Well I understand why Harry Kewell was so mad he was screaming at the ref long after the Australia-Brazil game ended back on Sunday (they also had the dubious benefit of enjoying the refereeing of Markus Merk). The penalty call against the US was so dubious that even the Argentinians are saying that it was a dive:
"el árbitro alemán Markus Merk –de floja tarea- cobró un inexistente penal de Oguchi Onyewu sobre Razak Pimpong. Saltaron a disputar la pelota, el delantero africano cayó espectacularmente y el juez compró."
The German ref Merk - of lazy work - called a nonexistent penaly on Gooch on PingPong. They jumped to dispute the ball and the African forward fell spectacularly and the ref bought it.
Let me preface this entry by saying that, although I'm not always the biggest fan of contemporary architecture, I'm not exactly Kunstler, either (I prefer to think that I fall somewhere around where Witold Rybczynski, of my favorite writers on architecture and the city does). So when I tell you that I think Frank Gehry's big new project in Brooklyn (which he has referred to, rather aptly, as his "ego trip") is the architectural equivalent of shock and awe, I hope you will understand that its not Gehry's style (as a whole) that I object to (in fact, I rather like some of his work, which I find considerably less contrived than some of the other starchitects, like Calatrava). Rather, it is the fact that he has wholly ignored the factors of scale and presentation at street level with the proposal. These two pictures from an excellent Slate sideshow (and article) on the topic pretty much tell the whole story:
As a side note, I had been meaning to comment over on Ryan's post "New Urban Environs", but never got around to it (world cup and all that). I will stop and take this moment to say that, fake and irritating as the New-Urbanist-lite "lifestyle centers" and "shopping villages" are, at least they are constructed at a scale that resembles that of human activity (this, I believe, is exactly what Ryan said, so don't think I'm disagreeing with him on this point). On the other hand, you may note that my reasons for disliking Gehry's project are little more than expressions of aesthetic preferences at the moment (though I do believe I could expand upon them to explain why these are preferences that make substantive differences). The previous sentence will seem entirely out of context if you do not read Ryan's post.
(Though maybe they should have tried using the magic water bottle on Gooch, because they sure didn't find anything else that worked on him)
With the first full week (Friday to Friday) of World Cup action nearly over, I feel compelled to bring you my list of superlatives, beginning with:
Top Five Games You Should Be Sorry You Missed If You Missed Them (in reverse order):
5) Germany 4 Costa Rica 2
Any game featuring two stunning golazos belongs here (unless it is a tremendous and tremendously dull 6-0 demolition accomplished by Argentina; that game featured so many golazos they got boring). Phillip Lahm's right-footed strike to open the scoring was wonderfully placed, as was the rocket that Torsten "Handball" Frings finished the game off with. The game probably shouldn't have been as entertaining as it was, but the Germans were excruiatingly poor at executing the offsides trap, and Paolo made them pay.
4) Sweden 1 Paraguay 0
I really, really enjoy watching the Swedes play. Ibrahamovic is wonderful, full of those little nearly-impossible to execute plays that break games open, even if Sweden has struggled to find the net so far. One of the great things in soccer is a game that is 0-0 until the very end of the game, particularly when it is capped off by a wonderful strike like Ljungberg's perfectly placed header that put Paraguay out of the world cup. Putting the Paraguay out of the world cup, by the way, was a wonderful service done to fair play everywhere. Something about that little space between Argentina and Brazil makes 'em real dirty (see Uruguay for confirmation; let us all pause to thank Australia for sparing us the misery of seeing the dirty and diving for three games).
3) Argentina 2 Ivory Coast 1
Argentina is looking like the team of the tournament so far, and I hate to admit that, because I despise the Argentinian team. I think its that, not only are they arrogant, they have the talent to back it up, and the only thing worse than an arrogant loser is an arrogant winner. Regardless, Didier Drogba and the Ivory Coast came to play against a very good team and were unlucky to not come away with at least a point.
2) Holland 2 Ivory Coast 1
Someone should let the Ivory Coast know that going down two before half time before turning it up and dominating a game isn't the best way to win games. But it certainly makes for exciting games. They were only a goal post away from at least one point in this one as well.
1) Australia 3 Japan 1
Goals in the 84th, 89th, and 90th minutes. That's the way to keep it exciting, and the Aussies certainly did, breaking down a quality, well-organized Japanese side in the last six minutes of the game to put at least one foot in the second round. I have to say this was probably the most underrated group in the tournament -- Croatia looked fantastic in losing 1-0 to the holders Brazil, and the Japanese certainly won't roll over and play dead. Expect the fight for second place to be rough and probably go to either Australia or Japan (if one of them can take points from Brazil).
Honorable Mention in the Above Category:
Trinidad and Tobago 0 Sweden 0 - Soccer haters may think a 0-0 tie is the height of boredom, but fans know that a well-played 0-0 is far more interesting than a 4-0 or 6-0 blowout. If you want proof that excitement does not require goals, look no further than this match, in which the underdog Soca Warriors survived a relatively early red card to steal a valuable point. Other than seeing the US turn things around to beat Italy and/or Ghana, nothing would make me happier than seeing Trinidad beat Paraguay by enough goals to sneak past Sweden into the second round.
Surprisingly Good Team of the Tournament So Far:
Ecuador - definitely looking forward to their match with Germany on Tuesday; they looked excellent taking apart Poland in their first match, and by all reports were equally good against Costa Rica (though that's one of the few games I've missed so far). I wouldn't be surprised at all to see them beat Germany and claim first in the group (or tie and take it on goal differential).
