HOME FIELD ADVANTAGE?!?

It’s wildcard weekend everyone!

Who’s excited? This guy! With my Texans somehow squeaking into the playoffs I am drinking the kool-aid and hoping for a run. We’ve hit a run of form, there’s no pressure to speak of, and we’re playing at home, what else could you ask for?

Evidently, a lot. In a weekend where all 4 road teams are Vegas favorites it’s hard to know what to make of it all. Which home team do you most think will be victorious this weekend?

Let’s go TEXANS!

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Requiem

When I pass on from this world I would like my family to arrange for players from Arsenal to be my pall bearers, so that they can let me down one last time.

Good stinking grief!

Arsenal loses to Dinamo Zagreb in their first match of the UEFA Champion’s League group stage. Dinamo Zagreb! A team that hasn’t won a UCL game since 1999! Arsenal’s budget dwarfs theirs, our global fan following is exponentially bigger, facilities and staff exponentially better, and player for player way more talented. And yet, a loss. An inexplicable (yet more and more unsurprising) loss to an inferior opponent. But was the opponent really inferior if they won?

That’s one of the most interesting things to me about sports. What really makes a team tick? Sometimes there’s a coach or a particular player that the team seems to rally around on a given day. But what makes a team able to deliver winning performances over time? Wanting to believe in a meritocratic world I like to think that stockpiling talent is the answer. Team chemistry and a desire to win are of paramount importance as well. But just look to the NFL to stymie that argument. Some of the greatest players to grace the game have won only one or no championships. The current “best in the world” basketball player, LeBron James, couldn’t rally his team to a victory in the finals this year. And how much does coaching, trainers, medical staff etc matter? Or how about officiating?

Is there any one thing one can point to for having the winning formula? Or does it really come down to that magical mixture of everything mentioned so far with a dash of…..luck? It would be hard to argue that any championship team from any sport didn’t have their fair share of luck along the way. Is that what my Arsenal is missing? Anyone keeping up is shouting, “NO, Arsenal are missing a world class striker!” which isn’t far from the truth but even with barely adequate Giroud we create chances but are denied by the post, or a funny bounce. And still, it’s no excuse.

I guess I’ll continue to wonder what really makes up a winning team and until Arsenal can come up with and implement the answer I’ll sit and hope for a world class striker and just little bit more…..luck?

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Playoffs or Points?

It’s that time of year again NFL fans! A time of excitement and great hope. Hope for a better year, hope of bringing in that special player that will take you to the promised land! That’s what everyone wants right, a Championship? Every fan wants to see their team crowned as the league’s best. And if your team ever wins/has won the Super Bowl you no doubt shout it from the rooftops that your beloved (insert TEAM here) are THE BEST. But is the conference/playoff system that the NFL, and virtually every other domestic league, employs really a fair metric to determine who has the best team in any given year? Is it “fair?”

It’s also an exciting time for Soccer fans throughout Europe as the season is starting up and bets for league winners and losers are starting to take shape. However, there are essentially no playoffs in domestic soccer leagues abroad. Some of you may be thinking I mis-typed that so I’ll restate; no playoffs. In the English Premiere League for example, every team plays every team twice throughout the season. A team is awarded 3 points for a win, 1 point for a draw, and no points for a loss. The team with the most points at the end of the season is the champion, easy peasy. But is this really the best way to determine the best team in the league? Is it “fair?”

Imagine an NFL season running from early September through mid April. Let’s go ahead and up the roster space by 30-35 players to account for injuries and wear and tear. Do away with conferences completely, then have every team play every other team in the league. Team with the most wins at the end is the league champion. In case of a tie the team that scored the most points is declared the winner. For now just put aside all the arguments that it’s too brutal of a sport to expect that from players, or that no team could even make it through that long of a season. Things would self correct in that regard.

Just imagine how that would look and feel. You could have a starting quarterback have a brilliant run of 10 games, get hurt or stop producing, then have a backup step up and have a breakout season for another 20 games! Each game would be critical and rivalries would be formed by match ups rather than arbitrary conference alignments. And double bonus, twice the football!

Or EPL fans, imagine dividing up all the league teams into conferences. Have each team play teams within its conference twice with the remaining games being against some of the rest of the league. Boom! Instant rivalries, and a playoff system that is distinctly lacking in the league’s current form could boost excitement and attendance for those crucial match ups. The final could become a worldwide draw every year akin to the Champion’s League Final.

Doesn’t sound like your cup of tea? Well maybe not. But both systems have problems and I wonder if there isn’t a better way.

With a conference and playoffs system you get a post season. It’s hard to beat “win or go home” playoffs. On the flip side, it’s hard to watch a team go out because of one off day and see a champion crowned that your team maybe never even had a shot at. It’s a conundrum, but I sure would enjoy seeing it turned on its head, just to see what that would be like. A 31 game 33 week (2 byes) NFL season. That’s football every weekend from September to April. With the popularity of the NFL seemingly growing every year, what’s not to like?

