Do NOT leave a ball over the plate to Bobson Dugnutt!
Stay the Course or Burn it Down: Where Does U.S. Soccer Go From Here?
On Monday, the U.S. Men’s soccer team failed to qualify for the World Cup. It is the first World Cup they will miss since 1986, when I was four. I have only known the World Cup with the U.S. involved, and they have generally fared well once there, advancing out of their group in five of the last seven. The team has been graced with the Christian Pulisic, who is starting for a top tier team in the Bundesliga, and who, at age 19, pretty much no one disputes is the greatest American soccer player of all time. Pulisic has the vision, touch, and creativity that separates the great soccer players from across the world from the pretty good ones that the U.S. has produced in the past.
And now Pulisic will be sitting at home for one of the three World Cups to occur during his prime. Friggin great.
The particulars of how this happened are almost comical (a loss to Trinidad and Tobago, along with a Panama comeback win over Mexico and an Honduras win over Costa Rica on a phantom goal), especially coming off the U.S. thrashing of Panama last Friday, 4-0, which seemed to guarantee the Americans’ World Cup qualification, and really got me excited for next year’s tournament.
Instead, the U.S. must pick up the pieces and figure out where to go from here. American soccer fans expressed many emotions in the hours after the team’s failure: embarrassment, anger, amusement, and for some…relief. Relief? There is a segment of the American soccer fan base that believes U.S. Soccer, in conjunction with MLS, is rotten to its core, wanting to seem competitive, but valuing profits, especially profits for MLS owners, over the short-term pain that is required to truly turn U.S. Soccer into an international powerhouse. For these fans, the hope is that this loss causes coach Bruce Arena to slink away, never to be seen again, and for U.S. Soccer president Sunil Gulati to do the same. But that’s just the beginning. These fans want severe structural changes, starting at the youth levels, and did not feel it would ever come as long as the U.S. continued to juuuuuuust enough to not embarrass themselves.
Frankly, I don’t know enough about the situation. But I have read some things this week to suggest that many of those desired structural changes have already been undertaken. The shining star is the youth academy for FC Dallas, modeled after FC Barcelona’s “La Masia” (though, as that story points out, U.S. law provides severe disincentives for MLS teams to invest much in these academies, as they cannot prevent them, when they turn 18, from simply signing with an overseas club). FC Dallas’ academy opened in 2005, has a 17 field complex, has 120 players at present, and has churned out nearly two dozen professionals across both MLS and international leagues. We may soon be seeing the fruits of those efforts . For example, the U-17 World Cup is happening right now, and the U.S. has a good shot to go very far. They are currently 2-0, and need only a draw with Colombia to win the group. More than that, the team is stocked with talent that has soccer fans excited. That group, along with current young senior team stars like Pulisic, DeAndre Yedlin, John Brooks, and Weston McKennie, have many observers expecting the U.S. to be much better over the next two World Cup cycles.
Which, while promising, makes this week’s events all the more sad to me. If the above paragraph is true, then we may just be in the middle of a lost generation of American soccer, the transition between the Landon Donovan/Clint Dempsey/Tim Howard/Michael Bradley generation and the Pulisic generation’s revolution. Which means the “embarrassment” of this week wasn’t necessary at all. And, damnit, the World Cup is fun as hell. It will still be fun. I will be rooting for Lionel Messi to finally get over the top (Argentina has their own problems, and needed a Messi hat trick on Monday to themselves avoid missing out on the World Cup). But it won’t be the same. There is something fantastic about getting together in a crowded bar and cheering on the U.S. in the World Cup, and damn if the country couldn’t use that right now. Remember this:
It’s a long, four year wait for the World Cup. The wait just got a lot longer. -TOB
PAL: USA Soccer needs to look to USA Hockey for some guidelines on how they might produce world class players. Both of my brothers have children playing hockey, and both have commented regularly at the infrastructure around USA Hockey. There is a playbook, a philosophy, developmental skills and priorities that comes from all the way at the top and feeds all the way down to the Mite level (8 and under). Also, the best players don’t necessarily play high school hockey, and the best players certainly don’t play more than a year of college hockey. There is a Juniors system in Canada and in the U.S. that allows players to hone their skills for the professional game, practice and play without NCAA restrictions, and ultimate train to become a professional.
Absent of that, I guess we look at outliers like the academy in Dallas. However, you don’t find the best of the best with only outliers. In order to compete with the top countries, the game needs to be pervasive, affordable. It has to be played in all neighborhoods. It has to be a national pastime, and a national obsession. We aren’t there. Not even close.
The Original Anthem Controversy
This is sorta funny, and given the current anthem controversy, timely, too. Nearly 50 years ago, the Detroit Tigers were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals for Game 5 of the 1968 World Series. Before the game, rising star musician Jose Feliciano sang the national anthem. Feliciano, a Puerto Rican American, put his own spin on the anthem. Listening today, I think it’s kinda fantastic.
