This game was a thriller.
Talk about highs and lows.  If you saw the U.S. men’s soccer team take on Brazil in the Confederations Cup Final, then you know what I’m talking about.  It didn’t even matter what team you were supporting in this game, because there were highs and lows aplenty for both teams.  For the average American fan (that would be me), this game was like a first crush.  You know, the one that feels so good at first, but just ends up crushing your heart in the end.  Well, just picture that person (your first crush).  Whoever that person was, well that person was like this game.  For the average American soccer fan (again, that’s me), all the highs came in the first half.  In the ninth minute, Clint Dempsey swiped at a cross from Jonathan Spector and something unbelievable happened.  Dempsey’s foot seemed to barely make contact with the ball, but the ball sliced perfectly past Julio Cesar, into the corner of the Brazilian net.  Brazil pushed forward after the goal, but they looked a little frantic and off rhythm, despite dominating possession of the ball.  Then, against the run of play, Landon Donovan somehow scored a stunning second goal for the U.S. in the twenty-sixth minute.  Donovan exchanged passes with Charlie Davies on a U.S. counter attack, then executed a perfect cutback and shot to slide in a second shock goal for his team. I still don’t know what was more of a shock in the first half, the two U.S. goals, or the fact that Brazil couldn’t score a goal of their own.  For the average Brazilian fan, it must have felt like an all time low for their national team.  Not only were they getting beaten in a final, they were getting beaten by a country that didn’t even really care about soccer that much.  The fact that Americans call the game soccer and not football, is a slap in the face in itself. To actually get beaten by an American team in a FIFA final though, might seem like a disgrace for a country with as rich and proud a football history as Brazil. 

Eventually, Brazil did score.
 

But none of it matters now anyway.  All of the speculation is a wash anyway, since the second half was another story entirely.  Brazil smashed in three goals against the U.S. and the Americans couldn't reply with a single goal of their own.  Luis Fabiano struck two well taken goals, and then Lucio crashed in a header past Tim Howard.  In spite of allowing the three goals, Howard was the most valuable player for the Americans in my book, for saving so many others.  Brazil actually scored an additional goal, but the referee and his linesman must have been to slow to see the ball cross the line before Howard swatted it away.  Instant replay made it all too painfully obvious though.  The Brazilians in fact scored four goals in the second half, to raise the cup deservedly and crush my heart.  I’m still trying to figure out if I deserved to have my heart crushed, but that’s another story entirely.

The high point for Brazil was pretty high.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water here.  For Brazil, this final marks yet another FIFA championship where that lovable samba swagger and style carried the day in the end.  As for the U.S., this loss was actually a new height of sorts.  The U.S. men’s team had never before reached a cup final in a FIFA sponsored event.  By beating Spain, the number one ranked team in the world, 2-0 in the semifinals , the U.S. showed that it's more of a team to be reckoned with than many folks might like to admit. The fact that the U.S. took a lead, and nearly beat the all mighty Brazil in the final, speaks volumes about how far the team has come.  But with new heights of hope, come new lows.  My hunch is that fans of U.S. soccer (yours truly) will have to learn how much it sucks to get to a final and lose, like so many other countries have in the past, before we can actually win one in the end.

So, I know how I'm supposed to feel.
So the Lakers are NBA Champions again.  Yawn.  Am I bored?  Well, yeah a little.  Am I a hater?  No.  In fact, I’m a Laker fan.  But not the kind that up and decided to become a fan a few weeks back.  I grew up in L.A., smiling about Magic and the Showtime era Lakers.  But maybe that’s my problem.  Maybe that’s the thing that was such a downer for me about this championship.  In a quick, disappointing five game series, the score line read Lakers 4, Magic 1.  I hate to admit it, but last years NBA finals was pretty much the same thing, with the Celtics stomping all over the Lakers in an embarrassing rout of a series.  With respect to last year’s finals, this title was a sweet little bit of redemption for the Lakers and their fans, no doubt about it.  So that part was nice.  I can admit it.  But all these monstrous blowouts in the finals are kind of bumming me out…man.  In the dying minutes of game five, I actually found myself feeling a little sorry for the Magic. Maybe it was just Rafer Alston’s tears. 

Rafer Alston played his heart out but came up short.

Maybe I was sorry for basketball itself, and all those neutral fans out there, that just wanted to tune in and watch a great series.  A championship is a championship, I know, but something was missing.  I know that might sound a little greedy, but what can I say?  When it’s true, it’s true.  I was trying to pinpoint what it was for a few days, and I think I’ve finally figured it out.   The thing that I’m missing are the days when you turned on the NBA finals and you couldn’t take your eyes off the screen for a second, because every moment, every point, and every elbow seemed to matter.  I miss those great seesaw battles, with two evenly matched teams, two clear stars.  I miss Magic and Bird.  I miss the two evenly matched supporting casts they had, willing to battle until the last second for that slim advantage that could make or break a game.  Back in the day, a slim advantage actually could make or break a game in the finals.  Nowadays it seems like every other game is a blowout.  Nowadays the most exciting battles in the postseason take place in the series that lead up to the finals, rather than during the championship games. Games two, three, and four of this series were great to watch, without a doubt.  And that being said, it would be hard to deny that Derek Fisher’s clutch shots in game four provided a couple of stunning moments.  But by and large, this series was not anywhere near a fantastic finals to watch. 

Derek Fisher hit some big three pointers.

All in all, I think this series means more to Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson than to anyone else.  Kobe took one giant step, out from under Shaq’s big shadow with this title.  He also took another big step in his attempt to chase down all the greatness that Michael Jordan represents.  Even if Kobe were to win two more titles, to tie Michael’s six, there are always going to be folks who complain that Kobe’s first three were really Shaq’s anyway.  It’s kind of a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, but you can tell that Kobe is going to fight tooth and nail to match or even trump Mike by a title if he can.  As for Phil, he’s reached the Zenith of Zen with ten.  He’s got one more than Red Auerbach now, so he’s already in the spot that Kobe wants to be in.  I’m betting that both of them will smell more titles and come back for a few more seasons, as long as Phil’s health permits.  Why?  Because when you’re on top it feels good, and if you want to stay on top you’ve just got to keep going, even if it gets a little boring from time to time.

Kobe and Phil could both come back to win a few more of these.

Posted
AuthorDoug McBride
CategoriesSports Reviews
2 CommentsPost a comment

Barcelona are Europe's new club champions.

In the end, Barcelona’s slick passing style was way too much for Manchester United to handle.  If you only watched the first five minutes of this game, you would have put all your money on Manchester United to crush Barcelona.  But by the end of the game it was the other way around, with Barcelona’s fans shouting “OLE!” every time they completed yet another pass in and around the Manchester United defense.  

