Ray Ratto

Again, US men's soccer miles away from where it thinks it should be


Again, US men's soccer miles away from where it thinks it should be

The United States will not be part of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, and we will leave you to make all the political jokes you like about the rich veins of irony in that.
But this much is true, and indisputably so. When you lose to Trinidad and Tobago, you don’t get to complain about your fate. The U.S. earned the result it received by its play, by its roster, by its organization.
Truth is, except for the elite football-playing nations – Germany, Italy, Spain, Brazil, Argentina – this sport is generational. Sometimes the talent is yours to command, sometimes it is not. It is no more complicated than that, and the U.S. was a hodgepodge of age and youth that never fully meshed, and will be remembered for its quizzical looks at each other when things went wrong.
But we try to make it that, especially when it comes to the U.S. The country is so big and so wealthy that the logic goes that it should never have fallow periods, but the young stars (re: Christian Pulisic) have always been too few and far between and overhyped by the country that invented hype and overhype. The U.S.’ great failing has been in believing what it tells itself about itself, and it is as it has been for 40 years – a second-level power who is subject to the same ebbs and flows of talent as, say, Sweden or Croatia or even The Netherlands, which failed to qualify this year.
And the U.S. is part of a group, CONCACAF (North and Central America), that is nowhere near as difficult as UEFA or CONMEBOL (South America), so this is a fresher reminder that the U.S. is miles away from where it thinks it should be, and probably will be for the rest of our lifetimes. It is structurally flawed from its youth programs up, and still it reached seven consecutive World Cups.
So maybe, in the final analysis, this is its true level – in more often than not, and a part of the World Cup without ever actually challenging for it. But “more often than not” includes times when it is not, and this was one of the times when it didn’t deserve to go any further than it did.

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

Celtics are the rivals Warriors fans need

You don’t think you needed this game to go this way, but you did, and you do.

The Golden State Warriors spat out a 17-point lead and lost, 92-88, in Boston Thursday night, in a game that was taut if not particularly elegant, and in a game that elevated the Celtics to a place that makes them the new heir apparent to the heir apparent.

The Celtics have been a difficult out for the Warriors during the Brad Stevens Era, losing six of nine but only being blown out twice, and Thursday was not one of those nights. The box score will tell you the shooting and rebounding problems, but the Warriors had that lead and didn’t hold it. Or, to be accurate, the Celtics had that deficit and refused to let it destroy them.

Which is exactly the kind of team you, the fully licensed Warrior fan, want to watch play your team in the NBA Finals. You want to see them genuinely challenged, forced to win outside their comfort zone, induced to show their greatness in the highest of high leverage situations.

At least we think that’s what you want. Maybe you prefer blowouts so you can drink and go to the bathroom without care or fear. After all, the Warriors have taught the area the true meaning of front-running by being in front so often.

But the Celtics play a level of defense typically reserved for the San Antonio Spurs, and yes, the Warriors. They have a spiky exoskeleton that the acquisition of Kyrie Irving has actually enhanced, and Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum give them a gifted precocity that fits well with veterans like Al Horford and Marcus Morris, and Boston’s overall youth (they are fifth youngest, while Golden State is third-oldest) ought to make them a more difficult conundrum than Cleveland or any other team in either conference.

They are not yet the superior team; that remains to be proven, and betting against the Warriors requires a level of irrational bravery left only for the truly self-destructive.

But they are, as we sit this evening, the team the Warriors will have to work hardest to finish, because on a night when they had the chance to do so, they didn’t. In other words, the fight for a third ring still goes through Oakland, but it looks more and more like a one-stop through Boston.

And as much as you may hate thinking about it, you’ll almost certainly remember, and savor, a Celtics-Warriors final more than another round of Cavs-on-the-half-shell.

Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor


Three reasons Draymond Green is the perfect college professor

Programming note: Warriors-Celtics coverage starts today at 4 p.m. on NBC Sports Bay Area and streaming live right here 

Draymond Green spoke to a group of students at Harvard Thursday on the subject of leadership, and if you find that incongruous, shame on you.
I mean, who else would you want as a college professor?
Green has led, and been led. He has learned, and he has taught. He has certainly lectured, as any teammate, official and media member will testify. He’d be a hell of a teacher, and the subject almost doesn’t matter.
For one, homework would be different, as in I’d bet there would be no written work. I don’t see Prof. Day-Day poring over essays about the Industrial Revolution, M-theory or pre-Raphaelite art. Not even the history of Basketball-Reference.com.

For two, having tenured faculty audit his classes may find his choice of rhetoric a little strident, as in “What the ---- were you thinking, dude?” is not typically approved instructional methodology.
And three, nobody would get a grade. Green would mark every exam with a “35,” as in his draft position, and besides, the exams would be students arguing with each other over whether that was a foul or a no-call, and who pulled the better face when the call was made. He’d give either an approving nod or give the loser a second technical foul and kick him or her out of class.
But it would be a hell of a class. Not at Harvard, of course, because Green probably would want to teach a school that could better use his brand of wisdom, and Harvard kids already have a healthy lead off third base. He’d want his students to make Harvard students cry, you can just tell.
But wouldn’t he look perfectly Draymond in a cap and gown on graduation day, pulling a bottle out of his sleeve to make the valedictory speeches less painful. “Damn, dude,” you could hear him yell. “Peaking?”