough often enough. If every pitcher threw a couple hundred pitches a day, would their arms fall off? Is there a limit to the number of pitches they can throw? I think the only way to build the proper arm strength is to continually pitch. Heck, I saw kids in little league being thrown to the wolves on an almost daily basis to throw a couple hundred pitches a day, why is it these millionaires can only throw a hundred pitches a week?

* * *

DRAFT DAZE:

While the NFL draft is right around the corner (five weeks away), I had my first of two drafts for fantasy baseball (two teams are more than I can handle). As usual, I fell prey to the allure of starting pitching (a HUGE weakness of mine) as well as the fervent hope of finding that proverbial diamond in the rough (who usually hits .150 and is in the minor leagues again on May 1). Anyway, I had the first overall pick in the league (I call it the Dan league to differentiate from other league I play in, the Rickles league), and after much soul-searching took Albert Pujols instead of Johan Santana. Whether I made the right choice is yet to be determined, but last year I spent a first round pick on Derrick Lee in one of the leagues only to watch him miss three-quarters of the season due to injury.

My picks:

Round
Pick
Player
Position
1
-1
Albert Pujols
1B

2
-26
Jimmy Rollins
SS

3
-27
Ichiro Suzuki
OF

4
-52
Ryan Zimmerman
3B

5
-53
Félix Hernández
SP

6
-78
Rocco Baldelli
OF

7
-79
Dan Haren
SP

8
-104
Erik Bedard
SP

9
-105
Curt Schilling
SP

10
-130
Kenji Johjima
C

11
-131
Tadahito Iguchi
2B

12
-156
Adrián Béltre
3B

13
-157
Brian Fuentes
RP

14
-182
Marcus Giles
2B

15
-183
Brian Giles
OF

16
-208
Adam Wainwright
RP

17
-209
Jon Garland
SP

18
-234
Kenny Rogers
SP

19
-235
Rafael Soriano
RP

20
-260
José Contreras
SP

21
-261
Ryan Shealy
1B

22
-286
Kevin Kouzmanoff
Util

23
-287
Bill Bray
RP

24
-312
José Guillén
OF

25
-313
Luke Scott
OF

26
-338
Orlando Hernández
SP

Not that anyone really cares, but I will tell you my thought process anyway. Oh yeah, it is 5x5 mixed league non-keeper with a dozen teams:

At #2, Jimmy Rollins was the obvious pick over Jeter (I have a strict no Yankees rule) as I love getting production out of the shortstop position. Ichiro was my top-rated player on the board, and I figure it is far easier to find home runs later on than someone scoring runs, stealing bases, and having the high batting average.

Zimmerman and Hernandez were both taken a little earlier than I would have liked, but I love their upside potential and knew that 25 picks later they both would be gone.

At picks 78 and 79 I realized that everyone I wanted just disappeared in the last ten picks. Baldelli is value, and I expect Tampa to trade him and reap the benefits of him eventually batting third or fourth wherever he ends up. Haren is under-rated in my mind, and should win 15-20 games with 175 strikeouts or so, so I had to grab him in round seven. Ditto for Erik Bedard, and to find Schiling in round nine was a pot of gold.

I then panicked in round ten realizing I had no catcher and grabbed Kenji Johjima. Needing some love for the middle infield, I scooped up Tad Iguchi and hoped he would be better to me than he had been in the past. The next two picks were better value, as Beltre had a great second half last season so I could not pass on him, and with a desperate need at closer, I scooped Brian Fuentes up as well.

Rounds 14 & 15 were when things got silly, and I pulled out my Brigstah Tribute picks, going back-to-back with the Giles brothers. With middle infield and outfield needs, they both fit well and should contribute enough to be decent mid-round picks.

Rounds 16 through 26 were then all about getting whatever value I could, picking some closing sleepers (Adam Wainwright if the Cardinals get desperate, Bill Bray who should win the closer job in Cincy, and Rafael Soriano who should be closing in Atlanta), mules to eat innings (El Duque, Jose Contreras, John Garland and Kenny Rogers), some iffy guys to bounce back (Jose Guillen and Luke Scott) and I also grabbed my usual couple of prospects (Ryan Shealy and Kevin Kouzmanoff)

All-in-all, the team needs some work, and after April 1 I expect many moves will be made, but I have to say it was a good draft, there was good, intelligent banter on the draft chat board, and I likely will burn up all my allotted innings pitched by the end of August as I always tend to do.

