Kick Off Your Holiday Weekend with Salomé Onyewu

We haven’t had any gratuitous T&A up at BP since the World Cup draw way back in December, so let’s put a stop to that ignominious run with a few shots of U.S. and AC Milan centerback Oguchi Onyewu’s better half, Salomé.

The big defender’s form and fitness for South Africa 2010 may be in doubt, but one thing is certain, his girl is off the meter.

This next one is, according to Google image search, also Salomé, but we’re not sure it’s the same person. We leave it up to you to determine; enjoy that task, and the weekend.

Backpost Reader Tabs World Cup’s Worst Uniforms

Rakish, debonair reader Old27 has found the worst-looking kit at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and, the honor goes to [opens envelope] … Australia!

Let’s have a look:

Yep, that’s pretty bad. Looks like a late-1980s Midwestern U.S. high school jersey.

In the Oz designers’ defense, though, that brutal green-and-yellow color scheme handcuffs you right out of the gate. Maybe they did better with the away shirt:

Oof. No. Wow. They dropped the garish color scheme, yet this one is even worse in its mustard-y beige awfulness. Damn.

This prompted a little research at BP HQ, and based on our findings, we are forced to conclude that the Australians have never gotten a uniform right, in any sport, ever.

Nothing at all against the fine people of Australia, but sheesh, take a look:

Cricket, 2010:

Those are pajamas. Ugly ones, too.

Rugby League, 2008:

We personally would not tell this particular fella that his kit looks like s***, but…his kit looks like s***.

Soccer, 1990:

This one comes from Alex, who calls it the Socceroos “Spew” strip. And we thought the U.S. ‘denim’ shirt from 1994 was bad.

Women’s basketball, 2008:

Spandex? Check. One piece? Check. Awkard, ugly? Check, check.

We’re not sure how to account for this, but hey, if you happen to be a recent graduate of Rhode Island School of Design, the Pratt Institute, or Parsons, and you’re having trouble landing a job in these economic times, we know of a prime opportunity-area for your skill set. Get thee to Australia. You’d be doing us all a favor.

Dempsey Fires Back at Harkes Criticism—One Year Later

Remember when ESPN commentator and former U.S. national teamer John Harkes criticized Clint Dempsey during last summer’s Confederations Cup? Harkes said Deuce was not working hard, was being careless with the ball and needed to be replaced on the field.

Well, Dempsey filed that one away, and yesterday, nearly a full year after the fact, he corralled SI’s Grant Wahl and returned fire, sawed-off shotgun style:

“He criticized me in [Confederations Cup] for looking tired and said I should be benched, but I was top three in distance covered in the whole tournament,” Dempsey told me. “It’s funny that he criticized me so much and yet I feel like I’ve done more in my international career than he has. Just compare our national-team stats. I’ve also scored in a World Cup, scored three goals in Confederations Cup, and got the Bronze Ball for third-best player in the whole tournament. Look at what he’s done. I’m 27 and still have a lot of games left in me and he’s finished.”

Wahl has Harkes’s (classy) response, as well as a comparison of the two players’ careers. Worth a read.

Jose Mourinho Goes One-on-One with Steve Nash

Loyal Backpost reader and budding politician the Colorado Keeper pointed this out to us when it broke a few weeks back, but, because the Backpost Intern is on post-grad holiday in Iceland, and our head is like a sieve, we are just getting to it now—even though we’ve done two Jose Mourinho posts in the last few days. Ha. Ha-ha. Sigh.

No worries—better late than never, because this is a good one:

After watching Inter Milan hold on with 10 men to beat Barcelona in the Champions League semifinals, two-time NBA MVP and avid soccer fan Steve Nash posted the following to his Twitter account:

“The eleven to reach the final for Inter are: Butt, Yashin, Banks, Zoff, Maier, Tomaszewski, Zubizarreta, Schmeichel Clemens, Higuita, Chilavert.’’

Oh, snap! But wait, no Friedel or Keller, or your countryman, Onstad?

