Thanks For the Own Goal!

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Fantasy Football Time Again

Fantasy football is pure joy. Unlike fantasy baseball, basketball and hockey, fantasy football is perfect because it's a one day a week thing (well, plus Monday night) and then it's an orgy of being interested in everything that happens in football all weekend long. You're really testing your ability to correctly assess which guys suck and which guys are studs, and every shade in between.

What's also great is for competitive people, it's fun almost regardless of the amount on the line. Even in small buy-in leagues, the desire to out-strategerize is the big drive. You almost always have decisions before each week starts (who to put in your starting lineup, who to add from the free agent list, whether to propose or accept a trade, etc.) that will have bearing on your W-L result for that week.

Fantasy also is great because each season kicks off with a draft, a pure slate of decisions that mostly determines your fantasy fate. Lots of game theory involved. It's pressurized because there are 60-120 seconds between picks and often the guy you planned to take is snatched just in front of you. You have to be flexible and adapt to situations where a run on a certain position takes place.

Pro football is eminently watchable even without fantasy, but there is simply nothing like having 9 games kick off at 10am on Sunday and you're closely following at least half of them. In one game, your RB may be tearing it up, and in another your opponent's WR is lighting you up. When I had Directv and the NFL package, the almost trancelike bliss of perfectly dancing between snaps and different commercials is hard to describe.

Also, it helps to be good at fantasy, because most weeks you get good results and start establishing and protecting your top-of-the-standings status as the playoffs get closer and the money looks likely. I can also say that following fantasy really helps you get a feel for all the teams if you were interested in betting on the regular games. I did well at that last year.

Anyway, the conference call live draft is 36 hours away and it'll be 90 minutes of fast, tremendous fun. Vive le football!

Thursday, July 20, 2006

FIFA Is So Fucking Gay

Today, they suspended Zidane and Materazzi for the head-butting incident. Zidane is retired so it doesn't matter. Materazzi got two games. What a politically correct pile of horseshit. As the FIFA decision expressly emphasizes, both players "stressed in statements that the verbal provocation was not - and I stress - of any racist nature."

So, please then, why was Materazzi suspended? Because he said "yo momma"? Because Zidane is a walking vagina? Because the nation of France is, itself, a vagina? This is ridiculous. Yo momma is an indelible part of sport. Pretending otherwise for politcally pressured reasons is contemptible. Michael Jordan would have spent his entire career banned if "yo momma" was unacceptable.


He is moving like a TREMENDOUS machine!
~ Chic Anderson, calling the 1973 Belmont Stakes

Holy fucking shit. I just saw one of the most moving, courageous individual performances in all the history of sport. Floyd Landis just completed an epic, dominating ride for the ages. Yesterday, he was completely eliminated from contention.

On Sunday, Floyd Landis will win the Tour de France.

Landis completely bonked on the final climb yesterday in the Tour, losing by ten loooong minutes, was 8:08 back overall in 11th place. Every post-race report definitively closed the book on his chances. I agreed. He was done. Cooked. Gone. The emotional devastation from what had happened... guys don't come back from that.

Today was the final mountain stage. There is a flat stage tomorrow, an hour long individual time trial on Saturday, and then a perfunctory victory lap closing stage into Paris on Sunday.

What happened today... I am still in disbelief. There were four mountains - two "beyond category climbs" (the first and last), one Cat.1 and one Cat.2. There was an initial breakaway by a bunch of non-contenders, then Landis' team came to the front and poured on the pace, burning themselves all out at the foot of the first climb to launch Landis.

He got away from the pack of contenders on the first climb, riding like a man possessed. He gained a minute, then two, three at the top of the first climb. He descended like a maniac and started catching the initial breakaway group. He rode through them like a hot knife through butter. At the top of the second climb he had 5:45 on the main field. At the top of the third climb he had 8:30 on the yellow jersey group. He got the lead up to just over 9 minutes before the final flat stretch allowed the now-desperate peloton to peg it back some. However, that took quite a bit of effort before the final monster climb, and when the group finally got to the fourth and final mountain, they exploded.

Landis rode. Boy, did he ride. He poured it on. They couldn't gain on him on the final climb. Carlos Sastre, who had been 1:50 out of the yellow jersey in 2d place at the start of the day, was the only one who could go hard on the climb. He trailed by 5:07 at the top of the final summit. But Landis is probably the best descender in the whole field, and the final 12km of the race was a breakneck drop to the line. Landis regained 33 seconds on Sastre on the descent.

Landis won the race by 5:40. That is a HUGE margin. It is one thing for a non-contender to win by a large margin because the field had no incentive to chase, but it is totally another for a real contender to destroy the field in this way. This was a devastating win. Once he attacked on the first stage, he rode no one's wheel. It was all him. Pure individual will. Amazing.

The look on his face as he crossed the line gave me goose bumps. It was ferocious, defiant. He aggressively pumped his fist. He is going to win the Tour de France.

With time bonuses, Landis trails Sastre by only 18 seconds overall. Pereiro managed to just hold on and finish 7:08 behind Landis, but the time bonuses added another 30 seconds. So Pereiro is in yellow, 12 seconds in front of Sastre and 30 seconds in front of Landis. When Pereiro got to the finishing area, he came over to Landis and hugged him. He knew.

Landis is clearly the best time trialist of the contenders. On an hourlong, hilly course, 30 seconds is more than doable.

I am still sitting here, shattered by what I just saw. Greg LeMond's dramatic time trial comeback in 1989 is considered by many to be the most dramatic stage win in Tour de France history. I have a special place in my heart for Armstrong's goose bump crash-and-comeback on Luz Ardiden in 2003. Post-race commentary is correct: what happened today ranks with the greatest stages in the history of the sport. Some said it was the single greatest stage ever.

All I know, today the American Floyd Landis became a legend.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Out Fucking Standing

Lance Armstrong tells it like it is. I laugh hysterically.
LOS ANGELES (AFP) - Lance Armstrong renewed his verbal attack on the French, bashing their World Cup team during an American awards show and using a derogatory word to describe the players.

"All their players (France) tested positive ... for being a** holes,"
the seven-time Tour de France winner Armstrong was quoted as saying in the Los Angeles Daily News on Friday.

The American cycling hero Armstrong made his comments in his opening monologue as the host of ESPY Awards, an annual televised event produced by ESPN.

The show was taped on Wednesday at Hollywood's Kodak Theatre and is scheduled to be aired on Sunday night.

Armstrong said afterwards that he didn't regard his comments about the French as being offensive.

"Well, if they'd live with me and heard me at home, they'd know that was a step down," Armstrong told the newspaper.

Armstrong, a cancer survivor, retired from competitive cycling in 2005 after capturing his seventh Tour title.

Because of the Tour de France's timing, this is the first year he has been able to attend the show in person to pick up his awards, including four straight athlete-of-the-year trophies.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

For the Record - Douchebag Henry

He gets a bumpy-wumpy at 0:34 of the first half. He lies like dead on the field for two minutes, finally limping off using all his effort and courage at 2:54. He is waved back on at 3:32. He then plays at full speed well into OT. Quelle miracle! Quelle vagina!

You gotta watch the early PK award in super slo-mo. Malouda is a cheap, cheating bitch. Fucking pathetic. They deserve suffering.

I hate France.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Les Douches

Despite the heritage of the majority readership of this blog, I wasn't rooting for Italy so much as against France. The reasons are myriad and need not be listed here, except to say that Thierry Henry is a complete piece of shit. What a cheating bag of ass.

