It’s time for U.S. soccer to hit reset button

The ‘Road to Russia’ proved to be too bumpy for the United States soccer team Tuesday night.

The doomsday scenario was triggered when Trinidad and Tobago pulled off a 2-1 upset of Bruce Arena’s squad. By the time the dust from that axle-breaking pothole had settled, two more jarring blows were felt after Honduras knocked off Mexico 3-2 and Panama outlasted Costa Rica 2-1.

Just like that, the wheels were off the bus.

“We had everything there for us today,” Arena said. “No excuses. It’s a blemish for us. We should not be staying home for this World Cup and I take the responsibility for that.”

The combined results meant that Mexico, Costa Rica and Panama clinched the three automatic berths from CONCACAF and Honduras earned a home-and-home playoff with Australia to secure another spot in Russia.

 The unexpected results caused the United States to fall from third in the standings to fifth. All Arena’s team needed to do to punch its ticket to Russia was to tie Trinidad, which had won just one other Hexagonal stage game.

After last Friday’s 4-0 win over Panama, which had appeared to put the U.S. back on course, perhaps too much was taken for granted entering Tuesday’s match.

Were they overconfident? The fact the U.S. beat Trinidad 2-0 back in June may have fed into that narrative.

Certainly, there was a noticeable lack of urgency in the way Arena’s squad played in the first half, including allowing an own goal with sloppy defending.

It doesn’t matter how Trinidad scored its goals, of course.They scored them and now the U.S players are free to make new plans for the summer.

That, of course, has to be a jarring realization for old guard players like Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley and goalkeeper Tim Howard. This can’t be how either of them wanted their international soccer careers to end.

But Arena has to know that in order to make it to the 2022 World Cup,  the rebuilding of the USMNT needs to begin pronto. Only nine of the 26 players who are listed in the current player pool are younger than 30. Just six of those players will be younger than 30 in four years.

Dempsey is 34 and Howard is 38. It’s defintely time for them to hang up their boots. And while Bradley, who is 30, could have another cycle in him, he’s hardly irreplaceable. 

The best player on the field during this qualifying stage was 19-year-old Christian Pulisic. It’s time to get him more help, preferably from more young players who have similar skill and vision.

The revamping that’s been done in recent years with pro clubs funding youth academies was a good way to kickstart anew the player development process. But there also needs to be a greater grassroots effort to identity players who are being overlooked by the travel club systems for a variety of reasons, including economic.

After failing to qualify for a World Cup for the first time in 32 years, it’s a good time to examine everything the U.S. Soccer Federation is doing in order to compete at an elite international level.

It’s not happening under current system.

 

From Sidelines to punchlines

An entertaining look at sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while wondering how many McDonald’s meals O.J. Simpson will be eating now that he’s out of prison and living in Las Vegas:

Wedding crasher

Good to know Jerry Rice is still  putting his dancing shoes to good use.

As reported this week by theringer.com, the former 49ers receiver has been crashing weddings since 2006. He told writer Kevin Clark that the first time was shortly after he retired from the NFL and after playing a round of golf at a country club where a reception was being held.

Now he claims he’s been walking in unannounced at a wedding reception most weekends. Although not an invited guest, he’s apparently always welcome to stay.

Indeed, by now, Rice must be close to earning a listing in the Guiness Book of World Records.

Here’s just a few possibilities:

 “Most Times Boogying with a Different Bridesmaid.”

 “Most Wedding Dances by a Pro Football Hall of Famer.”

“Most Times Dancing to Whitney Houston’s ‘I Wanna Dance with Somebody.”

Hurricane warning

Miami’s 24-20 victory over Florida State in the final six seconds on Saturday extended a pair of winning streaks that are cherished by Hurricanes head coach Mark Richt.

First, it extended Miami’s winning streak to eight games, dating back to the Canes’ final five games last season. But on a more personal note, it was the 52nd consecutive time Richt has walked off the field at Doak Campbell Stadium as a winning coach.

A former assistant under Bobby Bowden, including seven seasons as the Seminoles’ offensive coordinator, Richt was part of FSU’s 51-game home winning streak from 1992-2000.

Meanwhile, UM’s comeback ended FSU coach Jimbo Fisher’s seven-game winning streak over the Hurricanes. The loss also dropped FSU to 1-3, which is the Seminoles’ worst start  since 1976, which was Bowden’s first season in Tallahassee.

With fan unrest growing weekly in Tallahassee, could this 1-3 start by the Seminoles foretell Fisher’s last season as FSU’s head coach?

They said it

RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Remember Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino’s restaurant scandal involving sex on a table? From what the FBI now tells us, there’s been way more going on under the table.”

TBS comedian Conan O’Brien: “San Diego has started building a border wall. Not to keep out immigrants, but to keep the LA Chargers from coming back.”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald on singer Willie Nelson owning a golf course: “If you make a hole-in-one, you have to buy a round of joints.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “From the You Just Can’t Make Up Stuff Like This file comes word that the Cleveland’s FirstEnergy Stadium — home of the Browns, losers of 29 of their past 31 games — was the scene of a dumpster fire last Tuesday.”

