SportsProf

(Hopefully) good sports essays and observations for good sports by a guy who tries (and can sometimes fail) to be a good sport.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Eagles' Fans Should be Patient with Chip Kelly

There are many reasons for this statement.

1.  He just got here.  Not everyone gets off to a great start when he changes jobs.  Not everyone inherits a great group to lead when he changes jobs.  Not everyone can effect change in the matter of months.  Give the guy a break.  As Ray Didinger pointed out in Comcast Post-Game Live after yesterday's thrashing at the hands of the Broncos, their schedule is such that they could win their next two games, go 3-3 and then have the Cowboys coming into the Linc.  Remember, they are in the NFC East, which is not the NFL's equivalent of the SEC.

2.  His offense is second in the NFL.  Along the lines of "you are what your record says you are," a corollary is that "you are what your statistics say you are."  They have a good offense.  That's what the numbers show.  The man is an innovator, and I don't recall anyone jumping for joy over the concepts of "Moneyball," the "West Coast Offense," the Spread Offense or the "Read-Option."  Yet, somewhere, somehow, all have been successful.

3.  He is an innovator.  He focuses on the small details (save, perhaps yesterday, his special teams, which were horrid), such as the tempo of practices, when to hit and when not to, what his players should eat, etc.  He also is going around the block for the first time.  He'll catch up on defense and on special teams, even if he'll need new coordinators (likely) and new players (definitely).

4.  Let's not get overly nostalgic about Andy Reid.  Reid is a good coach who did a good job in Philadelphia.  Yet, by the end of his tenure, the team had a bunch of flaws, lost its focus, and had holes in its roster that seemed to persist over the years (and which Coach Andy missed or refused to address).  That this team is not playing well should be no surprise, because in the end you either have the talent to win or you do not, regardless of the coaching (and this team has very few stars).  That the Chiefs are playing well has depended on a) the anomaly that they had five Pro Bowlers last year on a team that won just twice and c) that they have tatooed the NFC East, which is playing at perhaps its worst level in memory.  So, before everyone gets on the Andy bandwagon or negatively compares Coach Chip, let's wait a while longer.  When asked about how they thought democracy was doing, Chinese governmental officials remarked, "Let's wait 5,000 years and see."  Touche.

5.  Did you really expect this team to go to the playoffs?  There are only two possible answers to this question -- "No" and "Heck, no."  Yet, given how the fans are reacting, you'd think that many thought that with a new coach this roster would be bound for the Super Bowl in the Giants' home stadium.  Better yet, given how terrible the division is, the Birds do have a chance, and this is one of life's odd twists.  This team is not a playoff team under most circumstances, yet there remains the possibility that they could get there.  Still, they are a few years away (and a few Chip Kelly drafts and adjustments) from being a very good team.

6.  Knock off all the talk that he's "Charlie College" and that this offense will not work in the NFL.  Evolution, innovation and adaptation are a good part of what life is all about.  Yes, he is asking for a fast pace from his players, and perhaps that means that offensive and defensive linemen will have to be less obese, in better shape and better able to rebound more quickly.  Those who complain that the players get tired might be complaining because some of their favorite trench players have bellies that pour over their belt lines by too big a margin to be considered "athletic."  These guys are professionals, and it's not like professional soccer, where the players play 45 minutes non-stop.  In football, the play stops on an incomplete pass, on TV timeouts, after scores, etc., even if teams do not huddle.  That should be plenty of time for players to rest, even if the ball is in play for say only twenty-five of the sixty minutes.  Divide that by two if you want to argue hypothetically that a team plays twelve and a half minutes on offense and the same on defense (given that nothing happens during the other minutes).  Do you mean to say that NFL players can't keep up a pace for that short a period of time once a week?  Even if they are getting hit?  Really? 

Give this offense time.  Kelly knows what he is doing and might be years advanced in his thinking.  In baseball, no one wanted to look at statistics as a predictor of performance; today, math gurus populate every front office, and a guy with the "good face" and a good athletic body might not achieve first-round draft status if he cannot make the plays.  In football, fullbacks and halfbacks used to run a lot, and passing was much more rare.  Today, the game is far different.  All Kelly is trying to do is innovate within the passing game.  That's great, novel, and, yes, flying in the face of traditionalists.  In two years, these same anxious fans will greatly appreciate that Jeffrey Lurie hired him.

