Plenty on my mind from World Cup

It’s been nearly a week since the U.S. was eliminated from the World Cup after a disappointing 2-1 result against Ghana and I am still plenty steamed about the mistakes that cost the U.S. a chance to get to the quarterfinals for the first time since 2002. While much of the focus has been directed at the poor officiating during this World Cup — and rightly so — I am taking my anger out on the U.S. for failing to do what was necessary to keep playing in this great tournament.

Here, above all else, is what’s grinding my gears.

Starting Rinaldo Clark: Before the tournament ever started I hated the idea of Clark getting much playing time for the U.S. I listened to announcers say he is a great defensive midfielder before the cup but I never bought into it. I didn’t like his play in qualifying and hated it even more during the Cup. He cost the U.S. a goal against England and got benched for it, yet Bradley decided to bring him back for the Ghana game.

And what happened? He cost the U.S. another goal, and likely the game, with a brutal turnover five minutes in that put the U.S. in a 1-0 hole. I can’t remember a player being responsible for two defensive meltdowns like that since 1998 when Jeff Agoos was beaten twice for goals and scored an own goal. Clark will be remembered just as harshly and so will Bradley for starting him.

Starting Robbie Findley: If you ask the causal soccer fan who Findley is, they certainly will not know. If you ask a more serious fan about Findley, they won’t know much more. Why? Findley has never scored an international goal. That’s right, he has a big zero in the goal column and that’s the guy Bradley picks to start for his squad? In three games, Findley did nothing, showing how pitiful the striker position continues to be for U.S. soccer.

Sure Findley is fast, but he has no goal scoring touch, which last time I checked is a pretty important part of the position.

Winning headballs: Can anyone remember the last time A U.S. player won a headball off a cross or corner kick? The last one I remember seeing came off the head of Brian McBride about five years ago. This team is a disaster in the air and yet it insists on playing in high crosses and then watching them get cleared out. For the love of God, if you can’t win a ball in the air, how about working the ball on the ground!!

I Love Me Some Me: This one goes out to Landon Donovan for his words after scoring the game winner against Algeria. Donovan, who finished a goal set up by the work of Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore, told reporters that all the work he put in up to that point had resulted in the goal. Really, all of your work? I love watching Donovan play and he was one of the two best players for the U.S. on the field this tournament (Dempsey was the other) but how about giving a little love to your teammates? Soccer is a team sport and handing out a little credit would have been a nice gesture by the face of the U.S. team.

Bob Bradley and his coat: Is it just me or does it seem that Bradley wore the largest coat ever created? I mean was half of the team’s bench hibernating in that thing? It looked like Bradley was more focused on staying warm than leading his team to victory. Most coaches has a suite. Bradley has a bubble coat. I understand it is cold in South Africa, but we are not talking about Antarctica. Some cold air cold have done Bradley some good as maybe the brisk air would have smacked some sense into him and kept him from starting Clark against Ghana.

As you are reading this I may be on my way or already in Orlando, Florida for a five-day trip, which includes a wedding I will be attending in Disney. Is there any way I can find something that will grind my gears in “The Happiest Place on Earth”?

You better believe it.



Five keys for Phillies to survive injuries

As reported yesterday, the Phillies will be without Chase Utley and Placido Polanco for at least the next 15 days, and in all likelihood a little longer. The timing of the news is not great as the team had broken out of its hitting slump and looked poised to regain the lead in the NL East. Now with these injuries that becomes a lot more difficult. I still think the Phillies can hang right with the Braves and Mets over the next few weeks, but it will take a variety of factors coming together to do so.

Bellow are five keys for the Phillies to stay in the race despite these injuries.

1. Rollins must regain form: When a player is out for as long as Rollins was it is expected that the player will need a few weeks to find his swing. The Phillies can not afford Rollins that time, however. With their No. 2 and No. 3 hitters on the bench, the importance of Rollins setting the table becomes even more important. I’m not saying he needs to hit .350 the next month, but the team will need Rollins to at least maintain his .400 an-base percentage.

2. The Big Man must get on a tear: Over the past four seasons we have seen Ryan Howard get incredibly hot in August and September and at times single handily carry the team to victories. This time Howard can not wait until August. The team needs one of those power surges right now. Howard’s .295 average has caught everyone off guard and he is having a season that should put him back in the top five of the MVP voting. There is no reason to think he can’t catch fire over the next few weeks and lift his team once more.

