Sunday, September 09, 2007

MLS has a serious problem...

We were able to attend the Dynamo vs. Real Salt Lake match last night - the first Dynamo match myself or my family have been able to make in over a month. It turned out to be a very exciting match - four Dynamo goals with a hattrick by Nate Jaqua, and a late comeback by Salt Lake to see a final score of 4-3. It's not everyday you see a seven goal soccer match.

I realize that I am quite biased, but when the Dynamo are playing their best, they seem almost a cut above MLS. They have times of really beautiful soccer where they just slice the opposing team apart with quick, creative passing and smart runs. It really is fun to watch as a fan. Last night, for about an hour, they played like that. Given - RSL is the worst team in MLS, and have been for their 3 years in the league. But the Dynamo have shown that class in other games, against much better teams - a 4-0 victory over Chivas USA on a Thursday night springs to mind. Last night, I think the fourth goal (Jaqua's third) was evidence of the Dynamo at their best. Ricardo Clark took possession in midfield and played a quick, aggressive ball up to Dwayne DeRosario just to the outside and left of center of the penalty area. DeRosario turned nicely on it, and looked as if he might move to the center - but instead very quickly played the ball forward to the left, where Corey Ashe came running on it and played an early cross perfectly - it was a thing of beauty - to Jaqua storming in to the area. Jaqua very simply placed the ball in the back of the net for the goal. It was very fast, it was quick, one touch passing (there were a total of five touches from Clark to the goal - Clark's pass, DeRo's turn, his pass, Ashe's cross, the finish), it made RSL really look like amateurs - AND, it looked so simple. That's Houston at their best. If they can get healthy and harness that beautiful game for 90 minutes a night, they have a serious shot at defending the MLS Cup this year.

Having said all that - and watched a pretty exciting MLS match last night - MLS has a genuinely serious problem: The officiating in MLS is shamefully poor. No, I'm not just a fan railing about the bad calls his team gets. RSL got as many bad calls last night as the Dynamo, if not more. In fact, my concern isn't even due exclusively to Houston matches. I tend to watch quite a bit of soccer. Almost every MLS match I watch stands out because the officials are so poor - they are inconsistent, they do not keep tempers properly in check (which invariably leads to things getting chippy later), they consistently miss off-sides calls (both ways), and more than anything else - they just stand out. I've recently noticed that when watching English, or Italian, or Argentinean, or International soccer, I rarely if ever even notice the officiating crew. That is the way it is supposed to be. If they are doing their job professionally, they do not stand out, do not take away from the match.

MLS officials are rarely that way. The officials have simply not kept up to the professional standard of the league. The standard of play in MLS has grown by leaps and bounds over the past 12 years, the standard for the officiating has not. MLS leaders better take some steps to bring some professionalism to their officials, or this league will never achieve the respect it is pursuing.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Speaking of Republicans...

I watched the Republican debate last night from New Hampshire - which conspicuously did not include Fred Thompson. Quick hit thoughts...

Winners -
Gov. Mike Huckabee - he is simply brilliant in these formats. While other candidates just seem to struggle in the large debate format (read: McCain, Tancredo), Huckabee shines. But - as I've been saying for some time - he is clearly running for VP, complimenting everyone of the "front-runners" and only taking on the other second tier candidates. Still, Huckabee is very, very good and has a real shot of becoming the "fourth" top-tier candidate replacing McCain.

Mayor Rudy Giuliani - he seems to be getting more comfortable with the whole debate thing each time out. I thought he was really effective last night - especially on the "family values" ambush question. (As an aside, I really thought the ambushes of Giuliani and Romney were poor.) He seems to be taking heat for his answer by some commentators today, but for me is was very effective - No, I'm not a saint, but I am a successful manager regardless of the trials of the personal side of life. Sounds like a leader to me.

Sen. John McCain - esasily the best debate performance I have seen by McCain. He almost seems to have his old "maverick" swagger back. But is it too little, too late? The conventional wisdom in both national and Republican circles seems to be that his campaign is dead. He has no traction with votes. He has no real "support." He simply has a block that feels it is his turn to run. That is not much to base a campaign on. Regardless, he flat showed up last night and showed signs of life. Now, he must use that performance as a spring-board to re-start his campaign.

