Monday, December 16, 2013

2014 World Cup Preview: Group A Predictions

Get ready for a whole lot of this
Group A: Brazil, Cameroon, Mexico, Croatia

Even though I'm in a highly competitive ESPN World Cup Bracket Challenge (you can join it here - search for the group named "Landy Cakes." The password is "landycakes" - go figure), I'm not afraid to share my prediction for the World Cup champion. It's Brazil. I simply can't see how the Seleção fail to win this tournament.

To win the tournament, of course, you've got to escape your group. And the Brazilians are uniquely poised to do just that. 

Prediction: Brazil win group, Croatia 2nd
The only thing that Brazil has to worry about is succumbing to the pressure of their soccer-mad country. It's hard for Americans to understand the passion that Brazilians have for soccer. I'm the first to admit that I don't fully grasp the power that this sport holds over the country, but you can see it in the faces of the players during the Brazilian national anthem. If this video doesn't scream "Clear eyes, full hearts, can't lose," then I don't know what does. 

Personally, I think this Brazilian team is in a terrifyingly perfect position to win this World Cup. The national anthem, the pomp and circumstance, the feeling of every countryman's eye and heart resting on your movement on a rectangle of grass - this is what these Brazilian players have been working towards for their whole lives. And, crucially, many of them have not had to wait long to get it.

A good word to describe the Brazilian team is "ripe." Often, pundits say that the "time is ripe," but I think that this particular squad of players is ripe. They are built with a terrific mix of experience in back, youthful exuberance in the midfield, and more experience (plus a once-in-a-generation young superstar) up front - check it out: 

GK: Julio Cesar (34)
Defenders: Dani Alves (30), Maicon (32), Thiago Silva (29 - universally lauded as a top 3 defender in the world), David Luiz (26)
Midfielders: Ramires (26), Oscar (22), Paulinho (25), Lucas (26)
Forwards: Neymar (21 - the aforementioned superstar), Hulk (27), Robinho (29)

Getting into the weeds for a minute here - pressure on a soccer field generally manifests itself in player mistakes, and player mistakes happen when a player has time to think. Further, "time to think" is something that midfielders and forwards have much more of than defenders. While a relatively ageing Brazilian back line might feel like their World Cup window is closing, they'll be too busy sweeping opposing attacks aside to notice it. The joyous, swaggerous, swashbuckling Brazilian football will be back in good hands in this World Cup - the hands of the youthful offensive playmakers who will shoot, dribble, and pass first, and ask questions of their legacy later. 

OK, enough Brazilian ballwashing. Let's discuss (briefly) the three inferior squads in Group A. 

Ranked 16th in the world, Croatia is a very respectable football team. Which is not to say that all their players are respectable human beings. Even without the services of the Nazi mentioned in the previous link, Croatia will likely gain enough points to see them out of this group. They have tested, high-level defenders in Darijo Srna, Vedran Corluka, and Danijel Pranjic, as well as 24-year-old Southampton back Dejan Lovren. 

Their midfield is anchored by true superstar midfielder Luka Modric, a 28-year-old maestro who can dictate the tempo of a game as well as anyone in the world. Modric will be the lynchpin for this team, and if he can slow the game down enough, the high-flying tactics of Brazil and Cameroon might be stifled. 

Aaron Carter is his stylist.
Croatia don't have a lethal finisher in the mold of aged legend Davor Suker, but Mario Mandzukic and Nikica Jelavic might be able to use their 6-foot-2 frames to outmuscle smaller Mexican and Cameroonian (Cameroonan? Cameroonish?) defenders.

Despite their recent run of form, including an abject beatdown of New Zealand in a two-game series to determine who would make it to the World Cup, I can't see Mexico getting out of this group. Yes, they play their home games in a hot, muggy, smoggy, loud, oxygen-deprived, atmosphere, so you'd think they'd be used to Brazil. But the problem lies less in the climate or fitness of the players, and more in the fact that the Mexicans simply can't find the net lately. 

Granted, this may change in the run-up to the World Cup, but there are only so many tactical adjustments you can make. They're already on their fourth manager of 2013(!!!), so I don't see any more changes coming on that front. Miguel Herrera has led them to the World Cup, but he doesn't have the weapons to compete with Brazil, nor to put enough goals past Croatia's stout back line. 

Doing what he does best - sitting (though not on the defender's back shoulder)
Chicharito (Mexico's poaching 25-year-old forward) is not a player who can create his own shot - he needs service in order to thrive. He also is not listed on the team's current roster, though that might just be because he picked up an injury in training at Manchester United. I can't see him being left off the World Cup roster. 

In any event, teams with no playmakers facing stout defensive teams generally don't fare well. Adios, Mexico. 

It saddens me to put the Indomitable Lions in the last position in this group, mainly because their nickname is "The Indomitable Lions." How freaking cool is that?? Plus, they have easily the sweetest shirt design out of all of the countries so far unveiled at Clean Sheet's website. Seriously, check this baby out.
In any case, the Lions have a lot to like. First of all, the schedule favors them slightly. They play Mexico first in a crucial match. The loser of that game will most likely come last in the group, as the games only get harder from there. They also have a world-class player at every level of the team, with Tottenham Hotspur defender Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Barcelona midfielder Alex Song, and Chelsea forward Samuel Eto'o (who is always running).

However, I just don't feel good about their chances. African teams rarely travel well. With barely any research to back this statement up, I still feel it's true. Think about it from an economic standpoint: Croatians probably have some disposable income, Mexicans will most likely travel well just due to their extraordinary fan support, but Cameroon's traveling party will be much smaller. That bodes ill, especially when they're chucked into a group with the host Brazilians. The Indomitable Lions will be dominated.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Marcelo Vidal

If someone were to ask you to define the term "speculative rip," you would point them straight in the direction of this goal. Marcelo Vidal, a midfielder from Atletico Independiente, a nondescript second-tier Argentinian side, caught a touch of the ol' Inigo Martinez fever with three minutes left in their game against Patronato.

Straight from a free kick, Vidal takes two steps and uncorks a freaking BULLET at the opposing goal. This might even be more impressive than Martinez's two attempts, because the keeper is kind of in a good position. He is just beaten by the scorching missile that screams over his head into the back of the old onion bag. What a strike. 

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The 2014 World Cup Draw - Reactions and "Deathiness" Rankings

The Grail

The 2014 World Cup is stacked. The average FIFA world ranking of all teams in the tournament is 20.78, which is astonishing when you consider that Africa and Asia (not traditional soccer hotspots) got eight of the 32 tournament berths. Australia, at 59, is the lowest-ranked team in the tournament, and they have three players plying their trade in top-flight European leagues. This has all the makings to be the most hotly contested World Cup ever.

After the (potentially rigged) draw last Friday, we now know the eight groups that will make up the first stage of the competition. As you’d expect, many of these groups are absolutely terrifying. You can’t have a draw with the best teams in the world and expect the groups to work out completely fairly. Having said that, some teams (cough cough the United cough States cough) have some serious reasons for concern.

With over 6 months until the start of the tournament, there’s not much that soccer fans can do except wait, pray against injuries, and speculate. So speculate I shall.

