Saturday, April 5, 2014

Time for the Stefan Frei Experiment to End

During the 2014 pre-season the Sounders had no clear goal keeper. The 2013 starter, Michael Gspurning, was let go by the team for a combination of budget and talent reasons. Gspurning had moments of brilliance and moments of complete meltdown. In his place they had brought in Stefan Frei, Toronto's former backup and resigned 41 year old Marcus Hahnemann. All reports were it was an open competition between the two goal keepers. However, the favorite to win the starting job was Frei and after doing just enough to prove himself to the coaches during the pre-season he secured the role. Since the regular season started he has done little to prove it was the right choice.

In the first game of the season Frei kept a clean sheet and the Sounders won 1-0, but he didn't look good doing it. Several times he failed to hold onto balls shot his way giving up rebounds. He also misplayed shots that ended up just barely missing their target. The shut out was much more because of the stout Seattle defense and the pouring rain then anything Frei did.

He followed that game up with a 2-1 loss against a stacked Toronto squad. Although Toronto has lots of highly talented players at least one of Jermain Defoe's goals should have been stopped by the Seattle keeper. It was a straight shot with almost no bend.  Frei just missed the save.

In the next two games Frei picked up another shut out against an inept Montreal squad and a 2-1 against Columbus where the Sounders had to play down a man for almost 30 minutes. There was nothing especially remarkable about his performance In either of these games. At this point, despite two shut outs, Frei overall season performance, in the first four games, would have to be described as adequate at best. Then Saturday's game against the 0-2-2 Portland Timbers.

Frei looked awful against rival Portland team. He gave up four goals and, if not for a lucky bounce off the cross bar into Yedlin's head, he would have given up a fifth. On most of these he looked out of place and poorly positioned to make a save. Sure the Djimi Traore-less defense did him no favors, but he still misplayed several balls. A better goalie could have kept the Timbers at a lower total.

After a five game stretch to start the season it is time to pull Stefan Frei from the starting job. He has proven mediocre at best and down right bad at worst. Let's give Marcus Hahnemann a shot in goal. He proved able to keep the team in the fight last year. This doesn't have to be a permanent move. If Hahnemann doesn't work out we can always give the job back to Frei. However, right now Frei isn't giving the Sounders the best chance to win. He should be pulled from the starting eleven.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The 2014 Seattle Mariners: Meh

Major League Baseball's regular season is fast approaching. The first game for the Seattle Mariners is on March 31st. Usually this time of year is filled with anticipation for the upcoming season. Baseball fans across the nation are dreaming about their team's chances. If just a few things break right, it could be their year. However, here in Seattle the general attitude is much more depressing. Most fans either have no interest in the team and upcoming season or they are downright mad about the direction of the team and have given up hope. I know of very few fans that still have optimism for this team.

There are many reasons for this general malaise about Seattle Mariners baseball. However the largest and most overarching is that the team hasn't made the playoffs in 12 years. After the 2001 team put together the greatest regular season in baseball history, they have consistently gotten worse every single year sense then. The trend line for the Mariners is clearly going down.

Probably one of the most frustrating things is it isn't as if the team isn't trying to get better; they just constantly fail in all their attempts. Here is a list of some of many strategies the front office has tried over the years.

  • Sign big name high priced free agents, such as Richie Sexson and Adrian Beltre, to try and win now.
  • Sign established quality veteran players, like Raul Ibanez, to bring in leadership and a winning culture.
  • Build through the farm system by drafting and trading for young players with high upside like Justin Smoak and Dustin Ackley.
  • Take a non conventional approach and try to find players to maximize run prevention, like Franklin Gutierrez and Brendan Ryan.

Despite two general managers, several field managers and a seemingly countless number of players nothing has worked.

Sure there have been a few bright spots like Griffey's return in 2009 and Felix's perfect game, but they have been few and far between. They almost act more to highlight how low all the other times have been.  For the most part they feel wasted just like Ichiro's brilliant career.

