Saturday, February 24, 2007

Gavin's 1st Birthday Party!

Gavin doesn't officially turn 1 until Monday but we had a great time Saturday celebrating early with friends and family. It was a full-fledged kid brigade, with our younger guests ranging in age from 3 weeks (little Ben) to 7 years (our niece Anna). We had a great time watching Gavin eat his first cake (he wasn't so sure at first, but warmed up to the taste, as you can see) and enjoy playing with his new toys.

OK, we didn't make the stadium cake (as many of you had predicted), but this Winnie the Pooh creation turned out pretty well, no? Jenny borrowed a special pan her mom used to make her 3rd birthday cake.

We also enjoyed a from-scratch chocolate cake, thanks to a chance viewing of "Martha" at the gym featuring this awesome recipe. It was soooooo good it might become a birthday standard, if Jenny can get past the labor involved in making the frosting.

A shout out to the cooks (us!). Gavin's pre-party nap gave us a chance to roll up our sleeves and whip up some fried telapia tacos, turkey tacos, guacamole and quesadillas. A huge thanks to Jenny's mom and dad for allowing us to hold the party at their house and for all the work they did to clean up afterward when we were too exhausted to do very much.

Thanks to to Mimi and Grandad for making the drive from Colorado and Jenny's sister Heather for braving the snow and traveling from Minneapolis and for taking all of these great photos. And also thanks to everyone who came and made it such a special day for Gavin and for us!!!!!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Numero Uno

It's a day most of us thought would never, never, ever come. Wisconsin is ranked No. 1 in this week's AP Basketball Poll. When I heard the news, I had lots of memories of the days when Bucky still played in the Fieldhouse and my dad used to take me on game days to buy "partially obstructed" seats up in the rafters so we could watch the Badgers play. Sometimes our team surprised us back then -- like the time we beat Michigan at home by a good 20 or so points the same season the Wolverines went to the NCAA Championship Game with the "Fab Five." But mostly it was just about the atmosphere, watching the band and the smell of stale popcorn. Don't get me wrong, I love the comfort of the Kohl Center and the fact that we have a winning team, but the old days were fun, too. I must admit that in the excitement, I bought Gavin a new Bucky T-shirt yesterday and hope we are lucky enough to get tickets to take him to a game someday, win or lose. GO BIG RED!!!

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Make your reservation now...

...for the new World Cup Suite inside the Smith House! We've made over the downstairs office yet again, this time in what we hope will be its most popular incarnation: a guest room!

Our first guests -- Mimi and Grandad -- will arrive in less than a couple weeks for Gavin's birthday celebration. Some features of the room not shown in this photo: cable TV, Don's CD catalog (letters M thru Z) and a convenient location next to the WC. We'd love to see you in Madison this spring or summer, so let us know if you're up for a road trip!

Random thoughts - upon further review...

Well it has been six days since the US-Mexico match-up in Arizona which was won 2-0 by an under strength US squad over a full strength Mexico squad (woot!). Watching “big” games of the teams I follow, and US-Mexico is always big even if it is just a friendly, I always get this weird combination of intense focus, stress, anxiety, and excitement all in one. Last Wednesday was no exception as we continued our recent trend of beating Mexico everywhere but in the Azteca. The nervousness and stress I felt in game gave way to euphoria following Donovan’s extra time game clincher.

The next day when exchanging post game reviews with a fellow Yank I was fairly generous with my ratings and thoughts on the performance of the team overall (though not everyone, is there a right back out there that can step up and perform besides Cherundolo, anyone? Bueller?). I even was able to find praise for the guy I love to hate, Landon Donovan.

Once again, we had showed our regional dominance and left the Mexican team so frustrated that they left the field in a collective sulk. Everyone is happy, things are good, Bob Bradley is doing fine in his “interim” run as manager.

A few days later though the doubts have crept in and I find myself reflecting that the game, despite the score line, was an indicator of problems we will be facing as we prepare for 2010.

Several things occurred to me as I pondered the game and digested various print, internet, and TV media coverage of the game. There are several inescapable facts that emerge and several popular opinions that I find disagreement with.

