2014 World Cup: Competition is Wide Open

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is winding down. Gone are the days of the group stage where four games took place on the same day. Arrived are the quarterfinals. The final eight. While pre-tourney favorites Brazil, Argentina and Germany are still alive, but they have looked flawed. As have teams like France and the Netherlands who have impressed since the first kick.

The final eight is loaded with favorites and under-dogs alike, but many have looked vulnerable so far.

Hosts Brazil may have been the field’s biggest favorites, but they have looked anything but perfect so far. They survived by the scruff of their necks in their penalty shout out win against Chile due more to the Chileans inability to convert penalties then anything they did themselves.

It wasn’t just the surviving act against their fellow South Americans, Brazil looked susceptible in the group stages. They were shout out by an admittedly strong defensive Mexican unit, looked shaky early against the Croatians and even struggled for a period against a dreadful Cameroon side.

Brazil aren’t the only South American team to struggle at times in both the group stage and the knockout rounds, Argentina also struggled. The Argentines needed moments of brilliance from Lionel Messi to pull away from Bosnia, Iran and to an extent Nigeria. That’s not mentioning their Round of 16 game against Switzerland where they escaped penalties only thanks to a late strike by Angel Di Maria.

Another tournament favorite, Germany also looked human at times. After their sheer domination of Portugal, they didn’t look like favorites in a draw against a spirited Ghana squad before escaping the United States in a 1-0 win thanks mainly to a clinical, world-class finish from Thomas Muller. Algeria gave the European powers everything they have, and almost forced penalties in a 2-1, extra-time victory by Die Mannschaft. There’s also the fact that Jogi Low seems to prefer playing four center-backs across the back instead of two central defenders, and two outside backs. This limits the Germans going forward and also exposes them to quicker attacking wide players.

Other teams that struggled in the first round included the Netherlands and Belgium. The Dutch played a strong Mexican defense, and only won the game due to some late game heroics. For 80 minutes, it seemed as if the Europeans would crash out after an impressive group stage. Their Belgian counterparts played the US to a dead-lock after 90 minutes. They prevailed in extra time 2-1, but only after their now trademark late scoring. Belgium has thrived on goals late in close games. The competition will only get tougher, so the Belgians could find their late goals too little, too late against elite teams. The Red Devils also seemed to break down physically at the end of the Round of 16 contest, letting the United States back into the game. This could be an issue moving forward.

The tournament is wide open thanks to the struggles of nearly every team in the competition. While picking a winner seemed somewhat easy a month ago, now it seems more difficult despite fewer options.

World Cup 2014: 5 Things We Learned from Day 3 of the World Cup

  1. Greece will struggle to score

The Greeks struggled to create scoring chances for much of the game against Columbia. While this strategy is excusable when you don’t allow any goals, it makes for a long day when the other team is scoring against you. It won’t get easier as the Greeks will have to face the physical Ivory Coast and the technical wizards of Japan. This group is being dubbed the “Group of Life,” where everyone has a shot to advance. Greece needs to shows signs of life offensively to have any hope of advancing.

  1. Costa Rica is no pushover

That could have been the headline after a first half where Costa Rica played well and only conceived a well-struck penalty to Uruguay. However, the Ticos came roaring back for a historic win. This put a colossal dent in Uruguay’s hopes moving forward, but also gave Costa Rica a huge chance to move forward.  The CONCACAF reps not only beat their South American counterparts, but they also controlled the game and kept the likes of Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan in check.

  1. No Buffon, no problem for Italy

Italy was without legendary ‘keeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon for their clash with England. His replacement: PSG shot-stopper Salvatore Sirigu was superb in the 2-1 win. The Italians were deserving of the win, and Sirigu was vital in the match. The fact that the team was able to adapt so well without their leader, Buffon, speaks volumes to the quality of Cesare Prandelli’s side.

  1. Italy should have their group rapped up

One would think that the Azzurri are now in control of the “Group of Champions” as a win versus Costa Rica on Thursday would clinch passage to the next round for the 2006 champions. Especially considering that if they beat the Ticos (not a foregone conclusion, just ask the Uruguayans) they could be facing an Uruguay side potentially without Luis Suarez. The South Americans looked derived of creativity in their walloping by Costa Rica, if Suarez can’t make it back, it could be a very brief stay in Brazil for last year’s semi-finalists. Should Italy win all three games, they would face the second place team from Group C. Which, if Columbia wins, will be Japan, Ivory Coast or Greece. That’s a more pleasant route than finishing second in the group, facing Group C’s winner, likely Columbia, beat them (not a forgone conclusion) and then potentially run into Brazil. This is all guess-work and forecasting at this point, but winning the group definitely holds a much easier outlook for Italy.