Yesterday, first thing, Henry runs into a guy. Rolls on the ground for two minutes. Two minutes is an abnormally long time to stop a game for injury. He just seemed to blindly turn to run and a guy happened to be standing there, he bumped and fell. Apparently he was near death. So they take him off. Thank God! Because on the sidelines they could take more life-saving action.

What was amazing was the French doctors must be Hellen Keller's teacher-esque miracle workers. Because Henry was running at full speed a minute or so later.

I don't have words to express how much I hate that shit. It is pathetic. Reprehensible. Weak. Vaginish. It is a confession to being a drama queen, less than a man, unable to shake the slightest of hits off, the desire to win via cheating rather than by being better than your opponent, the lack of sack, all of these things together and in no particular order.

Bill Simmons is right. Above all else, this element of soccer which is so fundamental to its existence will keep it from ever being a truly major sport in the USA.

In the match against Spain, the score was 1-1 late in the 82d minute when Henry and a Spanish defender were chasing the ball. The Spanish player had clear position, running in front of Henry. Suddenly, Henry rocketed his head back as if he'd taken a sniper shot from the upper deck, held his head with both hands and writhed on the ground in agony for about 30 seconds until the ref came over and gave the bewildered opponent a yellow card. Replays showed nothing had come within 3-5 feet of Henry's face. He just faked the entire thing - to cheat. Because he couldn't physically best the Spanish defender, he wasn't able to outplay his opponent. Because he wasn't good enough.

So the French got a free kick, scored on the kick, led 2-1 with almost no time left, and scored third goal when the Spanish had to push everyone forward in desperaton - the equivalent of an empty net goal in hockey.

And nobody really mentioned it. Nobody cared. Literally half the goals in this World Cup were total bullshit - either good goals that were falsely called back or granted goals/penalty kicks that were total shit-of-horses.

It is one thing to make a bad call in a basketball game that leads to free throws that account for 1% to 1.5% of the total scoring. In soccer, it can be 50-100% of the scoring.

Italy won this game 2-0. After the Henry bullshit, the French were gifted a phantom penalty kick based on a vaginal dive by a vaginal Frenchman. So they score the gimme penalty kick. To their tremendous credit, Italy came back from what could have been a putaway 1-0 win on a brilliant set piece from the corner kick. So, "tied," 1-1.

Then in the 2d half, Italy scored their second goal. The ball was perfect, the header was perfect, the staying onside was perfectly timed by the ball's receiver. What a wonderful physical execution of soccer, completely within the rules. Wow, that kind of mastery of the athletic realm should be rewarded! Oh, what's that, you say? You say that arbitrarily incompetent refereeing, the hands-over-the-eyes-might-as-well-flip-a-coin guess about onside didn't go Italy's way? So, no goal and it stays 1-1? Well, sure. It's not like it's important to get it right.

After all, the horrid, horrid Marcelo Balboa (part of the almost surreally awful American broadcasting group) saw the replay - the one I have paused on DVR as I write this - noted that the Italian goal scorer was not only onside but inarguably so... and then never mentioned the incredible injustice the entire rest of the match. Nor did anyone else. And you don't see it in the reports, the news stories filed in the aftermath. No "oh, by the way, Italy scored a fucking legitimate goal in the 2d half that was robbed away from them." Nope. Not worth mentioning.

This would be like a Super Bowl game sitting at 7-7 that was only tied at all because of a terrible PI call in the end zone. Then, the team that had the injustice earlier go against them scores early in the fourth quarter. Replays clearly show them scoring on a 75-yard run. But they called holding. Replays not only show it wasn't holding but that anyone actually lookin at the play in question could not have even thought the flagged player was even touching the opponent. And so the game goes to OT tied 7-7, and NOBODY mentions that this happened afterward. In the Super Bowl.

Zinedine Zidane. It's hard to think of a better way to cast disgrace on the French than that - so I fucking loved it. Here's a guy they want to be like Pele, and instead a billion people see him pull the most cheap, classless French douchbag cowardly bullshit and get nailed for it and there's NOTHING that can be said in his defense.

And that's why you gotta love the classless, cheap Les Douches. Because the defend the utterly indefensible. To wit, the French coach, Douchey McDoucherstein:
"But it's a shame. It's sad. He (Materazzi) did a lot of acting and for such a big man, a gust of wind made him fall over. It's regrettable.

Suck it, and suffer you French motherfuckers. You couldn't score a single real goal. Ooh you had more possession in the 2d half? Oooooh. Well gee, then I guess you deserved to win if you were dribbling it more.

I fucking love it.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Blues Sign Bill Guerin

Guerin was bought out by the Dallas Stars after a disappointing 05-06. He'll be 36 in November. He singed a great contract with the Blues - 1yr, $2M plus incentives. This puts him in a contract year with something to prove after last year (13G, 27A in 70 games). He's the kind fo guy who will draw fans. He played with Weight on a memorable line in Edmonton. He's played with Tkachuk for Team USA (on a line with Modano).

The great thing from the Blues' persepctive is they get some veteran talent to mentor younger guys like Magnus Kahnberg and Lee Stempniak (the two young guys likely to get time on the top two lines). And the Blues can make the same kind of deadline trade they did with Weight, Sillinger, etc. to a contender for draft picks if need be. It also allows them flexibility if Guerin flounders not to be tied into a big contract, and they can get themselves to next offseason which will have a better crop of UFA forwards than this year (which was primarily D-deep).

This is a very good signing. The Blues basically need one more top-line center and they'll have things fairly set until camp provides the youngsters a chance to jostle for the last few roster spots. They might trade a guy like Eric Brewer for a #1 center, then sign a UFA D this offseason. Considering they've signed Weight, Guerin, Drake, McKee and Hinote in the last three days, they clearly see the plan and are clearly working hard at implementing it right away and creating a new, harder-nosed feel to reinvigorate the fan base. All five of those guys are ultra blue collar veteran guys. They will be great mentors. I am feeling more optimistic after the Pronger whiff today.

Pronger to Anaheim; Blues Initial UFA Moves

Well, at least he won't be a Mighty Duck of Anaheim. They're now just the Anaheim Ducks. They're also the owners of by far the best defensive corps in the NHL, with both Pronger and Niedermayer. That is insane.

Lupul is a good pick, and I'm sure the picks are nice. But guess what, when Anaheim wins the Cup - and they will now clearly win the Cup in the next few years - nobody's going to give a shit what the Oilers got. That was my rationale for the Blues going after Pronger. Whatever the Blues gave up, they were going to win the deal, because the guys they would've given up can be replaced. Pronger could not be replaced. It's a depressing day.

The Blues have done the following. They signed Jay McKee, 29, from Buffalo for 4 years, 4M per. They definitely paid a premium to get him, but he is an incredibly blue collar defensive D who last year blocked the most shots in the NHL. He doesn't score, but he stays at home and will allow someone like Christian Backman or Dennis Wideman to indulge in their offensive talent.

Aside from McKee, the Blues' free agent signings so far has been basically bringing old veteran grizzled guys back. Doug Weight, 35, is back as expected. Dallas Drake, who captained the team last year but whom many thought would leave, is back for two years like Weight. They also added fourth line energy pest Dan Hinote, 29, from Colorado at 1M per.

Right now the team badly needs a top line scoring winger and a #1 center. My guess is they'll trade for the center from defensive and goaltending depth, and make one more UFA signing of the winger. Rumors have them pursuing aging Brendan Shanahan, 37, who enjoyed a 40G, 41A year last season for the Wings. Sergei Samsonov, 27, is a younger option. Anson Carter had 33G, 22A for Vancouver last year and is 32 (though it would be surprising to not see him sign in Vancouver again).