Also, check THIS OUT. Because it’s awesome.

And if winning 4 Luxury Suite tickets to see the Cowboys host the Redskins sounds good to you do not pass this up!

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OK, Seriously?

Ok, turning our attention back to the National Team now that the Gold Cup is underway, one has to wonder just what wacky wonderland our coach is living in.

Yeah, good old Klinsy seems to have lost his marbles. What is he doing? Is he crazy? Or crazy like a fox?

Jill Ellis got a lot of flack early on in the Women’s World Cup this year. People said that she didn’t know what she was doing and in the group games the team really didn’t look that great. They got the results, but it was often ugly and many felt that the team wasn’t playing up to its full potential. Eventually though, things came together, all the superb talent “clicked” with some player/formation changes and they won the tournament. The men are sitting in roughly the same situation going into the knockout rounds of the Gold Cup. They’ve achieved the results they needed to go through top of their group but have done so in an anything but convincing fashion. And it’s been ugly. The back line has looked like a bunch of sailors on solid ground for the first time in their lives and the turnover rate has been ridiculous. Klinsmann seems to persist in his “square peg, round hole” approach to positioning his players; all the while using guys that simply have no business being on the field considering our other options.

But is this all part of the growing process? Has he simply been fine tuning this entire time only to assemble that magic moment when everything comes together and the team roars onward to victory just as the Women’s National Team did?

My answer is no.

This situation is very different in a number of ways. The women’s success was based on a strong defense from the very beginning. Our back line is laughable at this point. Timothy Chandler is a turnover machine that couldn’t defend against a high school team. Coach obviously has a soft spot for him but the experiment is over! Let the dream die man. Chandler is not the guy. Alvarado has looked out of sorts and there’s just no chemistry among the defenders. And you certainly don’t built chemistry by COMPLETELY CHANGING the line up Every. Single. Game. So there’s that. I can understand looking towards the future and trying to throw guys into the deep end to see if they’ll swim but is now really the time? To win we need to do the best we can with what we have.

The offense has done tolerably creating a few chances in these group games and the scoring instincts of Dempsey saw us through. That being said, our build up play has been largely anemic and again, Klinsmann can’t seem to settle on a combo in midfield or up top that he likes. Again, I understand tinkering and fine tuning but playing a clearly out of form and not match fit Jozy Altidore just doesn’t make sense. I’ve been a big Jozy supporter in the past and I think he may yet have a major role to play in this side. But he’s clearly not on his game right now and hasn’t given any indication that that will change in the near future. JK seems to think that he can make certain combinations of players work by sheer force of will. Playing guys out of position because “wagargle bargle formation, X’s and O’s” is not ideal. We don’t have the kind of talent that the women’s team does plain and simple. He can’t just keep telling his guys to “make it work.” (I don’t personally know what he is telling them but this sure looks like what’s going on “Ok guys, everyone play out of the positions that you are most effective in and just figure it out while I consistently disrupt any chemistry you are trying to form by constantly changing the line up”)

I’m not saying that we can’t win the Gold Cup but it won’t be due to Klinsy’s tactical acumen. It will be because our players dig deep and find a way to grind out the results. As we have in the past and *sigh* seem to be destined to in the future. Jurgen Klinsmann clearly hasn’t delivered on his promises of a revolution of style for U.S. soccer but that’s a discussion for another time.

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Oh the Humanity!!

Sometimes you hear or read something that really resonates with how you view an issue. I did that today.  This “you’re either with us or against us” attitude being presented as an absolute in social issues just serves to further divide a populace that needs to come together. I didn’t write this, but I wish I did. I wish more people in this great country were capable of critical thinking and realized that there’s often way more gray than there is black and white. In any case, enjoy!

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Blind Justice?

There has been a lot in the news recently about the Department of Justice’s investigation into FIFA. A number of members and former members of soccer’s world governing body have been arrested and indicted with inevitably more to come. It took the good ol’ US of A to tackle the corruption and graft that had been going on within the organization for years. Working with Swiss authorities the DOJ paid a visit to FIFA members’ hotel in Zurich in the early hours of the morning and arrested 14 of them. Taking on FIFA is no joke as they are arguably the single most powerful sports body in the world. With membership of 209 countries (some members are arguably actual countries), monetary ties with each, and a cash reserve of $1.5 billion, FIFA has power. Big time power. The so called “president” of FIFA, Sepp Blatter, has wielded this power to great effect throughout his 17 year tenure. With an annual revenue larger than the GDP of most nations, it’s fair to say that Blatter and FIFA had certain global political influence on par with that of members of the G8. This multinational organization answers to no sovereign nation, has a great amount of influence in developing countries, and again let’s not forget, makes a metric ton of money that is not taxed. What has happened at FIFA is a classic example of rampant power and money run wild. The United States is out to curb this corruption and bring those responsible to justice…

Now I applauded this move by American and Swiss authorities. I would like nothing better than to see Blatter and his cronies hang out to dry for how they have conducted themselves as curators of the game I love. One by one those in custody will roll on those above them and eventually they’ll reach the top. I have faith that this will happen. There will be some jail time in the equation I imagine, and a hefty amount of fines and forfeitures ordered no doubt. But I do wonder, why? And why now? I mean thousands of Nepalese workers have already perished building stadiums for the feather in the corrupted cap disaster that is the Qatar World Cup bid.