* * *

Friday, March 16, 2007

Random Thoughts Bouncing Around My Head

What has been rambling around my mind recently? Check it out:

Anyone caught up in Matsuzaka Mania and is interested in getting a peek into Japanese baseball culture should check out the piece Live From Akita City on baseballprospectus.com by Mike Plugh. Good overview history of the sport in Japan, the respect for the game they have and instill in their players from youth on, and the importance of culture on the game. It is the first part of what is hopefully a season-long regular contribution. I eagerly anticipate following this through-out the season.

* * *

Anyone looking for an addictive, but simple to play, computer sports game should check out Baseball Manager or Football Manager by the sportsmogul group (http://www.sportsmogul.com). The games are inexpensive, and they basically let you GM a team and simulate the seasons. You can even play online. No, they do not advertise here or give me a kickback (though they should!). I love the games, play them waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too much, and figured I should pass on my addictions, well, at least my sports-related addictions!

* * *

March Madness? I thought that was the hype-up of the Sox-Yankees game. If I have to see one more newsclip of Okajima, Matsuzaka, and Hideki Matsui bowing to each other I will lose it.

* * *

Speaking of madness, is anyone else ready to puke after seeing 350 or so stories about Curt Schilling throwing a change-up? What’s next? Bathroom updates?

* * *

Josh Beckett is back. Those 20 wins I predicted last year are coming this year. Guaranteed. The kid has nasty stuff, a nasty attitude, and just enough of a comfort level to take the next step. Really, he did not pitch bad last season. I will look it up when I have time, but when he was on, he was unhittable. When he was not, it was a 8 runs in 2 innings kind of game. The stats will back me up on this one. He takes that next step finally this season.

* * *

Nothing like picking against BC in my bracket and watching them thump Texas Tech. Pencil them in for the Georgetown upset. When I pick against BC, they always make a run.

* * *

I had that Kirk Gibson fist-pump going when Eric Maynor of VCU hit that jumper with two seconds left in the game to give them the lead and win the game against Duke. Nothing personal, Coach K is the da bomb, yada-yada-yada, but like 90% of the country, I just love watching the Dukies take a tumble.

* * *

The best part of the Patriots loading up on free agents is that they still have two number one picks, a bunch of compensatory picks in the middle rounds, and the post April 1 free agency pickings to feast on.

* * *

Pat the Elvis Patriot tried put the moves on my wife once before a pre-season game (heck, most every guy she meets tries). Did I ever mention that? Heck, her face is turning red right now. Wonder why that popped into my head. She is gonna kill me for writing this. Heh-heh-heh.

* * *

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Blackburn 2 Man City 0

One thing before I get to the real news...
I was reading a column by Hal's friend, the HSG, as I am sometimes wont to do, because some of his insights are still actually humorous. In the beginning of one of his columns, he made a reference to some woman of whom I had never heard. At first, I thought he was talking about a dental student that I had taught when I was at Tufts, but not so. I made the mistake of Googling her name, and found that she was some American Idol wastoid.

Lesson one, if you don't get an HSG reference, let it be.

* * *

The Blackburn Rovers furthered their quest for FA Cup victory on Sunday by defeating the struggling Citizens of Manchester. Stuart Pearce's side had chances, but were unable to capitalize, and thus their memorable FA Cup run comes to an end, leaving speculation of Pearce's job security in its wake.

Aaron Mokoena, the South African international defender scored first in the first half to give the Rovers the 1-0 cushion, which would turn out to be all they needed to stop City. Things got tense in the 69th minute when Mokoena was sent off for accumulating 2 yellow cards, and the Rovers had to finish the match with 10 men. Luckily, 10 men was all that was needed to beat Man City, and Matt Derbyshire emphasized that point with a second goal in stoppage time. Blackburn are through to the semifinals in FA Cup competition and deservedly so, as they are playing their best football right now. Like last season, they are peaking at the right time, and look to make another run at European competition. Blackburn will face either Chelsea or Tottenham next round.