I’ll be breaking down the World Cup through the lens of my semi-vast knowledge of world soccer, combined with my nearly airtight hunches based on such important factors as climate, travel, fatigue, player fitness, things I know about the country that the team is from, and the potential corruptness of the referees.

Since there are eight groups, and it would take forever to dissect each one’s 12 games, I’m chunking these blog posts into (hopefully) weekly breakdowns. This week, we’ll start with an overview of the groups, and give a general level of Deathiness (as a nod to the most overused phrase in World Cup parlance, the “Group of Death”).

As Michael Bolton says, let’s get to it.

Group A: Brazil, Cameroon, Mexico, Croatia
Death Scale: Brendan Fraser
"My hair product? Camel spunk."
Google is a wonderful tool. Since this group would have made up the Group of Death in 1999, when Brazil was ranked 1st in the world, Croatia 9th, and Mexico 10th, I simply Googled "celebrities who almost died in 1999", and was rewarded with this nugget from the Wikipedia entry for "The Mummy""Brendan Fraser nearly died during a scene where his character is hanged. Weisz remembered, 'He stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated.'" It's almost a shame he survived.

In short, this is a tough group for everyone except Brazil. The gulf in quality is so vast that it feels like Croatia and Mexico are 116th and 120th in the world, rather than 100 spots better. 

Group B: Spain, Chile, Australia, Netherlands
Death Scale: Steve Irwin
"MY hair product? Crocodile kisses."
You had to see this one coming. In the land down under, they're probably lamenting this group as the worst possible outcome. Wait, let's check.... Yup. They totally are

Only one death has hit this country harder in the recent past, and it was the tragic passing of everyone's favorite bushy-haired and bushwhacking television presenter, Steve Irwin. 

Federal buildings should probably just stay closed until July to mourn the inevitable and untimely passing (soccer pun intended) of the Australian national soccer team at the 2014 World Cup. This could be the kind of total destruction that turns an entire generation of young Australians away from soccer and towards a more successful sport, such as rugby, avoiding sharks while on a slice of wood in the ocean, or kangaroo boxing. 

Seriously though. Spain and the Netherlands played for the 2010 World Cup trophy, and Chile will be bringing their entire population across the Andes in waves like the Huns in Mulan.

Group C: Colombia, Ivory Coast, Japan, Greece
Death Scale: Kel Mitchell
"I'm not dead. I promise." 
Despite what you may read.. um... everywhere, Kel Mitchell is not, and has never been, dead. He's the perfect representation of this group, though, because everyone knows about the Kel Mitchell Death Rumor. Every few years, someone will trot out the old "Hey, did you hear Kel Mitchell died?" routine at a party, only to go on Wikipedia and find that, once again, he's managed to not die yet. 

In the same way, I feel like the general public knows just enough about every team in this group to make it seem really intriguing. The playing styles and the talents in these games will clash mightily, and just like Kel's life post-Kenan and Kel, we'll learn a little bit more about each of these teams every time we check in on them. 

Group D: Uruguay, Italy, Costa Rica, England
Death Scale: The Old Christians Club Uruguayan rugby team
My, what big teeth they have.
The 2014 World Cup will be played in South America for the first time since 1978. That year, the host Argentinian side won the tournament. Chile played host to the 1962 World Cup, and Brazil came out victorious. Twelve years earlier, Brazil hosted the tournament and Uruguay lifted the trophy. Are we seeing a pattern here? 

South American teams win South American-hosted World Cups.

It even happened at the very first tournament in 1930, when Uruguay won the inaugural World Cup as the host nation. 

Unfortunately, the only logical Death Scale photo for this group recalls the story of the 1972 "Miracle in the Andes" - when a planeful of Uruguayan rugby players on their way to a game in Chile crash-landed on the snow-covered slopes and had to resort to cannibalism before their eventual rescue. 

Uruguay has to channel their miraculous 1972 ancestors and, unfortunately, feed on their less fortunate Central American opponents, Costa Rica. England might continue its recent run of slip-ups at major tournaments, especially as this World Cup will be played in muggy Brazil.

Group E: Switzerland, Ecuador, Honduras, France
Death Scale: Nicolas Flamel
"My hair product? ... Also camel spunk."
Many of you know Nicolas Flamel as a French Alchemist, and the only known creator of the Sorceror's Stone, a bloodred rock from which one can create the Elixir of Life - a substance that makes the drinker immortal. (He was also a real guy.)
In terms of ranking the Deathiness of this group, there is no better half-fictional sorta-real French alchemist than our boy Nicky here. The man was flat-out unable to die, despite his outrageous age (he was 665 when the Sorceror's Stone was destroyed), much the same way that this French national team seems unable to fail despite their very best efforts.

After being left for dead less than a month ago (seriously, more than 8/10 French people thought they were screwed), the French somehow roared back to life. They needed to beat the Ukraine by at least three goals (or by four if the Ukraine scored a goal) on the last day of European qualifying in order to make it to the World Cup, and somehow they pulled it off - winning 3-0 in Paris for one of the country's most famous victories.

Now, French fans must think they've died and gone to ciel. (That's "heaven" in French). This group is an absolute joke, and the French have a 78% chance to get through. Sacrebleu.

Group F: Argentina, Nigeria, Iran, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Death Scale: Jimmy Fallon
"I'm famous. I don't do my own hair. Jeesh."
Know how when someone famous dies, people say: "Wonder who had her in the death pool?" Well, two years ago, my friends and I started an actual celebrity death pool. Each person can pick up to three people, and the group gets to haggle on the odds of each celebrity's death. If your person dies, you get the amount of money that your person's odds were relative to 1. For example: I had Kim Jong Il at 9-1 last year, he died, and I got 9 dollars from everyone.

To keep things sane, we figured the longest possible odds should be 50-1. Then, you couldn't haggle for like 1,500-1 odds on Kate Middleton, then go to England and run her over with a truck (or something).

We decided that the celebrity with the longest odds of death, the one furthest from kicking the bucket, the human being at whose death you would be most shocked, is Jimmy Fallon. He is just so goddamn alive.

Now, don't get this confused. A low Deathiness rating does not mean that every team in a group is "alive" with a chance to get into the knockout stage. It simply means that the group is weaker than an unevolved Magikarp. Argentina should stomp every other team in this group. Period.

Group G: Germany, Ghana, United States, Portugal
Death Scale: (Sorry to do this, but) Paul Walker
I had to do it. It's that bad. Even if you're not a soccer fan (and if you're not, and still reading, congratulations), you've probably heard of either the death of Paul Walker or the impending doom faced by the US Men's National Team (AKA the mighty Von Trapps). These two things are not on the same level of tragedy, but they both represent the worst thing that had even a reasonable chance of happening.
Paul Walker loved fast cars. If someone asked you what terrible thing could perhaps be expected to happen to him, you'd say a death involving a fiery car wreck.

The USA was in Pot 3. If someone asked you what terrible group they could perhaps be expected to fall into, you'd inevitably give a top 3 team in the world, a team with which the USA has historic trouble, and a team with one or more unstoppable playmakers.

