Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Feb 29th a Banner Day for U.S. Soccer

It's too bad there isn't a February 29th every year. What a day for U.S. Soccer. Goals were scored, history was made, and three different U.S. teams emerged victorious today. Let's take a closer look at how it all went down.



The U.S. opened the 2012 Algarve Cup with a 5-0 thrashing of 12th ranked Denmark this afternoon as they took an early lead in Group B. Alex Morgan continued her torrid scoring pace this year notching her 7th and 8th goals of 2012 and Abby Wambach scored the 132nd goal of her international career to lead the offense while Hope Solo made 4 saves for her 61st career shutout to lead the defensive effort. Carli Lloyd and Sydney Leroux also chipped in goals in the second half, and with goal differential being one of the main tiebreakers in this tournament every little bit helps. The U.S. is now 7-0 to start the year and has only allowed one goal while scoring 45. The road to a third straight Algarve Cup title gets a lot tougher though as powerhouses Norway and Japan still loom ahead on the schedule. Japan, who defeated the U.S. in the World Cup Final last summer, rallied for a 2-1 win over Norway this morning in Group B's other match. The U.S. gets Norway on Friday, and then wraps up Group Play against Japan on Monday with a berth in the final potentially on the line.



The U.S. men made history today with their first ever win against the Italians in 11 tries. Clint Dempsey became just the fourth American player ever to score against Italy taking a feed from Jozy Altidore near the top of the box and hitting a driven shot against the grains and past a helpless Gianluigi Buffon for the only goal of the match as Tim Howard and company held on for a 1-0 win. While the win is certainly historic, let's not get too carried away. To be clear, the U.S. did not outplay Italy today. The Azzurri outshot Jurgen Klinsmann's club 19-4 and were victimized by 9 offsides calls, and with a little luck this game easily could have been 3 or 4 to 1 in favor of the hosts. But Howard made 7 saves and the U.S. back line of Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson and Fabian Johnson (later Jonathan Spector) made just enough plays to preserve the shutout and snap a winless streak dating back to 1934. Still, while this win doesn't propel the U.S. into the conversation of the best teams in the world, it's still another step in the right direction and it's a huge confidence builder. Any time you can go toe-to-toe with, and hang with, one of the world's best - and despite what you may think after today Italy is still exactly that - that's a substantial accomplishment.
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The U.S. has now won 4 games in a row - 3 of those outside of the country - and they haven't allowed a goal in any of their matches in 2012. And let's not forget that the U.S. still hasn't managed to put its two best players, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, on the field at the same time since the start of the Klinsmann era. With the improved play of Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu and Jozy Altidore, and the continued development of youngsters like Brek Shea to complement the starpower of Donovan and Dempsey there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the U.S.'s chances in World Cup Qualifying this summer.


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More reason to be optimistic for U.S. soccer fans as the U-23s, despite playing without Brek Shea or Terrence Boyd who were both in Italy with the Senior Squad, defeated Mexico in Texas tonight by a score of 2-0. Both goals came mere minutes apart in the first half, first with Juan Agudelo heading home a Mix Diskerud corner and then Diskerud deflecting Freddy Adu's long range shot into the corner of the net doubling the lead. On the other end, MLS keepers Bill Hamid and Sean Johnson combined to make 8 saves to preserve the shutout. Watching the U.S. handle a tough Mexico squad with some ease, you have to like their chances in Olympic Qualifying 3 weeks from now when they take on the likes of Cuba, Canada and El Salvador in group play. Qualifying kicks off on March 22nd.


Today was a busy day for soccer with a lot of the world's top teams in action in friendlies. Some of the highlights:

SPAIN 5 VENEZUELA 0 - Even without injured David Villa, Spain's offense is still potent. 26 year old Valencia striker Roberto Soldado came off the bench at halftime and struck 3 times as Spain cruised to a 5-0 win over Venezuela.

NETHERLANDS 3 ENGLAND 2 - England erased a 2-0 deficit with a pair of late goals, but Arjen Robben ripped their hearts out with his second goal of the match, two minutes into stoppage time, to give the Dutch a 3-2 win. Scary moment in this one on Holland's second goal when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Chris Smalling knocked heads seconds after Huntelaar's header gave the Dutch a 2-0 lead. Both players were sent to the hospital with Smalling leaving the field on a stretcher.
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FRANCE 2 GERMANY 1 - Oliver Giroud and Florent Malouda each scored goals for the French while the Germans could only muster a 91st minute goal from Cacau as they lost at home 2-1.

