Friday, June 25, 2010
One goal by Landon Donovan against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa this past Wednesday has forever changed the fate of soccer in the US. If there was ever a time for the American public to rally around a sport that has been perennially overlooked in this nation, now would be that time. And as America's hardest working team, the Columbus Crew, owners of Major League Soccer's best record, should be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this new spotlight. The Crew often have to take a backseat to the other major sports in this town, namely Ohio State football, and the town's hockey franchise, the Columbus Blue Jackets. But with football more than a couple of months away, and the hockey season over too, all eyes are on the World Cup. However it ends for the US, one thing is for certain, all the buzz surrounding the tournament should lead more people to tune into soccer. And that is where the Crew has a major oppportunity to cash in. Not only are they in first place, but the Columbus Crew also have World Cup talent on their roster in Frankie Hejduk and Guillermos Barros Scholetto. They have history on their side as well, having won their first Major League Soccer Championship in 2008. And the experience of watching a game at Columbus Crew Stadium is something very few fans will forget. It has to be one of the more aesthetically appealing stadiums across the nation, even if it is by no means among the largest. Team USA has already surpassed most experts expectations for where they would finish in the 2010 FIFA World Cup from South Africa. Now all the Crew can do is sit back and hope that in a month the increased world exposure of their sport will also lead to increased local support of their team.
He is only a rookie. He has started the season with a record of 5-1 in his first 14 starts, with an era right under 3.00 and 58 strikeouts. He can list on his resume wins over St. Louis and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Not only that, but his team is only a game and a half out of first in their division, and at one point in the season was in sole possession of first place. Who am I talking about? Stephen Strasburg? Aroldis Chapman? No, I am actually talking about Mike Leake, the starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds that almost no one is talking about but everyone should be. Initially it was thought that Leake would start the season in the minors, but as we near the all-star break he has to be not only the favorite for Rookie of the Year in the NL but also among the short list for candidates for the NL Cy Young. So why then has Stephen Strasburg become the household name? That's a good question, and I believe it boils down to a simple explanation: Strasburg has more flash, and in the media world flash more often than not gets the headline over substance. Sure Leake has great stats for a rookie pitcher, but he does not throw a 100 mph fastball. And despite having a current era of 2.92, he has only recorded 58 strikeouts in his first 14 starts, an average of 4 strikeouts per game. Strasburg, however, has recorded 32 strikeouts in only 3 starts, for an average of around 10 strikeouts per game. So what if Strasburg has not faced a team with a record above .500 yet. His numbers still seem much more glamorous than Leake's, even if Leake might be poised to have the type of rookie season pitchers can only dream of, and on a team with a legitimate shot to make the postseason. But I digress. It's time that the media give this kid (Leake) the respect he deserves; if beating National League powers such as the Cardinals and Dodgers doesn't get him at least that, then I don't know what will. All I know for certain is that Mike Leake just might be the best young pitcher in the big leagues that no one outside of Ohio has heard of.
Tuesday, June 22, 2010
It has been replayed over and over ad nauseam the past several days. By now Kouman Coulibaly has to be a household name for even the most casual soccer fan in the US. He was the referee who disallowed the 3rd and potential winning goal for team USA against Slovenia last Friday, and in the process made it that much tougher for the Yanks to advance out of group play. In his press conference immediately following the game, head coach Bob Bradley expressed his disappointment over the lack of explanation for the call, yet he refused to blame any of the officials for the fact that team USA has yet to record a victory in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. But what was really going on inside the head of the most outward calm individual as that has been replayed hundreds of times since it happened? My guess is that coach Bradley has to be very frustrated with Coulibaly, almost to the point where he would have liked to have pull him aside, and said " hey, did you see that guy holding #4 for us? Yeah...he's my son and he was fouled as well. So I think you should have allowed that last goal." Publicly the elder Bradley has to maintain that it doesn't bother him, especially if he has any designs on coaching the next US team to be in the World Cup, more than likely in 2014 in Brazil. As a father it has to eat at him that victory was taken away from his team by a call that could have easily been nullified because of what Slovenia did to his son. In any case, I don't think Coulibaly should be expecting any Christmas cards from either of the Bradleys anytime soon. And I can't say I blame them either.