Well, that's exactly what you've got. The analysis will come later, but for now, it's hard to see a way out for the Von Trapps.

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, South Korea, Russia
Death Scale: Seven fluffy newborn ducklings
"Jeff? Turn around bro. Can we get one good photo please?"
Jesus Christ this group sucks. It was absolutely agonizing as a United States fan watching the draw, because the time in between the announcement of each successive team gave me more than enough time to release my inner cynic.
Let's review the tape. The USA had a 50-50 shot at being in this group, but instead were dumped into a group with the 2nd and 5th ranked teams in the world, rather than the 11th, 22nd, and 26th.

The polar opposite of a Group of Death. Coin flips are annoying when you lose three straight.

Friday, December 6, 2013

World Cup Draw Day!

Today is the day that the 32 qualifying nations will see who they'll face in the 4-team, round-robin group stage of next summer's World Cup.

Depending on your allegiances, today can either feel like an undefeated college basketball's Selection Sunday, or a District 12 teenager's Reaping Day.

Regardless, today is a great day to be a soccer fan. It's the much-anticipated, often-simulated, superstar-populated World Cup 2014 Draw.

As with everything that Sepp Blatter (FIFA President and known snake) touches, this is complicated. There are wheels within wheels.

How it works

Despite the fact that FIFA is a ridiculously corrupt entity, the strange machinations of the draw have been laid out with good intention: to ensure the greatest possible geographical diversity of each group.

In a nutshell, there are 32 teams waiting to be placed into 8 groups. Right now, they are in 4 "pots" according to various rules. Pot 1 houses the top 8 teams in the world. Pot 2 holds all of the teams from Africa and South America. Pot 3 holds the Asian and North American teams, and Pot 4 holds the European teams.

The Pots

Pot 1: Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay, Spain, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland
Pot 2: Chile, Ecuador, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Algeria, Nigeria, Cameroon
Pot 3: USA, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica, South Korea, Iran, Japan, Australia
Pot 4: Russia, Portugal, Netherlands, Italy, Greece, France, England, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina

Because nine teams from Europe made the tournament and only seven did from Africa and South America, Pot 4 has 9 teams and Pot 2 only has 7. So, right before the draw, they'll pick one team at random from Pot 4 and place it in Pot 2. Then, they'll start the draw.

With me so far? Good. Now it gets complicated.

Brazil, as the hosts, will be put in Group A (the first of the 8 groups that will play a round-robin format when the tournament begins in July). Then the seven other teams from Pot 1 will be put into the top slot in each of the remaining Groups B-H.

Remember, though, that FIFA is trying to keep maximum geographical diversity between the teams in the groups. So after Pot 1 has been emptied, the four South American teams that were in Pot 1 (Brazil, Argentina, Colombia, Uruguay) will be put into a super-secret highly mysterious pot called "Pot X."

Yes, while it sounds like something the kid at the frat house next door might try to sell you, it's actually a way to make sure that there aren't three European teams in one group.

So, they'll pull one team from Pot X. That team will AUTOMATICALLY receive the European team that was placed from Pot 4 into Pot 2.

I like examples. Let's do one so it's easier.


They pull out England from Pot 4. England now goes into Pot 2.

They draw the 8 teams and put them into the top slots of Groups A through H.

They put the 4 top South American teams into the mystery-shrouded Pot X.

They pull out Brazil from Pot X.

Since Brazil is in Group A (as the hosts), England now goes into Brazil's group on the second line.

The rest of the draw proceeds as normal, with Pots 2, 3, and 4 emptying sequentially, and at random, into the 8 groups.

As they say in the Hunger Games, "May the odds be ever in your favor."

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Luis Suarez is a Magical Being

I'm almost positive that Luis Suarez is not a human being. Much like Lil Wayne, Suarez's powers at his chosen profession are so astounding, when he chooses to use them, that people who don't even care about the topic are left stunned.

The man plays for a team called Liverpool, and that team is currently stomping the cat farts right out of a team by the name of Norwich City. It's halftime, and it's already 3-0 thanks to three Suarez goals.

Now, three goals in the first half of a professional soccer match, at any level, is damn good. The fact that it's in a match in the best league in the world is simply superb. And the fact that two of these goals are things made of stardust and moonbeams is simply magical.

Here's the first one. Presented without comment.

HauntingDigitalGerenuk Luis Saurez volleys a bouncing ball over John Ruddy from fully 40 yards [GIF]

That ball was roughly 40 yards from goal. No biggie. Just a dipping full volley from just inside the halfway circle.

Here's the second one. The most benign of the bunch, and still an acrobatic, left-footed, volleyed finish.

And the third might actually be the best of the bunch. Everything you could ask for in a striker: pace, cleverness, balance, and a fucking LETHAL finish.

Suarez solo goal vs Norwich

Again, Luis Suarez is not a human being.


He scored again. Of course he did. Free kick from 25 yards, and Suarez was locked into some sort of goal-scoring zone that he seemed unable to escape. This ball was a homing pigeon and its destination was the back of the onion bag. Simple as that.

EnchantingImmaculateHumpbackwhale video iframe

The game ended 5-1 Liverpool. Suarez got the assist on the fifth. Of course he did.

Honestly, I couldn't care less if he bites people (which he does) or calls people racist names whilst in the heat of battle (which he allegedly does). I just like to watch the man score goals. And goddammit he is good at it.

The Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Paul Scholes

That's right, folks. It's everyone's favorite ginger midget, Paul Scholes. I'm not sure what the man they call "Satnav" has been up to during his second retirement, but clearly he has a hard time staying away from soccer matches.

Usually known for inch-perfect passes and laser-guided rocket goals, today we see Paul with a more delicate attempt.

Playing in some nondescript Sunday league match, Scholes slips in from the left and nips the ball around the 40 second mark in the video, then lets fly with a Beckham-esque attempt from over the halfway line. The keeper is obviously stunned, as anyone in their right mind would be.

Just Satnav being Satnav. If only we knew how he did it!

Thursday, November 21, 2013

A Time-Wasting Hypothetical: the 2014 World Cup Draw Simulator

Remember this beauty?
The draw for the 2014 World Cup is almost here. Just over two weeks from now, on December 6, we will know exactly who this band of merry 'Mericans will face in the most colossal sporting tournament on our great big blue planet.

I can't wait two weeks. Fortunately, NBC Sports has pointed me in the direction of something highly addicting, which will surely see my productivity take a nosedive for the next 15 minutes to four hours.

This World Cup is stacked, and you can go to this handy dandy website (if you feel so inclined) to simulate which teams the US will face this summer in Brazil.

I've done it a few times, and the results are, shall we say, not pretty. Let's take a look at some hypothetical groups, and their respective predictions.


