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Archive for the ‘Soccer’ Category

Holt(by) the phone

Holtby and the Caps' defense closed the door all night on the Canadiens as the Caps beat their foes from across the border for the 2nd time in 10 days, this time in shutout fashion 2-0.

You have to feel good as  a Caps fan to see our team beat the team, that broke our hearts in the playoffs last year, twice in the same road trip.  Both times, we were led by a rookie goalie who is showing more and more that he is not scared of the bright lights, none being brighter than hockey night in Canada against a Montreal team that was very hungry for a win after having been shutout in consecutive games.  Make that three shutouts in a row.

I have written on this blog that I thought there would be no chance that Holtby would be the goalie come playoff time for this team.  And the fact that he beat the Canadians while Varly, our goaltender throughout much of the last two post-seasons, lost to the sorry Senators has got to be playing in the minds of GMGM and Gabby.  The truth of the matter though is that we played much better tonight than we did last night in our 2-0 loss against Ottawa.  Our neutral zone was stifling and we had consistent pressure in the Montreal end due to our forecheck, faster and more precise play and our ability to cause turnovers before Montreal had time to gather steam into our end of the ice.

All four lines played well, but Backstrom was all over the ice and it was fitting that the top line registered our two goals both of which were created by Nicky’s strong legs and wizardry with the stick.  John Erskine was also all over the ice, hitting folks and just playing a tough brand of hockey that made Montreal’s life miserable.

The Caps went 4-2 on the road trip which is pretty great considering that the only weak team was Ottawa and we lost to them.  Every other game, we came out with focus and intensity and got the kind of defensive effort and goal-tending that we will need if we are to see our cup dreams realized.

How can Bruce send Holtby down at this point?  He has an insane record this year and an insane GAA and save percentage.  The team in front of him played an excellent road game by stifling the Montreal attack and limiting them to under 20 shots on the night, but Holtby again made the big stops that were asked of him.  This post-season is really big for the Caps, but especially so for Boudreau who has got to prove to the fans and upper-management that he is the kind of tactician that can lead us deep towards the promised land.  With all that in mind, it would seem crazy for him to start with Holtby, but after a performance like tonight, he has to be considering it.

My guess is that they will give Varly and Neuvy every chance to bounce back, but if they fall flat at all during the home-stand, I would not be surprised to see Holtby be given one more chance to show that maybe he could be the guy.

By the way, the Caps got totally hosed on three big calls in the Ottawa game, one leading to the 1st goal, which although it was hard to see, clearly had to have been kicked to go in considering that the Ottawa player never got his stick on the puck.  The interference/boarding call on Bradley at the end of the game which led to the fight that gave Bradley at least 8 more stitches was also bogus.  Tonight the same referees were calling the game and it seemed like all the close calls went out way in the 1st period almost as if they were trying to make up for the botched job from the night before.  All the same, the Caps deserved the win and are looking good to win the division, something that I really thought was out of our grasp just a little over a month ago.

We have now held our opponents to 2 goals or less in 44 of our 75 games and are 36-5-3 in those games.  Not bad.

Double vision: Nothing can bring a family together like a soccer game and I spent my late afternoon watching Greece play Malta on ESPN3 on my computer.  My daughter and I cheered together “Ela Ellada” (Go Greece) in the waning minutes of the 0-0 game only to find ourselves cheering in exuberance as Greece tallied the winning goal in the last minute of added time to secure a key 2 points in their Euro 2012 qualifying.  My other mother land of Armenia got an impressive tie against Russia to held keep its improbable bid for the Euro 2012 alive as well.

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So the last time I wrote a blog, the Nats were 10 games under .500. In the meantime, they have had two of their most dramatic wins of the season, one last night against the Padres and one on Saturday afternoon against the Mets – definitely the best comeback of the season.

Yet, still 10 games under .500.

Why? The pitching, hitting and most importantly the defense is not solid enough.  Guzman is playing without a bad 2nd base these days and I wonder if his days are numbered.  I know his bat is among the best on the team, but is it time to let Alberto Gonzalez play more regular 2nd base?

I’m gonna go on record saying that Adam Dunn should be re-signed here.  His 1st base defense has not been that bad although maybe he can’t save all the bad throws that a better 1st baseman could, but where are the Nats going to get his hitting on the open market?  We don’t have anyone in the pipeline and we now have the perfect right, left, right with  Zimmerman, Dunn and Willingham.

