Monday, June 29, 2015

The Sounders Success is Bound to Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins

Three weeks ago the Seattle Sounders were the best team in Major League Soccer. They sat upon the points leader board with 29 points. Their attacking duo of Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey created such consistent pressure on the opposition that the teams occasional defensive lapses were hidden. Martins and Dempsey were just so good that they raised all the other players around them to a higher level. They were clearly one of the best duos in the league and the pair was the key to the Sounders success. Then on June 16th in a US Open Cup match against the Portland Timbers the wheels came off the cart.

Games against the Sounders chief rivals, the Portland Timbers, are always tense. The players take the rivalry as seriously as the fans and on the field the matches can be foul filled affair where tempers flair. This Open Cup match up was no different. The Sounders had three players ejected including an incident where Dempsey ripped up the referee's book. His action caused MLS to suspend him for three games. The game also saw a hard foul on Obafemi Martins result in an injury and him being carted off the field. At the end the Sounders only had seven men on the field.

The loss to the Timbers was a disappointment to be sure. The Sounders have owned the US Open Cup during their MLS life. The players and coaches take the competition seriously. However, the US Open cup result was disastrous more so because of the loss of Dempsey and Martins than the actual scoring outcome. Both players will miss a minimum of three games, all of which have been Sounders losses. Most likely the pair will miss six games each, which could set the Sounders really far back in the standings.

The absence of Martins and Dempsey has made it painfully clear how irreplaceable they are to the team. They are the keys to the entire Sounders team. In the three games without Dempsey and Martins the Sounders have managed just one goal and conceded seven. The offense is flat and the defense is struggling to keep opponents from scoring chances.

As the single goal highlights, the forwards just cant cut it. None of them have the skills required to create scoring opportunities for themselves. The two main fill-ins, Lamar Neagle and Chad Barrett, are finishers not creators. They lack the vision and instincts to find scoring opportunities. Their is no one left to feed them the ball. The Sounders offense has looked confused and directionless, with their possessions often ending in an errant pass.

On the flip side, without the attacking pressure created by Martins and Dempsey the defense has cratered. The side was already short-handed because of the injury to Ozzie Alonso, which has resulted in a huge downgrade in the center of the field. However, without Martins and Dempsey, the defense is giving up a huge amount of quality shots and forcing Stefan Frei to make way to many saves. Frei just isn't good enough to stop the on-slot. The key to the defense was a strong counter attack that kept the opponent from sending more than a few attackers forward. With the offense floundering the defense is seeing a lot more of the opponents players in the offensive zone.

The magic that led to the first places standing three weeks ago is gone right along with Martins and Dempsey. When they are missing it is like watching a completely different team. If it was ever in doubt, the scoring duo's absence has solidified into fact that they are the keys to the Sounders success. Seattle's soccer hopes and dreams rise and fall with Obafemi and Clint.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Lebron James is the Best Basketball Player in the World

During a press conference following the Cleveland Cavaliers game 5 loss Lebron James stated what everybody else was already thinking. His exact quote was "I feel confident because I'm the best player in the world." Personally I think he might be silly to feel confident, especially when you consider the other scrubs currently donning Cav's jerseys, but he is definitely right about the  best player part. His effort in the NBA Finals should put to rest any debate about Kobe or Durant being better than James.

Through five games he is averaging 36.6 ppg, 12.4 rpg, and 8.8 apg. He is probably performing at the highest level of any player ever in the NBA Finals. As the USA Today points out, he should win the series MVP regardless of the eventual Champion. He has clearly been the Most Valuable Player on the floor. Lebron James has turned what could have been one of the most boring and most lopsided Finals since last year (try to remember the Heat vs Spurs series, you might have blacked it out).

Although I am rooting for Golden State to win (their style of play is just way more fun to watch), I won't be upset if the Cav's force a game seven in California.  This series is so much fun I dont want it to end. I want to keep seeing how long James can keep this up. Although I suppose it is good it maxes out at seven games. I don't want to energy being exerted by James to do am permanent damage. I want him to come back and put on a show again next year because Lebron James clearly is the best player in the world.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

A Few Tidbits from Around the Web

Time for some links to sports related articles and a video clip that I find interesting. I think you should click them and digest the content. Then, if you happen to see, we can talk about your favorite bits.
  • Floyd Mayweather recently won his 48th professional boxing match against Manny Pacquiao. Despite his win in the biggest fight in recent history, Mayweather is still a terrible person. We should all remember that he is a serial women beater and never pay money to watch his fights.
  • This New England Patriots fan makes a case for why the Tom Brady suspension is ridiculous. Although I shutter while I type this, I have to say he does make a few good points. 
  • In case you think I have gone soft on Patriots fans, here is another piece pointing out how delusional many of them are.
  • In game seven against the Memphis Grizzlies the Warriors punched their ticket to the Western Conference championship. The game was a good one and highlighted exactly why the Warriors are so great. It also had an amazing bit of ridiculousness when Steph Curry drained a 3/4 court shot with time expiring in the half.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Soccer Statistics: A New Era

Advanced statistics have been making their way into every sport over the last ten years or so, and it's all Billy Beane's fault.  The fact that Billy Beane doesn't have anything to do with it (and probably isn't even all that great as a GM) doesn't matter here: what matters is that stats have taken a great leap forward.  In baseball, it's commonplace to talk about BABIP and team's are shifting more than ever before.  In basketball, team's finally realize just how valuable the three-point shot is, especially on Daryl Morey's NBA 2k fanboy Rockets, who refuse to take any shot that isn't a dunk, three pointer, or Josh Smith doing whatever it is he gets paid for.  In hockey, we have uh...uh...Deryk Engelland being considered a hockey player still.