3. Pitching: If you lose a little offense than the pitching must do its part to keep the opposition off the board. The Phillies staff has been hot and cold this season and needs to get hot again in a hurry. Roy Halladay is the only member of the starting staff that has an ERA under 4.00 and that simply won’t cut it over the next month. This team may need to win a couple of games by 3-2, or 2-1 scores and for that to happen the starters must show more than they have so far this season. Joe Blanton and Kyle Kendrick have the most room to improve and one may be pushed by a returning J.A. Happ.

4. A surprise candidate must emerge: This could come from anywhere. Maybe somehow Greg Dobbs will remember to hit again? Maybe Ibanez will go on a tear like he did the first half of last year? Maybe one of the team’s backup catchers has the best two weeks of his career? Maybe the Phillies reacquire Cliff Lee and none of this will matter? No matter where it comes from the team will need unexpected productions to keep moving forward in July.

5. The Braves and Mets slump: Most believe that the Braves and Mets have overachieved the last two months. If that is indeed the case it is fair to suggest that a downward swing is coming. The Braves (5-5) and Mets (4-6) may already be in the process of doing so as their last 10 games have not gone well. Consider that the Mets are just 15-22 on the road and have an 11-game West Coast trip coming in the second part of July and its not hard to see them falling off. As for the Braves, the Phillies can help themselves from July 5-7 when they host Atlanta for a big series.

So there you have five ways that the team can keep winning despite the recent injuries. If a few of these factors take place there is no reason that the Phillies can’t be right at the top of the pack when Utley and Polanco return.



Home Opener a hit for Union

With all of the World Cup action that is taking place fans may have overlooked what was a great moment this past weekend when the Philadelphia Union played their first home game in PPL Park.

The Union — which had struggled to just two wins in its first 10 games — used the home cooking to produce their best result of the season, a 3-1 win over Seattle.

Here is an assessment of the stadium and the day by our good friends at www.phillyuniontalk.com.

The stadium itself was a statement.  If you would have told me 5 years ago that there was going to be almost 20,000 people packed into a soccer-specific stadium on a Sunday in June, I would have told you to put down the pipe.  Yesterday the entire Union family made that pipe dream a reality.  I was impressed with the quality and dimensions of the pitch.  The Union have a proper-sized field, conducive to playing attractive football.  I can only speak for the sight lines from my seat, but my view of the game was very nice.  The seats were comfortable, and I did not feel like I was on top of my neighbors.  The Big Screen was good enough to watch replays of recent plays on, and when I ran to get a beer or go to the head there were plenty of flat screens to keep up on the action with.  The concessions seemed fine to me.  I mean, I got a soft pretzel.  It’s pretty hard to mess up a soft pretzel.

I will say that the cups of ice were nice considering how freaking hot it was, and the towels that were intended as rally towels were life savers as neck and head coolers.  Of course  I could point out some negatives (parking, size of concourses during half time, techno songs after goals), but that’s not what today is about.  Today is about thanking all those that made yesterday possible and celebrating the official arrival of soccer to the city of Brotherly Love.  I want to make this bloggers opinion on PPL clear: This is a wonderful place to watch a soccer match.

You can read the full article here.

In a time where soccer is gaining notoriety across the country it’s great to see that right here in Philadelphia the fan base is ready to give professional soccer a fair chance.



Phillies place Utley and Polanco on DL

The mountain to climb to get back to first place in the NL East just got a little tougher for the Philadelphia Phillies.

And it has nothing to do with the schedule.

Just hours after finding out Chase Utley was being put on the DL the team announced that Placido Polanco will be joining him. That’s two All-Stars in one day.

Utley injured his thumb in last night’s loss to the Reds, while Polanco had missed the last three games with elbow soreness.

The news could be worse for Utley as CSN is reporting that he has a sprained collateral ligament in his right thumb. I’m no doctor, but is has the sound of an injury that could linger a lot longer than 15 days.

And all of this happens just after the team finally got a healthy Jimmy Rollins back.

So where will the team go to reinforce itself? Sadly, the moves have paved the way for Greg Dobbs to be called back into action — a week after it looked like we would never see him in a Phillies uniform again. Brian Bocock was also called up to fill in the hole at second.

