Sunday, June 21, 2009

Anything Is Possible

Photo Credit. Vladimir Rys/ Bongarts/ Getty Images

It's unbelievable what just happened.

The United States had the odds stacked against them today.

Advancing to the semi-finals of the Confederations Cup was such a huge improbability that all anyone wanted today was a game they could be proud of, unlike the squad's 3-0 drubbing at the hands of Brazil.

Advancing to the semi-finals seemed so out of reach that Bob Bradley decided to give starting goalkeeper Tim Howard a breather and start backup Brad Guzan to get some key experience.

They needed to beat Egypt by three goals, which seemed impossible given that they scored only one goal in the past two games, and that one goal was from a penalty kick.

In addition to winning by three, Brazil needed to beat Italy by three, another improbability given the talent Italy has on its roster, not to mention being the defending World Cup champions.

Yet all of this was improbable, not impossible.

Brazil surprisingly took a 3-0 lead into halftime against Italy, with the help of an own goal. The Americans needed to take advantage of the opportunity given to them.

Starting Charlie Davies alongside Jozy Altidore paid immediate dividends for the U.S. team.

Davies' speed was problematic for the Egyptian defense all game, as he was able to get behind the defense and be on the receiving end of slicing through balls as well as opening up the field for the team's other playmakers.

It was Davies' hustle that started the U.S. attack, sticking with a loose ball inside the six-yard box and knocking it in for the 1-0 lead in the 21 minute.

His heart and hard play rubbed off on the rest of the squad.

The Americans were a much more aggressive team today than they have been in quite some time. They created more chances for themselves, continually pressed the defense, and finished their chances.

They were also much more disciplined in today's match.

For starters, they did not allow a goal in the first ten minutes.

Allowing a goal so early can really crush a team's spirit, while conversely giving momentum to the scoring squad.

Also, no one earned a red card.

Playing a man down really hurts a team. More space is opened up for the other team to attack through.

Going hand in hand with better discipline was that the midfielders did a much better job today getting back on defense.

Previously, midfielders were either not getting back at all, leaving the defense and goalkeeper to dry on breakaways, or they were getting back late and forcing poor challenges, which led to fouls, free kicks, and red cards.

Now the U.S. has pulled off the improbable. Sure they got a little lucky, with major help from Brazil, but they did their job. The Americans seized the moment and played a very good game.

Each player was productive on the field today.

Guzan made some beautiful saves; Jay DeMerit stepped up big again filling in for Carlos Bocanegra; Jonathan Bornstein and Jonathan Spector continued to play well as outside fullbacks; and Ricardo Clark may have learned from his mistakes as he did not commit any reckless challenges.

Clint Dempsey looked to be the lone U.S. player to struggle and not contribute much, but he became the hero when he headed home the third goal of the match in the 71 minute, the goal that put the Yanks in the semis.

The most important thing to take away from today's match was the heart the team showed and played with today.

The team played with a sense of urgency. They attacked with purpose and defended tenaciously. They came out today to play with pride and wound up completing an unbelievable turnaround to escape group play.

It is not time to forget about the horrific play in the previous games of the tournament as well as less than stellar efforts in recent World Cup qualifying.

It is not time to celebrate either, because Wednesday the U.S. will stand toe-to-toe with Spain, the number one ranked team in the world.

However, the players need to remember this feeling. Remember how it felt to win today and to overcome such great lengths to get in the next round.

They need to remember they got this result by playing smart, disciplined, and with heart.

If they remember that, who knows what can happen against Spain.

As the Americans proved today, anything is possible.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Winning Isn't Everything

AP Photo/ Rebecca Blackwell

It's a shame.

Non-soccer fans in the States and American critics will look at the U.S.'s 3-1 loss to Italy in the opening match of the Confederation Cup and view it as a major setback. They will think that the U.S. showed that it still cannot compete with soccer's elite.

However that was not the case.

