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.