 

Eto celebrates his tenth minute goal
 

In the opening minutes Manchester dominated play, by creating an onslaught on the Barcelona goal.  Cristiano Ronaldo and Ji-Sung Park both came close to scoring for Manchester early on.  But the game was turned on its head when Barcelona scored against the run of play in the tenth minute.  Andres Iniesta ran through the midfield with the ball before slipping a neat pass through to Samuel Eto inside Manchester United’s box.  Eto then cut past Nemanja Vidic before stabbing the ball past Edwin van der Sar at the near post.  After the goal, Barcelona seized the momentum, and began to boss the game by maintaining possession of the ball.  Andres Iniesta and Xavi began to look particularly dominant in midfield.  In my preview of the game, I mentioned that if these two players could keep possession of the ball for Barcelona, my guess was that their team would carry the day.  By halftime it looked like my hunch was right, but I wasn’t sure what Sir Alex Ferguson might pull out his bag of tricks at half time.  He brought on Carlos Tevez in place of Andersen, and for a few minutes, the choice looked to be effective with Tevez lunging at defenders and breaking up Barcelona's play out of the back.  I expected more of a full-blooded response from United as a whole though, but truth be told, it turned out to be more of the same in the second half.  Xavi, and Iniesta continued to dominate possession in midfield, while Barcelona’s makeshift backline of Puyol, Pique, Toure, and Sylvinho somehow began to look like the world’s best defense.  Things went from bad to worse for United in the 70th minute, when Xavi sent a beautiful spinning ball across the face of the United goal to pick out Messi, who leapt and lofted a headed goal into the corner past van der Sar. 

 

Messi scores Barcelona's second goal.

Save for a few moments of counter attack excitement from United, the remainder of the match was spurred on by Barcelona’s neat distribution.  It seemed like United had no answer for Barcelona’s swift and subtle passes, and Ronaldo in particular looked frustrated.  He earned himself a yellow card for shoving Puyol late in the game, but was fortunate not to be booked earlier for a few rash challenges.  With the stakes high in this game, it now looks exceedingly likely that the votes for World Player of the Year will probably go to Messi, rather than Ronaldo.  Messi was not only was the top scorer in the Champions league, but also managed to score in the final, with Ronaldo silenced.  Messi and his Barcelona teammates found a way to break down the Red Devils, and were justified in their celebrations as European Club Champions.  After witnessing the Champions League Final, if Lionel Messi gets the plaudits this year for European and World Player of the Year, the awards he receives will be equally justified.

The Champions League Trophy
It’s on.  The dream final is set for May 27th in Rome. It’s Barcelona’s beautiful game vs. Manchester United’s world-beaters.  You couldn’t ask for anything more in a final.  The game pits Spain’s best vs. England’s best, and affords United the chance to defend their European title against a Barcelona side that is arguably the most stylish team in the world at the moment.  And the best part is there should be goals, goals, and more goals. 

Lionel Messi-The Young Gun

If you are a European soccer fan, then you don’t need me to tell you that the final on May 27th will be worth watching.  But if you aren’t a fan of soccer (or football as it’s known everywhere else in the world-and for good reason), the UEFA Champions League Final on the 27th is the perfect introduction. Not only will you get to watch the reigning World Player of the Year in Cristiano Ronaldo, in arguably his biggest game, but you’ll also get to watch the new kid on the block square off against him.  Lionel Messi, who was last year’s runner up, is the guy that seems to get everyone’s vote as the new World Player of the Year, and it will be fascinating to see which player’s talents are the most influential in the final.  Beyond this gargantuan battle between the two best players in the world, there is the battle of the teams they play for.  Manchester United are the reigning European and World Club Champions.  They also were just crowned Champions of the English Premier League for a record tying eighteenth time.  So needless to say, they are doing all right.  Barcelona were recently crowned Champions of the Primera Liga in Spain, a week after winning the country’s elimination round tournament known as the Copa Del Rey.  Reports from Spain claim that a win in the final against Manchester United would put an exclamation point on the club’s best season ever.

 

Cristiano Ronaldo-The Reigning Champ

But let’s get to the goals part.  Barcelona will be missing their best defenders in Rafael Marquez (knee injury) and Carles Puyol (suspension), so chances are that Manchester United’s awesome Ronaldo led attack force will score some goals. United are by no means a one trick pony, with Wayne Rooney, Dimitar Berbatov, and Carlos Tevez fighting for playing time up front.  That being said, Barcelona head into the final boasting the most potent strike force in Europe this year. Their three-prong attack, led by the twenty one year old Messi, Samuel Eto, and Thierry Henry, has combined for more goals than any other team on the continent this year.  The question is, whether or not their skills can get the best of Manchester United’s well-oiled machine of a defense.  But of course the larger question is:  Who's going to win?  My guess is that Barcelona's superior midfield, led by Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez, will carry the day. Will there be goals, goals, and more goals?  I can’t say for sure, but if the game lives up to it’s promise, people will be talking about this one for decades.  My advice: tune in.

L.A. Times reported today that Los Angeles Dodgers slugger, Manny Ramirez suspended 50 games after testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug. According to the Times & Ramirez's agent, Ramirez had a medical issue, went to a doctor in Miami, FL and received a prescription drug. The doctor assured Ramirez it was a legitimate drug (not a banned substance), and even still it came up positive. The league has shown in the past, that new drugs can hit the list and chances are there will be no way to reverse the ruling. This is a really big blow to the Dodgers, who have the best record in baseball, and just broke the modern-day record of 13 straight home victories to start a season. This suspension starts immediately, and will potentially break the spirit of the Dodgers and their fans. It's especially tough coming after there was so much time and energy spent to keep Manny on the team prior to the season's start.

So was Manny really juicing? Who knows. Hopefully this doesn't effect the Dodgers run at the playoffs.

Posted
AuthorRedmanthatcould
CategoriesSports Reviews

All I can say is HOLY SHIT. The game that would never end, finally did. In yet another epic battle between the Chicago Bulls and the defending champion Boston Celtics, the game goes down to the wire, ending 128 - 127 in triple overtime. This was a must win for the Bulls to stay in the series, and now they send it back to the do-or-die game 7 in Boston this Saturday. The time of the game is still to be determined at the time of this article.

Ray Allen had a playoff career high with 51 points. Even though 29 of them came in the first half, he still hit some clutch shots when it mattered, especially in the second over time where he put up the Celtics last 5 points including the 3-pointer to tie it with 7.6 seconds left. Glen Davis also played a big game for the Celtics with 23 points, but more importantly, he had 6 offensive rebounds. This was the first game that the Bulls decided to take the ball out of Paul Pierce's hands when it mattered, by sending the second defender to crowd him and force him to get it to a teammate. That being said, he did have an opportunity to close out the game with 4.9 seconds left, but missed an uncontested jump shot that he makes with his eyes closed if it's in the Boston Garden.