Scott Ostler in the San Francisco Chronicle: “Sales are sluggish for tickets to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February. Factors include high prices, a sagging world economy, and a reluctance to buy front-row seats for a nuclear holocaust.”

Middle man

Bruce Arena’s decision to play 19-year-old Christian Pulisic in central midfield during Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Panama may have been his best decision since starting his second stint as the coach of the U.S. men’s soccer team.

Pulisic had a goal and assisted Jozy Altidore on another in the opening 20 minutes of a 4-0 U.S. victory that has the team close to clinching a berth in the 2018 World Cup next summer in Russia.

“We needed a result and we came out flying right from the beginning,” said Pulisic, who has now scored or assisted on 11 of 16 goals scored by the U.S. in this final round of qualifying.

Added Altidore: “You can’t help but see the improvement when he’s on the field, especially when he’s in the middle of everything.”

Defining roles for players like Pulisic, Darlington Nagbe, Bobby Wood and Paul Arriola, Arena has led a rescue effort that has seen Team USA rebound from a minus-five goal differential to a plus-five differential in the final round of qualifying.

With Panama now saddled with a minus-two goal differential, Friday’s rout created the safety net this U.S. team needed. And that might not have happened if Pulisic hadn’t excelled under pressure.

https://www.sbnation.com/soccer/2017/10/6/16439840/usa-vs-panama-final-score-2018-world-cupu-qualifying-results

Coaching excellence

Arena is 10-1-6 since his return as the U.S. men’s national soccer coach last November.

Overall, as coach of Team USA, he has won 85 games, tied 33 and lost 29. He led the team in the 2002 and 2006 World Cups.

Manning’s legacy

Peyton Manning was immortalized with a statue in downtown Indianapolis this week, serving as another reminder to legend-in-waiting Andrew Luck that he’ll never measure up in the eyes of Colts fans.

Especially with the state of Indianapolis’ offensive line that left Luck so banged up and bruised last season that he has yet to take a snap this season.

While most of the speakers came to praise the future hall of famer Manning during the unveiling of the statue outside Lucas Oil Stadium, comedian David Letterman took note of the fact that he is no longer winning games, either. But rather than picking on Luck, he loaded a double-barreled shot at Peyton, who has retired, and his brother Eli, the quarterback of the New York Giants.

“By the way, if you like football trivia, so far this year, Eli and Peyton have won the same number of games,” said Letterman. “I’m sorry, I was told this was a roast.”

At least Peyton could laugh but I doubt Eli found it funny.

Playing excellence

Manning, who played 14 seasons for the Colts after being drafted No. 1 in 1998, holds Indianapolis records for passing yards (54,828), touchdown passes (399), passer rating (94.9) and wins (141).

In addition to the statue, his No. 18 jersey will be retired Sunday and he’ll be inducted into the franchise’s  Ring of Honor.

Headlines

From SportsPickle.com: “Rick Pitino says he has no idea he has been running a New York crime family for the last 30 years.”

From TheOnion.com: “NHL warns hockey fans that banging on glass scares players.”

From Fark.com: “George Constanza resigns as Atlanta Braves GM.”

From TheOnion.com: “Bill Belichick’s challenge flag transforms into swarm of snakes after hitting ground.”

From SportsPickle.com: “Protestors demand Colin Kaepernick be allowed to develop CTE.”

From TheKicker.com: “To add some drama, NBA will also have captains pick teams in the Finals.”

Basketball on grass

Seriously, when Western Michigan beat Buffalo 71-68 in seven overtimes Saturday, it meant the two schools finished with 19 more combined points than the last time their two basketball teams played each other.

The 139 combined points set a scoring record for an FBS game. The previous record was 137 points set last season by Syracuse’s 76-61 win over Pittsburgh.

While Saturday’s game ended in a 31-31 tie in regulation, it still legitimately earned the “basketball on grass” description There were four long touchdown plays covering 66, 64, 54 and 48 yards and three scoring drives of 75 or more yards lasting four or fewer plays.

All is ‘Rosie’

Cam Newton thought it was funny earlier this week when a woman reporter for the Charlotte Observer asked him about the improvement of one of his receivers.

“It’s funny to hear a female talk about routes,” he replied to Jourdan Rodrigue.

Now, Newton has declared to the world that he’s a feminist.

When the Carolina quarterback boarded the team’s flight to Detroit on Saturday, he was wearing a “Rosie the Riveter” pin on his hat. The image is an iconic one from the feminist movement during World War II, promoting the role women played by filling factory jobs.

The Panthers, naturally, used its social media accounts to let everyone know that Newton magically is no longer sexist.

If only it was that easy, Cam.

