USA Beats Italy for the First Time Ever

The USA came out with a 1-0 victory over the Italian side today for the first time in the United States history. Clint Dempsey scored the game winner in the 55th minute after Jozy Altidore took down a cross from Fabian Johnson and laid it off for Dempsey to slot it under two Italian players in the bottom left corner.  The goal was Dempsey’s 25th career goal for the national team and one of his biggest all time. He is the 4th all team leading goal scorer for the United States. But while Dempsey is going to get all the praise, Tim Howard showed why he is one of the world’s most respected goalkeepers. He kept the United States in it in the first half with his big saves, and made a few more late as the Italian side never stopped pressing. He had seven saves overall.

The United States looked the best they have looked in the Jurgen Klinsman era. They were tight as a group defensively and put together passes better than they have in any other game thus far. A lot of credit goes out to Michael Bradley and Maurice Edu for holding down the middle of the field and controlling play. Andrea Pirlo is a master with the ball and found time to pick out his players, but Bradley and Edu played as well as you can expect. Bradley especially came up with big tackle after big tackle and proved his worth to Jürgen in the middle. Jonathan Spector also had a huge game after he came on as a substitute for Fabian Johnson in the 77th minute. He got in the way of shot after shot of the Italians and came up with a few more crucial tackles. Jozy played extremely well tonight as a hold up player and Terrance Boyd made the first appearance of what will hopefully be many more.

Italy has to be frustrated as they were caught offside 9 times by the referees. They also have to be kicking themselves because they also had 19 shots during the game, 8 corner kicks, and over 60% of time of possession. Sebastian Govinco was extremely dangerous to the United States when he wasn’t being caught offside as he kept using his quickness to get behind the defense.

Starting Lineups for the US (4-4-2)

G – Tim Howard

D –Steve Cherundolo, Carlos Bocanegra, Clarence Goodson, Fabian Johnson

M – Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, Brek Shea, Daniel Williams

F – Clint Dempsey, Jozy Altidore

Subs Used:

Jonathan Spector, Sasha Kljestan, Terrance Boyd, Edson Buddle

The United States next three games are all friendlies against Scotland (5/26), Brazil (5/30), and Canada (6/3).

In other soccer news, Spain beat Venezuela 4-0, Netherlands beat England 3-2, France beat Germany 2-1, and Argentina behind 3 goals from Lionel Messi beat the Swiss 3-1.

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The Leap Year Rule

Leap Day. That magical day that disappears for three years before coming back. Besides the fact that most people don’t understand the point of it nor care to, it could mean good news for the Celtics’ second half of the season. Celtics Blog ran an article about this during the lockout, so I figured what better time to relive that article than on Leap Day itself. Introducing, the Leap Year Rule. This rule is strictly for Kevin Garnett. During his tenure in the NBA, KG’s career has followed an odd 4-year pattern of success, with the 4th year being a Leap Year. Let’s break it down.

1996 – Leap Year #1: Kevin Garnett Becomes KG – Drafted by a losing Timberwolves organization at the beginning of the 95-96 season, Garnett stepped into the NBA limelight. Coming off the bench during the first half of the season, Garnett began putting up all-star numbers and was inevitably put in a starting position during 1996. Oddly enough, his struggling Wolves started to win.

2000 – Leap Year #2: KG Reaches All-Star Status – With the turn of the millennium, Garnett led the Timberwolves to their first 50-win season in team history. He was named to his first career 1st Team All-Star position, as well as runner-up for the league MVP title. Oh, and just to put the icing on the cake, he went on to win a gold medal as a part of the 2000 US Olympic Team.

2004 – Leap Year #3: Garnett Continues to Rise – KG led the T-Wolves to their best season in team history, landing the #1 seed in the Western Conference. Despite his team getting knocked out in the Conference Finals, Garnett was the near unanimous vote for league MVP, with Shaq in 2000 being the only player to receive a higher percentage of votes for MVP.

