Straight Out of the Onion?

And it turns out that people flocked to my blog right before that Favreapalooza on Monday night. Go figure. But I’ll take the page hits!

Anyway, my current work schedule, has somewhat kept me from posting. Well, that and not having timely material for when I would otherwise have put up a new entry. But, let’s see if the upcoming weeks and months are a bit friendlier towards regular updates.

This morning’s events finally forced me to post. I’m absolutely stunned, just like the President was when he found out, and frankly most of the press too. The Nobel Committee’s reasoning is fair enough, including a comparison to Mikhail Gorbachev in 1980 (before glasnost really took hold), and Fareed Zakaria seems to think along the same lines (‘America rejoining the world’).

I guess most people assume that the prize is a lifetime achievement award. That has always been what I was led to believe, too. Plenty of joke fodder already, some on the right, and of course quite a bit of it is absurd hyperbole, but even Obama surely knows that he has to go earn this with his and our country’s actions in the next few years. If not, you can be sure this “rockstar” theme is going to come up again in 2012, just like it did after his tour of Europe in 2008.

Even non-conservatives might be concerned about this development. It could have both positive and negative implications for Obama’s policy-making efforts, particularly on foreign policy. Chris Cilliza expands on this and some of my other points.

Hey, it makes for a nice wake-up call though, if you can get it. Enjoy the award, Mr. President, I’m not going to say you need to turn it down by any means. But as you said in your press conference today, don’t dare let this award get to your head. There is a lot of work to be done, and everyone will be watching you more closely than before (if that’s actually possible).

The fun begins withi figuring out what to do in Afghanistan. And then reconciling Congress and the nation on healthcare (no disrespect to Sen. Tom Harkin, but try to minimize the government’s direct involvement) without actually using reconciliation. Oh, and don’t forget the “Es”- economy, environment, and education…

USA-Mexico Rosters Announced

USA head coach Bob Bradley announced his traveling party to the Azteca this afternoon. No real surprises at all, possibly other than Brian Ching and Conor Casey both being on it. That’s interesting as those two seem like pretty similar players- hold-up/work-rate forwards in the vein of Emile Heskey. Since only 18 of the 20 players called up can be on the game-day roster, one of those two will likely be dropped. Otherwise, it’s the A-team, with Chad Marshall and Stuart Holden added on the strength of their performances in the recent Gold Cup.

ESPN and Ives Galarcep give their thoughts here and here. I like Ives’ lineup suggestion, but I think Bob Bradley will probably start Jozy Altidore over Charlie Davies, assuming Ching is a near lock in order to win balls near the goal. Altidore has been starting for a while, so that’s one of the main reasons for this opinion. Also, I think Steve Cherundolo may start over Jonathan Spector if he’s fully fit. Veteran over youth in a cauldron-like environment.

Mexico’s team was revealed last week. The big surprise is no Pavel Pardo, whom Mexico coach Javier Aguirre apparently doesn’t rate at this level. Also, captain Rafael Marquez is injured and will definitely miss the game. Of course, that also means he won’t get himself sent off as he did in the reverse qualifier back in February with a petulant kick at Tim Howard. But ageless veteran Cuauhtemoc Blanco does get the call. It’s certainly a team that can score goals. Where they seem to be vulnerable against the U.S. is on set pieces (free kicks and corners), so watch out for that during the game.

So, can this be the first American team, and only the second overall, to win at the Azteca come Wednesday afternoon? My honest guess is no, but stay tuned. Mexico just has to win this game to feel comfortable about their chances of getting to South Africa for the World Cup via an automatic qualifying spot (CONCACAF’s top-3 make it, fourth place has to win a two-leg playoff against South America’s fifth place team), while the U.S. should pretty much book their ticket by winning their two remaining home games. Plus, if they don’t, the crowd and media down there are known to put big-time heat on the Mexican players and coaching staff after any poor performance. Against their biggest rivals? Dial it up times 100.

More Free Agent Fun

Apparently, miss a few hours today, and you miss a ton. So, here’s a round-up of what else happened in the NHL today, plus some reaction from various pundits.

Newsday and ESPN both reporting that the Rangers have signed Marian Gaborik to a five year, $37.5 million contract. It’s a lot of money, but Gaborik is 27 and is a top notch scorer when healthy. Okay, that’s a big question mark with him. He missed all but 17 games last year for Minnesota with a hip injury, although he recorded 13 points in the games that he did play, and scored 42 goals just two years ago. Also, his salary would be comparable to the now-departed Scott Gomez, and again, assuming good health, Gaborik’s definitely a better scorer than Gomez while still being able to set up others too. Which means Rangers GM Glen Sather turned Gomez into three players (Gaborik, Chris Higgins, and Ryan McDonagh) who could all contribute in the years to come, probably for no more than an extra $1-2 million per year. Potentially very good business on his part. After Marian Hossa, Gaborik was the most coveted winger in the free agency pool.