Group G: Belgium, Ecuador, USA, Netherlands
This group, despite being one of the easier possibilities for the US, is still riddled with danger. Belgium stomped the US team 4-2 in a friendly in May on our home turf and are currently ranked fifth in the world. The Netherlands are a top ten team in the world and have ridiculous amounts of talent, and you can't count out Ecuador, especially playing on its home continent of South America.
Prediction: Netherlands and Ecuador advance


Group G: Switzerland, USA, Chile, Russia
THIS IS A GREAT GROUP. Best we could possibly hope for. God knows how Switzerland is in Pot A, but this is a soft group if I've ever seen one. Russia won't know what heat feels like and will probably swelter to death, and though I'm afraid of Chile, I think the US can hang with the other two.
Prediction: USA and Chile advance


Group F: Belgium, USA, Chile, England
I'm not afraid of this English side at all. They have no track record of success in recent international tournaments. Having said that, Chile and Belgium will be tough to beat. In this scenario, however, I'm oddly confident. We like playing against England, and that comfort level might seep into the other games by some weird mental osmosis. Going out on a limb here.
Prediction: Chile and USA advance


Group B: Argentina, USA, France, Italy
We're fucked. This is the Group of Death. France squeaked into this World Cup by the skin of their teeth, but they're still a damn good side with one of the best players in the world patrolling their midfield. Don't get me started on the firepower that both Argentina and Italy possess. If we kept our total goal differential to around -5, I'd be impressed.
Prediction: Argentina and Italy advance

There you have it. Just a few of the many, many scenarios that could play out for the USMNT on December 6. Pray for a Switzerland-led group, and somebody again explain to me how Pot 4 has the Netherlands, Italy, England, Portugal, and Greece???

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Winners Get Lucky

When the New England Patriots lose certain football games on certain blatantly absurd refereeing decisions, I tend to get a little testy. I may or may not have tweeted about a hypothetical rage-fueled on-field murder scenario in the aftermath of one of these contests, but that's neither here nor there. 

Shit happens. We all know this. Your car breaks down on the way to a job interview, you slip on ice and bruise your tailbone so you can barely sit down for a week, or the beer runs out when it's 2-2 in a five game series of beer pong. All of these instances come down to various forms of luck. Sometimes you’re lucky, and sometimes you ain’t. 

But there's a certain way that people speak about luck. For whatever reason, even against all statistical evidence, people keep talking about luck as if it is a finite entity. Every Cinderella team that goes deep into March Madness and then finally loses hears that their luck “just ran out.” If you find five dollars on the ground, you’re immediately told to go buy a lottery ticket.

Even the phrase “catching lightning in a bottle” boils down to the same thing – your team (or most important player) got hot and went on a run that defied rational explanation.

After the atrocity of a game last night, my good friend Drew and I were discussing our outlook on the rest of the season, and he got me thinking about this topic. This was what he said:

“I’m actually okay that we lost. I’m convinced that every NFL team gets a designated level of luck and fortunate calls. I want to save all of ours for the playoffs. Sorta like the Ravens did last year. And the Giants. And basically every team since the ’04 Patriots.”

He went on to do some swift Googling and found out that, in fact, since the 2003-04 Patriots, who went 14-2 and were the number one overall seed, no top seed has won the Super Bowl. The Saints won as the top seed in the NFC in 2009, but they had to beat a Colts team that had gone 14-2 in the regular season (as opposed to New Orleans’s 13-3).

Simply put, the best team in the NFL does not win the Super Bowl. This may sound ridiculous, because in our society we’re all about rankings, tournaments, eliminations, brackets, and finding a definite best thing that is clearly, as Mike Francesa says, “Numbah One.”

But it isn’t ridiculous. The best team is clearly measured by the level of success it has over the entirety of the season, playing a (generally) balanced schedule of many different opponents. Everybody basically gets the same chance to win the most games, and whoever does that is the best team. This is how European soccer works, and they seem to be fine with it. But when the playoffs(!?!) start, it’s all down to luck.

Ask a fan of any NFL team whether they’d want to have the best record in the regular season or win the Super Bowl, and you’ll only get one answer. The Patriots’ 2007-2008 season is a perfect example. We had an all-time great team. In a million different categories, we were the best team to ever play an NFL season. Then what happened? Asante Samuel missed a surefire game-winning interception (I’ve never watched a replay of that play and refuse to link to it, but I can picture it exactly), and fucking David Tyree became the Bucky Fucking Dent of our generation.

Just like that, the best team lost, as it always seems to these days. Drew said it best – we need to save up all our luck for the playoffs. I know it flies in the face of logic, but maybe, just maybe, if we can benefit from one made-up “pushing” call or one picked-up flag on a blatant defensive hold, we can scrap our way back into the winner's circle. We're clearly not going to be the number one overall seed, but obviously, that's a good thing in the long run.  

Just like my dad always says, it’s better to be lucky than good. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Two Sentence Stories

My roommate sent me this list of 40 scary two-sentence stories last night, and I spent about half an hour reading them and others of the same format. I love this type of shit. I think it's incredible how you can elicit so much emotion or shock from two sentences. I also think the format works well for any genre, although probably best for horror.

Update: Tim (proprietor of a fine blog called Timbo Sliced) and I are going to engage in a blog-off on this topic. We each get ten stories, any genre, and let our esteemed readers decide the victor.

Here is the link to his stories:

And here are mine:


1. Sleepwalking was always a problem for me, until I dreamt of flying. Now I'm relieved to wake up in my own bed every morning, and it's getting less difficult to haul my broken body into the wheelchair.

2. Minutes after letting her new golden retriever puppy out to play in the yard, she heard three sounds: a loud thump, a pained squeal, and a text message alert. "Pulling into the driveway now," read the text.

3. She took the stairs in slow, measured steps, dutifully ignoring the shattered wooden banister and shards of  blue-veined pottery strewn across the thick carpet. Though the light breeze from the broken living room window told her all she needed to know, she still read the hastily scrawled note her father left under her pillow: "They found us. I'm sorry."

4. Suspended in the dawn air after leaping off the diving board, he looked down. The large crack in the pool floor leered at him through two inches of brown water.


5.  It seemed that she saw less and less of her family with each passing week, though she still heard plenty from them. When it became difficult to eat, she decided she should finally get a haircut.

6. I woke up in a new Bugatti. I think I stole a new Bugatti.

7. I told my roommate I was bringing two wicked cute chicks home. I was disappointed when he wasn't there to greet me - these birds aren't going to cuddle themselves.

8. These days, there are so many homeless vagrants begging for change, it's hard to get noticed. The other day, I performed open-heart surgery on a foot-long rat right there on the subway platform, and all I got was an expired Kohl's gift card.

9. "HEY! Who cut the cheese??" yelled the chairman of the Cheese Wheel Appreciation Committee. Sheepishly, Edward Scissorhands mumbled, "I was hungry."

10. I had the same dream again: I'm standing in a horribly smelly landfill, gazing at the most majestic full moon I've ever seen. It only happens when my older brother has friends sleep over, and I still can't understand why they call me "Pinkeye."

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Paul Pogba

At last! Our first repeat winner of the Speculative Rip of the Week crown since the original (and still unbeaten) champion, Inigo Martinez himself. This bit of magic comes from Paul Pogba, a British youngster with a tendency to smash soccer balls past professional goalkeepers from long distances with his right foot.

