US Faces World Cup Champs in Gold Cup Tuneup

US Faces World Cup Champs in Gold Cup Tuneup

US v. Spain: This time it's for all the tapas (4:30PM/ESPN). On a serious note, I'd crush some patatas bravas right now.

A lot has happened since these two teams last met at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa. The US stunned Spain 2-0 that day. Spain, the 2008 European Champions, was in the midst of a 15-game international winning streak.

The US, who looked completely overmatched in Confed Cup group play (losing 3-1 to Italy and 3-0 to Brazil), miraculously advanced after beating Egypt 3-0 (it helped that Italy did not score again in the tournament following their 3-0 thrashing of the US). Somehow the US did the unthinkable and knocked off La Furia Roja (The Red Fury).

All Spain has done since then is win a World Cup and earn unanimous worldwide praise for their style of play.

While they've failed to win any trophies or plaudits for their style of play the Americans have no doubt enjoyed success since that Confed Cup match. They stunningly took a 2-0 lead into halftime in the final against Brazil - going toe-to-toe with the world power before ultimately losing 3-2. For the first time ever they won their group at the 2010 World Cup.

In so doing Tim Howard, Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, and Landon Donovan authored the signature play in modern US Soccer history. No matter how many times I watch it the stoppage time goal against Algeria never gets old. Ever.

Sure, today's game is just a friendly, but whenever your national team has the opportunity to play the defending World Cup champions you've got to be at least mildly excited. I mean, take a look at the Spanish roster:

GOALKEEPERS (3): Iker Casillas (Real Madrid), José Manuel Reina (Liverpool), Víctor Valdés (Barcelona)
DEFENDERS (7): Álvaro Arbeloa (Real Madrid), Raúl Albiol (Real Madrid), Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid), Gerard Piqué (Barcelona), Carlos Marchena (Villarreal), Joan Capdevila (Villarreal), Andoni Iraola (Athletic Bilbao)
MIDFIELDERS (6): Xabi Alonso (Real Madrid), Sergio Busquets (Barcelona), Santiago Cazorla (Villarreal), Andrés Iniesta (Barcelona), Bruno Soriano (Villarreal), Borja Valero (Villarreal)
FORWARDS (7): David Villa (Barcelona), David Silva (Manchester City), Fernando Llorente (Athletic Bilbao), Fernando Torres (Chelsea), Pedro Rodríguez (Barcelona), Manu Del Moral (Sevilla), Álvaro Negredo (Sevilla)

Three words for you - Re. Dic. Ulous. I mean, just look at their goalkeepers. Casillas, Pepe Reina, and Valdés. And, truth be told, you could have the same reaction when looking at the defenders, midfielders, and forwards. It's really just an embarrasment of riches.

For the US this is not about earning a result. Quite simply this is a tuneup for the Gold Cup. The US will face Canada just three days from now in Detroit. With that in mind I'd be surprised if Bob Bradley plays his starters the full ninety. Perhaps Michael Bradley, who was getting no run with Aston Villa, will be the lone starter to see extended minutes.

Beyond that I don't think you'll see Donovan, Dempsey, Howard, Bocanegra, or Altidore play much more than 65 minutes or so. If nothing else we may get a glimpse of Freddy Adu this afternoon, which I am legitimately excited for.

What should you look for in this one? Well, first and foremost take the time to appreciate the way Spain plays. Sure, Xavi isn't playing, but Iniesta likely will be. The guy is a virtuoso in the midfield and will likely dictate the pace of the entire game. Also, hope that the US emerges from this game without any injuries.

While they shouldn't struggle too much to get out of their Gold Cup group (US, Canada, Panama, Guadeloupe) they'll need to be healthy in order to navigate through the knockout stage of the tournament. Also, it'll be interesting to see what formation Bob Bradley puts out there. I don't think there is any reason to change tactics or formation because they are facing Spain. They should hopefully come out and give us a glimpse of the shape they'll deploy during the Gold Cup.

*UPDATE

US Soccer just released the 18 players included on the gameday roster. They couldn't have done this before I wrote the preview? No Donovan, no Adu, no Bocanegra. Thanks Bob!: 1-Howard, 2-Spector, 4-Bradley, 5-Onyewu, 6-Cherundolo, 7-Edu, 8-Dempsey, 9-Agudelo, 11-Wondolowski, 13-Jones, 14-Lichaj, 15-Ream, 16-Kljestan, 17-Altidore, 19-Rogers, 21-Goodson

NOTES

- They've installed grass over the artificial turf at Gillette Stadium for this game. Which reminds me of one of my favorite lines from The Fugitive. As the U.S. Marshals scour Chicago looking for Dr. Richard Kimble during the St. Patrick's Day parade the Chicago River is dyed green. One of the marshals asks "If they can dye the river green today, why can't they dye it blue the other 364 days of the year?" So, why can't they keep the grass the other 364 days? Yes, I realize New England gets tough winter weather, but come on.