Losers -
Gov. Mitt Romney - every indication is that Fred Thompson's entry into the race hurts Romney more than any other candidate. So, on the night that Thompson was so much the story, it was essential that Romney could shine, and keep the focus on him. To put it plainly, he failed. He rarely made an interesting or original point. He nevery stood out - although it appeared to me tha the was given considerably more time than the other candidates. He was robotic, over-scripted, and dull. A large opportunity lost.

Why Are They Still In It? -
Rep. Tom Tancredo - he is just so terrible in these formats. I have no idea what he is like as a campaigner generally, but he is terrible in the debates. He has utterly no organization to his thoughts. He is extremely poor at thinking on his feet. And he is disasterous at articulating his points. He serves no purpose in the debates, nor in the field of candidates more generally. Although, to be honest, it is sad that FoxNews gave more time to Ron Paul than it did to Tancredo. Although, Paul's libertarian-ism is more genuine than whatever it is Tancredo is supposed to represent.

Rep. Duncan Hunter - Yawn. Over and over. He is merely trying to secure a cabinet appointment, and isn't doing great at that. Yawn.

Overall -
On Charlie Rose the other night a reporter covering the 2008 Campaign made an interesting point. He mentioned that traditionally in his coverage of Presdiential elections Democratic voters tend to be pessimestic. On the other side, Republican voters have tended to be optimistic and looking forward to the election. To this reporter, this year that appears to be reversed. That sentiment summed up last night's debate to me. Other than Huckabee, the other candidates appear somehow off. They don't seem to inspire, rather they seem to beg for support. It's very odd. Among the "front-runnners" there does not appear to be anyone that draws strong support, rather the feeling is one of lesser-of-evils. That is how the debate felt to me - as if each of the candidates would rather appear less-of-a-loser than the other candidates, rather than the leader and winner. In addition, other than Giuliani, none of the men on stage seemed to give the impression of being a President. It's just an odd time for the Republican party, which is likely why so much stock is being placed in Fred Thompson.

Will this be a rallying point?...

I think it is fair to say "finally" - Fred Thompson announced his canidacy for the Presidency today. See his website here and see the announcement here:

Click to play

Will this finally be the rallying point for the Republican party. It is such a strange campaign on the Right this cycle, because there seem to be no candidates anyone is excited about. Everyone appears to be holding their nose and picking a candidate. Maybe Thompson will change that perception.

I thought this announcement video was terrific. He his the key issues - both national issues as well as Republican or traditional conservative issues. He - his very presence - carries a weight, gravity, and seriousness of a President. Something that the Republican field (outside Giuliani) is missing, and something the nation has missed for the past six years.

BUT, - there is always a but - so much of the Presidential campaign in the first two states of Iowa and New Hampshire is about organization. Being on the ground, signing up volunteers on the ground, getting out the vote, etc. Can Thompson do that? Does he have time? Are all the key experienced precinct leaders taken already? Those are critical questions.

I remember the last cycle so well. Gov. Howard Dean of Vermont had come out of nowhere running a grassroots national campaign and surprised the Democratic party base by taking big leads in the polls. But (again that but) the grassroots, netroots, national support did not translate into precinct by precinct organization in two tiny, fairly unrepresentative states - and his campaign was finished almost before it began.

The success or failure of Fred Thompson as a candidate will depend in large part - if not in entirety - upon his ability to organize support in these two tiny states. And that success or failure may call into greater question the wisdom of putting so much of our nation's decision on whom our Presidential candidates will be upon Iowa and New Hampshire - states that are not as urban as America, not as diverse as America, and simply not fully representative of us as a people. Yes, it may be traditional - but is it best?

It will be fascinating to watch the Thompson campaing get off the ground in the next couple of months - and to see how the Republican contenders react to it. One thing is certainly true, for the first time in months and months attention is back on the Republican side of the race instead of on the exciting Democratic candidates. Let's see if Thompson can keep the focus there over the long haul.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Bush Legacy...

“I’ll give some speeches, just to replenish the ol’ coffers.” With assets that have been estimated as high as nearly $21 million, Mr. Bush added, “I don’t know what my dad gets — it’s more than 50-75” thousand dollars a speech, and “Clinton’s making a lot of money.”

Then he said, “We’ll have a nice place in Dallas,” where he will be running what he called “a fantastic Freedom Institute” promoting democracy around the world. But he added, “I can just envision getting in the car, getting bored, going down to the ranch.”

From the new book Dead Certain by Robert Draper, as excerpted here in the New York Times.

I don't think any more need be added by me - it says enough on its own.

Watch an interview with the author on MSNBC's Harball with Chris Matthews.