7.  If you have owned a dog or had kids, you realize that you have to give them time to mature.  No one said that this coach would drop in and excel from the get go.  True, he should adapt faster than your four-month old puppy or your toddler, but he and his system will need some time.  Give Chip Kelly some time.

8.  John Wooden spent 16 years at UCLA before winning the first of his many national titles.  Think about that before you are ready to jettison Chip Kelly.  (It's probably true that had Pete Newell not retired from Cal at a young age Wooden might have had a very tough obstacle to overcome, but that doesn't mean he would not have won some national titles).  At no time do I think that people wanted to push Wooden out.  He had a system, he was determined, he had a vision, and he was dignified.  It's not fair to ask Chip Kelly to win consistently with this group.  And, finally. . .

9.  Colleges are starting a unique trend of firing coaches early in the season.  USC fired its coach, so did UConn.  Meanwhile, there are calls to oust Mack Brown at Texas.  Put differently, many major-college coaching jobs will open up, and Kelly could be everyone's first choice.  Eagles' fans should support him, defend him and embrace him, so that he'll consider remaining in Philadelphia for a long time.  Otherwise, they'll push him into the arms of an elite BCS school, which would welcome him with open arms.  If we want Chip Kelly to go to Texas, let it be with the Eagles on a trip to Dallas, so that they can beat Jerry Jones' team in his own building.

Patience is a virtue. 

Eagles' fans need to remember that.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Lehigh 29 Princeton 28

Nice night to watch a game at Princeton Stadium.

Nice first half for Princeton, up 22-3.

Looked good for the Tigers.

But Lehigh didn't go into the game ranked #22 in the FCS for no reason.

The Mountain Hawks came back mightily, surviving a Princeton "answer" to win 29-28.

A few thoughts:

1.  Princeton's offense will get better, and it was pretty good last night.  That said, I thought that QB Quinn Epperly far outshines QB Connor Michelsen in terms of "tough" situations.  The latter had a tendency to lock and load on a single receiver last night, and at times looked pretty bad doing it.  He threw into double coverage early in the game for an easy pick, tried to pile drive a laser into a covered receiver on a failed two-point conversion and threw a pick with a few minutes to go to seal the game for Lehigh.  Even with that, his locking onto a receiver too early caused him to miss wide open swing receivers on the left side time and time again.  There were several occasions where the running back was so wide open that he could have run 30 yards upon an easy toss to the weak side.  Even with that, where was the offensive coordinator or another offensive coach?  Clearly, they had to see that and should have adjusted for it.  The Tigers didn't, and it might have cost them the game.  In contrast, Epperly showed a sense of urgency that seemed to suggest he moves the team more easily.  Finally, NFL gurus suggest that if you have two quarterbacks you have no quarterback.  It's hard to tell whether head coach Bob Surace and offensive coordinator James Perry are innovators versus coaches who are making things more complex.  I'll go with innovators for now -- they put up 28 points against a good team, and normally that should be enough to win.

2.  Princeton's defense was not good in the second half last night.  First, credit goes to the Lehigh coaches, who adjusted.  Second, demerits so to the Princeton defensive coaches, who showed the biggest blind spot of the night.  Lehigh kept on going to its left, picking on the right side of Princeton's defense.  Yet, time and time again, the defenders, particularly the defensive backs, played a containing sort of defense that had them too far off the ball.  At some point, you would have figured that they would have adjusted and jumped some routes to break up plays or create a turnover.  They did not do it, and it helped cost them the game.  Also, the Tigers ran a blitz package at least four times in the game to the Lehigh QB's blindside, only to have Lehigh run a screen pass toward that side that went for at least twenty-five yards each time.  At some point, you have to adjust for that possibility.  Again, expect that part of the Tigers' defense to improve.

The positive news is that they outplayed a good offense in the first half.  The negative -- they couldn't sustain it for two halves and they looked pretty bad in the second half.

3.  The Princeton players most likely to get repetitive motion injuries are back-up QBs Malik Hawkins and Garrett Gosse, who, somewhat frenetically, signal in the plays from the sidelines.  Those guys got quite a workout, as it's not so simple and a few baseball-like signs from the third-base coaching box.  These guys wielded their arms incessantly the entire time the Tigers had the ball on offense.