ARGENTINA 3 SWITZERLAND 1 - The international game hasn't been particular kind to Lionel Messi, but today was an exception as he torched the Swiss defense for 3 goals, including 2 in the last five minutes, for his first ever international hat trick. Messi, who has scored at least 38 goals for Barcelona in each of the last 4 seasons, now has 22 goals for Argentina in 67 matches.

COLOMBIA 2 MEXICO 0 - Mexico dominated possession and attempted 17 shots, but the potent Chicharito and Gio Dos Santos were both shutout while Atlético Madrid striker Falcao and midfielder Juan Cuadrado beat Mexican keeper Guillermo Ochoa for a 2-0 win.

Big Day for USA Soccer

Three huge matches for USA Soccer today as the U.S. men, U.S. women, and U.S. men's U-23s are all in action.
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The day kicks off with the USA women taking on Denmark at noon eastern kicking off the 2012 Algarve Cup. The 12th ranked Danes have only beaten the U.S. women 4 times in 22 tries, and are winless in their last six attempts against them. The two countries haven't met since the 2009 Algarve Cup when the U.S. defeated Denmark 2-0 on first half goals by Angie Woznuk and Tina DiMartino. Denmark is led by midfielder and captain Katrine Pedersen who has appeared 184 times for Denmark in her international career.
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Then at 2:45 eastern, the U.S. men take on 8th ranked Italy in Genoa. No team has had more success against the United States than the Italians as the U.S. has managed just 3 draws in 10 matches between the two countries. Italy defeated the U.S. 3-1 in the 2009 Confederations Cup in their last meeting, and they followed up a disappointing 2010 World Cup by going 8-0-2 in group play in the Qualifying Round for Euro 2012 allowing just 2 goals in 10 matches and none at home. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
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Finally, tonight at 10 Eastern, the U.S. Men's U-23s have their final tune-up before Olympic Qualifying when they host Mexico in Dallas. The U.S. won't be at full strength though as Brek Shea and Terrence Boyd will both be in Italy with the Senior National Team. Still, the U.S. isn't exactly hurting for talent with big names Freddy Adu, Juan Agudelo, Mix Diskerud and Bill Hamid leading the way. The U.S. kicks off qualifying on March 22nd when they take on Cuba in Tennessee.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Tuesday Trivia

Last week's question:

Rajon Rondo's ejection against the Pistons was his team high 7th technical foul in just 22 games this year. At that rate, Rondo would accumulate 26 technicals in 82 games, enough to easily lead the league most seasons. Who was the last Boston Celtic to lead the league in technical fouls?

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Sorry Scalabrine fans, the answer is Mr. Technical Foul himself, Rasheed Wallace. The all time leader in technical fouls with 304, Wallace spent one season with the Celtics (2009-10) and tied for the league lead in technical fouls with Dwight Howard with 17.

The last Celtic to lead the league outright in technical fouls was Antoine Walker who had a league high 23 back in 2002-03. And in honor of that that we're going to post this throwback Adidas commercial.

Employee number 8. I make baskets.

This week's question:
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Dwyane Wade dealt Kobe Bryant a particularly hard foul during Sunday's NBA All Star game actually drawing blood and breaking Bryant's nose. The foul was one of four Wade picked up in the game. Who was the last player to actually foul out of an All Star Game? Yes, it has happened.

Top Tens - 2/28/12


1. Evgeni Malkin - Pittsburgh - 78
2. Steven Stamkos - Tampa Bay - 75
3. Claude Giroux - Philadelphia - 72
4. Jason Spezza - Ottawa - 70
5. Henrik Sedin - Vancouver - 66
6. Phil Kessel - Toronto - 65
6. Erik Karlsson - Ottawa - 65
8. Daniel Sedin - Vancouver - 63
9. Joffrey Lupul - Toronto - 62
10. 3 players tied with - 61


1. Steven Stamkos - Tampa Bay - 43
2. Evgeni Malkin - Pittsburgh - 37
3. Phil Kessel - Toronto - 31
4. James Neal - Pittsburgh - 30
4. Scott Hartnell - Philadelphia - 30
4. Radim Vrbata - Phoenix - 30
4. Corey Perry - Anaheim - 30
8. Jonathan Toews - Chicago - 29
8. Marian Gaborik - Rangers - 29
10. 4 players tied with - 28