Weekend warrior

My winning percentage from this weekend’s college football games included a perfect 6-0 performance in the ACC, 5-1 in the SEC and 5-2 in the Big Ten.

That improves the season totals to 41-7 in the ACC (85.4%), 40-10 in the SEC (80%) and 40-12 in the Big Ten (76.9%).

My picks can be seen each week in my blogs on the three conferences.

U.S. men’s soccer team moves closer to reaching World Cup next summer

There was only one acceptable outcome Friday night and Christian Pulisic was determined the United States men’s national soccer team wasn’t going to leave Orlando disappointed.

Knowing Panama would have been content to settle for a draw, the pressure was on Bruce Arena and his players. But after Pulisic scored one goal and set up another in the first 20 minutes, he and his teammates were able to settle and secure the needed result.

They went on to claim a 4-0 win that moved the U.S. past Panama into third place in the CONCACAF standings.

“We’ve come a long way and we’re well positioned to hopefully qualify for Russia,” said Arena. “Again, Trinidad is not going to be easy. We have to have our team ready to go. We’ve got to get at least a point. I think a point would assure us of third place.”

The game at Trinidad is Tuesday night, and Arena might be correct that a draw would be enough to get the United States through the qualifying process since Friday’s 4-0 win has boosted the team’s goal differential edge over Panama to seven goals.

Pulisic, the 19-year-old wonder kid, got things started in the eighth minute with a breakaway goal off a flick on pass from Jozy Altidore. A few minutes later they combined again with Pulisic skipping a pass across the goalmouth for Altidore to tap past Panama goalkeeper Jaime Penedo,

“Christian was superb,” Altidore said. “His ability to play in between the lines, he causes so much trouble.”

Added Arena: “We wanted to pressure them early, get out on the break and get after their back line. We actually didn’t finish well. We could have scored a lot more goals.”

Altidore added a penalty kick late in the half, earned when Bobby Wood was taken down in the box after he had pushed past two defenders. In the second half, Wood finished off the scoring with a goal in the 63rd minute.

Goalkeeper Tim Howard earned the shutout. As long as the U.S. gets at least a tie at Trinidad on Tuesday, the best Panama can do is draw even on points in the standings by beating Costa Rica. But even then, the edge would go to Arena’s squad unless Panama can overcome its massive tiebreaker disadvantage.

The only other possible threat would come if Honduras manages to beat both Costa Rica on Saturday and Mexico next Tuesday, and that’s highly unlikely because Honduras also would have to overcome a minus-12 goal differential to move past the U.S.

From Sidelines to punchlines

An entertaining look at sports

Clearing my mind and notebook while wishing I had a share of the profits from meldonium sales to Russian athletes.

Crunch time

Bruce Arena’s ability to motivate his players is facing its biggest test.

Friday night’s 2-0 loss to Costa Rica was a disastrous result for a United States men’s soccer team that needed to continue claiming maximum points from its remaining home games in World Cup qualifying.

Instead, Arena watched as his squad suffered what was just the USA’s third qualifying loss at home since 1985.  And here’s the real problem: two of those losses have been suffered by this team.

The last time the U.S. lost two games on home turf in one qualifying round robin was 1957.

Arena had even said before the Costa Rica game that a win was “critical if we are going to have any hopes of qualifying for the World Cup.” But because they lost, the pressure will be ramped up even more for Tuesday’s game in Honduras.

The good news is that Arena’s first game back in charge as the national team coach was a 6-0 win over Honduras in March. The bad news is that the USA and Honduras are tied in the standings for the third berth to advance to Russia next summer. That 6-0 win did at least establish a big edge in goal differential.

“We’ll move on,” Arena said. “This is how you deal with competition in sports. You don’t win every game and when you have a bad result, you have to put it past you and focus on the next one.”

After Tuesday, the U.S. has two games in November to clinch the third spot – at home against Panama and away to Trinidad. If the USA finishes fourth, Arena could still get the team to Russia if the U.S. wins a playoff  with the fifth-place team from Asia qualifying.

But no, that’s not an option this team wants to use as a fallback plan.Captain Michael Bradley was blunt about what needs to happen Tuesday and beyond.

“We all understand that getting to a World Cup is pass or fail. And at the end, nothing else matters,” Bradley said. “It’s our responsibility as players to step on the field and make sure that we find the right ways to do whatever it takes to qualify.”

The other bad news Arena will have to deal with is that forward Jozy Altidore picked up a costly yellow card that will force him to sit out the game because of accumulated penalties.

 Replacement player

Defending national champion Clemson might not have a problem replacing all-everything quarterback Deshaun Watson, after all.

Making his first start, junior Kelly Bryant passed for 221 yards, including a 61-yard hook up with Deon Cain as Watson was watching from the sidelines at Memorial Stadium.

Since the NFL doesn’t start play until next week, the Houston Texans draft pick came back to the South Carolina campus to watch the Tigers unveil the championship banner.