What can I say about the Bulls? This team is playing with some ridiculous heart, and uncanny confidence. Brad Miller, who missed the crucial free throws in the last game to tie it with time expiring, came up HUGE when the Bulls seemed out of sync at the end of the fourth. Not only did he knock down a gigantic 3 at the end of regulation, but he also hit two free throws with 16.9 seconds left in the second over time, and another two with 28.3 seconds left in the final over time. John Salmons lead the way for the Bulls with 35 points, with many of them coming in the paint against Paul Pierce. When Salmons figured out Pierce had to defend him gingerly (he had 5 fouls), he just kept taking him off the dribble.

It's really tough to say what was the play of the game here. We have Salmons tying it up with 23.5 seconds left in regulation, and we also had Allen's huge 3-pointer to send it to triple over time. There were then two significant plays that sealed the deal for the Bulls: a Joakim Noah steal off of Paul Pierce, which lead to a dunk and a free throw, and then a Derrick Rose block off of Rajon Rondo to close out the game.

Whatever it might be that gave this victory to the Bulls, both teams played their hearts out and have this entire series. Game 7 will be memorable in this epic playoff battle.

Someone might have IM'd you, or emailed you today. Maybe you saw it on someone's Facebook, Twitter, or heard about it on your favorite social bookmarking site. Today, if you went to ESPN.com, and typed in the Konami Code of:

Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A

You would have seen some shenanigans. Basically, there was some JavaScript on the page that would bring up some frew-frew image, like a unicorn or rainbow, and if you clicked on one of the images, it would continue showing you more frew-frew images. So was this ESPN hacked, or an ESPN hoax?

Here's something your browser might have looked like:

ESPN.com Hack or Hoax?

Technically, some script kiddie could have some up with some super technical JavaScript to get this done, but he'd have to be a pro. And if you get that far to actually get through the several layers of system & database protection that you'd certainly see from the 85th largest site in the world, why would you show people a bunch of unicorns and rainbows? Plus, let's not forget that ESPN is owned by Walt Disney.

In my opinion, this was just some fancy viral marketing from ESPN. Why today? Why frew-frew images? Not really sure, but I'd bet this was just really creative viral marketing. I guess when you're as big as ESPN, you can still learn new tricks; just in case they will actually comment on this, I sent them an email. But don't worry friends, I won't hold my breath. ;)

***UPDATE***

After a few emails back and forth with ESPN's support, I was provided a statement from ESPN spokesperson Paul Melvin:

This was a case of an Easter Egg, a small hidden batch of code, that was put in place by somebody internally. ESPN.com was not hacked and it had no significant impact on the performance of the site or on external computers. We do not condone it and are dealing with the matter internally.

Well, looks like someone's stay at ESPN will be a lot shorter than they anticipated.

After Saturday's loss, in the series opener, to the young Chicago Bulls, the Boston Celtics desperately needed a win at home before going to Chicago for game three. The Celtics would need someone to step up their game, and that someone was Ray Allen. Remember that Allen shot a dismal 1 for 12 from the field in the first game, and it was looking like he would be cold for a second game in a row. The key to the game was Boston's dominance of the boards, and the clutch shooting from Allen down-the-stretch. Glen Davis and Kendrick Perkins owned the offensive boards for the Celtics, which lead to lots of easy put back points in the paint. Davis had a strong game with 26 points and 9 rebounds. Ray Allen was extremely quiet in the first half (only scoring 2 points), but he came into the second half with a clean slate and a champion's hunger to put up 28 to lead the team in points. First game it was the Rondo / Rose show, and this game it was the Allen / Gordon show. Ben Gordon was absolutely scorching from the perimeter, finishing the game with 42 points - 14 of which came in the fourth quarter, and he scored on each of the Bulls' final three possessions. For fans of jump shooting, that fourth quarter was amazing with Allen and Gordon exchanging threes and tough jumpers with double teams and hands in their faces. These two were simply unstoppable.

Surprisingly enough, the Bulls team defense outdid the Celtics, with the Bulls setting a franchise playoff high of 14 blocks. Doc Rivers countered the Bulls tight D by getting Allen free with screens from his big men. Even with the slightest window of opportunity, Allen was able to drain his shots.

The game once again came down to the final possession for the Celtics, after Gordon made a huge jump shot. With less than three seconds to go, rolling off a screen, Ray Allen hit the winning three, putting the Celtics over the Bulls 118 - 115. There were two things I didn't agree with from Bulls' Head Coach Vinny Del Negro:

  1. This is the second game in a row where the Bulls were out of timeouts going into their final possession. You need to manage your timeouts better. With 2 seconds left, there isn't much you can do without a timeout left; having that final timeout gives you the ability to advance the ball to half court, and draw up a play.
  2. Although I like Brad Miller's play, I'd rather see more of Tyrus Thomas in crunch time. Thomas plays with loads of heart, had a team-high 6 blocks in the game, and proved in the first game he could be effective with 15 - 17 foot jumpers.

Now with the series tied 1-1, it should be really interesting to see how the young Bulls team bounces back after a loss. Game 3 is this Thursday at 8 p.m. EST.

Posted
AuthorRedmanthatcould
CategoriesSports Reviews

After losing their last regular season game at home, the Chicago Bulls were slated as the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference, going up against last year's champions, the Boston Celtics. As you probably know, Celtic's head coach Doc Rivers has said numerous times that Kevin Garnett has not recovered from his injury, and will not be playing in the playoffs. What this means is that it puts a lot more pressure on their two other big stars, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen.

Derrick Rose Flawless in First Playoff Game

If you haven't caught any Bulls games this season, then you've missed out on the exciting play of rookie Derrick Rose, but he certainly came to play today. This was the first game of the series between the two teams, but the intensity level felt like it was game seven of the finals. Ben Gordon, Bull's regular season leading scorer, didn't have much impact on the game early on, but neither did Celtic's Allen. This game turned into who could dominate the boards, and a point guard clinic.

Even though this was the first playoff game in Rose's NBA career, he played inspired and flawless basketball. And from the Celtic's side, Rajon Rondo kept the team in the game with his quickness to the hole. Rose was shooting light's out from the field and from the free throw line; he made shots at will, and had no problems quieting Boston's home crowd after their team made a big shot. There were stretches of the game where it was just Rose and Rondo having a "anything you can do, I can do better" battle, and damn was it fun to watch.

In the fourth quarter, Ben Gordon decided to start playing. Gordon started hitting big shots like he had it in him all along, helping his team with 12 points in the fourth. Down the stretch, it was all Gordon and Rose for the Bulls, and all Rondo and Pierce for the Celtics.

With less than a minute to go in the game, Rose hit two HUGE free throws to put the Bulls up a point, which wouldn't usually be note-worthy except that he didn't miss a free throw to this point, he's a rookie, it's his first playoff game, AND his team was visiting last year's champion Celtics. Now the Celtics have to answer. They go to Pierce, who takes a tough jump shot with less than three seconds in the game, and gets bailed out by a terrible foul from Joakim Noah (aside from this blunder, Noah played a hell of a game himself). The Bulls are out of timeouts at this point, so all Pierce has to do is make both of these free throws, and the Celtics would be able to escape. Oops! Pierce missed the second free throw, and we have over time, baby!