Double vision: Ghana lost an excruciating game on Saturday night.  It has to rank as one of the most crushing defeats I have ever witnessed.  I have never seen a team deserve victory and to have it in their grasp and to have it yanked from them in such an awful way.  I know that most people said that Suarez’ hand ball would have been repeated by any professional soccer player in the same circumstances, but his reaction when Gyam missed the penalty kick was a little reprehensible.

It left a real bad taste in my stomach.

Triple vision: It’s so funny how I continue to not need to do anything to prove what an ego-driven douche bag LeTravel is.  1st, he declares that the start of his free-agency is the biggest day in the history of the NBA.  Then he organizes a prime-time show to announce his decision.  GAG!!!

That should leave a real bad taste in everyone’s stomach.

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The U.S. played a strong game against Ghana on Saturday night, but it was not enough.

Throughout the tournament, I have been rooting for African teams to do well, as I always do.  But obviously, this World Cup holds special significance to Africa and I couldn’t help but get moved when after the game was over, I saw all the Ghanaian flags waving with the powerful symbol of the black star at their center.

That being said, I was rooting hard for the U.S. to win.  The match was evenly played in the sense that Ghana dominated the 1st half while we dominated the 2nd half.  It was sad to see the U.S. go down as they would have had a change to beat Uruguay.  Maybe Ghana has even a better chance.

I won’t over-analyze the game which is now more than 24 hours old, but I will say that the U.S. lost this game in the mid-field for the most part, constantly giving free possessions to Ghana and not pressuring the Ghanaian mid-field as they entered the U.S. side of the field.

Around town on Saturday, there was a lot of buzz about the game. I took my daughter to the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History and had a couple of conversations about the game; where people were going to watch and what were our chances of victory.

It’s too bad.

On another World Cup note, while it is clear that Germany and Argentina played better than their opponents, the two blown calls in yesterday’s game took so much pleasure away from the game.  I would rather have 0-0 games than giving free goals like the one Argentina was awarded.  And the poor English.  While they didn’t play well, there’s no doubt the game would have changed if the proper call was made and the English’s 2nd goal had counted, swinging all the momentum to England and tying the game.

Makes your stomach turn.

Double vision: How humiliating for the Nats?  We are now 10 games under .500 and were swept by the Orioles after having leads of 3 runs or more in each of the 3 games.

Makes your stomach turn.

So our great stretch of 18 games with an easy schedule and an opportunity to stay in the division race has proven to be our undoing.  I was hoping for 12-6 or 11-7.  The reality:   6-12 and totally out of the race.

Makes your stomach turn.

Triple vision: Leonsis has succeeded in creating a buzz with John Wall.  I was wearing my Bullets shirt yesterday and two different tellers behind the register struck up a conversation with me by saying almost the exact same words:  “So I guess, we’re officially allowed to have hope about the Wizards”.

We then went on to talk about how Leonsis has earned the right to have the benefit of the doubt, but how we thought the hero’s welcome on Friday was a bit much.

Then the Caps came up and we talked about how next year will be better and while we can talk about the playoffs and not reach for a bottle of hard alcohol, there is still a little something there which lingers under the surface. Then I mentioned that they had drafted another Russian dude and the conversation ran dry a little.

Then Albert Haynesworth came up and we talked and talked and dropped some four-letter words.

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Did Ovie need to welcome John Wall by doing the bicep dance?

Did Strasburg need to welcome John Wall to D.C. even though he himself has not been in D.C. for even a month?

Ovie is the best player in hockey.  Strasburg has more strikeouts through 4 starts than any other pitcher.  Ever.

The welcome given to John Wall was way over the top.

Leonsis knows how to market.  Leonsis knows what he’s doing by putting Wall on the side of the Verizon center. Everyone is excited about Wall.  Hell, even the security guard at my school had a John Wall t-shirt today, compliments of Leonsis at last night’s Mystics game.

I just think it’s all a bit much to put on this 19 year old kid before he has dribbled a basketball for this team.  And this whole thing of making today John Wall today in D.C. was a little ridiculous.  This is D.C., not Scranton, PA.

Besides, isn’t it possible that all this talk of how Wall is the new face of the franchise is a little bit insulting to Blatche and Arenas, dudes who have shown that they can play in this league.

I like John Wall being a Wizard.  I love that he is a Wizard.  But I want this thing to work out and I think before Leonsis thinks about how to sell tickets for the 2010 season, he needs to think about how a 19 year old is going to handle all this pomp and circumstance and how is he going to fit into a team with a lot of personality.

