Saturday, June 26, 2010

Comfort Music

I'm just beginning the recovery process after the end of the US World Cup run. At this stage, I'm comforting myself by watching "100 Greatest Hard Rock Songs" on VH1 Classic. Yes, it's that bad. (Actually, who am I kidding? This TV show is spectacular.)

Today was a tough sports day to say the very, very least. The Horned Frogs, fighters that they were to the end, bowed out of the College World Series today. A billion times worse than that, though, was the American loss to Ghana in South Africa. Fair play to Ghana--they were better today. But I had allowed myself to dream just a little bit, just a tad, that we might make a round with the word "final" on the end of it this time--or maybe more than one. Not this year.

But it wasn't a bad World Cup for the US. If nothing else, it was massively entertaining. I've rambled on about the US World Cup postmortem, but if you want to read that entry you'll just have to engage in some blatant cross-marketing and head over to West Ham U.S.A. Happy reading. Meanwhile, at No. 23, it's Crazy Train by Ozzy...

Breakers 1-2 Red Stars: The Bad Streaks Continue

The Breakers' winless streak (nine games) and home losing streak (four games) are very much intact tonight, as a leaky Breakers backline allowed Chicago striker Ella Masar to score two long-range goals in a 2-1 Red Stars victory. The heat surely must be on Tony DiCicco at this point, and he and his players seemed at a loss for answers tonight after another home defeat.

Steven and I have our full report up on Bleacher Report, so check it out. The Breakers play at Philadelphia on July 4 and then take on Atlanta at Harvard stadium on July 11, the day of the World Cup final.

For more on the Boston Breakers, check out Boston Breakers Report.

Monday, June 21, 2010

ESPN's World Cup Coverage

In recent years, I've really come to dislike ESPN. SportsCenter has become an embarrassing circus, and in general the "worldwide leader in sports" has been the lead agitator in misreporting and over-hyping sports stories. I don't even watch the network that much anymore. I almost never watch SportsCenter.

Soccer, in particular, has never come easily to ESPN. While its Champions League match coverage has generally been decent, ESPN's studio work for soccer has long been lacking, and its attempt to cover the 2006 World Cup was downright embarrassing.

In 2006, the network tried to shoehorn baseball announcers into doing play-by-play and offered a studio show full of clowns and half-experts who contributed little in terms of analysis or perspective. (Georgio Chinaglia might have been a great figure in American soccer in the '70s and is something of a likable scamp, but he was a cringe-worthy studio pundit four years ago.)

That's why it almost pains me to say that ESPN's coverage of the 2010 World Cup has been...pretty darn good. Maybe excellent. First of all, Disney decided to spring for play-by-play announcers with experience and legitimate English accents, and while Martin Tyler could show a bit more enthusiasm, he's miles better than poor Dave O'Brien was four years ago.

But where the ESPN coverage really excels this year is in the studio. The network's decision to stop pandering to American audiences with American commentators and bring in foreign experts has been a master stroke. The likes of Jurgen Klinsmann and Roberto Martinez have illuminated matches adeptly, and Ruud Gullit has been nothing short of a star with his classically blunt Dutch candor.

Steve McManaman is a bit of a loose cannon, but he knows his football. And ESPN very much did the right thing by bringing in Shaun Bartlett to offer a distinctly South African flavor. Even Alexi Lalas, often annoying and obnoxious, has toned down his presentation and has become a worthwhile studio presence, although he does have a tendency to repeat himself.

The network has stuck to football for the most part, but its brief vignettes on apartheid South Africa have been poignant and moving. Clearly the nation and the network both want to celebrate football with this World Cup and not dwell on South Africa's horrible and very recent history, but to its credit ESPN hasn't glossed over the horrors of apartheid. Even the normally Kleenex-weak Julie Foudy managed an excellent piece on black prisoners of apartheid, and Sunday's bit about South Africa's 1996 African Cup of Nations win was nothing short of inspirational. A recent piece on Youth Day in South Africa was also very good.

The real strength of ESPN's studio coverage, though, has been its American hosts. No longer just clueless question-posers, ESPN's veteran announcers have clearly studied up on football and can now discuss the game intelligently with the likes of Lalas, as well as with their foreign studio counterparts. Mike Tirico is the consummate professional as always, and Chris Fowler has performed admirably with the unpredictable McManaman sitting next to him.