There was no let up in overtime. Tyrus Thomas was an unlikely hero for the Bulls, draining mid-range jumpers like he's Bill Laimbeer or something. Pierce had several isolation plays that did not drop for him. As it should have, it came down to the final play with the Celtics down two points. Not sure why the ball went to Ray Allen for the final shot - he couldn't hit shit for four quarters, and he missed this shot too. Surprisingly, the young Bulls stun the Celtics, beating them 105 - 103.

Derrick Rose finished with 36 points and 11 assists. Now we have a series. :)

There are few things I enjoy more than catching a football game that John Madden and Pat Summerall call, and I can count those things on my two nuts. John Madden alone has such an absurdly-vast knowledge of football, that there really is no way to put into words. He is to football what God is to Christians, except more handsome.

Pat Summerall and John Madden

This might be one of my saddest mornings in a long time - turning on Sports Center and seeing: John Madden retires. If you don't know who John Madden is, you're a motherfucker. Most people that know King Madden today probably know nothing of his coaching days, and only know him through his NFL broadcasting or the line of video games named after him. Here are some of the reasons John Madden is better than you and I:

  • Inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006
  • Head Coach of the Raiders his entire 10-year career
  • Youngest pro coach to reach 100 career victories
  • 1969 AFL Coach of the Year
  • Helped the Raiders win Super Bowl Xl
  • On-Air commentary since 1979, mainly with Pat Summerall and occasionally with Vin Scully - both of whom are hall of fame broadcasters
  • 16 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sports Analyst/Personality

King Madden's use of the telestrator should also make that list, but if you never caught a game he called, you wouldn't get the reference AND shame on you. In a nutshell, he popularized the use of marking certain areas for the TV audience to show emphasis on a player, and sometimes just to be witty. He's also known for his use of onomatopoeia, with my favorites being BOOM! and WHAP!, and what sometimes felt like exceedingly obvious explanations (i.e.: You see, what the receiver needs to do is focus and catch the ball.).

John Madden: The King of Fotball

I remember a game where Deion Sanders had his son in a stroller on the sideline, and the camera zoomed on him sleeping. Sanders was always a flashy sports personality, so King Madden said something that amounted to "like father like son" and circled his son wearing a pretty flashy necklace on the telestrator. There were also times where you'd see him just mark up the entire screen with 10 different circles, and he could still make sense of it all.

But all jokes, John Madden really knew football inside and out. Even if you thought what he was saying was painfully obvious, it was exactly what needed to happen for that player or team to do better in that game. And sometimes it felt like maybe the team was listening on his commentary, because I remember many times seeing the team or player adjust per what King Madden mentioned. He had the rare ability to make a football fan out of anyone, and could break down a situation on the field to the most minute particular - the angle of the player's foot, the positioning of his hands, the speed of this, the movement of that.

There is no one, and I repeat NO ONE, with such an awe-inspiring love and knowledge for football, and there will never be another John Madden.

John Madden, you will be SORELY missed.

Posted
AuthorRedmanthatcould
CategoriesSports Reviews

Michigan State had to play all the best teams to make it to the NCAA Men's Championship game, only to get dominated by the University of North Carolina. Considering it was played at a capacity crowd of almost 73,000 people in Detroit, I was hoping it would have been closer with the underdog (Michigan State) have a home crowd. I was wrong. After about five minutes into the game, it was basically over. The Tar Heels got a double-digit lead after a ton of turnovers from Michigan, and some excellent play in the paint, and they never looked back. The 55 points the Heels scored in the first half set a championship game record, and the 21 point lead also set the record for the largest deficit after the first half. Wayne Ellington basically could not miss a shot in the first half, and Tyler Hansbrough had a solid post up game throughout. When they needed him, Ty Lawson filled in any offensive gaps, and would settle the team down. Lawson finished with a team-high 21 points. The Spartans really had no answer for the Heels' big men, and could not match their intensity either. The closest the game got was when the Spartans starting clawing their way back in the second half, to bring it within 13, but it was not enough. The only surprise in this game was that it ended 89-72, because I was expecting the Heels to win by at least 20. When you have 21 turnovers (Spartans), do you really expect NOT to get spanked off the floor?

Who really was surprised though? After the Heels destroyed the Spartans by 35 points just a few months ago in December, what real chance did they have today? Even President Obama picked UNC to win the tournament. If it's any consolation, at least the Spartans now have a chip on their shoulder, and they are returning next year with virtually their entire roster, but with another year of experience under their belt.

Congratulations to UNC for the solid victory - the team did not let up even when the game was obviously out of reach. This is an impressive second title in just the past five years for the Heels.

Posted
AuthorRedmanthatcould
CategoriesSports Reviews

The league's first game was an eye opener, but in a good way.  The Seattle Sounders, an MLS expansion team, managed to sell 32,000 tickets for their first home game against last year's MLS Cup finalists, Red Bull New York.  They also managed to make the Red Bulls look like the expansion team, by crushing them for an emphatic 3-0 win, and generally giving the fans in Seattle something to cheer about, again, and again.  Freddy Montero, the Sounders' 21 year old Colombian striker was the star of the show against New York.  He scored the club's first ever MLS goal after pleading with both hands for the ball, nearly 20 yards from the Red Bull goal.  Sebastien Le Toux's pass found him still unmarked at the edge of the 18 yard box.  With two deft touches Montero killed the pass with his right foot, squared his body, and struck a hard rolling drive across the face of goal, past the Red Bull's young keeper Danny Cepero, into the bottom left corner of the net.  

Seattle fans show their colors

For the second goal Montero played the role of provider, slipping the ball between two Red Bull defenders, to the feet of on rushing teammate Brad Evans.  Evans, streaking into the 18 yard box, received the ball with his back to goal, but swiveled hard and struck an angled left footed shot that went in between the legs of Cepero, and into the net.  Seattle scored a third when Montero stole the ball from Red Bull defender Mike Petke, and charged toward a waiting Cepero in the Red Bull goal.  With Petke chasing behind him, Montero executed a fake that brought Cepero to his knees before slotting the ball calmly over him into the top right corner.  Seattle's veteran goalkeeper Kasey Keller, snuffed out a few rasping shots, and drives from New York in the last quarter of the game that might have embarrassed a less experienced keeper (see Cepero above).  Keller's ability to keep the shut out intact, even at the age of 39, combined with Montero's offensive outburst, sealed the fate of the visiting Red Bulls long before the final whistle blew, and the Sounder's fans knew it.  A sea of scarf shaking, key lime green jersey wearing, singing, screaming, dancing fans gave Montero a standing ovation when Seattle Coach Sigi Schmid subbed the pint sized 21 year old in the 90th minute.  Schmid, you might recall, won last year's MLS Cup with the Columbus Crew, before taking his current position with the expansion Sounders.  The win gives Schmid, and his new bosses up in Seattle even more to smile about than their enormous preseason ticket sales tallies.