By the way, there is no way that John Wall should get #11 as has been discussed by some.  #11 is for  “the Big E” here in D.C., for one of the men who brought D.C. our only professional basketball championship.  Create your own legacy Wall with a different number that does not represent D.C. sports loyalty.

Of course, this celebration of our future comes with a harsh dose of reality from our present as we hear that Blatche has broken his foot and will return to the court only in the days immediately preceding training camp.  Tough luck “7 days”.

Double vision: Tomorrow’s match between Ghana and the U.S. will feature two gifted offensive teams.  It’s too bad that they have to play each other as in addition to Greece and the U.S., I have been rooting for Ghana to do well this tournament. I like the way they play and I always root for African teams since they are such big underdogs.

This Ghana team however is rugged, skilled and organized and I think the U.S. will have its hands full.  I fear that Ghana may be the more inspired side playing in front of what should be a very pro-African crowd.

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Landon Donovan lines up the kick that propelled America to a 1-0 victory over Algeria and sent us to the round of 16 in the 2010 World Cup.

Since the World Cup began, things have fortunately been winding down at the school where I teach.  As such, I have been able to watch many of the games live on my computer through ESPN3. Yesterday was no different and around 9:50, still a little despondent after Greece’s loss on Tuesday, but hopeful that America would win thus sending at least one of the two teams I have been rooting for into the knockout round, I casually pulled up ESPN3 only to see that it was not working.

PANIC!

I immediately ran downstairs to the tech guy who works at my school who is also a huge soccer fan only to see that he too was also in a state of panic, thus increasing my state of panic.  I then went to the HR woman who is also a huge soccer fan and she was also dumbfounded by the fact that she could not get on ESPN3.

Soon though, we found the univision live feed and even though we had missed the 1st five minutes of the game, we all settled in to our seats, reassured that we would see our boys come through.  While watching Greece has been a solitary event for me which I would then discuss with my old man over the phone since he is now in Greece, watching America has brought me the satisfaction of sharing my  frustrations and joys with many others.

So yesterday morning, buoyed by the fact that we had overcome our momentary panic, all three of us, me, the HR woman and the tech guy all watched together around my computer witnessing chance after chance slip by the U.S.  Soon our moans and groans at each missed opportunity drew the attention of other teachers passing by and a small crown began to develop.

We watched the rest of the 1st half and entered the 2nd half disappointed that Altidore had missed the open net and that the refs had screwed us out of another goal on that terrible off-sides call in the 20th minute.

Then our end of the year staff meeting began at 11am.  Staff meetings usually occur in my room since I have the biggest classroom in the school which allows the entire staff to meet comfortably. Initially, the large crowd gathering around my desk made me feel a little apprehensive since I thought that they may blow my cover as I fully intended to watch the game during the staff meeting without sound until the end.

As more teachers filed into the room, a larger semi-circle gathered around my computer until nearly half the teachers were crowded around my desk watching the game while occasionally casting glances at the principal to make sure she thought we were paying attention.

More opportunities were missed and anxiety built on our faces as we slapped each other on the back in frustration or threw our hands up in despair as more great opportunities to score passed us by.

Finally, the heroic moment where Donovan found the back of the net on a great play which started with Tim Howard’s amazing throw.

We all cheered, blowing our cover, but letting everyone else in the room know that the U.S. prevailed.  Most teachers acknowledged our excitement and some applause ensued.

The principal, apparently not mad, calmed things down and we all started to pay attention to what she was saying for the 1st time.

And with that, we breathed a sigh of relief and reveled in that uniquely high feeling only great moments in sports can bring.

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Two days ago, Greece was playing for a draw against Argentina.  Or better yet, they were playing for a 1-0 win and if Giorgos Samaras’ shot early in the 2nd half had gone in, this post and my life at this point may have been entirely different.

Argentina is a much more skilled team than Greece and is much deeper, but if it had not been for a lucky goal in the 77th minute for Argentina – lucky in the sense that the goal-scorer was fed the ball by an inadvertent hand ball in the box which went undetected – Greece may have gotten its tie. Of course, Nigeria did not win so it would have still been for naught.

Greece’s strong defense, led by the excellent play of Sokratis Papastathopoulos, was able to neutralize Messi for the most part, albeit we got lucky when one of his shots beat Tzorvas and hit the post. By the way, some of the Greeks, Papastathopoulos among them, chose to put their first names on their jerseys rather than their very long last names.  I’m sure many non-Greeks did not pick up on this, but just in case you were wondering as you were watching the game, Sokratis is not a last name.