9gppaI1 Paul Pogba volleys home a stunner for 3 0 Juventus v Napoli [GIF]

What a marvelously awful first touch. I've watched this probably 15 times, and I think the ball took a bit of a hop before he received it, but I'd say it was a decent recovery. Post and in!

Video of Pogba's dramatic first effort is available here. Clearly the boy enjoys that outside of the right foot technique.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Sean Franklin

The MLS Playoffs are in full swing, and the best soccer league in our own backyard has served up a tasty morsel of rip sauce, courtesy of Sean Franklin.

He's the guy who you don't see until the moment before the ball is propelled into the net like a torpedo from a submarine.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Course Review - Green Harbor Golf Club

Note: I'm going to start writing some golf course reviews. In preparation for our trip to Scotland for the 2014 Ryder Cup, I've been reading a bunch of great reviews of Scottish links courses. These writeups combine what could be my two favorite things: golf and writing. I figured I'd start doing a few myself. If you're reading these and you work for a golf course and would like me to write a review, shoot me an email! (Small chance, but you miss 100% of the shots you don't take). Additionally, if you'd like to use a review that I've already written for your course, I'd be glad to part with it for a (very) modest fee. Happy reading.

Green Harbor Golf Club

Having played Green Harbor Golf Club many times, the one word that comes to mind to describe it is direct. This is a standard, no-frills golf course. The fairways are generally wide and forgiving, the greens are bunkered but approachable, and there are no dramatic elevation changes. The course is easy to find, set just off Route 139 in Marshfield, and the plain green sign proclaims in bold letters: “Public Invited.” This is a golf course that aspires to be no more than that.

With that said, Green Harbor is the favorite course among almost all of my golfing friends. We’ve outgrown the short, tight, O.B.-lined fairways of Widow’s Walk and Scituate Country Club physically, but still feel compelled to pull driver on most every par four. Whether it’s machismo, peer pressure, or simple force of habit, tee shots that would be safe on many other courses wind up crashing down prickle-covered gullies or flying into stands of tightly-laced pine trees, never to be seen again. Green Harbor, to us, is a haven.

The grounds

The pond behind the 9th green, looking from the clubhouse. Via

No sweeping lane or grand vista accompanies the entrance to the club, as the driveway opens onto a wide oval of a parking lot, bounded on the far side by the pond behind the 9th green and the utilitarian brown wooden clubhouse. A white wooden sign hangs prominently on the clubhouse’s exterior wall facing the parking lot and explains that non players are not allowed on the course. Another reminder that Green Harbor doesn’t pretend to be anything other than an honest man’s golf course. I’ve played several courses where walkers are encouraged to traverse the grounds, and I understand that this is the custom at some courses in the British Isles. To that I say: If golf truly is a good walk spoiled, why let anyone have a free good walk when we have to pay to spoil it?

The clubhouse would look at home at any muni in America – the right-hand side houses the pro shop with its assortment of the not-quite-newest clothing and equipment, and the left contains a wide, loft-ceilinged lunchroom, with carpeted floors and a maze of small, circular tables surrounded by low wooden chairs. The men and women who staff the course are the kinds of people who Ace Hardware would want to act in their commercials (if Ace Hardware still had commercials) – helpful folk who want you to enjoy their course, are knowledgeable about the game, and probably enjoy nothing more than listening to the Red Sox on a portable radio while grilling some hot dogs on the back porch on a warm night in July. Through the lunchroom window, you can look back over rear pond to the ninth hole, watching groups play their 2nd shots over a small pond to a slightly elevated, back-to-front sloping green.

And speaking of the holes, do not let the open layout of this track fool you. There are some truly quality holes hidden on this course, particularly on the front nine.

The course
Rather than some of the more famous courses in the world (venues like the Old Course at St. Andrews and Pebble Beach come to mind), Green Harbor eases you into your round with two cupcake par fours. The best line on the first hole is down the left of the miles-wide fairway, leaving you an angle to stick your ball into the right side of the green and let it trickle back towards the center.

The first, from behind the tee box. Via

Things start to pick up on the third hole in a big way. By that, I mean that the third hole is my favorite on the course. In fact, three of my four favorite holes come in the four-hole stretch from three to six. The third is another par four, but there’s almost no circumstance in which I could see someone hitting a driver here. About 150 yards up the right-hand side of the fairway, a creek trickles in from the woods and meanders its way at a 45 degree angle until it empties out into a pond sat smack-dab in the landing area of the longer drivers of the ball. Anything short and right will find the creek, and anything carrying the creek and to the right of the pond won’t hold the slope, and will be lost into the pond.

Course Photo
The pond at the third. The pin can be seen just right of the bunker. Via

More often than not, I play a 5- or 6- iron to the left of the fairway, but the safe play sets up a daunting second: the green is elevated a few feet above the fairway, and a steep bunker guards the left-hand side. From the fairway, it seems like the only way to the green is to drop a 150-yard shot over that bunker to a green that slopes down and away from you. In fact, the green extends a bit to the right of the trap, but a drawn 7- or 8- iron up the hill is devilishly tough to land close to the pin.

Just as the third presents two complex shots, the fourth and sixth are terrific holes in that one great shot can put you in position for a birdie. The fourth is a 90-degree dogleg right. The fairway is blessedly easy to hold thanks to its banking being something out of a NASCAR track, but deceptively shallow if you’re trying to land it past the corner. Cutting the corner is an option, but the trees short of the green have a way of swallowing wayward balls, despite the lack of underbrush beneath them.

A drive finding the center of the fourth leaves you with less than a pitching wedge to a green also set on this slope – a stuck wedge will usually trickle four or five feet right after landing.

The fifth is a standard par-three, with an elevated green that forces correct club selection with big drop-offs front and back.

Course Photo
The tee shot at the sixth, with some nice fall foliage. Via
Standing on the tee of the sixth, you could be forgiven for having flashbacks (good or bad) to your tee shot at the fourth. Indeed, you’ll need to pull out a similar effort for this dogleg right, though the elevated tee box and flat fairway mean that keeping your ball in the short grass won’t be as easy. This is a longer hole though, and the punishment for missing right is simultaneously less severe (in that you’ll probably find your ball) and much more annoying (in that you’ll need to hit over or under a 75-foot pine tree). This green is one of my favorite on the course, and is typical of Green Harbor’s putting surfaces: wide, uniformly manicured, and with a prevailing slope to the whole of the green, within which the player needs to account for other, subtler breaks.

There are a few other notable holes that make the back nine worthwhile, including the sometimes-drivable par-four 14th complete with a cross-bunker some 275 yards from the tees. Laying up here is an option, but there is no O.B. left, so I often pull out the driver and see if I can hit a long fade that carries the bunker and lands short of (or hopefully on) the green.