21 year old Freddy Montero
 

If you don't already know, the guy who might be considered the secret mastermind of the Sounder's success up in Seattle (outside of Schmid and Montero) is none other than comedian Drew Carey. Self professed Cleveland sports fan Carey, is also, as it turns out, an enormous soccer fan.  On a tour of the stadium at the home of European Soccer giants FC Barcelona, Carey learned that Barcelona's fans can actually participate in their club's decision making process by electing or ousting the team's President.  Shocked and excited, Carey brought the idea of the active fan back to the U.S. and pitched it to his Hollywood producer buddy Joe Roth as a model for an MLS team, and the rest as they say is history.  The two agreed to purchase the Sounders, with  Roth taking on the role of Majority Owner, and Carey holding a minority stake.  The pair then stuck to the Barcelona fan-voting model, and went to Seattle's sports starved fans with an offer they couldn't refuse.  With each season ticket purchased, Sounders fans could earn the right to vote for their team's General Manager.  The offer for voting rights has even been extended to any Sounders fan willing to pony up $125 to become a member of the team's official fan club.  So far, so good for Sounders General Manager Adrian Hanauer and Seattle fans, but when the going gets tough, Carey's model might just ring in some changes that catch the eyes and ears of not just soccer fans, but every type of American sports fan (more on that later though). What's exciting at the moment is that the Seattle fans really seem to want to back the idea, and more than just a little.  You might remember that Seattle sports fans got stuck on the wrong end of a deal that sent their beloved Seattle SuperSonics packing to become the NBA's most recent expansion franchise, the Oklahoma City Thunder.  The Sounders might just be the unlikely winners in the whole mess, filling an emotional and sporting void left by the Sonics' departure.  The Sounders have only played one game, and already they've sold more season tickets than any other single MLS club did all of last year.  The Sounders current tally of 20,000 season tickets sold may actually still rise as the season wears on.  Already, Sounders officials have begun to consider opening up some of their closed off seats to increase home game capacity to 27,000.  You know, so maybe some of the other folks can come see a game too.

Drew Carey has reason to smile

Most interesting to soccer fans and non soccer fans alike though, isn't the exciting ticket sales, even in the absence of Mr. Beckham, but that Carey's model might eventually give more than just one group of fans a new found voice.  All is very well indeed in Seattle for now, and for MLS fans at large, after the first game of the season, thanks to Drew Carey and co. But if things turn sour at some point up in Seattle, it's nice to think that Sounders fans might not only have a say in the direction their club moves in, but actually grab the attention of the rest of America's sports fans for taking control of their team.  I can only guess that every American sports fan would like to have a say in their favorite team's operations.  And I can't think of any reason why they shouldn't be able to.  Can you?

First of all, I would like to thank you, Damien Cox. Cox wrote an amazing article on Martin Brodeur passing Patrick Roy's all-time wins record of 552 career victories. Cox's knowledge and insight are almost more impressive than the epic career Brodeur has had as a netminder for the New Jersey Devils. I hope sports fans (not only hockey fans) will take the time to read it, and learn a little something about one of the most talented athletes to ever live. People know about the great guards & centers in basketball, the great pitchers & sluggers in baseball, the great quarterbacks & receivers in football, but rarely do people give credit to the great netminders in hockey. Michael Jordan, Nolan Ryan, & Joe Montana are basically household names, but who has heard of Martin Brodeur, Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Felix Potvin, Dominki Hasek, or Marty Turco (just some of my favorites - I realize their legacies are not all on par)? Basically hockey fans, and very few others. This is arguably the toughest position in professional sports, and it never gets the light of day. And on that note...

Martin Brodeur Shoulder Save

Can someone please tell me why ESPN gives hockey absolutely no love? I am a Sports Center addict, and a sports fanatic in general, and find it utter bullshit that hockey always gets the short end of the stick on ESPN. The only anchor on the network that gives a shit about hockey is Linda Cohn, and she fights to get her two cents in. I expect the leader in sports to have some big news when the greatest goaltender in the history of the NHL breaks arguably the biggest record in the sport. What do I get? A six second blurb, and a one-liner on the bottom ticker of the ESPN channels. Yet when Kobe Bryant beats Bernard King's record of most points scored at the Madison Square Garden, I could not help but hear about it - no matter what I was watching on ESPN, I got interrupted by a "news brief" to remind me in case the other 600 times I forgot. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge Kobe fan, and that was an impressive record to break, but what ever happened to equal time? America needs to wake up, and it needs to start with our sports news sources which are the authorities people look up to. This means you, ESPN.

Martin Brodeur Flashing some Leather with a Glove Save

Originally, this was going to go over the greatness of Martin Brodeur, but it has turned into a rant about ESPN's lack of hockey coverage, which I suppose in itself defeats the purpose of the rant. But getting back on topic, there are two points that I think are definitely worth mentioning:

  • Brodeur beat Roy's record in 42 fewer games - over half a season - with 34 more shutouts. This is what I call UNREAL.
  • Brodeur has had four seasons with 10 or more shutouts; his most ever being 12. To put that in perspective, Tony Esposito holds the all-time record with 15 shutouts in a season.
  • Martin Brodeur - congrats, and thank you for your brilliance. I feel privileged being alive to watch you play.

Posted
AuthorRedmanthatcould
CategoriesSports Reviews

Beautiful and Talented: Los Angeles Laker Girls
We checked out the game between the visiting Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles. Probably not what the soothsayer had in mind regarding the ides of March, but the Mavs could have used the help as they are fighting for 8th and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. Assuming things stay as they are, these two teams would face each other in the first round of the playoffs, and chances are likely the series would end similarly to this game - with a Lakers win.

The Lakers gave my main man Trevor Ariza the start today, which lead to a career high with 26 points. But Ariza was not the only starting Laker with a solid game - aside from Derek Fisher, the other four starters all ended with double figures in points - which they desperately needed since they got no help from their bench. Lakers started accounted for 95 of their 107 points, en route to a 107 - 100 victory over the Mav's. Pau Gasol started off smoking hot with 16 points in the first quarter, while Kobe Bryant had no points until the second. For some strange reason, the Lakers went away from Gasol, who finished with only 25 points. The whole way the game was the Lakers to win or lose, as they let big leads slip away, and went into the fourth only up seven.

Jason Kidd Sizing up Jordan Farmar

As customary, Lakers coach Phil Jackson gave his starters plenty of rest in the second half, which let the Mav's slowly creep back in during the fourth quarter. Dirk Nowitzki did not have a good game, even though he finished with 20 points, he only made 6 of 20 from the field, and none of them were when it mattered. At the end of the third, and going into the fourth, it was the Jason Terry show - Terry was making it rain three pointers. Terry finished with a game high 29 points, and an incredible 7 three pointers! I've been a huge fan of Jason Kidd since his college days, but he definitely has lost a step or two. Kidd needs to work on his jump shot, and try to mold his game around what Steve Nash has done with the Phoenix Suns.