2008 – Leap Year #4: KG Helps Raise Banner 17 – If I have to explain the year 2008 then you probably shouldn’t be reading this blog anyways. Joining Pierce and Allen, KG helped bring glory back to Boston for the first time since 1986, as the C’s trumped the Lakers to win the NBA Finals. Garnett was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year en route to reminding us that “Anything is Possible.”

2012…

20120229-163437.jpgI’m not making any promises, but the facts are laid out on the table. Something memorable is going to happen in KG’s career this season. I have two predictions and it’ll either be one or the other. My obvious prediction is that KG is going to help raise another banner in Boston this year. As unlikely as most would say that is, the underdog victory is no new feat in Boston (see New England Patriots circa 2001-02). On the other hand, as much as I want to say the C’s will win the championship, my second guess is that KG will retire. Another huge move in his career, although not exactly what we’ve had in mind. Now maybe both my predictions will come true and KG’s final Leap Year in the NBA will be his most memorable. It might sound crazy, but hey, it’s Leap Day!

Thanks again to Celtics Blog for the tip.

Celtics-Bucks Preview

The Celtics (16-17) are looking to start another winning streak as they take on the Milwaukee Bucks (14-20). The Celtics are now tied for seventh place in the eastern conference with the Knicks and are 2.5 games ahead of the Bucks in the race for the 8th spot. The Celtics are coming off of a 86-83 win against the pesky Cleveland Cavaliers where the Bucks are coming off the a 119-118 win over the Washington Wizards.

Brandon Bass came back from his injury and hit his first five shots for the Celtics last night. It was pretty promising as both he and Wilcox looked healthy. Wilcox grabbed 11 rebounds. The Celtics were led by Ray Allen who looked fresh after having the All-Star break off as he went for 22 points. Pietrus also had his biggest dunk of the season with that surgically repaired knee starting to look real good. Finally my man Avery Bradley played well again going 3-5 from the floor with 3 assists and no turnovers.

The Bucks are being led by Brandon Jennings as he is averaging 18.2 points per game and 5.3 assists per game. Last night Mike Dunleavy came off the bench to score 28 points. The Celtics have to be careful with the ball tonight because the Bucks scored 26 points off of 15 turnovers. The Celtics also have to watch out for Ersan Ilyasova who has been a beast on the boards this season. He has 4 double-doubles in his last five games including a 29-25 game against the New Jersey Nets 10 days ago.

Keys to the Game

Turnovers

As it has been all season the Celtics have to keep the turnovers down to a minimum. Pierce and Rondo had 11 turnovers. As the Bucks turn a lot of turnovers into points, the Celtics are going to need to take care of the ball if they’re going to want to get the winning streak to 2.

Rebounding

As I mentioned earlier Ilyasova is a beast. He has been killing teams on the boards this year. And the Celtics have been getting killed by everyone on the boards. They need to box out and go after rebounds defensively and offensively. It’s not a you-take-it kinda deal. I want to see them fight for rebounds and stop giving up easy second chance points.

Tip-Off is at 7:30 tonight.

AL East Position Matchup: Right Field

Excluding the Designated Hitter, we are now at the last matchup for position players. Just a quick update on spring training. Everything is going well so far, but Bobby Valentine and Varitek have been the hottest topics of conversation. I discussed my thoughts on Varitek in yesterday’s article: O Captain! My Captain! Varitek set to Retire Thursday. As far as Bobby V goes, it seems like there might be a year long bout between him and Terry. With Terry taking a role at ESPN, he is commenting and criticizing every single move by Bobby. Bobby isn’t cutting himself short in the media circle either though. He has been trying to ignite a fire into the Yankees-Sox rivalry ever since he took the job and I love it. I think the boneheads on our team need someone like Bobby to get them fired up and perform up to their abilities. It should be very interesting to see how the players react to his different coaching style this year.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCF

Back to the rankings:

1. Jose Bautista,  Blue Jays
2. Matt Joyce, Rays
3. Nick Swisher, Yankees
4. Nick Markakis, Orioles
5. Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney, Red Sox

Jose Bautista is the real deal. He answered every question about whether he was a fluke in 2010 when he came back in 2011 with an even stronger campaign. Bautista has been in two consecutive All-Star games, received two consecutive Silver Slugger awards and he was 4th in the MVP vote 2010 and 3rd last year. With 97 HR’s in the last two years, Bautista’s power stroke will not be going anywhere, but I do see his .302 BA from last year dropping back down closer to his career norms. I’m expecting a .275/46/115 line for Bautista this year, which should keep him in the MVP race again this year.

Next up is 27 year old Matt Joyce for the Rays. Although Joyce cannot hit lefthanders at all (.217 BA last year, .196 Career), he responded very well to his first season in which he received regular playing time. The Rays also have the luxury of using Ben Zobrist to fill in for Joyce against lefty’s, so that he doesn’t hurt their lineup. Joyce brings good power to the plate for the Rays (19 HR’s in 462 AB’s), but also displayed solid baserunning skills last year (13 SB’s, 1 CS). He also maintained a good average and had a great OBP. His overall ability gave him the edge over the older Markakis and Swisher.

Nick Swisher got the slight edge over Orioles 28 year old Markakis. Swisher’s output this year is essentially already established. We can expect 25-30 HR’s out of Swisher, coupled with a low batting average (.254 career) and a much higher OBP (.374 last year, .360 career). I’m not expecting much of a difference in Swisher’s production considering he is only 31 and his role with the Yankees doesn’t look like it will be effected. Markakis has been a very durable player for the O’s since he joined their big league squad six seasons ago. Despite this, Markakis had surgery in January on a torn abdomen, which might hinder his ability at the beginning of the season. Markakis looked primed to be the savior of the Orioles franchise after a .300/23 HR/ 112 RBI line with 18 SB in his sophomore season, in which he was just  23 years old. That season turned out to have career bests in steals, home runs, and rbi’s. Markakis is still a solid player, just not the type of player Orioles fans around the country once wished.

Cody Ross Cody Ross #13 of the San Francisco Giants hits a solo home run in the top of the seventh inning against Colby Lewis #48 of the Texas Rangers in Game Three of the 2010 MLB World Series at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on October 30, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.

Last up is the Red Sox rightfielders, Cody Ross against Lefties and the occasional righy, and Ryan Sweeney matching up against mostly Righthanded pitchers. I think Ross will be a great clubhouse guy and provide another guy with some postseason success. Ross is .261 career hitter and his career highs in HR’s and RBI’s were 24 and 90 respectively, with the Marlins in 2009. Ross has the capability to be a full time rightfielder for the Sox if he can rediscover the bat he had in 2009 with the Marlins and in the 2010 postseason with the Giants. Sweeney on the other hand has been atrocious vs lefty’s in his career(.233 career BA, .159 last year), making him at most a platoon player. Although he doesn’t provide much power, he will maintain a good average for the Sox and get on base at a solid rate (.342 career OBP). With Sweeney’s limited production, I see Ross getting the majority of the starts in Rightfield throughout 2012 for the Sox.