The injury may also prevent Polanco and Utley from competing in the All-Star game which will be played July 13 in Anaheim, Calif. David Wright has closed Polanco’s lead over the last week from 130,300 votes to 23,000 and the injury may just doom him when it comes to the ballots. Even if he does hang on to the lead, this injury  may keep him from playing.

This is clearly a big blow for a team trying to hunt down the Braves and Mets in a tight NL East race. On Wednesday Phillysportsblogs will give its two cents on whether the team can make it through this stretch without falling to far back.

In the meantime, what do you think?



All sports welcome in Philly.

This weekend, something is occurring in the city of Philadelphia for the first time.

In this re emergence of sports that has seen the Phillies win a world championship, and return to unsuccessfully defend their title and the Flyers with an improbable comeback from the brink of elimination to the Stanley Cup finals, the national spotlight is more aware of Philly as a sports town, and one with a newly found winning mentality.

So I am glad to see the PGA returns to the area for their first tournament since 2002 with the AT & T National being held at the Donald Ross designed Aronimick Golf Club in Newtown Square, PA.    

The event marks the first time Tiger Woods has played in a PGA event in the greater Philadelphia area as he defends his title and trys for the 6.2 million purse.  Jim Furyk is the hometown favorite.

With football preseason around the corner, and some major changes to the team, the Eagles look to hold a high level of interest early this year as well.  

The Union has made their presence known.  The Soul are returning, sans Bon Jovi, and the Sixers remain a draw, although a contender they won’t be for quite some time.

Overall, the city of Philadelphia is becoming a well rounded sports mecca. 

The city now boasts multiple premiere sports arenas with the new Citizens Bank Park, Lincoln Financial Field and the Wachovia Center with 2 or 3 professional teams playing meaningful games late in the year, strong college teams, and huge attendance and interest from the general population.

Rabid fans, successful programs, new stadiums,the countries fifth highest population with 3rd heaviest population density having annual disposable incomes 30% above the national average.  Can you say Philadelphia ?  

2020 summer Olympics, anyone ??



Hamhuis gone, time for a goalie

Dan Hamhuis wanted Chris Pronger type playing time. The Flyers were unwilling to promise him that.

Now Hamhuis is on the Penguins.

The Flyers traded Hamhuis for a third round pick a week after acquiring one of the top free agent defensemen on the market. Since the Flyers and Hamhuis could not agree on terms the team was forced to send him packing to make sure they got something out of a deal that had already cost them Ryan Parent.

After the draft Flyers GM Paul Holmgren had this to say to reporters:

“The one thing I’m a little disappointed in is the Hamhuis thing,” Holmgren said. “We took our shot at him. It didn’t look like it was going to work out, so we moved his rights. I don’t think it had anything to do with our cap situation. But [he] may come around again on July 1. Who knows? He might be a free agent on July 1 like he is scheduled to be.”

With the whole Hamhuis drama now behind them the Flyers have turned their focus back to goaltending. The team has has exclusive rights on Evgeni Nabokov and is also considering Boston’s Tim Thomas according to this philly.com article. Even with the rights to Nabokov, the word is that the goalie is nowhere close to signing a deal and that he plans to test the free agent market.

Most fans would bee happy with Nabokov or Thomas coming to town as each would represent an upgrade over the team’s current situation.

Though Nabokov is on the wrong side of 35 I still believe he is the best option on the market and a guy that the team will ultimately end up with. With free agency set to begin on Thursday it is a sure bet that whatever direction the Flyers are going in will be made clear this week.



Welcome back Jimmy Rollins

Through his first 17 innings back with the team Jimmy Rollins hadn’t exactly announced his return. He was hitless in eight at-bats and had made a costly throwing error that helped the Cleveland Indians close in on a victory Wednesday night.

Then with one mighty swing in the bottom of the 9th Rollins reminded the city of Philadelphia just how valuable he is.

Rollins blasted a walk-off two-run home run down the right field line that gave the Phillies an inspiring 7-6 win. Though it is hard to believe, Wednesday was the first time in his career that Rollins hit a home run to an end a game.

Not everything went the Phillies way on this night. Kyle Kendrick was awful, allowing five runs in 4-plus innings, the Phillies made a pair of errors, and Chad Durbin strained his hamstring.