It's unfortunate because the final score did not match the effort put together by Sam's Army. Sure, there were some poor plays, but overall the U.S. put together a good outing against a formidable opponent.

The first positive was the courage the squad displayed.

After Ricardo Clark's foolish challenge in the 33 minute earned him a red card, the team was forced to play almost an hour's worth of soccer a man down, not to mention a man down against the defending World Cup champions.

Yet the team played even more spirited after losing Clark. They were more dangerous in the attack and created more opportunities, giving themselves a 1-0 lead going into halftime.

Landon Donovan, who scored the team's lone goal on a penalty kick, really stepped up to the challenge today.

Donovan did a great job creating offense for himself and for his teammates, which has been a problem lately.

The U.S. has had trouble scoring in the flow of play. Their goals have come off of dead balls: free kicks, corner kicks, and penalty kicks.

While their only goal of the day came off a penalty, the Americans were much more dangerous. Good passes lead to great scoring opportunities in the box from Michael Bradley and Jozy Altidore.

Even Sacha Kljestan's shot in the 88 minute nearly curled in.

Now that they are creating chances, they need to be hungry and finish them.

Another part of their play that was much improved was the spacing.

The U.S. was disciplined enough to keep their shape and proper spacing on the field, even when they had to defend the floating playmakers Andrea Pirlo and Mauro Camoranesi and when Clark was ejected.

Proper spacing makes it harder for defenders to cover a single area and frees up space for creative players like Donovan, Clint Dempsey, and Jozy Altidore, to make plays.

The biggest negative came from the central midfield.

We still don't know who to pair Bradley with.

Clark's red card, while debatable, was still a reckless challenge, and he has a history of doing such things. He is not a dependable player.

Benny Feilhaber was another central midfielder who got an opportunity today, but he made nothing of it. Although he was supposed to create offense he wasn't heard from at all, save for when he was stripped by Guiseppe Rossi, who then scored the equalizer.

The U.S. needs to find an effective player to pair with Bradley.

While this tournament may be just to test the team and individual players against top competition in preparation of the World Cup, the nation still needs to finish out its qualifying and having two competent center mids will be an important part of that.

Still, there is even a silver lining for that situation.

Jermaine Jones, who will change international status from German senior international to American senior international, will be able to join the team in October, and will most definitely slide in nicely with Bradley.

The U.S. will again have a tough task in its next match against Brazil, and will need at least a point to keep its chances of advancing to the next stage alive. However what is most important is to see continued improvement from this young squad, especially against quality competition.

It's a shame the outcome couldn't match the effort.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

One That Got Away

AP Photo/ Manu Fernandez

When the United States men’s national soccer team gets ready to play Italy on Monday, their first opponent in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup tournament, they will have to prepare for someone that could’ve been one of them.

Giuseppe Rossi, a forward for the Azzuri, is one that got away.

Rossi, 22, was born in Teaneck, New Jersey, the son to Italian immigrant parents.

At 13, Rossi joined the Parma F.C. (Italy) youth team. According to his bio on his website, Rossi was nicknamed by his teammates the “American”. Although he was an American and Italian dual citizen, Rossi always wanted to be a part of the Italian national team, the country of his parents’ origin.

To prove this, Rossi suited up for the Italian youth-national teams. There was still hope for the U.S. though, as a player is not cap-tied until he plays at the U-20 level.

In July of 2003, Rossi transferred to EPL superpower Manchester United and scored in his debut with the club. He also spent time on loan with Newcastle and Parma.

Still, Rossi only made 13 appearances for the Red Devils, five in EPL play. Wanting more time with the first team, he was sold to Spanish side Villarreal and signed a six-year contract.

Rossi has scored 23 goals and registered 10 assists in league play, as well as scoring three times in the UEFA Champions League.

The U.S. still tried to sway Rossi to play for his birth-country, inviting him to U-20 world championships and a friendly against Scotland, but Rossi declined both times.

Instead, Rossi recently suited up for Italy in the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. He was the tournament’s top goal scorer, scoring four times, even though the team only reached the quarterfinals.