The real star, however, has been long-term ESPN veteran Bob Ley, whose expertise and professionalism are at the very least equal to those of the best European commentators. Ley, somewhat marginalized by ESPN these days, reminds me during every broadcast of what the network used to be before it became a spectacle of traveling idiots. Ley is personable, knowledgeable, witty and engaging, all without being a parody of himself. He's a much-needed throwback and a refreshing presence on television in general and on sports television in particular. His work on the World Cup should win an Emmy if he's eligible for that sort of thing.

Some programming executive at Disney finally got soccer coverage right. (Surely a non-American was in charge of this process...) The result has been pre- and post-game shows very much worth watching, along with a prime-time highlights show that is one of the best to come along in years. ESPN has started broadcasting Premiership matches--West Ham's away loss to Man City was on the network last year. I've long hoped for more football coverage on ESPN and less on Fox Soccer Channel (which I still can't get in HD), and with ESPN's current World Cup lineup I'm looking forward now more than ever to watching the world's game on the worldwide leader. If only ESPN would hire Eric Wynalda back, everything would be just about perfect...but that's another post for another time.

For more on my unhealthy obsession with West Ham United and soccer, check out West Ham U.S.A.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Goalless Breakers Lose Again

Out in San Francisco last night, the Breakers' poor run of form continued. Kelley O'Hara netted the only goal of the match in the 37th minute as FC Gold Pride beat Boston 1-0. Gold Pride also beat the Breakers 2-1 back in May after a stunning performance by Marta. 

The loss leaves the Breakers with just one win for the season to go along with four draws and four losses. Gold Pride extended their advantage at the top of the table, but the Breakers could soon find themselves in last place if the Atlanta Beat can manage to win the game they have in hand over Boston.

The Breakers will be back home to take on Chicago on Friday, June 25, at 7:30 pm at Harvard Stadium.

For more on the Breakers, check out Boston Breakers Report

Monday, June 14, 2010

TCU, the CWS, the BCS and the SWC

I'm not going to pretend that I'm a college baseball fan because I'm not. I never watch the sport and have rarely followed it. In four years at TCU, I went to one TCU baseball game. (I was much more of a TCU tennis fan, actually, as far as spring sports went.)

The "ping" of the aluminum bat in college baseball does my head in, and I've never seen a reason to follow what is for me essentially a less-exciting version of Major League Baseball, which I don't follow terribly closely, either. So, I wouldn't say that I'm jumping on the TCU baseball bandwagon; I didn't watch a single out of the regional or super-regional playoffs.

I am proud, though, of my alma mater. With a series win at Texas, TCU clinched today its first-ever berth in the College World Series. Baseball is a popular sport at TCU and long has been--it's easily as big as basketball there, if not bigger. (It doesn't hurt, of course, that our basketball team stinks, while our baseball team is evidently pretty good). I'm happy, then, for those fellow Horned Frogs who have followed the baseball team across Texas and the US in recent years and have dreamed of this day.

And, let's face it, the whole scenario played out pretty well. With conference realignment threatening to re-shape the college-sports landscape, and with many schools (including TCU) in uncertain positions, the baseball team's triumph has been a wonderful vindication. When the Southwest Conference broke up more than 15 years ago, the four schools that departed for the Big 12--Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor and Texas Tech--very vocally left us for dead.

But we didn't die. We struggled and persevered, and in 2009 our football team went undefeated in the regular season, won a conference championship and made a BCS bowl for the first time. Of the four schools that departed the SWC in the mid-'90s, only Texas and A&M have managed to go to BCS bowls--and A&M last went to one in 1998. Baylor hasn't played in a bowl game at all since 1994--back in the old SWC days. We've played in so many since then that I've honestly lost count.

It was with great pleasure, then, that I read that the TCU baseball team advanced to the super regional by beating Baylor badly in Fort Worth and then got to the CWS by winning a three-game series in Austin in front of a stadium packed with Texas fans. Add that success to football wins over Baylor and Texas Tech in recent years, along with the BCS accomplishment and the bowl games, top-10 finishes and MWC football championships, and suddenly we're not looking like SWC cast-offs anymore. We're looking like a pretty darn good sports school. (And remember, TCU is considerably smaller than UT, A&M and Tech and is also smaller than Baylor. And we don't get the guaranteed BCS money that they get, either, but our total sports revenue is still almost exactly the same as that of Baylor. The difference is that we earn it.)