For previous positional rankings click here: C1B2B3BSSLFCF

Bruins Get Blanked

Senators goaltender Robin Lehner (20 years old) made himself known to the Bruins faithful last night when he registered 32 saves and his first career shutout. Young defenseman (21 days younger than me, hard to believe) Erik Karlsson tallied the only goal for Ottawa on a gift powerplay. Tyler Seguin was called for a phantom interference penalty which ended up costing the B’s the game. Although, the Bruins did not exactly play their best in the first two periods (more like terrible) they came out strong in the third, but playing catch-up hockey is not this team’s strength. They are dominant when they score first, so these sluggish starts are killing them. Not to take anything away from Lehner, but the Bruins should have buried the puck on a couple of chances. Even though Lehner was great in net, guys like Bergeron and Marchand need to finish strong. After posting five goals on these guys a couple of nights ago on the road, it’s kind of unacceptable to come home and get shut-out considering Ottawa has sneakily crept up to within one point of the Northeast division leading Bruins. Ottawa has won six of seven and the B’s have lost four of six. The Bruins have a game tomorrow vs. the Devils and Saturday vs. the Islanders before a big showdown with the New York Rangers on Sunday afternoon. I would like to see this team get a little momentum heading into a potential Eastern Conference finals matchup, by winning these next two by reestablishing their checking game, outskating their opponents, and causing turnovers. When they stick to this formula, its plain and simple, they win games.

Sorry for the Jinx Michigan State

So, since I decided to make a big deal about how I thought  #5 Michigan State should be a #1 seed during March Madness in yesterday’s post, they decided to lose their game against #20 Indiana.  They didn’t just lose, they got killed. Although Draymond Green scored 29 points on 10 of 17 shooting from the field (3 for 6 three-pointers), he could not help the Spartans out of this one. He also grabbed 8 rebounds. However, he did commit 6 turnovers that turned out to be quite costly.  Unfortunately, no one else on his team was able to score more than 8 points.

The Hoosiers were able to pull this one off led by stand-out freshman forward Cody Zeller (to the right).  Zeller only committed 1 turnover and scored 18 points.  Junior forward Christian Watford was able to record a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds during a team high 33 minutes of floor time.

Celtics-Cavs Preview

The Celtics (15-17) look to start off the second half of the season with a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers (13-18). The Celtics have lost 7 of their last 8 games and their last 5 straight. This is the deciding game of the season series as both the Celtics and Cavs have both won one. Kyrie Irving had the game winning layup in the first game as the Cav’s went on a 12-0 run to beat the Celts by one. Two days later the Celtics almost blew a 22 point lead against the Cav’s but managed to hold on for a 3 point win.

The Celtics are supposed to get Rajon Rondo (suspension), Brandon Bass (Knee), and Chris Wilcox (Groin) all back to play against the Cavs. Look for Rajon Rondo to come out and attack the basket early on in the game as he came out during the All-Star break and took the teams struggles on his shoulders. When Rondo attacks the hoop early, it bodes well for the Celtics chances. Getting both Bass and Wilcox back will be huge for the Celtics as they are two of the better rebounders for the Celtics and Varejao has killed the Celtics on the board this year. They will both bring an offensive presence to the Celts as Bass is deadly with his jumper and Wilcox is Rondo’s favorite player in the transition game.

Keys to the Game

Turnovers

Until the Celtics can consistently stop turning over the ball 15+ times per game, this is going to be on here. The Celtics are turning over the ball the 8th most in the NBA. It doesn’t matter how good of defense they are playing because of all the easy buckets they are giving up from rebounds and turnovers.

Rebounding

The Celtics rank dead last in rebounds per game, they are getting outrebounded by their opponents by over 3 rebounds a game. Getting Chris Wilcox and Brandon Bass back will definitely help the Celtics. The Celtics have to look to box out Anderson Varejao who had 9 and 20 rebounds in the two previous games.

 Marquee Matchup

     vs.    

The marquee matchup tonight is Rajon Rondo vs. Kyrie Irving. Rondo is coming off a two game suspension and the All-Star game while Kyrie is coming off the MVP of the Rising Stars game where he scored 34 points off 8-8 shooting from 3. Look for both players to attack the paint and be very active all over the floor. Whichever player wins this matchup will likely win the game for his team.

Yanks Bathroom Photoshoot, Typical

It being only the beginning of Spring Training, I usually hold off on the Yankee insults til at least the beginning of spring games. Don’t get me wrong, the “Yankees Suck” chants are a year round calling for all Boston fans, whether you’re at a Bruins, Celts, Pats game, or even a Sox game against the Blue Jays or any team other than the Yanks. It’s all fair game, but this time of year tends to be an unsaid down time for Yankee hatred, at least publicly, as there’s more of a focus on what’s new within the Sox organization and just an overall pleasant feeling knowing that baseball’s just around the corner.