He scored his first goal with the senior side just five days ago in a friendly against Northern Ireland.

Now Rossi is headed to South Africa for the Confederations Cup with Italy and will square away against his home nation.

With the matchup, fans of the United States are only left to wonder what could have been.

What would the sometimes stagnant U.S. offense be like if it could pair Rossi with another young American talent (and coincidentally enough, property of Villarreal),
Jozy Altidore?

If Rossi chose to play for America, would it have had any impact on other American-born players that chose to play for other countries, like Neven Subotic?

Still, these questions are moot now. Rossi is a member of the Italian national team.

All the United States can do now is make Rossi second guess his decision with a good outing on Monday.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Off to South Africa, Round One

With two more World Cup qualifying games finished over the weekend, the United States can look to its next set of matches—the Confederations Cup.

Bob Bradley has announced his 23-man squad that he will take to South Africa to compete against Italy, Brazil, and Egypt. Like the three game stretch last summer when the Americans played friendlies against England, Spain, and Argentina, the team will challenge itself and go up against some of the best competition in the world.

Here is a look at the squad by position.

Goalkeepers: Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, Luis Robles

Robles is certainly a surprise. He was recently called into training camp as the team prepared for the past weekend’s qualifiers. He is the latest name to compete for the third goalkeeper spot, along with Marcus Hahnemann, Matt Pickens, and Dominic Cervi.

Robles, most likely, won’t play though. Expect Howard to play every minute of the

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Danny Califf, Jay DeMerit, Oguchi Onyewu, Heath Pearce, Jonathan Spector, Marvell Wynne

Onyewu and Bocangera are mainstays in the center of the defense, and they have formed a good playing relationship with Howard.

After good showings in Saturday’s game against Honduras, along with poor recent performances from others, Bornstein and Spector should reprise their starting roles at left and right back, respectively.

DeMerit played well replacing Bocanegra because of injury in the Honduras game. He needs to be ready in case Bocanegra has any lingering problems.

Wynne is the surprise of this group. He had an extremely rough outing against Costa Rica, and it’s somewhat curious as to how he got himself on this roster. Depth at the outside fullback spots is weak, so Wynne could just be filling out the roster. He will have a bigger role on the Gold Cup team rather than the squad for the Confederations Cup.

Midfielders: Freddy Adu, DaMarcus Beasley, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Benny Feilhaber, Sacha Kljestan, José Francisco Torres

This group brings the most questions to the table. Of the seven, only Bradley is a sure thing to start.

Who starts in the middle with him?

Right now it’s looking like either Clark or Feilhaber.

Both had good showings against Costa Rica. Working in Feilhaber’s favor is that he is a creative midfielder that is good on the ball, which can create more offense, while Clark is more defensive-minded, which is similar to the way Bradley plays.

Kljestan looked to have the other starting center midfield role when he scored a hat trick against Sweden, but failed to solidify his spot in the games afterward because of poor play for both the national team and his club team, Chivas USA.

Many U.S.A. fans are clamoring for Adu to get more playing time. He has yet to get many extended chances to show what he can do for both club and country.

Beasley looks like a man out of chances.

Injuries have caused him to lose a step of his blistering speed. He hardly ever dresses for Rangers, let alone play or sit on the bench. He was dropped from left-midfielder to left-back, which proved to be a failed and horrific experiment. Beasley’s once bright future now looks grim, and he is leaving everyone to wonder what his next move is, hoping he can find himself.

Also, Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, both listed as forwards, could see time at midfield, either in the center or on the wings.

Forwards: Jozy Altidore, Conor Casey, Charlie Davies, Dempsey, Donovan

Donovan was a no-brainer and Altidore has played well enough for the national team to merit a starting forward spot, especially with Brian Ching injured.

Much like the midfield, the question is who will start alongside Altidore?

Will it be Dempsey, one of the team’s more talented players but one who has struggled to be active in the attack on the wing lately? Or will Dempsey remain at midfield?

