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This Is What World Cup Qualifying Disaster Feels Like

March 28th, 2017 · No Comments · Russia 2018, soccer, UAE, World Cup

As fans of the U.S. national team, we have skewed perceptions of what qualifies as hard times.

As a fan of the UAE national team, I can vouch for that.

For the Americans, World Cup qualifying losses to Mexico and Costa Rica, two of the top sides in the western hemisphere, ranks as a panic moment.

That is what comes of playing in every World Cup since 1990, which included some U.S. strolls to a finals berth. (See: 2006 and 2014)

For the UAE, which has not played in a World Cup since 1990, it was always going to be difficult emerging from an Asian qualifying tournament featuring five opponents demonstrably stronger than the Emirati side.

And now, predictable yet crushing losses to World Cup regulars Japan and Australia have left the UAE’s best team in a generation close to elimination from contention and led to the coach resigning after today’s 2-0 loss to Oz in Sydney.

And if it were not a tough enough task in the first place, the Japan and Australia games presented particular difficulties to the Emiratis.

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UConn Domination Is Bad for Women’s Basketball

March 27th, 2017 · No Comments · Basketball

If you would have told me, in January of 1974, that UCLA’s basketball team needed to have its 88-game winning streak broken, as well as its run of seven consecutive NCAA championships … I might have punched you.

UCLA winning seemingly “forever” was good because … well, because I was pulling for them. And so were lots and lots of UCLA fans; back then, they were as big as any of Los Angeles’s professional sports team. As big as the Dodgers, Lakers and Rams.

But, back then, college basketball had become too predictable. John Wooden’s UCLA would win every game, and every season’s NCAA Tournament (nine of 10, through 1973) … and what sports fan wants to see the inevitable?

It was a good thing, then, that Notre Dame ended UCLA’s 88-game winning streak in January of 1974 and that North Carolina State ended the championship run in March of that year with an 80-77 double-overtime semifinal victory over the Bruins in the NCAA Tournament.

Since then? Twenty schools have won an NCAA title. And only one, Indiana in 1975, has managed to post an unbeaten record.

The game is without question bigger, grander and far more popular then it was when UCLA went close to smothering the game with their success.

Which brings us to the University of Connecticut women’s team.

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The Awful Angels

March 26th, 2017 · No Comments · Angels, Baseball

I’m not yet ready to explain why … but the Los Angeles Angels are horrible. Like, 72-90 horrible.

How do I know this?

From looking at their players, ahead of the fantasy draft.

I play in a 12-team league in which we draft two-deep at every position on offense. That means 24 of the 30 MLB starters at catcher, first base, shortstop … get into our league.

And I wonder if any Angels who carry leather will be drafted into our league, later this week. Aside from a guy named Mike Trout and perhaps another outfielder, Kole Calhoun.

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There’s No Crying in Basketball!

March 25th, 2017 · No Comments · Basketball, NBA, UCLA

Oh, wait. There is. Scads of it. In the NCAA Tournament, anyway.

Talking the guys, here. The women might be doing it, too, but they aren’t televised where I live.

I have been impressed … or at least seen this often enough over the past 10 days to take note, again … at how many times guys on the losing team burst into tears as the game ends.

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U.S. Soccer: Happy Days Are Here Again!

March 24th, 2017 · No Comments · Fifa, Landon Donovan, Russia 2018, World Cup

Wow.

It feels like the American soccer world emerged, in a span of 24 hours, from a dark and forlorn place and back onto the light and airy part of the global stage.

A changing of the guard even as a veteran was back in the coaching box. … The goal-laden return of Clint Dempsey. … The new No. 10 in a brilliant debut as playmaker. … An emphatic cleansing from the sickly funk of the Jurgen Klinsmann era. … The notion of the U.S. failing to qualify for the World Cup again returned to the realm of the fantastic.