1. USA

(Records through Sunday Night's Games)
*ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll in Parentheses

1. Kentucky 28-1 (1)
2. Syracuse 29-1 (2)
3. Kansas 24-5 (4)
4. Duke 25-4 (3)
5. Michigan State 24-5 (5)
6. North Carolina 25-4 (6)
7. Missouri 25-4 (8)
8. Marquette 24-5 (7)
9. Baylor 24-5 (20)
10. Ohio State 23-6 (11)

(Records through Sunday Night's Games)

1. Baylor 29-0
2. Stanford 26-1
3. Notre Dame 27-2
4. Connecticut 26-3
5. Duke 24-4
6. Maryland 25-4
7. Miami (FL) 25-4
8. Delaware 26-1
9. Penn State 23-5
10. Kentucky 24-5


1. Novak Djokovic (Serbia) - 13130 points
2. Rafael Nadal (Spain) - 10435 points
3. Roger Federer (Switzerland) - 8235 points
4. Andy Murray (Great Britain) - 7150 points
5. Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (France) - 4410 points
6. David Ferrer (Spain) - 4345 points
7. Tomas Berdych (Czech Republic) - 3860 points
8. Mardy Fish (USA) - 2870 points
9. Janko Tipsarevic (Serbia) - 2710 points
10. Juan Martin del Potro (Argentina) - 2705 points


1. Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) - 8980 points
2. Maria Sharapova (Russia) - 7680 points
3. Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) - 7095 points
4. Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) - 6270 points
5. Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) - 5850 points
6. Samantha Stosur (Australia) - 5825 points
7. Marion Bartoli (France) - 5160 points
8. Li Na (China) - 4390 points
9. Vera Zvonareva (Russia) - 4340 points
10. Andrea Petkovic (Germany) - 3810 points


1. Robin Van Persie (Netherlands) - Arsenal - 23
2. Wayne Rooney (England) - Manchester United - 17
3. Demba Ba (Senegal) - Newcastle United - 16
3. Sergio Agüero (Argentina) - Manchester City - 16
5. Yakubu Aiyegbeni (Nigeria) - Blackburn Rovers - 13
5. Edin Dzeko (Bosnia-Herzegovina) - Manchester City - 13
7. Emmanuel Adebayor (Togo) - Tottenham Hotspur - 10
8. 6 players tied with - 10


1. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal) - Real Madrid - 29
2. Lionel Messi (Argentina) - Barcelona - 28
3. Falcao (Colombia) - Atlético Madrid - 15
4. Gonzalo Higuaín (Argentina) - Real Madrid - 14
5. Karim Benzema (France) - Real Madrid - 13
5. Fernando Llorente (Spain) - Athletico Bilbao - 13
7. Roberto Soldado (Spain) - Valencia - 12
8. Miguel Pérez Cuesta (Spain) - R. Vallecano - 11
9. Cesc Fábregas (Spain) - Barcelona - 9
9. Rubén Castro (Spain) - Real Betis - 9


1. Antonio Di Natale (Italy) - Udinese - 18
2. Zlatan Ibrahimovic (Sweden) - AC Milan - 15
2. Edinson Cavani (Uruguay) - Napoli - 15
2. Germán Denis (Argentina) - Atalanta - 15
5. Rodrigo Palacio (Argentina) - Genoa - 14
6. Miroslav Klose (Germany) - Lazio - 13
7. Diego Milito (Argentina) - Internazionale - 12
7. Stevan Jovetic (Montenegro) - Fiorentina - 12
9. Fabrizio Miccoli (Italy) - Palermo - 11
10. Emanuele Calaiò (Italy) - Siena - 10
10. Alessandro Matri (Italy) - Juventus - 10


1. Mario Gomez (Germany) - Bayern Munich - 18
1. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Neth.) - Schalke 04 - 18
3. Robert Lewandowski (Pol.) - B. Dortmund - 16
4. Lukas Podolski (Germany) - FC Cologne - 15
4. Claudio Pizarro (Peru) - Werder Bremen - 15
6. Martin Harnik (Austria) - VfB Stuttgart - 13
6. Marco Reus (Ger.) - B. Monchengladbach - 13
8. Mohammed Abdellaoue (Norway) - Hannover 96 - 11
8. Raúl (Spain) - Schalke 04 - 11
10. Franck Ribéry (France) - Bayern Munich - 10

NBA LEADING SCORERS (points per game)