Davies has great speed and has put together some inspiring performances off the bench for the national team in recent qualifiers and the Olympics.

Casey is a good, physical holding forward who does a good job finding open space and playing in the air, something that is missing without Ching. He looked a bit uncomfortable in Saturday’s match, but it is understandable because he had just been put on the roster and hadn’t had much time to train with the team.

The biggest competition for starting roles will come at center midfield and forward.

The key will be where Clint Dempsey plays.

Dempsey will definitely start, but it could be at either center mid, right mid, or forward. Where he plays will determine who fills in the rest of the personnel.

The Americans kick-off their Confederations Cup run June 15 against defending World Cup champions Italy.

Photo Credits.
Tim Howard: AP Photo/ Paul Connors
Oguchi Onyewu: AP Photo/ Chris Carlson
Benny Feilhaber: AP Photo/ Nam Y. Huh
Clint Dempsey: AP Photo/ Eduardo Verdugo

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Ugly Game For Undisciplined United States Soccer Team

The United States men’s national soccer team is still a long way from being as good as they can be. Wednesday night’s 3-1 drubbing at the hands of Costa Rica proved that.

Last night’s game showed the U.S. squad playing undisciplined and out of position soccer.

The first problem was with the defense, specifically the outside fullbacks.

Anytime a soccer team gives up three goals, the defense was bad. Last night though, Marvell Wynne showed his inexperience at the senior level and DaMarcus Beasley displayed his unfamiliarity with the left back position as well as being out of form from sitting at Rangers.

Wynne was outplayed by give and go’s and other combinations that negated his chase-down ability. He also was only able to get forward on an overlapping run once and he botched the play.

Beasley was worse.

On the second goal Costa Rica scored Beasley sat in the box, leaving three players unmarked. While it’s possible he sat back a little in order to best defend a cross to any three of the players, once Celso Borges got the ball, Beasley needed to challenge him, but he didn’t.

Take a look at the third goal. Deep in the U.S.’s defensive end, Michael Bradley gets beat by Pablo Herrera, who goes in unchallenged (Carlos Bocanegra needed to step up and stop the ball) to score.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Well, Beasley, who is supposed to be the left fullback—the side where Herrera came from—is nowhere near being in the picture.

Beasley was out of position too frequently and Costa Rica did a good job of singling him out and taking advantage of Beasley being unsettled in a new position.
Compounding the defense’s ineffectiveness was the formation. The U.S. came out with four defenders, three midfielders, and three forwards. With already a limited number of midfielders, only Michael Bradley consistently came back to help on defense, leaving them outnumbered.

Too many men went unmarked, and this caused the defenders to be indecisive on who to guard and when to go after the ball, such as what happened to Bocanegra and Beasley.
The formation caused problems on offense as well.

With only three midfielders there is only one central midfielder. This can be a problem when, of the six midfielders and forwards, at times five of them were really center mids.

Pablo Mastroeni got the nod as the starting center mid (it didn’t help that he played one of the worst games of his national team career). However, Michael Bradley is usually a center mid, and although Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan are listed as forwards and have played out wide in an effort to maximize their creativity on the ball, they too are both naturally center mids.

When Sacha Kljestan was subbed in for José Francisco Torres—who was, ironically, the only one not out of position, as he is a left-sided mifielder—that brought out another guy who usually plays in the center of the field.

The U.S. has an abundance of center midfielders; Mastroeni, Bradley, Kljestan, Freddy Adu, Ricardo Clark, and Maurice Edu.

Conversely, the options at the left and right side of the midfield are thin. So guys are going to have to play out of position in order for them to get on the field and for the U.S. to field its most talented team.

However, last night, certainly a time of adversity, guys began to lose their discipline and shaping and went to what is normally comfortable to them.

Players began to drift and bunch in the middle. That left nobody on the outside to
be an outlet and to attack down the flank.

