Don’t read too much into the Gold Cup

Jordan Morris fired an expertly placed strike into the back of the net in the 89th minute to lift the United States to a 2-1 victory over Jamaica in the CONCACAF Gold Cup final in Santa Clara last night, thus making sure The Yanks became the soccer equivalent of the valedictorians at summer school.
Don't get me wrong. You want to lift trophies under a confetti flurry on national television. That's quite the ego stroke. Girls love that stuff.
However, this tournament might have exposed the divide that separates our continent from Europe and South America in the world's beautiful game.
Keep in mind that Honduras reached the semifinals of the tournament without scoring a single goal.
Or that Jamaica reached the finals and it had already been eliminated from qualifying for the World Cup.
What can be discerned from the tournament, in my opinion, are two things:
1) Don't overreact about Mexico getting steamrolled by the Reggae Boys in the semifinals. El Tri stretched itself pretty thin in the last month or so, having sent its top players to Russia for a tournament of grander scale. I believe Mexico didn't take this tournament that seriously and got what it deserved.
El Tri has a comfortable lead in World Cup qualifying. That's not going to change.
Having said that, I wish the team had told its fans so that they wouldn't treat the tournament as life and death.
Hell, the USMNT had the same approach. It's the only reason I didn't travel to see the team play in Tampa. You send your B team to play in a downpour and want me to sit through a driving rainstorm? I'll pass.
2) Andre Blake needs to get out of MLS.
The Jamaicans are young, quick and well-organized on the back line. Tournament organizers called Blake — who plays for the Philadelphia Union — the best goalie. I agree.
He's also too good for MLS. For his good and the benefit of his national team, he needs to take his talents overseas against the best in the world.
3) Juergen Klinsmann was right. The United States needed to change its approach. Only his execution of that change stunk and current coach Bruce Arena has a clear vision of what the team will look like.
What do I mean? I think Clint Dempsey's days as a starter are numbered. Dempsey, who tied Landon Donovan for most goals in USMNT history during the tourney, was sidelined with a heart condition last season. As desirable as scoring is in any sport, a coach has to be able to rely on his players to stay alive.
I know that reads like a sick joke. Look at the men and women who play the game. It's a different body type. Soccer players are cardiovascular machines, built to run for more than 90 minutes. Can a man with a heart condition be expected to run at top speed for 90 minutes?
Which players acquitted themselves for a shot at the World Cup team, should the USMNT qualify? Morris, for one. I think midfielder Darlington Nagbe played with more creativity and intellect than the much-hyped Kellyn Acosta.
Anyone else? To be frank, no. Dom Dwyer got a look, but a missed penalty shot likely killed his future. How can anyone argue that his upside is greater than Jozy Altidore and Bobby Wood, both of whom have played for superior European teams?
Simply put, if you follow soccer on our humble continent, you know who the better players are for both Mexico and the United States. You'll also see the difference when they play in World Cup qualifying in September.

But the Lakers aren’t supposed to be the boys of summer

For a fan base seeking any ray of optimism to bask under, I understand Lakers fans rejoicing that the newbies won NBA Summer League in Vegas last night. I’m in the same boat. I’d rather feel good than to remember the disaster the franchise became since the passing of Jerry Buss. Swaggy P? Buss family legal infighting? #TheLakersAreSoWhite? Timofey Mosgov?

But you do realize this is akin to being the valedictorian in summer school, right? No student applying to Harvard would include that on the application.

True, the Lakers are right now better than they were at any point in the last four years. However, that’s an indication of how low the bar was set.

Any improvement by the Lakers in the last few weeks had nothing to do with a handful of games near a casino. You just haven’t been able to see that yet because with the exception of Lonzo Ball, most of those Summer League players will not make an impact during the upcoming season.

The Lakers upgraded in at least two, and as many as four, positions in the starting lineup. That’s what should make you happier.

Brook Lopez at center and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard are genuine improvements over Mosgov and Jordan Clarkson. They are simply more versatile, particularly at the defensive end. This matters because in the NBA, defense is suspect. In Los Angeles, defense was nonexistent. 

Further, second-year forward Brandon Ingram was the one untouchable player in a tsunami of Lakers trade rumors, meaning his future is far brighter than Luol Deng’s anything.

And Ball appears to be better right now than D’Angelo Russell ever was. True, analysts took Ball to task for his poor shooting and defense. People took Magic Johnson to task for poor shooting as a rookie, too. I have no problem giving Ball time to develop accuracy in his shot because if those Summer League games proved anything, it’s that the kid is a sniper in terms of passing.

Now for the reasons to curb your enthusiasm: Any other names from the Lakers summer team that you throw at me and I’ll give you the same reply. Maybe they make the team, but the only remaining starting player on the hot seat is Julius Randle.

Josh Hart and Kyle Kuzma aren’t starting. They’re guards. Thomas Bryant is a center. He’s probably third on the depth chart behind Lopez and Ivica Zubac. Maybe Zubac or Bryant or Larry Nance Jr. pry the inconsistent and undersized Randle from the lineup. I wouldn’t mind seeing that. I’d miss Randle about as much as any of you pine for Russell right now.

Does this column read a little cold? It should. When you haven’t won 30 games in a few years, that’s a frigid reality. Johnson was right when he took over the team. Only Ingram was an untouchable. If Johnson didn’t fall in love with the Lakers youth movement of the last few years, why should you? The results aren’t there.

