It was an excellent weekend for UNM sports. The Lobo football team gets 21-14 conference win over UNLV, Steve Alford's men's basketball team opens the season with 92-40 triumph over New Orleans, and the men's soccer team takes the conference championship over Cal State Bakersfield.
Oh, also, Monster Jam was at Tingley this weekend all vintage-style.
Sexual abuse charges against Jerry Sandusky suggest his youth mentoring charity might have been a pipeline for potential victims.
The women clinched the Mountain West Conference championship in the finals with a pair of goals that mirrored each other in time. Scoring nineteen seconds into the game, Natalie Jenks put away the quickest game-winner in MWC tournament history. The game ended with the Lobos on top 2-0 and they secured an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. They will begin play at UCLA on Saturday, Nov. 12. The Lady Lobos are playing in only their second NCAA Tournament and hope to surpass last year's first-round exit.
On the other hand, with its No. 1 ranking secure, and an unbeaten streak that is the talk of the town, the men's team has higher expectations foisted upon it. The men also performed admirably over the weekend, shutting out UNLV in an ugly game that saw two ejections from the opposing side in the second half. No doubt frustrated by the score, the Lobos' ability and the fact that they'd already been eliminated from the post-season, UNLV turned what had been a pretty even affair in the first half into a slogged-down, foul-filled game in the last half.
Both teams, obviously, will be cheered for, but there's no denying that, between the rankings, the press and past history, the men's team will be waiting with bated breath on Monday, Nov. 14, when the men's NCAA Tournament bracket is revealed. Because of the aforementioned circumstances, the clear hope—and expectation—is for a healthy slate of home field advantage for the early rounds of the tournament. But no matter where they play, the Lobos are sure to have a target on their backs.
The men's soccer team, as previously mentioned, has been here before. Ranked first in the country. A team full of athletes dedicated to a common cause. The same coach. The atmosphere drowning the city. It didn't end as well as it could have. Ironically, the team that is ahead of UNM in the NSCAA poll is Maryland, the same team that beat the Lobos in 2005 for the national championship.
The Lobo soccer team is the only unbeaten team in the nation at this point, and is looking to finish up their schedule on a strong note. Two of the last three regular season games take place this weekend at the UNM Sportsplex, and tickets are still more than available.
The truth at this point, though, is that UNM has got to start thinking about the NCAA tournament and, perhaps, let some of the thoughts regarding its now-record-breaking win streak go by the wayside. The MPSF tournament comes first and a respectable finish there is more than just hoped for by now – it's expected. The team will refuse to look past opponents, giving everyone their due respect, but we have the luxury of looking ahead.
When the Lobos were making their earlier runs, they had the benefit of some serious home-field advantage. We can hope for the same here, but it's only useful if the stadium is packed. With the lofty goals of a sport-starved city foisted upon them, the Lobos certainly have more-than-ample excuse to crumble. These men, though, seem up to the challenge. The season is almost over and the time for marking true accomplishments is practically here. Make sure to get out to the Lobo soccer field to see what happens.
When news broke that Mike Locksley had been asked to vacate his head coaching position, the Albuquerque populace tried to react. But after more than two years, exactly two wins, and countless affairs off the field that brought things to a head, there's not much left to say about the beleagured ex-coach of the men's football team.
The better place to focus is on the sport of “football” that the rest of the world is interested in. On Monday, almost simultaneous to the Locksley story, news broke that the Lobo men's soccer team had broke into the Top 10 of the nation. As previously noted, the men's soccer team has not yet lost this season. They played the reigning national champions to a standstill in double overtime.
The men's soccer team is a proud follow-up to a recent dynasty at UNM. Although our previous teams never won it all, they gave fans plenty to cheer about, and they packed the stands. In 2005, the Lobos lost to Maryland in the national championship game. It was a one-point game, and fans went bonkers for the matches on the road to that loss.
Now it’s getting to the point where people are counting on more thrills from Lobo soccer. The men's team, meanwhile, isn't backing down from those expectations. As a proud follow-up to a great—albeit recent—tradition, the men's team neither shies away from the spotlight, nor embarrasses those of us who root for the team with any antics.
The next opportunity to support the men's soccer team at home is on Friday, Oct. 14, when they host Denver. The game will start at 7 PM.
Team U.S.A. prided itself on succeeding with its back against the wall. It wanted the pressure. In the final match of the 2011 Women's World Cup, that pressure might have proven to be too much.
The U.S. played a better game at every single point of the game that mattered, until the part that mattered the most. Up by one in regulation and then again up by one in overtime, the Women's team twice let its lead evaporate and eventually headed to penalty kicks. The only other Women's World Cup that had gone to penalty kicks was the famous 1999 Brandi Chastain-imprinted win. When it came time to shoot down those echoes of the past, however, this team simply could no do it.