Bryant completed 16 of 22 passes and also gained 77 yards on just seven carries in a 55-3 rout of Kent State. Clemson had 665 yards of total offense and Bryant set the school record for total offense by an individual player in an opening game with 313 yards, surpassing the 312 yards Tajh Boyd had against Georgia in 2013.

“To see Kelly Bryant set the record for total offense by a player in an opener when he didn’t even play in the fourth quarter was impressive,” said Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney. “It was a fun game for the team coming off of a long camp. It was something that we can really build off of.”

Kelly’s first real tests will come in the next two weeks with Auburn visiting Clemson next Saturday and the Tigers traveling to Louisville a week later.

 They said it

Mike Bianchi of the Orlando Sentinel: “Did you see where the New York Times is reporting it has evidence Florida State’s 2013 national-championship team was sullied by athletic favoritism and academic fraud. In related news, I am reporting that so has every other national champion of the last 50 years.”

Brad Dickson of Omaha (Neb.) World Herald:The NFL is going to begin paying some referees a full-time salary in hopes of attracting better talent. Hey, that worked for SEC players.”

Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “With all the bad press NFL players get, often deservedly so, may I just say that JJ Watt seems to be a seriously fine human being.

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “Last Wednesday, in case you missed it, was National Coloring Book Day. Or as it’s better known around college jock factories, National Textbook Day.”

R.J. Currie of SportsDeke.com: “At Dallas Cowboys Cheerleader tryout, Holly Marie Powell lost her halter top during a morning solo dance. In the afternoon, she was the best performer – bra none.”

Best seat

For Friday night’s game against No. 8 Washington, Rutgers had hot tubs placed in the student section as a special Labor Day Holiday Weekend promotion, “War Before the Shore.”

The idea was to give the students a reason to stay in town Friday before they left for a long holiday weekend at the beach.

The Huskies won 30-14, but at least the students who came with their swimwear didn’t have much to complain about.

There was also a sand sculpture and beach volleyball courts outside the stadium. The first 5,000 fans received beach towels and the first 2,000 students were given tank tops.

There were even lifeguards for the hot tubs.

Passing Pele

In other international soccer news, Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo scored three goals in a 5-1 win over the Faroe Islands to move past Brazilian legend Pele on the chart for all-time national team goals. Ronaldo now has 78 goals in 144 appearances to move into the top five, and one more than Pele.

Ronaldo is now tied for fifth with Iraq’s Hussein Saeed, while Zambia’s Godfrey Chitalu is fourth with 79. Iran’s Ali Daei tops the list with 109 goals, while Hungary’s Ferenc Puskás is second with 84 and Japan’s Kunishige Kamamoto is third with 80.

Headlines

TheOnion.com: “Ejected Little League coach forced to stand on other side of chain link fence until game is over.”

SportsPickle.com: “Texans cut J.J. Watt for focusing on Houston fundraising efforts instead of football.”

TheKicker.com: “Blocking sled having career day vs. Jets’ O-line.”

Fark.com: “Tim Tebow plans to hit .220 again in 2018.”

TheOnion.com: “Callaway 9 iron once again named Gold Digest’s best club for smashing in cheating ex’s windshield.”

SportsPickle.com: “Desperate Jaguars head coach names Peyton Manning starting QB.”

United States wins Gold Cup, beating Jamaica 2-1 on late goal by Morris

Jordan Morris knew he had messed up big time in the Gold Cup championship game when he allowed Jamaica’s Je-Vaughn Watson to slip past him to score an equalizing goal.

 It came off a corner kick five minutes into the second half, erasing the momentum Jozy Altidore had claimed for the United States in the closing seconds of the first half with a curling free kick from 30 yards.

“It was my guy who scored on the goal so I was trying to make up for it any way I could,” said Morris. “I just had to take responsibility for that but luckily I could put one in the back of the net.”

For Morris, his redemption couldn’t have been better timed. Pouncing on a deflected cross from USA teammate Gyasi Zardes, Morris squeezed a shot inside the right post in the 88th minute for what held up as the winning goal.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Morris. “Every time I step on the field it’s such an honor to represent my country. This game was amazing. Credit Jamaica – they made it very tough for us.”

The USMNT dominated the last 15 minutes of the game in Santa Clara, California. Clint Dempsey had a header glance off the left post in the 75th minute. Then in the 85th minutes, Dempsey took a low free kick from 25 yards out from the left side that Morris couldn’t redirect on frame.

But then a little less than three minutes later Morris made good on another deflection after Jamaica’s Jermaine Taylor failed to clear the ball from danger with a header. Goalkeeper Dwayne Miller couldn’t get to the blistering shot by Morris

“You saw the progression as we went through the tournament,” said Morris. “It’s always tough when you get a group of guys who haven’t played together in a while and get them on the same page. But the coaching staff does a great job … For us I think you saw we got better as the tournament went along and it culminated with tonight.”

