Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

USA Soccer: Play American!

I read that some of the American players were crying when they accepted their silver medals at the Confederations Cup in South Africa on Sunday.

And they should have been.

Leading 2-0 at half, I don’t know what coach Bob Bradley said to the team, but it was completely backwards.

Now all of you soccer snobs out there just keep your panties on because I played the game for years, did the play by play for the Tea Men of the NASL and watched my kids go through all sorts of school and club teams over their careers.

Having said that, one of the problems Bradley or any other coach has at the national level is they don’t play to the strength of “Americans.” They’re always trying to play somebody else’s game either “English” or “South American” or whatever. Let’s play like “Americans.”

What does that mean?

It means not standing around and just packing it in the box when you have a lead and counter attacking.
Up 2-0, we want to make it 3-0.
That’s what we understand.
It’s in our DNA!

So keep moving forward, not with somebody else’s game but our own!

What, did we think the Brazilians were not going to score? We were going to shut out Brazil? Come on! They’re Brazil! They’re the best team in the world and we flat out played them for a half. Then decided we’d do something different.

What do you think the Brazilian coach said at halftime? He told those guys, “What’s the matter with you, you’re losing to the Americans! Any more of that and you might as well stay in Africa!” So what did they do? They came out and scored in the first minute and dominated play from the start. And what did we do, we sat on our heels and let them bang it at the goal for 45 minutes.

Soccer is such a political game in the US to begin with, we don’t even have the best players out there half the time and don’t’ develop the best players as teenagers with any gusto. If you go to the right camps, play for the right clubs and suck up to the right guys, you’ll move forward. Play another sport? Forget ever moving toward the national level.

Brazil is a country of a 100 million people and the best athletes are on their soccer team. Our best athletes of 300 million people are playing football, basketball or baseball, where the money is at this point. Beating Brazil at this point wouldn’t have changed the game here in America, but it sure would have given us some confidence going into the World Cup next year. Instead, we’ll be thinking how we couldn’t beat Brazil playing just one half spotting us two goals!

I remember when George Steinbrenner got fed up with how the Olympic team was competing on an international level and used his “bully pulpit” to push them in the right direction with a training center and forced them to get serious about competing as a country. I wish somebody like that, Mark Cuban, Jerry Jones, Hank Steinbrenner, somebody with a sports background and a bunch of money would do something about US Soccer.

Start by firing Bradley.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

US Open Proving Ground

I wasn’t sure who to root for, or against for that matter.

I like to get behind somebody in major golf championships. Sometimes it’s actually Tiger but othertimes it’s just somebody who looks like they need the win or they just got struck by lightning.

At this year’s US Open I was somewhere down in the field with Tiger, Phil and David Duval among the guys I wanted to see play well with Ricky Barnes and Lucas Glover on the other end of the spectrum. Barnes did his job and disappeared easily enough. Duval just about drove me out of my mind with a triple on his first hole Sunday to all but disappear: until he made it back after the turn.

I wanted Tiger to make a run because I wanted to see which one of the guys up front would fold up just seeing him within striking distance.

Phil’s story was easy. Wife Amy wanted him to bring the silver trophy back to her for her hospital room during her recovery from surgery for breast cancer. So Phil definitely had my support, just like everybody else watching. Wasn’t every woman watching rooting for Phil? Of course! But I also wanted David to win. So I was a bit torn, except for hoping that Glover would remember who he was and go away.

And it looked good for a while.

Tiger was lurking (does everybody say “lurking” when talking about Tiger?) and Phil and David were hanging near the lead. Until Glover decided this was the one tournament he was going to hang in there and win. Admittedly, both Phil and David made mistakes coming in, costing them a chance at winning, but wasn’t Glover supposed to have some massive blowup hole somewhere along the back nine?

In the end Glover wins, but Phil and David win too. Right?

Mickelson was the runner-up for a record 5th time and said “Oh well” when asked about another second place finish, further endearing him to everybody watching. Duval said exactly what I expected him to say: “While very happy about how I played, I’m very disappointed as well. When I got up this morning, there was no question in my mind that I was going to win the golf tournament.”


That’s at least what I hope David was thinking because that’s exactly what he needs in order to start being relevant again in golf. What if he hadn’t made triple on that first par three on Sunday? Would he have done that somewhere else? I don’t know but I do want him to play again soon. It just seems to me that he’s been right all along.

“I’m playing better than my scores reflect,” he said before the US Open started. “I still consider myself one of the top ten players in the world.”

That comment drove a lot of the assembled media to distraction, or snide laughter. Of course that was before they all jumped on his bandwagon. I actually hope the tires go flat on that bandwagon soon.

Duval can still play. He has some other priorities in his life and perhaps has lost 10 years of his prime career time. But he’s figuring it out and if he stays healthy, he’ll continue to play well, and win. Soon.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

That Certain Something

The French have a phrase for it “je ne sai quoi” that certain something I can’t put my finger on. It’s one way you can describe all championship teams. There’s something about them that you can’t quite quantify. You can’t say they have more of something you can’t identify, but you know they have it.

I was at the NBA Finals in Orlando this week and while it was a better match up than most reporters wanted you to believe, the Lakers had whatever it is and the Magic did not. Los Angeles won their 14th NBA title in five games over the Magic, winning two at home and two of three in Orlando. Two of those wins came in overtime, another piece of evidence that the Lakers had that indiscernible thing while the Magic are still searching for it.