When the game started, it looked as though it was going to be a US-dominated affair. Lauren Cheney got things off on the right foot with a quick run up the left side within the first minute. Megan Rapinoe continued the US pressure with a killer cross to Cheney in the 8th minute and Carli Lloyd almost had a neat clean-up at the 11th minute. Cheney passed to Rapinoe for a fantastic straight-on shot only 20 seconds later.
After an advantage call in the 28th minute, Abby Wambach had a shot bounce off the top of the crossbar, in a dramatic instance that would be repeated time and time again. Despite numerous chances, the United States did not seem as though they'd be able to capitalize.
Things started to pick up for Japan when Shinobu Ohno got a good shot in the 30th minute, but U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo cut off that effort easily. In the 2011 Women's World Cup, three of Japan's 10 goals had previously come on set pieces. And at the 37th minute, despite being outplayed for virtually the entire first half, they got a corner kick where they might have had another one of those set piece goals. One minute later, Japan got a great service for Kozue Ando, but Solo came off her line quickly and successfully.
As the first half ended, the momentum appeared to have shifted, albeit slightly. The United States had more chances—all missed—but they couldn't capitalize at any point. They played so well for almost the entire half, but they could not come out ahead. It was at this point that the question of pressure had to be rising in many people's minds.
To counter that doubt, coach Pia Sundhage started the second half by removing Cheney and putting in Alex Morgan, who almost put in a cross to the short corner a mere four minutes into the second half. After the referee incorrectly called an offside offense against Japan, Heather O'Reilly hit Wambach with a lift in the 64th minute that Wambach nearly headed just above the Japan keeper.
In the 68th minute, super-sub Morgan got an excellent feed from Rapinoe. Morgan took one touch on the ball and blasted a left-footed shot into the lower right hand corner to take the lid off the goal for the Americans.
In the 80th minute, though, Japan got an equalizer from Aya Miyama and put on non-stop pressure. With two more chances in the next minute for Japan, it seemed as though the U.S. was on its heels. Making it through the last ten minutes of the regulation game was its own blessing, though, and the World Cup Final went to overtime.
Team U.S.A. got overtime started in a similar fashion, with an on-target header from Wambach that was halted by Ayumi Kaihori. However, as the first half of the overtime period moved toward its conclusion, in the 103rd minute, Morgan sent a small cross sailing past the Japanese goal which Wambach redirected masterfully into the back of the net off a header.
In the 111th minute, Team U.S.A. survived a scare, as Solo came off her line, missed the ball and then two defenders collided while attempting to clear the ball. But Japan could not convert. Shortly after, Rapinoe got subbed out in favor of Tobin Heath finishing the game with fresh legs. The threats were not over, however, for the United States, as Yukari Kinga broke toward the goal off a feed from Homare Sawa. Solo was hurt and remained on the ground, but captain Christine Rampone was there to clear the goal. Unfortunately, on the resulting corner kick in the 116th minute, Sawa put in the cross to knot things up 2-2.
There would be no more points scored in the overtime period. And while Japan converted three of its first four penalty kicks, Team U.S.A. was only able to put in one of five, total.
As the pressure finally cracked, nothing good came of it. There was no tremendous release, no dismissal of the specters of the past. There was a better finish for Team U.S.A. than in the previous two World Cups. That's the silver lining. But for the game they played, the way they executed, the near-perfect—minus goal-scoring—team effort, it's hard to focus on that silver lining. For a team that was aiming for a championship or bust, second place cannot be anything other than first loser.
Team USA took its first step in the march back to World Cup supremacy on Tuesday, beating Korea 2-0.
The US Women, as previously noted, have had a comparatively rough time of it lately in the World Cup; after winning the inaugural competition in 1991, taking third place in 1995 and winning it all again in 1999, with the memorable finish from Brandi Chastain, we've been stuck in third place since. (This, of course, discounts the success the women's national team has had in the Olympics: winning gold in 2004 and 2008 makes it hard for anyone to feel like we've not been performing.)
But before thinking about winning it all once again, the team had its hands full with the first round of pool play. Korea proved a capable opponent, despite being ranked only eighth in the FIFA World Rankings to Team USA's first. The first half of action was a sloppy affair, as neither side was able to connect for a goal.