So, a funny tweet (someone needs to come up with a better word for that) from a high-profile athlete criticizing Inter’s defensive style in that semi. Hey, they were down to ten men—against Barcelona—what did you expect, Steve? But we digress. This joke would be shared among Nash’s Twitter followers that got it, and that’d be the end of it, right?

Not when the Special One is involved. Jose got wind of Nash’s comment, and felt the need to address it, in an interview with the Times of London:

When I read comments by many real football people they understood how well we played that game and how much credit the players deserve. When I read some comments from some, I don’t want to say stupid people . . . For example, I read a comment from one of the best basketball players in the NBA, Steve Nash. He was saying that Inter could play that game with 10 goalkeepers. Fortunately, he plays basketball. He understands nothing about football.”

Nash revisited the matter on Twitter on May 16, writing,

“Oops I must’ve hit a nerve. Don’t worry Jose Mourinho I’ll bring you a case of wine to Madrid next season and we can make up!”

The feud appeared to wrap up amicably on May 20, when Mourinho offered an olive branch at a Champions League press conference:

”It is nothing. I hear he is a good man. There is no problem. I didn’t like what he said, but he is a great player and he can have his opinion.”

(Next up: Bill Belichik takes time out to address Didier Drogba’s critique of the Patriots’ 3-4 defense.)

Tip of the hat to the CO Keeper, and now:

A Bonus Steve Nash Story:

This one involves a friend of Backpost–let’s call him Dave–who is not the biggest sports fan in the world, as you’ll soon see.

You may know that Steve Nash spends his summers in New York City, where he plays a lot of pickup and rec-league soccer (the Suns are apparently okay with this).

There is a regular pickup soccer game at the East River Park (ERP) in lower Manhattan most summer nights and weekend afternoons. Dave lives in the neighborhood, and often plays there.

A few summers ago, right after Nash won his second straight NBA MVP trophy, Dave is playing at ERP, and there’s a guy in the game with longish, light brown hair who Dave says exudes a real surfer vibe. He’s also a very good player, so Dave keeps getting him the ball.

He–the guy–does stay out of the fray a bit, never challenging for 50-50 balls etc., but when he gets the ball at his feet, he’s very good, so Dave keeps knocking it to him. Halfway through, they’re taking a break and Dave goes up to him:

“Hey, you’re a good player. What’s your name?”

“Thanks. I’m Steve.”

“Hey Steve, I’m David. Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you.”

The game resumes, and after a little while, Dave notices that a bunch of little kids from the neighborhood have gathered to watch the game, all of them pointing at “Steve.” At the end of the game, the kids swarm around “Steve,” asking for his autograph, and getting their picture taken with him.

Dave walks up—and this is a direct quote—and says, “Wow, I’ve never played so well here that kids wanted their picture taken with me! What was your name again? Sorry.”

“Steve.”

“Alright, Steve. Great playing with you.”

And off goes Dave on his bicycle, only mildly curious as to why all the kids from the neighborhood are still clamoring for a picture with this Steve fellow.

Yeah, that was Steve Nash, and Dave had just played an hour of pickup soccer with the reigning NBA MVP—without knowing a thing about it.

Champions League Final on Fox: Tracking Back

The fact that this past weekend’s Champions League final was televised on Fox—not Fox Soccer Channel, but regular network-TV Fox, home of Bart Simpson—at 2:30 on a Saturday afternoon, is something of a landmark moment for soccer in the U.S.

We may have missed it (we’re out of it like that), but we haven’t seen this much noted anywhere. At the opening of the telecast, the game was touted at the lead of a promo heralding Fox’s upcoming broadcasts of the MLB All-Star Game, the World Series, Super Bowl XLV (that’s 45, right?) and the Daytona 500. That’s elite company, on the U.S. sports-broadcasting landscape.

It was not so long ago that you had to find a pub with a satellite hookup to watch the Champions League final in the U.S. Now here it was on network TV, in weekend-afternoon prime time, and we were in the studio with Curt (I will mispronounce “Bayern” and half the player names I mention this afternoon) Menefee, Eric Wynalda and Bruce Arena (who has a voice made for print journalism, btw). This was unprecedented stuff.