1. Kobe Bryant - Lakers - 28.4
2. Kevin Durant - OKC - 27.9
3. LeBron James - Miami - 27.4
4. Kevin Love - Minnesota - 25.0
5. Russell Westbrook - OKC - 23.5
6. Monta Ellis - Golden State - 22.4
7. LaMarcus Aldridge - Portland - 22.3
8. Deron Williams - New Jersey - 22.2
9. Blake Griffin - Clippers - 21.4
10. Dwight Howard - Orlando - 20.1


1. Dwight Howard - Orlando - 15.3
2. Kevin Love - Minnesota - 14.0
3. Andrew Bynum - Lakers - 12.8
4. Blake Griffin - Clippers - 11.4
5. DeMarcus Cousins - Sacramento - 11.3
6. Pau Gasol - Lakers - 10.6
7. Kris Humphries - New Jersey - 10.5
8. Marcin Gortat - Phoenix - 10.4
9. Marc Gasol - Memphis - 10.1
10. Joakim Noah - Chicago - 9.9


1. Steve Nash - Phoenix - 10.9
2. Rajon Rondo - Boston - 9.5
3. Jose Calderon - Toronto - 8.9
4. Chris Paul - New Orleans - 8.6
5. Ricky Rubio - Minnesota - 8.4
6. Deron Williams - New Jersey - 8.2
7. Tony Parker - San Antonio - 8.1
8. Derrick Rose - Chicago - 7.7
9. Kyle Lowry - Houston - 7.6
10. John Wall - Washington - 7.6


1. Kyle Stanley (USA) - 935
2. Johnson Wagner (USA) - 860
3. Phil Mickelson (USA) - 807
4. Mark Wilson (USA) - 802
5. Bill Haas (USA) - 752
6. Hunter Mahan (USA) - 742
7. Brandt Snedeker (USA) - 716
8. Steve Stricker (USA) - 598
9. Keegan Bradley (USA) - 504
10. Ben Crane (USA) - 475

Out: Martin Laird (11)

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Monday, February 27, 2012

Monday Mailbag

Headline in Boston: "Valentine focuses on fundamentals" The latest news from Sox training camp is Bobby Valentine's focus on fundamentals and making the players work hard... what are they talking about? What are the fundamentals of baseball and how do you train for them? Are there coaches out there that DON'T focus on hard work and fundamentals? If so, what do those camps look like? - Garrett M., Boston, MA

When you talk 'fundamentals' in baseball you're talking about bunting, hitting behind runners, taking infield/outfield, baserunning, fielding drills for pitchers, etc. It's not other teams DON'T focus on that kind of stuff, but some of these more veteran clubs tend to give the players more leeway in spring training. To some extent it's accepted that these guys are professionals and they're going to be able to do what it takes to get themselves ready for the season. When you look at the Red Sox team last year, it was a lot of veteran guys and while some teams are able to police themselves, it's pretty evident that things in Boston broke down last year. So Bobby Valentine is doing what he has to to bring the guys back in, and get them focused. Think Lou Brown and Major League.
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The only difference is that Lou's mustache was real:
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I get frustrated when I see professional basketball players miss free throws consistently... if you or I put an hour each day into shooting free throws, we could probably eventually shoot 85-90%... we don't, so we can't... but what is the excuse of a professional basketball player? - Garrett M., Boston, MA
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Honestly, I have no idea. I mean guess I'm willing to give some of the shot blocking types, who are only in the league because they're big and who will just never be coordinated enough to shoot a basketball straight, a pass. And I suppose I'm willing to buy off on the argument that it's hard to shoot for some of these guys who just have enormous hands - I mean it's a lot easier for me to shoot a basketball than it is a golf ball. But for a lot of these guys, I don't know what their problem is. I mean look at some of these percentages:

Blake Griffin: 53.9 percent
Josh Smith: 55.4 percent
Antawn Jamison: 60.3 percent
Rajon Rondo: 61.5 percent
Andre Iguodala: 61.6 percent

Of the 123 players with enough free throw attempts to qualify for the league lead, only 4 (Anthony Morrow, J.J. Redick, Jamal Crawford, Ray Allen) are shooting over 90%. It's hard to say why. I don't really know what teams work on in practice, but you would think the best basketball players IN THE WORLD could make an uncontested shot from 15 feet nine times out of ten. Games are won and lost on the free throw line, and if you're the Magic or the Clippers, each of whom misses an average of about 8 free throws a game, that could be the difference in being a pretty good team and a championship team. And if you don't believe me on how important free throws are, just take it from Chuck. Make, make, make, make, make, make, make your free throws!

