Monday, March 31, 2008

The Brilliance of Lost

April's Giggle Squad Book Club book (as chosen by yours truly) is Bram Stoker's Dracula. I am loving it so far (I'm about 10 chapters in). Last night, as I finished chapter 8, I read the name Jack Shephard (it may have been spelled Sheppard, but I don't have the book with me to verify). Of course, I immediately got all excited, called Matt to tell him, and then sat there thinking about what possible ties there could be between the criminal and the Lost character. Both Matt and Steven were kind enough to remind me that Lostpedia has just about all of the character references already listed on there, so I will admit that it could very well be coincidence (after all, Wikipedia mentioned another Jack Shephard, who was a cave diver). However, whether or not there is any coincidence between them, the mere fact that the parallel can be drawn speaks highly to me of the intelligence of those who created and write Lost. They have set a precedent of parallels between history and fiction, and the characters of the show.

What is the point of all of this? I guess I don't exactly know, but I am intrigued with the notion of references and allusions to other works (whether fictional or not). I just finished reading Eliot's The Wasteland and although the book was a difficult read (especially for anyone's first time through it), our class discussion about the abundance of allusions, references, quotes, and almost plagiarisms of and to other texts was fascinating to me. The Wasteland received (and may still receive) criticism for how much it "borrows" from other forms of literature. The thing is riddled with it. I actually found that to be one of the most interesting parts about the book. It carries a notion of layering new meaning over old meaning and conjuring thick images with a simple word. I feel like that is one of the things that Lost is accomplishing very well--they reference real and fictional sources of meaning, wisdom, and fun. It builds layers for those obsessive fans that want to dig deeper and drench themselves in the world that has been created for them. Kudos to you J.J. Abrams, David Lindeloff, and all others who help contribute (not least of all, the actors).

Friday, March 28, 2008

More UNLV Soccer and the 100th Post!

This will seem like a flood of soccer stuff, but I assure you, it will all balance itself out in the end. I'm excited about the depth that UNLV men's soccer head coach Mario Sanchez is bringing into the team. He's doing a great job of recruiting for this team, and the improvement that the team showed from '06 to '07 is remarkable. Only time will truly tell how well each of these players will really contribute on the field, but I'm excited for the '08 season to get started.

It may not be a huge milestone, but I feel pretty good about it--this is my 100th post (on this blog; if I combined my two blogs I would have reached it a while ago, but alas... I am far too lazy to copy those over). A more prolific writer would have reached this number in 1/10th the time it took me, but that same prolific writer will also get a punch to the face if I ever see him any near my grandmother's bridge club. So, fellow bloggers beware...

MLS '08 Predictions, Part Two: The West

I now present my predictions for the Western conference in season 13 of Major League Soccer. Part 1 can be found here.


1. Chivas USA (CHV) - This team found themselves last season and it was incredible. Razov and Galindo up top terrorized defenses until the very end, when injuries took them both out of the post-season. They have addressed that issue and brought in greater depth at forward. With a midfield that mixes young talent with hard-nosed veteran leadership, I can see this team coming out on top of the Western conference. Their inclusion in the newly created CONCACAF Champion's League and the highly entertaining Superliga, the club's depth truly will be tested, but I think that they are up for the task.

2. Houston Dynamo (HOU) - You can never count out Houston. This team has a solid core of hard-working winners, and they are solid from front to back. They lost defender Ryan Cochrane, and forwards Joseph Ngwenya and Nate Jaqua, but frankly I don't see that being a problem for this team. They picked up '06 Defender of the Year Bobby Boswell (who disappointed last season in DC, but is quite capable of regaining his form if head coach Dominic Kinnear can provide the right spark--something he has proven himself quite capable of), and it should be remembered that Kinnear has proven himself able to make those vital mid-season acquisitions to keep the team strong.

3. Real Salt Lake (RSL) - This is my dark horse pick (and yes it is partly because I like them a lot). Every year has begun with great promise, and every year has been a disappointment for this still young team (they entered the league in '05 season; the same year as Chivas USA). A drastic overhaul has taken place over the course of those three years, and ex-Captain (now head coach), Jason Kreis, has finally had that off-season he was hoping for to get this team headed in the right direction. This team will need time to gel, but I think that they will surprise us all and finally make it into the playoffs. The biggest change that has taken place, and the one that really matters in my book, is the depth that has been added. The old approach of bringing in "stars" has been abandoned for a group of sound players with the passion to win. The defense has been shored up, and there will be competition for the starting position at every spot. This is a make or break year for the team--not in the sense that they have to win the Cup, but that they finally learn to win. I think they will.