No matter what they do, they are going to suck next year, as they are basically the same team that went into last season except for McKee and the small Hinote upgrade on the fourth line, minus Eric Weinrich and Mike Sillinger, both deadline fire sale signings. Keith Tkachuk selfishly wouldn't waive his no-trade, and he probably won't this season since he is of the biggest shitbag athletes to ever walk the face of the Earth. Last year, of course, the Blues had major injuries hit every one of their top players and their goaltending from Patrick Lalime was atrocious (he has - hilariously - signed with the Blackhawks).

Had they gone after Pronger, they'd have set themselves up to be a Cup threat within 2-3 years. Now it looks more like 5 at the earliest. I suppose the thing to be optimistic about is the strong draft, the quality young guys in the system, another year with high draft picks, and hopefully the last year of Tkachuk disgracing the Blue Note. If one of the young goalies (and they have 6-7 guys in the pipeline who are legit prospects) turns into the next Brodeur or Roy, that turnaround will be much faster. We Blues fans have to hope that the Swedish prospects are the saving grace. The big forward names on the prospect radar (obviously Erik Johnson is the stud on D) are: David Backes, TJ Oshie, Carl Soderberg, Patrik Berglund. Marcus Kahnberg was also part of the Weight trade and may well make the team out of camp this year. I list those prospects as all guys who legitimately project into a top-six forward scoring spot. Muckers and grinders are a dime a dozen. With Dartmouth alum Lee Stempniak having made the leap to the scoring line last season right out of college, there are definitely a few guys who can make up a young core. And if they suck again this year, they'll have a high draft pick in a significantly deeper draft than this past year.

Basically, Blues fans are waiting to find out what that one signing will be and that one trade (or two signings, though the center UFA group is looking thin). The mandate from the new ownership - completed last Friday, thank God, is that the Blues will create a very distinct blue collar working atmosphere on the team. Drake, Weight, Hinote and McKee are all pure examples of that quality. Now they just need to fill out the last two spots and avoid the devastating injuries and get some decent goaltending.

Oh, one note on the goaltending. Sanford and Bacashihua are the two guys expected to play this year. Bacashihua was a former Dallas Stars first round draft pick, but the Blues swapped him for their own first round pick Shawn Belle a few seasons ago. Sanford is a guy who wasn't drafted but who played on the River Otters, a local Single A equivalent team. He just kept playing and playing and playing his way into the top spot. And the other day he ballsily (and I am a fan for this reason) turned down a long term (but low paying) contract because he would rather risk the dollars and security by going for broke on earning a real payday with his play. That's a confident guy, especially ballsy for a guy who a few years ago in tryout camp had his nuts blasted off by an Al MacInnis slapshot.

More to come when the roster is finalized.

The Tour, 2006, Year 1 A.L.

I've always loved and followed the Tour de France, but obviously the enthusiasm is less in Armstrong's wake. He was so riveting to watch, the rest were just strong cyclists who were the necessary fodder for Amrstrong's cannon legs. I have many favorite moments, but a handful that stand out are the crash and recovery on Luz Ardiden at the most precarious point in his dominance of the race. He went down hard, then chased everyone down and put the race away. That is championship heart.

The other moment that I can't ever forget came on Day 1 in the 7th title year. During the individual time trial, Armstrong started last as the defending champ and Jan Ullrich, the ultrastrong time trialist and perennial 2d place foil for Lance, started out a minute in front. About 2/3 of the way into the course, Armstrong blew by Ullrich in the most alpha male utterly dominant I-take-your-heart moment I've ever seen in cycling. It wasn't just that he passed him - it was that he flew by so powerfully. He rode through Ullrich. Ullrich had never been caught in a time trial in his professional career. Armstrong won the race that day. The buildup had been, can he do it 7 straight? Can he do it? Is he as strong as in the past? And on Day 1 it was over. What a fitting statement, what an exclamation point to the most focused and ferocious dominance of cycling's most surreally difficult event in the sport's history.

All these "there are those who say" and "where there's smoke there's fire" weaselly no-evidence douchebags must be living on another planet. Can they not see that sometimes sport is about pure will? The guy only focuses on the one race, he completely changed the way Tour winners will forever approach the race - an all-consuming passion for every training angle, every technical advance, all funneling toward one single-minded goal. That's why the man won. He was a World Champion long before cancer changed his body from a sprinter's to a climber's. He was always World Class talented. Cancer just focused him like a laser.

Anyway, the point of this is to say about this year's race... it's a nightmare because Lance is gone and the next four top finishers from last year - Ullrich, Basso, Mancebo and Vinokourov have all been suspended on suspicion of doping. Guilty until proven innocent in cycling.

So this opens the race wide. There are actually a bevy of American riders who might emerge. Of course, they will always have the implied asterisk next to their names no matter who wins. But it would be a tremendous story to see Hincapie win. He's got a shot. He's been Armstrong's selfless, rock solid top lieutenant for all the last 7 years, so that angle is more than compelling. He's positioned well early. But I confess, if he drops off I'll find it hard for the race to hold my interest.

These are the two months of misery. Please return, o magical NFL.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Blues Draft. Post-Mortem

Blues get the only A+ in the draft.
St. Louis Blues

The Blues ... took ... steps in the right direction on Saturday. Erik Johnson (1st overall) gives them a bona fide No. 1 defenseman, a horse described by some as being better than Chris Pronger at this age. He could become just as dominant as the ex-Blue down the road. They also made a bold move to move up in the first round, trading the 30th overall pick they received from Carolina for Doug Weight and a third rounder to New Jersey for the 25th overall. The selection was used on Patrik Berglund, a very big, very gifted center who might one day anchor the top line. Tomas Kana (31st) could develop into a valuable depth forward, and Reto Berra (106th) gives the Blues an interesting prospect in net. Grade: A+

Considering Weight is likely headed back as a UFA at a much reduced price, the Blues need one quality veteran mentor defenseman for Johnson if he plays this year (almost surreally deep defensemen UFA pool), and about three forwards in addition to Weight. They just locked up all the ancillary players with qualifying offers, and now they're 10M from the overall salary floor (26M from the cap). That should go a long way in the reduced salary era begun last offseason. The hurdle right now is just convincing UFAs that St. Louis is a worthy destination.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

More Blues

The more I examine this group of draft picks, the more excited I get. The Blues had traded Doug Weight for the last few month of his contract to Carolina in exchange for their first round pick. Unfortunately for the Blues, the Canes won the Cup and thus picked dead last in the first round, giving the Blues the 30th and 31st pick. They also raped the Vancouver Canucks for a 3d round pick in exchange for Eric Weinrich, the 77th overall. They then traded the 30th and 77th pick for the 25th pick to leapfrog Detroit and snag outstanding Swedish center prospect Patrick Berglund.
Patrik Berglund, C, Vasteras
Born: 6/22/88 Ht: 6-3 Wt: 187 Shoots: L

From NHL Central Scouting - A good skater who could use some first-step quickness...moves well for his size...creative, cool playmaker with a good understanding of the game...fine overall skill level...has smooth hands...good, quick wrist shot...protects the puck well with his long reach...will improve overall game when he gets more strength.

From ISS: His performance at the 2006 IIHF World U18 Championship in Sweden, has us convinced that this kid is special. He took the puck hard to the net and was strong enough to win all of the little battles while becoming an offensive force on every shift. Opponents had a difficult time handling him, he has a quick stick that make him tough to play.