In the second half, the big story got its traction. Lauren Cheney put the ball in the back of the net with a header from an Abby Wambach cross. Cheney was not a normal starter for Team USA, but got the nod for this game from coach Pia Sundhage over Megan Rapinoe. As the Women's World Cup was still being built up to, there were whispers among many soccer fans about the inconsistencies of this squad. Coach Sundhage knew that something had to change and took a bold risk in inserting the more-recently experienced Cheney over Rapinoe. She also demonstrated the kind of leadership that recognizes Rapinoe as the type of player to overcome what some might see as an insult. The gambit obviously paid off, and Team USA now has something positive to focus on, instead of subliminally addressing those whispers.
Team USA has plenty more ground to cover in order to be mentioned with some of the classic teams that came before them, but what we saw on Tuesday (in the second half, at least) is a positive sign of things to come. The women get their next chance to prove their mettle on Saturday. The game will be televised on ESPN 2 at 10 a.m. local time, and will be simulcast on ESPN3.com.
2011 Gold Cup Soccer has gained more mainstream coverage within American sports the last couple of years—Team U.S.A. had relative success in the 2010 World Cup and there's been a growing interest in Major League Soccer. So when the United States faced Mexico in the finals of the Gold Cup, the U.S. was poised to give American soccer some much needed creditability. 93,420 fans filled the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., to witness the U.S gain a quick two goal lead. But Mexico turned up the pressure and overwhelmed the U.S with four unanswered goals to capture the title, 4-2. Along with the loss, many of the fans were rooting for Mexico, jeering the Americans with insults throughout the match. While Mexico earned a birth in the 2013 Confederations Cup, the U.S will look for answers to improve in time for the 2012 Olympic Games.
UFC on Versus There was little excitement surrounding the original main event of Nate Marquardt versus Rick Story. And on Saturday afternoon the main event fell apart after Maquardt failed his medical tests. Then UFC President Dana White fired him and named Charlie Brenneman as the last second replacement. Despite all the troubles with this card, the fights delivered some awesome finishes. Former NFL standout Matt Mitrione KO'd Christian Morecraft and Brenneman pulled off the upset by earning the decision against Story. Pat Berry and Cheick Kongo moved into the main event and delivered one of the best comebacks in the history of MMA. Berry caught Kongo with a series of punches and almost finished him, but the referee didn't stop the fight. Eventually Kongo gained his composure just enough to nail Berry and win the fight. The comeback victory could give Kongo some momentum to make one more run at the heavyweight title.
Late June to early August has always been a tough time. There are years when we have the Summer Olympics to get us by. There's a brief respite for the Tour de France, although it's lost some of its luster recently. And yes, I am excited about both the upcoming Women's World Cup as well as the 15th WNBA Season. But there's no denying these are dark times.
The NBA, NFL and NHL are all done with their seasons. MLB, for those who care, hasn't really picked up any steam yet by this point in the season. But most importantly, for now, the two behemoths of American sports, basketball and football, seem to be on a collision course with no righting in sight.
The NFL is already locked out and the NBA appears to be heading in that direction. As though sports fans weren't already mired in what is traditionally the worst time of the year, that slog is now compounded by the fact that it might stretch on even longer.
There's already been extensive coverage of why this is happening in both of these leagues, so for now, let's focus on the positive: There are reports that the NFL sides might be close to reconciliation. The NBA can learn from this NFL experience and perhaps avoid actually locking out.
But even more importantly, we can shift our focus from those leagues to the alternatives. The aforementioned Women's World Cup features not just a strong U.S. team, but a hungry one. The Tour de France, free from those Americans that some claim the French love to hate, might have a chance to stand on its own, as opposed to being hounded by the WADA for violations; focusing on the actual sport and its real winner could prove to be a successful formula. And the WNBA is becoming a refined product on its own, not merely the little-sister-league of the NBA.
The WNBA is trying to make summer–the ironic winter of sports–its time to shine: By celebrating 15 years of existence, the league gets to simultaneously advertise its product as well as remind viewers that this league is no longer an experiment. Love it or hate it, the WNBA appears to be here to stay. The human aspect of sports is really what captivates people, and the inclusion of fan voting on the top 30 WNBA players of all time seems a great place to start.
Bicycling Magazine says that of the 200-plus riders who will take place in this year's Tour de France, Chris Horner and Levi Leipheimer, two Americans, are some of the most worthy riders to watch. Perhaps America will once again have riders come from seemingly out of nowhere to challenge for the yellow jersey, enabling us to focus on the sport and the will of those who participate.
The Women's World Cup, taking place in Germany, presents a similar opportunity for the American women to take on the shadow that's been hanging over their program–in this case, for the last twelve years. In 1999, Brandi Chastain sealed a victory for America with her iconic penalty kick and celebration, but Team USA has been mired in mediocrity since then. The U.S. is ranked first in the world currently but needs to perform in order to maintain the enthusiasm that is beginning to dwindle.