The tournament title will give Bruce Arena and his players a boost heading into the final stage of World Cup qualifying, which begins in Sept. 1 against Costa Rica.

But all that mattered Wednesday night was the podium celebration.

Captain Michael Bradley said the team will begin focusing on World Cup qualifying again in a couple of days.

“We’re going to enjoy this right now,” Bradley said.

Added Altidore: “To have us lift this cup means everything.”

Jamaica starting goalkeeper Andre Blake received the Golden Glove award, but he was injured and had to be replaced just minutes before Altidore’s free kick goal.

The U.S. outshot Jamaica 13-6 and had six corner kicks while allowing just three.

From Sidelines to punchlines

Clearing my head and notebook while coming to grips that Ty Cobb is now a lawyer in the White House …

Most inspirational

I had never heard of Jarrius Robertson, who received the ESPY’s Jimmy V Perseverance Award the other night, but he’s now high on my list of  most unforgettable characters.

The 15-year-old Saints Superfan, who is battling a chronic liver disease, managed to make a lasting impression with his effusive personality when New Orleans players visited a hospital in 2015. His energy and positive attitude has since made him a fan favorite throughout Louisiana.

Because of his battle with biliary artesia, Robertson doesn’t look to be any older than 10 because his growth has been stunted.  He’s had two liver transplants in his young life and even survived being taken off life support when his first transplant in 2004 failed. He was in a coma for a year.

Like I said, his story of overcoming medical  odds and adversity is incredible.

“Jarrius is such an inspirational young man,” Saints quarterback Drew Brees said. “His strength, determination and resolve along with his infectious energy and attitude should be an example that no matter the circumstances or adversity, with a positive outlook and embracing the motto of ‘Don’t give up. … Don’t ever give up,’ there isn’t a challenge that cannot be conquered.”

A GoFundMe account has been set up to help Robertson’s family pay his staggering medical bills. If you can spare a few dollars, I’d encourage you to consider his cause.

https://www.gofundme.com/jarrius-robertson-2uzfdhgk

For me, after hearing Robertson’s story, it made all the other ESPY honors insignificant. Seriousy, who cares which athletes ESPN viewers think are the best players in their respective sport?

Sudden wealth

Taking time off to start a family with fiancé Alexis Ohanian, a co-founder of Reddit, Serena Williams no longer has to worry about  financial stability.

But becoming independently wealthy took some getting used to, according to Williams. She said that when she began playing professionally she never really thought about the riches  success would bring her from prize money and endorsement contracts.

Thus, she swears she didn’t think twice about driving up to an ATM and trying to deposit her first $1 million check. A teller had to request she come inside to make the deposit.

She said now she wishes she had a photo of the check, but it didn’t occur to her then.

“Selfies didn’t exist back then,” said Williams, who has a net worth of $160 million these days.

A-Rod & J-Lo

Former New York Yankee All-Star Alex Rodriguez has learned through dating Jennifer Lopez that there are different stages of celebrity. He said its been a surprisingly humbling experience.

“You know, when I was with the Yankees and we won the world championship and you’re wearing the pinstripes, you think you are pretty cool,” he told host Jimmy Fallon when he appeared on The Tonight Show last week. “But then when you hang out with Jennifer, people confuse me as a security guard all the time.”

Headlines

Fark.com: “Mayweather vs. McGregor is the “Kardashians” of sport.”

From TheOnion.com: “New X Games event just driving monster trucks off cliff.”

From SportsPickle.com.com: “6 ways to confront a friend or family member you suspect may be watching NBA Summer League

From TheOnion.com: “13-yearold quietly trying to get through rest of soccer game after getting wind knocked out of him.”

From Fark.com: “Calvin Johnson admits he retired from football rather than continue to play for Detroit Lions.”

Time to focus

The U.S. men’s national soccer team (well, this junior varsity version) has had a much tougher time than expected in Group B play of the Gold Cup.

After a 1-1 draw with Panama, Team USA struggled mightily against a Martinique squad that has a roster of mostly semi-pro players. It took a second goal from Jordan Morris on Wednesday night for us to escape with a 3-2 win.

That puts the United States atop the group standings, but only because it has scored one more goal than Panama entering Saturday night’s game in Cleveland against Nicaragua.

The U.S. shouldn’t have a problem winning its final round-robin game since Nicaragua lost to Martinique 2-0. Still, Brad Guzan can’t afford any more lapses in goal and the U.S. can’t continue to squander a half dozen scoring chances.

To be fair, U.S. coach Bruce Arena went into the group battles planning to experiment with players who haven’t seen much national team duty.

Players like forwards Dom Dwyer and Jordan Morris and midfielders Gyasi Zardes and Paul Arriola have done well enough to be on the field Saturday against Nicaragua.

But with that said, we can also expect that Arena will replace as many as six roster spots for the knockout stages of the tournament, bringing in more experience with the additions of players like Michael Bradley, Darlington Nagbe, Jozy Altidore or Clint Dempsey.

