Day 186: U.S. 5, Japan 2

USA! USA!

USA! USA!

The first 16 minutes of today’s World Cup final was the reason why soccer is called The Beautiful Game: four goals for the Americans, a hat trick for Carli Lloyd (topped off with an incredible strike from midfield), and the team’s third World Cup title.

It was stunning, unbelievable, and awesome.

Not sure what else I can say about watching my country win the most prestigious futbol tournament in the world. I’ll just end with my favorite hashtag during international play: #OneNationOneTeam

Day 185: Fourth of July

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I look forward to a lot of things on the Fourth of July: hanging out with my family, eating lots of great food, and watching fireworks.

This year was more of the same and we also got to watch the Dodgers beat the Mets on television. To celebrate the win, I stuffed myself with a third plate of food (tri-tip, pork chops, baby back ribs, rib eye, potato salad, macaroni salad, BBQ beans, and pancit).

I would’ve done the same if we’d loss.

Pictured above: my wife’s annual edible flag.

Day 184: UFC Fight Pass

UFC: Jones vs Gustafsson

UFC: Jones vs Gustafsson

I took advantage of one free month of UFC Fight Pass, thanks to a Chromecast offer. Much to my wife’s dismay, the last 30 days have been filled with mixed martial arts fights from the UFC Library, which also contains fights from Pride, Strikeforce, Affliction, and a few others. I didn’t get through all of the fights in a month, but I was able to watch a few dozen matches, from the legendary Royce Gracie to the just-upended Cain Velasquez. I watched in horror again as Anderson Silva snapped his leg against Chris Weidman, I was thrilled again by the Jon Jones vs Alexander Gustafsson war, and I cheered again any time Mark Munoz stepped into the Octagon.

The best part of having access to all of these fights was seeing how the sport has evolved. Gracie was the pioneer, of course, bringing Brazilian jujitsu to the forefront of mixed martial arts and the UFC. What’s great, though, is that fighters today are so much better than they were 20 years ago. It truly is mixed martial arts now, as those with varied skill sets thrive, while the single-discipline practitioners find themselves left behind. Remember when Lyoto Machida and his karate background was going to make a long run at the top? He defended his belt exactly one time before losing it to Shogun.

Of course, even the best fighters eventually taste defeat. The unbeatable Silva finally met his kryptonite in Weidman. Injuries proved to be Velasquez’s worst enemy, while Jones’ indiscretions have been his. The fact that the best are fighting the best, though, is why I love the UFC. It’s the most entertaining combat sport today. While boxing won’t ever go away entirely, the promoters have ruined what was once a great sport. If Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather were in the UFC, we would’ve seen them fight in their primes, not five years later.

While I didn’t see any reason to subscribe after the free month, hardcore fight fans could do some major MMA binge-watching with the Fight Pass.

Day 183: Fireworks

Fireworks

Fireworks

I miss living in a city where fireworks are legal. I understand why they’re illegal in most places nowadays; people can be idiots, especially when fireworks and alcohol are involved.

I remember the days of going to the local fireworks stand, peering through the mesh cage and picking out individual fireworks to be bagged up for the Fourth of July. I loved all of the bright colors on the packaging; those fireworks stands sure knew how to market their product to us kids.

The Piccolo Petes and the Ground Bloom Flowers were my favorites; the volume of the Petes and the action of the Flowers couldn’t be matched by any other firework. The pinwheel-like fireworks were always a treat as well, as long as the adults could find something to nail them on. We kids weren’t interested in the setup. Just give us the show.

If we were lucky and our parents had enough money, we’d buy one of the pre-packaged boxes of fireworks that offered more bang for your buck. There would always be the great big cones that launched multi-colored waves of sparks high into the July evening. There would also be a few boxes of the “snakes,” those growing ashes of mess that me and my brothers called duds. We spelled it B-O-R-I-N-G.

Once in a while someone would score some real fireworks, the illegal ones from Chinatown: firecrackers and bottle rockets. These didn’t have the flair of the legal fireworks, but they had that element of danger to them, whether it was a loud bang or a towering shot toward the moon.

I miss fireworks in the backyard, but during Independence Day my family is all about barbecuing, lounging at the pool, and watching the city-sponsored fireworks from the comfort of the backyard. No setup, just a show.

Day 182: Carl Crawford

Dodgers' Carl Crawford DH for the Quakes

Dodgers’ Carl Crawford DH for the Quakes

The last time I caught a Dodger doing rehab with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes was when Andre Either played a few games before going back to the big leagues. Last night I met some local Yelpers for our third Unofficial Yelp Event at the Epicenter (technically Loan Mart Field). It was Recycle Tuesday, so fans who brought 10 CRV cans and/or bottles received a free seat at the game. Spending a summer night at the ballpark is something I love to do, so being able to do so for free (while helping the environment) was a real treat.

The five of us Yelpers were treated to a Quakes blowout, as they took it to the visiting High Desert Mavericks early and often, putting up 6 runs in a few innings. The Dodgers’ Carl Crawford was DHing for the Quakes and while he went 0-for-3, he did have the most important RBI of the game. This season Quakes fans’ lucky number is seven; when the team scores seven runs, everybody gets a coupon for two free tacos at Jack in the Box. When Crawford grounded out while driving in that seventh run, it was one of the biggest cheers of the night.