Fact – the Mexican team outplayed us. They had more of the ball, created more chances, terrorized the right side of our defense, completely disrupted our flow through the midfield, the only thing lacking was the finish. Wynalda was practically having a conniption as they missed chance after chance, proclaiming we were going to get scored on if things did not get switched up.

Popular opinion seems to be that it is OK that we were outplayed because we still “found a way” to win the game. While I agree that it is a hallmark of good teams that they can still win games when not at their best (XL - Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 10), it does not make it “OK” that you did not play well. Just because you suck out runner-runner to take down a pot does not mean you want to be in as a 4-1 dog the next time you get all your money in the middle. Not playing well will eventually catch up with you.

We won the game, however we have a lot of work to do to get better here. Fortunately, we have four years and a lot of player development before the big one in 2010.

Copa America this summer could be a different story though….

Fact – our two goals came on a set piece and a counterattack. We have generally excelled on these two methods for getting our goals in international competition for as long as I have been watching the national team play (1999 - US 1, Trinidad 0). Unfortunately, the world (with some exceptions) has figured that out.

During qualifying for 2006 there were numerous games where teams bunkered in against us forcing us to try to break them down through possession and creativity. This leads to less counterattacks and fewer set pieces earned (since many counters result in fouls or corners). There were games where we struggled mightily against some pretty average competition.

The Czech game in the WC was another level. A good team sits back on us, we cannot break them down, they catch us in transition and wallop us 3-0. Heck, even Morocco came to the states a month earlier and beat us 1-0 using the same formula. The only goal we did score ourselves in the tournament was on a counterattack following a turnover.

We surprised a lot of teams over the last 10 years who assumed we were a weak team that they could attack down the throat and destroy. Teams are adjusting and forcing us to find different ways to get goals. Against weaker teams, we are eventually breaking them down, against better teams we are still learning.

Our win this past week is a thing of the past. Sure, Mexico seems to persist in seeing us as a “weak” footballing nation that they can run over, giving us opportunities to counter them all day long, and that is great. Keep the blinders on, give us the advantage we will take it. Does not help against anyone else though who has their eyes open

As a national team, we have a lot of learning and growth to do in this department. It will not happen overnight, but we need to develop and give first team opportunities to players who can create and break teams down who are playing ten behind the ball.

Opinion – The US was fielding an under strength squad, while Mexico had a full strength team.

The second part was pretty close. They brought a full strength team, however Sanchez chose to leave many of his best players on the bench in favor of the more established “big” names who may be a few years past their prime. They did enter the game in the second half as substitutes, so pretty much full strength.

Under strength US team? Whom, exactly were we missing? It is not as if the guys on the pitch are all back-ups come Gold Cup and Copa America.

Onyewu, check. Arguably our best central defender, left in Newcastle to blend with his new team. Looking at the game though, Conrad was the man of the match, and Bocanegra had a solid game as well. It is not as if we had a huge drop off in that department.

Beasley, check. DeMarcus definitely had a rough WC, however he has recovered nicely and is getting regular play with City. I will grant this one in that a just back from injury, hardly fit Convey was a big drop off from Beasley.

Cherundolo, check, check, check, check, check. This is the big one for me, we appear to have absolutely no cover for Steve at the international level right now.

Anyone else? I know I am leaving someone out, maybe Eddie Lewis, but is there another automatic first team selection out there that was not on this team?

Opinion – Bradley did an outstanding job coaching this game and Gulati should remove his “interim” tag.

He did win the game.
He did use the same tactics that Arena used for years against the Mexican team.
He did leave Dempsey in the game way too long. Clint has a great future in front of him but after traveling halfway around the world to play, the guy was out of gas and it was killing us. Carroll was not brilliant, but he helped solidify the midfield a bit.
He did motivate the troops and keep the focused and concentrating for 90 minutes.
He did throw the young guys into the thick of things and let them get a taste of high pressure, big time international ball.

The last is the best thing he has done in his short tenure. Develop for the future.

The whole interim tag thing just bugs me. I realize that perception is reality in a lot of cases, but it is not like removing the tag makes him bulletproof. If Klinsmann comes along and wants the job next year, he gets it, regardless of the job Bradley has done, and regardless of his title.