Kobe Bryant Draining a Huge Three in the Fourth Quarter

Luckily for the Lakers, they have the best basketball player in the universe wearing their purple and gold. Even though Bryant was relatively quiet, he came through when it counts - as he always does. Kobe drained two huge threes down-the-stretch, sealing the game for the Lakers and further flexing their muscle against a solid Western conference team.

And what would a review of a Laker's game be without some dancing from the Laker girls? Exactly my point. Here are the beautiful Laker girls dancing to the Beastie Boys (You gotta) fight for your right (to party):

In the opening round of the 2009 PAC-10 Tournament, the Washington State Cougars whip the floor with the Oregon Ducks. It was pretty much over when it started, with the Cougars jumping out to an early lead at a virtually empty Staples Center in Downtown Los Angeles, and finishing the game 62-40. Of the small attendance, the majority were Cougars fans. Not only did the Cougars dominate on the floor, but their cheerleaders were much hotter, and their band was far more energetic. Here was the highlight of my evening, as the Cougars cheerleaders took a picture with me:

Washington State Cheereleaders: A Reason to Visit Washington

The Cougars went to big man Aron Baynes early and often, as the Ducks had no answer for him in the low post. Baynes finished the game with 20 points, and was rested for the last six minutes of the game when it was obviously out of reach for the Ducks to stage a comeback. He reminds me a lot of former UCLA star, Kevin Love, but Baynes needs to work a bit more on his interior defense - he's got to be a threat to block the ball at his size. Another big man for the Cougars, Caleb Forrest, was lighting it up with mid-range jump shots all night. Forrest has a beautiful touch from outside, and was fire at will off of the screen. But enough talk about these men, let's see those Cougars cheerleaders at half-time:

Tajuan Porter was the only bright spot for the Oregons, putting up 20 points for the game. He needs to improve his passing, because it is the weakest part of his game, which is terrible to say about a point guard. Other than Porter, the Ducks were pathetic with sloppy play on both sides of the ball, over-passing, and zero physical play. This is supposed to be a Division I basketball team, but I'd put my money on a top high school team if such a game ever went down. The best thing to wear a Ducks jersey tonight were the Oregon Ducks cheerleaders:

Even though the Cougars walked all over the Ducks in this opening round match-up, they have their work cut out for them if they want to pose any kind of a threat against the UCLA Bruins in the next round. Baynes is going to have to have an amazing game, and the Cougars guard Taylor Rochestie will need to step it up.

We headed out to the Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past Sunday, March 1st 2009, for the third Sprint Cup race of the season. Even though this is the home track for Kyle Busch, he did not get a warm reception - sucks when they boo you even at home, but I guess it sucks less when you're a millionaire with a hot wife. After back-to-back Sprint Cup victories for Matt Kenseth, I was hoping to see a new driver in victory lane.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway Sign

Pretty fucking rad to get the U.S. Air Force flyover from five Thunderbirds before the race starts. Here's a look-see:

Kyle Busch had won the pole for the race - meaning he was supposed to start at the front of the pack - but after qualifying, he had engine problems and was forced to start at the back. Right off the bat this race was tight, with two cautions coming out in the first seven laps. We would go on to see a record 14 cautions for this track by the end of the race. The majority of the cautions came from the bend at turn 2 during the first half of the race, and then they started coming from turn 4. Reason being is that as the race progressed, the sun stopped hitting the first two two turns, making that part of the track cool down and help the drivers grip to the road better.

Shot of the Track and Infield

Jimmie Johnson led the most laps with 92 of the 285, but ended up bringing out a caution at the end of the race and finishing a disappointing 24th. Johnson was racing hard the entire day, and while he was leading the race, he would pull away easily from the pack on restarts after cautions. Carl Edwards showed flashes of racing well but never was a real threat to the leaders.

Kyle Busch Coming Around Turn 3

This race really came down to a Jeff Gordon blown tire, which cost both Gordon and teammate Johnson any hopes of winning this race. Gordon and Johnson were both having amazing days and could have either come away with the win. Late in the race, Johnson went in for a pit stop, and right behind him was Gordon. As Gordon was coming into pit, his front left tire blew, ripping the front left fender off of his car, and causing the caution flag to come out. What Gordon's blown tire meant was many of the leaders were screwed out of their positions as they were coming in for pit stops, right as the caution came out.

Kyle Busch was able to capitalize on this turn-of-events because all the leaders got the short-end of Gordon's blown tire; as all the leaders dropped down, Busch was able to lead lap 228 and never looked back. The only test Busch had for the rest of the rest was to keep Bobby Labonte off of his tail, who had a good day with a 5th place finish, and who also benefited from Gordon's blown tire. The race finished with a green-white-checker, and an extremely happy Kyle Busch who "kissed" the finish line (through his helmet) at the end of the race.

This really was Johnson's race to win, but the unfortunate timing of Gordon's blown tire and the late caution spoiled any chances of victory. This was a pretty entertaining race for the last 120 or so laps, with lots of mini-battles throughout the pack. It was nice to see strong racing from Edwards, Junior, and Brian Vickers. Kevin Harvick had a decent day finishing 12th, but he just could not keep up at the top; Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart went relatively unnoticed.

Trevor Ariza Defying Gravity One Dunk at a Time
I want to tell you how good Trevor Ariza is.

At 6'8", Ariza can stand up against the league's best small forwards, shooting guards, and some of the smaller power forwards; he needs to put on some more weight if he wants to be competitive at the 4 position, but I think that would have an adverse affect on his game. His defense has gotten better, even since last season, where he saw limited play. Ariza keeps his hands in passing lanes, doesn't "take off" a single possession, and has more hustle by himself than most teams have with all their players combined.

He's Scottie Pippen meets Shawn Kemp, and a sprinkle on top of Clyde The Glide Drexler.

What prompted this article though, was a single play in Thursday night's ass whooping of the Phoenix Suns. This impressed me more than any hustle play, any big time block, huge three, or smooth layout that he's put up this season. Ariza caught an outlet pass, outran all the Suns, but got fouled while going up for the lay-up. The play was seemingly harmless, but Ariza was taken down relatively hard and fell to the ground.

Do you know what happened next?

He fucking sprung back up to his feet in a flash, to get ready to shoot his free throws. I mean, he seriously got up faster than you see wide receivers blast off the line of scrimmage.

If you're unfamiliar with basketball, or sports that involve personal fouls (i.e.: soccer, hockey, football, etc) then you might not realize why this is worthy of it's own article, or even worthy of praise. The sad fact is that many times, players will try to sell the foul, no matter what sport, but chiefly basketball and soccer. That is to say, they make the foul (or alleged foul) painfully obvious to the referee / umpire, to try and persuade them to blow their whistle.

Ariza Hustling for a Loose Ball
Take this from a big time sports fan: I cannot begin to tell you how fucking over that shit I am. I'm seriously sick and tired of our athletes acting like giant pussies when someone breathes on them hard. Grow a pair of balls; play like men that love their sport and get paid damn good money to do it too.

