Thursday, May 31, 2007

Don't applaud

I'm just now watching a repeat of The Daily Show and Jon Stewart's interview with Al Gore. Sounds good.

One piece of advice from one liberal author of a non-notable blog to the rest of the blogosphere: if you hear your favorite politician/famous figure/all-around good guy/girl say something, no matter how truthful or accurate or right or just, like "Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11," don't applaud. Don't clap your hands or cheer or anything like that.

Yeah, he's right. But instead of sounding like "I told you so," it sounds like you're cheering for the bad guy. Don't do that.

OK, that's all. Thanks.


Monday, May 28, 2007

Conservative "discourse"

Newt Gingrich is one of those people who, if you don't hate him already, would be very difficult to hate because of his personal demeanor and conversational style. Since leaving Congress, he has become tame - in a good way - his voice very disarming and his tone very relaxing. George Jr. has very little of the intellect of the former House Speaker, and not exactly imitating of his discourse patterns. Yet, Bush, come debate time, does sound more like Gingrich than like the conservative talking point machines of Limbaugh and Malkin and Boortz. Which is what makes him very appealing to conservatives, and very difficult to out-argue.

The lesson is this: if the right sounded more like Gingrich, the left would have their hands full.

Fortunately for us liberals, the conservative brain is reptilian in nature, striving for the chest-pounding and fear-mongering more than the intellectual and open-minded.

Speaker Gingrich gave an interview to Brian Lehrer (WNYC) a few weeks ago, proposing a series of Presidential debates much unlike those we have now. Instead of the lightning-round, offer-up-talking points press conferences we have on cable news, there would be timed, unmoderated exchanges of ideas in which candidates can question each other once a week from the end of convention season to Election Day.

It is a bit too idealistic for me, and requires a great deal of trust in each candidate that the other won't resort and stick to party-defined talking points.

More importantly, most conservatives aren't equipped to handle, and would invariably lose, that sort of intellectual exchange. What's more, they know it for sure, and get personal right quick at the slightest hint of reason and thought.

I was watching Washington Journal this morning (note: I almost never do - SportsCenter and Daily Show reruns are usually on at the time), listening to John Bruhns of and Karl Blanke of the pro-war Vets for Freedom. Towards the end of the segment, Bruhns proceeds to cross-examine Blanke and respond to pro-war talking points by testing his knowledge of the actual facts on the ground and opinions of the major figures involved in the Iraq War.

To Blanke's credit, he acquitted himself well in between the missteps, including advocating the extension of the war by another twenty-five years, "if that's what it takes." Never mind that the war will probably bankrupt the country in five.

That's not important. What's important, however, is the way war supporters got on the viewer phone to C-Span and attacked Bruhns. His cross-examination of Blanke was perceived as filibustering and unpatriotic, never mind the ideas that were exchanged. The exercise in intellect was seen as dividing the country, when Americans should "just support the President."

I wish I could tell you what anti-war callers would've said, but the moderator didn't feel it was appropriate to put any on the air (I've never heard of bias on C-Span, to be honest).

Note to Gingrich: this is, sadly, what is considered discourse these days.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Crossroads at Giants Stadium

The New York Red Bulls this week find themselves at a crossroads with an important game against the Chicago Fire in primetime on Thursday evening. Just around the corner in June, tougher competition than those in their first few games this season awaits New York. For all the woes DC has had in 2007, RFK Stadium continues to haunt the Red Bulls with an intimidating home field advantage. Speaking of which, they have to venture to Toronto first to face a team that has recently hit its stride, with the support of a raucous hometown crowd. And then there's Kansas City - twice New York's opposition over fifteen days next month - where Eddie Johnson's potential success this year after a horrible World Cup year in 2006 remains a question mark.

Before the Red Bulls are truly tested at summer's start, however, Chicago comes to town trying to sort out problems of their own. Dominating games and losing them at the same time this season, the Fire could, at any time, decide to take out their frustrations on the road against a team whose marker they have always held in their possession.

Neither team is at full strength, moreso New York than Chicago. Missing Ronald Waterreus, Hunter Freeman and perhaps Claudio Reyna (officially a game-time decision about which the New York faithful is not optimistic) for more than a few games to this point, the Red Bulls have had to change their strategy more than once against earlier opposition. The Fire, meanwhile, will miss the services of Chris Rolfe (ankle sprain) and perhaps Diego Gutierrez (knee contusion), taking some potency off the Chicago attack.

