Saturday, June 26, 2010

proud to be an american

I got a chance to watch USA play Ghana today at a bar in New York City. We got there a little early to get a good seat. There were about 20-30 people there and we were sitting at the bar awaiting the opening whistle. As game time crept closer, my nerves took over. I was scared, nervous, excited, and jacked up. As the whistle sounded, the bar became packed with people full of red, white, and blue. The spirit engulfed The East End Tavern as the players began moving around the field. Like a chess match, each team made their moves only to be countered by the other. Soon after the start, USA made a mistake in the back and Ghana went up 1-0. For the rest of the game we chased, and chased. As the minutes passed, I felt more and more involved in the game, suddenly I was breathing harder as players were making long runs, my heart was beating faster as we got closer and closer to scoring. The thought of us losing was becoming apparent, but then, Dempsey managed to beat one defender, beat another and then was brought down in the box. The referee awarded a PK for USA. Donovan, down on his knees awaited the whistle to advance. The whistle blew, he took a few steps and buried it off the post into the net. USA 1 Ghana 1. The place went nuts, drinks were spilled, hands were raised, people were jumping up and down. We did it, once again—America had come back to even the score. Now can we do it again?

Ghana's goalie kept coming up big with miraculous saves on point blank shots. Jozy and Findley were both robbed with good saves. Ghana kept fighting, but USA kept fighting even harder. They wore their hearts on their sleeves and the nerves began to show from Ghana's team. As the second half seemed like it took days to finish, the final whistle blew. Overtime. Here we go.

Once again, another mistake in the back and Ghana out of nowhere sent a ball down the field, the striker hit a left footed volley straight over howard in to the back of the net, just like that—all the fight, all the heart, defeated...2-1 Ghana. We could of gave up, we could of tossed in the towel but we didn't. We got the ball off the kick off and connected a few passes and here we go chasing the game again. We had a few chances but each one was squandered. As the time passed, I still believed, America believed. They kept zooming in on each player and you knew that we had the heart, you knew we could do it. The seconds ticked, the minutes passed and before you know it we were in the second overtime with only minutes to spare. Tim Howard came rushing up from the goalie for a chance to even the score. Ghana's goalie came up big again and with seconds to go Ghana carried the ball into our half and the whistle sounded. Game over. Ghana beats USA 2-1 to advance to the next stage in the world cup.

What a game, what a run for America. Too little too late. But I know one thing, I've never seen so much heart in a team in my life, it reminds me of when I played at Clemson and everyone doubted us except for us. There was no doubt this year, not this time around. America believed and from here on out they have a following, not just soccer fans, not just sports fans, but millions of Americans that don't even know what offsides is. They are believers and that is the most liberating feeling you can have. Bravo USA. Keep working hard, keep believing and I can't wait to watch you in Brazil.

I'm proud to be an American.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

back to back champs

So first off I want to say congratulations to the Lakers, a well deserved back to back title. Next, I want to say I am not a fair weather fan, I grew up watching Magic and listening to my dad talk about Jerry West and the great lakers players. It was his favorite team his whole life so naturally it's the only NBA team that I followed when I was a kid. I love the lakers, I get jacked up when they play, and I'll argue to the end about each and every one of their players (well maybe not Ron Artest) but everybody else. My dad's favorite player was Jerry West, he could tell you every stat about him throughout his career and the impact he had on basketball in general. Down the road when I tell my kids about basketball I'll talk about Kobe, and I think a lot of people my age will do the same. Which leads to the ultimate debate that will never be answered, MJ or Kobe?

I've been in countless arguments over this sore topic and first things first, it's almost a comparison that should never be made but because that would be too easy for the media to dismiss, we live in an age where comparisons are the norm. My 100% belief about the entire situation is that MJ revitalized and gave life to basketball, he brought it back and provided viewers an incredible show each and every time he played. He had a swag about him on the court and off the court, he'll be one of the greatest players EVER to play the game. He has 6 championships, all 6 were with Phil Jackson. Kobe now has 5 championships, all 5 with Phil Jackson. They have very similar resumes, the same determination, motivation and love for the game. They have the same turn around fade away jumper. They have the same smile after pulling off a miraculous shot, the same passion. MJ was more of a media guy, he would smile and laugh and everybody loved him. He could do no wrong.