At this point, fans have distanced themselves from the pain.  It is the most logically thing to do. Rather then keep returning to only get hurt again, stay away. Even previously diehard baseball fans like me have started to stray. The time and emotion required to truly care about the M's just isn't worth it anymore. If they ever get good again and start fielding competitive teams they will probably lure me back, but until that time it is easier to just stay away.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A Few Tidbits from Around the Web

Here are a few interesting links from around the world wide web (and one from a magazine that is reprinted on the web). Click on them and be enlightened.
  • The Sounders season opener was a wet one and for the first 90+ minutes it looked like the weather was going to be the only victor. Then during injury time (and definitely near the end of that) the Sounders struck with this goal. Definitely worth watching the whole thing.
  • JR Smith quite possibly has the most tattoos per skin area of anyone in the NBA. He can shoot 3 pointers with the best of them. He once played in China. He was also fined $50,000 for repeatedly untying opponents shoes. Yahoo Sports took a closer look at this very interesting player.
  • The No Fun League (NFL) has struck again. This time they are outlawing post touchdown goalpost dunks. Apparently because they hate seeing players and fans happy.
  • ESPN the Magazine took a look at while the NBA is the most conspiracy laden league. Pablo Torre does a great job and it is definitely worth a read. However if you don't have EPSN insider or you don't want to spend the time here is the short version, David Stern was the NBA's commissioner for 30 years.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Reduce the 35 Second Shot Clock

The first weekend of March Madness is an amazing time of year. Tons of college basketball games happen over the course of four days. This years tournament has been especially good. There have been amazing upsets, like Mercer over Duke. There have been lots of close games; In fact their have been more overtime games then in any tournament in recent history. I have truly enjoyed the sporting spectacular. However, all this college basketball also highlights one of the things that is most wrong with NCAA Men's basketball, the 35 second shot clock.

The invention of the shot clock was a great moment in basketball. It forces an increased pace of play by setting a minimum number of possession in a game and ultimately makes the game more exciting. The NBA, the premier league in the world, uses a 24 second shot clock, which if teams used completely during every 48 minutes long game, would result in 120 possessions. The international game, used at the Olympics and World Championships, also has a 24 second shot clock, but they only play for 40 minutes. When it comes to timing, the WNBA follows the international rules. NCAA women's basketball is played with a 30 second shot clock over 40 minute of game play. Only the NCAA Men's rules use a 35 second shot clock. It is the longest in all of the sport and it allows for the most time wasting and boredom.

With a 35 second shot clock and 40 minutes of game time and NCAA men's game could result in only 68.57 possessions, or just over 34 per team. Luckily, almost nobody plays that slow, it would be downright unwatchable. However, teams like Virginia (62.4 possessions/game, fifth slowest in Division I) do paly slowed down boring styles passed on milking the clock and palying defense. Virginia can get a lead and then switch to focusing on defense and wasting time. It is a boring style of play to watch and a boring style to play against.

Nobody turns on a college basketball game hoping to see a 54-48 final. We want to see fast breaks resulting in transition points. We want to see motion offenses resulting in Alley-Oop dunks. We want to see dribble penetration with kick-outs for open threes. We don't want to watch point guards dribble in endless circles around the three point line, nursing a lead while they drain time off the clock.

This scourge of time wasting has an easy fix. The NCAA just needs to lower the shot clock the the 24 seconds used throughout the rest of men's basketball or at least the 30 seconds used in the women's college game. There is no reason that 18-24 years old, semi-professional (face it, this is essentially what they are), basketball players need an extra 11 seconds to set up their offenses. It is not like they are still learning how to play the game. Most of these guys have been playing year round on high school and AAU teams since they were 14 years old. They don't need the handicap.

March Madness and men's college basketball isn't broken. In fact it is maybe as good as ever, but that doesn't mean it can't be improved. The NCAA needs to reduce the shot clock down from 35 to 24 seconds as soon as possible. They should improve the game to be the best it can be.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Golden Memories

During his time in Seattle Tate had a very up and down relationship with the local fan base. We questioned the front office when he was picked, saw moments of brilliance during his rookie season and found ourselves very frustrated during his second year. However, with the arrival of Russell Wilson, Golden seemed to find a connection and began to blossom. 