-Christopher J. Brigham

Champions League

Well, the first knockout round of the UEFA Champion's League is in the books. There were certainly some surprises, but the song remained the same for some clubs. Let's have a look:

Roma defeats Lyon 2-0 in France. That was a surprise. Francesco Totti scored first with a powerful header into the net, and then Mancini, the midfielder and Brazilian international, performed some Crisitano Ronaldo-esque footwork to completely fake out the Lyon defender and score the proverbial nail in the coffin. What was not a surprise was that Lyon, whom I thought had a chance to go all the way this year, came up short yet again... just like Arsenal vs. PSV Eindhoven. Arsenal scored first blood in this match and looked like they were going to redeem themselves from a lackluster performance at Eindhoven, but PSV scored the clincher to move ahead on a 2-1 aggregate.

Arsene Wenger's squad will have to cry about having no trophys this year as they are a distant 4th in the Premiership regular season title chase, were knocked out of the FA Cup by Blackburn 2 weeks ago, lost to Chelsea in the Carling Cup final, and recently were eliminated from the Champions' League by PSV. Misery.

The best match of the week would have to be Bayern Munich and Real Madrid. Madrid, playing without Italian superstar Fabio Cannavaro and Hollywood David Beckham, went into Germany with a 3-2 lead from a dogfight in the first leg. Madrid were lost for most of the first half, and went into the locker room with a 1-0 deficit, enough to put Munich ahead to the next round. Munich added another goal with a set piece scorhing header by Mark van Bommell in the second.

Madrid had a lifeline when a bad penalty call put Ruud van Nistelrooy in a position to score a gimme and put the aggregate at 4-4. No further spark from Madrid late in the game kept the aggregate at 4-4, and allowed Bayern Munich to move to the next round on away goals.

Two matches to keep an eye on for the next round: the first is Chelsea vs.
the only Spanish club left in the tournament, Valencia. We'll see if Jose Mourinho's squad can dispatch of Valencia like they did with Porto. Also, Roma vs. ManU will be a good one, as Roma should be riding high off of the upset of the favorites, Lyon. ManU, of course, has a potent offense and a great defense, and will make life difficult for Totti and company.

I still favor ManU to take the whole thing this year. Chelsea is still in good position, and Bayern Munich, if they keep scoring goals like they did against Real Madrid, they certainly look good as well. My dark horse is PSV Eindhoven, who are playing very well as a team of late, and could be in this thing to shock some of the giants. I like PSV's chances against Liverpool in the next round.

-Christopher J. Brigham

Friday, March 09, 2007

Think of me what you will / I have a little space to fill

The Patriots had a great first week of free agency, acting aggressively to upgrade on defense and offense. In addition to retaining cornerback Asante Samuel and special teams star Larry Izzo, the Pats shored up their defense with Adalius Thomas stepping in at linebacker (position to be determined) and wide receiver Wes Welker, running back Sammy Morris, and tight end Kyle Brady on offense.

I am very excited about the off-season moves so far, in fact, much like Pete Carroll used to say, I am pumped and jacked. I have been raving about Adalius Thomas in this space for weeks, so I will spare you any more blather about him. Wes Welker is simply a younger Troy Brown, and Kyle Brady provides both blocking ability and good hands at a fraction of the price of Dan Graham. Believe me, if I had my druthers I would have kept Corey Dillon, but not at the price he was costing. Morris is a big back with some wiggle who can help out on special teams and cover for Kevin Faulk on third down if the scat back goes down.

I sincerely doubt the Randy Moss era would ever be seen in New England, unless Moss cost only a second-day pick, renegotiated his contract to cap-friendly numbers, and had an out in his contract that let the Patriots dump him with little penalty if he acted out. It could happen, but I am not expecting it.

* * *

I know it is early March, but the Red Sox rotation looks S-I-C-K right now. Pencil the Sox in for 100+ wins right now.