Watching Ariza's reaction to the foul just raised his stock with me. Not only is he a phenomenal athlete that will have many more years of good basketball to come, he gives 150% every time he's on the court, but he also understands the key to competition - sportsmanship and class. There are few players that have impressed me as much this season as Ariza, and I can say without a doubt that the Los Angeles Lakers and their head coach, Phil Jackson, are lucky to have him wearing their colors.

Do not lose this guy - he's got franchise player written all over him.

The battle of Alberta, as the Canucks call it, sees the Calgary Flames at the Edmonton Oilers, in Rexall Place. Flames are looking to strengthen the lead in their division, while the Oilers are still clinging to the 8th and final spot in the playoff race. In net for the Flames is Miikka Kiprusoff, who has faced more shots than any other goaltender this season, and he'll be facing off against Dwayne Roloson. I love watching two Canadian teams square off, because there is so much damn intensity.

First Period

Dwayne Roloson was the key to this period. He was a fucking brick wall in net, stopping what seemed like one timer after one timer from the stick of Mike Cammalleri. As much as Roloson dominated, I really can't stand the way he handles the puck - he's clumsy and makes bad decisions. The Flames could not match the physical play of the Oilers, so instead they beat them in speed to the puck, especially with their consistent forecheck. Young players should take some notes on the Flames forecheck, because they always bothered the Oilers' defensemen, deep in their own zone, making it difficult to get the puck into neutral ice.

The one goal in the period came right after a penalty against the Flames, off a pretty give-and-go between Erik Cole and Shawn Horcoff. Cole got his 14th goal of the season, beating Kiprusoff top-shelf to the blocker side, getting the puck just inside the cross bar - pretty play all around.

Miikka Kiprusoff Sprawling Save

Second Period

Calgary brought a whole new level of offensive energy, including a tough break for Craig Conroy, who beat Roloson's glove, but hit the crossbar. Jarome Iginla was relatively quiet for the Flames in the first period, but got himself in the middle of every rush when he was on the ice in the second. It was nice to see the Oilers starting to really test Kiprusoff after the Flames initial energy surge sizzled down.

With the increased aggressive attack from the Flames, it was inevitable that they were going to beat Roloson. With a little over three minutes in the period, Cory Sarich passes it to himself off the boards, gets the puck between the defenseman's legs, and right on Iginla's tape for an easy one-timer to tie this game up. Both goalies are playing a great game to keep this at only 1-1. Flames got another two golden scoring opportunities before the period was over, and even though the game is still tied going into the third, the momentum is now heavily in the Flames favor.

Third Period

Ales Hemsky Streaking InOilers catch the Flames off-guard, with Ales Hemsky scoring his 18th goal in just the second minute of the period. This was off another fantastic pass from Shawn Horcoff, and Hemsky had a quick release to beat Kiprusoff low on the blocker side. Erik Cole could have really broke this game open when he had a clean breakaway less than a minute after the Oilers first goal of the period, but he got held right before he could get the shot off. The Oilers could smell blood, and kept forcing Kiprusoff to make amazing saves to keep the Flames in this game. Then aside from the occasional big hit from the Oilers, it looked like they were on a penalty kill for the last ten minutes of the period. I really hated watching this from the Oilers because it made the game extremely one-sided as they played to protect the lead rather than win the game. The game seemed pretty much in the bank for the Oilers, but with 1:05 left in the game Matthew Lombardi ties up the game for the Flames beating Roloson above his left shoulder. We're going into overtime, folks!

Overtime & Shootout

The overtime period was pretty uneventful, aside from one scoring chance for the Oilers and a big hit from Oilers' Sheldon Souray which knocked the helmet off of Flames' Adam Pardy. Then all of a sudden, with 5 seconds to go, Iginla passes to a WIDE OPEN Cammalleri, who gets robbed point-blank against Roloson. No idea how the Oilers let Cammalleri get this open, but Roloson saved the day for his team.

In the shootout, the Oilers shot themselves in the foot. First Sam Gagner just lost the puck, then Robert Nilsson AND Ales Hemsky got the puck poke-checked away. What a pathetic shootout from the Oilers, losing them the game 3-2 with the Flames' Todd Bertuzzi scoring the only goal in the shootout.

It seemed like the Oilers never really came to play this game. There was little intensity from them, aside from their hard-hitting, and the Flames looked more like the team that urgently needed the win to stay in the playoff hunt. It was nice to see Jarome Iginla step up his game and get a much-needed goal. Dwayne Roloson was the only reason this game was close, because the Oilers did not deserve the one point they got from the game.

With the Los Angeles Lakers coming to town, you knew you'd be in for an exciting show against the home Golden State Warriors. The Lakers have the highest team scoring average in the league, and the Warriors are right behind them at number two. Don Nelson, Warriors head coach and second overall in total victories is sitting on career win 1,299, and it would be great to see him hit the 1,300 mark on his home court. It was really fun to see all the up and down play right off the bat. Lakers started going into Luke Walton in the post, and kept going back to Walton throughout the game whenever he was defended by a smaller man. Shortly into the game, it felt like a college atmosphere, with the Warriors fans getting really pumped up, and even the present Lakers fans could be heard. Both teams benches were pivotal in this game, as Corey Maggette threw up 24 points for the Warriors, while Trevor Ariza and Josh Powell came up big for the Lakers. Maggette reminds me a hell of a lot of LeBron James with his physical body and ability to get to the hoop at will. For such an existing first half, Kobe Bryant was relatively quiet for the Lakers, but Pau Gasol was solid from the start. Going into half time, the Lakers gave up the most points of any of their first halves this season - 68.

Kobe Bryant Covered Like a Glove

Stephen Jackson and Jamal Crawford were huge for the Warriors, with Crawford putting up 23 points on just 10 shot attempts. The Warriors lead going into the second half, and were shooting lights out. But would it hold up when the end-of-game pressure would come up? Both teams were playing with high emotion, and lots of spirit - it's refreshing seeing the young Warriors playing with so much talent and a TON of heart. But as suspected, all of the Warriors easy buckets in the first half started coming up short at the end of the third, and they were really struggling to keep up in the fourth.

Going into the fourth, Don Nelson had a court-side interview saying that to beat the Lakers, you have to play four strong quarters or you don't win. And he was right because even though the Warriors looked phenomenal through three, they just collapsed at the end. Lamar Odom was started to get under the skin of the Warriors front line (when they had a front line on the court, that is), and kept pushing the right buttons against the less-experienced players. Odom quietly had 22 points and 7 assists, but down the stretch it was the play of Ariza and Bryant that pulled the Lakers away.

Bryant Avoiding the Charge to take the Blocking Foul

Ariza hit two clutch three-pointers back-to-back, and Kobe had flashes of his usual greatness at the end. Aside from a beautiful 360 two-hand dunk on a breakaway, Kobe's main highlights were two amazing blocks. The Lakers finished the game strong, with their highest scoring quarter of the game, finishing it at 129-121. Don Nelson will have to wait another game for career win 1,300 which will likely not be that far away.