4.  It was one that got away.  You are not supposed to lose when you are up 22-3 at the half.  Early in the second half, with the ball, the Tigers should have embarked on a time-consuming drive to wear down the Lehigh defense, keep them on the field, and push them around a bit.  While the Mountain Hawks seemingly took their vitamins and halftime and came out with an aggressiveness they did not display in the first half, the Tigers stuck with Michelson and the passing offense, didn't have a particularly good set of downs, went three and out and only ran about seventy-five seconds off the clock.  That gave Lehigh a boost and got them going.

Fun night at Princeton Stadium, even with the loss.  The Tigers are innovative on offense, showed something on defense in the first half and have some good skill position players.   They just had difficulty closing this one out.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Princeton Has an NFL Player

Mike Catapano of Andy Reid's Kansas City Chiefs.

If What Sports Illustrated Says About Oklahoma State is True. . .

I have great respect for Sports Illustrated and its senior writer, George Dohrmann, who helped lead the detailed reporting about the football program at Oklahoma State.  Here are some observations after having read the first installment (of five):

1.  Let's not react or rush to judgment.  What SI reports is disturbing, but I learned a long time ago that reports and stories need some ample time for reflection before we all decide culpability and punishment.  Examples such as the Duke lacrosse affair and, more recently, the scandal at Penn State, compel a good measurement of detached reflection, especially where the harm has been done and encapsulated and does not continue.  That said, with respect to Oklahoma State's football program, I do not believe that anyone has any way of knowing whether the behavior that has been alleged has ceased.

Still, it's easy to gasp in horror at the allegations.  The current athletic director at Oklahoma State did go so far as to apologize to his fellow Big 12 schools, but let's wait to read all installments and hear what else comes out after the installments in order to have a full picture as to what might have happened at Oklahoma State.  Remember, there are sufficient instances in history where the facts look bad but what happened did not turn out as it initially seemed.  That said, this series of allegations might not fall into that category, but trial by newspaper and public opinion is a bad thing.  Just ask the average Penn State alum, who will believe to her or his dying day that NCAA President Mark Emmert goofed royally, punished the wrong people at Penn State, and conveniently overlooked a whole host of transgressions at other schools that more directly fell within the NCAA's purview (see, for example, the North Carolina football program under John Blake).

2.  That said, what if SI's story checks out and Oklahoma State is culpable?    The statute of limitations within the NCAA rule book has run.  At least it has run for transgressions that happened more than four years ago.  But the stain remains, and it probably becomes more indelible and deepens if the NCAA does not do anything about it (presumably, Oklahoma State will not -- it will not strip itself of titles, records, resources or anything else).  And it wouldn't seem like the NCAA can do anything about it.  And it doesn't seem that any Federal or state laws were broken.  So, if no action is taken, more cynicism about "student athletes" will become reality (for example, if you read Princeton President Chris Eisgruber's remarks on the pending retirement of twenty-year athletic director Gary Walters, you'll note his thinly veiled disgust for what much of the NCAA calls a "student athlete.").  At the end of the day, the NCAA will look worse, but some of the allegations might prompt attention from governmental authorities, particularly at the Federal level.

3.  The underlying, inconvenient truths about big-time college athletics.  There are many.  First, the business that is major college football and basketball could come under serious scrutiny from the Federal government particularly, in several ways.  Taxing authorities -- who are increasingly looking for more sources of revenue -- could challenge a university's 501(c)(3) tax exempt status and attempt to tax the living daylights out of any sports-related revenue (among other money-making activities that go on under the umbrella of these "charitable" organizations).  Put simply, BCS football is a big business.  Next, the games that get played with "student athletes" might warrant some form of legislation.  The BCS schools stack the rules in their favor, and the NCAA enforces that stacking.  Here are a few examples -- a) scholarships are one-year renewable, and b) no one says they have to prepare you for a job, c) it's hard to know who really graduates (and the argument for not paying college players is that they get a "free ride" for a "good education" which presumably "is worth a lot of money."  If you read the SI article closely, you'll get a sense that these programs for the most part don't give one royal good gosh darn about the student athletes.  Oh, they'll talk about it and the NCAA will put out press releases about the one lineman from Southeast Gutbucket State who is 4.0 in pre-med, but what about the kids who don't have good skills coming in, who get advanced for no reason, or who get dismissed or tossed out or non-renewed after buying a bill of goods from a coach who then leaves after a few years, perhaps with the program in shambles?  Coaches can leave, but kids can be held to their scholarship commitments.  This is part of the "don't get me started" conversation that feeds the cynics and skeptics and provides them with enough compelling arguments to put them into the "blunt realist" category and to put those who defend the virtues of BCS football and big-time basketball into the "pathological liar" category.  That's a hypothesis, and it's not as though the skeptics are asking the big-time programs to prove a negative.  To the contrary, show us the stats -- as to how many kids you "non-renew", what happens after a coach leaves, why does a coach leave, what do kids major in, how many graduate, what is their career path like after they leave.  If you do that, then the kids can do their due diligence and figure out which school is a good fit for them.  Absent that, you are asking impressionable young men to judge a book by its cover, or in this case, and in the cases of places like Oklahoma State and Oregon, a school by its glitzy facilities.  Let's face it, even the physics nerds in high school notice the hot girl whose skirt is too short and top is too tight.