* * *

I refuse to keep posting the same thing about the Celtics over and over, but the team is better with Rondo or Telfair on the court and Delonte West shooting commercials with a cardboard cut-out of Lucky the Leprechaun. Also, if the Celtics cannot finagle Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, let me just say that Joachim Noah is no Dwayne Wade-esque prize for missing out on the big boys.

* * *

It warms the cockles of my heart to see Boston College getting their choke on as the NCAA tourney warms ups with the conference tourneys. I expect BC to do well in the ACC tourney, get a 5 or 6 seed, and then lose to an 11 or 12 in the first round.

* * *

Wow, the Bruins are almost watch-able. How did that happen? Whoops, forget it. They are back to their usual suck-ass play

* * *

Heck, I am still ticked off that Marvel comics: a. killed off Captain America; b. had Spider-Man come out to the world as Peter Parker; and c: turned Tony Stark (a.k.a. Iron Man) into a petty thug. Civil War was a horrible concept, horribly executed, and damaged the brand. Now, before this turns into a comics blog, I am going to exit this paragraph without expressing my disgust at the whole idea of killing Spidey and having him reborn with natural webs and all the other crapola. And the industry wonders why I give up on comics every few years (though somehow I always get sucked back in). I know, I know, comics and sports do not mix, nerds and jocks separate forever, but I had to get it off my chest and did not feel like logging on to a comics discussion board.

* * *

Thursday, March 08, 2007

FA Cup - and then there were 8

The final rounds of the FA Cup are upon us. I'd like to pay particular attention to the hard-fought win by the Blackburn Rovers over Arsenal and their whiny manager Arsene Wenger. At Emirates Stadium, Blackburn drew with the gunners and forced a replay match, which took place this Wednesday. The Rovers battled with a depleted Arsenal squad that took it on the chin when a melee with some Chelsea players occurred during the Carling Cup final match (which Chelsea took 2-1, by the way). South African international striker Benni McCarthy came off the bench in the second half to score a late goal, which was all Blackburn needed to advance to the next round. Blackburn face a very winnable match with Man City in the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.

However, the road gets harder from there as they will likely face Chelsea or ManU if they beat the Citizens. Blackburn's form of late has been quite good, and they are looking to extend it this Sunday as they take on Bolton in Reebok Stadium in Premiership action. I pick them as a dark horse to take the FA Cup, which will undoubtedly mean they will have to pull off an upset of ManU or Chelsea, neither of which would be easy tasks.

Furthermore, the Rovers face the second leg of the UEFA cup vs. Bayer Leverkusen at Ewood Park, and they are in good shape there, having scored two away goals in a 3-2 loss in Germany. Odds are good that they will advance there, too, especially given their recent form and the production of recent-signings Steven Warnock, Chris Samba, and David Dunn.

Another notable in the quarterfinal of the FA cup is the Plymouth Argyle, the Coca-cola Championship outfit from South England. The Argyle have been in good form, and appear to be making all the right moves to finish in the top of the table in the Championship. Most recent signing was the talented New Zealander Rory Fallon, who could easily provide some spark at Home Park.

If Plymouth keep improving like they have been, we could be seeing them jostling with the big clubs in the Premiership in a couple of years.

Plymouth will be taking on former Championship and relegation-battling club Watford in the quarterfinal. The Argyle will be looking for an upset on March 11th at Home Park.


West Ham 'till I Die?

Well, it looks like what was supposed to be a dream season for the Hammers is going to be a complete bust after fielding allegations that their two Argentinian loanees, Javier Mascherano and Carlos Tevez, may have been ineligible players, which could cost West Ham United some points and could bring lawsuits vs. former West Ham board members Paul Aldridge and Terence Brown. Supposedly, the loan was proffered by businessman Kia Joorabchian, who, at the time, was in the hunt for a takeover of the London club. This apparently violated some rules, even though the context of the deal was more-or-less known far and wide since it happened. I remember reading about it in August. I guess the wheels of justice turn slowly in Britain as well as here in the states. The Hammers are expected to argue that the players Mascherano and Tevez were not an influence on the club as manager Alan Pardew did not use them together very often, and in fac Mascherano is now at Liverpool. The bottom line is that West Ham, even with these signings, are a club that lacked direction and passion throughout most of the season and are fittingly in the drop zone to go back to the Coca-Cola Championship.

