Thankful for Soccer


I had a busy week of travel for the Thanksgiving holiday but managed to watch a handful of soccer games live and via ESPN 3 replays.

South Africa 0:1 United States (17 Nov 2010)

Ah, the sweet, sweet sound of vuvuzelas.  The USMNT has played a lot of games in South Africa the past couple of years and returned for the Nelson Mandela Challenge.  It was a good opportunity to see a lot of youngsters as five players earned their first caps.  There were a number of great individual performances including Eric Lichaj, Brad Guzan (captaining from the goal) and of course Mikkel Diskerud (who provided a golden assist) and Juan Agudelo (who scored the lone goal).  At 17 years old Agudelo is the youngest player to score for the USA.  It’s a small sample size, but this game made me very happy about the future of our side.

Ajax 0:0 PSV (20 Nov 2010)

Ajax’s battle with PSV for the top of Eredivisie table was physical, gritty, and tense, but all the same it ended in a scoreless draw.  Ajax continues to struggle and have been winless in three straight Eredivisie matches. Also, in a game I missed on Tuesday, Real Madrid eliminated Ajax from Champions League contention.  Oh well, time to focus on the domestic league.

Italy 0:1 United States (20 Nov 2010)

Who’d have thunk that the Italian women’s football team also focuses on defensive play?  A fairly dull World Cup qualifying playoff match saw Italy and the US goalless through 90 minutes.  Then Alex Morgan (always Alex Morgan and her fresh young legs) scored in the 4th minute of stoppage time for the win.  Scoring a dramatic, last-minute goal to win the match?  Now the US women are playing like the US men.

Manchester City 4:1 Fulham (21 Nov 2010)

I didn’t watch this match with great attention but saw enough of Manchester City’s evisceration of Fulham at Craven Cottage to not be happy about it.

FC Dallas 1:2 (o.t.) Colorado Rapids (21 Nov 2010)

The unlikely MLS Cup contenders played a fairly entertaining match in Toronto.  David Ferreira’s first half goal was the scoring highlight of the game but also the only highlight for Dallas.  Rapids’ star Conor Casey equalized in the second-half after fighting for a rebound while laying on the ground.  The game winning goal in overtime Macomba Kandji made a good drive to the net and had his  shot deflect off of Dallas’ George John for an own goal and the win.

Everton 4:1 West Bromwich Albion (27 Nov 2010)

This seemed like a rerun of the Fulham-Manchester City match last week with the home side demolished by four goals and even playing a man down due to a red card.  Everton is looking pretty hopeless these days as they are winless for November (and they kick off December at Stamford Bridge).

United States 1:0 Italy (27 Nov 2010)

Amy Rodriguez provided the goal in Chicago to give the US women a 2-0 aggregate win over Italy and the final spot in the 2011 Women’s World Cup.  Pia Sundhage was not happy with her team’s play and after the matches against Italy & Mexico (not to mention friendlies versus China and Sweden) it looks like the team needs to get it’s act together if it hopes to contend for the World Cup championship.

Palermo 3:1 Roma (28 Nov 2010)

Thanks to a profile of young Argentinian star Javier Pastore on Cheeky Chip, I’ve finally found a Serie A team I want to follow and that is the Sicilian side Unione Sportiva Città di Palermo.  The flamingo pink side joyfully defeated Roma in a battle for the 6th spot in the Serie A table and are in striking distance of moving further up the table next week.

There’s an exciting week coming up including El Classico at Camp Nou, the draw for the Women’s World Cup, and the announcement of the host nations for the 2018 and 2022 (Go USA!)

 

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Beer Review: Éphémère (bottle)


Beer: Éphémère
Brewer: Unibroue
Source: 750 ml. bottle
Rating: *** (7.2 of 10)

Comments:  For my birthday, my friend Craig presented me with a bottle of Éphémère although he feared I wouldn’t like it.  Fortunately, I’ve tried it three years ago during a babymoon on Mt. Desert Island and gave it a glowing review at the time.  And it’s still good. The beer pours out with a very thick head, and has a cloudy fresh apple cider appearance with heavy carbonation.  The aroma is of spicy apples and the taste a yummy granny smith tartness, sweet but light and refreshing.  My wife says it would make a “good summertime beer” although it’s just fine on an autumn night as well.