4. Los Angeles Galaxy (LAG) - Superstars of the world (ok only one of the world, the other two from Central and N. America) unite! General Manager, Alexi Lalas, finally has the "superteam" he wanted (I'm sure that isn't entirely true, but they are off to a start) in David Beckham, Landon Donovan, and Carlos Ruiz. Sadly, it has come at the expense of quality everywhere else on the pitch. The back line (along with Cronin in goal) looks to be just as ineffectual as last year, but, with the attacking prowess of the three aforementioned stars, I can see the Galaxy eeking out wins. My guess is that we can expect a lot of scoring to go on in their games from both ends. They are my middle of the pack for the West--they'll win a lot and they'll lose a lot. It will all depend on whether their offense shows up in any given game.

5. FC Dallas (DAL) - This is a team with a lot of potential, but too many missing pieces to truly be great. The loss of Ruiz will hurt them; I don't see Cooper as enough of an offensive threat to carry the goal scoring of this team. A lot will fall on the shoulders of Juan Toja, and he will show up, but there is just too much inconsistency for this team to be real title contenders. They'll be tough to beat, but doable.

6. Colorado Rapids (COL) - I love Christian Gomez, but--despite his incredible consistency--I don't think he'll be enough to help this team find their groove. Their corps of forwards have potential and I am secretly rooting for Herculez Gomez to step up and deliver on the quality service that Christian Gomez will bring, but I don't see this team climbing out of their cess-pool as long as head coach Fernando Clavijo is around. He is a dead weight and will continue to drag this team down until he is relieved.

7. San Jose Earthquakes (SJ) - A strong pre-season does not convince me that this team is ready for anything else than to be hammered. It is their expansion year, and, with the exception of Chicago winning the MLS Cup in their first season ('98), expansion teams traditionally have a rough go of it for at least their first season. I do like what head coach Frank Yallop is doing down there, and I'm excited for him to be able to regain some of the prestige he lost with last year's LA debacle.

MLS '08 Predictions, Part One: The East

I guess we should start this thing off right. These are my predictions for how the East and West Conferences (it will be done in two parts; Part 2 found here) will stack up come the end of the season, although (I admit) for as much thought as I put into these rankings (and I have put quite a bit of thought into it), it all ends up being somewhat arbitrary. Also, I originally posted this in SoccerVegas, where I wrote with the assumption that my readers had a somewhat extensive knowledge of MLS (and soccer in general). I will not make that assumption here (at least initially), so I have added some flavor to my predictions to help everyone know why I rank teams the way I do, and divided them into the two conferences. Enjoy, or be bored (depending on your love for the beautiful game).


1. DC United (DCU) - Both because of--and despite--the fact that DCU is my favorite team, I am picking them as the top team not only in the East, but for the whole of Major League Soccer. They won the Supporter's Shield (the award given to the team with the best regular season record) the past two years in a row, and I fully see them doing it again. They brought in some defensive grit and seem to have fixed the defensive holes from last year. They have added greater depth in their subs and are an offensive team from an incredible amount of angles. The loss of Christian Gomez (see Colorado Rapids) could end up hurting them if their Designated Player, Marcelo Gallardo, doesn't pan out, but so far he has shown well. They have a VERY busy season (not only are they plaing in the 30 regular season games, they are also in the CONCACAF Champion's Cup, U.S. Open Cup, Superliga, and the first ever CONCACAF Champion's League), but I think that they have the ammunition to deal with it.

2. New England Revolution (NE) - This team has proven themselves as contenders for the past few seasons. They have made it to the MLS Cup finals the past three years in a row (each time barely losing by a one goal differential--LA beat them 1-0 in overtime in '05; the '06 final against Houston went to penalty kicks after a 1-1 tie in overtime. NE once again lost by one; and last year's 2-1 loss to Houston). They lost both Pat Noonan and Andy Dorman during the off-season, but I don't see that as being too great a problem for the Revs; head coach Steve Nicol has an incredible eye for young talent, and the core of the team has stayed intact. In fact, the addition of Chris Albright in the backline is a good sign for this team. Parkhurst and Albright together ought to make for a pretty formidable defensive pair.

3. Kansas City Wizards (KC, and sometimes the Wiz) - I like what head coach Curt Onalfo did with this team last season (any coach that can get Eddie Johnson scoring like that again is great in my book), and I think we'll see them take it to the next level this season. They did lose Eddie to English side Fulham, but they brought in two time Argentine World Cup veteran Claudio Lopez to take his place, and frankly I don't think they will miss him (as much as I want Eddie to succeed on the international level, he has been inconsistent his whole career).

4. Red Bulls New York (RBNY) - Osorio has begun to prove himself a rather capable coach in MLS, and given the strong attacking duo of Juan Pablo Angel and Jozy Altidore up top, he'll be able to focus on and address the defensive weaknesses that killed this team last season. However, as tactically savvy as Osorio can be, I don't see him being able to get this team to win consistently. I expect waves of quality followed by waves of drudgery. The quintessential "middle of the pack" type team (in the East at least--where the competition is just a bit more stiff than out West).