  1. Is there a changing of the guard in the Ivory Coast Squad? Not yet

Iconic striker Didier Drogba started the Ivory Coast’s opening game on the bench as Wilfred Bony was handed the start instead. Bony responded with a goal, but the African side scored both of its goals in the 2-1 win after the former Chelsea legend’s introduction into the game, cementing his importance.

World Cup 2014: What We Learned From Day 2 of the World Cup

  1. Mexico players could be kicking themselves over those disallowed offside goals

El Tri’s 1-0 win over Cameroon could have been more commanding. A 1-0 result and three points are great for Mexico to open the tournament, but you would have liked to think that the Mexicans would have been more comfortable in terms of qualifying for the next round with a 3-0 or even 2-0 win. The point is that goal differential could be key in Group A. Brazil is obviously the favorite in the group, but should Mexico run into a situation where they are even on points with Croatia and they finish behind the Europeans by virtue of goal differential, they could be “kicking” themselves for not staying onside before scoring, or simply not being happy with the refs.

  1. Brazilians don’t like Diego Costa

All throughout Friday’s Spain/Netherlands heavyweight tilt the local fans relentlessly booed Brazilian-born Costa, who plays for the Spanish. You get the impression that they don’t fancy him all that much.

  1. Spain are definitely trending down

La Roja got exposed big time against the Netherlands, getting burned on numerous occasions on the counter and just looking poor in defense. If there was ever a time to question the defense of the Spaniards, it’s now. It simply wasn’t there for Spain. Another reoccurring issue for Spain is the fact that they were again stymied by a three-man defensive line. Italy has used a three-man back-line to great effect against the Spanish and now Holland has done it as well. The defending champs just looked like the walking dead, the defense especially.

  1. The Dutch are for real

Just as it’s premature to completely count out Spain, it’s probably a little premature to bump the Dutch to co-favorites or favorites. But… the Netherlands annihilated the defending champs. Annihilated.  They look potent and sharp on the counter and simply didn’t allow the Spanish to play the way the Spanish want to, especially in the second half. If this team can beat Spain this convincingly… who knows what they can accomplish?

  1. Chile at their best are entertaining

Chile plays kamikaze football. They press high with numbers up the pitch. When this works, the Chileans can put up a wonky score line. The South Americans will sometimes press everyone forward with the exception of the two center backs, who will sit at mid-field. The entire team plays high up. Because of this they can also be scored on in droves. It’s an ultra-aggressive style of play, but one that has benefited the Chileans so far.

FC Porto: Forming a Starting XI of Players Sold Over the Past Five Years

Portuguese giants Porto are the model of a “feeder club.” They churn out wildly productive players and sell them to other clubs for massive profits. All this while maintaining their status of being one of the more consistently winning clubs in Europe.

FC Porto have even supplied coaches to some of top teams on the continent as Andre Villas-Boas and Jose Mourinho have left The Estádio do Dragão for new pastures.

Here is a starting XI of the best players to leave the Portuguese club in the last five years-

Goalkeeper: Rafael Bracalli

This is the toughest one on the list, mainly because Porto has employed Helton at the club since 2005. The Brazilian has been team captain since 2009, so all the goalkeepers to leave in the last five years have been a stream of back-ups. Rafael gets the nod due to his move to the Greek League, a higher level league than the other departed keepers.

Left Back: Ally Cissokho

The current Liverpool player (on loan from Valencia) was only at the club for a brief spell, but helped them push a Ronaldo-led Manchester United to the edge in the Champions League while also achieving the Portuguese double. After a failed transfer to AC Milan, Cissokho moved to Lyon.

 Center Back: Bruno Alves

Portuguese national team mainstay Bruno Alves spent nine years at Porto, highlighted by a Primeira Liga Player of the Year honor in 2009. He would later move to Zenit St. Petersburg in 2010. He now plays for Fenerbahce in Turkey.

Center Back: Nicolas Otamendi

Argentine international Otamendi is the most recent player to leave Porto on this list. Valencia bought him at the beginning of February and loaned him to Brazilian side Atletico Mineiro. He’ll likely feature for Argentina at this summer’s World Cup.

Right Back: Miguel Lopes

Lopes spent loan spells with European clubs such as Braga and Real Betis before moving permanently to fellow Portuguese giant Sporting CP in a swap for Russian midfielder Marat Izmailov. He’s currently on loan at Cissokho’s former club, Lyon.