Player I would Most Like to Have Play for the US So Far Who I had Not Heard of Before the Tournament:
Christian Wilhelmsson (Sweden) - (1) He has a really awesome mullet with a sweet rat tail hanging out of the back. (2) In addition to providing bad soccer hair (which the US is seriously lacking), he looked very dangerous, both on the ball and off the ball, until he was subbed out near the end of Sweden-Paraguay. Long-range shooting is something the US has traditionally lacked. (3) He has a wild Viking look in his eyes whenever he misses a shot. The US really needs some wild Viking.
And finally, some quickies --
Oldest Team Playing Like They're Not that Old - Czech Republic
Best Team You Knew Would Be Good and, Yes, They Are - Argentina
Team Most Unlucky Not to Have a Point (Even if Their Star Striker is Diving Cheat) - Ivory Coast
Slate has a humorous article from Dave Eggers on the topic of the moment, soccer. (He's the author of the supposedly ironically titled "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius", which I suspect of not actually being ironically titled, despite the fact that the only thing staggering about it is that it manages to not end for about three hundred pages after the couple of ideas Dave had are completely played out.) Anyways, the article is an excerpt from The Thinking Fan's Guide to the World Cup, an anthology that came out sometime recently. Excerpt:
"American sports are, for better or worse, built upon transparency, or the appearance of transparency, and on the grind-it-out work ethic. This is why the most popular soccer player in American history is Sylvester Stallone."
You've probably already seen this, but just in case you haven't:
What's better than a bicycle? Soccer. Soccer is definitely better than a bicycle. I think I'm getting nervous about the World Cup. The only sporting event in the world that makes me nervous is a Nats game (look, we were calling them Nats long before the other Nats came around), and its looking like its going to be a tough first round for the US -- first the Czechs, then Italy, and finally Ghana. Both the Czechs and Italy should beat us on paper, but, as Sepp Herberger said "The game is ninety minutes" and "the ball is round".
In preparation for the weeks I will spend camped in front of televisions in various locations, Jess and I went to a pair of DC United games this past week. United is great. The best team in MLS (when we're on, we beat you 5-1; when we're off, we beat you 1-0; we get the three points either way) has the best fans, which makes for the best atmosphere in MLS. RFK stadium is noisy with 11,000 (unlike during the baseball game I went to there, which reminded me of a masoleum) and really loud with 22,000. Yeah, its not Anfield or Old Trafford, but if you want a loud soccer crowd in the US, there are really only a couple places to go, so I'll take what I can get.
I think the reason I like soccer so much is because it is an "underdog" sport in the US (though obviously not so much in the rest of the world). Its one of the few sports in which the US has a national team that really isn't a top team (don't believe the "#5" hype), yet we still have a team that we can be proud of. I actually think this article from the Guardian ("Get ready to dislike America" -- as if that would take a lot of effort for most Guardian readers) does a great job of explaining what's so great about US soccer.
After a fun-filled day of playing with the bicycle, I have learned that:
1. A 17-inch frame is just too small for my long, lean legs
2. Don't trust the PSI gauge on your pump, because
3. If you overfill an innertube, it can explode. This will produce a loud sound and will startle anyone who happens to be on the sidewalk near your bike. A good way to tell that the tire is overfilled is to look up from the PSI gauge every now and then while filling the tire; if the tire has a lump on it that makes it look like a constrictor that's just swallowed a good-sized pet, then it is probably overfilled. The upshot of all this is that I learned that the rest of the tire will probably not explode in this situation, which makes it a considerably safer situation.
4. The derailers on this bike are really, really messed up.
5. The brakes on this bike need adjustment.
On the positive side, I did manage to ride it up past National and back, so it could be worse. I think it may have to spend some time in the bike shop before I really trust it, though; I wish I was confident in my ability to adjust the derailers and the brakes, but I'm not. This is unfortunate, because I really don't want to spend money on a bike that is too small.
As some may know, I had my bike stolen from me while I was at school earlier this spring, which was quite traumatic for me because I had only ridden that shiny thing three or four times. My search for a (cheap) replacement has been going on since then, including a trip to some random guy's house (found via craigslist) to pick up a bike he was going to throw out (which after some cleaning, I can see why he was going to throw out). I still haven't ridden that one, because the rear wheel is so ridiculously beat up that it can't possibly be ridden (I don't know if truing will save it or not, since I haven't taken it to the bike shop yet).
The good news is that I then found out that an old Blackwatch RA (who now goes to my father's church) had a bike he was going to get rid of. The folks picked it up, I drove down to Georgia for an unrelated reason, and here I am with this new bike. It looked alright. Solid, but quite light (aluminum?). Seems to be rideable as-is (which I will test today). The really pleasant surprise, though, is that in looking up the bike on the internet it turns out that its actually a quite decent entry level bike, actually a bit more expensive than the one I had stolen. I had assumed that, because I'd never heard of the company (Parkpre), that it must be a Wal-Mart-esque bike (since it clearly wasn't a ridiculously nice bike from an exotic company), but it turns it that its just a bike from a good manufacturer that has stopped manufacturing bikes (well, they still build frames, but that's it in the US -- I think you can still get them overseas). That's my happy story for the day.
My "new" Parkpre Sport Limited (I think its 2001 because that's the only year I can find Sport Limiteds from, but it could be that its a different year; I would have guessed its age at closer to 8-9 years):
Now this is really painful...