But I am used to singers putting their own stamp on the anthem. My favorite, before hearing Feliciano’s, was always Marvin Gaye at the 1983 NBA All Star Game.
In 1968, viewers were not so accustomed. Especially at the height of 1960s turmoil, with the Vietnam War raging, and on the heels of the assassinations of both Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy, the country was as tense as it is today, probably moreso. Thus, what sounds to me like a charming and even heartfelt rendition of the anthem by Feliciano, angered many. The Detroit Free-Press published some of the letters they got from those angry viewers. For example:
“I have never heard anything so disgraceful and disrespectful. The only things that resembled our national anthem were the words. As a native Detroiter, I am ashamed of the persons who would let such a thing happen. I remember hearing John Glenn say, ‘I get chills when I hear our national anthem.’ I didn’t get chills. I got sick. No wonder our country is losing its dignity.”
In the aftermath, a live recording of Feliciano’s performance climbed as high as 50 on the charts, but Feliciano felt he was blackballed. Tigers’ legendary broadcaster Ernie Harwell, who invited Feliciano, was almost fired. But he wasn’t. Decades later, Harwell would defend Feliciano, saying “Jose treated the flag and the anthem with respect. He just put his own stamp on it—and he was the first to do it.”
Following Harwell’s death, Feliciano was asked to return to sing his version of the anthem, per Harwell’s wishes. And he did. -TOB
Source: “The World Series National Anthem That Infuriated America”, David Davis, Deadspin (10/06/2017)
PAL: I think Felciano’s rendition is excellent, too! There is something reassuring in stories like this. We have been through tumultuous, polarizing times before. Not only can we find our way out, but some good can come from the turmoil, too. However – and I know I’m in the minority here – I’ve never ‘got’ Marvin Gaye’s version. Love Marin Gaye, but his rendition has never done it for me. That backing track has always felt so cheesy…like he’s singing a karaoke version or something.
This story reminds me of the last song – “Middle Of The Night” – Loudon Wainwright played at his concert in Berkeley on Wednesday night (by the way, Natalie and I were the youngest people there by about 35 years):
In the maelstrom of your mind you are swirled
You’re almost down the drain but not quite
It’s not the end of the world my brother
Rather the middle of the night
Portrait of a Football Coach at the End of His Rope
This week, Oregon State’s Gary Andersen abruptly resigned as Oregon State’s head football coach. Andersen left Wisconsin, of his own volition, after winning 19 games in 2 seasons, to coach the Beavers (the rumor was he didn’t want to deal with Wisconsin’s slightly more stringent than minimum academic standards). Oregon State has struggled this season, but the team was decent last year, and Andersen seems like a real grinder, and the move was shocking. More shocking, was that Andersen gave up nearly $13 million by quitting. Generally, when something like this happens, fans with some inside knowledge and media members leak out a little here and there, but the rumors are never confirmed. This time, though, was a little different. John Canzano, columnist for the Oregonian, published a story this week centered on a series of texts from Andersen to Canzano as this season progressed (with Andersen’s permission). It’s fascinating.
To me, Andersen comes off as both a good person, and as a guy who might be batshit crazy (he also needs to lay off the ellipses and exclamation points). I won’t put all the texts here, because there are quite a few, but together they show a man devolve from having some semblance of hope to one in utter despair. Andersen seems to come to the realization that he made two major mistakes: (1) taking the job at Oregon State, which has never been an easy place to win, in the first place; (2) hiring a coaching staff that he felt was not getting the job done:
Sept. 1: “Love my kids just want to see them take a step!! Don’t expect greatness but I do want to see progress!.. I will fight! It’s an interesting battle. However I asked for it and love my kids! We still need to step up around here and stop being small time!! … We played hard as hell … blown coverages and poor run fits… our youth hurt us bad… it’s on us. This team should get to a bowl game. If not I will be highly disappointed!! Getting old… patience isn’t what it used to be!!”
Sept. 3: “If the defense can not get better … I will be making some decisions I really do not like or want to make. We will grind!!”
Sept. 9: “Hard place right now… one thing I guarantee you is this: This staff needs to figure it out. I ain’t going to die doing this (expletive)! It’s on me and I get that and right now… Beaver Nation deserves much better! End of story!!”
Sept 12: “I have them by the (expletive) for every penny, no buyout for the next four not counting this year… but that’s not my style!! If it does not improve I will do some crazy (expletive) with my salary so I can pay the right coaches the right money!!”
Sept. 20: “I hired the wrong (expletive) guys and are still working our way through a bunch of recruiting years that stunk!! It’s year three! If these (expletives) can’t get it right I will not just say fire them and start over!! That’s not the way to go about it. If I (expletive) it up that bad I will take the bullet and ride off into the sunset! I will stay old school!! I will not die doing this (expletive)!! Stay tuned!”