But while New York has the benefit of depth for arguably the first time in team history - even green-as-hell rookie Sal Caccavale scored in New York's 4-0 win over Columbus this past Saturday - the Fire seem to be longing for the end of the Mexican season, and therefore the coming of their Designated Player Cuahtehmoc Blanco to help bring about success in Chicago. After a strong start to the season, the Fire find themselves struggling to figure out what to do with a three-game losing streak upon their arrival in New York.

Clearly, one team and its fans are more excited than their counterparts heading into their primetime clash on national television. The question for the Red Bulls, then, is how best to take on the Fire.

This week, it has been the worst-kept secret that, given the success of last week's lineup, Bruce Arena may very well keep the starting eleven intact against Chicago. That means hometown favorite John Wolyniec will again be paired up front against internationally-renowned Juan Pablo Angel. Though Josmer Altidore is back with the team after sitting out to go to his high school prom and, well, do whatever you imagine happens after a prom between a rising, talented athlete, who appears weekly on television, and his date, he will sit on the bench so that Bruce can take advantage of the momentum Wolyniec owns after scoring the game-winning goal last week.

Which begs the first question:

Q1: At full team strength (no injuries), can John Wolyniec earn a start this season?
Yes - 3
No - 9

Given the talents of Angel, Altidore, and Clint Mathis, the "Staten Island Ronaldo" (certainly not me who invented the nickname) seemed pretty far down the depth chart at the outset of the 2007 season. To most, Wolyniec still is. But some cannot ignore the work ethic the journeyman-turned-New York veteran has exhibited, especially with any team named either the MetroStars or the Red Bulls.

"He played out of his skin [against Columbus]," said panelist Devil500, "He showed that game in game out and he will be fighting for that spot."

The consensus, however, is quite clear. This season, New York's front line may just be too good for a pre-DP era MLS player.

"He can score goals," said Sublicon, "But as has always been said about him, he's a scavenger - a 'right place at the right time' kind of forward - we need someone prolific up top." Angel and Altidore, in the view of the New York faithful, fit that bill far better than Wolyniec.

Still, even some of the naysayers against the "Woly for XI" movement can't resist a kind word for New York's supersub. "No one can question his grit out there," Onionsack said.

As for someone who is likely guaranteed a starting spot in every game this season, Claudio Reyna has missed significant minutes so far this season due to injury. Reyna's critics have talked much of his inability to stay healthy over the years to justify the responsibilities given to him. Certainly, this season is no different, and Chicago may benefit from his potential absence on Thursday. With an expensive Designated Player spot filled by the former Captain America, it may be the right time to ask the next question:

Q2: Is Claudio Reyna still worth DP money?
Yes - 11
No - 1

It is, quite simply, no contest. Red Bull fans have seen this team as a dangerous, synchronized force with Reyna controlling the midfield, and a chaotic, disorderly mess when Reyna sits.

"Compare this to last year," said Irishapple, "When our team looked like a pack of mangy mutts sniffing each other's butts. He has revolutionized our team."

The lone "no" vote in the field, however, takes a larger view.

Said Crusio, "He is a part time player. But being that we have Angel and [Markus] Schopp, I can excuse the move. Alone, without the other two, Reyna would be an unwise pick."

But others see the talented veteran as more than just a field player. Though it would be nice if he played more minutes and produced greater dividends, "I think he'll still be able to teach the young guys something," said FIFARay007.

The question was posed given New York's win over Columbus last weekend, without Reyna's contributions. A thorough, convincing victory attributed to both a bunch of goals as well as a clean sheet by backup keeper Jon Conway, who did not receive a resounding vote of confidence by the Red Bull Meter two weeks ago. So what was the reason for the rather one-sided result against the Crew last Saturday?

Q3: New York's defense, or Columbus' poor offense?
New York - 4
Columbus - 3
Both - 5

Most among the panel were emphatic in their responses, whatever their choices were to this question. No doubt the New York strike force is alive and well, but a defense that allowed a total of seven goals in the three games prior to facing Columbus at home is reason enough to give many Red Bull fans forget the record-setting opposition goalless streak at the start of the season.