Heading into the eventual Super Bowl Championship season of 2014, Golden Tate was on many people's radar as a player to watch. Despite not even having a 1000 yds receiving, Tate had what has to be considered a very successful 2014 campaign. He led his pass averse, but eventual Super Bowl Champion, team  in targets, catches and yards and was tied for the lead in TD. Many local fans saw resigning him as an important, if not crucial, part of the off season plans. 

Apparently, the Detroit Lions also saw value in Golden Tate. They recently inked him to a 5 year, $31 million dollar contracts. In Detroit, Tate will be replacing departing WR Nate Burleson (coincidentally also an ex-Seahawks) as the number two target for QB Matt Stafford. 

So, to honor Super Bowl Champion Golden Tate, I have compiled a list of my four favorite memories from his playing time here in Seattle. 

The Fail Mary 
A top Golden Tate moment countdown just wouldn't be complete with reference to this play. In week 3 of the 2012 season, on Monday Night Football, with time expiring in the fourth quarter Russell Wilson threw a deep pass into the corner of the endzone. A scrum of about 6 players, both Seahawks and Packers, jumped up for the ball. The initial outcome of the pass appeared to be an interception and a Packers win. However, the officiating staff instead called it a TD and the Seahawks won. As you probably remember a media madhouse ensured and the play was dubbed the Fail Mary.

This play would definitely be higher on the list if it came in an important game or for that matter a close game. Instead it came in week 10, against a 2-7 Falcons team with the Seahawks already up 16-3. Even so, it was a down right amazing play. With time expiring in the first half Golden Tate pulled in an amazing one handed grab for a touchdown.
In week 10 of the 2012 season, Tate made an acrobatic catch over NY Jets defensive back  Kyle Wilson to start the scoring in what would end up a Seahawks led blow out. The catch was amazing for Tate's ability to bring it in, but also his ability to stay on his feet and walk into the endzone.
It says something about Tate that he didn't even catch a pass during one of my favorite and most memorable plays that he was involved in. In a September 2009 game against the Dallas Cowboys Seattle QB Russell Wilson took off running. Dallas's star LB Sean Lee started pursuing. Golden Tate saw the run and decided to do his part and put a block on the unsuspecting LB. It resulted in a downright awesome play to watch and a $21,000 fine. You can watch the full video clip here.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

My Dislike of Bode Miller

The Sochi Winter Olympics have come and gone (unless you are like me and have them recorded on your DVR). They will be the last for American alpine skier Bode Miller, who ends his career as the most decorated American skier of all time. Overall he grabbed six medals in four Olympic Games.  

Miller's career will be remembered for his trademark style of skiing, where he constantly pushed the border of being in control, often with violent and catastrophic conclusions. It might be going too far to call him the Ricky Bobby of alpine skiing, but not by much, it was often first or last for Miller.

He will also be remembered, by many, for being an underachiever. He is widely considered one of the most naturally gifted skiers ever. However, he lacked commitment and concentration. Many think he didn't win as often as he should have, including his own coach. However, to me Miller is neither the champion or the underachiever. To me, Miller will be remembered as one of the only American Olympic athletes I rooted against.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Basketball Fundamentals Matter

On Saturday, I took my annual trip to Royal Brougham Pavilion to watch Western Washington University take on Seattle Pacific University in men's basketball. As such, here is my near annual NCAA Division Two Men's Basketball blog post. The WWU-SPU game was a hard fought one, that came down to the wire, with SPU beating my WWU Vikings 91-88. Both teams showed strengths. One, a clear weakness.

SPU's David Downs was dominate. He scored 36 points on what felt like 90% shooting from the field (it was actually 52.6%). He was a three point machine. When Western players stepped up to guard him he just dribbled right past for an easy layup. When they sagged to stop the drive he drained the three. He was clearly the Falcon's best player.

Even with Downs' amazing performance, Western stayed in the game, mostly from  stellar performances from seniors Austin Bragg and Richard Woodworth. Freshman Jeffrey Parker also caught my eye, as he scored 14 points in 24 min and looked good doing it. The frosh is clearly a baller and will hopefully continue to improve and help the Vikings stay a GNAC power. Unfortunately these good performance's from the Western players were all for naught, as none of them could hit a free throw.