The 16th and 18th holes give this course its deserved, measured finish. A long, looping dogleg right par four, the 16th invites a fade, but punishes the player who doesn’t bite a big enough chunk off the corner by offering up a mid-iron second into a small, away-sloping green. The 18th is reminiscent of the third, and might be my favorite if it didn’t also mean the end of a round and the return to the drudgery involved in not being on a golf course. Left is the play here as well, with the dual intention of taking the deep pond out of play and setting yourself up with a second shot unaffected by the tremendously large (at least by Green Harbor’s standards) hump guarding the right portion of the green. You need to put a little extra on your wedge to get it to the hole, as the putting surface is slightly elevated. This is one of the flatter greens on the course, allowing you a good chance at draining a lengthy putt to end your round in style.

The atmosphere
The thing that sets Green Harbor Golf Club apart from anywhere else I’ve played, and the reason that many of my friends love it so much, is that the place imparts a sense of peace. I personally feel that every golf course should give you this feeling – it’s one of the reasons that the sport is so popular. A great round of golf does not need to be a demanding, heart-pounding thrill ride that forces multiple long water carries or approaches to greens guarded by bunkers with nicknames referencing a certain underworld deity’s nether regions.

No one could consider Green Harbor a great test of golf. But that is exactly why it appeals to so many. The players and staff alike realize that while we may subscribe to Golf Digest (or at least read it at the barber) or watch the tournaments on TV (at least when Tiger’s in the hunt on Sunday), we want a golf course that rewards good shots, softens the blow on bad shots, and gives us four or five hours to reflect, relax, and take our hacks.

As carts aren’t allowed at Green Harbor, everyone will have a good walk. It’s up to you not to spoil it. 

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Finally, a player with some name recognition. This game is at halftime, and Zlatan has already smashed his way to a hat trick in PSG's Champions League tilt with Anderlecht. Though I haven't been watching, I can't imagine this isn't the best goal of the bunch: an audacious effort from a player who is well known for his audacious efforts.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Kenet Arce

This goal shows the joy of soccer in its purest form. This is from some lower league, potentially in Spain. But honestly, that doesn't matter. It could be from anywhere in the world. The only thing that matters is the passion.

The shot, as Arce lunges forward and booms one home from distance. The keeper, stunned into total immobility as the ball trickles back out between his legs. The announcer, pulling in every molecule of air in the undoubtedly cramped press box to let loose with a "Golaaaasssoooo" for the ages. The celebration, both individually and collectively. And finally, the crowd. You could generously call this stadium half-full, but that only gives the fans more room to jump up and down on the bleachers in delirium. And once again, the announcer, "GOOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLLLLLLLLLLL"ing his way through it all with reckless abandon.

Soccer is truly the best sport in the world. 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Hisato Sato Ain't Got Nothin' on This: Updated Speculative Rip of the Week - Rene Steer

This comes from the magical tournament known as the FA Cup, wherein EVERY SINGLE PROFESSIONAL SOCCER TEAM IN ENGLAND starts out with a chance to be champion.

A man whose family is named after a castrated male cow, Rene Steer toils along in complete obscurity, six leagues removed from the fame and glory of the Premier League.

But this doesn't mean that he can't play. Check out this fucking howitzer, as he comes in nearly undetected from the side of the screen and pulverizes the ball off the underside of the bar. I can only imagine what Ray Hudson would have to say about this goal.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Hisato Sato

This week's effort comes from the land of the rising sun. Megastar Hisato Sato lets this ball sink over his right shoulder, only to swivel and fire a topsin screamer into the far top 90. Outrageous goal.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

My Thoughts on TV

I have two problems with scripted television, and they are interrelated.

First, I think that scripted TV is entirely too pervasive in our society.

Second, I think that people who watch extensive amounts of scripted TV are wasting their lives.

Let me explain.

I basically only use television to watch sports. I'm not going to lie, I look down on people who are obsessive TV watchers. The fact that millions of people sit in front of a screen for hours at a time and fill their brains with the thoughts and actions of other people, all of whom are acting (whether or not their actions are purported to be "real") is, to me, deplorable. You only get one life. You'll never be as young as you are RIGHT NOW, at THIS MOMENT. You don't get this moment back.

It's hard enough for me to drag myself to work every day, knowing that I'll sit in front of a computer for eight hours when I could be outside exploring some new neighborhood, taking a last walk with my dog before the fall turns to winter, or literally doing anything else.

St. Ignatius, the patron saint of Boston College (I'm not exactly sure how patron saints work, I'm not Catholic), echoed Plato's assertion that the unexamined life is not worth living. Examine your own life, not those of fake people who are the product of a man's imagination. Millions go home every day eager to fall onto their couches and watch characters who, in many cases, have a more pronounced hold on the viewer's emotional state than some family members. This is simply wrong. Don't give your own, actual, tangible life away for the promise of entertainment at the foot of some monolithic fiction factory.

Of course, this all sounds hypocritical, since I could spend entire days (and indeed have) reading fiction books. And again, fictional entertainment in all forms has existed since the invention of language. But my outrage is not directed towards any level of consumption, nor towards any media type. Rather, it is aimed at the people who use fictional television (or books, or video games, etc) as a way to pass the time - a way to spend valuable hours that they will never recover doing something that gives them no benefit except the empty, unrequited relationship between viewer and character and the cultural capital to hold essentially pointless conversations with others of their ilk.

Every form of media is a product of the society in which it was conceived. Great art is a reflection, and often a criticism, of its culture. The people who consume fiction and have the wherewithal to understand this concept, and to internalize and converse with others about the lessons/ideals/values/maxims that this fiction is trying to convey, are not the people that I'm worried about. It's the others. The people who veg out, content to let an endless parade of fictional characters shepherd them from young adulthood to the grave, content with being passively entertained, content with living an unexamined life.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Well, That Didn't Last Long

Sorry, Arkadiusz. Your time atop the standings has been cut short by an ABSOLUTE THUNDERBOLT.

Ladies and gentlemen, Sivasspor's Manuel da Costa.

Bring the rain. 

The Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Arkadiusz Piech


Arkadiusz Piech, that's who.

I had never heard of him, either. Mainly because he plays for Zaglebie Lubin, a (Wikipedia....) top-level Polish professional team based in the undoubtedly historic and prosperous city of Lubin.

Anyway, the guy sees a defender in front of him and, rather than try anything strange like passing or dribbling around him, he just uncorks a long-range missile attack into the back of the onion bag. Good on ya, Arkadiusz. Early contender for Name of the Year.

in1KMDIfKoH1T GIF: Arkadiusz Piechs top corner ripper (Zaglebie Lubin) v Górnik Zabrze

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

The Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week: Benny Feilhaber

An absolute peach of a goal from former USMNT/ New England Revolution player Benny Feilhaber. Kids, that's the way you pull off the outside of the foot half-volley.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

I'm Getting Kind of Worried About the Environment

Not a new subject. Everywhere you turn, there's another study/article/blog post/news item/massive fundraiser. Basically, we're destroying the only planet that we're able to live on because we've created a lifestyle that demands machines with extraordinarily high levels of carbon dioxide emissions.

This is changing the chemical makeup of our atmosphere to such a degree that the average air temperature is heating up.

This in turn makes ice melt in large quantities and seawater expand as it warms.

Which directly contributes to more (and more violent) storms, rising sea levels, and unpredictable weather conditions.

We know this.

The question is, what do we do?