- It's a shame that Stu Holden is injured. His breakout season in Bolton's central midfield gave hope that he could provide the US with a more dynamic presence. Unfortunately, he's not available.

- The US is only carrying three forwards: Altidore, Agudelo, and Wondolowski. Spain? Well, they've brought seven and they're all class: Villa, Silva, Llorente, Torres, Pedro, Del Moral, and Negredo. Good lord is that a ridiculous amount of forward depth. Perhaps they'll play a 2-1-7.

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

Thinking man's pitcher, Phillies prospect Cole Irvin enjoying time with Clearwater

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Clearwater Threshers pitcher Cole Irvin is a student of baseball, but maybe the word “student” – simply stated and in its base meaning – describes the young left-hander best.

A graduate of the University of Oregon who completed his undergraduate degree in sociology in just 3½ years, Irvin has applied a studious, methodical approach to his work on the mound, where he starred as a freshman and senior for the Ducks as a regular Friday night starter.

His 2014 collegiate season was marred by Tommy John surgery, but he reflects on it now as being an important part of him staying in college and obtaining his degree. He remained in Eugene another semester after getting drafted by Pittsburgh in the 32nd round, his second time getting selected.

“I look at it as a positive. I wouldn’t have been able to finish my degree at Oregon if I didn’t have the surgery,” said Irvin, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Phillies last June.

“Sociology covers so many topics. It’s a great degree to have. My studies varied from the population of salmon affecting society to the study of social media. There was so much I learned in so many diverse topics. I like interacting because everyone’s opinion mattered.”

The sociological background also easily translates to the diamond for the 6-foot-4, 190-pound Irvin.

“It’s the same in baseball. The more information you have about the opposing team, our team, if we’re doing the shift and other things… now you have all that collected information. Now you just go do your thing. I think I apply (sociology) to so many different aspects of what I do,” he said.

Sociology aside, Clearwater pitching coach Aaron Fultz has been impressed with the mental approach Irvin has displayed.

“Very (much so),” replied Fultz when asked if the southpaw is the quintessential cerebral pitcher. “He’s a no frills guy and he’s here to work.”

Fultz broke in to MLB and played three seasons with the San Francisco Giants – 2000 to 2002 – and the former big leaguer said Irvin reminds him from a work ethic standpoint of a Bay Area teammate of his.

“He kind of reminds me of Jeff Kent. He comes here and he wants to work and get better,” said Fultz of Irvin, who also bears a slight resemblance to the five-time all-star and 2000 NL MVP of the Giants.

That industrious attitude worked well for Irvin in his first spring training camp in the Grapefruit League in February. He broke camp by bypassing Low A Lakewood and joining the Threshers. Then he proceeded to overwhelm hitters in the Florida State League.

Irvin, 23, was 3-1 in four starts in April, posting a 1.04 ERA. In 26 innings, he allowed 22 hits, struck out 20 and walked just three. His WHIP stood at 0.96.

“His first four or five starts, I thought he was the best pitcher in the league,” Fultz said. “Since then, we’ve had a little hiccup here and there about location and just giving up some hits. He’s had some bad luck, too.

“But I love the way he goes about his business. He gets the ball and he’s ready to pitch. He has a very good idea and is a smart kid. He doesn’t throw 95, but he’s left-handed – that helps – and he has a really good change-up. His stuff is better than average, but his tenacity and the way he goes after hitters is a really good selling point for him.”

Irvin said he tries not read what is written about him or the multitude of numbers baseball produces.

“The past three outings haven’t gone the way I’ve anticipated, especially after the first five starts of the year,” said Irvin, who is 3-5 with a 3.20 ERA after four straight losses starting on May 4 against Jupiter.

He will try to break that winless skid on Tuesday when he faces Florida back in Clearwater.

Of his standout first pro season at short-season Williamsport last year (5-1, 1.97 in 10 games), Irvin admitted he doesn’t look at the stats, saying, “Honestly, I don’t know the numbers. I don’t get ahead of myself and look at stats. Every once in a while, I’ll look at media stuff, but I try not to follow that stuff.

“Once it gets in your head, you start to get anxious about moving up and thinking about things you’re not supposed to be thinking about. I’m supposed to be thinking right now, ‘What can I do to get better and get to the big leagues?’ It’s not about being in the minor leagues; it’s about being in the big leagues.”

Irvin has enjoyed his season so far and, like a good sociology student, is harvesting his own data.

“There’s a lot to build off of. It’s my first full season, so it’s exciting to spend a whole year playing baseball and doing something you love and is fun. It’s something I’ve dreamed of as a kid,” he said.