Still, the defense is given at least some of the credit.

"In particular, Dema Kovalenko was spectacular on defense, even though he's not a natural defender," said Irishapple, "His daring slide tackles from behind saved the day on several occasions."

And then there's the Crew, who went undefeated AND winless in their first few games, namely because of their inability to find the back of the net. "The Crew's offense isn't even passable by 1996 MLS standards," said Asprilla9, "The only feeling I have for [recent signing] Guillermo Barros Schelotto is sympathy."

Then again, a plurality of the panel couldn't decide which, or decided on both. "I thought the play was pretty even, we just had much better finishing than they did," said j1mbr0wn.

Panelist ag nigrin gets my thanks, though, for being decisive. "If I have to choose one, NY's defense was good."

Saturday, May 12, 2007

The best of times, the worst of times

It would be cliche, and perhaps misplaced hyperbole, to compare this season's New York Red Bulls to A Tale of Two Cities. But while this past week hasn't provided the worst possible results, the early success this team has enjoyed has turned a draw and a loss into gut-wrenching disappointments.

There is much to be optimistic about. Clint Mathis seems to have found his form at the start of his second stint with the team, scoring impressive goals that make New York fans nostalgic for his glory days that many seasons ago. Where Mathis is the past and present, Josmer Altidore appears to be the future, putting in masterful performances and drawing comparisons with that other teenage phenom that plays for Real Salt Lake. Most excitingly, Juan Pablo Angel's paperwork finally came through, and his contribution has already paid dividends with a goal in his midweek debut.

Such exciting prospects for this team has been dulled somewhat by the events of the past week, however. An impressive yet predictable two-goal lead away was squandered away late in the game by New York, as a questionable penalty kick call and an improbable stoppage time goal saw Real Salt Lake draw with the Red Bulls, preserving the puzzling hex Rice-Eccles Stadium has on this team. More confounding is the context of RSL's comeback, which came on the heels of a morale-dampening front office shuffle that finally saw the firing of John Ellinger, but leading to the retirement of the team's most potent striker, Jason Kreis, who easily became the youngest coach in MLS history. Pitted against this disorderly team which had yet to win a game this season, anything less than three points proved to be a major disappointment to Bruce Arena and his squad.

Further out West, the Red Bulls had hoped to restart their amazing run in Los Angeles with a win in Open Cup qualifying. And while Juan Pablo Angel scored that aforementioned goal in extra time at The Home Depot Center, a game that the away team had dominated in regulation was witness to an overtime collapse that had allowed three Galaxy goals to New York's one, against a backup keeper in Steve Cronin, who decided on Tuesday to have the game of his life.

New York regroups at home to play the Colorado Rapids on Sunday afternoon. The Rapids, who have only one win at their new Dick's Sporting Goods Park, may be happy to go on the road after another perplexing draw with Real Salt Lake. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, will try to preserve their perfect record at Giants Stadium, which has earned the team the full six points after two home games.

Against a Rapids team that allowed an embarrassing own goal in their own house, the Red Bulls will look forward to scoring a few goals over the weekend. They will have many options, but one of them, Clint Mathis, is an improbable choice at the start of the season, made more likely after three goals and an assist after four games. It makes one ponder an obvious question.

Q1: Is Clint Mathis "back"?
Yes - 11
No - 1

Whether it was in Germany or with RSL or Colorado, Mathis always seemed to fall short of expectations, building on the label of "has-been" in the face of wasted potential. To Red Bull fans, it should have been obvious that Mathis' return to New York made perfect sense.

"He is one of the very few athletes that thrive in NY," said panelist Rooney20. And while Clint's affection for the metropolitan area was never in doubt, his work ethic never seemed to be tied to the team until now.

For certain, Mathis' place in team history is secure. Time will tell, however, if he is for real, or if he is just another New York streaky sports figure the likes of Alex Rodriguez or John Starks. "[Mathis] usually shows flashes of brilliance, then fades," said crusio, the only no vote among the panel.

Despite plenty of options up front, a tie and a loss this past week will certainly make New York re-examine their strength in the back.