Beer Review: Samuel Adams Winter Lager


Beer: Samuel Adams Winter Lager
Brewer: Boston Beer Company
Source:
Draft
Rating:
*** (7.8 of 10)

Comments: I had this on-tap at Doyle’s Cafe the pub close to the Samuel Adams headquarters in Jamaica Plain where Sam Adam’s beers always taste best.  This is a chocolate-brown beer with a thick – although quickly dissipating – head that leaves nice lacing on the glass.  The flavor is malty, spicy and sweet but not too sweet.  It’s a complex and refreshing beer and I ordered another pint.

 

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Book Reviews: The Drunkard’s Walk by Leonard Mlodinow


Author: Leonard Mlodinow
Title: The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives
Publication Info: Your Coach In A Box (2009), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 1596592796

Previously Read By Same Author: Feynman’s Rainbow: A Search for Beauty in Physics and in Life

Summary/Review:  Mlodinow explores the role of randomness in our lives and probability and how the brains of human beings are unskilled at detecting such things.  In addition to a lively and richly illustrated discussion of statistics there is a considerable amount of the history of mathematics and science, which the history geek in me enjoyed.  A good book with a good message I’m sadly certain I’ll soon forget.

Recommended booksThe Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Numbers Game: Baseball’s Lifelong Fascination with Statistics by Alan Schwarz, How We Decide by Jonah Lehrer, UnSpun : finding facts in a world of disinformation by Brooks Jackson and Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell

Rating: ***

Book Review: Origins of the specious by Patricia T. O’Conner


Author: Patricia T. O’Conner
Title: Origins of the specious : myths and misconceptions of the English language
Publication Info: New York : Random House, c2009.
ISBN: 9781400066605

Summary/Review:  This is a great book about all those rules about English grammar, pronunciation and etymology.  Many of them are based on false premises such as 19th-century Latinists trying to make English fit the rules of Latin grammar.  Others thought to be long-time steadfast rules are actually recent innovations.  So go ahead and use “they” for both singular and plural just the same way we use “you.” If your pedant friend insists on Latin plurals for certain words tell them there’s a long history for “octopuses,” “stadiums,” and “forums” and that they’re perfectly acceptable.  And start a sentence with a conjunction, there’s no reason not to.   Nor is there any reason for not to boldly split those infinitives.  The best part of this book is that it recognizes the evolutionary and crowd-sourced aspect of language that is always changing.  It’s a democracy where everyone has but one vote and what is correct is what is best understood.  As O’Conner puts it “It’s better to be understood than to be correct.”

Recommended booksEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss, The Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson, and Language Visible: Unraveling the Mystery of the Alphabet from A to Z by David Sacks

Rating: ***1/2

Book Reviews: Silver Stallion by Ahn Junghyo


Around the World for a Good Book selection for: South Korea

Author: Ahn Junghyo
Title: Silver Stallion
Publication Info: New York, NY : Soho Press, c1990.
ISBN: 0939149303 :

Summary/Review: This unsettling book is set during a time that most American readers like myself will be familiar with, the Korean War (and that mostly from watching many episodes of M*A*S*H).  A remote village, relatively unaffected by previous wars – including the Japanese occupation – finds itself adjacent to the encampment of the “World Army” of United Nations troops sent to fight the war.  As the novel begins a pair of predatory soldiers scour the village and rape a young widow named Ollye.  Following the lead of the village elder, none of her neighbors offer their aid or sympathy but instead ostracize her.  Ollye is forced to make ends meet by joining the “Yankee Wives,” local women working as prostitutes for the UN troops.  Much of the novel is seen through the eyes of Ollye’s son Mansik who is shamed by his mother and shunned by the other boys in the village.  Yet Mansik also finds himself willing to debase himself to once again be able to accepted by the other boys.  Parts of this novel strike a false note, especially the climax where Ollye confronts the villagers with a speech played up for dramatic effect, but mostly I was overwhelmed by the stark reality of the cruelty of humanity.  This is a dark novel about the affect of war on community and human nature.