Instead of spacing the Costa Rican team out, the U.S. bunched in the middle and tried to force themselves up the field. This left no space and players were continually in each other’s way.

It also hindered what Jozy Altidore could do. Because everyone was in the middle, Costa Rica’s defense could guard the U.S. with fewer players, and there was no room for Altidore to get free and use his speed and strength to attack.

While Costa Rica was able to defend the U.S. with fewer players because of poor spacing, when the U.S. turned over the ball, Costa Rica had players on the outside open, leading to a dangerous counterattack.

The result was ugly, but it is not the end of the road for the United States. There are more games still to play. They are still in second place in the standings (the top three automatically qualify for a spot in the World Cup). Plus, they get will meet Costa Rica again, this time at home.

What the U.S. needs to do now is buckle down and get ready to play a tough Honduras team on Saturday. The weekend game will be in Chicago and the Americans need to take care of business at home.

Photo Credits.
Top: AP Photo/ Kent Gilbert
Beasley: AP Photo/ Dario Lopez-Mills

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Carlos Ruiz's Performance Is Giving Philadelphia Flexibility

Carlos Ruiz’s career stats aren’t that impressive.

He’s hit 15 home runs and is batting only .249. Yet since the 2008 World Series, Ruiz has really raised his level of performance, and by doing so, has given the Phillies flexibility at the catcher position as well as for other roster spots.

In game three of the World Series against the Tampa Bay Rays Ruiz hit a home run and also hit the walk-off single. His series average was an astonishing .375, second only to Jayson Werth among the starters.

While fans were jubilant about the championship, and pleased with Ruiz’s play, they still figured his time was limited. Top 10 prospect Lou Marson was waiting in the wings and his potential is much greater than Ruiz’s.

In Marson’s first game as a Phillie in September, 2008, he went 2-4 with a home run and two RBI. Baseball America also considers him as the team’s best defensive catching prospect.

Marson’s ability on both offense and defense left Ruiz’s future with the team, at least as a starter, in question. Still, Ruiz again won the job in spring training and has since been one of the Phillies’ most consistent performers.

Ruiz is hitting .305, good for second on the team—behind Raul Ibanez— and better than All-Star Chase Utley. His defense has also been much improved. He’s gotten much better at blocking the plate, preventing runs, and has thrown out 10 of 22 base runners attempting to steal.

Also helping Ruiz’s case are the performances from the Phillies other minor league catching prospects.

Travis D’Arnaud—with low A club Lakewood Blueclaws— is rated as the seventh best Phillies prospect by Baseball America. This season he has hit seven home runs and has a .363 slugging percentage.

Joel Naughton has hit six home runs for the high A club Clearwater Threshers. Tim Kennelly, also on the Threshers, is second on the team in both batting average (.304) and RBI (29). Tuffy Gosewisch, playing for AA affiliate Reading Phillies, has been invited to the major league spring training the past two seasons.

What does all this mean?

Well currently, the Phillies starting rotation is in dire need of help.

Most recently, Brett Myers was put on the 15-day DL and is expected to undergo season-ending hip surgery.

Cole Hamels has battled through a number of minor injuries early in the season, and his poor injury history raises concern for the team’s ace.

Jamie Moyer, at 46 years old, has lost the magic he pitched with last year and looks like he is finally at the end of his career.

Joe Blanton, though he has pitched well his past few starts, still has an ERA of 5.86.

Chan Ho Park was ineffective as a starter before being banished to the bullpen.

J.A. Happ, Antonio Bastardo, Andrew Carpenter and Carlos Carrasco are all still too young and inexperienced to rely on, and Kyle Kendrick is still getting his form back together in AAA after faltering for Philadelphia down the stretch last season.

If the Phillies plan to contend and defend their title as the season drags on, they need to go get another starter. Having another effective starter will also help rest the bullpen, keeping them fresh throughout the season rather than overworked.