Saturday, June 19, 2010
So Texas did not join the PAC -10 after all, and the formation of the superconferences has been put on hold for now. But it is almost inevitable that conferences such as the Big 10, Pac 10, and SEC will eventually expand to 16 teams, and that will utimately lead to the death of the BCS for the following reasons:
- Expanded conference memberships increase the possibility that more teams will end the season with identical records.
- Once all the new superconferences are formed, the new landscape of college football will pave the way for a sixteen team playoff system.
- There is a growing myth among sports media today that the heads of the major universities and colleges are strenuously opposed to a college football playoff.
- The BCS is not officially sancitioned by the NCAA.
Labor unions were originally created to give the laborer, who at times worked long hours for little pay, a voice in the presence of management They were seen as the equalizer in the balance of power between the employee and employer. But what happens when one of those unions gains to much power? The NFLPA, or National Football League Players Association, while not the largest union in terms of numbers, has to be regarded as the most influential organization in sports today. What other group can claim it negotiated guaranteed rookie contracts of at max 40 million dollars? Not only that, the NFLPA has been able to reduce Roger Goodell's code of conduct policy to a mere joke. Donte Stallworth? He was convicted of vehicular manslaughter, but the NFL only suspended him for a season before letting him return to the Baltimore Ravens. Michael Vick? The former Falcons quarterback, convicted on charges of setting up an illegal interstate gambling ring that centered around dogfighting, got a two year suspension before returning to the league. Meanwhile, the legendary Pete Rose still faces a lifetime ban from baseball for bets he made as a player/coach. Ben Rothlisberger? The Pittsburgh Steeler qb faced allegations of sexual assault for the second time in as many years, and despite what appeared to be enough proof to take him to court was not charged with anything. The NFLPA worked with commissioner Goodell to reduce his suspension to 4 games with good behavior. All these incidents would have been enough to cost the average American their job, but thanks to the NFLPA these players continue to make a living in the sport they love. What is worse, the NFLPA has also negotiated the current CBA so that there is no salary cap in 2011, and in the process driven owners to scale back free agent offers preemptively so they don't end up in the red as the threat of a work stoppage looms next season. This has prompted many players, like Tennessee's Chris Johnson, to demand their contracts be renegotiated early so they can be compensated the amount they feel they deserve. Where does it stop? The unfortunate reality is that, as long as the average fan continues to pay $60-75 a game to see their favorite team play, the players union only gets stronger. And the irony is that if the average fan tried to argue for some of the same things that the NFLPA received the odds that the average fan would ever be able to work in their given industry again would be slim to none. Which is why the NFLPA has been given way to much power by the owners, and that power has corrupted this union to its very core. So at the end of the day, the owners should be hoping for a lockout, and pray that the resulting short term decrease in attendance that is the fallout will ultimately bring this seemingly mad organization to its senses.
Tuesday, June 1, 2010
I am not sure when the last time United States played England in the World Cup. Maybe it was before I was born. Or maybe it was before I even started to care about such things. But it doesn't really matter. This year's renewal of the ole' Revolutionary Rivarly has a feel to it as if it were indeed 1776 and Paul Revere was riding into town yelling "the Redcoats are coming! The Redcoats are coming!" At least that's how I feel, and frankly, I don't much care if you don't feel the same way. I mean, c'mon, when are we going to get another chance to show up our neighbors across the pond as billions around the globe look on? When cricket finally overtakes baseball as America's pastime? Please. Or how about in rugby? Yeah, I know we like to think we're tough, but have you ever wondered where the stereotype that the British have bad teeth came from? So, it's us vs. them, the Yankees vs. the Brits, with bragging rights on the line for potentially the next half decade. England is said to be vulnerable for the 2010 World Cup, with their longtime captain David Beckham to sit out the tournament. But that is not to say they are not dangerous. Their top player, striker Wayne Rooney, plays for English Premier League perennial power Manchester United, or Man U as they are known in soccer circles. And even though Becks is not playing, I am sure he at the very least will be on the sideline as an advisor. The US, on the other hand has several factors in its favor, starting with its youth. They should show no fear, as I am sure most of the players (like myself) don't know the last time these two teams played. In addition, being grouped with Algeria and Slovenia means that this is not necessarily a must win for team USA, so that should take some of the pressure off. Finally, playing in South Africa should provide a more neutral crowd for team USA than if ithe World Cup took place somewhere in Europe. If anything the Brits, as the favorite, have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Kinda reminds you of something else that happened between these two nations more than a couple of centuries ago, doesn't it?