Q2: Is Jon Conway a capable backup to Ronald Waterreus?
Yes - 8
No - 4

Conway entered the second half enjoying the lead, but ended the game allowing two goals very late. Though the game was marred by questionable refereeing, Conway's time in goal this past weekend has given some fans pause.

"He is OK in a pinch but I would be nervous to have him start too many matches or in a big match," said Onionsack. Fans can recall the Eastern Conference semifinal at RFK Stadium last season, as a tied score on aggregate was thrown away after Conway allowed Christian Gomez to score in the final five minutes of DC's series win. Or maybe fans remember Barcelona's drubbing of both Tony Meola and Conway in last year's August friendly.

Despite these results, other results throughout Conway's time with the Red Bulls have swung in his favor, and he has managed to endear himself to the New York faithful. And the team's backup keeper can be forgiven for giving up a lead in a game where the referee could've taken the game's MVP. "The two goals scored at the end of the RSL match were not Conway's fault and they shouldn't be seen as an indictment of his ability," insisted Irishapple.

But if everything is set at goalkeeper, the defense may be responsible for any problem so far. However, the panel was unable to find any consensus on this question.

Q3: Does the Red Bull defense need improvement?
Yes - 6
No - 6

One might think that the fan's perspective about New York's defense would be more clear, given that the team hadn't allowed a single goal in its first four regular season games. But with five of the six goals allowed by New York being scored after the 85th minute, one may have to wonder about the endurance of a team that may have proven it can run dry before the job is done.

Yet, Asprilla9 sees it more as a matter of the mind than physical fitness. "It comes down to mental toughness, and maintaining one's focus."

Despite the questions on the defense, others have ultimately dismissed the RSL game as a minor hiccup. Panelist ag nigrin even shows optimism, saying, "In the past we would have lost a game like that."

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Friday, May 11, 2007

Seriously, I don't give a crap

So, I'm searching for something at the supermarket, when a Filipino housewife asks me to help her get something from the top shelf, which I am happy to do. After saying thanks, she asks me if I'm Filipino.

Yes, I am. The question I never ask afterwards so I don't seem impolite is "So what?"

I don't know why, but it bothers me that it's the deepest, most intellectual question that comes to most minds I come across. That what interests other people is whether or not I eat adobo (and I don't).

As far as I know, I'm the biggest coconut in the family, and proud of it. I was raised in Staten Island, which if you ask me, is the real inspiration for The Sopranos (I thought it was supposed to be a comedy, btw). I shook off my Italian-American-inspired accent in two places, in high school where I was in the musical all four years, and in Japan, where I was an ESL teacher.

In college, there was the Filipino club, but down the hall the Italian club was playing picture charades and eating pizza, so I went there instead.

Instead of taking Tagalog, which is a course at NYU, I took Japanese instead. Best decision of my life.

And yes, for all this, I've been sensing eye rolls from every relative, close and distant, since college.

So, what I'm saying is this: isn't something like "What kinds of things do you like to do?" or "What did you do in university?" just a tad more interesting than "Say, you're Filipino, right?" Because really, when I used to live in Japan, I honestly didn't give a crap that a fellow American in my line of sight was American. I never got that sense of relief that some other culture shocked ex-pats get when they realize they're not the only English-speaking person on the block.

And as one of those ultra-liberals your mom told you about, I'm saying that people usually get into trouble when labels of race, religion or whatever dominate their way of thinking about others. I get it all the time, even when I'm not in the element people expect from me. I hate it when Japanese language departments at universities advertise job openings, but only to native Japanese. It's not possible that someone who has taken up the language could do just as good a job? More relevant to this post, is it possible that someone could decide to do things not typical of the culture from which they came, in an attempt to break out of the mold of provincialism? What else is the age of multiculturalism and globalism for, if not for pursuing options otherwise not available to you?

All I'm saying is this: don't assume. I'll leave it at that.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Yeah, it was funny...

...but is there anything at all that GWB doesn't screw up?

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Cause for celebration in New York

Crossposted to MLS Online

Either it's very early in the regular season, or the regular season doesn't mean anything at all. Whatever the reason, the most hardened cynics of Major League Soccer and the New York Red Bulls take the team's early success with a grain of salt.