They also lost Fredrik Sjostrom to Calgary. No surprise there. He wanted a pay raise, and is a good penalty killer. Still, even at $750,000 a year, he was dispensable. Rookies probably could give them about the same, and for something closer to the league’s minimum salary. On the other hand, adding Sjostrom to the signing of Jay Bouwmeester must make Miikka Kiprusoff very happy in the Flames’ crease.

Montreal continued to splash the cash and remake its team (sounds like longtime captain Saku Koivu is headed elsewhere), and tonight their arch-rivals, the Toronto Maple Leafs were heard from too. The Habs added Mike Cammaleri and Brian Gionta. Both are solid scorers, and if Cammaleri’s 31 goal outburst last year wasn’t a fluke, his $6 million per year price could soon become a bargain. Gionta at $5 million seems a bit pricey, although he has scored 20+ goals in each of the past four seasons for New Jersey. Checking line standout Steve Begin headed to Montreal’s other rival, Boston. Meanwhile, Toronto traded Pavel Kubina to Atlanta for Garnet Exelby (a couple of other relatively minor names were involved too). The Leafs clear a bad contract, while Atlanta adds some veteran leadership to their young blueline, which features 20-somethings Zach Bogosian and Tobias Enstrom. Also, while Toronto didn’t sign Cammaleri, a a Toronto-area native, they did win the bidding war with several teams for now ex-Canadien Mike Komisarek. Good defensive defenseman, and if he takes fewer penalties while maintaining his physical presence, look out. Toronto should improve next season, and they could leave plenty of bruises on teams even in defeat.

Minnesota acted swiftly to replace Marian Gaborik, signing Martin Havlat, who was made redundant in Chicago by the signing of Marian Hossa. They have also offered Saku Koivu a deal (his brother Mikko plays for the Wild) and might get an answer within a day or two.

Finally, a quick round-up of some other deals. Some fairly notable players changed addresses, including John Madden and Sami Pahlsson, while Chris Neil chose to stay in Ottawa. The National Post (Canada) has an even more extensive list, plus some quotes on a few of the bigger moves.

So now let’s hear from the peanut gallery. SI’s Allan Muir joined me and others in questioning the day’s big move, Hossa’s big score with the Blackhawks. Again, it was about the length of the deal and how the Blackhawks intend to pay for some of their other stars once they get off of entry-level contracts. This Detroit fan was pleased that his team didn’t match what the Wings’ rivals offered.

Muir also sounded off on perceived winners and losers. Personally, I think the Knuble and Ohlund signings will make a bigger impact than those of Komisarek and Khabibulin- even if he can help the Oilers persuade Dany Heatley to waive his no-trade-clause to join them.

This Panthers fan had a somewhat light-hearted, somewhat cynical take on the day.

Puck Daddy likes the Gaborik signing, as well as what the Blue Jackets did (adding Pahlsson and back-up goalie Mathieu Garon). He’s not so sure about Montreal’s team construction. They might score goals, but he is right about their sudden size issues. Wouldn’t surprise me if they get worn down by physical teams unless they fix this over the next three months. Bob McKenzie is also unsure what to expect from the Canadiens next season.

Other Ranger fans seem mixed on Gaborik, based on posts to blog threads or their own commentaries. SNY’s bloggers worry about the injury problems but appreciate his obvious talent. Rangers Review definitely likes the move. Hockey Rodent thinks there’s more to come.

Hall-of-Fame reporter Eric Duhatschek thinks Calgary became a serious title contender. Bruce Arthur adds that the Flames have so much money tied up in eight players, that injury problems could lead to a repeat of last year, when they were too close to the cap to dress the full allotment of 20 players for several games. Beyond that, he says, it was a very interesting day in Canada as each team tried to get better. And with the cap and stronger Canadian dollar in place, none of that country’s six teams has an excuse for losing anymore.

I’ll be back some time tomorrow. We’ll run through whatever else transpires, and get into some moves in the NBA and other sports. Oh, baseball’s All Star Game voting ends this week and Manny Ramirez can return from suspension too…

Busy Week

Pleased with the Yankees apparent turnaround in Atlanta and then against the Mets (or is it MASH Unit, or even David Wright and the seven dwarfs?). Congrats to Mariano Rivera on his 500th save. That’s a great achievement, but also hides what he will be remembered for- his postseason track record.