So if Dwyer or Morris want to claim a roster spot for the next round of World Cup qualifying, now is the time to do it.

They said it

R.J. Currie of SportsDeke.com: “Titans cornerback Logan Ryan wed former Rutgers softballer Ashley Bragg. I’m guessing he allowed her to complete a few passes and she let him get past first base.”

Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald:The Cincinnati Reds Billy Hamilton was finally tagged out by the Rays after a 6-5-2-4-5-7 rundown between third base and home. The good news for Hamilton is he was credited with completing his first 5K.”

Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times: “The Warriors’ Stephen Curry just signed a five-year, $201 million contract.
Yes, why stop at 200 when you can tack on the biggest “and one” in hoops history?”

New York Yankee Aaron Judge on competing in the Home Run Derby: “It’s just another round of BP, but in front of 50,000 people.”

Bob Molinaro, in the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot, on a friend who said two or three Orioles pitchers should’ve gotten All-Star invites: “They’re more than qualified, he said, to pitch in the Home Run Derby.”

Dressing up

LPGA president Vicki Goetze-Ackerman is bringing a stricter dress code to the tour with a crackdown on sex appeal.

Her edict bans players from wearing:

— Racerback tank  tops unless they have a collar.

— Anything  with a plunging neckline.

— Leggings unless worn under shorts or a skort.

The tour has benefitted through the years from the glamour and sex appeal of  players like Jan Stephenson, Laura Baugh, Paula Creamer, Natalie Gulbis and many others. Lately, its been Michelle Wie who has raised eyebrows from some by playing in shorts and sleeveless  tank tops.

With the new dress code set to be rolled out next week, players have been warned that any violations will bring a $1,000 fine.

 

 

From Sidelines to punchlines

Clearing my head and notebook  ….

Bosh farewell

Chris Bosh’s NBA career is officially over after the Miami Heat waived the former all-star because he hasn’t been medically cleared to resume playing basketball after he sat out last season.

It’s an unfortunate ending to Bosh’s career. His last game was more than a year ago on February 9, 2016, but by then Bosh knew the struggles he was facing, having been diagnosed with an illness in 2015 that made him susceptible to blood clots. He twice was placed on medical reserve over the course of two seasons because of blood clots in a lung and a calf.

He didn’t play at all last season.

Through it all Bosh didn’t spend much time feeling sorry for himself. While the sabbatical allowed him to spend more time with his wife Adrienne and their five kids, it also let him focus on his charity, Team Tomorrow.

Team Tomorrow partners with other community groups to assist children and families in need.

“Chris changed his life and basketball career when he came to Miami,” Heat president Pat Riley said in a statement. “And he changed our lives for the better. … He is, without a doubt, one of the greatest players in the history of the franchise. The number “1” will never be worn by another player and we can’t wait to someday hang his jersey in the rafters.”

Then there was this Tweet from LeBron James: “Bigger than basketball! My guy for life. #Klutch #StriveForGreatness.”

Only 33, Bosh won a pair of NBA titles in his seven seasons with the Heat. He was a first-round draft pick of the Toronto Raptors in 2003 out of Georgia Tech, where he was the ACC Rookie of the Year in his only college season.

The decision by the Heat means the final two years of Bosh’s contract will be voided. But with four years remaining on his deal, Bosh will still be owed $25.3 million by the Heat  next season and $26.8 million for the 2017-18 season.

Miami should hire Bosh for their community relations department or at least partner with him in future charitable efforts in South Florida.

Swimming feud

If nothing else, we can count on Lilly King to have the guts to call out her Russian counterpart.

After winning the 50-meter, 100-meter and 200-meter breaststroke events at the Phillips 66 Swim Nationals in Indianapolis last week, the Indiana University sophomore secured three more showdowns with Russian rival Yulia Efimova later this month at the FINA World Championships.

Efimova and King are ranked 1-2 in each of the events with Efimova currently holding the stopwatch advantage in the longer distances and King claiming the No. 1 ranking in the 50.

The matchup comparisons: 50-meter breaststroke – 1. King, 29.66, 2. Efimova 29.88; 100 breaststroke –– 1. Efimova 1:04.82, 2. King 1:04.95; 200 breaststroke – 1. Efimoa 2:19.83. 2. King 2:21.83.

King burst into international acclaim last summer in Rio de Janeiro by calling out the International Olympic Committee for allowing Efimova to compete despite two failed drug tests. She then beat Efimova head-to-head in the 100-meter breaststroke while setting an Olympic record in the event.

Still, King left Rio with something to prove when she failed to qualify for the 200 breast finals. Despite also earning a relay gold medal, King has used that 200-meter disappointment as motivation to improve her strength and endurance over the past year.

It’s why the FINA World Championships in Budapest promises to be a summer treat for anyone who delights in sports rivalries. King and Efimova know they are battling for breaststroke supremacy and neither can accept losing to the other.