-Christopher J. Brigham

Thursday, March 01, 2007

TALKING PATRIOTS BEATS WATCHING THE COMBINE ANY DAY

With the mad amounts of cap money available, there are few potential bargains available on the free agent market, and, as we all know, the New England Patriots were built upon the backs of bargain free agents. John Clayton over at ESPN.com looks at a few of who are available. I thought I would review them as how they may fit in Red, White (Silver), and Blue in 2007:

1. T.J. Duckett - RB: I love the idea of Duckett in New England to replace Corey Dillon. Not since the days the Patriots of the early nineties running out Marion Butts and Sam Gash in the same backfield was the English language in such dire straights (The Patriots have Gash’n’Butts in the backfield). With Duckett, after every score, I can start texting everyone: F$##&@ it, just give it to Duckett!

2. Hank Fraley - C: Not applicable. Dan Koppen is going nowhere anytime soon.

3. Kevin Kaesviharn - S: Intriguing, as another coverage safety would be nice, but I doubt that any safety in New England will be paid more than Rodney Harrison, especially with Eugene Wilson in the final year of his contract.

4. Kelley Washington - WR: I could refer to him as Wash, which would delight the Firefly/Serenity fan in me to no small amount; however, big receivers do not have a good track record in the Bill Belichick offense.

5. Eric Johnson - TE: On the assumption that Dan Graham is a goner, this makes sense. I sort of remember Belichick gushing about Johnson once upon a time, but I am waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too lazy to look it up. More likely would be the return of a known quantity for a year as a third TE: the ever-popular, recently cut, lady-killer Christian Fauria.

* * *

The most prolific, hustling, and knowledgeable football writer west of Mike Reiss is at ESPN.com, the redoubtable Len Pasquarelli. Big Len checks in with a look at the top Free Agents, and I thought I would play Scott Pioli and determine who other than T.J. Duckett and Christian Fauria could end up in beautiful downtown Foxboro in the fall.

* I have waxed poetic recently about the perfect fit that Adalius Thomas would be in a Belichick defense, so I will try not to rattle on about him. Amazing speed, smarts, and versatility make him the kind of linebacker Bill Belichick and Scott Pioli dream about at night.

* London Fletcher-Baker would be a stop-gap at linebacker, but the money will likely get out of control. He would be a great two year option to phase out Teddy Bruschi and develop a first day ILB pick.

* Ahman Green would be a cheaper Corey Dillon, no?

* Nick Harper would be a great nickel corner. I just question if after so many years in Indy, if he can adapt to the New England defense, which is night-and-day from the Dungy D.

* Napoleon Harris could fit in New England with the 3-4 defense exposure he had in Oakland under Rex Ryan. A steady veteran who can play inside and outside seems like a fit.

* * *

THREE PLUS ONE

Three major news stories dominate Boston sports at the moment, but there is one bonus note below about the most important free agent out in the market who should be locked-on as the ONLY Patriots target on their radar. First, the big three:

3. RIP DJ:
Dennis Johnson should be number one, but he wore number three in Boston and it seems appropriate. DJ was far from the best guard in Celtics history. Heck, he was really a shooting guard playing the point. But he was part of what will ALWAYS be the starting five of the Celtics in my mind: Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, Danny Ainge, and Dennis Johnson. That was the starting five during the glory days. When the Celtics were the biggest draw in town. When basketball ruled Boston. When DJ always hit the big shot.

2. Hundred Dollar Bills, Y’all:
Corey Dillon retiring (or being released) is big news, but not much of a surprise to the Patriots front-office, I believe. Dillon was not playing with a $4.4 million cap number, believe me. Plain and simple, that is why he is gone. He did a good PR move by coming out early, but it was obvious last year after the draft that Maroney was going to be Stephen Jackson in New England. The Patriots will find a big, cheap body to replace Dillon and pound the middle of the line next year.

The other mo money deal was the no-brainer franchising of Asante Samuel. Expect either a long-term deal by the beginning of training camp or a very uncomfortable 2007 season. Samuel is a good corner, and he is in the perfect system. Unless he is going to a Belichick-lite defense (Cleveland, Oakland, Jets, etc), he had better make sure that money is up-front.