Also proud of what our national team did, despite Brazil’s second-half comeback. And of our soldiers, as they turned over control of Iraq’s cities to an Iraqi military.

Anyway, on to present matters. NBA and NHL free agents to chat about tomorrow, more so with hockey because basketball players can’t sign until next week. Ronaldo and Kaka to be officially introduced at Real Madrid… more big money signings to come?

I’ll have some thoughts on this stuff later… after dealing with my own business! Damn, the holiday weekend can’t get here soon enough. Should I go out to the beach or hit the city? Your thoughts welcome…

USA-Brazil Second Half Blog

Teams are back out, and the U.S. is set to kick-off the second half. Remember to hit “refresh” to get these updates, because I don’t think WordPress updates automatically.

46th Minute- Goal, Luis Fabiano gets Brazil off to a perfect start, nice ball into him, he turns Jay DeMerit and hits a perfect shot low past Tim Howard. Great play by Luis Fabiano, who is now on course to win the tournament’s golden boot. 2-1 U.S.

50th Minute- Donovan passes to Feilhaber, who dribbles to the goal line, and while his shot is stopped by Julio Cesar, it may have gone out before that.

52nd Minute- Donovan runs it up the field and finds Davies, but his pass to Altidore is knocked away.

53rd Minute- DeMerit is caught out of position but Feilhaber keeps the ball away from Ramires in the U.S. box long enough for Howard to grab the ball.

54th Minute- Feilhaber fouls Kaka, setting up a free kick in a dangerous position. Maicon fires in and Altidore heads away. A subsequent effort from Brazil fails to find Luis Fabiano.

56th Minute- Another foul by Feilhaber on Kaka. Free kick Brazil. It hits the wall and deflects up. Felipe Melo is flagged offside as he jousts with DeMerit for the ball.

59th Minute- Lucio gets a free header off a corner kick, but Howard reacts quickly to palm it away. Gilberto Silva gets to the follow-up but fires high under some pressure. Brazil definitely smelling blood right now.

60th Minute- Whoa! Great cross to the back post finds Kaka. His header is stopped by Howard, but Brazil screams that he and the ball were over the line. Not given, replays unclear at the moment. One replay suggests yes, another indecisive.

63rd Minute- Another Maicon corner is deflected away by Howard. Davies and Ramires scrap for the ball, and Brazil controls.

64th Minute- Some chaos in the U.S. box, but one of the assistant referees flags Brazil for something.

65th Minute- Davies dribbles forward, then passes back to Clark to ease pressure. He finds Donovan, who shoots from outside the box and Julio Cesar makes a decent save.

66th Minute- Dempsey gets a sniff of goal and Julio Cesar palms away. Daniel Alves comes on for Andre Santos. He scored on a great free kick to beat South Africa in the semifinals. Elano also checks in at the expense of Ramires. Brazil thinking offense here for sure. Quarter of the game left to play.

67th Minute- Nice play by DeMerit to beat Luis Fabiano to the ball and draw a foul. He has been really good throughout the tournament.

69th Minute- Lucio booked for arguing with referee Martin Hansson.

71st Minute- DeMerit clears away a cross, but moments later, Luis Fabiano beats everyone and the offside trap, only to see Howard come off his line and smother the ball.

72nd Minute- Davies takes on several Brazilian defenders and nearly prevails with some nice touches of the ball, but Luisao as the last man knocks it away before he can get to Julio Cesar.

74th Minute- Goal and it’s Luis Fabiano again. Robinho heads off the crossbar from a Kaka cross, and Fabiano heads home at the opposite post for his fifth of the tournament. Howard was down in trying to stop Elano and had no chance. Tied at 2. Nice burst of speed by Kaka to set it up.

76th Minute- Bob Bradley brings in Jonathan Bornstein and Sacha Kljestan. Feilhaber and Altidore exit.

78th Minute- Kaka decides to shoot from long distance. Doesn’t get much on it and it rolls harmlessly wide.

79th Minute- Felipe Melo fouls and he needs to be careful because he was already booked. Good free kick from Donovan, and Julio Cesar grabs it just before Clint Dempsey can pounce.

80th Minute- Bornstein decides to shoot. He’s a bit off-balance, although the technique is good, and the ball flies wide.

82nd Minute- Robinho fires high and wide after a few moves.