Needless to say, I was reading something about the Yanks that I found pretty funny. Then a friend sent over a video of it, thanks Steph, and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to share it. Apparently as part of their preseason media day, the Yanks did part of their photo shoots in a bathroom at their Spring Training facility in Tampa. I mean we all know A-Rod loves the mirror pics, but I guess now the whole team’s on board. New York Yankees and bathroom photo shoots. Yeah, sounds about right.

Video Here: Yanks Bathroom Photo Shoot

 

Double Dip: Match Play & Bruins

Over the weekend, the annual Accenture Match Play Tournament took place in Arizona. Different from stroke play, match play pits two golfers head-to-head in a bracket style tournament, similar to the March Madness tourney (with maybe just a little less excitement). The American and goat of the Ryder Cup two years back, Hunter Mahan edged out rising star Rory McIlroy for arguably his best career victory. Mahan was solid throughout the event, but it was McIlroy who really impressed me. If you don’t already know, this kid is damn good. After falling 3 holes behind Lee Westwood in the semi-final match, McIlroy rallied back to take the next 3 out of 4 holes and square the match. I don’t know if there will ever be another Tiger Woods, but McIlroy is going to be great, if he isn’t already. Look for him to take over the World Number 1 ranking after the tournament this weekend.

Now on to the Bruins…

I don’t know about you but I am excited for the Bruins vs. Senators tonight. Up in Ottawa a couple of nights ago there were a few mix-ups and a lot of unfinished business left on the table. Both Boychuck and Corvo took some heavy shots late in the game from Senators Chris Neil and Kyle Turris respectively. Neil’s shot on Boychuck was clean, but unneccessary. It was a huge hit that if the roles were reversed we would be going crazy. However, since it was our guy Boychuck getting steamrolled I was a little pissed and Zdeno Chara also wasn’t too happy because with 7:00 minutes left in the third he duked it out with Neil. I’m not too sure if that will be the end of that, but look for guys to really “finish” their checks on him tonight. The hit on Corvo was not so clean. Turris received a 2 minute minor for boarding, but the hit to the head left Jack Edwards up in arms so I expect to see some retaliation on Turris tonight by either McQuaid, Thornton, or even Corvo. Regardless, it should be a good, physical game which suits the B’s well. Also look for new additions Brian Rolston (right) and Mike Mottau.

New #5

Kentucky | Syracuse | Missouri | Kansas | Duke

Even though I did the top 5 march madness predictions last week, there is a new #5 team due to Mizzou losing twice. Today we will look at:

#5 Michigan State

Remaining Opponents: #20 Indiana, #11 Ohio State

Prediction: The Spartans have had a tough schedule all year.  They had back to back losses to start the season.  However, these losses were to UNC and Duke.  No doubt about it, they have a tough line up for the next two weeks. If they can get past both of those teams they will have a good shot at a #1 seed due to their strength of schedule.  Plus, someone could lose in that time frame.

Draymont Green is a 6’7 Senior forward who averages a double-double. He works hard in 32.9 minutes per night to put in 15.6 PPG and 10.3 RPG.  He also helps with 3.6 Assists which is second most on the team.  That is a good amount for a big man.

Keith Appl ing is a Sophomore guard from Detroit who accounts for 11.7 PPG while putting in a team-high 3.8 assists per game.

Branden Dawson is a 6’6 Freshman guard who accounts for 8.7 PPG while grabbing 4.7 boards per contest.  He also shoots a team-high 58% from the field.

Senior Brandon Wood is a 6’2 guard that contributes 8.2 points of his own per game.  He also isn’t too bad at the helpers (2.9 RPG, 2.2 APG).