Center Midfield: Joao Moutinho

Moutinho is one of the better box-to-box midfielders in the world. Along with Cristiano Ronaldo, he headlines the Portuguese national team’s attacking force. Along with another player on this list, attacker James Rodriguez, he moved to AS Monaco last summer.

Central Midfield: Fredy Guarin

Columbian international Fredy Guarin is another supremely talented box-to-box midfielder to leave Porto recently. Currently plying his trade with Serie A giant Inter Milan, who he initially joined on loan in 2012, he will by vital to Columbia’s hopes at the World Cup.

Central Midfield:  Lucho Gonzalez

Gonzalez gets the nod over Diego and Raul Meireles based purely on the higher fee he fetched when he left the club. The current Al Rayyan player spent two different spells at Porto, winning numerous trophies in the process. He moved to Marseille in 2009 before returning to Portugal in 2012.

Left Forward: James Rodriguez

Rodriguez moved to Monaco with Moutinho for an obnoxious amount of cash, reportedly 70 million euros combined. The principality-based club brought in the two, along with ex-Porto star Radamel Falcao, in their pursuit of Champions League football.

Center Forward: Radamel Falcao

Lissandro Lopez was also in consideration for this spot on the list, but Falcao’s goal scoring prowess gives him the edge. He left Portugal for Atletico Madrid before moving to Ligue 1 this past offseason. Like Guarin and Rodriguez, if healthy, he’ll be a key player for Columbia at the World Cup.

Right Forward: Hulk

The only player on this list to share a name with one of the Avengers, Brazilian international Hulk moved to Zenit, where he currently plays. He is a starter for Luiz Felipe Scolari’s Brazilian squad.

These players represent what could have been for Porto. While they may be missed at the Portuguese club, they were sold for tons of money. And everybody likes money.

Kingdome Crossover: Seattle Mariners: Signing Nelson Cruz Doesn’t Guarantee Success

Rumored Mariner signing Nelson Cruz would add a powerful bat to a lineup already bolstered by the arrivals of Robinson Cano and Corey Hart. What signing Cruz doesn’t do is guarantee success.

An offensive triumvirate of Cruz, Cano and Kyle Seager isn’t one to balk at, and is a wonderful foundation for the team moving forward, but in terms of success, it guarantees nothing.

In most divisions, like say the NL West, these kinds of additions (Cano, Cruz, Hart) would push a team towards the top of the table. Not so much with the Mariners in the AL West.

The rest of the division is stocked. The Mariners’ rise to “playoff-contender” status, if not the realm of respectability, has vaulted the division to a ridiculous level. On paper, the Angels, A’s and Rangers all have the talent to be playoff teams. Throw in Seattle, and you end up with a lot of unhappy teams come the postseason.

It wouldn’t be completely surprising to see, even with Cano and friends, the M’s finish in the same exact place in the standings as last year. They’re probably going to have an improved record, but as stated, the division is stacked.

If one thing is clear after watching postseason baseball, it’s that pitching is needed to contend. Teams like Detroit, Boston, St. Louis and Oakland found great success last year with tremendous staffs. And it wasn’t just those four teams; most playoff teams boasted strong pitching. Great pitching is nearly synonymous with a playoff squad now-a-days.

Which brings the topic of one-way conversation in the piece to the Mariners’ pitching.

The M’s will use some combination of Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer and recent signing Scott Baker for the last three spots in the rotation. This is where question marks come into play. Moving into the future, both Walker and Paxton figure to be mainstays in the Seattle rotation thanks to their fantastic potential, but between them they have a grand total of 39 innings at the big league level. Whether they continue to show promise or hit a wall remains to be seen.

Ramirez and Maurer have both shown flashes of potential in the past, but the jury remains largely out on the pair. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Baker, given his experience and quality, leapfrog one or both of them to claim a rotation spot. The bottom line is that the Mariners’ rotation could show the promise and poise that Oakland’s young hurlers have shown, or they could continue to display the growing pains that have plagued the team.

If anything, a potential Cruz signing puts more pressure on the rotation to succeed. The one-time Brewer coupled with Cano, Hart and Logan Morrison would vastly improve a team that had issues scoring runs. The run output in Seattle should, at the very least, be slightly above average. The Mariners need their young pitchers to step up. If they can do this, Seattle will be in a position to contend. If not, well let’s just say get ready for all those low-scoring losses to turn into higher-scoring losses.

You can see the piece on Kingdome as well.

Kingdome Crossover: Stern Sendoff

This is going to be short for me. I have pieces to write about more important things.

I am not the outgoing NBA commissioner’s biggest fan. I have called him biased and questioned his podium presence. (Which, if you’re commissioner, are two things you should have in check: you shouldn’t be biased and you should have good podium presence.)