Maybe it comes down to the star player on each team. LA has Kobe while the Magic have Dwight Howard. Kobe has a certain will that carries his team. I can see where you could not like him and not like the Lakers. Bryant is a bit of a preener and does get the “superstar” treatment by the refs. But he’s tough and wow is he a great player.

He’s not Michael. He doesn’t go to the basket and will himself there the way Michael did but he has skills that are nearly unmatched.

And he has a dogged-ness about him that does translate through his team. He digs in and so do his teammates.

Howard on the other hand isn’t quite that much of a leader. He has some holes in his game, but he still has that youthfulness, that innocence that doesn’t carry his team through tough times. Maybe he’ll have to be a more complete player to get that done. Hit more foul shots, become more polished on offense and ask more of his teammates. But for now, when things start to go south for the Magic, Howard can’t put the brakes on and drag them back into contention.

That’s why after what happened at the end of game four in regulation, I didn’t think there was any way the Magic could win game five, even at home. They were so devastated by being up by three with ten seconds to play and WITH THE BALL but still lost. I figured they’d put up a fight for a while in game five but if things started not to go their way, they’d fold up.

And that’s what happened.

Los Angeles went on a 16-0 run in the second quarter and the Magic just backed up and seemed to accept a loss as inevitable. And I’m not just talking about Dwight Howard. Hedo, Lewis, Pietrus and the rest looked like they were just there for show most of the time in game five. Maybe they got there a year early. Maybe they hit a bunch of threes in crucial situations in the playoffs to propel them to the finals. And maybe they had just so much talent they couldn’t get out of the way of it if they wanted to. But they didn’t have that certain “something.”

They liked each other, they like to play the game and they like to win, but at the top level, in the Finals, you have to have a little more than what they were equipped with.

So congrats to Kobe for his fourth title and of course, his first without Shaq. But he did have Pau Gasol, perhaps the most under rated player in the league. That guy is not Euro-Soft as he appears. He’s tough, skilled and willing. Not a bad combination for a seven-footer.

Jacksonville’s Otis Smith as the Magic General Manager has pushed the right buttons and has signed the right guys to get them here. Now he’ll have to back it up with some more solid decision-making. Hedo has exercised his option and each team is different form the last. It’s not a lock they’ll be better next year but look for Dwight Howard, without an Olympic year commitment in the off-season, to develop more as an offensive player.

By the way, was I the only person who sensed a slight “tune out” factor between the players and Stan Van Gundy? I’d play for him; I think he’s a very good coach. But it seemed like his act wore a little thin on the players as the series and perhaps as the playoffs wore on.

And lastly, I still hate the 2-3-2 format. Go back to the 2-2-1-1-1 no matter what travel is involved.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Tiger Weekend Rant

It’s not often that I sit around and watch sports on television on the weekend. I like to get out and do stuff, use the DVR, check in on the highlights, go to the Internet and see what’s going on. But rarely do I sit down for a few hours and just watch stuff.

Except this past weekend.

It was just a feast of a bunch of stuff that I found compelling. From Tiger Woods in the Memorial to College Baseball to the French Open Tennis tournament on in the morning, I just found myself with clicker in hand flipping back and forth and keeping up with all that I could.

Did I mention the Magic/Lakers game on Sunday night? Or the NASCAR race from Pocono? Throw in a little Major League baseball and you literally could have not left the couch all weekend and not been bored for a minute.

Whenever Tiger is in the field at a golf tournament, the rating spike up about 40%. But Tiger was four back at the start of the final round, so he would be but a bit player in the final round.

Well, not exactly.

He starts making birdies on the front nine and put himself at least somewhere near the lead. As soon as that starts happening as if on cue, everybody else starts to fall apart. Three-putts, balls in the water, it’s as if the Persian army is coming to Thermopolie and instead of the Spartans defending, they sent the girl scouts to sell them cookies. Guys are falling all over themselves to not be involved when it really counts.

On the back nine, a few players move into contention and there’s a four-way tie for the lead as Tiger’s playing the 16th hole. “Wow,” I think, this is going to be fun. A playoff, some other top players. But no, Tiger turns into Tiger again and the rest of the players turn into pumpkins. Woods birdies both 17 and 18, hitting one of the best final-hole shots ever with a 7 iron to one foot for the clinching birdie.

Jack Nicklaus says it’s the best “driving round” he’s seen Tiger have in recent memory.

And, of course, Jack’s right.

Only six times in his career did Tiger hit all 14 fairways and Sunday was one of them. Jim Nantz said it was as good a final hole shot he had ever seen Woods hit. But he started back right? Well, he shoots 65 and everybody else shoots a million. Jim Furyk shot 69 with a birdie at the last to finish solo second but you never got the feeling he was going to win. You always got that with Tiger and he just went out and did it.

No question players on Tour play differently when Tiger’s in the field. Most of them forget how to play. I was hoping for some kind of Tiger, Furyk, and Davis Love playoff. But Davis finished bogey, triple bogey to go from tied for the lead to six shot off the pace. Not exactly the hallmark of a closer.

All I can think about is Tiger playing in a different era. What if he played against Lanny Wadkins, Ray Floyd and Tom Weiskopf every week? Not that they were world beaters, but all won major championships and all acted like they were going to get into a fistfight with one of their “fellow competitors” any second. They didn’t wilt. They fought. Throw in a field that might include Arnold and Jack, Player, Trevino, Watson, Billy Casper and you get the picture.

At least somebody would be standing when they got to 18.