From TSN: Played in the 2004 Mac's Midget Tournament...split time in 05-06 with Vasteras (Jr.) and in the second division of the SE league (3-1, -4 in 21 games)...won the 'TV puck' award for top player in an elite Swedish Amateur hockey tournament. that players such as Mats Sundin, Marcus Naslund, Martin Samuelsson and Fredrik Sjostrom has won before...was only 6th in the scoring race, yet won the tournament title - it is the most important tournament in Sweden for players under 16...played for Sweden at 2006 Under 18's...started season with Vasteras Jr. but was quickly promoted to the Senior team.
So the Blues got two very strong picks in the first round. With the 31st pick, they took a Czech, Tomas Kana, who projects as a solid two-way center. They grabbed some high upside gambles in the later rounds, including offensively gifted Swedish defenseman Jonas Junlund with the 64th pick, gritty agitator with a scoring touch Ryan Turek with the 94th pick, and Swiss goaltending sleeper Reto Barra with the 106th pick. All in all, the Blues seem extremely pleased with their own draft, and from what I am reading on the various message boards like Hockey's Future, the Blues are being widely praised for what they were able to do this year.

It looks like they won't get Pronger because Edmonton would probably demand Erik Johnson in return, and the Blues don't want to give him up. Still, the Blues are reportedly (from sources close to the action that I trust) still in the hunt. As in, the Blues are very interested in getting him back, just whether they will offer the best package is the question. The Blues definitely need a top-level defenseman to nurture some of the young guys (Jackman, Backman and Johnson are all recent Blues first round picks), or at least an older veteran the young guys will respect and learn from.

Updates on the Pronger situation and the free agency period to come.

Our Blues, Post-Draft

The St. Louis Blues selected stud defenseman Erik Johnson #1 overall earlier Saturday. It is a breath of fresh air for a franchise that badly needs it. Granted, the Blues have a long way to go, but if, and I repeat, if he is a Pronger or Scott Stevens as many claim, then the Blues have gone a long way toward salving the wounds of Pronger-longers like me. Today, they were saying he's the best defensive prospect in 15 years. Well, talk is cheap at this stage. But if that's true, the Blues have the following highly promising collection of defensemen and goaltending prospects:

Erik Johnson, #1-type defenseman, age 18
Eric Brewer, #2-type defenseman, age 27, 7-year NHL veteran
Barret Jackman, #2-type defenseman, age 25, 3-year veteran, Calder Trophy winner as rugged defensive defenseman
Christian Backman, #3-4 type defenseman, age 26, 2-year veteran, offensively skilled

Marek Schwarz, 20, top draft pick of the Blues two years ago, huge potential
Jason Bacashihua, 23, top draft pick of the Dallas Stars, acquired in trade two years ago
Curtis Sanford, 26, underrated undrafted player who has earned the current top spot through intense effort and determination
Christian Beckford-Tseu, 22, drafted two years ago by the Blues, was outstanding in ECHL for ECHL champion Alaska Aces.
Ben Bishop, 19, homegrown goalie prospect who became Hobey Baker-considered force in Maine nets

The Blues will go into the season next year with Sanford and Bacashihua as the #1/#2 combo, and Beckford-Tseu and Schwarz will play in Peoria, the top AHL affiliate. Schwarz was highly touted as a possible savior for the franchise two years ago, but apparently he has regressed a little languishing in the Czech leagues. The hope is, time in North America will pump new life into his career.

What is great about this young group is that they're cheap and totally legit. I would personally like to see Brewer go in a trade for an elite defenseman if possible (hint, hint Pronger) but there's no doubt Brewer can play strong hockey.

I actually don't think the Blues will get Pronger. He's too high priced, too widely seen as not only the best defenseman in the NHL, but possibly the best player in the NHL. Toronto and the Rangers want him so bad they are wetting themselves. Now that it's a foregone conclusion that he will be traded (wow, just wow at that shocking turnaround btw), the Oilers should be able to get top dollar. The Blues would probably have to trade Erik Johnson. Which I would do. Johnson isn't Pronger yet. Pronger is Pronger.

The Blues now need to let the defense and goaltenders gain experience with time, the core is there. Now it's about actively rebuilding the forward lines. If there is a God, Tkachuk will be plaing his last year here. The Blues are desperately short of front line skill. They have tons of 3d and 4th line guys, and the heartless Tkachuk. 23-year old winger Lee Stempniak, Dartmouth alum and best Blues surprise of 05-06, managed to make the jump directly from college (which is rare) to the NHL. He just has great hockey sense and is tenacious on the puck. He could be a top 2-line forward for the Blues. Other than that, the Blues need some major FA signings and need more prospects to make the leap.

Free agency starts in one week. There are definitely some talented forwards out there and the Blues have money to spend. I sincerely hope the Checketts deal officially goes through early this week so he can actually sign the checks. It's going to be a 2-3 year project, but if the Blues truly got a Stevens or Pronger with the top pick, this could be - finally - a cornerstone to future championships.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

World Cup Picks

Germany v. Sweden - Germany
Argentina v. Mexico - Argentina
Germany v. Argentna - Germany (though Argentina is neutral-field better)

Italy v. Australia - Italy
Switzerland v. Ukraine - Ukraine
Italy v. Ukraine - Italy

England v. Ecuador - England
Netherlands v. Portugal - Netherlands
England v. Netherlands - Netherlands (note: if not Netherlands, then Portugal gets to semis).

Brazil v. Ghana - Brazil
Spain v. France - Spain
Brazil v. Spain - Brazil

Italy v. Germany - Germany
Brazil v. Netherlands - Brazil

Final and 3d Place
Germany v. Brazil - Germany
Italy v. Netherlands - Netherlands

If Argentina beats Germany, then the final will be Argentina v. Brazil - which is what I'm rooting for, actually. The Euro arrogance is profoundly annoying. They simultaneously want to bash Americans for not finding soccer as engrossing as they do and yet want to bash Americans for not being as good at it as they are. And they also have a condescending orientaton toward South American teams, which is absurd as Brazil fucking owns World Cup and owns every team in Europe, with Argentina not far behind. Incidentally, I got into a ridiculous argument with a retarded Finn on DailyKos and I just decided to annoy the shit out of him as an agitator, which was delightful as Finland has never qualified for a World Cup Finals - ever. So just on those bases, I'd love to see an Argentina-Brazil final. I want to see Ghana and France drilled out of the World Cup. South Korea losing 2-0 yesterday (and the second goal being bullshit) was glorious, just glorious. I loved the looks on those Korean fans' faces after the match. I need about 5 more Finals' worth of that.

Our Blues

Well, these past two years as a Blues fan have been nightmarish. After 25 straight playoff-making average-to-outstanding editions of the franchise, there was a year of staggering player stupidity which caused the lockout, followed by a 05-06 team that finished dead last in the standings and traded the two greatest assets Chris Pronger and Doug Weight. Weight was a solid regular season player who knew how to step up and lead in the clutch moments of the postseason, and Pronger is the best defenseman of his generation.

Pronger is the kind of guy you cannot trade. I've watched him play about 500 times in my life either in person or on TV, and the man is a dominating force. You can't really put together a trade that gets equal value in return. Pronger stabilizes so much, covers so many teammate mistakes that he is far greater than the sum of the parts you'd collect as a trade return. For the record, the Blues got the overrated defenseman Eric Brewer, who sucked donkey balls before being lost for the season with injury, plus two first round draft busts, marginal defensemen Jeff Woywitka and Doug Lynch. It was a purely vindictive trade by the shitbag Wal-Mart Lauries.

Their interest in hockey was always a stepping stone to try and lure an NBA team to St. Louis, and once they realized this was never going to happen, they bitterly took it out on Blues fans by trading the most prized asset in franchise history, arguably more than Brett Hull. There was no need - it was gratuitous violence directed at the fan base. Any prospective buyer who was sane would NEVER have been turned off by purchasing a club with the asset of the best defenseman in the game. Especially with a cap on the max salary any team can offer a single player (20% of the salary cap), the retention of Pronger was a no-brainer from a business perspective and an absolute must from a competitive perspective.

