Saturday, November 16, 2013

A Bad Friday

Yesterday was a bad day for me.  You don't care about the personal part of it, so I won't mention it, other than to say that it wasn't dangerous or devastating, just one long series of annoyances after another.

Sports-wise, though, it was bad.

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If you're a New Jersey Devils fan, as I am, do NOT blame Cory Schneider for last night's loss to the Los Angeles Knaves -- I refuse to call those dirty bastards "Kings." Cory worked his ass off, and his culpability for the only goal (there was an empty-netter with 3 seconds left) was minimal.  The Devils are simply not doing it for him.

Peter DeBoer, or whoever is coach from here on in (you never know with Lou Lamoriello in charge), needs to tell the players that Martin Brodeur will not be around forever, that this is our goaltender of the future, and that you need to work to support him.

The Devils probably bought DeBoer some time beating the Rangers 3-2 at the Garden on Tuesday night, with Dainius Zubrus scoring the winner with under 3 minutes left in regulation.  But knowing El Baldo's itchy trigger finger -- in baseball terms, he goes through field bosses like George Steinbrenner but spends like the Miami Marlins -- the clock has got to be ticking.

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The U.S. soccer team played Scotland to a 0-0 draw at historic Hampden Park in Glasgow.  Credit to the defense for keeping a clean sheet away, and failing to get a win did nothing to actually hurt them, as this was an exhibition (a "friendly" in footiespeak), and we've already qualified for next year's World Cup.  Yet another shutout for North Brunswick, New Jersey native Tim Howard.

But last year, in Jacksonville, we beat Scotland 5-1.  This time, no goals.  Granted, we didn't have either Landon Donovan or Clint Dempsey for this one, but we didn't have Dempsey for that one, either.  (A separate injury.  In last year's game, we did have Donovan and he notched a hat trick.  One of the other goals was a beauty from Michael Bradley, who did play last night but didn't do much.)

The U.S. is currently 13th in the FIFA rankings, Scotland 35th.  Alasdair Lamont, covering this game for the BBC, called the game "a largely uninspiring friendly draw." I think he was being kind.

This wasn't the Scotland side of the late 1960s and early 1970s, led by Celtic stars such as Jimmy "Jinky" Johnstone and William "King Billy" McNeill, Tottenham stalwart Dave Mackay, Manchester United titan Denis Law, Derby County and Nottingham Forest sniper Archie Gemmill, and Leeds superstars Billy Bremner, Joe Jordan, Peter Lorimer, Gordon McQueen and David Harvey.  A team so good that Arsenal stars Frank McLintock, George Graham and Bob Wilson couldn't get into it with any regularity.

Nor was it the 1980s Scotland team, led by the Liverpool of "King Kenny" Dalglish, Graeme Souness and Alan Hansen, and Ipswich's Alan Brazil, and Aberdeen and Manchester United star Gordon Strachan (who now manages Scotland).  Or even the last Scotland team to qualify for the World Cup, the 1998 squad, with Aberdeen legend David Leighton, Blackburn Rovers league-winning captain Colin Hendry, Celtic midfielder Paul Lambert (now the manager at Aston Villa) and Chelsea star Craig Burley.

Of the 15 players Scotland fielded (up to 6 substitutes are permitted in a friendly, as opposed to 3 in "competitive matches"), I had heard of only 5: Celtic defender Charlie Mulgrew and midfielder Scott Brown, defender Alan Hutton of Aston Villa (a former Tottenham player and a right bastard), midfielder Steven Naismith of Everton, and striker Steven Fletcher of Sunderland (a former star at Edinburgh's Hibernian, but I know him as a dirty player on Wolverhampton Wanderers).

Yet this team, from a country that, for all the talent it produced in the 20th Century, hasn't reached a major tournament in 15 years and has never reached the knockout rounds of the World Cup, held the U.S. to 0-for-8 on shots, and 41 percent possession.

In a game like this, an exhibition, the perception of the performance is more important than the actual result.  And if this is how we play without Donovan and Dempsey, against a team only as good as the current Scotland, what's going to happen if we have to go into Brazil next June with either Donovan or Dempsey hurt -- or, God forbid, both of them?

The U.S. team closes out their 2013 schedule on Tuesday, playing away to Austria.  Austria were a power in the game in the 1930s, and were again very good in the 1950s, but haven't done much since.  So there will be no excuse for another poor performance.

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In a "consolation game," which the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association annually sets up for high school football teams that don't make their State Playoffs, my alma mater, East Brunswick, lost 44-20 to Montgomery.

Montgomery is in Somerset County, not an especially long trip for a team from neighboring Middlesex County like EB, although it was our first visit to the County since a 1998 trip to Bridgewater.  Until the 1990s, Montgomery didn't even have a football team, because they were a school with a very small enrollment.  But they've grown by leaps and bounds by then, with a building boom resulting in a school with an enrollment nearly as big as ours.

EB fell to 1-8 on the season, with only the annual Thanksgiving Day drubbing by Old Bridge yet to come.  This was only the 2nd time all season that we scored as many as 20 points, and we lost the other one, too, to J.P. Stevens of Edison.  It was the 7th time this year we've allowed at least 41 points.  Our average score is a 38-8 defeat; take out our 1 win, 14-12 against winless North Brunswick, and it's 45-7.

At least new coach Bob Molarz, who restored the program at his native Carteret and started the one at St. Joseph's of Metuchen, isn't throwing deep on 1st-and-10 and then running the ball on 3rd-and-18, like his predecessor, Marcus Borden, spent 20 years doing, with only occasional success.  (Borden had previously had an excellent passing attack that got us into the State Playoffs 5 times in 7 years from 1984 to 1990, but after that, we only made it 4 times, though that included 2 Central Jersey Group IV titles in 2004 and 2009.)

The team has a lot of heart, but not much strength.  That will have to be boosted next season.  Through legal and safe means, of course.

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