So it's not a perfect world, to be sure.  One of the toughest areas for advanced stats to take hold has been in soccer (or, as the English call it, crisps).  This isn't because of any sort of good ol' boy traditionalism so much as it is that it's really, really hard to measure things in soccer.  Normal counting stats like goals or saves exist, but tell you almost nothing about the game.  Clint Dempsey gets a goal for this just as much as he does for this.  Passing numbers are nice to look at too, but there isn't really a ton to be gained from knowing Andres Iniesta completed 7000 passes in a game other than that Barcelona loves possession just so much you guys.  Plus, it can be hard to break into soccer because so much of the skill is in the little things.  Basketball's great because you can obviously see when a good play is made and can understand where advanced stats are coming from.  Soccer relies so much on things like a good first touch that it can be hard to really know what to look for.

There needs to be more accessible, informative statistics for soccer, really.  American sports fans love the fantasy aspect of sports, where we can argue about why Michael Beasley is better than Corey Maggette even while knowing in our heart of hearts we're both wrong.  Stats are wonderful.  That's why we need more of them for soccer.  Here's just a few that can really make any person's fandom that much better.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Seventh Round Mock Draft

The greatest sporting event of the year is here!  The NFL Draft begins tonight!  Hope springs anew amongst all fans.  Yes, it is truly the best weekend of the NFL calendar starting today.  That is, the best weekend excluding any of the weekends with games and, more importantly, all the weekends without games in which we don't have to pretend we're not ok with rooting for spousal abusers to run for 100 yards a game.

By now, there have been more than enough mock drafts written.  Every expert has weighed in and, by now, everyone knows exactly what will happen in the first round.  Therein lies the problem, however. The first round is all taken care of, but nobody pays attention to all our favorite rounds!  Anyone can say that Buccaneers should draft Jameis Winston or JaMarcus Russell or Ki-Jana Carter, all can't miss NFL superstars.  It takes a real expert to know what will happen in the draft's final round.  That's when all the players we truly care about are drafted anyway.  Marques Colston, Trumaine McBride, DeVon Harrison, and Scott Mruczkowski are all pillars of our NFL fandom and only one of them is a made-up name.  That's why Unique Sports Theme Name is committed to giving you the most comprehensive, most accurate Round 7 Mock Draft that has ever been written.  Be wary, as the revelation that we can see the future can be rough for some.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Why Aren't You Rooting for the Bucks?

The Milwaukee Bucks are God's chosen gift to basketball.  After last night's stirring defensive performance, the Bucks have won two straight games over the Chicago Bulls to get back in a series they were down 3-0.  Are they going to win?  No, of course not.  It's almost unheard of in the NBA for a team to come back from down three games to none, having occurred only once since the first round became a best-of-seven series.  Outside of Mark Cuban's nightmares, it's pretty much impossible.  However, that doesn't mean that the Bucks are anything but the best thing.  They may be essentially doomed this season, but it's never too early to think ahead for what bandwagon to get on.  Everyone likes to look down on bandwagon fans, which means now is the time to hop on so you too can act like you're better than everyone else the next few years.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Mariner's Starters are just Not that Good

Heading into this season the majority or fans and media seemed to think the Mariners starting pitching was going to be great. Lots of local talking heads held them up as one of the best pitching staffs in major league baseball. So far things haven’t turned out that great. I am personally not that surprised. I didn’t understand the hype preseason. 

The one sure thing in the rotation was Felix Hernandez. And what do you know? He has been awesome. He continues to decimate AL batters and keep the M’s in every game he pitches. He sets the bar so high it makes it hard for other pitchers to follow. M’s fans rightfully appreciate a great player.

Iwakuma and Happ have both been surprises, but for different reasons. They have basically flipped spots based on performance. Iwakuma has been much worse than expected. He is supposed to be a legit number two starter, instead he has struggled to get out of the fourth inning. Happ looked like just another arm. Someone to eat up innings every fifth day. Instead he has provided the M’s with almost all of their good starts not belonging to The King. 

Looking back neither of these results should be that surprising. There was writing on the wall for both of these players. ‘Kuma had a 7.61 ERA in 23.66 IP during the month of September last year. He struggled to end the season and he hasn’t gotten it back. I hope that he figures it out, but I am not holding my breath. His struggles could have been predicted. 

J.A. Happ, the newcomer to the staff, was a high profile prospect in his youth. After struggling in Houston he landed in Toronto. As a flyball pitcher Happ was ill-suited for the home run friendly confines of the Rogers Centre. In 2014 his 39.5% flyball rate put him at the 17th highest among all qualified starters in both leagues and that was the second lowest flyball rate of his career. Happ is a flyball pitcher and the exact kind of guy that Safeco Field helps succeed. His recent success isn’t as crazy as some people believe. 

The other two starter, Paxton and Walker, are essentially rookies. Combined they pitched 112 innings in 2014. That is less than half what Felix threw. The sample size on these guys was small. Expecting them to perform at All-Star levels was crazy. Rookie Pitchers struggle. It takes them a while to figure out the majors. I expected both to figure it out eventually, but in the meantime we are going to have to suffer through the learning curve. 

The sky high pre-season expectations for the M’s starting pitchers was unfounded. All four starters that aren’t named Hernandez had red flags. Three of the four struggling isn’t a surprise. This team’s pitching staff isn’t as star studded as the 2013 Tigers or the 2015 Nationals. They are just average and it is time for people to realize this.