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Saturday, August 18, 2007

Adrian Peterson = All Day

So for those of you who don't know, in addition to being a huge Iowa Hawkeye fan, i am a huge Minnesota Vikings homer. And last night was a banner game for the Vikings, even if it was only preseason.

The defense looked spectacular, getting three touchdowns from the group, including two pick-sixes and a fumble recovery (none of which i can show you, because of the NFL's ban on putting videos of their games on YouTube because of copyright issues. Worthless). One of those pick sixes was from Iowa's very own Chad Greenway, who is in his second year but did not play last year due to an ACL tear. Greenway, as well as the rest of the defense, looked to be in mid-season form for the most part, with the exception of Cedric Griffin's pathetic attempts at tackling. That need to be shored up quickly.

Then we get to the offense. And the ridiculous talent that is known as All Day, Adrian Peterson (now nicknamed the Purple Jesus by at least one blog, Kissing Suzy Kolber, which you should definitely check out). On his first carry, AP went off tackle right, completed a fantastic spin move back towards the inside to avoid a tackler, then broke the run down the sideline for 43 yards, the end of which instead of stepping out, he bowled over a defender for good measure. (UPDATE: Video here). AP finished with 70 yards on eight carries, an impressive day.

While it was only preseason, the Vikings did look fairly sharp and walked away with a 37-20 win. Next week they will have to get more work for their young quarterback Tarvaris Jackson and their inexperienced corp of receivers, but it's hard to complain too much about a victory like this. Should build a little confidence if nothing else...

All Beckham All The Time

Ok, so not really, but i did find this story pretty interesting, so i thought i would link to it. It's a story about opening new soccer fields in Harlem, and how Beckham and a few other players (including the aforementioned Jozy Altidore from my previous post) were at the ceremony and held somewhat of a clinic. As the story points out, this turned into almost more of a PR thing with all the media, but it is a good story on ways Beckham is helping soccer grow in America, outside of just playing the game.

Somethings Goin' On In Harlem, via This Is American Soccer.

Beckham's Debut (sort of)

Ok, so it wasn't really his debut, as he had seen some time previously in two games, but it was his first start, and first significant action of the season for him and his team. In all, Beckham played 63 minutes, and what an eventful 63 minutes it was. The team won the game 2-0, which advanced them to the SuperLiga title game against CF Pachuca. Now onto the game itself...

In the 27th minute, the Galaxy were awarded a free kick about 30 yards from goal in the middle of the field. Beckham stepped up and put a perfectly placed shot over the wall of defenders, and dipped it and bent it into the upper 90 on the left side of the goal (see it here). My favorite part is the goalkeeper, who realizes right away he has not shot at the ball, and just stands there with his hands on his hips. That is right son, you haven't seen a ball like that in this league before...

Then, just for fun, Beckham decided to put up an assist in the game as well. Just two minutes after halftime, he put another perfectly placed through ball from midfield to release Landon Donovan, who blew past his defender and slotted one into the back of the net (see it here). Watch two things here: The last replay from behind the goal, when you see the defender try to get his foot on the ball from Beckham before it gets to LanDo (and failing miserably), and LanDo's ability to even get this shot off, let alone into the goal. He probably should have dumped it off to his teammate streaking wide open down the left side, but LanDo wanted that one, you can bet on it.

One more interesting note about this game: Depending on who you hear it from and what you believe, Beckham was handed the captain's armband by LanDo before the game, either by LanDo himself or because the coach Frank Yallop asked him to. Either way, it seemed to work. By all accounts, Beckham was quite the vocal leader on the pitch, shouting out instructions and encouraging his teammates. For his part, LanDo seemed very gracious about giving the captaincy to Beckham, probably for the foreseeable future.

For all the talk about Beckham having lost a step or two and not being as good as he once was, he looked pretty damn good on the pitch this night. Scoring a goal and assisting on another in a 2-0 win is pretty good stuff. Precisely what the LA Galaxy brought him here for in fact. Beckham may well have indeed lost a step or two, but Beckham minus a step or two is still better than probably 80% of this league. And this is less an indication of the talent level of the MLS than an indication of the talent level of Beckham. The guy was an absolute world-class player, and still is one of the best in the world.