Yet by night’s end it was Rollins who had the final say. The Phils still have a long way to go to get back atop the NL East with both the Braves and Mets surging, but having Rollins back and healthy is a big step towards doing just that.



Phillies designate Greg Dobbs

The return of Jimmy Rollins meant that someone would have to go. As it turns out that someone is Greg Dobbs.

The Phillies designated  Dobbs for assignment, giving them 10 days to either trade, release or place him on waivers. To sum it up: Dobbs’ time in Philadelphia is over.

Bellow is an excerpt from a philly.com story:

Dobbs, who was one of the top pinch-hitters in the National League in 2007 and 2008, was 1-for-25 as a pinch-hitter while hitting .152 with one home run and six RBI overall.

The Phillies have also placed catcher Carlos Ruiz on the disabled list while recalling leftander Mike Zagurski from Triple-A Lehigh Valley.

In 2007 and 2008, Dobbs hit .284/.331/.467 (.798 OPS) with 19 home runs and 95 RBI in 598 plate appearances. During the Phillies’ run to their title in 2008, he went 7-for-14 with two runs scored and two walks. But he struggled throughout last season, hitting .247/.296/.383 (.679 OPS) with five home runs in 169 plate appearances, including a 9-for-54 performance as a pinch-hitter.

You can read the full article here:

This is a great move by the management as Dobbs has been dead weight this season. He should be remembered fondly for his contributions over the past few years, but clearly he needed a change of scenery as he has provided nothing this year.



Flyers open next season against Penguins

Though the Game 6 loss to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Stanley Cup Finals may still be a lingering pain for many Flyers fans, there came out some news today that should at least put a smile on a few faces.

The NHL released its opening day schedule and it includes the Flyers starting their season on October 7 against the Penguins. As an added bonus it will be to first game ever played in Pittsburgh’s new arena, CONCOL Energy Center.

You can read about the rest of the openers here.

Though there is so much time and so many other sports standing in the way between now and next season’s opener, it good to know the Flyers will have the chance to start their season by ruining a special moment for Crosby and his boys.



Happ back soon, so who goes?

A forgotten man in the Phillies’ rotation is working his way back.

J.A. Happ, on the DL for almost the entire season, is set to make his fourth rehab start on Wednesday. After that he may be heading back to Philadelphia. Bellow is a report from philly.com:

Lefthander J.A. Happ (strained left elbow) said he will make his fourth rehab start Wednesday at double-A Reading.

Happ, who threw 71 pitches in his last start, said he is aiming for 90 to 95 pitches this time around. He said Phillies officials who charted his last outing for Reading told him he averaged 88 m.p.h. with his fastball, an improvement from before.

Happ has been on the disabled list since April 16.

In three rehab outings, Happ has allowed 10 earned runs in 101/3 innings. Opponents are hitting .304 off him.

“Just looking for a little more crispness to the arm,” Happ said.

The issue at hand when Happ does return will be which starter gets sent to the bullpen. Baring any injury, the decision will come down to Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick.

Of that group the smart money would be on Kendrick, but would that be the right move?

Kendrick has pitched moderately well, going 4-2 with a 4.48 ERA,  and is coming off his finest start of the season, throwing seven innings of one-run ball in a win over the Yankees.

Meanwhile Joe Blanton has continued to struggle. The Phillies most reliable pitcher last season, Blanton has yet to find a groove. He is currently 2-5 with a 6.96 ERA.

Jamie Moyer is the third choice, but I wouldn’t expect the Phillies to do the same thing to Moyer that they did last year when the team acquired Pedro Martinez.Jamie wasn’t too happy about that move the first time.

Plus Moyer’s seven wins and 4.76 ERA are well ahead of Blanton’s numbers.

I still believe Kendrick will be the one shuffled to the ‘pen as his contract is much lighter than Blanton’s, even though he deserves to stay in the rotation. Sadly money usually talks in these situations.

If you were Phillies management, what would you do?



Jaws says Eagles look energized; Vick voted most hated athlete

If Ron Jaworski is to be believed the Eagles are a team with a ton of energy right now. With so many young players on their roster and the likes of Donovan McNabb, Brian Westbrook and Sheldon Brown no longer in the fold, there is a sense that things are fresher than they have been in years.