Among the New York faithful, however, there is reason to be optimistic, if not celebratory. A minor misstep in Columbus during opening weekend was quickly brushed aside by a series of wins throughout April that propelled the Red Bulls to the top of the Eastern Conference, the top of the entire league, and an impressive ten-point lead over perennial rivals DC United, who occupy the cellar of the conference with expansion Toronto FC after three straight losses to open the season.

In the meantime, good news continues to come in for the team. New York awaits the debut of former European standout Juan Pablo Angel, in the hopes that they have found the potent goalscorer that has been absent in the Meadowlands for so long. He will join playmaker Claudio Reyna, the team's other Designated Player, and a backline, with the support of Ronald Waterreus and Jon Conway in goal, that has yet to allow a goal in its first four games.

In all, it is a good time to be a Red Bull fan. So much so, that this column has assembled twelve of the closest followers to take the temperature of the metropolitan fanbase from time to time. We call them the Red Bull Meter.

We asked them if it was a fluke that New York has done so well so far. And in what will be no surprise to many, the result was pretty one-sided.

Q1: Is the Red Bulls' early success a fluke?
Yes - 1
No - 11

To some, it is a testament to the head coach, Bruce Arena. After the likes of Octavio Zambrano and Mo Johnston brought mediocre results to New York in seasons past, most fans have confidence in the former US national team coach.

"Bruce Arena has assembled a Red Bulls team that is strong in every position," said panelist Irishapple, "Not only do we have a fantastic starting 11, we have depth in every position, so I think the Red Bulls' early success will last."

Asprilla9 calls Arena the "best coach in MLS," responsible for building the deepest team with the best young striker in Josmer Altidore and best right back in Hunter Freeman. "RBNY finally have someone at the helm that can look at player personnel movement with a discerning eye."
Elsewhere in the league, it is easy for Red Bull fans to find enjoyment in the woes of DC United, the defending Supporters' Shield winner and one-time contender for this season's CONCACAF Champions' Cup. A new coach and a lineup including South American players successful in their former clubs have yet to live up to the early season hype, among them the notion of one DC supporter that this team could have been the greatest MLS team...ever.

Q2: Will the Red Bulls win the Atlantic Cup this season?
Yes - 11
No - 1

A lot could change between now and June 10th at RFK Stadium, the first meeting between the Red Bulls and DC this season. Until then, all signs point to New York's first season series win over their rivals since 2003.

The disparity in silverware between the two teams, of course, gives some fans pause in awarding the Cup before the games are played. "DC, while starting out slow, is still a very good club," said crusio, "This won't be easy." Some other good indicators for New York, however, will be positive results against other teams like the New England Revolution and the Chicago Fire, two teams that have also played the spoilers to the Red Bulls' prospects.

And while this year could be the year New York reverses their woeful fortunes, there is some debate as to how that success could come about. A new Designated Player waits in the wings to bring goals to a place where so many other prospects have failed. Yet, Angel may prove not to be the most important player among the New York strike force.

Q3: Who will prove to be the better goalscorer this season?
Angel - 4
Altidore - 8

The last question this week proved to be the toughest, given the two goals scored by New York's newest hometown hero. As Angel waits in anticipation for the immigration paperwork to come through, "Jozy" has quickly endeared himself to the team and the fans, who are beginning to lobby current US coach Bob Bradley to give the young prospect a spot on the US team during a busy year that includes the CONCACAF Gold Cup and the South American Copa America.
Given the early goals by Altidore, the league's defenders may find they have to shift their strategies. "Jozy will be on fire but I expect him to get some VIP treatment from defenders and really get the physical treatment," said Devil500.

On the other hand, Angel may find the two-goal lead Altidore already enjoys may be too much to overcome. "We have not seen Angel play an MLS game yet," said Rooney20. Critics would be well to bring up Sergio Galvan Rey, once the "King of Goals" during his time in Colombia, but rendered irrelevant when he was brought Stateside to the MetroStars in 2004. Time will tell if MLS proves to be a different game altogether for the league's newest Designated Player.

Note: Throughout the season, the Red Bull Meter will be asked a series of questions on their opinions of the Red Bulls. In advance, we thank (in no particular order) BigSoccer posters FIFARay007, ag nigrin, sublicon, jevanvoo, crusio, stinky, irishapple21, Asprilla9, Devil500, j1mbr0wn, Onionsack and Rooney20 for their contributions throughout the season.