As for the results this year? The smart money is LA winds up with about 35 wins, forfeits its first-round draft pick as the result of horrible trades you don’t remember them making and possibly firing Luke Walton to lure top tier free agents.

There’s no gold standard in this soccer tourney

After more than a week of the CONCACAF Gold Cup, suffice it to say this soccer tournament is indicative of everything going on in North America right now. In other words, it sucks.

This is not one of those “I hate soccer” columns. It’s an “I love international soccer” one. No, it’s a “For soccer to continue to grow in popularity in the United States, you can’t expect people to watch this schlock” opinion. Gold is simply too precious a metal for a cup that clearly none of the bigger countries care about.

Of the 12 nations invited to participate in this alleged showcase of North American soccer, the United States and Mexico purposefully didn’t include their top players in pool play. They had reasons that made some sense. The Mexicans sent their best players last month to Russia for the Confederations Cup, a precursor to the World Cup. The Confederation Cup finished July 2. Mexico started Gold Cup on July 9.

Oh wait. That’s plenty of time to get over jet lag.

The Americans, meanwhile, sent their B team because they didn’t want to tucker out the first unit for World Cup qualifying later this year.

Golly, the more I think about it, these are craptacular excuses.

You know what’s also craptacular? The fact that only four of 12 teams were eliminated in pool play. Two-thirds advancing is similar to allowing the Cincinnati Bengals (6-9-1) into the NFL playoffs. The four “nations” that were eliminated? Two of them are so insignificant they played the French national anthem before their games. If nobody cares enough to write a song about your country, you have no business on the stage, Johan.

Oh sure. Now that the knockout round kicks off Wednesday — with eight countries that you’ve heard of — CONCACAF has allowed the surviving teams to reboot their rosters. The Mexicans and the United States were too happy to do so, with players you’ve heard of. The Americans swapped six front liners.

They shouldn’t get to do that. It’s kind of a punk move and I root for the U.S.

If the Gold Cup is merely a minor league version of World Cup qualifying, that’s fine. There are soccer junkies like me willing to see the next generation of players from Mexico and the U.S. who will get stomped by the Germans or Brazilians.

But at least be up front about it. Send your best or develop new talent. You don’t get to do both.

The problem with girl puppies

People who tell you that you can’t buy your friends have never been to a pet store.

I would’ve considered an animal shelter, but I left my job Saturday after the adoption centers were closed. Let’s not make this a political statement. Besides, even if the little rascal dozing off in my seat did come from a puppy mill, she wanted a home, too.

So I’d like to introduce you to my new beagle buddy:

We’ve been inseparable for 37 hours and I have no idea what to name her because she is a her.

I went expecting to get a male puppy. I had a male beagle before. I named him Underdog. This one, maybe I’d use the name again. I was also considering Regal. If you’ve watched “Three’s Company,” you’d get the pun.

The two boy beagles weren’t really a match. The first didn’t look like he wanted to bond. The second was eight weeks and already baying those ear-splitting beagle howls. Good luck training him. 

This one? Teething. I can work with that.

What I can’t do, though, is name her. I can’t name her easily because I know a lot of women and they would assume I named the puppy after her. You can’t name a dog after a girl you know. I’m not claiming it’s as bad as white people dropping n-bombs. Kelsey is not going to get her girlfriends and beat you to within an inch of your life. Dropping an n-bomb will get you beaten to within an inch of your life.

But in both cases, you will get the misery you deserve. Don’t name a girl puppy after a girl you know.

So far, I’ve crossed off my family, not that I’d name a dog Mom, either. There goes Miki, Margot and Chantelle. Then came failure at marriage. Why insult a puppy with Veronica or Tonya?

Next came the homecoming queens from my high school: Ann, Laura and Renea.

Let’s see. I was a reporter. Cross off Katie, Leah, Monica, Barbara, Jenny, Natalie, Gayle, Andrell, Kathy, Patricia, Pam, Nelsy, Nicole, Warisa, Paula, Holly, Amanda, Cindy, Karina. There are more. Maybe their names escape me because I’m a misogynist.

I was a comic. Many male comics act like female comics don’t exist. Wrong. There goes Ro, Ashley, Rosie, Monrok, Jenna, Punkie, Ali, Ricki, Edi, Kristine, Jules, Kimberly, Klee, Tammy, Robin, Kennelia, Cate, Amy, Henrietta, Malia, April, Lang, Denise, Aiko, Sierra, Sandy, Molly. I lost two in one shot because her name is Olivia Grace.

I’m in health care now. Strike Debbie, Mina, Tahira, Lubna (Lubna? I know), Angela, Joni, Susan, Vicki, Bernice, Eva, Allande, Ramona, Christine, Stacey.

I’m also an author. Many authors are so self-absorbed they don’t even like their own names. J.K. Rowling? You’ve sold enough books. People like you. Use your first name, my dear.

I’m not even mentioning names of girls I actually was in love with.

Some of you might be thinking: We get the point, jerk. You need a girl who is super cool to where she wouldn’t take it the wrong way. There’s got to be one girl out there like that. Oh, there is. Her name is Kitten.

So there’s pretty much only one name left.