84th Minute- Goal.DeMerit stops Luis Fabiano from getting a scoring chance. Elano hits a corner and from it, Brazil scores. Lucio outjumps Dempsey and has what amounts to a free header, which he doesn’t miss, firing into the lower-left corner. The players all mob Lucio but credit also to Elano for a perfect set piece. 3-2 to Brazil, and that is surely the winner. A comeback worthy of the sport’s greatest champions.

88th Minute- U.S. corner. Conor Casey on for Ricardo Clark in Bob Bradley’s last throw of the dice. Donovan puts it into the box and Onyewu gets to it but heads over the bar. In fairness, not a bad miss, as he wasn’t that close to goal.

89th Minute- Kaka tortures a U.S. defender and then fires just past the far post.

90th Minute- Dempsey stumbles in chasing down a Donovan pass, but it was probably hit too high and far for him to reach it anyway. Three minutes to be added on.

92nd Minute- Quiet injury time so far. Brazil just about keeping hold of the ball.

93rd Minute- Daniel Alves shoots high and wide. Howard restarts quickly but Brazil sweeps it away in midfield. Moments later they win a throw-in. Foul on Bocanegra and that should do it.

94th Minute- And that is it, as Martin Hansson blows the whistle right off the free kick. The Brazilian team races onto the field to celebrate a record third Confederations Cup title. Would defeat have cost Dunga his job? He will never have to find out. The U.S. can be very proud of its performance overall, even if they know they did let the game get away from them in the second half. The lessons of this tournament should serve them well going forward.

USA-Brazil First Half Blog

The FIFA Confederations Cup Final is today, and after several days of hype across the nation, the U.S. gets a rematch with Brazil and the chance to show that beating Spain wasn’t a fluke. It won’t make America a favorite for next year’s World Cup, but it would likely give the players loads of confidence to carry over the next 12 months, and make other countries pause before playing us.

2:08- U.S. players have said in the build-up that all the pressure will be on Brazil. To a certain degree, they are right, Brazil rightly should be considered the favorites to win. Nonetheless, I can’t believe they will take the U.S. quite as lightly as Spain did, even knowing how easily they won the group stage meeting.

2:17- Team sheets in, courtesy of the BBC and their always entertaining live text. But don’t stay there the whole time! Pretty please?

USA- Tim Howard (GK)
D- Jonathan Spector, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Carlos Bocanegra
M- Clint Dempsey, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Landon Donovan
F- Charlie Davies, Jozy Altidore

So, 4-4-2 again from Bob Bradley, with Davies and Altidore paired up front. Feilhaber, a native of Brazil, replaces the suspended Michael Bradley.

Brazil- Julio Cesar (GK)
D- Maicon, Lucio, Luisao, Andre Santos
M- Ramires, Felipe Melo, Gilberto Silva, Kaka
F- Luis Fabiano, Robinho (who will probably be in more of a supporting role)

2:20- By the way, shocking news today as noted product pitchman Billy Mays died this morning in Florida. First, Farrah Fawcett, then Michael Jackson, now Billy Mays?

2:21- Teams come out onto the field with the trophy right in front of them. Dignitaries and national anthems to follow. South African president Jacob Zuma is among those greeting the players.

2:25- Beautiful recordings of the anthems, and it’s almost time to get going!

2:27- FIFA’s world feed graphic suggests Altidore will play in support of Davies at the start, just as Brazil will lineup Robinho a bit off of Luis Fabiano.

2:29- Moment of silence for Marc-Vivien Foe, who tragically died during the 2003 Confederations Cup. His son comes onto the field to speak. Very classy of FIFA.

1st Minute- Here we go!

3rd Minute- Vuvuzelas (horns) blaring as loud as ever in Johannesburg’s Ellis Park. Both teams feeling each other out, but Dempsey does take a shot from distance. A few yards wide.

6th Minute- Onyewu knocks the ball away from Kaka. Off the resulting throw-in, a defender sweeps it behind for a corner. Altidore heads Maicon’s service away but it eventually comes back to Maicon. His third try finally is deflected for another corner.

7th Minute- Kaka is at the near post but heads Robinho’s corner out of play.

9th Minute- Luis Fabiano gets a little bit of space but his shot is well over the crossbar.

10th Minute- GOAL, and it’s Clint Dempsey for the third straight match. Spector crosses from distance and Dempsey hits a half-volley into the ground but it takes a friendly hop and bounds past Julio Cesar’s dive. 1-0 U.S. Another shocker?

12th Minute- This is the first time Brazil has trailed in the tournament. Surely they will respond fiercely at some point, but when?