David Stern comes off as snide in public, and I think he showed favoritism in a job that begs for the polar opposite. What he did for the NBA during the “Dream Team” era was good. But I grew up with a very different National Basketball Association. I grew up with a basketball league where the commissioner comes off as a dictator-like Bond villain. Where the commissioner of the league runs a team and proceeds to veto a trade between two teams. Where that trade has conceivably affected the landscape of the league today.

A picture is worth a thousand words. In this case a video is worth a million.

Kingdome Crossover – Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl Build Up: Ella The Psychic Guinea Pig Picks the Super Bowl

Here’s the latest, and possibly greatest video of a cute animal picking the outcome of the Super Bowl. Presenting Ella the Psychic Guinea Pig.

Again, another smart animal.

Exciting Announcement From the Creator of Knowhitter!

Sports on Terms is coming soon! It will be a soccer/football (whichever term lights your fire) source dedicated to explaining the beautiful game in compact, original videos.

Starting with the most basic, yet crucial, fundamentals and working up to more in-depth topics, Sports on Terms will explain everything from what a “winger” is to how the economy affects not only club teams, but national teams as well.

The website is still a work in progress, but here’s a link to the Youtube channel, which I should warn you, is not complete yet. Be sure to subscribe! The channel is going big places and we want you to be a part of it!

Knicks and Nets: A Retrospective on How Bad New York’s Basketball Is

New York is a mess, or rather, the Knicks and Nets are. If you search “NBA Standings” on the old internet, you’ll find New York’s professional basketball clubs stuck near the bottom of the worst division in the league.

How bad is the Atlantic Conference, you say?

Well, as of late Saturday, the Raptors are leading the conference with an outstanding record of 12-15. 12 AND 15! What’s worse is that the team who sits just a game worse than the Knicks, the 76ers, was called a team of “six NBA players” and “a bunch of guys who are fighting for spots…”  Was the quoted person in this situation a controversial analyst or former player? Nope, it was the Sixers’ own coach, Brett Brown.

That is how bad the division is.

What’s even worse, and slightly funny, is how the divisional standings are laid out.

  1. Toronto 12-15
  2. Boston 13-17
  3. Brooklyn 10-19
  4. New York 9-20
  5. Philadelphia 8-20

Yeah, it’s that bad, but the aforementioned funny thing is that Toronto and Boston are ahead of the two New York clubs. During the offseason both Toronto and Boston made significant trades, dealing major pieces for long-term salary relief and younger pieces.

The Raptors traded Andrea Bargnani for Steve Novak, the now departed Marcus Camby and Quentin Richardson, a future first-round draft pick and two future second-round draft picks.

Boston, going for a larger affect, traded franchise icons Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Seattle native Jason Terry to Brooklyn for a cavalcade of cap holds and draft picks including Kris Humphries, Gerald Wallace, Kris Joseph, MarShon Brooks, Keith Bogans and future first-round picks in 2014, 2016 and 2018.

Toronto and Boston made those trades to restart, to let young players develop, gather draft picks and build for the future. The Knicks and Nets made those moves in an attempt to win now, at all costs.

In a normal world, the former two teams should be at the bottom of the division, not at the top and in contention for playoff places. But this isn’t a normal world. The east, specifically the Atlantic, and specifically the two New York teams, are really bad.

It would be strange to see the Celtics make the playoffs this season without Pierce and Garnett. What would be stranger would be seeing the two not make the playoffs with their new team. But that is the Atlantic Division, as it is.

Kingdome Crossover- Seattle Mariners: This Week in Walk-Up Music News

It’s been a sad time lately for the Mariners. Before Robinson Cano signed, the team was coming off a 71-91 season in which they struggled mightily. More importantly, outfielder Mike Morse and his A-ha walk-up music were traded.

I like rap as much as the next guy, but Morse’s usage of classic 80’s music was a breath of fresh air in terms of walk-up music. As a fan of 80’s music it’s nice to see, but when you can get the crowd to do this… well, let’s just say it’s entertaining.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5zjRRaNChVg

The Mariners’ newest acquisition, Corey Hart, will go a long way to replacing and or improving on the production Morse gave the Mariners.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shKQeBFyZgA

No, not that Corey Hart. Corey Hart, the former Brewer who M’s GM Jack Zduriencik drafted during his time with the Brewers.

“Sunglasses at Night” may be a slight downgrade from A-ha and the Eurhythmics (another Morse walk-up favorite), but Hart’s on-field play will likely pay bigger dividends than Morse’s.