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Monday, July 18, 2011

Move over Billy you’ve got company

A recent poll asked what sports fans felt was the biggest choke in sports history with the top ten put to a multiple choice. Options included the Oilers collapse against the Bills in the AFC Championship, Scott Norwood’s wide left, Greg Norman’s Master’s collapse, etc. At the top of the list (which I personally disagreed with) was Billy Buckner’s 86’ World Series through the legs error. Well, misery loves company and now Billy has some after the US Women’s Soccer Team literally gave away the World Cup on Sunday.

In addition to dominating from the opening kickoff, which they stole and had a golden opportunity to score in the first quarter minute, they outshot the Japanese 12-5 in the first half but most of the good opportunities did not even end up on goal. Like so many other monumental upsets, if you let the sleeping dog lie around long enough they will wake up and bite you and that’s exactly what happened here as Japan was winless against he US in 24 previous attempts. Despite the plethora of scoring chances the US never had more than a goals worth of separation and when presented with the opportunity to simply go into ‘lock down’ phase and hold possession they failed not once but twice. Allowing goals inside 11 minutes in regulation time to allow the tie and then amazingly repeated the feat at the end of extra-time inside 4 minutes on a corner to send the match to PK’s where they simply didn’t show up scoring only once.

After calling their shot stating they didn’t want to be compared to the 99’ team that hoisted the cup, they failed to “back the smac” and instead were the winners of front row seats to the Japanese Cup celebration. Furthermore, Hope Solo’s rant after the last US cup exit at the hands of the Brazilians and persisting that she’s the man, ends here career in a dubious position never reaching the heights of Bandice Scurry whom shut down her opponent in the shoot out leading to that 99’ Cup championship that now still stands as the greatest moment in US soccer history. It’s true this team did erase the memory of the 99’ club but not in the way it anticipated.
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Friday, July 15, 2011

Will the Women’s World Cup Team finally score at home?

We’ve been here before. 1999, Brandi Chastain lining up the penalty kick at the Rose Bowl. A crowd of over 90-thousand, standing with anticipation. The part time defender and midfielder approaches the ball, blast the leather with her left foot and finds the back of the net! As the Chinese Keeper looks on in disappointment the stadium erupts and Chastain goes shirtless! The rest is history! The second Women’s World Cup Championship in the history of the United States. That team with superstars such as Chastain, Mia Hamm and Julie Foudy found fame and fortune with the results of that tournament. The team still lives on in historic proportions as far as women’s soccer goes, but that’s it.

While the popularity of the women’s game picked up after that dramatic victory 12 years ago, it never reached the same heights as the men’s game. While youth soccer leagues all over the country flourished it never translated into the sports psyche of the adult American sports fan. In 2003 the WUSA a major women’s professional league, folded before the world cup of that year, and just four years after the historic United States win in ‘99’. While the men’s game remains dominant all over the world, it still takes a backseat here in the good old USA. The NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball and NHL control the sports entertainment dollar no matter what seems to take place in the World Cup for the men or women. Now, the men probably have plenty to do with the lack of carry-over popularity here at home. The best the fellas have ever finished in the World Cup Tourney, third place way back in 1930.

So here we are again. On Sunday the United States, with a new crop of stars, goes after history one more time. Not only can the red, white and blue capture the Cup Championship with a victory over Japan in Frankfurt, Germany, the U.S. can become the first women’s team in history to win a third World Cup Title. Not only has the team reached the championship match, but the stars, Wambach, Rapone, Rapinoe, Solo and others have done it in dramatic fashion! In the quarter-finals Abby Wambach scored the latest goal in cup history, sending the match against Brazil to penalty kicks. In the semi-final it was Wambach again with the late header in the 78th minute to secure victory for the Americans. This has been stuff only Hollywood writers usually come up with!

But history has taught us, no matter what the outcome on Sunday, this is as far as the popularity train will roll. While the match against Brazil was the most watched television audience for the women, since the win over China in 1999, they still don’t excite the country about the “beautiful game”, the way the men could. The reason for this has to be because the United States men’s squad is still far behind the elite teams in the rest of the world. That means it’s a challenge for Americans when we watch the men try to battle Brazil, England or the Germans. Our country loves a good challenge and the rest of the world enjoys being able to beat us at something. If the men could ever find the success of the women in international play that would change the dynamic of soccer’s place here at home. The players would share the stage with the Peyton Manning’s and Kobe Bryant’s in American Sports Heroism. Look at how popular the Wayne Rooney’s of the world are in their respective countries. That in turn, would grab the attention of the best young athletes in our country and steer them in the direction of a soccer field. The best young athletes in the United States hit the hardwood, football field or diamond. That’s where our stars shine. Until there are male soccer stars on the big stage of the American sports conscious, Sunday’s outcome for the ladies will be just another kick for soccer in this country, but not a score.

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Friday, July 8, 2011

Tiger Woods doing golf a favor next week

These days Tiger Woods isn’t sneaking up on anybody. The last time we heard his footsteps, was the final round of the 2011 Masters where the 14-time major champion made things interesting before coming up four shots short of Charl Schwartzel. There will be no such footsteps at Royal St. George’s from the three-time Open Championship winner, but no one is surprised. As a matter of fact, Woods press conference this week at the AT&T National was good news. It was good because Tiger announced he won’t be playing in the British Open next week in order to let his injured left knee and Achilles tendon continue to heal. That’s right Tiger Woods using brains over competitive brawn for a change. Maybe Tiger is finally tired of not winning. He hasn’t picked up a victory in any tournament since the BMW Championship of 2009. Maybe he finally understands in order to win, he must be healthy, and his U.S. Open victory of 2008 on one leg was a once in a lifetime achievement.

No matter what the reasoning, in the long run this is good for the sport. Rory McEllroy had a Tiger-like performance at the U.S. Open last month for the first major victory of his young career. Sure it was a great feel good story, coming off the 20-year-olds Masters collapse which was as painful to watch hernia surgery without anesthesia. But the feel good story was an eye-sore for television ratings. Next week at the Open Championship unless Phil Mickelson and McEllroy decide to both perform at a high level rolling into Sunday’s final round, you can expect the same type of no-show from the casual golf fan.

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