So while it was only one game, it was certainly a good start. It will be interesting to see how Beckham fares throughout the entire season, and it will be nice when he is back up to match fitness and can last the entire game, and when his ankle is completely healthy. Personally i think Beckham can do exactly what he did Wednesday all through the league. That is, take some free kicks the likes of which most goalkeepers and defenders in the MLS have never seen, and also create space and scoring chances for his strikers. In particular, i think LanDo could benefit immensely from having someone as talented as Beckham set him up all the time, instead of LanDo doing the set up himself. It should let LanDo focus more on scoring goals, which is what we need from him on the National Team.

The Galaxy are back at it tonight, returning to MLS action against the New York Red Bulls, who have an emerging superstar in Jozy Altidore at striker. Gametime is 4:30 pacific time, shown on Fox Soccer Channel. If you don't get it, they will be on ESPN2 Thursday the 23rd. The MLS is an up and coming league, and it's time to start paying attention.

Friday, August 17, 2007

B-Webb

42 straight scoreless innings. 3 straight complete game shutouts. Folks, that is crazy. As in ridiculous, insane, and and nuts. 40+ consecutive scoreless innings, stretched over Webb's last five starts. That makes it a lot easier to win games when the other team can't score. At all. If anyone still had questions about Webb winning the Cy Young last year, they can now take those questions and shove them.

Not to mention the offense. Chris Young goes deep again. And then again just for good measure. Mark Reynolds hit a ball approx. a mile into center field. Even Brandon Webb got into the act, getting a single into center field.

I don't have much to say tonight, as i just got home and listened to the game on the radio. More later when i have some time to digest and take a look at the game. Very, very impressive though.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Diamondback Breaking News!!

The Dbacks designated for assignment both Joe Kennedy and BK Kim and put Chad Tracy on the DL because of his ailing knee. Jeff Salazar, as the 4th outfielder, is back up along with Dustin Nippert and Jose Peguero for some needed bullpen help. The plan is to send someone down next Sunday and bring up Yusmeiro Petit for the 5th starter spot, lastly held by Kim.

Jarrod Parker, the Dbacks first round draft pick this year (#9 overall), must be signed by 9 pm tonight Arizona time or else he will attend Georgia Tech and re-enter the draft next year. Jarrod was considered the #1 high school pitching prospect in the country. The Dbacks have offered slot money at 1.89 million but Parker is holding out for 2.1 million or so. Hopefully the two sides will come together and get this contract signed and send him to single A.

Pitching Staff

I said it when we signed him, i said it after his first start, and i'm saying it now: We should not have signed BK Kim, and if we did sign him, we sure as HELL should not have handed the fifth spot in the starting rotation to him. I hate to be negative, and i'm usually not, but god this guy sucks! He lasted 17 pitches last night. 17! He only retired one batter and gave up four runs!! I can't emphasize this enough! Oh, and just for good measure, he managed to toss in a throwing error in his 1/3 of an inning...

The Dbacks had a fantastic thing going, with a good rotation that was putting up 5-6 innings or more every start, including the rotating fifth spot held by Yusmeiro Petit and Edgar Gonzalez. Dbacks management decided this wasn't good enough, and thought BK Kim would be the answer. Wrong! In his two starts combined, Kim has lasted just 2 2/3 innings. Combined! His ERA in those two games is 23.62! How does he even have a job?!?!

(Sigh...) Ok, i've calmed down now. That was kinda mean, but man he has stunk out the joint since joining the Dbacks. While manager Bob Melvin refused to say whether Kim would stay in the starting rotation after last nights game, i don't see how there is any way he does. He has gotten absolutely shelled in his two starts, to the point where i predict an automatic loss every time he starts. I don't even want him throwing out of the bullpen at this point. Just release him and bring Petit back up. He was pitching much better than Kim is at this point.

One bright spot last night for Arizona was Chris young, who took two pitches deep for his 20th and 21st home runs of the season, including a lead-off homer in the first inning. Young is REALLY starting to look good, and has a chance to be a 30-30 guy this year, which would be quite a statement to the team and the league in general. He already has 19 stolen bases, and with 43 games left, it is possible to get 11 more and hit 9 more home runs.

As for the rest of the pitching staff last night... well, it wasn't good either. Gonzalez gave up four more runs in the 2nd inning, Joe Kennedy gave up six more in the 4th inning while getting just one out (Don't even get me started on him either. With a 20.25 ERA, he might actually be pitching worse than Kim, which i'm not sure is humanly possible), and combined the staff gave up 14 runs on 14 hits. Mercifully, Juan Cruz came in and pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings, followed by Doug Slaten pitching a perfect 7th. And just for fun, with his first appearance on the mound in the Majors, position player Augie Ojeda pitched a perfect eighth inning to end the massacre.