Which team is going to be moved to Seattle? Will they reassume the name Super Sonics (I think the "Super" was dropped in the late 90s)? Is it alright for me to still be pissed that Seattle should have the Championship contending team and not OK City? - Garrett M., Boston, MA

The two leading candidates are the Sacramento Kings and the New Orleans Hornets, but neither one is a sure thing to move. That said, I'd be shocked if at some point we didn't see an NBA franchise back in Seattle. As for whether or not it will be the SuperSonics, it's hard to say. Personally I like the sound of it. Some very nice alliteration. And it's not as if there isn't a precedent for something like this. See Cleveland Browns, Washington Senators, Winnipeg Jets, etc.
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In the meantime, yeah Seattle got a pretty raw deal here so you have a right to be pissed off. Just like Cleveland fans can be pissed off about the Baltimore Ravens leaving and winning a Super Bowl while their championship drought continues. Same deal with the fans of the L.A. Rams, Minnesota North Stars, Quebec Nordiques, and possibly in the near future the Montreal Expos. But hey, on the bright side it's not as though Seattle has been devoid of championship basketball since the Sonics left. Give it up for Sue Bird and 2010 WNBA Champion Seattle Storm!!
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What is the legitimacy of the NFL combine? Are the stats and measurements taken strong indicators of future performance? Which stats for which positions are the best indicators (eg - Chris Johnson ran a 4.28 40-yard dash... he was good for a little bit then screwed my Fantasy team... or Brady Quinn... he probably rep'd a ton on the bench but now is backup to Tebow)? - Garrett M., Boston, MA

Ok, first I think it's funny that we talk about what a bad season Chris Johnson just had despite the fact that he ran for over 1000 yards. Now I get it that his yards per carry were down, he was limited to just 4 total touchdowns, and he was held to under 35 yards rushing in six of Tennessee's sixteen games. That coupled with the fact he just got paid a ridiculous amount of money this past offseason equates to disappointment and that's fair. But it wasn't that long ago that they had football cards commemorate 1000 yards rushing/receiving seasons. Am I the only one that remembers that? Check out this Barry Sanders card from 1989.
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And yeah, if you have good vision, that does say that Sanders ran for a whopping 1 yard against the Steelers in Week 4. I looked it up, it really happened. Anyhow, enough about Chris Johnson...

I don't think you can argue that the combine isn't at least somewhat legitimate. The problem is that it doesn't necessarily tell you how good of a football player someone's going to be as you pointed out, it just evaluates a player's athletic ability. And sometimes, that isn't enough. You can't purely look at combine results and figure out who the better player is going to be. And even with all the stats and combine results, teams still miss a lot of the time. Check out these undrafted players:

2010 - LeGarrette Blount, Sam Shields, Chris Ivory, Jake Ballard, Victor Cruz
2009 - Arian Foster, Kahlil Bell, Isaac Redman
2008 - Danny Amendola, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Danny Woodhead, Davone Bess
2007 - Matt Moore, Pierre Thomas, Eric Weems
2006 - Miles Austin, Brent Grimes, Tramon Williams
2005 - Josh Cribbs, John Kuhn, Cameron Wake
2004 - Malcom Floyd, Jabari Greer, Vonta Leach, Willie Parker, Wes Welker
2003 - Gary Brackett, Kris Dielman, Antonio Gates, Fred Jackson, Tony Romo

And that's just a snapshot of the list. And some of these guys aren't just good NFL players, they're ridiculous NFL players. How'd every team miss on that many guys? Is it too much looking at numbers?

At the 2009 NFL combine, Arian Foster (Tennessee) ran a 4.56 40 and put up 225 lbs 23 times at the bench press station. Cedric Peerman (Virginia) ran a 4.45 40 and did 27 reps and just for good measure added a 40" vertical. The Baltimore Ravens drafted Peerman in the 6th round. Foster went undrafted. Peerman has 5 carries in 3 seasons. Foster led the NFL in rushing in 2010 and has made 2 Pro Bowls.
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In 2008 BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Mississippi) ran a 4.62 40 and did 24 reps at the bench press station and had a 30.5 inch vertical. Cory Boyd (South Carolina) ran a 4.52, did 25 reps and jumped 33.5 inches. Tampa Bay took Boyd in the 7th round. Green-Ellis went undrafted. Neither player has ever fumbled in the NFL. The only difference is that Boyd played in one NFL game while Green-Ellis has 510 carries and 29 touchdowns over the past four seasons.

