Awful news out of Colombia last week, as Brazilian team Chapecoense crashed on their final approach to Medellin, where they were set to play in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana Finals, which I guess is like the South American equivalent of the Europa League.
I'll be brutally honest: I had never heard of the team before last week, had no idea what the Copa Sudamericana was and couldn't actually find Chapeco on a map. (I looked it up, it's in the state of Santa Catarina in Southern Brazil.) But what struck me was the incredible outpouring of support for the victims of the crash and this team that echoed around the world in the aftermath. Brazilian teams are offering to loan players to the team for free and asking that they be spared relegation for a period. Colombian fans poured into the streets to sing and chant the team's chant and paid tribute to the victims. Wembley Stadium's iconic arches turned green in tribute.
The solidarity shown by fans across the world is amazing. People really love this game.
(I can't really offer much in the way of a tribute of my own, but I omitted the exclamation point this month. For what it's worth.)
So, NEC Nijmegen is holding steady in mid-table at 12th currently, which isn't great, but it's not all that bad either. Let's see... last time we checked in was November 11th and they had a rough-looking November ahead. They had Ajax, Twente and Heracles coming down the pipe and I was hoping that they could get at least a full three point from one and force a draw at the other. (I didn't think they'd be Ajax.) And, lo and behold, what happened?
L to Ajax (a 5-0 beatdown. Yikes!)
W vs Twente (mildly big deal, since Twente is at 6th right now in the table.)
vs Heracles, which moves them up
They've got Den Haag and Excelsior on deck to round out December, which are currently below them in the standings- though not that far in the case of Excelsior. The big question as we head into 2017 is this: can NEC finish in the top half of the table?
American Handegg News
Well, color me surprised. After a disastrous outing at Penn State I was bracing myself for the worst, but instead, the opposite happened. We beat Michigan on a last second field goal- in a weird, strange echo back to the 1985 Michigan Game where Jim Harbaugh was in Kinnick as well, this time playing Quarterback. I think the 2016 Edition will find it's way onto the Mount Rushmore of All-Time Great Hawkeye Games, if it's not there already.
It was also the first field rush I've seen in quite a long time actually- maybe even since 2008 and the last second victory over Penn State.
So now what? Well, now we've got to figure out where we're going bowling and if Navy wins out, then #TeamChaos gets to ride in the Bowl System for awhile, which in general I'm in favor of. We seem to be heading for one of two bowls- either the Holiday Bowl or the Outback Bowl (yet again, ugh.) There's also an outside chance of the Music City Bowl, but everyone seems to be of the opinion that's fading fast as an option for us. I've seen projections for us playing either Wazzu or a rematch of Stanford in the Holiday Bowl. ESPN's latest projections have us in either the Holiday Bowl vs Wazzu or the Pinstripe Bowl vs UNC.
In general, I'm a little torn. Part of me wouldn't mind a Stanford rematch, especially if we could actually, you know, win. But a repeat of last year's Rose Bowl wouldn't be all that fun to watch either. (Unless I had five beers in me, which I did by halftime, if memory serves.) We also tend not to do well on the West Coast, which is a curse I'd love to break. Wazzu would be a fun challenge. But a Pinstripe Bowl match-up against an equally feisty UNC team wouldn't be bad either. Any Bowl is a good bowl in my book, but if I had my druthers I'd take either the Holiday vs Wazzu or the Pinstripe vs UNC. (Update: turns out I was wrong on all counts. It's the Outback Bowl vs. Florida.)
Now that we've done that, let's revisit 2017:
vs Wyoming: W, but not a gimme. They're legit good in the MWC.
at Iowa State: W, we're in Ames, so it's anyone's guess, but ISU looked woeful this year.
vs North Texas: W
vs Penn State: W, I think anyone returning for next year is gonna have a big red circle round this game. And it's at Kinnick.
at Sparty: L, because we're at East Lansing
vs Illinois: W, because we're at home.
at Northwestern: W. had best be a W. Will probably be an L because Northwestern
vs Minnesota: W
vs Ohio State: L
at Wisconsin: L
vs Purdue: W, because Purdue.
at Nebraska: W, because Nebraska isn't quite there yet. This column gives a pretty good diagnosis as to why.
(So I have us at 9-3. Buuuuuut, if I'm being honest with myself: Wyoming could be an L. Penn State could be an L and Nebraska could be an L. All depends on what Iowa brings to the table next fall.)
So, it's Toronto vs Seattle in the MLS Cup finals? Already got that penciled in to sit down and watch. I think for sure, Toronto remains in the running for the final season (or should I say, THE FINAL SEASON) of MLS Quest next year) but I just want to watch. Toronto v Montreal sounded like one hell of a game. I'm sorry i missed it.
In other vaguely MLS related news, Jurgen Klinsmann was fired as head coach of the US Men's National Team. Finally. US Soccer turned to Bruce Arena once more to right the ship and it looks like, at minimum Arena is charged with getting the US to the 2018 World Cup in Russia- which after losses to Mexico and Costa Rica is going to be a task with little room for error.
I saw a Tweet go by me not long after Klinsmann was fired which said that while the Head Coach is an important job, the job of technical director might be even more important in the long term to the further development of the support. (I think I have to h/t Men In Blazers for that Tweet. It sounds like something they would Tweet, anyway, but I can't remember for sure.) I've heard great interviews tackling this issue- with FC Dallas Coach Oscar Pareja and Earnie Stewart from the Philadelphia Union- so there are an increasing number of excellent minds thinking creatively about this. I think if the past 15 years have proven anything about US Soccer, it's that the potential to reach the heights of the support is there. It's just tapping into that potential that's the problem.