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June 25, 2017

Sport Sunday: Azerbaijani Racing, Pakistani Cricket, USA MLS

Azerbaijan Grand Prix

Today the Grand Prix of Azerbaijan will be contested at Baku, as the motor racing season moves forward, and Azerbaijan makes its debut in this space!

Lewis Hamilton has demonstrated, with his three victories in China, Spain and Canada so far this season that he is fast enough to win a fourth world drivers’ title this season with Mercedes-GP. What could end up costing him the championship is consistency, or rather lack of it. Prior to his May win in Spain, he was rather lackluster, as car racing goes.  The long start-finish straight in Baku is unlikely to suit the Red Bull Racing cars, whose Renault engine still lacks horsepower compared to Mercedes and Ferrari.

That is unlikely to improve the mood of Dutch phenom Max Verstappen, who has scored just 10 points from his past three races. The Dutch teenager is driving well, he has out-qualified his more experienced teammate Daniel Ricciardo at those past three events in Spain, Monaco and Canada, but a collision with Kimi Raikkonen in Barcelona, coming off worse in a strategy gamble in Monte Carlo, and then a car failure in Montreal have not given him the rewards his speed deserves. Sergio Perez’s will want to re-establish his dominance over his younger teammate, and a repeat of last year’s performance would go down very nicely.

Pakistan wins Cricket Champions Trophy with help of novice Fakhar Zaman. 

Fakhar Zaman was once banned from playing cricket in his village.  His older brothers didn't like that he was "too good," and got back at him at every opportunity.  Despite all of that, this Summer he has returned as a hometown hero after his starring role in Pakistan’s Champions Trophy win.  The 27-year-old batsman was feted with flowers, and posed for selfies as a hero in Katlang, his hometown in northwestern Pakistan. He lead scoring with 114 off 106 balls to lead Pakistan to a shock victory over arch-rivals India in the final, after making his ODI debut earlier in the tournament.  After his return home, he said, the ambiance has changed, "they all are giving me love, so now I feel that I have done some great heroics."  Until that win, they had been at the bottom of the ranking as the tournament began.  They scored an incredible 338-4, in large part due to left-handed opener Fakhar’s first hundred, in what was just his fourth ODI.

His brother Asif said that, despite mistreatment at the hands of his brothers, "he never quit cricket, and has become a hero today." Fakhar left home to puruse his dreams of being a Navy commando, but when the Navy cricket coach saw him playing, he urged him to leave the Navy behind.  He got his start on the international level only in March of this year.  Now Pakistan’s newest star has no intention of resting on his laurels and, he said proudly, plans to play for his country "for a long time".

Meanwhile, in their second ODI, today West Indies will combat India at Port of Spain. 

In USA Soccer:  Rivalry Weekend

But first, Midfielder Kenny Saief will be eligible to play for the United States after FIFA approved his switch of national team allegiance from Israel, U.S. Soccer confirmed on Thursday.  Saief, who played teen soccer for the Israeli national teams, plays his club soccer for Ghent in Belgium, and is now eligible to appear for the U.S. at the CONCACAF Gold Cup.  

Saief is American born (Florida) but played for the Israeli youth teams as he came to prominence. Belgium, which is known for having an excellent youth development system, is used to seeing their stars play at the pro level abroad, so Saief will have to prove himself to continue to play at the USA national level. 
MLS in the USA is constantly trying to generate interest

in their sport, and normally not doing so well at 

accomplishing that goal.  

This weekend is another attempt public relations, with


Seattle vs. Portland, Houston vs. Dallas, the New York Red 

Bulls vs. the New York FC (who knew two teams were 

supported in New York?), and D.C. United vs. the 

Philadelphia Union in an I 95 matchup.   Almost all of these 

games were contested yesterday.

In the saving the best for last department:  

Portland and Seattle go head to head in MLS' sole game this 


When it comes to rivalries in MLS, there is none better than 

the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers. Although the 

pair didn't go head-to-head in Major League Soccer until 

2011, their meetings on the pitch date back to 1975. 

With history and passion unparalleled in the league, the 

rivals have also won the past two MLS Cups.  This afternoon,

 from Mt. Ranier to Mt. Hood, the 

Cascades could erupt with resounding soccer cheers.  

Check your local listings.