Day 181: U.S. 2, Germany 0

Carli Lloyd

Carli Lloyd

In a game they were not expected to win, the U.S. played their hearts out and upset the No. 1 team in the world tonight. We watched with our local chapter of the American Outlaws and although the crowd is louder for the men’s team, there was a lot of vocal support for the women’s team. Chants of U-S-A were sprinkled throughout the contest and after the U.S. took the lead, the “I Believe That We Will Win” chant rang throughout the bar.

The semifinal against Germany was billed as the greatest game in women’s soccer, featuring the top two teams in the world and ranked the highest by the Women’s Soccer Power Index. It was the precise attack of the Germans versus the impenetrable defensive wall of the Americans.

This is what I love about The Beautiful Game: the ebbs and flows, the highs and lows. I love how all of the details add up, from a player’s subtle move to the extra pass that leads to a shot on goal. I was so fired up after the first half, in which Team USA outplayed the Germans: the defense was solid again and the offense was generating enough chances that a second-half score seemed inevitable.

The good feeling quickly soured as the second half began and the Germans took their efforts to the next level. I was down in the dumps when Julie Johnston was carded, giving Germany a penalty kick. Johnston had played brilliantly throughout the tournament and for her to make such a crucial mistake seemed like a cruel gesture from the soccer gods.

Then something unbelievable happened: Celia Sasic pulled her penalty kick wide. The roar of our crowd was one of disbelief. Could the Americans take advantage of their new lease on life?

They did. A controversial foul (it looked like Alex Morgan was taken down outside of the box) led to a penalty kick that was converted by Carli Lloyd, then minutes later Lloyd set up substitute Kelley O’Hara for the insurance goal.

From depression to elation in a matter of minutes. I love this game.

Day 180: No Offseason

Fantasy Football Is Almost Here

Fantasy Football Is Almost Here

Even with futbol slowly overtaking my love of football, there is still no sport better suited for the fantasy game than the good ol’ NFL (sorry, old-time baseball rotisserie geeks; weekly matchups are 100 times better than accumulating stats over a season). Just as the sports media like to say that there is no offseason in the NFL anymore, the same applies to fantasy football. Player news, injury updates, team breakdowns, and every bit of football minutia is now available via the Internet 24/7/365.

Matthew Berry is a legend in the fantasy football community. He’s known for his ESPN column and he appears on various fantasy football shows and podcasts. He’s also the author of my favorite book on the game, Fantasy Life: The Outrageous, Uplifting, and Heartbreaking World of Fantasy Sports from the Guy Who’s Lived It (my review here).

So, here we are, still in June, and Berry published his first fantasy football column of the year (the first NFL game is September 10th). He’s done this every year for the past decade and it’s a great way for us fantasy geeks to officially begin our offseason planning. It’s a compilation of stats from the previous season, done in a way that will have any fantasy football owner second-guessing themselves on any player or team. Once the NFL news cycle heats up with the first preseason games, we’ll be able to throw away all of the previews, stats, and Berry’s column, in favor of updated previews, stats, and columns.

Once the season is over, though, we’ll all go through the old news and reports we’ve read, trying to find that one tidbit that, depending on our success or failure, confirms that “I knew I should’ve listened to Berry!” or “I can’t believe I listened to Berry!” And before you know it, it’ll be next June and we’ll realize there’s no fantasy football offseason anymore.

Day 179: The Jolly Oyster

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I impressed my wife today by showing off my samurai-like oyster-shucking skills. We spent a wonderful day in Ventura at the laid-back The Jolly Oyster, a beachside stand that serves up fresh oysters, clams, and crab claws. Unfortunately, they were out of crab claws, so we stuffed ourselves with raw oysters (shucked them ourselves!) and steamed Manila clams (we had the Jolly Oyster’s kitchen take  care of that).

We ate, we laughed, we played oversized chess and checkers, we ate more, and we walked on the beach. It was one of those perfect summer Sunday afternoons that you don’t want to end, with good food, good music, and good times with the one person in the world who I’d want to be with for a day like this.

Day 178: Malala Yousafzai

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My inspiration for today: Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai speaking in Santa Barbara. After showing the trailer for the documentary about her that premieres this Fall, she spoke, then had a Q&A session. She was engaging, funny, and wise beyond her years.

Day 177: One Nation, One Team

Carli Lloyd with the winner (from latimes.com)

Carli Lloyd with the winner (from latimes.com)

The slogan for the U.S. soccer team (One Nation, One Team) couldn’t be any more appropriate today. Hours after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling, the women’s national team played its quarterfinal game against China. Maybe it was just me, but the national anthem before the game seemed just a bit louder and more passionate. And the Americans’ effort on the pitch matched the anthem.

The first half was utter dominance by the U.S.; even though the offense still isn’t firing on all cylinders, the effort and hustle was evident on every play. Amy Rodriguez and Kelley O’Hara were excellent as they took over for the suspended Megan Rapinoe and Lauren Holiday. The offensive attack was more dynamic and it seemed like every time China had the ball, American players were swarming all over them.

My favorite player of the tournament has been Julie Johnston, who fed a perfect ball to Carli Lloyd for the winning header. Johnston has owned her area of the field, playing more physically and precisely against whomever lines up against her. It’s part of the reason why the Americans haven’t allowed a goal in what seems like months.

It still feels like the U.S. offense should be scoring more goals, but with the defense and effort they gave tonight, it’s shaping up to be a classic against Germany. As Coach Jimmy V said decades ago about the college basketball tourney: “Survive and advance.”