Rating: ***1/2

Socceraholic


I’ve been watching a lot of games lately, and the games keep on coming.  So many leagues, so many competitions.  I’m going to need a break.

Canada 1:0 Mexico (8 November 2010):

The final of the CONCACAF Women’s Gold Cup was a bit anti-climactic as both sides had already earned a spot in the 2011 Women’s World Cup through their wins in the semi-finals.  Host nation and giant-killers Mexico returned to Earth after eliminating the United States. Canadian captain Christine Sinclair scored the only goal after her side was awarded a penalty kick on a handball in the box.  As I noted in my last post, I look forward to these two nations representing North America in the World Cup (with the US hopefully joining them) and the continued improvement of competition in women’s soccer worldwide.

Chelsea 1:0 Fulham (10 November 2010):

While others tuned into the Manchester Derby, I was drawn to the less-heralded West London Derby which I imagine is a one-sided affair akin to William & Mary’s athletic rivalry with University of Virginia (that is Chelsea and Virginia are indifferent to those who want to be rivals with them).  Playing Chelsea at Stamford Bridge where Chelsea have not lost or even conceded a goal in Premiership play this season was a mighty challenge for Fulham.  Impressively, Fulham put a lot of pressure on Chelsea and controlled the ball for long periods of time with a goal seeming due any moment.  Sadly, it did not come, but I believe that Fulham wore Chelsea down for their match with Sunderland on Saturday.

Everton 1:1 Bolton (10 November 2010):

Here’s a game that can be looked at in two ways.  On the one hand Everton played a great game, controlling the run of play and putting a lot of pressure on the Bolton goal.  Bolton’s only really good moment was the classic counterattack that lead to their goal.  Everton should have really scored a goal or two an won this game, so the end result is rather disappointing.  On the other, after going down 0-1 in the 78th minute and then losing a player to a red card in the 84th minute, I’d pretty much resigned myself to an Everton loss.  Jermaine Beckford’s dramatic goal in the third minute of stoppage time was a pleasant surprise that salvaged a point from the match.

FC Barcelona 3:1 Villareal CF (13 November 2010):

Another exciting game featuring Barça’s attacking style as they faced a rival for one of the top spots in La Liga.  David Villa and Lionel Messi (2) scored to lead Barcelona to an important victory.

Colorado 1:0 San Jose (13 November 2010):

The MLS  “Eastern” Conference Championship was one by one of the most exciting goals I’ve seen in my soccer-watching experiment.  At first, I thought the goal was scored by Omar Cummings  on a brilliant assist by Kosuke Kimura, but it turns out that Cummings never touched the ball and at best distracted Earthquakes’ goalkeeper Jon Busch as Kimura’s shot rolled in.  That was enough to send Colorado to the MLS Cup Final for the first time since 1997.

AZ Alkmaar 2:0 Ajax (14 November 2010):

Ajax played a road match in Alkmaar,  a city I totally wanted to visit on my recent trip to the Netherlands because of their famed cheese market.  The teams slogged through the rain with neither side getting their passing side started or managing a good shot on goal for much of the match.  AZ (pronounced Ah-Zed by the English commentator) scored at the 74th minute and put the death knell in the 89th minute with Ajax looking pretty much anemic in return.  This disappointing loss was the second straight in Eredivisie play.

Los Angeles 0:3 FC Dallas (14 November 2010):

I have a bias against Los Angeles and LA sports teams in general, and against the LA Galaxy in particular due to their frequent MLS success (especially two MLS Cup victories at the expense of New England).  So I admit a certain bit of schadenfreude seeing FC Dallas not just defeat, but also embarrass, the Galaxy in the Western Conference Final.  Now we should see two good teams in the MLS Cup Final with no “stories” other than the fact that the Eastern Conference champion is from a city 8° longitude west of the Western Conference champion’s hometown.  Sports in the USA have never been strong on geography.