Now, on a large scale, I have no idea. I'm not a scientist or politician or mover and shaker of millions  of people.

But I read a quote from someone somewhere (that's how all inspiring quotes are attributed these days) that said something like: "Just because you only make a small difference does not give you an excuse to do nothing." 

We can't expect to just wait around doing the same shit every day, wasting electricity/water/gas, and then have some celebrity coalition or summit of multibillionaires decide to swoop in and save the world. It's not going to happen like that.

It's the most cliched thing in the world, but it's true. We need to change the way we act in a bunch of small ways every day. If you do a little bit, and you tell your friends to do a little bit, and they pass it along, eventually most people will be imperceptibly contributing to the planet's health, instead of its destruction.

What do we do? Simple shit. Don't drink out of plastic water bottles. Turn lights off when you leave the room. Unplug your phone/computer charger when you're not using it. Don't drive like a fucking maniac with your foot stapled to the floor. Don't sing the entirety of "Bohemian Rhapsody" in the shower.

To be a bit over-the-top for a second, the Earth is dying. No, wait, let me rephrase that, because it's not a passive thing. We are killing the Earth. It's not going to stop any time soon, but we can slow it down in a million ways every day. Just keep it in the back of your mind as you're going through your day.

It's important.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Inigo Martinez Speculative Rip of the Week

Note: this is not a video, but a mere teaser image. The video is in the link at the end. 

This is an emergency post, and also the beginning of a feature that I started on an old blog, called 3 Man Wall, that I curated with two of my friends. The title is a nod to 22-year-old Spanish footballer Inigo Martinez, who has so far scored two goals of sheer absurdity in his young career.

With the Premier League starting back up, and me posting semi-regularly on this blog, I thought there was no better time to return to the time-honored tradition of posting fucking amazing soccer goals online for others to enjoy.

Without further ado, Juventus's Paul Pogba:

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Why it’s Finally Time to Start Caring About Soccer in the United States

This is not your garden-variety soccer apologist’s post. While I am a soccer fan, I certainly don’t consider myself to be some holier-than-thou purist of the game, nor do I think of soccer detractors as thick-headed cretins whose only requirement for entertaining sports television is frenetic action and violence. But I do know that, whether we’re ready or not, soccer is coming. And now is truly the time to start tuning in.

What’s wrong with soccer?

My reasons for following soccer are inconsequential, so let’s get right to the good stuff. Ask any of the millions of people who would be proud to fall into the “red-blooded American male” category in your trusty pocket stereotype-ometer, and they’ll give you a handful of reasons that they dislike, can’t stand, or simply don’t care about soccer.

Before beginning, I’d like to point out that I’m only going to spend time refuting arguments that I believe have some modicum of sanity behind them. This does not include claims such as: “Every child in America plays soccer, and then the better athletes move to football,” or “Soccer’s only for prissy Europeans and flashy Brazilians," or especially “A sport where you can’t use your hands isn’t a sport.” Those arguments all hold no water, and if you do find someone to debate them with, I’ll advise you not to bet heavily on your winning that round.

1.       It’s boring
Reason number one is usually some variety of the “it’s too boring/not enough offense/too much walking, jogging, and standing around” argument. And, when you put it that way, it almost sounds legitimate. But then you remember that goals like this can happen in the blink of an eye, seemingly from nothing but a bunch of standing around. And it makes you realize that soccer, when you get right down to it, is the least predictable sport in the world. Picture the arduous routines ingrained into baseball and football – the tens of seconds between each pitch, and the constant huddling, play-changing, and decision-making that occurs before every down. Now realize that soccer matches are played with running time – no pauses, breaks, or timeouts. That means, at any moment during a soccer game, a team could go from some casual possession near the halfway line to a rocket-propelled goal or two in less than five seconds.

2.       There’s too much diving
Reason number two is diving. And yes, diving is a problem. You can watch videos like this and have some serious fodder in the diving debate. And in response to the claim that soccer is nothing but a tryout for the 3 meter springboard, I have two videos to show you. Both are compilations of game footage from the undisputed best players in the world at their sports. 

First, we have the best soccer player on earth, a 5-foot-7 Argentinian who was literally prescribed HGH when he was younger because of his stunted growth. He weaves through bigger defenders with the grace and balance of a figure skater, and he never dives. There are several of these videos, and you don’t need to watch more than a few highlights to understand Lionel Messi’s philosophy. He knows he is the best in the world, and he gives his team the best chance to win by playing the way he’s always played – driving the ball through the hearts of defenses and probing for goals.

On the flip side, and I’m sure you saw this coming, we have LeBron James. Yes, that LeBron James. The same 6-foot-8, 250-pound human freight train who has been dubbed the best athlete ever in a major American sport. To put it simply, he flops like a fish. He could play the exact same way that Messi does, and indeed that’s what got him to the top of the basketball mountain, but now he feels that he is owed certain calls as the resident “King.” So yes, soccer has a diving problem. But so does every sport, and at least in soccer it’s not led by the self-anointed monarch.

3.       It’s unnecessary
Once we’ve run through the previous arguments, we get to this one. This is the argument that soccer haters pull out when they want to stand up and walk away from the fight with their pride intact, the same way a spoiled child on the playground will feign indifference when a classmate has a newer toy. It’s the old “America doesn’t need soccer” defense. Many people use this tactic as a conversation-ender, and tack on something like “We’ve already got the four best sports leagues in the world, what do we need another for?” I’ll address that question shortly, but first, let’s talk about why America does need soccer.

There are a million ways to go about this response, but surprisingly, I’m going to turn to the Stoolies. Yes, Maurice from Barstool Sports Philadelphia put together a surprisingly good piece on this subject in May, just after the US men’s national team lost to Belgium. Basically, his point is a nationalist one: if the US is such a world superpower, why are we losing to countries with the population of Ohio? We are the third-largest country in the world by population, we give our children every advantage possible to let them become whatever they want, and our training facilities, coaches, and medical care are top notch. There is no way we should not be the best in the world at everything, and that in and of itself is reason enough to support the team.

I’m assuming that some portions of non-soccer-watching America won’t all of a sudden pick up the English Premier League (though NBC Sports is making it fun and easy to do so) or start following the ins and outs of the Spanish La Liga. But appealing to our sense of #MURICA makes sense, and it’s a perfect time for it. Consider: we’ve actually started winning since the publication of that Barstool piece, having rattled off 12 on the trot. Standing out among these was a 4-3, come-from-behind win at Bosnia-Herzegovina, the 13th-ranked country in the world (USA is currently 19th). Jozy Altidore continued his stellar scoring run, racking up a hat trick in Sarajevo as the Yanks stormed back for their first ever comeback win on European soil. Further, the World Cup is in less than a year, and the USA has four more qualifiers before 2013 is out. Then the last-minute tune up games begin, with our lads facing off against some of the best in the world before heading for the Brazilian sunshine and the chance for glory.