Grabbing an average starter from another team isn’t enough either. The Phillies have a slew of average pitchers right now. They need to go out and get a legitimate number one or two starter. They don’t come cheap though.

This is where Ruiz’s great play comes in. With his standout play behind home plate stretching from last season’s World Series and the depth of the position in the minors, Lou Marson, once thought to be untouchable, now becomes expendable.
Marson can be packaged with a few other prospects in order to get any of the top-line pitchers that could be on the market (Jake Peavy, Roy Halladay, and Roy Oswalt’s names have all been mentioned this season).

While it would not be ideal to let Marson go, you have to give something to get something. With the afore-mentioned pitchers, you know you will be getting something of value in return for a top prospect, unlike in past seasons, when the Phillies acquired average pitchers with question marks in their games, like Kyle Lohse and Joe Blanton.

Ruiz’s breakout play this season now gives the team flexibility they did not have. Ruiz has more than done enough to earn the starting catcher job. This would allow the Phillies to package any of their top catching prospects, including Marson, for a top of the line pitcher without worrying about jeopardizing the position now or in the long run.

If they do trade Marson, the Phillies can be confident that Ruiz will man the fort while the other prospects take their time to develop.

If they don’t trade Marson, then the organization will face a difficult decision in the near future, because Ruiz is proving he is an everyday catcher.

Photo Credits.
Left: AP Photo/ Al Behrman
Right: AP Photo/ Kathy Willens

Monday, June 1, 2009

The NBA: Where Sportsmanship Doesn't Happen

AP Photo/ Chris O'Meara



It’s something every athlete learns at an early age. Every competitor is told to be gracious in victory or defeat.

Sure it isn’t a perfect world, and sometimes you don’t display as much sportsmanship as you should. As a college lacrosse player, I understand the frustrations of losing and how things can get in the heat of the battle. It’s still important, though, when the final whistle blows, to be a class act.

LeBron James must have missed those lessons.

James told reporters, "It's hard for me to congratulate somebody after you just lose to them."

"I'm a winner. It's not being a poor sport or anything like that. If somebody beats you up, you're not going to congratulate them. That doesn't make sense to me. I'm a competitor. That's what I do. It doesn't make sense for me to go over and shake somebody's hand."

Sorry. I don’t think it’s a good excuse.

Our last lacrosse game we lost in the first round of the conference playoffs. The opposing crowd was singing Steam’s “Goodbye”. I was looking at a 5 hour bus ride from the game in Vermont back to my school in Boston. I was upset we lost, and I was exhausted because I left it all on the field. But all that aside, I sucked it up and shook hands with the other team.

I hate losing as much as the next guy. It’s not fun. Yet it’s not an excuse for displaying poor sportsmanship.

It definitely isn’t an excuse when it’s the second time you’ve done it.

Last year, after the Cavaliers lost to the Boston Celtics in game seven of the Eastern Conference Finals, James also walked off the court without a single handshake or word with his opponents.

As humans we are supposed to learn from our mistakes. In school, we go to history class so we can learn what happened and how to prevent it from happening again. LeBron James should have learned from last year that you should respect your opponents and respect the game by offering congratulations on a hard-fought battle.

As the face of the NBA he is a role model to a large number of kids, like it or not. They look up to him. By storming off the court he showed that it’s OK to be a poor sport.

Also, it isn’t like Cleveland lost the series or the game because of poor officiating. The Cavaliers lost because the Magic played better team basketball.

Although the series was physical, there were no brawls that would’ve had either team seething at each other, causing such dislike where no one could meet at half-court after the game and acknowledge good competition.

No, LeBron was just upset and pouted.

How would he feel if, say, he had won but Dwight Howard neglected to give him his due props?

Some people say that a real man can admit defeat. It is what separates men from boys.

James will certainly be in the Eastern Finals again sometime in his career. And he may lose. Hopefully, by then, he will be mature enough to be gracious in defeat.

Who Will Shaq Be Rooting For in the NBA Finals?

