Ordinarily I struggle to come up with three solid topics that we haven’t otherwise covered that week for Free Kicks. However, for a week in late June there are certainly enough stories to go around. Why Thursday Edition? Windsor is "working" apparently, but he will be back tomorrow. In the meantime, let’s line up for the kick…
Soccer on Free Kicks?!
I know, I was surprised too when I came up with my list of Free Kicks (it just seemed so… logical), but the U.S. defeat of Spain on Wednesday afternoon is simply too stunning to be omitted. I don’t know if the Spanish simply underestimated a team that had squeaked into the semifinals on little more than a technicality, their only win in the Confederations Cup coming against unimpressive Egypt. Regardless, the U.S. team rose to the occasion by scoring twice on a team that had not allowed a single goal in this tournament and was ranked 1st in the world with the longest win streak in history at 15 matches. This win won’t make soccer relevant in the United States- this team could go on to win the World Cup and I don’t think it would make soccer viable in the long run. But between Olympics when we are looking for something to wave our collective flags at, it’d be wise to remember that on the world stage of soccer, the United States is the underdog- it is an unusual role for this country, and perhaps it is nice to relish it now and then.
Uehara Can’t Take the Heat
Literally. It appears as though Koji Uehara asked out of his last start after 76 pitches in the 6th due to fatigue, and reports indicate that he has had an ongoing problem dealing with the heat of pitching outside in June. He is used to the temperature-controlled stadiums in Japan, and I understand that, but you’d think he would have thought about the impact of pitching in 80 degree weather before he came here. There is a bit of a push to move Koji to the bullpen and bring David Hernandez back into the rotation, and from a baseball perspective I get it. You can use Koji as a long reliever and open the door for a pitcher who was effective in his short stint in the majors. However, you also won’t get Koji the rest between outings he is accustomed to- he will be pitching every 3 days or so, which won’t do much to relieve his elbow fatigue even if it is only for a couple innings. Additionally, Uehara has never been a relief pitcher, and with his esteemed career and exceptional history in Japan it is unclear how he would react to the move; whether he would perceive it as a demotion and react as such. When dealing with a player like Koji, you need to be more delicate than with a journeyman. Dave Trembley and Rick Kranitz ought to sit down with him and ask him what is best for his body right now. If he wants to stay in the rotation, ask him whether he can go every 6th day (as the O’s have been giving him). If he can’t, then you can move him to the bullpen. At 34 years old, Uehara knows his body- let him decide what it can handle at this point.
Which trade was better- Jefferson or Shaq?
With the draft almost upon us, there has already been significant readjustment of the NBA landscape. LeBron James got his supposed answer for Dwight Howard in Shaquille O’Neal, and the aging Spurs got younger (and deeper) with the acquisition of Richard Jefferson just a year after Jefferson was traded to the Bucks. I am sure the Shaq trade will get more attention, but as much as I like Shaq I can’t endorse the move from the Cav’s side. When Shaq was experiencing a renaissance in Phoenix the team still wasn’t winning, and his presence created friction underneath the basket between him and Amare Stoudemire. The Suns were simply unable to play their game when having to force the ball down low to O’Neal, who needs a lot more touches to get the production he used to. In a fast-paced offense like Phoenix’s, the slow-footed Shaq just didn’t fit, no matter who good his numbers were. In Cleveland, LeBron will have to contend with Shaq wanting his touches, not to mention his ego and overwhelming presence in the locker room. Secondly, how exactly is Shaq an answer to Dwight Howard at this point in his career? Last year, after calling out the young center and his coach, O’Neal went on to embarrass himself against the Defensive Player of the Year, flopping to draw fouls while unable to get his easy lay-ups. The Cavs had big problems against the Magic, but Shaq won’t fix them.
As for Richard Jefferson, the Spurs got a versatile player who can spell Manu Ginobili or any other of the Spurs aging stars (except perhaps Tim Duncan), and could have the same effect that Roger Mason did in infusing some younger legs (and for San Antonio, 28 year-old Mason is a lot younger) into that lineup. Additionally, they will likely be able to get back at least one of the three players they sent to Milwaukee if they are bought out in this transparent salary slashing move. Here I thought Milwaukee had a nice young nucleus to work with, and instead they are dumping talent before they even get started. Is the hope of 2010 free agents really worth the possibility of mortgaging one’s future? I don’t know what the Bucks are doing, but I know what the Spurs are doing- gearing up for another title run with a much better chance of winning the West.