Now, to be truthful: I didn't see the game. Since it was on early, i recorded it and meant to watch it when i got home. However, i accidentally heard the score on my way home, and decided i could do without watching the bloodbath. I saw some of the 'highlights' (or lowlights...) on ESPN, including the complete and utter debacle that was Joe Kennedy 'pitching'. I put quotation marks around it because anyone i know wouldn't actually consider what he was doing on the mound pitching by any stretch of the imagination (Uh oh, i'm started. I told you not to get me started on him). In 1/3 of an inning, he somehow managed to hit three batters, walk in a run, and allow another run in on a wild pitch. He got one out, but gave up six runs on only three hits! He threw 37 pitches, and 21 of them were balls! Even Ojeda, who is not a pitcher, went 50-50 on balls and strikes thrown!! Hell, even Kim had a better ratio! In 1/3 of an inning, he faced the same number of batters (9) that Cruz did in his 2 2/3 innings!

(Sigh...) Ok, i've calmed down again. Last night was a complete meltdown, but the good news is that it's only one game. It is two losses in a row, but they're back at it again today to try and right the ship, with Doug Davis on the mound. Davis has been pitching extremely well as of late, and will look to continue that trend today. If the Dbacks have shown nothing else the last month or so, it's their ability to bounce back from bad games/bad losses and forget about them. That's what they will need to do after yesterday's game.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

US vs. Brazil!

I'm a day late on this one, but it was announced yesterday that the US MNT (that's soccer, how many times do i have to tell you?) will be playing a match against the number 1 ranked team in the world, Brazil, here on our very own soil in Chicago next month. Billed as the 'Clash of The Champions', it pits the winner of the two teams regional tournaments against each other. The US got there by virtue of a fantastic run through the Gold Cup, while Brazil took their own Copa America tournament last month. The US was scheduled to face off against Mexico on Sept. 9th in Mexico City, as was announced just last week. However, due to contract disputes, that game was cancelled and the game against Brazil in Chicago was decided upon instead on the same date.

The good news? The US is getting some quality competition, with Brazil expected to bring their full roster, including world-class midfielder Ronaldinho. The US is also expected to play with their full roster, something they did not do while competing in Copa America last month. Brazil has not played a game in the US in quite some time, though has fared very well against the Americans in the past. Their only loss to the US side was a 2-1 defeat in the Gold Cup in 1998, in which Brazilian legend Romario called American Goalkeeper Kasey Keller's effort 'the greatest performance i have ever seen from a goalkeeper'.

The US will gear up for this game by travelling to Sweden to take on the national team there on Aug. 22nd. That match will be telecast live on Fox Soccer Channel and Galavision. The game against Brazil will be broadcast live on ESPN2 on Sept. 9th. I urge everyone to tune in to both of these games and show the US MNT some support. They will soon be entering into World Cup 2010 qualifying, and these two matches will prove important tune-ups heading into that gauntlet.

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So the US gets a shot at the best in the world. I for one couldn't be happier, and you better believe i'll be watching live. Hell, if i wasn't going to be in Chicago the weekend before, i might even fly up there just for this game. It's not often you get to see the best team in the world come to your house to take on the best you have to offer. The game should be fantastic, and should be a good gauging point to see how our young team is developing. Assuming we have our new, young midfield tandem of Michael Bradley and Benny Feilhaber, paired probably with Pablo Mastroeni playing a tad deeper in there, it will be interesting to see how they fare against Ronaldinho and Kaka, perhaps two of the best midfielders in the world. And a defense that has looked shaky in recent outings will have its hands full with Robinho from Brazil, but will be fun to watch.

I'm ready to put down here that i expect the US to lose by a count of probably 3-1, but for some reason i have a good feeling about this game. It may be a bit of homer-ism, but i think the Americans can hang with the Brazilians in this game, and maybe catch a lucky break or two. I expect the US to be ready to play and bring it, and think they may be able to sneak a couple of goals past the Brazilian defense. So, i'll go ahead and call it. 2-2 tie, with the Americans giving up a late 2-1 lead when Brazil starts pressing in the last 15 minutes of the game or so. A tie is not exactly a stunning result, but against this team it would be a tremendous result, and one to build on heading into qualifying and World Cup 2010. Let's go Yanks!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Pre Season Previews: Big 12 Conference

Ahh the Big 12. Being an admitted Big 10 homer, i've never had a lot of respect for the Big 12. Granted they usually field two really good teams every year (Texas and Oklahoma), the rest of the league is mostly patently horrible, including the entire North Division, which is a complete joke of half of a conference. While seeming to be incredibly top heavy, the conference is stuck with perennial underachieving and talentless teams, such as Baylor (talentless, which is surprising considering they're a world-class track and field school), Kansas, and Iowa State (perennially underachieving is being kind for the Cyclowns...).

