31 January 2012

A Pilgrimage to The Palestra

The Palestra
I made my first visit to The Palestra Monday night to see Penn play Princeton in one of college basketball’s oldest rivalries. I arrived at both the venue and the rivalry as a distinct outsider: I did not attend either school, nor do I have a geographic affiliation with either (I was raised in North Jersey, far away from Princeton, and I am only living in Philadelphia now for about nine months). So if I don’t understand the complete backstory to a tradition or quirk, please forgive me.

Opened on Jan. 1, 1927, The Palestra is Ivy League library on the outside and modified airplane hangar on the inside. Everything about the place is old, but I mean it in a good way. It is fabled, it is history. Walking the three blocks from my apartment on this cold winter night, I felt I was gravitating toward the arena with hundreds, maybe thousands of others wearing winter coats with the collars turned up. I felt a little bit as if I had stepped into one of John Tunis’s unforgettable books that described a 1930s Ivy League education, Iron Duke and The Duke Decides, except I was at Penn to watch basketball rather than at Harvard to watch track.

21 January 2012

U.S.-Venezuela running diary and player ratings

Parkhurst, Clark celebrate winner
I tried to keep track of players with a simple +/- system today: writing down a + for good plays and – for bad plays. It’s totally subjective, of course, and very flawed, but I’m curious to see how it compares to the number grade I would give the player just based on my impressions of the game.

I’ll post the +/- and 1-10 numerical ranking at the bottom, but here are some of my in-game thoughts watching the ESPN3 broadcast as the U.S. kicked off 2012 against Venezuela.

17 January 2012

Home-grown talent going elsewhere

Daniel Roberts, UNC-Wilmington
I heard a lot of talk prior to the SuperDraft about how MLS academies would eventually render the draft irrelevant. There are a lot of reasons why I think that will not be the case – are MLS teams really going to set up satellite academies in every part of all 50 states? – but there was a little more evidence in Tuesday’s four-round supplemental draft.

By my count, six players with strong ties to MLS academies were selected, four by other clubs and two by clubs that already held their rights. Now, we don’t know the behind-the-scenes issues in each case. MLS may have rejected home-grown claims on one or multiple players. But it seems to indicate that, because not all players from an MLS academy will be good enough to earn a roster spot on their hometown team, they will sometimes need an avenue to play elsewhere, and a draft is the MLS way of dispersing those players.

Below is the list of players selected Tuesday who have home-grown ties. Please post in comments if you have additional information on any players.

16 January 2012

Stage is set for another playoff thriller at Candlestick

Matt Bahr
I’ve been a New York Giants fan pretty much since I can remember, and since I’m only 28, that means I’m talking about the New York football Giants. It also means the first real rival was the 49ers, not the Cowboys. Don’t worry, I ramped up my hatred for the Cowboys in a hurry, but my life as a Giants fan really began with the 1990 NFC championship game.

To me, at 7 years old, the 49ers were invincible.

12 January 2012

Draft Day Diary

I’ve spent the last three SuperDrafts in the convention center, wearing a suit, and trying desperately to figure out if my team would make a trade. This year I’m on my couch, wearing shorts and a T-shirt, and trying desperately to keep my beagle from needing a bathroom break during the event itself. Slightly different experience. That said, following along via ESPN3 and various MLS personalities on Twitter could be a better way to experience this day of madness. Let’s find out:

11 January 2012

Four trends to watch on Thursday

There’s been a lot of MLS news in the 52 days since MLS Cup, but the SuperDraft is still the milestone that marks the start of the 2012 season, and we’re all excited to see what happens in Kansas City on Thursday.

Now there are mock drafts and rankings out there that mean a whole lot more than my version. They come from people who saw more college games than I did, saw the combine games in person rather than over the internet, and talk to coaches and general managers more frequently than I do. But I hope I can provide some perspective picked up from past drafts, so read on for four key trends to keep in mind while watching:

1. Great Expectations – While every player is drafted for a reason, most MLS teams don’t plan for anybody other than a top-10 pick to have an impact in his first year. From last year, think Nagbe, Kitchen, Valentin, Soares, Anibaba. If somebody gets production from the bottom half of the first round (Sapong, Bruin, Balchan, Meram), that’s great. But teams generally don’t base their lineup plans around anybody except those first 10 players, so Darren Mattocks (pictured above) and co. will face some serious pressure to produce.

Scouting the SuperDraft

OK, I watched two of the three days of the combine, follow college soccer somewhat but not super closely, and have been pretty involved with the last four drafts. So here are my MLS SuperDraft player rankings, broken down by position. Please don't hold them against me (too much) on Friday:

No holds barred: Retiring Houston defender Eddie Robinson is one of a kind

The lasting image of Eddie Robinson as a player will surely be one of him yelling at a referee or an opponent with unrestrained anger, believing he had somehow been wronged. (Heck, that’s his MLSsoccer.com player bio picture on the right.) But there’s so much more to Eddie Robinson than fury and emotion and physicality. They’re all there, of course, but they don’t tell the whole story.

If you brave Eddie Robinson’s initial, intimidating scowl to ask a question, you’ll get a thoughtful, candid, well-spoken answer. This fall, I asked Eddie for his five favorite playoff memories, hoping to use the answers as part of a retrospective for the gameday magazine for the Dynamo’s Nov. 3 playoff game. He stopped, thought, and said, “That’s hard. I’m going to have to think about that. Can I call you later and give them to you? I can’t just do that on the spot.” And true to form, he provided them later that day.

10 January 2012

Launching a new chapter

What’s up, y’all? I know, I know, it’s a little bit weird that I say, “Y’all,” since I’m from New Jersey, but after living most of the last 10 years in Houston, it’s not completely disappearing from my vocabulary any time soon. Here’s a quick background as I launch my blog about sports, broadcasting, and whatever else strikes my fancy.

I’m 28 years old, and I’ve been fortunate enough to be a play-by-play broadcaster in several different sports and with several different teams, but I spent the last four years working for the Houston Dynamo and served as the team’s radio broadcaster from 2009-11.

For personal reasons, I will be moving around several times over the next few years, so I left the Dynamo after the 2011 MLS Cup campaign and am embarking on a free-lance career, currently based out of Philadelphia. What exactly my free-lance career will entail remains to be seen, but I’m excited for (and nervous about) the opportunities in front of me.

I’m going to use this blog to write about whatever’s going on in my sports life. If that’s a Major League Soccer game I’m calling on the weekend, you’ll get my thoughts before and after the game. If I’m watching bowl games or the College World Series or the Olympics, and something catches my fancy, I’ll write it down. If I think I have a story or an angle that’s being overlooked, I’ll let you check it out here. I’ll be honest, pointed, self-deprecating, irreverent, and hopefully just a little bit funny.

I don’t know what I’m going to be doing for large portions of this year (an uncomfortable situation for me), but if it’s relevant to sports, you’ll get to hear about it.