4.  Atop that, you have the arguments about paying the student-athletes.  No less an authority and advocate than Jay Bilas has beaten the drum for compensation.  You have Mike Greenberg of "Mike and Mike" being sympathetic and Notre Dame alum Mike Golic being almost steadfastly against, taking the traditional argument that the scholarship and opportunity to get a good education should be enough.  In Golic's case, he came from a "traditional" family which presumably had sufficient money to be at least comfortable, and his kids probably had that benefit too.  But for the poor kid from a single-parent home that constantly worries about money, it's a tougher situation.  It's hard to reconcile his playing before a hundred thousand fans with his "only" getting $100 a month for laundry and incidentals.  Of course, if the systems were as pure as the NCAA advertises and perhaps Golic hopes, then the kids will all go to class, major in meaningful subjects (and not be subject to taking goofball courses like Jim Harrick's course on basketball when Harrick coached at Georgia) and have a path to a sustaining career (and not have his scholarship be subject to an annual renewal).   Then, the kids could be student-athletes and not worry about whether his scholarship might be revoked if he wants to take courses that could conflict with his ability to attend practice or his eligibility (presumably because the more challenging the workload, the more difficult it might be to remain eligible -- remember the nasty public fight then-Ohio State running back Robert Smith had with offensive coordinator Elliot Uzelac regarding Smith's wish to be a pre-med major).  I appreciate where Golic is coming from, but it seems like the SI article suggests that the student-athlete should have difficulty trusting the system because of the pressure on coaches to win now at all costs, even if that means a) cutting kids mid-career or b) trying to get them to take the easiest majors possible to get them to focus almost solely on football.

That said, I am not fully versed in what Bilas is contending, and I don't want to speculate.   He has said that college athletes should be able to make money in ventures the same way non-athletes do.  Kids work to pay for college, kids might sell paintings, be babysitters, serve as stringers for newspapers, what have you, and they don't lose their eligibility to be students.  So, the logic goes, why can't a Johnny Manziel sell his autograph, and why should his ability to sign things for money be limited to his school's being able to do so to raise funds?  Similarly, the kids collectively help put rear ends in the seats, the TV money can be staggering, as can the revenues from appearing in and winning a bowl game.  Yet, the kids have no say in how the business is run and whether they can share in the revenue, even if the value of the scholarship can get diluted because the scholarship is non-renewable and they can be shunted into goofy majors that do nothing other than help keep them eligible.  Which then means that they aren't "scholar-athletes" to begin with, just athletes who play for well-heeled college programs.

5.  Conclusion.  Out of a theory that the biggest lies can be the ones that we tell ourselves, when will we come to grips with the notion that big-time college athletics are hypocritical, create odd choices and compel odd decisions.  In The Blind Side, Michael Lewis essentially wrote that many kids on the Ole Miss roster under then-head coach Ed Orgeron were deficient academically, sometimes significantly so.  Put differently, many of them didn't appear to belong in college.  But the SEC loves its football, and football is a big part of the culture at SEC schools.  That's not to say that it cannot be or that it should not be.  It's just that all over the BCS, colleges, especially in these times, where funds are not abundant, should re-examine their missions and determine the type of athletic programs they have and what they stand for.  Because, for right now, every time a Carolina program gets dinged or an Oklahoma State program gets exposed, the average fan does not say, "Gee, those guys are dirty, but I am glad my school doesn't play like that."  No, I doubt that's the case.  Instead, I think that the average fans sighs and says, "Well, if they caught those guys for being so bad, you can imagine how many schools out there are doing similar things but just haven't been caught yet."

And it's not that some schools do not try hard to run clean programs.  They do.  But values change and differ in different places at different times.  Some schools circumvent the limit on assistant coaches by having a million or more dollars' worth of people with fancy titles who do now what assistant coaches used to do.  They build monuments to their programs, and they spend huge sums doing so.