Dave Checketts, whose purchase of the Blues was unanimously approved by the Board of Governors on Wednesday was specifically asked whether he would have bought the Blues if Pronger's salary had been on the books (tip of the cap to myself, who solicited and got the Post-Dispatch's Blues beat reporter to agree to ask the question). With an almost, "are you fucking kidding" connotation in his answer, Checketts said of course and fucking duh.

So why would the Lauries do it? With Pronger, the team would have struggled but possibly competed for a playoff spot, without Pronger the team would basically have nobody besides Weight to carry them, and he's more of a steady piece during the regular season and playoff warrior in crunch time. Without Pronger, and with the knowledge that the Lauries had told them to fuck themselves, Blues fans proverbially "stayed away in droves." Which clearly cost the Lauries more millions than it would have cost them to pay Pronger. But the Lauries didn't fucking care. It was as if they were shopping one day and purchased the item "Tell Blues fans to go fuck themselves" for several million dollars. It was an angrily stupid trade.

What is bewildering is that I'm as closely following Blues fan as there is, and I never detected any hostility between ownership and fan base previously. In fact, the Lauries had been well thought of for buying the team and spending millions to make it more competitive during the no salary cap era. And forever, their legacy will be one of loathing and hatred by St. Louis fans, who are truly loyal people until you fuck them good and hard and deliberately. Then you will never be forgiven.

Maybe it had to do with their corruption in building the Missouri baskebtall arena and naming the thing after their jokily stupid daughter Paige, who was so dumb the family was paying some chick $20K a year to take her exams and write all her papers ala the Korean Moltisanti taking the Series-whatever stockbroker test. They had to give back Paige's diploma after that one came out. But whatever the reason for the Laurie's giant dump on Blues fans, it can't be undone, and Pronger won't be back.

Or will he? That's the crazy story circulating in the hockey world on the eve of and during today's Entry Draft Day. Apparently, Chris Pronger, who signed a 5-year deal with a no-trade clause, wants out of Edmonton. That's what Sportsnet is reporting on its front page, and sources everywhere have confirmed it, including close-to-the-Pronger family blogger Andy Strickland (who works in sports radio in St. Louis).

Now, this doesn't mean he is going to come to St. Louis. It could be a variety of places, but since Pronger has a no-trade, he controls the destination. If I were an Edmonton fan I'd be both bitter and bewildered, since Pronger is THE reason Edmonton found itself in Game 7 against - heh - Doug Weight-fueled Carolina. I'd be extremely grateful to Pronger for the run, but angry with him for wanting to leave - as now every Oiler fan understands exactly how great this guy is.

I have a feeling that this situation could well be resolved in the near future. Keenan in Florida covets him, but just yesterday he traded goaltending prospect Roberto Luongo for shitbag Todd Bertuzzi. So Edmonton's most prized return value might have just headed to Vancouver. (Florida got fucked in that trade). We know Pronger loves St. Louis as a town, but that he didn't get along with Larry Pleau at the end.

At this very moment, things are in tremendous flux. Pleau, who has been GM for almost a decade, is in his final days in that spot. What's screwed up is that the Board of Governors met so late and so close to the draft and th opening of free agency, that the only reason the sale hasn't been finalized after unanimous approval about 65 hours ago is that the loans are being processed. So until Checketts has official control, he can't fire Pleau. Plus, how much faith can you have in Pleau doing right by the Blues in this most important draft in franchise history knowing he's about to be turned into a "consultant?" That part of the timing sucks. Fortunately, Pleau is not the #1 draft guy - that's highly regarded Jarmo Kekalainen who is the draft guru an assistant GM (who is expected to be retained after the ownership transfer). But it's weird as far as what can be done about re-acquiring Pronger.

You want another level of intrigue? John Davidson, longtime Rangers announcer and former Rangers and Blues goaltender, just finished broadcasting the playoffs during which he saw much of Chris Pronger. It is widely expected that Davidson will be announced as the next team president within the week, as soon as Checketts officially takes control. Davidson obviously lusts after Pronger too, as any sane GM would. So would Pronger come back if the Blues put together a compelling offer (yes, significantly better than Brewer, Woywitka and Lynch)? That would make me so happy. His wife and her family are heavily rooted in St. Louis, and much speculation about Pronger's desire to leave Edmonton is that it's family-related.

The Blues have the #1 draft pick, the booby prize for finishing last. This franchise has had decades of draft horrors, never seeming to have any high picks (the highest pick in franchise history was #9 overall, and more often than not they haven't had a first rounder, thanks to the Scott Stevens bitter fiasco, which cost the Blues SEVEN first round draft picks in two separate bullshit incidents that will make me forever hate the New Jersey Devils and possibly incite me to piss on Lou Lamoriello's grave). In a few hours, the Blues will pick #1 and they've said they will take stud franchise defensive prospect Erik Johnson - unanimously acknowledged as the best player in the draft and the best defensive prospect in years. They also possess Carolina' first round pick as part of the Weight trade (Carolina conveniently got the 30th pick - the latest possible pick - for winning the Cup). So the Blues have #1, #30 and #31 overall. Will they package any of these in a trade? There has been open speculation about keeping the #1 and moving up into the top ten depending on how the draft unfolds.

And still the Blues have catacysmic loser Keith Tkachuk. This guy is the epitome of regular season goal scorer whose personal character combines the worst, most selfish, petulant elements of everything. He is the personification of jovial anti-leader. He's an abomination of a player. His existence is a human barrier to championships. He disappears in every situation that matters and has over his entire playoff career. He scores goals when they don't matter, in blowout postseason individual wins or losses, or blowout playoff series wins or losses. When the series is tied 2-2 and Game 5 tied 1-1, you can count on one thing - Keith Takchuk will not come through. He must be gotten rid of to win. The Blues tried to trade him before the trade deadline, but he wouldn't go. Out of shape and on and off the injury list all year, he spouted a bunch of inane crap about "punishing" all the contenders down the stretch by playing spolier, then proceeded to go out and not show up as the Blues finished with a dismal one win in the final 19 games. He backed up all his competition-embracing bullshit empty nothingness quotes by showing up to training camp so grossly out of shape they had to suspend him. Yeah, what a leader. His contract expires this year, and if they re-sign him I will have an apoplectic fit at managerial incompetence. He is a guy I would not sign for one dollar, because you can't bench him at the start of the playoffs (though you should, rationally) since no coach or GM would have the balls to pull that. Therefore, he takes ice time from guys who may or may not have actual qualities of resilience and grit and heart and clutch performace. I loathe Keith Tkachuk with every fiber of my sports being. How bitter is it to have Pronger and Weight leave while Tkachuk stays? Joe Thornton just won the MVP and there is a guy who is more Tkachuk than Tkachuk. They are exactly the same guy. A giant nothing vagina in the postseason, awesome numbers in the regular season. Consider - Tkachuk is scoreless in 11 straight playoff games, and has zero goals and zero assists in 4 career game 7s. Three of those Game 7s were the final game in three epic 3-1 playoff chokes, the most of any player in the history of the entire NHL (he's been on 15% of all instances in the NHL's history... once it was 18%). And he was no bit player on those teams. He was considered either the best or second best scorer in all cases.

So what I am saying is that while Tkachuk is here, the Blues cannot win. Hopefully they will use this last year where they are definitionally eliminated by his presence on the roster to rebuild, and then compete in future years.