The finals are set for July 25 in the 100, July 28 in the 200 and July 30 in the 50. Whether she sweeps all three of those races or not, King already has proven herself to be a special athlete on the world stage.

Headlines

From Fark.com: “Pickleball is spreading in Florida. Hopefully there’s a cream for that.”

From SportsPickle.com: “Cavaliers to give Tim Tebow a tryout. ‘We’re looking for winners.’ ”

From TheOnion.com: “OB-GYN assures Serena Williams fetus developing serve on schedule.”

From Fark.com: “Boxing fans tweet reports of a robbery in Brisbane.”

From SportsPickle.com: “NBA Eastern Conference offers membership to Northern Iowa and McNeese State.”

Hot shot

The Philadelphia 76ers are banking on a huge payoff from veteran guard J.J. Reddick after he agreed to a one-year, $23 million contract as a hired sharpshooter.

That’s an obscene contract for the 33-year-old Reddick, a 6-foot-4 guard who had never earned more than $8 million in his previous 11 seasons. His last deal was for $27.7 million spread over four seasons and he may have been overpaid then.

To justify the raise, you’d think the former Duke star would either have to double his scoring or somehow be the catalyst behind flipping the 76ers’ 28-54 record. The 15 points he averaged last season with the Los Angeles Clippers was his lowest scoring total since 2013.

Battle of the sexes

Granted, John McEnroe didn’t give Serena Williams enough credit when NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro suggested Williams was the greatest tennis player of all-time, man or woman.

But right or wrong, McEnroe was merely clinging to his belief that men tennis players hold the edge over women in strength and quickness.

Here’s an excerpt from the that NPR interview:

McEnroe: “Best female player ever – no question.”

Garcia-Navarro: “… Some would say she’s the best player in the world. Why qualify it?”

McEnroe: “She’s not … If she played the men’s circuit she’d be like 700 in the world.”

That got Serena riled up enough to respond on Twitter:

“Dear John, I adore and respect you but please keep me out of your statements that are not factually based.”

Serena, of course, isn’t even the best player on the women’s tour at the moment since she’s taking the rest of 2017 off to have a baby. But even in her pregnant, inactive state, she’s still ranked No. 4.

Even McEnroe has to admit that there’s not a player on the men’s circuit who could pull that off.

Straight talk

During an NBA Draft podcast, former Indiana University coach Tom Crean didn’t endear himself as an analyst with Syracuse basketball fans when he said power forward Tyler Lydon hadn’t proven himself worthy of being a first-round draft pick after Denver chose him 24th overall before trading him to Utah.

He primarily knocked Lydon’s defensive ability, suggesting the 6-foot-9 forward wasn’t tough enough to be an NBA starter. Predictably, Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim responded by calling Crean “an idiot.”

But hey, in defense of Crean, ESPN analyst Chad Ford also didn’t view Lydon as a top 30 pick.

 They said it

– RJ Currie of SportsDeke.com on NBA Awards: “Russell Westbrook was named the league’s MVP. A surprise winner was Giannis Antetokounmpo for most improved speller.”

– Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “Blake Griffin signed a 5 year, $173 million contract to stay in Los Angeles, saying ‘I want my legacy to be a Clipper.’ Translation, Los Angeles visibility and the playoffs without NBA finals pressure?”

– Brad Dickson of the Omaha (Neb.) World-Herald, after SI.com ranked all of Rocky Balboa’s opponents: “Who says that sports websites don’t cover boxing.”

– Eric Kolenich of the Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch, after QB Derek Carr was given a record $25 million-a-year contract extension: “Apparently the Raiders are getting in the gambling mood ahead of their move to Las Vegas.”

– Jim Barach of WCHS-TV in Charleston, W.Va., after Magic Johnson called Lonzo Ball the “new face of the Lakers”: “Which is fine as long as that face doesn’t have the mouth of his dad.”

Soccer cop

When the United States beat Ghana 2-1 in a friendly last weekend, the best story of the day wasn’t the USA youth movement that was on display from coach Bruce Arena. Frankly, the best story didn’t even have a USA storyline.

It was the second-half substitution that allowed Samuel Sarfo to enter the game as a central defender for Ghana in the 81st minute.

His previous involvement with his country’s national team in 2016 was in an entirely different defensive role. A Constable with the Criminal Investigations Department of Ghana, he had worked security for the national team in the past.

“It was a dream come true,” said Sarfo. “That is the dream of every young chap growing up in Ghana to don the national colors.”

Sarfo, 26, is captain of semi-professional team and grew up with many of the national team players. He said they had supported his addition to the squad.

Double jeopardy

No one can question the passion Arturo Garcia has for Mexico’s national team. After the team advanced to a Confederations Cup semifinal against Portugal, Garcia told his wife he was going to the store for cigarettes.

Instead, he boarded a flight to Germany, where he then rented a car to drive to Russia. He reportedly spent his life savings on the trip only to see Mexico give up a tying goal in the 90th minute and then lose in extra time.