3. Holy Crap!
Yes, the Celtics have won two games in two weeks. The lead for ping-pong balls is down to one game. Greg Oden or Kevin Durant? I think Oden is going to be a Tim Duncan/Shaq type player in the NBA some day. Durant is simply the next Kobe (minus the rape allegations, I hope). Nobody loses with either of those two. If the Celtics get Oden, great. If they get Durant, great. If they get neither, Danny has a whole lot of wheeling and dealing ahead of him. I said it before, but I still say this should be the Celtics Dump List:

G: Delonte West: This guy is one of the worst decision-makers at the point, fires up threes like he was the illegitimate son of Antoine, and everyone loves him. I do not get it! TRADE HIM NOW!
G/F: Wally Szczerbiak: I’d rather have Wally the Green Monster at this point.
F: Tony Allen: What has he done? Three good games? He should have been traded two days before that knee blew out. SHAME, DANNY, SHAME!
F: Brian Scalabrine: Slow white guy, soft on defense, cannot rebound, horrible shot but fires threes anyway, and bitches about playing time. Gee, why would we want him around?
C: Theo Ratliff: At least next year he will have value as an expiring contract.
C: Michael Olawakandi, aka the Kandi Man: At least get a few practice balls for him or something.

BONUS:

Adalius Thomas Not Franchised by Baltimore:
It does not matter what it costs. Give him $10 million in bonuses up front and $10 million a year. This guy is the answer at linebacker. Belichick, Pioli: JUST DO IT!

* * *

Champions' league recap

The first week of the UEFA Champions' League elimination round is over, and I am stoked, to say the least! Several good matchups in the first elimination round leading to very entertaining matches, and even some surprise results. Here's my thoughts...

Roma v. Lyon - Roma didn't help themselves with a 0-0 draw at Olimpico on Thursday vs. Olympique Lyonnais. A home goal would have been the preferred way to go into France in 2 weeks. At this point, I'd say Roma are sitting ducks to be eliminated in the first knockout round.

Barcelona vs. Liverpool - A tale of 2 teams, one on its way up in the Premeirship with new ownership and talks of acquiring Juventus's Davide Trezguet for next season, bolstering the already dangerous offense, and the other club in the midst of turmoil in the media with talk of in-fighting and the manager on his way out after this season. Barca started the game off right, with a fortuitous goal by Deco, but the defending and overall play turned sloppy as Liverpool scored twice to shock the defending champs at Camp Nou. If there is any club that can pull off an away win at Anfield, though, it would be Barca. However, they have to bring it together and play like a team. Furthermore, we have to see Ronaldinho's presence on the pitch, and even though he played the entire match, he never really got going.

Porto vs. Chelsea - Porto will have reason to be upset with the final scoreline in this one as Jose Mourinho visits his old club and comes away with a crucial away goal. Porto played very well, but shots never managed to find the net after the original goal was scored. It was good to see Petr Cech back in goal after the head injury that has kept him out for most of the season. He was safe enough when called upon, and even though he conceded the one goal, should be very happy with his performance.

Losc Lille Metropole vs. Manchester United - An unfortunate turn of events in this one, as confusion reigned on the pitch during a Ryan Giggs free kick, he booted one into the back of the net as the Lille players were caught unaware that play had even started.

Who will win it all? I still say ManU has a great chance to hoist the trophy. However, this could be the year Lyon sees it through and wins it all. My dark horse is PSV Eindhoven, as they looked like a good squad against a lacklustre Arsenal.

The most impressive player of this first leg, in my opinion, was Heurelho Gomes, goalkeeper from PSV, who was a wall against some potent Arsenal shots on goal. Also impressive was Petr Cech, who settled down nicely after allowing the first and only goal at Stadio de Dragao in Porto.

-Christopher J. Brigham

New England Patriots: On Vacation as Free Agency Begins - Full Press Coverage

The 2019 NFL year has begun with the advent of free agency and as usual the New England Patriots are one of the quietest teams. While teams ...