I can't begin to keep up with the ongoing saga of conference realignment, and I'm not going to pretend that I'll follow the TCU baseball team's fortunes in Omaha outside of looking for scores once in a while. TCU football, of course, remains a passion. But I'm proud of all of my old school's sports accomplishments, simply because they all seemed absolutely impossible when I was in college in the mid-'90s and the ex-SWC traitors left us to rot.

Ours is a story of perseverance, commitment, belief and overcoming obstacles. As cheesy and Hollywood as all of that might sound, it's true. By achieving BCS and CWS berths in the same season, TCU proved that it could succeed against massive odds and harrowing competition. We also proved that the death of the SWC didn't kill us--in fact, it brought us to life. We're the best untold story in sports right now. I'm not going to start watching college baseball, but I still couldn't be more proud. Go Frogs!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Breakers Lose on Stoppage-Time Penalty

Due to circumstances well beyond our control, neither Steven nor I was able to attend the Breakers game tonight. Therefore, we unfortunately can't offer a match report. In fact, all we can offer is the match report on the WPS site, which does a pretty good job of describing the match.

The good news is that the Breakers broke out of their goal-scoring drought and even managed to take an early lead. The bad news is that they lost in heart-breaking fashion, giving up a penalty to Sky Blue FC in second-half stoppage time and ultimately falling 2-1. Boston still hasn't won at home this season; in fact, the Breakers' only victory came in their season opener against Washington.

With the loss, the Breakers remain in next-to-last place, still five points ahead of Atlanta with one more game played. Boston plays FC Gold Pride in San Francisco on June 19. The next home game will take place on Friday, June 25, against Chicago, and we'll make every effort to be there.

For more on the Breakers, check out Boston Breakers Report

With the World Cup on, the Blogging Action is Elsewhere

Again, this site has gone a bit quiet, but this time the world's most popular sporting event is to blame. The FIFA World Cup has me spending lots of time blogging on West Ham U.S.A. these days, especially after today's bizarre but scintillating draw between England and the US. There's also a Breakers game tomorrow, so check out Boston Breakers Report tomorrow evening for a match recap.

Being a blogging magnate isn't easy, but life should get somewhat back to normal after the World Cup, and there should be more action here on the mother ship after the tournament concludes. Then, in September, my lovely wife and I are due to have a child--so all bets will be off. But I'd like to sneak in a few posts here between July 12 and mid-September. Stay tuned.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

One Year of

For reasons I can't even really remember, I sat in the wee hours of a Thursday night and Friday morning one year ago today blogging about the bittersweet arrival of summer. I had no idea back then where this blog would go or how long it would last, but I'm happy to say that it's alive and well--and so am I.

My life has undergone remarkable changes in the last year. One of my best friends, Derek Torres, passed away last fall--something I haven't even come close to getting over. I think about Derek every day, especially when I see something that I know that he would have found funny (and that happens all the time). Sometimes I actually start to IM him before remembering...

Of course, the cycle of life continues, and my lovely wife and I are now expecting the birth of a baby boy in September. (And, no, we're not even close to having a name for him yet.) I only wish that I could talk to Derek about having a pregnant wife and about fatherhood. I know that he would have had some great advice for me, soaked in humor as always.

But we're very excited here about having a baby, if a little terrified and unprepared. Pregnancy has been a bit rough on my wife, but she has soldiered on and, I hope, has made it through the worst of the experience (aside from giving birth, of course...but that's something else altogether). Just how many posts I'll have time to leave on here come September, I don't know. I might have at least a photo or two to post, though.

I'm proud to say that this blog is nearing 4500 page impressions after one year, and although I never intended and don't intend to make any money here, my Google advertising account has netted me $23.62 as of today. Of course, Google doesn't even bother to cut a check until that revenue figure reaches $100, so I stand to get a little walking-around money in three years or so. In any case, I'm happy that friends and family have taken to reading these ramblings regularly.

Looking back over my posts, one subject dominates. Not surprisingly, the tab used most often (by a long shot--78 times as of today) is "sports." And what a year it has been for that topic, really. Going back to January, TCU finally played in a BCS bowl game (and lost--but still, 12-0 in 2009 was a heck of a lot of fun, as was the trip to the Fiesta Bowl). Just a month later, I got to see West Ham play live in East London, my most exciting and cherished live sports experience to date. And then, to top things off, my adopted college hockey team, Boston College, won the national championship. I refuse to mention the Boston Professional Hockey Franchise, which is dead to me after its historic playoff choke.