5. Chicago Fire (CHI) - You can't discount Blanco. He came in last season and almost single0handedly turned this team around. Can he do it again this year over the course of a full season, or will he run out of gas? whether or not he is able to will determine the fate of this team in '08. Their inconsistencies up front will continue to be a problem for this team, despite the return of Andy Herron to the ranks. Add the controversy surrounding the departure of Juan Carlos Osorio to NY, and the discontent that defender Wilman Conde is causing (with his very public pleadings to follow Osorio to NY) in the locker room, and former Assistant Coach Dennis Hamlett has a lot to overcome. I see too many problems for this team to deal with to really consider them as title contenders.

6. Columbus Crew (CLB) - I can see this team having a fairly strong run at the end of the season as some of its younger players come into their own, but there just isn't enough going on over there for anyone to take them too seriously. Schellotto's midfield play was astounding last season, but there just aren't enough of the right pieces to complement his brilliance. However, the addition of Brian Carrol will definitely add some defensive grit, and make it possible for them to turn things around if their forwards can get it together and start scoring.

7. Toronto FC (TFC) - This team slept through their first season and didn't wake up during the off-season. The new head coach is disturbed with what he is seeing, and frankly I'm not convinced that the crew that former head coach (turned General Manager), Mo Johnston, put together last season is strong enough to take them anywhere even if they can all manage to stay healthy. I expect this team to continue the tough road they started down last season, but I sure hope that won't diminish the fire that is burning in the hearts of their incredible fans up north.

The Fusion of Two Worlds

I have come to realize that it is rather silly for me to try and divide my time up between two blogs. I hardly can keep one going half of the time. So, from here on out, this blog is going to become my SUPERBLOG! I'll be combining it with my other pet, my thought is to try and get out something soccer related at least once a week. Mainly, it will continue to be my random little corner where I can stuff my thoughts but still allow others to read them (although I am well aware of how few people on this wide earth actually get on here and read things). I will leave the link to the other blog for people to go check out, if they ever want to, but from now on, Papa's Bloggito will become Papa's World. Be warned.

Also, Adam sent me this link for an incredibly textual Star Wars experience. Check it out.

To close, I followed (and will continue to follow) the UNLV Rebels' mens' soccer team. There will be updates throughout their season on how well they are/aren't doing, as well as a stat bar on the side (eventually) of individual performances. I try to make it to as many games as I can, but that doesn't end up being many. I have also thought about trying my hand at sports photography (taking pictures of the games I go to this season and posting them on here). We'll see how that goes (I couldn't count the number of projects I've half-begun only to lose interest in a short time later).

Thus, some news on the Rebels: back on Feb. 20th, our Rebels beat German Youth Pro Team Borussia Monchengladbach (Yikes. They sound like an execution squad or something) 4-2.

Junior Lamar Neagle netted two, including the game-winning-goal.
Freshman Richard Abrego (from LV; he went to Silverado) got a goal and assisted on Neagle's 1st goal.
Junior Ben Haugland also scored a goal and assisted on Abrego's goal.
Junior John Crawley (from Glasgow, Scotland... yes!) assisted on Neagle's 2nd goal.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

HP7 Gets Split!

It has been officially announced: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows will be split into two films. All of Harry Potter nerd-dom (of which I am most definitely a part) is up in arms debating whether or not this is just a ploy to extend the franchise and get more money, or whether it is a good thing that we've actually been wanting for a couple of the previous films, or whether it even matters (we've got our books and let the world rot--we'll be sitting in our rooms reading). my thought is this: I love Harry Potter. Whatever reason the studio has for making two films (be it the artistic vision of not wanting to lose anything by cramming it into 1 1/2 hours or to make money) is irrelevant to me. More Harry Potter is more Harry Potter. There are many who hated the fifth movie and the notion that the same guy will be directing it pisses them off, but once again, I'm just not all that bothered. No movie does "justice" to the visions we all have in our heads of what a book should be. They are different formats, they are different ways of telling a story, and they are just plain different media.
Think about it for one second--there are too many things that can be done in writing that just can't be done in film. They don't translate (and the attempts to have them translate always feel lame). Conversely, take a movie like The Matrix; I have no desire to read a book version of that film. That film was incredibly visual and cinematic. The story was fantastic also, but the story was only one part of it. The visual is what took a fantastic story and turned it into something revolutionary (at least for American audiences). So, I suggest that those "literary purists" who just never seem satisfied with film adaptations of books either learn the art of film-making (and thus learn to appreciate what IS done well in the film version, or maybe to even do your own version someday if you are that pissed off), or stop watching film adaptations. It is very true that sometimes film adaptations are terrible by any standard. I'm not arguing that point. I guess I'm just fed up with the tremendous amount of complaints I get from "fans" who can't stand any attempt at expanding the ways in which we can enjoy the things we love.

Deep breath... and I'm... done.