Bellow is an excerpt from profootballtalk.com

“I’ve spoken to a number of players, a number of the coaches, and the one thing I sense that was probably missing over the last couple years is energy,” Jaworski said this week to Mike Missanelli on 97.5, via Sheil Kapedia of Philly.com. “There’s almost that little-kid enthusiasm right now within the organization because of the changes they’ve made.”

Time will tell if that energy translates into more wins.

In other News Michael Vick has been named the Most Disliked Person in Sports by a poll provided by Forbes. Nothing too surprising there as people who read Forbes are still a little upset about the whole dog fighting thing. Rounding out the top five were Al Davis, Ben Roethlisberger, Tiger Woods and Jerry Jones.



Guess Who’s Bizack

The Phillies….After seeing some much needed pep Thursdays night vs the Yankees.  The Phillies D ignited their O.  A couple of great plays from Jason Werth and Placido Polanco have many around town believing that it sparked the Phils offense.  After several weeks of seeming that the players were just going through the motions on both sides of the diamond, it was good to see some life.  That buzz carried over into tonight where the Phillies trounced the visit Minnesota Twins 9 – 5.  The score doesn’t show how much the Phils were beating on the Twins.  Scott Mathieson let up two runs late just for the Twins to get 5.  Which is another story in itself, the guys has come off two Tommy Johns surgery and still has a chance to throw in the bigs.  Throw is an understatement.  He was hurling at 98 and 99 mph.  On to the real story Joe Blanton.  The kid had a much needed bounce back game from his last two starts where he lasted 4 and 5 innings.  He earned just his second win of the season going 6 innings giving up 7 hits, 3 runs all earned, three walks, one two run shot off Nick, my first Hr of the year, Punto and only striking out one.  After Punto’s two run shot Blanton was relieved of his duties by skipper Charlie Manuel.  Blanton was noticeably upset, but I couldn’t tell if it was with Ruiz for pitch selection, or what.  After being in the dugout for a while, Blanton was still fired up and it took Pitching coach Rich Dubee to calm him down.  The star of the game definitely was Ryan Howard going 4-4 with two Hrs, a triple and a double, falling just a single short of the cycle.  It sucks when you fall a single short. He also scored three runs and had 3 RBI’s Chase Utley wasn’t too bad himself going 2 for 5 with a Hr, 4 RBI’s, and scoring twice.  Many players got off the slump having 11 hits in all.  So was a rematch of the World Series all the Phillies needed to get their offense jump started again.  Only time will tell. But don’t look now this time next week barring any set backs Jimmy Rollins, the catalyst and table setter for the Phils, will be back in the line up doing what Jimmy does best.  You know what it is, he is the spark plug for everything that is the Phils.  Watch out Braves, here comes the Phils……

Oh what is that I see a Sixers spotting.   I would like to Welcome back the Philadelphia Seventy Sixers.  After a brief 8 yeah hiatus, it’s good to see some life in that organization that I hold so near and dear to my heart.  After hitting the lottery and getting the second pick, and then hiring Doug Collins.  (I almost had a mental error and said Doug Mo) Could you imagine?  It appears that Ed Stefanski is the greatest Wizard in all the land.  Pulling a rabbit out of a hat and sending much maligned Sammy Dalembert to the Sacramento Kings.  In return the Sixers received scrappy Andres Nocioni. (See Dan Carcillo, Flyers) and Spencer Hawes.  So with Murphy’s law Dalembert will average 20 and 10 this year, much like Kenny Thomas and John Salmons preformed after they left.  Philly will love Nocioni instantly, he will apitamize every cliche and Philly slogan around.  Personally I think Hawes may be the gem of this deal.  If Doug Collins, who preaches D can get a hold of this kid and teach him how to play D, something Dalembert could never learn, he may be a player.  Hawes is a 7-1 viable low post presence, with a jumper from the outside.  (Which I hate.  Anyone of 6-11 should be down low busting bodies and rebounding.  But what do I know).   I wouldn’t be surprised if Andre Iguadola is gone draft night or shortly there after, having two many guys in the same position and him making too much money he should be on his way out.  Mainly because he ISN’T A MAX CONTRACT PLAYER.  After saying this Thaddeus Young will be traded and I will be upset.  So lastly I would just like to thank my 10, 9, 8, 76ers for giving me some basketball talk back in this town.