And while Colorado, Nebraska, and Oklahoma State have at times been very good, as of late they have been stinking out the joint, particularly the on-going butcher job of one the country's best programs in the 90's, Colorado. Nebraska is at least showing some signs of life the last two years...

Throw in the quirky offense of Texas Tech, which is good enough to win 6-7 games a year but get blown out by anyone remotely good, Texas A&M, which is virtually the same as Tech only without the quirky offense, and Missouri, and you have a conference void of any competition outside of the top two. There is a reason the Red River Shootout each year between Texas and Oklahoma is always the biggest conference game of the year, even though it is played the first week of October. If the Big 12 was smart, they would move that game away from the Texas State Fair and put it as the last week of the season, a la Michigan-Ohio St. Of course, that game would then overshadow the Big 12 Conference Championship the following week, so it will never happen.

Then again, the Conference Championship game is a joke anyway. There hasn't been a close competitive game since 2001. Texas or Oklahoma has represented the South Division in every game since 1998, and the South Division has won 4 of the last 5 years, the only exception being Kansas State's upset of Oklahoma in 2003. That being said, as i stated earlier the top two in the conference are usually very good, and have appeared in the National Championship game five times out of seven since the start of the decade, winning two of them.

This year would seem to be no different, with Texas and Oklahoma each poised to make a strong run through the conference and no other real contenders popping up, with the possible exception of Texas A&M, who is generating a lot of buzz going into the season. The rest of the league will once again be stuck playing second fiddle, trying to angle into mediocre, mid-level bowl games. The winner of the North Division will once again get pasted in the Conference Championship game, leaving the winner of the South Division in prime position for a high ranking and great bowl game.

Team To Beat: Texas
Oklahoma also looks ridiculously loaded heading into the season, but has no proven quarterback to lead them. Contrast that with Texas quarterback Colt McCoy, who entered last season as a questionable starter, being just a freshman and trying to fill the gigantic void Vince Young's shoes left behind. McCoy walked away at the end of the year with one of the best seasons by a freshman quarterback in history. This year McCoy should be even better, with the experience and leadership abilities brought about due to last year's fantastic start. Even with an offensive line that suffered significant losses after last year (losing three All-Big 12 selections), the Longhorns return a good running back in Jamaal Charles, and should have no trouble putting up points on anyone. Their defensive front will be solid, and they should once again be contending with Oklahoma for the right to paste someone from the North in the Conference Championship game, this year conveniently played in Texas at San Antonio.

Surprising Team: Iowa State (I hate myself for this...)
I looked at both Nebraska and Texas A&M for this slot, but didn't pick either of them for certain reasons. A&M has too hard of a schedule, with a non-conference game at Miami, and going on the road for both Nebraska and Oklahoma. Nebraska also has a tough schedule, especially in the non-conference. They go on the road to Wake Forest (yeah i bashed them in my ACC post, but they still won the conference last year...), then faces USC at home in consecutive weeks. And even though they miss Oklahoma completely this year (which should be a crime), they go on the road to face Texas. Plus i watched their quarterback Sam Keller go through the ringer down here at Arizona State before transferring, and am still not convinced he can lead a team anywhere. Also, both Nebraska and A&M are getting too much publicity for them to surprise anyone.

So i picked ISU. With new coach Gene Chizik, formerly the Texas and Auburn defensive coordinator, the Cyclones should have a much improved defense. They also return senior Brett Meyer at quarterback, who has plenty of experience with 36 career starts. Their schedule is somewhat favorable, with them getting Texas and Oklahoma, as well as their biggest game of the year against Iowa, at home. Their only tough road games will be at Nebraska and Texas Tech in successive weeks. They finish the year at Kansas, which should be an easy game, though for the Cyclowns Kansas has proved to be a formidable foe. Kansas has beaten them two straight years, including an overtime game in 2005 in which ISU had the lead in the fourth quarter and a trip to the Conference Championship game on the line. While i don't expect great things from ISU this year, they should be better than their 4-8 record of a year ago. Watch for them to go about .500 and make a bowl game this season, as well as surprise a team or two along the way.