All at a time where paying for college has become prohibitively expensive and where the average kid has to take out a staggering amount of loans that she/he will struggle to repay and cause him or her to change his life plans -- by delaying buying a house or a car and by having kids -- all of which are having, and will continue to have, profound effects on the future of the country (which now is also the world's best democracy).  No, out-of-control spending in major college football isn't a root cause of anything other than the problems that college football and universities are having, but it is a symptom of something greater than just problems with college athletics.

And it's up to university presidents to remember their public missions and honor them.

It's up to them to have the courage to do so.

Sunday, September 08, 2013

What if Clay Matthews' Flying Leap Knocked Colin Kaepernick Out for the Year?

QB runs out of bounds.

Star linebacker for opposing team takes flying leap, almost horse collars the QB.

A flag goes up.  Tempers flare.  QB's left tackle, the guy who protects the QB's blind side, gets a penalty for retaliating.

A few questions:

1.  Why wasn't the star linebacker ejected from the game?  The reasons:  1) a failed horse collar deserves as much culpability as a horse collar and 2) he left his feet when the QB was out of bounds, a clear late hit.  Just because the QB wasn't knocked out doesn't mean that the linebacker did not deserve to be ejected.

2.  What are the criteria for ejection?

3.  What if Kaepernick suffered a season-ending injury from the late hit?  Which, by the way, all major media tweeters thought was dirty.  Then what?  Would the linebacker's late hit be worth the $50,000 fine that the NFL enforcement cops would have hit him with?  Perhaps if not probably.  And what would happen if this were to happen in a playoff game?  My view -- eject the player and bench the opposing team's starting QB.  Otherwise, it's clearly worth it for a defensive player to take a cheap shot at the opposing QB.  The fines pale in comparison to what a win is worth.   And therein lies the problem.

I don't mean to sound harsh, but what's the deterrent?  I know that there are folks out there like Mike Golic who believe that the game is turning into touch football and that it's almost illegal for a defensive player to touch a quarterback.  I get all that, and that is not what I am saying.  What I am saying is that the league should look at the pure math of what is going on and then figure out that it is worth it for a defense to take out the opposing quarterback, because the risk for a late hit/questionable hit only is a fine, is not a suspension, and will not cost the late-hitting team the services of its first-team quarterback. Because that's not the case, the incentive for the star linebacker to take the shot remains.

That is, until the league's star quarterbacks go down, one by one, and we're left to paying top dollar to watch washed up former starters or average throwers take on varsity defenses and then have the games end in defensive struggles.

The NFl needs to figure out something out here before there are more flying leaps at quarterbacks.  Because the next time one happens, one of the league's best QBs will be watching the rest of the season from the press box.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Joys of a (True) Rec League

My son played intramural soccer for years in our local organization, only to bow out when the emphasis on "academy" and travel teams cannibalized the rec league and created an emotional caste system for kids (that is, some began to think that playing did not matter if they weren't on a travel team).      He moved onto other sports -- flag football, tackle football and fall lacrosse -- until this summer, when he suggested to us that he wanted to play co-ed recreational soccer for 13-18 year olds.

This matched his newfound passion for being a fan of international soccer.  He's a rabid Arsenal fan, knows the rosters of the Premiership teams well, knows strategy and tactics and, well, just wanted to get in on the fun.  Neighborhood kids have played in this league have raved about it.  If I am not mistaken, I believe that one neighborhood boy has met his future wife while playing in the league.  It's a great social mixer -- kids don't have to get coiffured, dressed up, spend money on clothes and food or go to a dance -- they just have to show up and play.

The ages range from thirteen to eighteen, basically eighth to twelfth graders, and there is a mix of boys and girls, bigger and older kids and younger kids.  They practice twice a week, and today, in their first game, my son got to play left back, center mid and goalie.  He contributed to a clean sheet, made a few good passes, and looked okay out there -- especially for someone who has not played in four years.  More important than that, the spirit of the whole enterprise was terrific.  The kids played competitively and tried hard, but there was no pushing, no hard slide tackles, no yelling at officials, just some good running and passing, a few good corner kicks, and a few good saves.