Free agency begins a week from today. It will be the most intense free agency period in league history as a record number of guys become available and all teams have money to compete in the new cost-certainty era. So you got today's draft, the developing Pronger situation (oh please oh please oh please), and free agency... all in about a week, two week period. It's my sports coda before my baseball-induced two month sports coma,

I think if the Blues trade for Pronger they'd have to give up the #1 pick, but if they didn't and could still get him... ohhhhh. my. God. Two cornerstone defensemen with Jackman and Backman? Brewer, Salvador and Wideman as serviceable pieces? That's the best D in the league bar none. They have about 4 or 5 goalie prospects in the pipeline at least one of whom should be an actual solution, so solidifying the D will just require some free aent forward signings.

We shall see. Updates to come.

Friday, June 23, 2006

NHL, NBA and USA World Cup Wrapup

First, the NHL. The NHL is great again. Believe me, I always was riveted throughout the late 90s and early Oughts, but the fact was that hockey's trap was an abomination, as is everything that touches the New Jersey Devils. This season, there were some tremendous rule changes that make the game faster and so much better.

First, the two line rule was eliminated. Now it's a three-line rule (you can't pass from inside your zone to inside the other zone). This hugely impacts the spacing and freedom players have to make long creative breakout passes without that dumb rule. The two line rule was a speed bump, and what the trap did was leverage the speed bump's presence to strangle speed coming through the neutral zone.

Second, and more importantly, the clutching and grabbing all became universally penalized. You can't interfere with guys who don't have the puck. If they have the puck you can nail them, but not the free skaters. Huge, huge impact. Offensive, creative, high octane offenses are back. Speed is truly important. A defenseman cannot grab you as you go flying by without the puck. So suddenly you streak in unmolested and by the defenseman and your teammate feeds you for the shot. It creates flowing, end to end action.

A third, underrated but also very important factor is the icing rule that says the team that ices the puck cannot change its players. You're exhausted at the end of a shift? Tough - you can't get a whistle by icing the puck, and the faceoffs are all held within 15 seconds, not really long enough for you to recover if you're out of gas. So teams don't ice the puck as much, which also adds to the flow and pace of the game.

Fourth, the goalie pads' crazy inflation has been severely restricted. It had been getting out of hand, and now it's a little easier to score. A 5-4 hockey game is tremendous fun, and they have those now all the time.

Except in St. Louis where the Wal-Mart Lauries shat all over the loyal fan base by vindictively trading Pronger for no defensible reason, attendance all over the league is up. As a result, the salary cap is being raised from $39M to $44M, since it is pegged to league revenues. Owner spending has a floor and a ceiling, and the only painful thing about that is the catastrophic dumbassery of the NHL players for not realizing that competitiveness for all teams and cost control was not only the fairest share-the-pie solution, but the smartest long term solution if they really want salaries to go up.

Yes, haters will point to hockey's dismal TV ratings and joke OLN contract. But they're ridiculous. Hockey always has been and always will be a live attendance sport. If you can jam arena after arena with 18,000 people night after night to see a thrilling, high skill, high drama product, owners and players will make tons of money, more than enough for everybody. Honestly, it's this obsession with opinion polling and horse race analysis mentality that's depressing. Who cares if more people get a kick out of cars with 9 million logos driving around in a circle? Seriously. Either enjoy the sport for what it is and be your own person or don't.

In addition, as HDTV progresses and 10 years from now all hockey games will be shown in HD, it will look much, much better on screen. Football is literally hellish in person, and I love football on TV.

On to the Cup Finals. What a series. And as I described, totally surreal for me since I could not stop rooting for Edmonton (eventually I finally gave up resisting it) but when it was all over and Pronger was not lifting the Cup in another team's uniform, I was happy. I wanted and still want him to feel joy and I am sure he will. But not this soon - I will never get over that trade.

I thought Edmonton outplayed Carolina for the most part in terms of skating. They seemed to always possess the puck in Carolina's end, they had the longer stretches of puck possession in opposing ice. But they were completely outplayed in the net. Cam Ward deserved the Conn Smythe (an argument could be made for Pronger, easily). Carolina won Games 1, 2 and 7 entirely because they were better in net. Game 1 Edmonton's skaters were far faster, far more physical, far hungrier than Carolina. And Roloson sucked donkey ass. After the Oilers took a late 2d period 3-0 lead, that should be a mortal lock win. But Roloson got that total shellshock thing going that he had in Game 3 of the Anaheim series. The only reason Anaheim did not beat the Oilers that night is that they didn't get two more shots on net, because everything was going in as they stormed back from a 4-0 3d period deficit. Same as in Game 1. Him getting hurt was not that big a deal.

The Oilers looked like the better team in Games 1, 3, 5, 6. Carolina was better in Games 2 and 7, and Game 4 was a tossup. The Oilers were more disciplined, but their power play was atrocious and their defensemen had trouble putting the puck on net. They had four separate 90-120 second 5-on-3s in Games 1, 3, 4 and 7, and didn't come close to converting. That's why they lost the series.

So that is the NHL postmortem (I'll have a short Blues post in a bit). Welcome back.

The NBA also ended, the next night. Dwayne Wade is awesome. The playoffs are definitely more entertaining for a non-NBA fan layperson like me who doesn't follow it at all during the season. What is interesting is as Wade accepted his Finals MVP trophy, I could feel the heat from Cleveland radiating all the way out here as accolades of "best player in the NBA" were anointed onto Wade's shoulders. I can't wait to see how LeBron reacts. I find it hard to believe that LeBron with Shaq and the Heat supporting cast would not have also won the title. The nice thign is the argument about who's best is like arguing what the best films of the 1970s were (the greatest era in American cinema). There are a lot of young, great players in the league for the first time in forever. I can actually watch this.

Finally, a shout out to Josh Howard of the Mavs. Howard is one of those loser motherfuckers who radiates trashketball - he is a thoroughly dislikeable, classless, slimeball. So during Game 5 when he a) choked on two overtime free throws and b) used his team's last timeout with 1.9 seconds remaining that would have allowed his team to inbound the ball at midcourt, it was deliciously Webberesque. And then he acted like a thugga pussy after the game when asked about it. I didn't really care one way or the other until Howard forced me to root against the Mavs. Thanks Chris - er, Josh.

And the USA soccer debacle in Germany. Oh man. The US got fucked by the officiating, but they also didn't deserve to advance based on their effort. DeMarcus Beasely and Landon Donovan were abominations. Reyna sucked. Keller sucked. I love Brian McBride but he is old and too slow at 34, apparently. Onyewu was bad. It is nice that the guy is big, but everything he does screams, foul. It isn't good if you're rooting for the US and you hold your breath every time he has contact because you know the foul is coming.

For me, soccer is about nation or school. I can't get into it otherwise. I can't get into an organized club league. I think it's because the fact that soccer scoring is so sparse and means so much when it happens, it has to release a kind of explosive import. And you just can't generate that rooting for the Columbus Crew or the L.A. Galaxy. Who cares? Those are arbitrary, contrived entities. But USA v. Italy? That's huge. That's not arbitrary.

I mention this because I don't follow the club level soccer. You couldn't pay me to watch the DC United play the Chicago Fire. I can't imagine caring less. So what happens is I intently watch nearly every match in the World Cup every four years, as well as the prior year's qualifying matches within CONCACAF, but you forget how nightmarish, arbitrary, and terrible the officiating is. I mean, it's so terrible that whenever I am reminded of how terrible it is (every four years I am reminded, then I forget until the next Cup happens... such as 2002 when a blatant hand ball cost the USA a trip to the semifinals after it outplayed Germany), I am forced to chalk it up to soccer-as-life metaphor with the officiating being God, and God is the most unfair fucker but there is nothing you can do about it so you just go on.