Sept. 24.: “I AM FIXING THIS PLACE IF IT KILLS!”
Sept. 24: “Riot act has been read to this staff. We shall see what takes place. I have got to see better football regardless of who we are playing!!”
Sept. 24: “Need five graduate transfers in this class!!… I am in a good spot. Got a lot of ‘(expletive) everything’ in me and that’s when I am at my best!! Staff understands their (expletive) is on a short rope!! We are not great today but I expect to be better as we move forward this season!! I like this fight!”
Sept. 25: “It’s Oregon State! Not bitching trust me on that one!! It is what it is!! I made my bed!! Grind and fight again tomorrow with my kids!! I was in a bad funk on bye week now it will be me with my guys the rest of the way!!”
Oct. 1: “I could give a flying (expletive) about natives! I have not looked or listened to any of that (expletive) good or bad… My plan won’t change. Coach my (expletive) off for these kids seven more times!! They will get all I got!! … I will grind for these fans they deserve that!!!”
I don’t think we’ve ever been given such naked insight into what it’s like to be a coach of a struggling college football team. Andersen reportedly lost 25 pounds since the start of the season, and it shows. He looked gaunt in recent weeks. It took a lot of guts to give up that amount of money, and it will be interesting to see where Andersen lands, if anywhere. He seems very intense, and he may just be the kind of guy who burns himself out, along with those around him, very quickly.
Source: “Gary Andersen’s Exit Rooted in Beaver Nation Deserving Better”, John Canzano, Oregonian (10/10/2017)
Joe Girardi Was This Close To Being Canned
By now we know a Yankee blunder does not matter. The Yankees beat Cleveland to advance to the ALCS. The Indians – MLB’s most exciting team the second half of the year with a 22-game win streak- were up 3 games to 1 in last year’s World Series and lost 3 in a row to the Cubs. And now this loss to the Yankees, losing (again) 3 potential series clinching games in a row. So much can be forgotten in a week.
The play in question:
The significance, per Ben Lindbergh:
With two outs and two on in the bottom of the sixth inning and the Yankees up 8–3 on the Indians, Yankees reliever Chad Green, facing his third batter in relief of starter CC Sabathia, nicked the hand of Indians pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall with a 96 mph fastball. So said plate umpire Dan Iassogna, who declared the hit by pitch, sending Chisenhall (who had been down 0-2) to first and loading the bases for Cleveland. But slow-motion replays showed that the ball had almost certainly nicked the knob of Chisenhall’s bat, not his hand, before deflecting into catcher Gary Sánchez’s glove.
Hit-by-pitch calls are reviewable under MLB’s replay rules, but Girardi never issued a challenge. That non-review proved pivotal: Had Iassogna’s call been overturned, the Yankees would have been out of the inning, with a win expectancy upward of 97 percent. As it was, with the bases loaded, their win expectancy was only 93 percent—or, in this instance, slightly lower, because the next batter was not the generic major leaguer that the win-expectancy model assumes, but star shortstop Francisco Lindor. Naturally, Lindor homered, plating four runs, which brought the Indians within one and lowered the Yankees’ win expectancy to 70 percent. In time, that figure would fall to zero percent, after a Jay Bruce homer in the eighth and a Yan Gomes single in the 13th gave Cleveland a 9-8 win and a 2-0 series lead.
Why not challenge? Is it to preserve his 1 of his 2 remaining challenges allotted to teams in the postseason? Nope, and even if it were the case it’s A) unlikely he would need two more challenges in the game, considering this play took place in the 6th inning, and B) a manager can still appeal to the crew chief to review non home-run calls.
Aside from not having time to get the super slow motion within the 30 seconds given to teams to challenge (despite his catcher insisting he heard the sound of a foul ball), Girardi’s reason was that – as a former catcher himself – he didn’t want to break his pitcher’s rhythm. Now I am no pitcher, but I’d rather risk a break in rhythm to make sure an Indian player not named Francisco Lindor doesn’t get a free pass when down 0-2 in a count.
If the Yankees don’t win 3 games in a row, the tide seemed to be shifting towards Girardi being fired, with his decision not to challenge serving as the final straw. Now the Yankees are rolling. Their combination of veteran role players like Brett Gardner, emerging postseason heroes (Didi Gregorius), and a lockdown bullpen (the key to every deep postseason run) are covering for their young, struggling stars (Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez) and the Yankees are ahead of schedule in their return to prominence. It’s hard to imagine Girardi gets canned now. Seems to me like he owes Didi Gregorius a steak dinner. – PAL
Source: “The Last Word in Joe Girardi’s Game 2 Replay Challenge Blunder”, Ben Lindbergh, The Ringer (10/9/17)
Video of the Week
He seems stable.
PAL Song of the Week: John Prine – ‘Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore’
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