So while the millionaires of the NBA and NFL fight with their billionaire owners, take some time in this traditionally dark period to try to get back to the great storylines that make us truly care about sports.
Who would have thought when this thing began, America would care even after the United States was eliminated. Apparently, soccer took hold here, and the World Cup concluded on Sunday with Spain versus the Netherlands.
Most of match was a parade of yellow cards and physical play, and Spain had most of the clean score chances. But 90 minutes was not enough; the fate of both squads was determined in extra time. In the 116th minute, Andres Iniesta kicked in the deciding goal giving Spain its first World Cup Final victory.
The Cup slowly converted this causal styptic to a soccer believer. Don't get me wrong. Touchdowns, dunks, and knockouts will always be first on my list, but there's always room for something new. Only time will tell if Major League Soccer can use the popularity of the World Cup down the road in the U.S.
Finally, the Chosen One made a decision during a live television special on ESPN. Picking Miami over Cleveland turned LeBron James from King to villain in a matter of seconds.
Through this entire process, James put his ego on full display. He’s ignored the Cavaliers and promised multiple titles for the Heat. Its unknown whether the self-proclaimed greatest trio in NBA history will produce a dynasty or even a profit for the organization.
One thing is for certain: The Heat took all the pressure off the defending champion L.A Lakers and painted a big bullseye on their own back instead.
It's no easy trick to write about the World Cup soccer tournament while it's happening. When you're not watching one of the 64 games, you're busy bantering about missed calls and poor coaching decisions, or you're emotionally spent from two hours of shouting at tiny men bopping a ball around your television screen.
As the 2010 World Cup builds toward its finale, one fact has stood head and shoulders above the rest: Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) must institute some kind of goal-line technology (if not instant replay) and/or referee accountability. This obviously means different things to different sports in America—challenges from a coach in football, reviewing whether a ball is fair or foul in baseball, the aforementioned goal-line technology in hockey, and out-of-bounds calls in basketball —and it’s hard to predict how it would ultimately occur in soccer. The need, however, is not difficult to see.
This is far from a homer issue, as Team USA, viciously robbed of two separate goals in two separate games, ultimately won their group in the first stage of World Cup play. Those goals, amazingly, turned out to be superfluous. However, in the Round of 16, Team USA was one of the teams that wasn’t a victim of poor officiating changing the course of those games and, perhaps, the rest of the Tournament. (Brazil dominated Chile and Paraguay defeated Japan on penalty kicks, in the only real snoozers of the Round of 16.) England lost its match 4-1, but lost a goal that would have made the game 2-2 and could have affected momentum. On the other hand, Argentina’s first goal over Mexico was scored by Carlos Tevez, who clearly appeared to be offside. With these mistakes being made in crystal-clear HD and being analyzed over and over on ESPN, it might seem as though FIFA has no choice but to revisit these issues. But Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA, made it clear that the only thing that would be discussed in the aftermath of the World Cup would be goal-line technology. This is a good start, but it’s not good enough.
The bottom line is that, as long as the world is watching, as long as soccer is the most popular sport in the world, there will be a need for change. FIFA can start with the promised look at goal-line tech, but there needs to be more transparency in the officiating process, and some kind of checks-and-balances in place for blatant rule-breaking that isn’t seen in the first place.
The United States men's soccer team won its group in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa thanks to a dramatic 1-0 victory over Algeria. After a scoreless regulation game with plenty of chances on both sides, Landon Donovan was able to find the back of the net in the 91st minute off a rebound from the Algerian goalkeeper resulting from a great run by Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore.
With this win, the team accomplishes one of its goals for this World Cup: advancing beyond the pool play stage. When the group was revealed, many critics said that if the United States did not advance, it would be seen as a failure on our national team's part. Mission accomplished.
This team did not lose a game in pool play. The U.S. overcame two disallowed goals in two consecutive games that have roundly been proclaimed by announcers from multiple countries to have been fair goals. The team went down early in both of the first two games against England and Slovenia and narrowly avoided doing the same in the last game. The players continued to fight when other teams would have given up and when other teams, historically, have done so.
With this victory, the USA finishes pool play with five points, the same total as England. However, because of the goal differential, Team USA wins the group. This is the first time our team has won the group since 1930, when the first World Cup took place. The 1930 World Cup was also Team USA's best finish, when we captured third place. Worth noting, though, is that only 13 teams competed in that World Cup, as opposed to the 32 that compete in the modern tournament.
Team USA now awaits the runner-up from Group D, which could be either Ghana, Germany, Australia or Serbia.