“I never thought I’d be here this quick, so I’m taking it one day at a time. I can only focus on this day, and tomorrow will come tomorrow.”
 
Three questions with Cole Irvin

You throw a one-seam fastball. What does it do?

“It’s literally across one seam, holding it with one finger. It depends on the wrist. If it’s on the side of the ball, it’s going to fade (versus righty batters). But if your wrist is more on the inside toward your body, it’s going to cut. I only use it as a strikeout pitch. [Laughing] I’d say it’s a wipe-out pitch, but I don’t have wipe-out stuff like most of the guys on this team. It’s an effect pitch, where there’s a little uncertainty where it’ll go.”

You’re from Yorba Linda, CA, the birthplace of Richard Nixon and home of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Have any good Nixon stories?

“Actually, I do. When I was 12, I had to do community service for the high school I was going to go to. I had to have so many hours. The library was looking for someone to clean the helicopter – Air Force One helicopter or whatever it was called. Every Sunday morning I’d show up at 5:30 a.m. to clean that helicopter. I had to go through the Secret Service back door and security checks. I was 12, so there wasn’t much information on me. I spent four or five Sundays cleaning that helicopter. It was so much fun.”

As an Oregon Duck, you were able to play in the Civil War against the Oregon State Beavers and New York Mets outfielder Michael Conforto. Any success?

“My senior year was the first time we’ve ever gone to Goss Stadium and won a series at Oregon State. I pitched against Conforto and also played with him on the Team USA collegiate team that had (Chicago Cubs star Kyle) Schwarber. Honestly, Michael’s one of the great guys to know and talk to. He’s just a world-class, awesome guy.”

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Now on Phillies' bench, Ty Kelly looks back fondly on Team Israel experience

Ty Kelly is currently the 25th man on the Phillies' roster, a utility man who has all of two starts with the club this year.

But two and a half months ago, he was one of the headlining players on the Cinderella squad of the 2017 World Baseball Classic.

Kelly was the starting third baseman for Team Israel, which made a surprising run to the second round with a perfect run through Pool A. The team began the WBC with an upset over host South Korea before wins over Chinese Taipei and the Netherlands. Israel beat Cuba in the next round in Japan but fell to Japan and the Netherlands handily.

Unlike most MLB players who spent their spring in Florida, Kelly got to experience two major Asian cities -- Seoul and Tokyo -- while getting his preseason at-bats.

"It was a great experience, trying the food and all that and seeing all the sights," Kelly said.

However, he wasn't too adventurous with trying the local cuisine compared to his teammates.

"Some of the guys were really trying to seek out the native food," Kelly said. "I wanted to do that as much as I could, but at the same time, you're still trying to get ready for baseball games in a tournament, so you've got to do what's best for your body.

"Chicken sandwiches for me were the way to go for the most part," he added with a laugh.

Kelly's participation with the squad began in the middle of 2016, when Peter Kurz, the President of the Israel Association of Baseball, emailed him and asked if he had a Jewish grandparent. Kelly's mother's side of the family is Jewish, making Kelly eligible.

Last year was also the end of Kelly's long road to the major leagues. Drafted by the Orioles in 2009 out of UC Davis, Kelly was traded multiple times, once straight up for current Brewers slugger Eric Thames before Thames went to Korea and back. Kelly wound up with the Mets and finally made his MLB debut two months shy of his 28th birthday. He played 39 games for the Mets at six different positions and got a hit in his only postseason at-bat, which came vs. Madison Bumgarner no less.

Kelly still had to make the Mets this spring, which could have made joining the WBC a tough decision. However, the organization was on board with Kelly playing in the tournament.

"It made it difficult, but I talked to the Mets about it and they were all for me going over there and still playing and getting experience," he said. "People were still watching, so once I got the go-ahead from them, it was an easy decision."

Kelly made the Mets out of the spring but had just one at-bat before he put on waivers and was claimed by the Blue Jays. Eight days later, he was traded to the Phillies. He has four hits (three doubles) in 19 at-bats with the Phillies and had the game-winning RBI single two weeks ago in the front end of the Phils' doubleheader with the Nationals.

He's the only player from Team Israel to have played in the majors this season. Ryan Lavarnway and former Mets 1B Ike Davis are in Triple A while the roster also included former MLBers Nate Freiman, Sam Fuld and Jason Marquis.

While none of his WBC teammates have parlayed Team Israel's run into MLB time, Kelly still thinks the team caught the eye of people in the game.

"There was definitely a lot of fandom around our team," Kelly said. "A lot of people rallied around us, including people in front offices I think. Of Jewish descent or not, I think a lot of people liked what we did.

"Being a part of that definitely looks good for me, which is just an added bonus."