Then there was Wynalda’s pregame commentary about the all-English refereeing corps for the final. Let’s break it down, Fire Joe Morgan–style (click here and scroll down for FJM goodness):

Menefee asks Wynalda if the fact that the refereeing crew is made up of Englishmen will make a difference.

Wynalda (heartily): I think so.

Easy Eric, you’re plunging headlong into questioning the refs’ ethics here.

Wynalda: I talked Arjen Robben and he said he was happy because he knows them all.

Now you’ve dragged Robben into the potential accusation. Where are you going with this?

Wynalda: I don’t know what that means.

Way to pump the brakes. But you’re still dangling something out there. What’s your next move?

Wynalda: They’ll do a great job.

Ah, just reverse field altogether and cut your losses. Wise move. But you may have set a record for wading into and out of controversy in the space of four sentences.

Anyway, the game itself was a good one. Two well-taken goals by Diego Milito and yet another trophy for the Special One, who’s now poised to go to Real Madrid—and the BBC, starting June 11:

But we have to give it up to Mourinho—his track record is solid gold. Still, the UN Security Council is drafting that policy, as we speak.

Findley! Gomez! Buddle! … Wait, Findley?!

We just made a midday gym run (something that happens with unicorn-like rarity these days) and nearly fell off the treadmill when the ESPN cameras covering the selection of the U.S. World Cup team panned their live shot down from the goalkeepers (the expected three) to the defenders (that Jonny Bornstein is endearingly self-conscious) through the midfielders (no Alejandro Bedoya, huh? No Robbie Rogers, either? hmm) and up to the forwards….

In that group we saw Jozy Altidore (sure), Edson Buddle (good for him), Herculez Gomez (what a story!), and Robbie Findley (wha?), along with a total absence of Brian Ching.

Given the facts that Ching showed very well last night against the Czech Republic while Findley has shown little to nothing in his whopping three appearances for the Nats, and didn’t even play last night, this qualifies as a shocker.

Bradley definitely has a clear idea of how he wants his team to play, so he must have seen elements of Findley’s game that fit into that idea. We just can’t figure out what those elements are. Findley is blessed with breakaway speed; there’s no doubt about that. But he has rarely (never?) put himself in positions to exploit that speed at the international level. He’s not a one-on-one threat, he’s not a target forward, and he’s had one good goal scoring season in MLS—last year, when he hit 12.

His selection over Ching means that the U.S. will go to South Africa without a true target forward. Altidore will have to do in that role. At Hull this past season, Altidore definitely improved his ability to post up and hold the ball with his back to goal, but you wouldn’t call him a true target forward at this point. In a hectic World Cup game, a guy who can possess the ball up top, relieve pressure, and bring others into the play really comes in handy.

This group of forwards also begs the question of where Clint Dempsey will line up. If he’s in midfield, that probably bumps out Stuart Holden, who seems ready for a breakout tournament. If Dempsey will play up top, why choose so many other forwards?

We may have to wait until after the tournament to find out the answers to these questions. Until then, we’ll just have to trust in Bradley’s master plan. Remember, this is the coach who picked the unpopular Conor Casey to start a crucial qualifier at Honduras last October—and got two goals from him en route a qualification-clinching win.

Here’s the group of 23 headed to South Africa:

Goalkeepers (3): Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann

Defenders (7): Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jonathan Spector, Carlos Bocanegra, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Clarence Goodson

Midfielders (9): Landon Donovan, Stuart Holden, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, Jose Francisco Torres, Maurice Edu, Ricardo Clark, DaMarcus Beasley, Benny Feilhaber

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Herculez Gomez, Robbie Findley

Staying home:

Chad Marshall, Heath Pearce, Robbie Rogers, Alejandro Bedoya, Sacha Kljestan, Brian Ching, Eddie Johnson

Czech Republic 4, U.S. 2: Staring at the Inkblot

There are few things like soccer for getting groups of people looking at the same thing and drawing vastly different conclusions. U.S. coach Bob Bradley will name his 23-man World Cup roster two hours from now, and, judging by the wildly divergent emails flooding in to Backpost HQ on the morning after last night’s tuneup in East Hartford, he’s got some very tough calls to make.