Disappointing Team: Colorado
It seems like a cop out to pick Colorado, as they were horrifically bad last year (2-10). Even so, as stated earlier they were one of the elite programs in the country in the 90's, and their fans have come to expect more from them. But with a schedule that starts with rival Colorado St. on a neutral field, at Arizona St., and home against Florida St., don't expect them to start off strong. They also have home games against Miami (OH) and Oklahoma, but finish the year at Nebraska, so don't expect them to finish the year strong either. With another first-year starter at quarterback and no proven receivers, plus a defense that is shaky at best, don't look for much out of the Buffaloes this year.

League MVP: Colt McCoy
An easy choice, to be sure. McCoy looks poised to be a bigger star than he was last year, the returning starter on a championship-caliber team. He should post monster numbers this year, and best his TD total of 29 from last year. And because of all this, expect him to be in the Heisman talk early and often.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Pre Season Previews: ACC Conference

In my last Pre Season Preview, i talked about the rise of the Big East in the last couple of years. This Preview is about a conference sliding the opposite direction the last few years, the ACC. In their first year after adding Miami and Va. Tech, Va. Tech took the conference with a pretty good 10-2 record and lost to a really good Auburn team in the Sugar Bowl.

In 2005, a mediocre Florida State team took the conference with a paltry 8-4 record, the most losses by a BCS Conference champ since 2002, when Florida State again won the ACC with four losses. In fact, those two teams are the only four loss BCS Conference Champs in the last 10 years. FSU lost in the Orange Bowl that year to Penn State.

In 2006, somehow the Wake Forest Demon Deacons won the conference, managing to go 10-2 and making it to the Orange Bowl, where they were defeated by Louisville. While 10-2 sounds like a good record, the ACC was not good last year. In fact, since it was labeled as becoming a 'super-power' when it took on Miami and Va. Tech, the conference has not fared well. FSU and Miami have both gone through a downturn in recent years, and Va. Tech has slipped just a bit from its National Championship contending days.

Team To Beat: Va. Tech
Tech has all the tools to win this conference, and that is before you add to the mix the factor of the team and fans banding together because of the tragic campus shootings earlier in the year. Their schedule looks very favorable, with the exception of the second game of the year at LSU. They get their two biggest challengers, FSU and Miami, both at home, albeit in consecutive weeks. Regardless, they should be the team to beat in the conference and look for them to have only one or two losses heading into the conference championship game.

Surprising Team: North Carolina
That's right folks, I'm picking the ol' Tar Heels to surprise some people in the ACC this year. This is my first, real, go-out-on-limb pick, but i think it has some merit. First, a new coach. Carolina did a smart thing and brought in former Cleveland Browns and U. of Miami head coach Butch Davis. And while Davis wasn't great in the pros (how many college coaches are?), he put together a National Championship caliber team while he was at Miami. And while Carolina is no Miami, i still think Davis can instill some confidence and provide a winning attitude in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels get Miami at home, and perhaps more importantly avoid FSU altogether. Many people are picking Carolina to finish near the bottom of the ACC, but i think they can win 6-7 games and possibly get to a bowl game.

Disappointing Team: Florida State
FSU is once again expecting big things from its football team, and while i think they will be good, they won't be anywhere near as good as they should be or as they have been in the past. As i've mentioned, FSU has slipped the last few years, based on a number of reasons, not the least of which i believe is Bobby Bowden's determination not to leave the sidelines until he dies. I understand that he's a great coach, but he is getting awfully old and his aww-shucks, good ol' boy persona is wearing thin. Not to mention the fact that he hasn't been able to pull a quality quarterback recruit to his program in about five years. FSU has a brutal schedule, with games at Clemson (against Bowdens son), at Va. Tech, at Wake Forest, and at Florida, plus a 'neutral' game against Alabama in Jacksonville. Add all that up, and you have another 4-5 loss season for the Seminoles, which is not a good year in Tallahassee.

League MVP: Toss-up
The best player on the best team? Hard to say at this point, as there are no clear-cut superstars or Heisman hopefuls returning in the ACC. I'll say Brandon Ore from Va. Tech, if for no other reason than their quarterback will be a first-year starter and Ore should get the ball early and often. He will be the main playmaker on a team that should run through the league, so will probably get rewarded for it. That said, look for an unknown guy to make a big splash at either FSU at Miami, as typically happens.