13th Minute- Quickly, in fact. Robinho cuts in and shoots. Howard knocks it away for a corner. Not too difficult a save though for someone like him. Brazil loses the ball off the corner and Donovan sends it to Davies who streaks up the field. Two Brazilian defenders finally clear it out for a U.S. corner near the edge of the box.

15th Minute- Header deflected for another U.S. corner. This time, Onyewu heads it down but neither he nor Dempsey can get a shot on target.

16th Minute- Ricardo Clark blocks an effort from Kaka and Spector clears. Well done defensively.

18th Minute- Donovan fires in a free-kick. Lucio couldn’t clear it, but a teammate eventually does. Brazil breaks out, and Bocanegra is the first player booked after grabbing hold of Kaka.

22nd Minute- Robinho crosses into the box but it’s headed away.

23rd Minute- A couple of nice tackles by Feilhaber to slow down Brazil. Robinho and Kaka then try a give and go which doesn’t fool either defender whom they took on.

24th Minute- Good idea from Felipe Melo. He gets the ball in midfield and tries to find Robinho on the wing. Hits it too hard though.

25th Minute- Hard low shot from Melo is saved by Howard. Smart, as the defenders were sticking to Robinho and Luis Fabiano like glue. Melo is then booked for protesting about an offside decision.

27th Minute- GOAL, what a 2-on-1 break out by the U.S. They break up a corner, Brazil turns it over, and then Davies feeds for Landon Donovan, who takes one-touch, turns Ramires, and fires to Julio Cesar’s lower-left. No chance of stopping it, and it’s 2-0 U.S. Unbelievable.

30th Minute- Andre Santos couldn’t handle a lateral pass, and it’s a U.S. throw-in. Cross whipped in and it narrowly missed Dempsey, a forward, and Julio Cesar. Wow, Brazil has as much talent as anyone in the world, but they look on edge right now.

32nd Minute- Kaka tries to build some play after a teammate clears the ball from a minor U.S. surge to the box. He eventually gets it again, plays give and go with Andre Santos, passes to Robinho, whose pass is half-cleared by Dempsey. Donovan then finishes the job and wins a throw-in to boot after it deflects off a Brazilian body.

35th Minute- Best chance for Brazil so far. Robinho makes a perfect pass to Andre Santos, whose shot from point-blank range is stopped by Howard at the near post. Robinho’s subsequent corner goes right to Luis Fabiano, but he heads over the bar.

37th Minute- Altidore breaks away from Andre Santos near the box. The Brazilian fullback has to foul him, and it results in a booking. Not to mention a free kick for Donovan. It’s cleared away firmly by Gilberto Silva.

38th Minute- Free kick opportunity for Brazil. 30 meters from goal and Felipe Melo passes to Maicon. His service into the box is tipped away by Onyewu and Davies clears to midfield.

42nd Minute- Howard gets his fingertip to a Robinho shot. Nice job getting Spector to give him some space for the shot. Subsequent corner is basically wasted.

43rd Minute- Maicon tries to catch Tim Howard napping, but his shot is just wide of the post.

45th Minute- Felipe Melo shoots from distance, which is deflected wide for a corner. This leads to a header straight into the air, which Howard catches. One minute of stoppage time. Bocanegra just deflects a cross from Maicon that was just begging to be slammed home.

Half-time– Brazil actually had more of the possession, but few quality scoring chances. The U.S. defended Kaka and Robinho extremely well, and they will have to do it again in the second half if they want to hold on. But they do have a two goal lead. Who’d have thunk it?

Unbelievable

Image Courtesy of The Guardian/Getty Images

Image Courtesy of The Guardian/Getty Images

So much for “just having fun,” eh?

4th Quarter Punts sums it up as well as anyone. Just a shocking result. Not the World Cup, but a statement win, all the same, and completely deserved, despite all the chances Spain created. Our defenders were immense, as was Tim Howard. We created maybe three good chances and converted two. So often in soccer, that can be the bottom line.

The reward is probably a rematch with Brazil, although since South Africa is hosting the Confederations Cup, you can’t entirely rule out another upset. Again, it’s all gravy since this isn’t World Cup qualifying or the Finals themselves, but if the players can ride the confidence a win like this supplies, who knows where things will end up come next June? Every fan can be proud of this moment.

One aside though, sympathies for the family and friends of prominent Iowa high school football coach Ed Thomas, who was shot dead this morning inside his school’s weight room. Four NFL lineman played under him, and he mentored countless others.