Things got the bleak as the 2nd half progressed when several key players got hurt, including Karagounis and Katsouranis which prevented Gekas and Salpingidis from being substituted to add an offensive punch.

Needless to say, me and my old man were disappointed as was all of Greece, but if we soak in the big picture, we can say that Greece scored its 1st World Cup goal and won its 1st World Cup game.  I believe our team has the skill to play a variety of ways and we have attacking players that hopefully will lead to the implementation of a more aggressive style in the future as we get ready for the Euro 2012.

I think Greece is the equal of Nigeria and South Korea and if we had tied that 1st game against the Koreans, maybe we would still be playing today.

Update:  My old man is reporting from Greece that Otto has voluntarily stepped down as coach of the national team.  Apparently, he had informed the Greek soccer federation of his intentions before the World Cup.  He will be replaced by Fernando Santos, a Portuguese who has coached club teams in Greece before – specifically PAOK and AEK – my old man’ s team.

Let’s see what changes this move brings for Greek soccer down the road.

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So I moved on Saturday and as a result did not have internet service until just last night.  Let’s re-cap where we sit with everything before we move forward.

Today is judgement day for the Greeks.  With a victory against Argentina we move on.  With a tie and a Nigerian victory, we also move on.  Any other scenario and we go home.   So we will keep our fingers crossed.  I think Greece could tie Argentina considering the latter deosn’t really have anything to worry about in terms of losing the group which would require a 3-0 Greek victory, the most unlikely of all outcomes.   My good friend Ted who is a big fan of Barcelona is worried that the Greeks might injure his precious Messi.  Well Ted, if a little kick in #10’s shin helps us move forward, you’ll get no sympathy  here.

My other horse in the race, U.S.A., got royaly screwed last week by what has to be considered one of the worst blown calls in the history of organized soccer, maybe even sports.  Even Maradona’s “hand of god” was not as bad as this blown call.   America needs a victory against Algeria which seems very feasible if we bring our best game.

France has become a joke and along with England and Italy have the potential to be the biggest disappointments of the tournament.

Needless to say, I won’t be getting any work done today……

Double vision:  The Redskins acquisition of Jammal Brown from the Saints has to qualify as an upgrade for this team.  While he does not join the “I didn’t know he was still in the NFL” club whose membership the Redskins have been handing out to anyone like coupons at a grocery store, he does fit, due to my limited knowledge of all things not NFL that do not reside in the NFC East, into the “I have never heard of this guy before club”.    I don’t really understand what we gave up for him, but it sounds like a low pick and in exchange we get a even lower pick.

Sounds good to me.  Obviously this team will only go so far as its line would carry it and with Hicks now being able to slide over to his more natural position of guard instead of tackle, the Redskins have a better starting 5 and more depth in the form of Mike Williams and Stephon Heyer, guys who were counted on to start last year and who will be used this year only in the case of injury.

Triple vision: The Nats have fallen out of the race for the division since our move.  Begin swept at home by the White Sox is pretty bad and reminds me of last year’s Nats.  Listening to the games on the radio was exciting with Strasburg, but Lannan was really bad and his demotion to the minor leagues might be a harbinger of more things to come.  A sweep against the Royals and Orioles would get us right back into the thick of things, but this month which started of so promising with a sweep of the Pirates has gone from 3-0 to 5-8. 

 Let’s just get a win tonight and worry about sweeps and records later.

Quadruple vision: I have been keeping an eye out on the Caps negotiations with their free agents.  It’s interesting that the Caps are not talking to S. Morrison and Brendan Morrison is out of the picture, both of which many thought may happen.  It’s also interesting that the Caps are talking to Fleischmann.  After his invisible man routine last year in the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine that this dude could be our 2nd line center.  He had his excellent moments last year, but he needs to be better in the face-off circle and has to be able to impact the game in a variety of ways.  He probably will never be Backstrom, but the Caps really need an impact guy on the 2nd line next year to distribute to Semin, Fehr or Laich. 

Belanger has the grit, but maybe not the skill of Fleischmann.  Anyway, I think he should be re-signed by the Caps, but at a reasonable contract for 2-3 years.  I’m sure his agent wants more, but until the Caps bring in someone who combines what he and Belanger have, Fleischmann should be happy knowing that he will be a key piece to what we hope will be an even better Caps’ season in 2010-2011. 

Take less Tomas and get back more!!

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