In a perfect world, American fans would watch a few qualifiers and identify their favorite players. Inevitably, these players will be Jozy Altidore, Clint Dempsey, Landon Donovan, and Tim Howard – our Big Four. Fans would be curious about the clubs that these four play for, and a quick Wikipedia search would yield that two of the four – Altidore and Howard – are playing for top-tier English sides (Sunderland and Everton, respectively). Boom, just like that, America has two teams in the EPL to find, research, track, and support. And the other two players? Why, they’re playing stateside, in the quickly burgeoning MLS. For a small fee, you can take your kids to watch a game featuring one of the best soccer players that America has to offer. What more could you ask for?

The Case for Following the English Premier League
So we’ve debunked the common myths about soccer. Hopefully you’re thinking to yourself: You know what? This little sport doesn’t seem so bad. In fact, I might like to check out a few games and see what all the fuss is about. Well, if that’s the kind of stuff that’s rattling around in your head right now, you’re in luck.

NBC Sports Network, a channel that comes included in every normal cable package, is bringing unprecedented TV coverage to the US. Between the NBC Sports Network (57), NBC (10), and CNBC (thankfully only 2), there will be 69 live Premier League matches in the first three months of the season. And that’s only the start of it.

The vast majority of these games happen in the morning here. That’s right, the weekend morning. You know, that time that you’re hungover and promise yourself you’re going to work out but instead just lie in your pajamas and watch Homeland reruns? Yeah, that time can be used for watching live, compelling, hi-def Premier League action.

And trust me, it will be compelling. If you are new to the league, this is shaping up to be the most fascinating campaign in history. Seriously. The top three teams from last year, Manchester United, Manchester City, and Chelsea, are all starting the first year under a new manager. This would be like if the Broncos, Patriots, and Falcons all got new head coaches over this offseason. But it’s more than that. Because Manchester United is one of the most storied clubs in all of soccer, and their former manager was so revered that he was knighted. Imagine Bill Belichick receiving a Presidential medal next year, winning two more Super Bowls, then retiring, and you’ll have some idea of the hype around Manchester United’s new manager, David Moyes.

Diving deeper into the Premier League, though, is where it really gets good. Because this isn’t just about the crunching tackles, stunning saves, or outrageous displays of skill (really, watch that one). It’s about two things: history and tradition.

The History: Why this means so much to so many
Top-flight soccer in England started way back in 1888, and soccer has been the runaway leader for most popular sport in the country since that time. Sure, people play rugby and cricket and tennis and golf, but none of these is a religion the way that soccer (or “football”) is.

Your location, your loved ones, and your lifestyle all dictate your fandom. People are born into a football club just as surely as they’re born into a family. Just look at that term. They’re not teams, they’re football clubs, and they dot the country from top to bottom. You’ll find pockets of die-hard supporters for even the lowest-division sides. Teams that are now nearly irrelevant may have once tasted the highest glory (check out my favorite non-Premier League side, Nottingham Forest), and teams that are now dominant giants may have toiled in relative obscurity for decades, only to be saved by the seemingly bottomless pit of money thrown their way by an unnamed Russian owner coughcoughChelseacoughAbramovichcough. 

I wouldn’t claim to know the inner workings of the British psyche, but it seems to go like this. With one dominant sport in the country, a city is defined by its football club(s). If you support a club, you support all that the club stands for as it relates to your city, and by extension, you are an advocate for that city. Thus, fans who travel into an opponent’s stadium and watch their team win a hard-fought match on enemy turf are tasting the last vestiges of a long-dormant instinct: to conquer and assert dominance over another man’s territory. And if you are lucky enough to be born into a multi-club city like Liverpool or Manchester or London, your choice of squad matters that much more.

The Tradition:
In the interest of brevity, I’ll just list some of the traditions that make English soccer one of the best sports to follow in the world.

·         Relegation and promotion. This is a standings-based form of reward and punishment for every team in the eight tiered professional leagues in England. Think of the Premier League as the MLB and the lower divisions as farm teams, except no teams have affiliations with each other. After each season, the top three teams in each league’s standings move up to the next tier, and the three worst teams move down a league. This has incredible financial ramifications – one season in a higher league can bring a small club riches it could have only dreamed of before. Similarly, being dropped into a lower division sometimes forces teams to sell off valuable players in order to keep their heads above water. This makes for life-and-death games between some of the worst teams in the league near the end of the season, with a place in the richer league next season at stake. Imagine if the Astros and White Sox had to play a three-game series at the end of the season, and the loser was demoted to Triple A. Interesting, right?

·         The fans. As discussed earlier, English soccer fandom is a religion. And like all religions, it has all manner of songs, chants, incantations, prayers, and pleas. Stadiums ring with the signature song of a team, my favorite example being Liverpool’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Hearing the hordes of Liverpool supporters belt out the song after Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League triumph still brings shivers. But more than that, many fans are dedicated to the craft of fandom. They pore over the team’s transfers and acquisitions, as well as those of their opponents, and make up clever (and often rude) songs to support their men and deride the others. Some of the better ones are Manchester United’s “You Are My Solskjaer” (playing off of “You Are My Sunshine”) and Liverpool’s song for mercurial striker Fernando Torres.

·         Transfers. This is one of the more interesting facets of European football. Basically, there are no trades. Teams simply put a value on their players, and then other teams make offers for those players. If the numbers seem right at the time, a deal is struck, and the player is shipped off to a new team, league, and sometimes even country. Transfers are not restricted by national boundaries, and thus it’s impossible to discuss English soccer without tangentially referring to Europe as a whole, and indeed the entire world, as the talent pool in England is as diverse as they come. Getting back to transfers, there are two periods of the year when teams are permitted to bid for players: the summer (when the league is in its offseason) and in January (during the middle of the season). It’s interesting to note that buying and selling players based on a mutually agreed-upon price is much closer to our American version of capitalism than the player transferring practices in any major American sport. Plus, it makes great tabloid fodder when a perennially popular team buys a hulking, marginally skilled striker for 35 million pounds, then sells him two years later for 15.5 million.

·         The many, many tournaments. Conservatively, in any full season, an English Premier League team can expect to be involved in anywhere from three to seventy tournaments. Of course, that’s an exaggeration, but it does seem that every few weeks there is a new cup tie (tournament game), and it’s hard to keep track of them all if you’re watching from a distance. However, narrow your focus to one team, and it becomes much easier. Following Liverpool (as I do) throughout the season presents countless opportunities to play armchair manager. Some tournament games need to be played with substitutes in order to save the top players for the more important league games, while other games demand a 100% effort, no matter the schedule. Some tournaments mean much more than others, and the Champions League (a tournament that pits the best teams in the best European leagues against each other) is considered to be the best in world soccer, even better than the World Cup. However, the fact that there are so many tournaments involving so many teams means that even teams toiling in near-obscurity taste the bright lights of Wembley Stadium in London.

Now is the time to follow the English Premier League. The games are all on NBC Sports. They’ll be over before the NFL afternoon games, so you don’t need to compromise. The immersive history, culture, and backstory of every team is a rich tapestry of glory and triumph, loss and heartbreak. It’s everything you could want in a professional sports league, and you’re not even compelled to spend hundreds of dollars to watch the team in person. Plus, almost every team has some pretty sweet jerseys.