Sixers deal Samuel Dalembert

A move that Sixers fans have been begging for over the last three seasons finally appears to be on the horizon.

Inept big man Samuel Dalembert and his once a week productions ison his way to Sacramento as the first domino in the Sixers roster falls.

ESPN.com is reporting that Dalembert will be sent to the Kings in exchange for Andres Nocioni and Spencer Hawes. Neither Nocioni (a good shooter, but at times soft) or Hawes (a developing center that could become a serviceable backup) excite me but the idea of the Sixers ridding themselves of Dalembert and his inconsistent play puts a smile on my face.

About the only thing Dalembert did with consistency over his career in Philadelphia was get paid. One game he would have 15 points and 17 rebounds and the next three he would average six and five.

My only complaint with the deal is if it is, as ESPN is speculating, a move that points to the team drafting Derrick Favors over Evan Turner. It’s not that I don’t think Favors is good, but I doubt he will be able to provide the type of low post player the Sixers have lacked since Charles Barkley, but it’s because I am so high on Turner.

The backcourt of Holiday and Turner is something that could not only sell tickets, but point the team in then right direction for years to come.

So for now I have to settle for loving this move on the belief that it has everything to do with ridding the team of Dalembert and his contract and nothing to with draft day.



Vote for Perdro … again?

Will there be another Pedro Martinez sighting in Citizen’s Bank Park?

Well, maybe.

ESPN.com is reporting that the Phillies have been in contact with Pedro in regards to returning to the team in the second half of the season. Pedro was a pleasant surprise for the Phillies last year, rediscovering his fastball and giving the rotation some much needed depth. He was however tagged with two losses to the Yankees in the World Series.

Bellow is a statement in the story for Ruben Amero:

“We have talked to his agent, but there’s nothing so far,” Amaro Jr. said. “We are not negotiating, but we’ve been talking to him. It all depends on whether he wants to play or not.”

It’s hard to blame the Phillies for contacting Pedro considering the struggles of their rotation behind Roy Halladay and to some extent Cole Hamels. With J.A. Happ’s return still in question, Martinez wouldn’t be a horrible acquisition. And while I’m not sure Pedro can be a difference maker at this point in his career, the Phillies currently find themselves in a position where they need to consider all options.

So would you vote for Pedro?



Vuvuzela hurting World Cup experience

I had a bad experience today.

While doing some yard work I came upon a bees nest. Wisely I chose to stay away from the nest, doing my best to avoid any type of swarm coming at my face. Yet despite my best efforts, the bees came charging, buzzing around my face for what seemed like hours. The annoyance of the whole event goes beyond words.

OK, truthfully that event never happened.

Instead I simply turned on the World Cup.

Anyone who has experienced even a minute of the World Cup can emphasize with what I am speaking of. The host South Africans don’t chant, don’t cheer, don’t sing. Instead they play a horn known as the vuvuzela. And they play it all game. Every game.

I’m hardly the first blogger or reporter to write about this. The vuvuzela has been talked about as much as England goalkeeper Robert Green these days. In fact I’m not sure which issue the English are angrier with right now.

Players haven’t commented much on the horns but there have been reports that the decibel rating in the stadium is enough to damage your hearing. I’m not sure I buy that, though. South African fans  have been doing it for years and I don’t see any of the players wearing earplugs.

The President of FIFA recently came out and said he would not ban vuvuzela playing from the stadiums and I have to support his decision. If it’s a big ritual in South African culture, then who is he, I, or anyone else to tell them to stop playing?

That doesn’t mean that this whole vuvuzela thing doesn’t grind my gears though. I mean don’t these people have to stop to take a breath once in awhile?

When I tuned into the first World Cup game on Friday I noticed the horn playing but thought, like any other background noise, it would simply go away. The problem is it hasn’t.

One of the great things about soccer is the passion of the fans. I love the cheering and the chanting. It’s what helps make the sport so beloved around the world (even if not in the U.S.).

During this World Cup we get none of that.

It’s funny how much things change in a couple of weeks. Suddenly I long for the “Ole, Ole, Ole, Ole” chant again (as long as it’s not coming from the Canadiens, that is).

Go figure.