It was fun to watch.  There were no parents out there hoping that a travel coach would see them, that a kid would show some unknown brilliance that would get them a shot at a travel team, none of that stuff that can permeate rec leagues and travel programs and turn them away from an ideal into a toxic wasteland polluted with the bad habits of adults and children.  Instead, this was about community, it was about kids, it was about good weather, and it was a celebration of making sure that kids got a good run in, that they got exercise, that they mixed with kids they didn't know and had some good, old-fashioned fun.

We talk about obesity, we talk about diabetes, we talk about sedentary lives, about kids playing "first-person shooter" games and about being on social media too much.  What a better way to promote great habits to get kids out there with enthusiastic coaches, a single official, a soccer ball and a great attitude.  It's a great way to promote good habits.  If we had more of these leagues and kids and parents bringing these attitudes, we'd have a happier, healthier country.

When the right habits are promoted and the right attitudes are brought, it doesn't matter who won or who lost, just how the game was played and that it was played.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Following Twitter on International Soccer's "Transfer Deadline Day" Was Fun

It's like watching the returns of a close election, with various precincts reporting.  Lots of movement, and you're watching your favorite team land one of the biggest prizes of the whole transfer period  You're also watching to see if they could get anyone else (they tried) and how the rivals fared (some better than others).  Overall, it should be a very good race for the top 4 spots in the Premiership, with Everton perhaps making enough moves to make a claim that there should be a "top 7."

Manchester United will remain the favorite in Las Vegas and in London, and right at the deadline they signed the Belgian national Maroune Fellaini, he with the huge hair that resembles that of one-time New York Yankee and Cleveland Indian Oscar Gamble.  Fellaini will provide great muscle in the mid-field, although the key, to me, for United will be to motivate Wayne Rooney.  Put simply, United looked listless without him against Liverpool on Saturday.  Speaking of Liverpool, owner John Henry refused to sit tight, and by making some last-minute nifty adds and not selling the contract of striker Luis Suarez, Liverpool has one of its toughest squads in years.   Staying on the west side of England, Man City was quiet, and they have abundant talent.  They'll remain a contender, but they have to remember that while their roster will sell tickets and jerseys, that doesn't mean they can mesh and win a title or two.

Going east to London, there were three teams to watch.  Chelsea made its moves earlier, although they did ship potential future megastar striker Romelu Lukaku, who excelled at West Brom last season, to Everton, giving them another threat.  They did sign the Cameroon star Samuel Eto'o, who, at 32, still has some tread left on the tires.  But they failed to solve for thin depth at striker and didn't create clarity for midfielder Juan Mata.  Still, Chelsea is a team to beat.  Their bench could give many of the lower tier teams a run for their money and perhaps could finish mid-table.

And now we go to North London, where Tottenham, still having failed to score a goal other than through penalty shots, loaded up on pieces in anticipation of selling Gareth Bale's contract to Real Madrid.  They have some real talent, but it seems like it might take a season for it to mesh.  And then there was Arsenal, war chest at the ready, but failing to make any signings.  They pared some excess players early in transfer season, releasing certain young players and some veterans.  They did agree to a loan of Italian goaltender Viviano last season and almost lined up Chelsea backup striker Demba Ba, but the folks at Stamford Bridge balked at providing the Gunners with another striker after they learned that Arsenal had purchased the contract of German center attacking midfield Mesut Ozil from Real Madrid.  Real Madrid agreed to terms for Ozil with PSG and Arsenal, letting Ozil pick.  So valued was Ozil in Madrid that fans at the press conference announcing Bale's arrival chanted for their club to keep Ozil, only to have a member of management shush them.  While Arsenal (according to Ian Darke and others) probably would have fared better to add a center back (given the injury to Thomas Vermaelen and some suspect play) or a center defensive midfielder, Ozil will give them tremendous depth from midfield up  With Ozil, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, the Gunners have some of the best midfielders in the Premiershop.  In manager Arsene Wenger, they have someone who can help harness all that talent.  It was a great day for the Gunners.

So who won?  Who lost?  It's hard to tell, and we'll only figure it all out in May, when it all will be over.  That said, now that Transfer Deadline Day has passed, here are my predictions for the top end of the league table:

1.  Chelsea
2.  Manchester United
3.  Arsenal
4.  Manchester City
5.  Liverpool
6.  Tottenham Hotspur
7.  Everton.

Enjoy!

The Phillies are Worse Than the Mets

"You are what your record says you are."

Is there hope for the future?

Of course.

When will that hope manifest itself into another championship run?

Uncertain?

Why?

