Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Interconnectedness - And Jim Barlow

Today is 09/09/09, which TigerBlog learned after going to google is also the "world day of interconnectedness." TB wasn't sure what that meant, so he clicked on the link, which took him to a Website devoted to this.

TB still doesn't know what it means, because he never made it past the picture on the site of three people holding upraised hands silhouetted against the sky. Besides, TigerBlog preferred when it was 07/08/09 and is looking forward to 08/09/10 more than 10/10/10.

Today is also the day of the World Cup qualifier between the U.S. and Trinidad and Tobago, whose airport TB was in a long, long time ago. This match is almost a must-win for the American team, even though it is on the road. Honduras and the U.S. are tied for first in the region with 13 points, followed by Mexico and Costa Rica with 12 each. Trinidad and Tobago (96% of the nation's population lives on Trinidad) and El Salvador have five points each.

The U.S. plays at Honduras and home against Costa Rica to finish the schedule. When it's over, the top three teams in the region advance to next year's World Cup, while the fourth place team will play a play-in game against a South American team for a World Cup spot as well.

The coach of the U.S. men's team is Bob Bradley, a Princeton alum who also coached the Tiger men's soccer team to the 1993 NCAA Final Four. His brother is Princeton baseball coach Scott Bradley, and Bob's son Michael is a key midfielder on the U.S. team.

Jim Barlow is the Princeton men's coach, and he played for Bradley as an undergrad at Princeton, including when he was the 1990 Ivy League Player of the Year. Barlow has remained close with Bradley throughout his career, and he continues to do so today as the coach of the U.S. U-15 national team, a job that has taken Barlow all over the world.

Barlow's Princeton team is off to a strong 2-0 start, with good wins against Lehigh (a team that had beaten Stanford) and Seton Hall (a perennial regional power). The Tigers have scored five goals in two games, and Josh Walburn won the first Ivy Player of the Week award.

If you're looking for the sports in which the Ivy League is most competitive nationally, the one that might be overlooked is men's soccer. Traditionally the Ivy League features multiple teams in the national rankings and the NCAA tournament, where three Ivy teams have played in three of the last four years (the other time, two teams made the field).

In fact, the strength of the league and a tough non-league schedule led Barlow's team to either the No. 1 or No. 3 (TigerBlog can't remember exactly) strength-of-schedule RPI in all of Division I a year ago. This year's Tigers won't have it easy either.

The win over Seton Hall came against another coach Barlow has had a long-standing relationship with, Manny Schellscheidt, a former Princeton assistant under Bradley and the current U.S. U-14 coach.

Barlow goes back with Schellscheidt to when he was with the U.S. U-18 team back in 1986, when Barlow was the final player cut four days prior to the World Cup in China. It was Schellscheidt who broke the news to Barlow.

Barlow was a standout soccer player at Hightstown High School, about 15 minutes from the Princeton campus. It was there that TB first met Barlow, when TB covered a few of the Rams' games.

Since then, TigerBlog has seen Barlow master pretty much any sport he's tried, from golf to lunchtime basketball to tennis. Through the years, TB and Barlow have joked frequently about which is a better sport, soccer or lacrosse. TigerBlog also remembers when Barlow wrote a column for the Princeton Packet entitled "Bo's Peeps," a play on a long-standing nickname.

The men's soccer team plays at American Friday and then hosts a four-team event the next weekend at Roberts Stadium (Sunday is actually a triple-header, with two men's games and the women's game against nationally ranked Rutgers).

The schedule also takes Princeton to California and then to Hanover for a tough Ivy opener against Dartmouth. There's also a home game next month against fourth-ranked St. John's, which will be televised on ESPNU.

The regular season ends on Nov. 13 at home against Yale for the Fox Soccer Channel Game of the Week. That's 11/13/09, which doesn't have the flash of 09/09/09 - or its own Website.

Maybe it can just be a pretty good day for Princeton men's soccer and its coach, one of the true good guys of Tiger athletics.

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