Some guys get discounted because of speed and strength, and others (Welker, Amendola, Woodhead, Bess) lose out because of size... I guess when it comes down to it, my point is that none of these numbers can really tell you if someone's going to be a good football player or not. They're helpful tools in evaluating, but things like running routes, making tackles, breaking tackles, catching passes in traffic, pass blocking... all that stuff can't be measured at the combine. So while the combine represents a piece of the puzzle, unless you're looking for guys to play exclusively on special teams, it's not worth planning your draft around the results in my opinion. 
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CSKA Moscow started their third choice keeper this week versus Real Madrid. Their reserve keeper is only 16 years old. Who's the youngest keeper ever to start a Champions League match? - Cory L., Raceland, LA

So far I haven't been able to find the answer for this one. I can tell you that Spanish keeper Iker Casillas is the youngest keeper to play in and win a Champions League final, which he did for Real Madrid 4 days after his 19th birthday. Casillas, like CSKA Moscow's Sergey Revyakin, also dressed for a Champions League game at the age of 16 but didn't play.
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The youngest field player ever to play in the tournament was Anderlecht's Celestine Babayaro who at age 16 (and 87 days) started against Steaua București on the 23rd of November 1994. He left quite an impression too as he was sent off in the 37th minute.
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Is Walter Samuel a Ukrainian mob boss? I mean just look at the guy. He looks like he's ready to break someone's kneecaps at a moment's notice. - Cory L., Raceland, LA

I don't think mob bosses break knee caps. I think they have guys who do that for them. One of the perks of being the boss, you know? Plus this is what google tells me a Ukrainian mob boss looks like:
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But could Samuel be an underling? Some sort of hitman? Let's look at the evidence. First of all, his name is Walter, and he's from... Argentina? Well, that's obviously fake. And check out his smile:
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That just screams cold-blooded killer. Kind of reminds me of this guy from Behind Enemy Lines:
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However, in the interest of not drawing attention from the Ukrainian mob, let's just pretend we never had this conversation.

What are the odds of seeing a Diego Forlan or a Michael Owen in MLS? I think both of these guys would be really exciting to watch and would draw more viewers to the league. - Cory L., Raceland, LA

It's hard to say, and at this point it's probably too early to tell. Forlán is in the first year of a two year deal he signed with Internazionale, and if his interview with Il Cacha is any indication, he isn't planning on leaving any time soon: "I still have several years of my contract remaining and I will respect them. I want to stay in Europe a little longer after that and then, permitting my physical condition, I will return to South America." That said, he was linked to the Seattle Sounders as recently as last year, so things can change. Would he be a good addition to the league? Absolutely. He's going to be 33 this spring, but this is a guy who won the Golden Ball at the World Cup in 2010 and has scored over 200 goals for club and country. We've seen the kind of impact aging stars like Thierry Henry and David Beckham have had on MLS. Forlán could have a similar impact if he chose to come here.
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Much of the same could be said for Michael Owen, except that Owen's future in Europe is more in doubt. Owen is on a one year deal with Manchester United, but has only appeared in 4 games across all competitions this year. Owen just turned 32 and finds himself at the far end of the United bench. While it would seem like he's ripe for the picking when his contract expires, there are those that question Owen's passion for the game and some speculate that he might throw in the towel if he doesn't catch on with a big time club. So to answer your question, I don't know that the odds are great for getting either player, but if I had to pick one of them Owen's contract situation makes it more likely that he'll join MLS.
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I know it's a little early to be talking about next season, but if you're Sir Alex, what do you do with Dimitar Berbatov next year? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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Speaking of forwards stuck at the end of Manchester United's bench... I actually think Sir Alex's decision has already been made having stated in December that they intended to exercise their option on Berbatov for the upcoming season. While Berbatov has certainly seen his playing time drop off this year, he's still a valuable asset. Even in diminished minutes, Berbatov's proved to be a potent scorer as evidenced by his 7 goals in his last 5 Premier League appearances. I don't know that Berbatov will stick around beyond next year though. Bayer Leverkusen, mega-rich Paris Saint-Germain and Anzhi Makhachkala (Russia) have all expressed interest in the Bulgarian striker and in addition to being able to offer him cash, they'll also be able to offer him minutes, something that may be hard for him to turn down.