Because there is no harmonic convergence of a bullpen, starting pitching and position players who are playing for contracts.  In 2008, you had an ancient leader (Jamie Moyer), a good mix in the bullpen, a closer having a career and Hall of Fame-like year (even if he won't come close to the Hall), and a great mix of position players who could get on base, all of whom were playing for contracts.

Today, your bullpen is bereft.  Your everyday lineup is an odd cocktail of youth and age.  Your starting pitching staff is the same.  Will your vets in the field and on the mound last long enough until some promising minor-league position players mature?  Doubtful.  When will a solid bullpen emerge?  It's anyone's guess.  So, there isn't as much cause for optimism as the brass would like a loyal fan base to believe.

Let's face it -- when will they stop inking position players who are "five tool" guys but who don't know the game and don't evolve into good players let alone stars?  It's getting a bit silly when you hear that the likes of Jeff Jackson through Tyson Gillies have all the tools when they cannot get out of AA ball.  It's been a long and futile list.  Even the vaunted farm system that yielded some good trades proved to be an illusion -- outside Gio Gonzalez and Gavin Floyd (both pitchers), how many guys turned into anything at the Major League level?

The answer is not many.  Sure, there is hope for Anthony Gose, Jonathan Singleton and Travis d'Arnaud, all playing elsewhere, but almost everyone who was traded did not succeed.  And that doesn't bode well for the future, either.  Sure, we can get excited about Jesse Biddle and Mikel Franco, but the local nine cannot bet its future on those guys.

Right now, with a month to play, there isn't much to root for.  Sure, we'll see the prospects, but as one-time Phillies' manager Jim Fregosi once said, "you really cannot judge a guy by what he does in September."  Why?  Because mostly it's AAAA players playing against each other or veterans mailing it in, worrying about their off-season plans unless, of course, they are on a contender.  So, what Darrin Ruf and others do in September might not tell us a whole lot.    Hopefully, though, it will.

But lower in the stands than the Mets?

What possibly can happen next?

Sunday, September 01, 2013

For Anyone Who Thinks Soccer is Boring. . .

They didn't watch either the Liverpool-ManU game yesterday or the Arsenal-Tottenham game today.    Liverpool honored its legendary manager, Bill Shankly, and then went out, scored early, and held off a somewhat listless bitter rival.  Somehow, ManU didn't seem the same without the fiery Wayne Rooney on the pitch threatening to score with every touch near the box.  Liverpool's red-hot Daniel Sturridge scored early, its new goalie Simon Mignolet played well, and they got the three points.

Tottenham went into today's match undefeated, 2-0, although it hadn't scored a goal other than on penalty kicks by its newly acquired striker, Soldado (and last game's was controversial, coming off what charitably can be called a dive by a fellow striker).  They have made a big splash in the international market, signing some good players, all the while waiting for their megastar, Gareth Bale, to be sold to Real Madrid.  Spurs have good players, although they looked to play a very right-footed game, starting almost every offensive run through their talented right back, Kyle Walker.

Arsenal scored in the first half on a textbook play, a great clear to past midfield from their captain, center back Per Mertesacker, to the most improved center midfielder in the game, Aaron Ramsey, who spun once and put the ball to the near-right side and on the foot of veteran midfielder Tomas Rosicky, who then sent it out wide to the speedy right winger, Theo Walcott.  Walcott dashed in about ten yards and hit a cross to striker Olivier Giroud, who, on a perfectly timed run, put the ball past giving Spurs' goaltender Hugo Lloris, who excelled in goal today for the visitors.  1-0 Arsenal, which is how it would end (despite all oddsmakers predicting a draw).

What fascinated the fans was that Tottenham put on a blistering surge late, peppering Arsenal's defense with run after run, pass after pass, but the Gunners' defense held up well enough for the victory in what they say is a North London darby (actually spelled derby) along the lines, in the U.S., of a "subway series."  The win gave Arsenal three points and thrust them into the EPL's top 10, tied with Spurs, as both now have two wins and one loss.

Meanwhile, the deadline for transfers is tomorrow, and Arsenal hasn't spent a pound of a vast war chest, while Tottenham has spent well on the likes of Soldado and the young Argentine striker Erik Lamela (not to mention the talented Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen).  Look for the Gunners to make a big splash by the time the deadline expires, adding a few more pieces to fill voids that injured players have created and to help them make a deeper run in the EPL.  Rumors abound, and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is a crafty old fox, so look for him to deliver some good news up for the faithful at Emirates Stadium very soon.