The second Australian Open Semi-final is between two leftie Spaniards, with the world's number one player, Rafael Nadal, and huge underdog Fernando Verdasco. Nadal strolled through his previous matches, not losing a single set throughout the Open. In his 8th season as a professional player, this is the first major that Verdasco has played where he's beaten two top 10 players, so he's definitely ready for Nadal. Of the 14 prior sets these players have faced off in their 6 prior meetings, 13 of those went to Nadal. I'm not sure who has the most pressure though, because it's almost assumed that Nadal will win, so Verdasco really has nothing to fear. As both players come onto the court, and keep the fans waiting to even begin their warm-ups, they are already trying to fuck with each others psyche.

First Set

Most people watching this match would probably start getting bored if they aren't tennis fans because neither of these guys is really quick to start the points. But if you can stomach waiting for them to serve, you are in for a treat. These guys are just smacking the shit at the ball - surprisingly enough, Verdasco is actually hitting harder than Nadal. Verdasco was really putting it to Nadal, and had a prime opportunity to break Nadal's serve early, but blundered with an easy overhead that went long. Verdasco is dictating most of the points, and Nadal's first serve returns are just horrendous even with him standing several feet behind the baseline.

This set was filled with some of the best baseline rallies you'll ever see in your life. Both men were able to hold serves, leading to a tiebreaker at 6-6, but going into it there is a sense that the momentum is on Verdasco's side. Tremendous pressure during the tiebreak for both players, but the first set went to the better player - Verdasco wins the tiebreaker 7-4, and thus wins the set 7-6. That's right...Verdasco won the set...he did get a little luck from the net cord in the tiebreaker, but he kept the pressure on with his aggressive play. This is the first set Nadal lost in this Australian Open, and also matches the number of sets Verdasco has won against Nadal before. An hour and 15 minutes into the match, the men prepare for another battle in the second set.

Fernando Verdasco Pumped Up (Photo Courtesy of Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

Second Set

Much quicker pace to the points in this set right off the bat, and the points that are being played out are still being dominated by Verdasco. In his first three service games, Verdasco did not drop a single point, but on his next service game it went to 4 advantages to Nadal before he held his serve. Nadal's serve looked much better in this set (89% first serves), giving him a lot of cheap points and save some energy. It started looking a lot like the first set with both men staying on serve, but now Verdasco served to stay in the set at 4-5. After a grueling, long point with a stunning forehand on the run from Nadal, it set up the break point and ultimately gave Nadal the set 6-4. Both men have played an extremely high level of tennis at this point, and now they start the third set essentially even - aside from two hours of running around and pummeling every ball.

Third Set

The second game of this set was a fucking marathon on Verdasco's serve...both players were sucking wind half-way into the game, but Nadal was the fresher of the two, which lead to the break of serve. Right after being broken, Verdasco comes back with a break of Nadal's serve without giving up a single point. And then again...just when you felt the set was easily in Nadal's hands, after he broke serve for a second time, Verdasco breaks back with more quick points and hard-hitting returns. The service games in this set looked the most impressive so far for both players, even with the breaks of serve. This set went to a tiebreaker, where Nadal took complete control; Verdasco had 3 awful unforced errors, and with a 5-2 lead in the breaker, there was virtually no chance Nadal was going to let this set slip away. Nadal gave the breaker an exclamation point with an ace, winning 7-2 and now taken a 2-1 set lead. I don't really see any chance Verdasco coming back from this deficit, but then again, I didn't really expect it to be going to a fourth set.

Fourth Set

After another tiring first service game, Verdasco is looking considerably more sluggish in this set. During the 2-1 and 3-2 change overs, the trainer came out and started rubbing Verdasco's legs, and you could see in his body language and movement that he's feeling it. Going into the 6th game of the set, the match was already nearing the 4-hour mark, which feeds into Nadal's game 'cause he's just a freak of nature. It hits midnight in Melbourne when the players go into the 11th game of the fourth, tied at 5 all. Verdasco is playing with so much heart, and at the same time intelligently picking which points to really give it his all on. There were at least two times in this set where it seemed like it was over, and he just kept fighting back... all the time he's doing this against the world's number one player, who is having a great game himself (other than his service return).

Pretty fitting that the fourth set goes to a tiebreaker as well. I can't even believe I'm writing this, but Verdasco completely out-hit and out-played Nadal in the tiebreaker. Verdasco is now easily on his sixth wind, and beat the shit out of the ball in this breaker to win a decisive 7-1, forcing this epic battle into a fifth and final set (7-1 is the worst lose Nadal has faced in a tiebreaker). People will look back at this match in years to come - this is where Fernando Verdasco makes his mark on the tennis world. Two amazing leftie Spaniards are putting on such a show even with the match approaching the four and a half hour mark. When's the last time you did ANYTHING physically draining for four and a half hours? Just think about that...

Rafael Nadal Hitting a Volley (Photo Courtesy of AP Photo/Dita Alangkara)

Fifth Set

It's now 5:20 a.m. Friday morning in Los Angeles and 12:20 a.m. in Melbourne; ESPN decided to broadcast this final set commercial-free. The players keep pushing on, making it look like this is the opening set. At 4 hours and 41 minutes into this match, Verdasco had his biggest serve of the match, clocking in at 138 mph. Nadal breezes through with his service games, while Verdasco continues to struggle to hold, fighting off 5 break points in his first four service games. Verdasco is definitely running on fumes, by the 7th game of the set, which shows with his shaky first serves, and as he resigns to a slice backhand rather than his powerful two-hander.

At 5 hours and 10 minutes into the match, Verdasco steps on the court to serve at 4-5. The first point was the longest rally of the match, as Verdasco hits an extremely tired backhand slice into the net on the 29th stroke of the point. It looked like Verdasco was down and out after this point - he loses the next two points and faces a triple break point, which would give Nadal the match. After fighting off two of those match points, Verdasco goes out of the tournament on a double fault.

Conclusion to this Epic

The match went 5 hours and 14 minutes, which is the longest match ever played at the Australian Open, and is also longer than the longest match ever played at Wimbledon. This was easily the best tennis match I've ever seen in my life. It was even better than the match in the 1996 US Open, where Pete Sampras played an epic Quarter-final match against Alex Corretja (this went four hours, and Sampras threw up during the match). Fernando Verdasco should feel proud of his play, even though losing after giving it 150%, he should still hold his head up high. He took the world's number one player to the absolute limit, leading to a wonderful competition. As I expected, after the final point, Nadal climbed over the net to hug his countryman after producing such a fantastic match.

Really not sure how Nadal is going to fair in two days having to go against Roger Federer in the final. This is Nadal's first final at the Australian Open, and he leads the head-to-head game play 12-6 against Federer, but I don't know how much energy he'll have for that match.