Kobe on the other hand went through a bad situation that was amplified by the media, the same media that is now saying Kobe will never be in the same boat as Jordan. Maybe he did himself in, but as far as basketball goes he is special, very special. Kobe had shut out everybody throughout the entire playoff series, every post game conference I watched I didn't notice Kobe smile one time, not once. He spoke with truth, he was blatant, and he didn't fake anything. After having a horrendous shooting night, Kobe managed to help his team out by grabbing 15 boards and nailing a jumper at the elbow to keep the lead at 4. He provided his team with a boost in ways that aren't statistically recorded. His passion, his determination spoke volumes in game 7. You could see it in every single player on the lakers. They were playing for the team, for Phil, for Kobe and that proves to me how important and how amazing of a player Kobe Bryant is. Not one game in the playoffs did he shoot that bad, I'm not even sure if he shot that bad the entire year. But hey, everyone has a bad game right? He just kept believing, not only in himself but his teammates. Guys like Derek Fisher hitting a HUGE 3, Pau Gasol dominating the boards and Ron Ron doing all the dirty work. Even though I thought Artest almost lost us the entire series, he came to play game 7 and I admired his work ethic and performance that night. I can't say if I think Kobe or Jordan is better, but I do know I think Kobe is the best basketball player of his time and that if he wins another championship there is no reason for him not to be in the same boat as Jordan. As for next year, I think Kobe works that much harder in the off season to get his boys back and I can only hope they win again.

Watching Kobe play this year really made me appreciate how good he really is. Ask coaches, players, former players about him and you'll hear compliment after compliment. He is one of the few athletes in the world that actually make me laugh at how good he is, because it just doesn't make sense. He's in the same category is Lionel Messi, Roger Federer, Tiger Woods, Brett Favre, and Albert Pujols. He hits shots that I've never seen people make, he sees things that nobody else sees, he wants the ball with 5 seconds to go, he laughs at the face of defeat, and he puts his team on his back and carries them to where they need to go. He believes...in himself and his teammates and he's never afraid. His confidence shines a light on everyone else and provides them with a sense of calmness. I wouldn't feel too bad at the end of a game knowing I had Kobe Bryant on my team. He is one of the best players of all time and just like Brett Favre I hope he plays forever.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

World Cup Fever

Yesterday was the 2nd day of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. USA played England which had been hyped up as one of the most important matches of the World Cup. England has solidified themselves as a powerhouse in the world of soccer and USA has been fighting to earn some respect as a squad. They were looking to paint over an embarrassing canvas of past performances to earn some credit across the world. Following the swirl of news about team USA's preparation before the world cup only made it that much harder to wait for this match to finally take place. We went over to Friends Cafe to watch the game and before I could even settle down and get comfortable Gerrard came streaking through the box unmarked and buried a wonderful strike past an outstretched Howard for the opening goal of the match in the 4th minute. I sighed and thought, here we go again, another bad performance, another dismal outing from USA. But then, a few minutes later things just seemed different. We were connecting passes, making dynamic runs, going at defenders, and most importantly getting stuck in. Wait a second, this isn't normal? Double teams in the corner, tricky flicks, through balls on a rope, taking shots from distance...WHERE did the old team USA go? Who knows, but yesterday was a great beginning to what looks like a new and improved American team.

For most of the first half USA dominated in possession and looked like a team that was rolling on all cylinders. In the second half England dominated for spurts but USA came right back at them with plenty of chances. The goal that USA scored came off great skill from Dempsey, a decent strike from distance which Greene made an absolute awful attempt to save the shot, it ricocheted off his hands and rolled into the goal. Altidore missed a chance later, and Tim Howard made some HUGE saves. Overall, I was in awe at their performance. Did we look like a powerhouse that could win the world cup? No...but what we did look like was a young, passionate team that has prepared for the largest stage in the world and we competed. We competed against one of the best squads in the world. And with that, I'll be chomping at the bit until Friday's next match.