Speaking of BC, though, my wonderful wife now holds a PhD from that fine institution. I couldn't possibly be more proud of her--or more relieved, as a I saw how she struggled to get her monster project wrapped up and put away forever. It's OK to refer to us as Dr. and Mr. Suzanne Hevelone--she's earned the honor!

On my own front, I've become ambitious (read: compulsive) about blogging. A good friend and I started a blog on the Boston Breakers Women's Professional Soccer team a few months ago, and we'll be blogging on the Breakers as long as WPS continues to exist (which will hopefully be for a long time to come). Then, there's my labo(u)r of love, the West Ham U.S.A. blog. Yes, it's intended to be a blog for West Ham supporters living in the US, but it's really just my way of publicly expressing my love for the club that I now follow religiously. In that sense, it's more of an altar than it is a blog.

Of course, with all of the changes over the last year, there have been some constants: my lovely wife, my steady job, my family, our fantastic apartment in the great city of Waltham, snow on my birthday and faith. The job might change eventually, and we might live somewhere else someday. But all of the other stuff (including the snow, I imagine) is here to stay, God willing. And when I can, I'll be blogging about it all here. Here's to the end of year one and to the beginning of year two. Cheers! And thanks for reading...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

My First Soccer Hero (Sort Of)

The truth is that my first soccer hero was probably Michel Platini, the brilliant Frenchman who lit up World Cup '82 in Spain. That was the first World Cup I watched or was even aware of; I took it in on Mexican television (well, the Spanish International Network, anyway) back home in Texas.

That was the World Cup that introduced me to global football. I had been playing soccer for a few years, and I had watched the old North American Soccer League on TV and had even been to a Dallas Tornado game at Texas Stadium. But when my mother told me that soccer was the most popular sport in the world, I didn't really believe her. Surely American football in general and the Dallas Cowboys in particular were the most popular league and team in the world, right?

So I thought, until I turned on Channel 33 one summer day in 1982 and saw Peru playing somebody (I don't remember who) on a network that really was called SIN. I didn't understand the commentary, but I saw the crowd, heard the noise, and pretty much right then and there realized that I was watching the world's most popular sport. And I liked it. A lot.

All throughout that tournament, my best friend and I remained glued to the TV, watching each match with the babble of Spanish and the voice of the legendary Tony Tirado (creator of the "gooooooooool" call, as far as I know) rumbling in the background. I supported France, as I have some French heritage and my granny, who was of strong French extraction, had died only a few months before.

But during the '82 World Cup, there was a charismatic Italian who was lighting up the world stage. His name was Paolo Rossi, and he was tearing through opposing defenses and scoring goals with abandon. He was impossible to miss, streaking up and down the pitch and planting the ball in the back of the net. So, when France went out in a semi-final to the evil Germans and the diabolical Toni Schumacher in what is still the best football match I've ever seen, I fully took up supporting Paolo Rossi and Italy against the Germans in the final. (Hey, I was 8. I might have jumped on a bandwagon.)

Rossi didn't disappoint. He scored the first goal in the final, which Italy won 3-1. After that game, my friend and I sprinted around my backyard, pretending to score goals (and bending my parents' chain-link fence beyond recognition) and yelling, "Italy! Rossi!" I have great memories of that tournament and that summer, despite France's exit (and despite the fact that I don't support France in football anymore, but that's another story altogether). I still consider World Cup '82 the best World Cup ever, or at the very least the best of my lifetime. It was the event that really kicked off what would become my lifelong passion for soccer.

So, when I saw that Rossi had a video in ESPN's excellent I Scored a Goal series on players who have scored goals in World Cup final, I had to watch it. Once again, I was not disappointed. Paolo Rossi is everything I wanted him to be--he has a vineyard, salt-and-pepper hair and all the charm a Tuscan football master could muster (and that's a lot). He seems happy, and that makes me happy. Rossi! Italy! brought me much joy in my childhood, and it brings me joy to see him almost 30 years later, happily talking about his famous goal while roaming around his rows of grapes. Gratzie, Paolo. I'm glad to see that you're doing well.