Speaking of the MLS cup, I was listening to the a recent A Football Report podcast and the MLS playoff format was discussed.  The European commentators were pretty much dismissive of the American playoff system emphasizing that the team that plays best over the course of a long season.  A fair point and there is much I like about the European way of doing things but I also find it anticlimactic to end a season without a championship game or series.

I’m probably going way behind my ken, but I thought up a system for the MLS that would reward the best team(s) of the regular season while still having an exciting playoff system.  This concept assumes that the MLS will expand to 20 clubs by 2012 and at that point I’d divide them into two geographical conferences of 10 teams each (listed below).  There would be no inter-conference play and thus each team would face one another 4 times (2 home/2 away) for a total of 36 regular season games.

The advantages of two ten-team conferences include:

  • Encouraging regional rivalries
  • Allowing for fans to travel to more away matches.  While I never expect this to be as big a factor as it is in Europe, I would say that a diehard Red Bulls supporter, for example, would be able to go to more games in New England, Philadelphia, and Washington than in Seattle and San Jose.
  • Increase the draw for CONCACAF Champions League, US Open Cup, North American SuperLiga, and Canadian Championship matches due to the novelty of teams from the two conferences facing one another.
  • Reduce wear and tear on players traveling long-distance.  European players have complained about the long road trips necessary in the United States, so perhaps more players from abroad would be attracted to playing in the MLS.
  • And it would probably save on travel expenses.  MLS could even tout it as a green initiative.

The top 3 teams would qualify for the playoffs for a total of 6 teams (down from the currently overgenerous 8).  In the conference semifinals the top-ranked teams would earn a by while the 2nd and 3rd place teams faced one another in home-away aggregate goal series.  The winners of the semifinals would face the first place teams in a one-game conference championship hosted by the first place team.  The conference champions would then play the MLS Cup Final at a neutral location.

Probably a crazy idea, but I think it would be more fair and entertaining than the current system.  Of course, what would really make it work would be if the MLS developed a second division either through expansion or collaboration with the new NASL and begin a promotion/relegation system but I think that’s a long way off, if ever.

Eastern Conference

  • Chicago Fire
  • Columbus Crew
  • D.C. United
  • Kansas City Wizards
  • Montreal Impact
  • New England Revolution
  • New York Red Bulls
  • Philadelphia Union
  • Toronto FC
  • 2012 Expansion Team (New York / Detroit ?)

Western Conference

  • C.D. Chivas USA
  • Colorado Rapids
  • F.C. Dallas
  • Houston Dynamo
  • Los Angeles Galaxy
  • Portland Timbers
  • Real Salt Lake
  • San Jose Earthquakes
  • Seattle Sounders F.C.
  • Vancouver Whitecaps F.C.

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Beer Review: Peroni Nastro Azzurro


Beer: Peroni Nastro Azzurro
Brewer: Birra Peroni Industriale S.p.A.
Source: Draft
Rating:
* (5.7 of 10)

Comments: An average lager with pale yellow color, moderate carbonation and a rapidly dissipating head.  Crisp and not very flavorful with a moderate balance of hops and yeast.  An okay beer for washing down pizza at your local Italian place.

Book Review: Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson


Author: Greg Mortenson
Title: Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Journey to Change the World… One Child at a Time
Publication Info: Tantor Media (2006), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 1400102510

Summary/Review:

I’m probably the last person in the United States to read this book but here is my review anyway.  This memoir/biography tells the story of Greg Mortenson, a mountaineer who after a failed attempt at summiting K-2 is received warmly in a remote village in Pakistan.  As a means of paying back the people of Korphe for their hospitality he promises to build them a school.  Fulfilling this promise is wrought with many challenges but leads Mortenson to a new mission in life, eventually founding the Central Asia Institute to support education in the remote regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan, especially for girls as a means of promoting social change and peace.  This is a nice, inspirational work and if you haven’t read it, check it out.

Favorite Passages:

“In times of war, you often hear leaders—Christian, Jewish, and Muslim—saying ‘God is on our side.’ But that isn’t true. In war, God is on the side of refugees, widows, and orphans.” — Greg Mortenson

Recommended books: Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle by Dervla Murphy, and A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby.
Rating: ***