Another item trending in the news lately is the existence of the “deep web” or “darkweb,” Silk Road,  and the Tor anonymity network as it relates to the recent sentencing of Ross Ulbricht. The Silk Road was an online black market that allowed sellers and buyers to operate anonymously and was best known for being a place to buy and sell illegal drugs. Ulbricht’s Silk Road generated an estimated $1.2 billion in revenue and $79.8 million in commissions over 1,229,465 transactions.  He identified a market, had an idea of how to tap into it, engineered a business model, implemented it and became a great success. He had ultimate control of Silk Road, being able to dictate which sellers could have an account and how much each account would cost them. It’s a capitalist’s wet dream really. We’re talking absolute power at the top of the organization and big time money rolling in. Again, not answering to any government, and not paying taxes as a result of the underground nature of the business. The DOJ ultimately paid him a visit and he was rewarded for his entrepreneurial efforts with 5 federal sentences, two of which included life in prison without the possibility of parole. Oh, also a forfeiture of $183 million. Another man brought to justice….

So what do these two cases have in common? What could a sports governing body possibly have to do with an online black market? Well, they share some traits. Both are insanely profitable, both hold a lot of power in their areas of influence, both are earning un-taxed revenue, both operate independently of any national government, and both were/are being taken down by the “Justice” system.

But who is this justice for?

The FIFA case is a pretty easy sell. There were bribes paid, members were lining their pockets with money that should have been going to develop coaching, stadiums, and equipment. Tournaments and World Cups were being awarded “unfairly.” No one likes being treated unfairly right? Oh, and of course the piss poor human rights record of 2022 World Cup host Qatar and the thousands of lives lost by virtual slave laborers in preparation for the tournament. We gotta save lives! Do the right thing! It’s about the health and well being of human beings. We have to take out an organization that would allow such a thing to go on. Back door deals, “racketeering,” bribe taking, and dying workers. Who doesn’t want to see these evil masterminds pay for what they’ve done?

Then we have Ross Ulbricht who built an empire through use of the Tor network. A network developed domestically by the way, in an effort to give our military and political dissidents in hostile regime countries a way to communicate securely. Yes, this case has something we can get the people to rally around too. Drugs! They were selling drugs on Silk Road! Oh woe is me, save the children! We must protect the health and well being of people the world over by preventing them from buying and taking drugs.  Ulbricht who, when you get down to it, did nothing more than set up an anonymous online marketplace will serve back to back life sentences and had to hand over nearly $200 million in asset forfeiture. Job done, children are saved, truth and justice for all.

But not justice for all. “All” isn’t whom our Attorney General is concerned about. The DOJ isn’t interested in justice for “All.” They pursue a course of justice for their interests.

The United States of America will not tolerate independent, wealthy and powerful organizations’ existence. If we can’t tax it or bomb it consider it public enemy number one. Full stop. End of story.

 

 

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One Moment of Glory

There is a fairly recent phenomenon in European soccer of very mobile “super coaches” bouncing around different teams and winning trophies with them. After their 1-2 year successful runs they may hang around for an additional year or so then they are off to their next destination. This creates a high demand for their services (good for them) as they achieve success quickly, but leaves teams scrambling to find another manager when the super coach leaves or is fired. (That’s right, fired) The reason they may be fired is, as in any big money sport, that they live in a world of “what have you done for me lately.” The issue is that the teams are often left in shambles when the coach departs. I’m not interested in the bigger and more complex ethical arguments of mercenary coaches or longtime good for the sport.

My question is, is it worth it?

And at what point would it not be worth it?

I guess it all hinges on how desperate one is for some winning ways. But let’s say you could bring in a “super coach” for your team. Bringing in this coach would guarantee your team a trip to the Super Bowl, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup final etc within 3 years. However, when the coach left the team would be left in tatters with a serious rebuild in order. The locker room would be divided, stars would leave etc. We’re talking 3-5 year process before you would be competitive again. Would it be worth it to you?

What about 2-3 years of conference championships and a trip or two to the league championship in exchange for 9-10 years of not making playoffs? For some perennial “also ran” teams I imagine this is a done deal easy. But what about for everyone else? And what’s your breaking point; how many years of success are worth how many years of abject tepidity.

And how would you feel about the coach? What if in the whirling of the carousel he came back around to be available? Would you go for it again?

Just a thought.

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