For his trouble, Garcia also managed to strain an Achilles tendon while on his fantasy vacation. But hey, at least the story he had to tell his wife was well documented.

 

 

From Sidelines to punchlines

A different view from the world of sports …

Bruce Almighty! 

No doubt, Bruce Arena gets results.

I never would have believed U.S. Soccer would have required saving from  Jurgen Klinsmann, but that became clear after the team lost its first two games of 2018 World Cup qualifying and found itself at the bottom of the CONCACAF standings.

In came miracle worker Arena to lead the U.S. to a 6-0 home win over Honduras, a 1-1 tie at Panama, a 2-0 home win over Trinidad and Tobago and then a 1-1 tie at Mexico.

Not only did Arena orchestrate a rare point at Azteca, but he did it by making seven changes in the starting lineup and switching to a more defensive 5-3-2 formation.

It worked. Give ’em an A-plus for American pride and Arena arrogance. 

No one but Arena would have expected those changes to work, but now the U.S. is third in the CONCACAF standings heading into the next round of qualifying in September.

“I’m just doing things the way I do things,” Arena told The Associated Press. “I can’t comment on the things that went on in the past, but I could say that the players have responded very well, and we’re really becoming a team.”

Three, by the way, is the magic number. Finish among the top three and Arena and the U.S. will be in Russia for the World Cup next summer.

Arena, 65, has been here before. He was the U.S. coach from 1998 to 2006, including guiding the national team to a quarterfinal appearance at the 2002 World Cup.

That’s why he agreed to return. He realizes there’s still much work to do to make the U.S. a World Cup contender. And he’s just arrogant enough to believe he’s the one who can do it.

It’s a huge lift, but no other American coach has the resume Arena has. He won five national titles at Virginia (including four in a row from 1991-94) and five MLS Cups with D.C. United and the L.A. Galaxy.

 Go fishing

Some San Francisco Giants fans occasionally take in a baseball game at AT&T Park by padding around McCovey Bay, where they can retrieve a soaked souvenir or two whenever a ball clears the stadium wall. But on Tuesday during a game against the Kansas City Royals, it was the sight of a shark hanging out in the bay that created all the excitement.

Reportedly, there was no reason to panic.

Repeat, NO REASON TO PANIC.

It was a leopard shark, which are common in San Francisco Bay. A spokesperson for the National Aquarium even claims that species of shark is docile and a “great species to care for.”

Maybe so, but if I ever catch a Giants’ home game it will be inside the stadium.

Headlines

From TheOnion.com: “Dead catfish disgusted by idea of being handled by Predators fan.”

From SportsPickle.com: “LeBron James optimistic he can still lose at least five to seven more NBA Finals.”

TheKicker.com: “Lakers to bring back Lonzo for another workout/adoption consultation.”

From TheOnion.com: “Kevin Durant: ‘Deep down, I’ll always be a free agent at heart.’”

From SportsPickle.com: ‘Giants and Odell Beckham reach agreement to hold minicamp on Beckham’s yacht.’

From Fark.com: “The McGregor-Mayweather fight will be dumb as hell and make both men obscene amounts of money.”

 Nice moment

Capital Police Officer David Bailey, who was wounded Tuesday while protecting Republicans from a lone gunman during a baseball practice in Alexandria, Virginia, was at Nationals Park Thursday to throw out the first pitch at the Congressional Baseball Game.

Bailey was on crutches because of his injuries, which partly explains why he lacked the strength to get the ball over the plate. But his one hopper likely drew some of the loudest applause of the night.

The game was dedicated to Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who is still in critical condition because of his wounds. While the Democrats won 11-2 with Cedric Richmond of Louisiana again on the mound, it was announced that the trophy will be on display in Louisiana Republican Scalise’s office.

The Dems now have a 40-39-1 edge in the series that began in 1909, but hasn’t been played all 108 years.

 They said it

NBC comedian Jimmy Fallon on someone paying six figures for two tickets to Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Monday to see the Golden State Warriors clinch the title: “It’s pretty crazy. I read someone bought the most expensive seats in NBA history at last night’s game for $133,000. It seemed like a great idea until they found out that the seats were behind Shaq.”

 CBS comedian James Corden: “There are rumors going around already that the Warriors have voted unanimously to skip going to the White House to meet President Trump. Trump was very understanding. He was like, “Look, I get it. I skip going to the White House whenever I can, too.”

 Janice Hough of LeftCoastSportsBabe.com: “So the NBA postseason is finally over. NBA 2017-18 preseason starts next week.”

 Comedy writer Tim Hunter, on a study claiming most divorces happen in March and August: “That does pave the way for being able to watch all of March Madness and the start of the NFL season.”

 R.J. Currie of SportsDeke.com’: “Golfer Michael Buttacavoli had to withdraw from US Open qualifying because American Airlines lost his clubs. It could have been worse: United would have thrown them off the plane.”