Opinion, which I actually agree with – Donovan played well.

Landon easily played his best game for the national team in years. He was aggressive, taking people on with the ball, tracking back, his dead balls were well struck and accurate, and his goal was quality, especially the move he put on the defender which let him break free into all that space. Pretty much to opposite of his entire 2006 WC performance.

Truth - I am a huge Landon basher. I have never liked the guy very much. The hype surrounding him has bothered me to no end over the years. When looking at his performances, I search out every little fault and play down the good things he does.

Last Wednesday he gave us a glimpse of what all that hype is about with an outstanding game. It also brought home my frustration for him. He has the ability to impact a game in a huge way if he performs at 100%. The problem has always been he does not consistently perform there.

Here is hoping he keeps this level up this summer for the tournaments we are in.

Circling back for a second, Donovan’s game is best suited to spaces, which makes him very effective on counterattacks. He is not the creative, break them down, distribution guy that can hold a team together. Right now, no one is. He could be out there, Bradley, Feilhaber, Clark, and a few others have shown potential, maybe one of them develops into that guy.

Damn, I am long winded.

Topic # 2 – Badger hoops.

Watching the last few games, it seems like we are coasting a bit, relying on our depth and talent to wear people down over a full 40 minutes. It is working against the lower and middle tier teams of the Big 10 as we have dominated the last 8-10 minutes of games since the loss at Indiana. Not sure if it will fly against Michigan State on the road, and it definitely will not against Ohio State in Columbus. We need to step up like we did against, Pitt, Ohio State, and Marquette and lock down that # 1 seed.

Go Bucky!

Saturday, February 10, 2007

The start of a beautiful friendship?

The Smith Boys on a Saturday


That's the number of bags we took to Goodwill today after succumbing to Jenny's decluttering frenzy. That's a closet worth of stuff we pulled out of two closets upstairs. So, we bid goodbye to some pleated pants, out-of-date shoes, purses we can't remember why we bought (Jenny) and T-shirts from high school (Don!).

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fugly Fashion Week

So here's a few snapshots from NY Fashion week. I've got no real issues with the looks on the right and left. I can get behind a real world application of the kicky cocktail dress with the empire waist in black or the idea of a bold-color trench coat. And it's nice to see opaque hosiery in the rotation -- bare legs are hard to imagine for fall (which is what these collections are meant for). But let's take a minute to check out the look in the middle photo... to borrow a phrase from Grey's Anatomy: "Seriously? A high-waisted pant that will look good on no one? I mean, seriously!" We'll let the hairdo go for now. As my beloved Tim Gunn would say "I'm concerned." So, I'm throwing down the gauntlet here and now -- I will never buy pants with a waist that high again. You heard me Anna Wintour. Don't even try and make me.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Random thoughts - not all soccer related even

Bolton seems to own Arsenal. Arsenal seems to own Spurs.

After speculation of Chelsea, Madrid, and Milan, Onyewu winds up at ?Newcastle?. Really? More playing time for him I suppose, but still, not quite in the same league as the others. Both of the Toon games I’ve seen lately they dug themselves a nice little whole with early consolations before storming back for a tie or win. Onyewu may just get a chance to shine if he can tighten things up back there.

It’s been said in both the national and local media, but as frustrating as the Badger hoops loss at Indiana was last night, it still made me chuckle that the Indiana students stormed the court after the FIVE TIME NATIONAL CHAMPION Hoosiers beat Wisconsin.

My how times have changed. Or is it, my how the mighty have fallen?

I usually start my workday with the IPod on “Shuffle Songs” and let it go for the day. Occasionally though a song catches my ear and I switch over to that artist and/or album for a while.

Today good old Vic Chesnutt did the trick while I was eating my lunch. I only have three of his early albums on there (none of the newer stuff which I haven’t been able to get into as much, not that I’ve given it a huge chance).

Point of this rambling is, man could that guy turn a phrase. I still pull out the old “sharpies and guns” reference occasionally to eye rolls from my lovely wife.

Meetings for the spring over-30 season, indoor with Celtics men (aka spring training) starting in two weeks, it may be 20ish degrees outside, but I can already taste the outdoor soccer season! Woot!