Thursday, October 15, 2009

Soccer, Soccer And ... Lacrosse

It was a big soccer night for TigerBlog, first as the Princeton men tied St. John's 1-1 and then when the U.S. team tied Costa Rica 2-2 on a goal nearly five minutes into stoppage time to win the CONCACAF group in the final World Cup qualifier and send Costa Rica – apparently they're called "the Ticos" – into a play-in series with Uruguay.

As far as the Princeton game goes, the teams are now a remarkable 7-7-9 combined after the tie (that's win-loss-tie, not win-draw-loss as the soccer world seems to do it). St. John's is now 3-2-7, just two off the NCAA record for ties in a season with five games to play. For whatever reason, it seemed somewhat preordained that the game last night would end up in a tie, even if Princeton had more good chances and St. John's had a layup in the final five seconds of the second OT.

The U.S. tie felt much more like a win, as the Americans – coached by Princeton alum Bob Bradley – rallied with two goals in the final 20 minutes to win the group, though TB isn't sure there's any tangible benefit to winning the group. The U.S., for that matter, had already clinched qualifying for the World Cup by beating Honduras Saturday night.

Costa Rica, which TigerBlog hears is a tremendous vacation spot, needed a win to qualify outright last night, and it was just seconds away from getting it. Instead, it is Honduras, which defeated El Salvador last night, who gets the third bid from the region (along with the U.S. and Mexico) and Costa Rica who must now get in by beating Uruguay.

As an aside, the U.S. game again proved that soccer works better than any other sport right now on TV. No commercials, a two-hour window to watch it and not-so-overbearing announcers. Which other sport can claim that?

After the U.S. game ended on ESPN2 (which had been preceded by the Princeton-St. John's game on ESPNU), TB turned to the Fox Soccer Channel to see one of his favorite shows, "The Fox Soccer Report." It's not as good as the "Premier League Review Show," but it's up there.

Because the entire day had consisted of World Cup qualifiers, TB got the whole global perspective. There was the game in Poland between Poland and Slovakia that was played in a blizzard. There were some teams – none as heartbreakingly as Costa Rica – who just missed qualifying. There were two (Spain and the Netherlands) who finished with perfect records in European qualification.

And, to prove that everything can lead back to Princeton lacrosse, there was Ireland, who finished second in its group and advances to a play-in series as well. TB was rooting hard for Spain and Ireland after the men's lacrosse trip to those countries a year ago, and it's good to see Ireland still in the mix after having reached only one World Cup tournament since 1990. Ireland failed to qualify for the 2008 European championships, an event that was going on while Princeton was in Europe. To put it mildly, it seemed to TB like a big deal to the Europeans.

Princeton's trip to Europe included two games in Spain against the English national team and one in Ireland against the English U19 team. The English were extraordinarily friendly "lads," and their coaches and managers were as well.

The English love for lacrosse was personified by Ravi Sitlani, known to all as "Baggy." And it was Baggy who replied to TB's email the other day with "lookin' forward to it, mate."

And what was TB's email? It was about the reunion of Princeton lacrosse and England lacrosse set for tonight at 7:30 or so at Class of 1952 Stadium, as the English are in town as part of their U.S. tour in advance of the 2010 World Championships, which will be held in Baggy's hometown of Manchester. Baggy, by the way, was interviewed on Inside Lacrosse after the English played at Hopkins earlier in the week.

Princeton will be playing for the first time with Chris Bates as its head coach. There are 23 players on the Princeton roster who played against the English team in Spain (not counting Jack McBride, who didn't join the trip until the Ireland leg after playing for the U.S. U-19 team).

The scrimmage tonight is free and open to the public. Hopefully the weather will cooperate. Either way, it'll be good to see Baggy and the rest of the English and of course some lacrosse.

After all, TigerBlog can't get by with just soccer.

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