AP Photo/ Paul Beaty

After 82 regular season games and three playoff rounds, the 2009 NBA Finals matchup is set. The Los Angeles Lakers will face off against the Orlando Magic. This series brings a ton of questions to the table.

Will the Lakers avenge their loss in the Finals to the Celtics last season?

Will Orlando win its first championship in franchise history?

Can Kobe finally win a championship without Shaq?

Will Jameer Nelson, originally thought to be out with injury for the entire season, make a Willis Reed-like return to the court?

Disneyland or Disneyworld?

All of these questions could provide their own corresponding blog post. However, another question begs consideration; who will Shaquille O’Neal be rooting for?

Shaq has played for both teams in the past and has been a fixture in the NBA Finals. In his 17 year career he made the playoffs 15 times, reached the finals six times, and won four titles. In his four wins he was named NBA Finals MVP three times.
Being so familiar with both clubs as well as the finals, it’s only natural to wonder what his thoughts are on the current situation. He has reasons, in favor of and against, both teams.

Orlando was Shaq’s first team. They made him the number one overall draft pick in 1992. It’s where people first became familiar with the big man who revolutionized the center position. His combination of size, strength, and athleticism made him one of the best post players in the history of the game. He went to his first NBA Finals with the Magic, even though they were swept by the Houston Rockets. Shaq’s home is in Orlando, and there has been talk about him wanting to buy the team when he retires.

However, Shaq has lashed out against the current Magic organization this year.
After a game against his former team, Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy—who coached Shaq in his first season with the Miami Heat— accused Shaq of flopping on a play against Dwight Howard. Shaq didn’t take too kindly to Van Gundy’s criticism and called him a “master of panic”. Now that SVG has helped the Magic get into the finals, if Orlando won, the “master of panic” would be a champion and Shaq might have to eat his words.

There is also the matter of Orlando’s new “Superman”, Dwight Howard.

Shaq has always been linked to the Man of Steel, proof being his Superman tattoo as well as Superman paraphernalia that adorned his house that was featured on MTV’s Cribs. Now, however, Howard has also been given the Superman moniker. Howard even donned the cape not once, but twice in dunk competitions. The Superman theme music is played at Amway Arena when Howard scores. Shaq has taken offense to this. He was quoted, “He's a good player, but everything he's done, I've invented. So I'm not impressed.”

Although Shaq does like Howard, he has always been protective of his legacy as one of, if not the best, big man ever to play. How would he feel if Howard, the man who “copied” his Superman identity, won Orlando’s first Finals game, let alone championship, something the “Big Cactus” never could do himself?

L.A. is the place where Shaq won his first and the majority of his championships. However, after they lost to the Pistons in 2004, Shaq demanded a trade. Friction between Shaq and star teammate Kobe Bryant existed prior to the loss, each trying to be the alpha male, the top dog, but losing to the Pistons in the championship was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

The relationship between Shaq and Kobe grew personal. The two traded barbs about their interactions with females on the road. Shaq was shown doing a freestyle rap about Kobe, including the line, “Kobe couldn’t do it without me.” Shaq would also refuse to acknowledge Kobe during interviews.

However, this season, it looked like the feud is over. The two shared All-Star MVP honors and laughed and embraced each other on the court. Shaq has praised Kobe in the media and on his twitter page.

Still, again looking to Shaq’s perception of his legacy, Shaq has won a championship without Kobe (although one could argue that he, in fact, played second fiddle to Dwayne Wade). If Kobe to win without Shaq, how would Shaq really take it?
Shaq has had his ups and downs with both teams. This matter look like it will be settled due to timeliness.

Hours after the Magic beat Cleveland to advance to the finals, Shaq’s twitter featured a reply to a user that said, “I'm a go wit the lake show” (sic).

Shaq has made up with Kobe this year while conversely, his feud with Van Gundy happened just recently, in March. When one feud ends, another begins, and it looks like Van Gundy and Orlando get the short end of the deal this time around, at least in Shaq’s world.