Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Sportsyball!

Adopt-A-Team: They survived! Defensa y Justicia managed a solid 9th place performance and didn't get relegated! My curse (if you could call it a curse since this is only year two) has been stopped in its tracks. We checked in with them last time on March 14th, wrapping up their season looked like this:

L to Talleres Cordoboa
L to River Plate
W over Boca Juniors
W over Racing Club
W over Independiente
W over Rosario Central
L to Newell's
W over Arsenal Sarandi
W over Mitre (Copa Argentina, 1st Round)

Out of the three losses down the stretch, only Newell's seems to be a bad one as they're  at the far end of the Superliga table- though three teams above the eventual relegation zone. Both Talleres Cordoba and River Plate finished ahead of Defensa y Justicia in the table and the win over Boca Juniors (eventual winners of the league, surprise surprise) is good. Not sure where I'm going next season yet, but stay tuned for the fall, because I'm sure it'll be just as fun!

Arsenal: It felt like it kind of came out of left field a little bit, as the Arsenal Commentariat seemed to be bracing themselves/convincing themselves that Mikel Arteta's arrival as head coach was imminent, but instead, they went with Unai Emery and the more I've heard about this guy and the more I've read about him, the more interested I am. Yes, he was ousted from PSG- but he also managed to win five trophies in two years and PSG is to France what Bayern Munich is to Germany: the only thing that matters is the Champions League. Everywhere else he's been he's produced solid improvements and won silverware,

In short, it feels like he's exactly what's needed. He's got a good infrastructure around him with Sven Mislintat as head of recruitment and Raul Sanllehi as head of Football Relations, which should allow him to focus on the football. (I guess he wowed the Arsenal board by going through player by player- reportedly all the way down the Academy Level guys and telling them what he would do to improve each player, which means at least he's got ideas on how he can make them better, right?) There's obviously a gap between his arrival and seeing what he can do on the field (because at this point, we just don't know yet) but  if there's one thing that's been frustrating about Arsenal, it's that on paper, they're far more talented than the results suggests. If Emery can find a way to close that gap, at minimum, it means a better finish than sixth for next season.

While I love that he's about challenging for titles, my gut instinct is that he may be a season or two away from making a serious run at the Premier League, but who knows. What I'd like for next season, in no particular order: 1. better away form, 2. top four finish, 3.finish ahead of Spurs in the table! (I want to celebrate St. Totteringham's Day, damn it) 4. win a trophy somewhere. All four of these might be a tall order, but shit, I'd take better away form than this season, because they were awesome at home and excrementally bad away.

TL;DR: New Coach, I'm excited.

Champions League: Liverpool lost. They lost 3-1 thanks to some goalkeeping errors and a shoulder injury to their superstar goal scorer Mo Salah. (The player in question who did the injuring, Sergio Ramos, is amusingly getting sued for one billion euros for potential damage to Egypt's World Cup hopes- despite the fact that it seems like Salah's injury is not as bad as they thought and his chances of making the World Cup seem to be decent.) Speaking of Ramos and goal keeping problems on Liverpool's part... perhaps a stray elbow might have rung Karius' bell a little bit?

This was the first Champions League final I actually kept half an eye on for a long ass time. I didn't actually get to see it, because we were out of town for the weekend, but I paid attention, because for the first time in what seemed like forever it wasn't Barcelona v Real Madrid. But that got me thinking: was Spain as dominant as I thought it was?

Turns out, I was wrong. Spain has had a nice streak going with five Champions League winners dating back to 2012-2013 (which was the Bayern Munich vs Borussia Dortmund year, which was the last final I actually watched). But England had a six year streak back in the late 70s and early 80s (which featured Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa). The Netherlands had a four year streak back in the early 70s (Ajax and Feyenoord). Spain's recent run of dominance in the competition is their best result since it's inception, where they dominated competition from 1955-1960. Between 1990 and 2012, no country has put together a streak. Since I've been alive: England has won 5 times, Italy 8 times, Romania once, Portugal twice, Netherlands twice, Yugoslavia once, Spain 12 times, France once, Germany three times.

TL;DR: Spain's dominance, while boring is the exception, not the rule when it comes to the Champions League. It's more interesting than I thought.

MLS Quest/USMNT: At last tally, I seemed to be poised between FC Dallas and Minnesota United. That's sort of where things are still standing...  shamefully (yes, shamefully) I haven't managed to catch either US Open Cup or MLS regular season action yet. YET. The Season is still young, damn it.

Despite not having made the World Cup for 2018, the US Men's National Team actually had an interesting match against Bolivia, which they won 3-0 that saw some impressive debuts from the young guns of the team. But, they're also reportedly close to finalizing a deal with Earnie Stewart to be the first General Manager of the National Team. This is an interesting move on the part of USSF and depending on who you talk too, it's either a boneheaded move or a brilliant one- judging by the reaction on r/soccer, it's an either/or type of proposition here. I tend to fall into the latter camp rather than the former. Men In Blazers did a fascinating interview with him that's worth digging up if you want to know who the guy is and what he's about and while I don't know for sure, I tend to see some truth in the notion that he had success at AZ Alkmaar and NAC Breda because he had support and resources, while his perceived failure at the Philadelphia Union is allegedly down to his lack of support and resources.

In general, I think you can be good at your job in the world of soccer and if you're not in a situation where you have the resources to support you, the results might not be that great. I don't know yet if Earnie Stewart is the guy for the job, but for sure, the US could do a hell of a lot worse.

Other Sports: The NHL and NBA playoffs continue warping the space time continuum and plod along to their final destinations. (For serious now: hockey and basketball playoffs seem to last for years. I'd swear the Stanley Cup playoffs have been going on for as long as I've been alive, yet it's only been like two months.) For the hockey, alas, poor Winnipeg, so close to the promised land! (I'd say alas, poor Minnesota as well, but the Wild have this tendency to get me excited come playoff time and like a wet fart noise, disappear rapidly. I'm sort of torn between rooting for the Washington or Las Vegas here. I might settle on the former just to give Ovechkin his Cup.

The NBA meanwhile, sets up another Cavs v Warriors Final... I honestly don't have much of a dog in this fight. I tend to agree with the notion that the Celtics are going to be scary good next year and while the Warriors are the Warriors and it would not surprise me if they win this thing, the fact that LeBron James dragged the Cavaliers to the Finals to begin with gives me pause. If he has enough gas in the tank to do it again, anything is possible.

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