As always, a special thanks to all those who wrote in this week. Got a question for the mailbag? Email us at 

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Sunday Six Pack

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Terrell Owens is playing football again just probably not at the level he was hoping for. Owens made his debut with the Allen Wranglers of the Indoor Football League last night and was named the MVP of the Game catching 3 passes, all of them touchdowns, for 53 yards as the Wranglers defeated the Wichita Wild 50-30. 5711 fans were in attendance at the Allen Events Center, and while that may not seem like a lot, it surpassed the total attendance of their entire inaugural 2011 season. Next up for T.O. and the Wranglers is a trip to Washington on the 1st of March where they'll take on the Everett Raptors.

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This guy just can't catch a break. After missing all of 2011, Minnesota Twins reliever Joel Zumaya's latest comeback attempt is over before it really even began. Zumaya threw 13 pitches on Saturday in his first live bullpen session since signing an incentive-laden one year deal with the Twins, but cut the session short after experiencing pain in his elbow. The reliever got the official bad news today as he was diagnosed with a torn ligament in his right elbow meaning yet another season will be lost for the hard-throwing right-hander. Zumaya had not thrown a pitch in a Major League game since June 2010 after breaking his elbow while pitching for the Tigers.

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Lindsey Vonn won the World Cup Super-G event in Bansko, Bulgaria today giving her a record 18 super-G titles in her career. Vonn entered Sunday tied with Austria's Renate Goetschl with 17 titles, but edged out Liechtenstein's Tina Weirather by 0.05 seconds to take sole possession of the record. The 27 year old Vonn now has 51 career World Cup victories including 10 this season.

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Injuries to Jermaine Jones (strained calf) and José Torres (pulled muscle left leg), leaves Jurgen Klinsmann's squad suddenly short on midfielders for the U.S's upcoming friendly against Italy. Klinsmann didn't opt to make any additions to the squad following Jones' injury, but it remains to be seen if he'll do anything now that Torres may be out as well. Klinsmann will have Maurice Edu, Michael Bradley, Fabian Johnson and Danny Williams at his disposal with versatile strikers Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey able to fill in on the wings as well and that may be enough. Otherwise this may be a great time to give Anderlecht's Sacha Kljestan a call.

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Cardiff City nearly pulled off a shocking upset in the Carling Cup Final today, but in the end fell just short losing on penalties to Liverpool. Cardiff City took an early 1-0 lead in the match on a goal by Joe Mason, but Liverpool was able to equalize in the second half when Martin Škrtel punched home a rebound following a corner kick. With the score tied after 90 minutes, the two teams went to extra time where Liverpool took their first lead of the match in the 108th minute on a goal by Dutchman Dirk Kuyt. They appeared to have the match in hand, but 10 minutes later with the clock winding down, Cardiff equalized on a goal by Ben Turner when he punched a loose ball through Pepe Reina's legs following a corner of their own. The game then went to penalties, but Cardiff twice struck the woodwork and eventually Anthony Gerrard, cousin of Liverpool captain Steven Gerrard, missed wide left to clinch it for Liverpool. The victory gives Liverpool their first major title since winning the 2006 FA Cup.


American Jozy Altidore found the back of the net twice today for AZ Alkmaar as they played to a 3-3 draw with Heerenveen. Starting for the first time in 2012, Altidore scored on each side of the intermission giving him 9 goals in Eredivisie Play and 13 goals across all competitions for his Dutch club this season. The 22 year old striker now heads to Italy with the U.S. team as they get set for Wednesday's match with the Italians.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

NBA Stars Need to Step Up to the Plate

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 Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. Dominique Wilkins. Dwight Howard. Blake Griffin. Vince Carter. Jeremy Evans? You read that right. The 2nd year forward out of Western Kentucky, the 55th player taken in the 2010 NBA draft, is your 2012 NBA Slam Dunk Champion. Now I don't want to take anything away from Jeremy Evans' performance tonight - his two-ball dunk while jumping over teammate Gordon Hayward was awesome -

- but the fact of the matter is that Jeremy Evans isn't what the fans want to see. The 24 year old Evans is averaging 1.7 points in the 16 games he's appeared in this season and has started all of 3 games in his brief career. Hardly all-star material. It wasn't even just Evans. Look at the rest of the field: Chase Budinger, Paul George and Derrick Williams representing the Rockets, Pacers and Timberwolves respectively. Hardly household names. No LeBron James. No Blake Griffin... Heck, nobody in last year's field came back this year. As a fan, I have to say it's disappointing. Can you honestly tell me that you wouldn't tune in for a dunk contest featuring James, Griffin, John Wall and Derrick Rose? 