One observer said “having both Brian Ching and Herculez Gomez on the field at the same time is like having a peanut butter and peanut butter sandwich,” while another claimed, “Herculez completed his 11th labor last night (after 10 goals in the Mexican League), scoring a goal under immense pressure to perform. His 12th will be at the World Cup.” ESPN commentator Alexi Lalas said it would be “a crime” if Gomez isn’t on the plane to South Africa.

Some said Oguchi Onyewu “is done” and “we can’t risk starting him,” while one claimed “he was sharp when the ball was on the ground, but his timing on headers was just off. He’ll get it back.” A third countered: “Onyewu should play himself into shape by the 2012 Gold Cup.”

There were also split opinions on Steve Cherundolo at right back, Clarence Goodson in the middle and Edson Buddle up top.

Finally, one fan asked, “Is John O’Brien healthy yet?”

Yeah, the World Cup is getting close, and the natives are getting restless.

Here’s our take on the Rorschach test that is a World Cup tuneup—player by player, with predictions on whether they’re in or out for South Africa 2010:

Brad Guzan: Not the best outing for the apparent No. 2 keeper. Didn’t make a single save. In or Out: In, obviously, but that creeping shadow in his rearview is Marcus Hahnemann.

Steve Cherundolo: Beaten a few times defensively, but he kept possession and swing in some decent crosses. In or Out: In.

Oguchi Onyewu: Right before he was beaten in the air for the first Czech goal, he was outjumped in the exact same fashion on the right flank. After the goal, TV cameras captured him mouthing the words, “He came over my back.” No, Gooch, he timed his jump better. He beat you to the ball. You have till June 12 to sort that s*** out. In or Out: In, but starting job in doubt.

Clarence Goodson: Very solid performance—until the end when he was partly to blame for the third and fourth goals. In or Out: In, but we wouldn’t be confident with him starting vs England.

Jonathan Bornstein: He’s got blazing speed in attack, but this was a poor outing for JB. Looked lost. In or Out: In, but the U.S. has problems if he’s the starting left back.

Stuart Holden: Confident, quality performance from Stu. Great ball on the first goal. In or Out: In. And probably starting.

Jose Francisco Torres: Best we’ve seen from him. Always kept possession, even showed some bite this time around. In or Out: In.

Maurice Edu: Excellent in midfield, shaky when moved to central defense (though that may well have been because his absence in midfield created extra pressure on the backline). In or Out: In, and starting with Michael Bradley in central midfield.

DaMarcus Beasley: There was a shocking consensus from BP emailers on Run DMB: all agreed he played well, and we do too. In or Out: In, and should be a useful player off the bench.

Edson Buddle: Did some of the little things well, but never looked super threatening. In or Out: Out, just barely.

Eddie Johnson: Many thought EJ stunk it up, but we disagree: He held possession very well—a problem area for him in the past—and he combined with Buddle and midfielders. In or Out: Out, just barely.

SUBS

Heath Pearce: His errors contributed to the Czech Republic’s second and third goals—and he doesn’t have Bornstein’s speed to bring to the table. In or Out: Out.

Sacha Kljestan: His turnover led to the Czech Republic’s fourth goal, and probably bumped him off the plane to South Africa. In or Out: Out.

Robbie Rogers: Surprisingly effective outing from Rogers. Tested Peter Cech with a rocket from distance and launched knifing runs and crosses in the final third. In or Out: Out. Did well last night, but had too far to go.

Alejandro Bedoya: He only saw 24 minutes of action—we thought he might get the starting nod—but that may be because Bradley didn’t need to see more. In or Out: In. Probably more savvy than Rogers and just as good a dribbler.

Brian Ching: We’re always a bit surprised at the number of Ching-haters out there. He works hard, keeps possession, passes well, and scores the odd goal. He did all of the above last night exccept the scoring part. In or Out: In.

Herculez Gomez: Came in, looked lively, scored a big goal. What more can he do? (Okay, he could have finished his first chance, but he looked dangerous just getting it.) In or Out: In.