But that is pathetic. Soccer officiating is not God, and it is a complete turnoff that years of hopes and dreams can be crushed with incompetent or corrupt officials, and there's nothing that can be done. That's not a sport. It's a real turnoff, and this Cup has been a true turnoff because of it.

Like I said, the USA did not play all that well. But let's not kid ourselves. If they go into halftime 1-1 and needing 1 goal in the second half to get out of the group (Italy was winning and did win), I think they do, as Ghana got to change its whole strategy and just sit back and defend. It completely changed the game, that terrible penalty kick call. FIFA needs to be ashamed, and I need to remind myself not to care so much about international soccer in the future, since you can't trust you won't get screwed.

I am rooting for Brazil to win it all, obviously. I can also root for Spain. Germany is the home country; they will probably win it and almost certainly get to the final match since home field is by far the most important factor in knowing the outcome of a soccer match. I root against England. I like Portugal. I like Argentina, but they are possibly the worst purveyors of the "Writhing Pussy" routine. I can root for the Dutch as well. So Netherlands-Brazil in one semifinal and Germany-Italy in the other is probably the outcome. Argentina is better than Germany, but home field. Either Germany or Argentina will be in the final against Brazil. I'll say Germany over Brazil.

This Makes Me Want to Learn Chess AND Boxing

So the day the dog days finally arrive in sports (Stanley Cup won Monday, NBA title won Tuesday, USA national team eliminated Thursday, and Armstrong is retired from Julys). The first day of summer is here and the hellish baseball season plays on endlessly as we all wait in desperate horror for ten weeks to pass until NFL resumes.

You know that Slow Sports News Season is here when a full front page spread describing "chessboxing" appears on Here's how it works.
Two competitors face each other in 11 alternating rounds, six of chess, five of boxing. A bout begins with chess, which is played on a board placed directly in the middle of the ring. Each round of chess lasts four minutes. After each chess round, the bell sounds, and workmen remove the chessboard for a two-minute round of boxing, the gloves go back on, the punching recommences. Participants win by way of knockout, checkmate, referee's decision, or if his opponent exceeds the allotted total of 12 minutes for an entire match on the chessboard.
This is jawdroppingly hysterical and brilliant. Yes, yes, it sounds gimmicky, and it obviously is. But a gimmick only stays a gimmick until enough people go, you know, that kinda sounds interesting. I mean, it's sort of fascinating to combine two entirely different ways to win that are thematically linked. Ali would have dominated.

Think about it. You could have a list of the top ranked contenders, and what if one guy was some spindly nerd brainiac who relied on his ability to win the chess match in the first four minutes? Or he could marginally punch, definitely run away inside the ring, and out-chess anyone? Then you could have the hulking guys who could learn enough basic defensive chess strategy to avoid being beaten on the chessboard while they beat the shit out of the other guy in the ring. It's exactly the kind of thing that kids in college would create while high.

Imagine a guy getting pummelled but he knows he's a better chess player... he goes down in the eighth round, can he make it to his feet to finish off the chess match in the ninth? Insane.

All I know is, I would watch this shit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The "Ignorant Americans" World Cup Lie

Tell me if you've heard this one before. The World Cup gets a billion viewers when it shows the Finals every four years. The whole world participates in "the beautiful game." In the United States, American viewers barely notice. Thus, Americans are selfish, ignorant and arrogant elitists.

This is a stupid argument on so many levels it is hard to know how to even begin to organize a rebuttal. Let me give it a try.

Claim: Soccer is the whole world's game.
Fact: Soccer is a European and South American game. Everybody else is bad.

This is the 18th World Cup. It was held three times in the 1930s and then 14 times between 1950 and 2002.

In the first 17 tries, only European and South American nations have won.

Only European and South American teams have finished second.

Only European and South American teams have ever won the third place game.

Only European and South American teams have ever legitimately finished fourth, considering that the sole exception was yet nother South Korean home crowd thieving disgrace.

Consider this list:

South America
5 2 2 1
2 2 0 0
2 0 0 2
0 0 1 0

3 4 1 1
3 2 1 1
1 0 2 1
1 0 0 1
0 2 0 1
0 2 0 0
0 2 0 0
0 1 1 1
0 0 2 0
0 0 1 1
0 0 1 0
0 0 1 0
0 0 1 0
0 0 0 1
0 0 0 1
0 0 0 1
0 0 0 1
0 0 0 1* (also, with USA, lost in semis during primitive 1930 Cup when no 3d place game was held

Rest of World
0 0 lost in semis in primitive 1st Cup, no 3d place game
South Korea
0 0 0 1-Slimy Cheatball Bit of Shame that doesn't count
All other nations on planet

Yeah, right, it's the "World" Cup.

It's a European game that 4 European nations have won (Italy, Germany, France and England) and 3 South American nations have won (Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay).

Claim, Part II: It's the world's game.
Fact, Part II: Whatever.
Here is a list of the Earth's nations, by population:
1 - Mainland China, 1,315,844,000
2 - India, 1,103,371,000
3 - USA, 298,213,000
4 - Indonesia, 222,781,000
5 - Brazil, 186,405,000
6 - Pakistan, 157,935,000
7 - Russia, 143,202,000
8 - Bangladesh, 141,822,000
9 - Nigeria, 131,530,000
10 - Japan, 128,085,000

Well, China sucks. They could not even qualify
to get into the final qualifying in the sad, sad region that hapless Iran and Japan won. But they are light years better than India, who could not even get past the very first qualification round. India might be able to beat St. Kitts and St. Nevis, maybe.

That's a collective catastrophic suckitude for over 2.4
billion people.

The next country is the USA, who clearly don't have the 5th best side in the world, but who clearly have a competitive side. The Italy game was nowhere near the shock that Ghana over Czech was. Since the USA is at issue in this post, we'll move along.

The 4th largest country is Indonesia. They are India-level bad. Same with 6th Pakistan and 8th Bangladesh. These are terrible, terrible soccer nations who would easily be beaten by Dartmouth soccer. Though I didn't list nations 11-20, the 12th, 13th, 15th and 19th are Vietnam, the Philippines, Ethiopia and Thailand who are all India-level dogshit soccer nations.

5th Brazil is obviously the best soccer nation in the world. Heads and shoulders.

7th Russia occasionally qualifies, but even in the nearly 5-decade era when the USSR-USA Cold War of sports raged, neither nation came remotely close to dominating in soccer. Or really tried, for that matter, as the sporting priorities for both nations were directed elsewhere.

9th Nigeria and 10th Japan both have marginal teams. The Nigeria run to the quarterfinals a few years ago was a nice story, but it was regarded as miraculous for a reason. And hapless Japan proved in 2002 that like the USA in 1994, if you are the Cup host nation, you can make the 2d round on pure home field advantage.

Here's the inescapable point. In the places where most of the world lives, soccer is marginal and the national teams are hilariously bad. But you don't hear the spitefully bitter invective, "ignorant Indonesians!" Or people trashing Indians for not engaging in passionate soccer riots. I recently ran into a bit of resistance on a message board over this point (the specific issue was Russia's passion for soccer) and the defender replied by noting that people can be killed on the train for wearing the wrong team's colors. That's the reflexive measurement of soccer passion - can you die for rooting for the wrong team. Americans are awful and ignorant for not taking soccer interest to this level of insanity.