It just seems like the dunk contest has lost it's star power over the years. In 1984, the world saw Julius Erving, Dominique Wilkins and Clyde Drexler. And none of those guys won! In 1990, it was Wilkins, Scottie Pippen, Kenny "Sky" Walker, Shawn Kemp and Kenny Smith. In 2000 it was Vince Carter, Steve Francis, Tracy McGrady, Ricky Davis, Ray Allen and Jerry Stackhouse. And now there's this field that has combined to start 44 games between them this season. I'm not saying the Jeremy Evans's and the JaVale McGee's of the world don't deserve a chance too. Back in the day, the competition used to have 8 or even 9 competitors. Stars and defending champions could get byes in the early rounds. Just think. This year's competition could've looked like this: Evans, Budinger, George, Williams, James, Griffin, Howard, Wall. James, Howard and Griffin with automatic byes into the second round. The other five battle for the fourth spot. People would watch that.

So why doesn't anyone want to participate? Are they scared there reps will take a hit if they lose? Scared of being embarrassed? They need to get over it. Give the people what they want. Let's see the best in the game dunk against the rising stars. Give the casual fan a reason to tune in. This is such a great event, and I just think the NBA could make it even better. Dare to dream, I guess...

NBA Slam Dunk Winners, 1984-2011

A trip down memory lane as we look at past winners of the NBA Slam Dunk Competition:

2011 - Blake Griffin - Los Angeles Clippers
2010 - Nate Robinson - New York Knicks

Irving Stars as Team Chuck Wins Rising Stars Game

If last night was any indication, the future looks bright for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Kyrie Irving scored a game-high 34 points while connecting on all 8 of his 3-pointers for Team Chuck, and Tristan Thompson led Team Shaq with 20 points as the two Cavaliers combined to make 22 of their 24 shots in the BBVA Rising Stars Game. With 13 wins this season, the Cavs are just 6 shy of matching last year's total of 19 when they finished with the worst record in the Eastern Conference. A lot of that can be attributed to Irving who has been Cleveland's starting point guard since Day 1 this season. Irving leads all rookies with 18.1 points per game and was as locked in as he's ever been last night. In addition to his sharp shooting, Irving also dished out a team high 9 assists and continues to show exceptional poise for a player who played just 11 games in college prior to being drafted. Thompson has been used exclusively as a reserve this year, but following Anderson Varejao's injury two weeks ago he has recorded at least 10 rebounds on three different occasions and notched his first two double-doubles.
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Some of the other notable performances from last night's game:

*Evan Turner flirted with a triple double finishing with 16 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists. Despite being the #2 pick in the draft last year, Turner failed to receive an invitation to last year's Rookie-Sophomore challenge. This year, he's proved to be a reliable bench performer for a much-improved 76ers team, and made the most of his appearance last night.
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*Paul George finished second to Irving with 23 points and offered a glimpse at what people can expect in tonight's Slam Dunk Contest.

*DeMarcus Cousins didn't quite match the 33 points and 14 rebounds he tallied in last year's game, but he still managed to score 18 points, grab 11 rebounds and dish out 3 assists. Cousins continues to improve in almost every category in his second year in the league and currently ranks 5th in the league in rebounding.
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*John Wall set a record with 22 assists last year, and while he took a back seat to Irving this year, Wall still had his share of highlights including a dazzling array of dunks in the second half. The first overall pick in 2010 finished with 17 points, grabbed 6 rebounds and had 8 assists. He also had a pair of impressive blocks.
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*Greg Monroe had 14 points and 8 rebounds a year ago as a reserve for the rookies. This year, as a starter for Team Shaq, he scored 19 points, grabbed a team-high 10 rebounds, tallied 4 assists and led all players with 5 steals. Monroe also had one of the highlights of the game, when he intercepted a self-pass by John Wall and turned it into two points the other way.

*Ricky Rubio's numbers weren't all that great, just 12 points and 7 assists, but he did offer this impressive sequence in which he dribbled through DeMarcus Cousins' legs and then hit Blake Griffin for an alley oop dunk.