In a way it began the night before, when Landon Donovan — having earlier in the day confirmed what we surmised nearly two months ago, that his playing career is over — reinforced that decision by jumping off the top of a taco truck and into the arms of fans belonging to the American Outlaws support group.

The following night, his replacement as the No. 10, Christian Pulisic, emphatically answered the question of “who is the next Landon Donovan” by scoring a goal and setting up two more as the Yanks overwhelmed Honduras, 6-0.

And U.S. soccer returns to broad, sunlit uplands.

Let’s take a closer look at the key developments.

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‘Closer Monkey’ a Big Fantasy Aid

March 23rd, 2017 · No Comments · Baseball

Maybe serious fantasy baseball owners have known about this all along. I tumbled to it last year, and it saves a lot of time when you’re trying to figure out who does what in Major League bullpens.

The Closer Monkey.

That is the name of the website — closermonkey.com … where you can get the most recent/best information on the ever-changing world of guys in line to get saves — a key stat in most ball fantasy leagues.

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World Cup Qualifiers: A Sinking Feeling, Twice

March 22nd, 2017 · No Comments · Fifa, Olympics, Russia 2018, soccer, The National, UAE, World Cup

I follow two national soccer teams, the United States and the UAE. Both play twice in the coming week in crucial 2018 World Cup qualifiers.

I don’t feel good about either national team’s chances. For reasons that apply to both — key injuries, the pressure to produce results and competent opponents.

First, the U.S.

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Tom Brady’s Stolen Jersey and Bogus Sports Writers

March 21st, 2017 · 1 Comment · Dodgers, Football, Newspapers, NFL, Sports Journalism

The mystery of Tom Brady’s missing Super Bowl jersey has been solved as well as resolved.

A Mexican national with a media credential apparently snatched the No. 12 Patriots jersey after New England’s dramatic 28-25 victory in Super Bowl 51, but the jersey is back in the U.S. along with what appears to be the helmet of Super Bowl 50 MVP linebacker Von Miller … as well as what appears to be the jersey Tim Brady wore in Super Bowl 49.

The nub of this? Bogus sports writers at major sports events.

I detest them. I would like to punch them in the face. As would most real sports writers, who play by the rules.

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MLS and Aging Euros: The Way Forward?

March 20th, 2017 · 1 Comment · Galaxy, soccer

One of the worst teams in Major League Soccer has signed German midfielder Bastian Schweinsteiger.

Five years ago, this would have been an enormous coup for the Chicago Fire, which has not won a playoffs match since 2009.

But the Schweinsteiger the MLS club signed is 32, with skills fading in real time, who appeared in only one match in his final six weeks with Manchester United — which no doubt was quite pleased to offload an expensive but unwanted player.

Which brings up, again, the topic of MLS and its reputation as being an old folks home for Euros looking to cash in one more time before they return to their country of origin and get a job in punditry.

Is this the way forward for America’s domestic league? Or does the system for signing players need to be blown up?

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Lonzo Ball and His NCAA Tournament Destiny

March 19th, 2017 · No Comments · Basketball, UCLA

The question for Lonzo Ball now is this:

Just how memorable will his one-and-done NCAA Tournament be?

He certainly will leave UCLA after this season, moving on to the NBA/multi-millionaire portion of his basketball career.

This is Ball’s one chance to leave a lasting impression, as a freshman, on March Madness.

Could he channel John Wall, who led Kentucky to the Elite Eight in 2010?

Or follow the path blazed by Derrick Rose, who took Memphis State to the final in 2008?

Or could Lonzo carry into the NBA the title of “one-and-done best player on an NCAA champion?” — as Carmelo Anthony did in 2003, after his one season with Syracuse; or as Anthony Davis did in 2012, after his cameo with Kentucky?

After his stat-sheet-stuffing performance in UCLA’s second, Ball’s destiny would seem to require some lengthy run in this tournament — even if we recognize that the Bruins figure to be underdogs in however more games they play in this edition of the tournament.

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