Brazil, Italy, Germany or Argentina have won 13 of 17 Cup Finals and finished runner up in 10 of 17 Cup Finals. That's pretty much domination by the WWII fascist states and the places the fascists fled to in disguise after the war. The rest of the world gets the crumbs. France won the Cup that was held in France, England won the Cup held in England, and Uruguay won the Cup held in Uruguay.

Which brings us to the list of nations that have won the Cup on foreign soil.
1938 - Italy won in France (before 1940, when Germany won in France)
1950 - Uruguay won in Brazil
1954 - Germany won in Switzerland
1958 - Brazil won in Sweden
1962 - Brazil won in Chile
1970 - Brazil won in Mexico
1982 - Italy won in Spain
1986 - Argentina won in Mexico
1990 - Germany won in Italy
1994 - Brazil won in USA
2002 - Brazil won in South Korea

List of countries who won on another continent
1958 - Brazil won in Sweden
1970 - Brazil won in Mexico
1986 - Argentina won in Mexico
1994 - Brazil won in USA
2002 - Brazil won in South Korea

List of countries who won on foreign soil when the host nation was an actual threat
1950 - Uruguay won in Brazil (over Brazil, probably the biggest upset of all time)
1958 - Brazil won in Sweden (over Sweden, who probably overachieved as is natural on home soil)
1990 - Germany won in Italy (Italy finished 3d)

These lists show the domination of host nations and those 4 elite nations. France and England are the next cut, and Uruguay was strong in the early years. They break through because they won Cups on home soil. The next cut after them, the Netherlands and the Czechs, may have won Cups if they'd ever hosted them.

Calling this a "world" game, pfft. Soccer is a lowest common denominator game, because it is the cheapest entry-cost game. You need: one ball, two goals, land and people. Being the lowest common denominator game does not connote "nobility." It simply is what it is, a simple sporting form, the simplest for team play. Just as wealth is not inherently evil, poverty is not inherently noble.

Claim: Americans hate soccer because they aren't good at it, and thus aren't interested in anything they can't dominate, revealing a national bullying arrogance of character.
Fact: Euros are whiny bitches.

OK, Fact: Americans aren't as proportionally interested in soccer as the rest of the world because other sports capture their interest, which is both legit and has nothing to do with flawed character.
America has the most mature, developed sporting culture on Earth. Americans are INSANE about sports. No other nation's citizens are even close. They love sports and spend hundreds of billions on sports. It is common for American citizens to be intimately familiar with every nuance of 3-10 sporting forms and leagues simultaneously. Pro and college football, hockey, baseball, college and pro basketball, golf, boxing, tennis, etc. (That doesn't even mention most Olympic events.) Not everyone is into all of them, but many are very much into several and casually familiar with a whole array of others. Every single one of those sporting forms I just named has a history that is at least as old and in most cases significantly older than the freaking World Cup. That means they're rooted in the American conscience. They've got heroes going back a century. Soccer before World War II was pretty much about as popular as lacrosse or rugby (outside of Australia) is now. Soccer is a relative latecomer, and now its fans want to piss and moan that Americans don't embrace it because they lag behind the rest of the world. Bullshit. American sports are far more advanced than the rest of the world's enjoyment of the profoundly elemental and bare-bones latecomer sporting form that is soccer.

Set aside the American assessment of the sport form of soccer itself for the moment. Soccer is just way behind the other sports. If Americans had rejected soccer entirely, this might not stand up to scrutiny. But like all popular sporting forms, soccer has gradually and steadily gained popularity in America. There were outdoor soccer leagues in the 70s and indoor soccer leagues in the 70s/80s. Pele helped bring soccer to America. Kids everywhere played in soccer leagues from early childhood to the junior high age. In the late 80s and early 90s, the USA made a breakthrough by finally qualifying for the Finals on the national level. In 1994 they hosted the World Cup and stadiums across the country were packed for the Finals, an event that saw the USA thank the world for the own goal and squeak into the 2d round. Then Major League Soccer was formed, an American national league grooming quality homegrown talent. The men's side got annihilated in 1998 in the Finals, but the women's team generated a huge bubble of interest from women and the sporting nation in general. And 2002 witnessed the US men's side bounce back from 1998 with a trip to the quarterfinals that it fully earned. Had the time change not been so radically messed up (matches were held in the wee hours here), there would have been more interest than there was even then. And by 2006, the US had been highly ranked in FIFA (as sketchy as that may be, it still makes a point) and was considered a strong enough national team that it was going to Group of Deathicize any group it was thrown into. And every game in this year's World Cup (I think the same was true in 2002) is being shown live on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC.

Bottom line: for all the sturm und drang of the agenda-driven (America bashing) Euro douches, soccer is on the rise. It shows all the signs of a growing and growing product in the crowded and mature American sports market. So what's wrong with that?

What's wrong, say the America bashers, is that if soccer can stop civil wars in Ivory Coast, then it should be #1 in American interest or else Americans are ignorant elitist bullies who don't care about the world. It's extreme douchebaggery. And I say that as someone who followed every single match in FIFA qualifying everywhere on Earth for almost two years before this year's Finals.

Bring that shit to the Chinese. To the Indians, Indonesians and Pakistanis to whom soccer doesn't even exist for all intents and purposes. Soccer is exactly where it should be in the scheme of things in the USA.

Claim: When Americans criticize the lack of scoring or drama queen soccer pussies, they're just world-bashing, which makes them flawed and terrible people.
Fact: Soccer, which can be intense and captivating, is very different as a team sport form than what Americans are used to because Americans do value action and heroic toughness over chess-match strategery and uberdouche whiny pleas for their opponents to be unjustly penalized.
The reality is that whiny bitchitude is a hallmark of soccer. Sorry, soccer fans (myself included), but it's true. It is not compelling to see guys writhe around and get carried off on a stretcher only to miraculously spring up onto the field seconds later, 99.99% of the time. You ever notice you don't see Team USA guys do that? It's because American fans would not accept it. But it happens with countless Euro countries. When Americans see that, they correctly interpret it as a guy trying to win by influencing the refs rather than simply trying to beat the other guy on your own skill and effort. That shit hurts soccer with American fans. American fans actually love the nationalism - they hate the whiny bitches.

As for the lack of scoring, that is a bit trickier. In soccer, part of the intensity and drama comes from the fact that goals mean so much more. Because there are so relatively few, when they happen they bring explosive joy. You strive and strive and strive and finally you're rewarded with a goal. By contrast, comebacks are harder. Go a goal down, and it's incredibly rare to come back and win. It happens but it's rare.

It is also unfortunate that home field is such an unbelievable advantage. Because so much of the energy comes from nationalism, home sides at all stages of qualifying and the Finals are tough to beat. That's why goal differential is so important. In qualifying, teams always play two "legs" in a home and home format. A shocking 1-0 win or 0-0 tie by the underdog home team can be easily undone when they go on the road and lose 3-0, 4-0, 5-0. Americans know that home field advantage means something in sports, but when it is by far the most determining factor in the result, they tend to suspect that the "action" on the field as not really being about the action, but more about the venue. Which takes a lot of credulity out of the process.

All these criticisms are real, and Americans, whose sports appreciation pallet is the most mature and sophisitcated of any people on Earth, understand these flaws for what they are. But they aren't black and white. Americans may rant on sports radio a lot, but the reality is that most are connisseurs and appreciate grey. Soccer, for all its flaws, is still appreciated and on the rise in the USA. That's real and substantive interest. Will soccer ever be the most loved sport here? No. Never. And if Euro douches demand this, remember, they're Euro. Docuhes. They're arrogant Euros who want the whole world to be into their minority population-dominated game. And it would be tremendous if the USA ever did win the Cup, because they'd be truly apoplectic.

Welcome, CMM.