Tuesday, October 7, 2014

500 Word Wednesday Stories

I've written a few very short stories (sometimes referred to as "flash fiction" in the writer's world... I think) on a different website, and I'm reposting them in this post in their entirety for continuity's sake. Hope you enjoy!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Course Review - Newton Commonwealth Golf Course

This is my second golf course review. The last one was about Green Harbor, and that's here. Check it out. 

Every time you play Newton Commonwealth Golf Course, which sits (mostly) on the side of a hill in the aptly named Chestnut Hill neighborhood of Newton, you will hit at least five shots that you've never had to attempt before. This course is tight, tree-filled, crooked, and hilly in every possible way - sidehill, uphill, downhill, cross-hill, and several other compound -hill adjectives that you'd have to see to believe. You'd better know your game well before setting foot on this course, as virtually every calculation from the 150 sticks has you thinking things like uphill one club and ball's above my feet and watch out for the protective netting to the right. In terms of gadgets, leave the rangefinder at home and dust off the carpenter's level and gyroscope.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

NFL Prison Edition: Starting Offense

It's been well documented that our nation's prison system represents a huge drain on taxpayer money, often puts the wrong people behind bars, and generally acts as a retardant to the mental and physical growth of a human being.

With all that said, jail time is still a pretty decent indication of the relative worth of a human being. Like, in general, the larger proportion of a person's life lived inside of a jail cell (or awaiting someone's decision on whether or not they'll occupy said cell), the less valuable that person is to society.

In separate but related news, there are a number of current or former NFL players who have made decisions shitty enough to land themselves a spot inside a concrete-lined cell. Some of these players were (or are) quite good. In fact, if you were to create some sort of offensive starting 11, it might look like this. (Lineup at the bottom)

QB: Michael Vick

Arrest story:
Vick was convicted of federal conspiracy in connection with his ownership of the Bad Newz Kennel dog fighting ring. At first he denied the whole thing and tried to blame it on his "family members and cousin" (maybe he was using "cousin" as a loose term), before finally taking the fall. This cretin (hilariously aliased as Ron Mexico) was sentenced to 23 months in federal prison in 2007.

Football skills:
His sandlot style of play and legendary scrambling ability would surely make him the top quarterback in any prison league, where dicey field quality often hampers the choreographed short-passing offenses favored by so many NFL teams these days.

Prison movie parallel:
Elmo Blatch, The Shawshank Redemption

HB: Ray Rice

Arrest story:
Though this particular douchebag hasn't been officially sent to prison yet, it's really only a matter of time at this point. Unless you're Patrick Star, you'll have heard about his actions and probably watched them. They're heinous and he deserves to sit in a cell for a very long time.

Football skills:
When he wasn't assaulting the mother of his child, he was juking and jiving his way to some Pro-Bowl seasons with the Ravens (who will make an appearance again later in this list). He's also got a low center of gravity, which is essential when trying to turn the corner on the loose dust of a Texas penitentiary exercise yard.

Prison movie parallel:
Frank Wheeler, Revolutionary Road (not set in a jail, but that relationship must have felt like one)

HB: OJ Simpson

Arrest story:
We couldn't have this list without the Juice. The original smooth criminal, this slippery fellow somehow weasled his way out of a murder conviction despite overwhelming evidence that he murdered his ex-wife and her new boyfriend. You know the story. He's also currently in jail for stealing his own memorabilia or something.

Football skills:
The man could scoot. He was the first player to run for 2,000 yards in a season, and he'll make up the other half of a potent backfield tandem with the domestic abuser.

Prison movie parallel:
Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption (but without the whole "actually innocent" thing)

FB: Jamal Lewis

Arrest story:
Jamal Lewis, in case you've forgotten, is the human bowling ball that used to play for the Ravens and, in 2003, won the AP Offensive Player of the Year. After his four-month stint in the clink for conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute cocaine, he came out even more jacked than usual.

Football skills:
That's right, it's the old Wishbone formation - a quarterback, two halfbacks and a fullback. Power sweeps like the old-time Green Bay Packers until they prove they can stop it. He'd be a perfect lead blocker for the three horsemen listed above.

Prison movie parallel:
Switowski, The Longest Yard

WR1: Michael Irvin

Arrest story:
Never able to quite escape the long arm of the law, the self-appointed "Playmaker" has a "Legal Troubles" Wikipedia section longer than this blog post. My favorite nugget is this one: "When arrested he was lying on the floor covered in cocaine with multiple strippers performing sexual acts upon him." I think I'd take a criminal record for that.

Football skills:
When he could stay on the field, Irvin was one of the best wide receivers of all time, winning three Super Bowls and getting inducted into the Hall of Fame. The big guy can go up and get it, and he's already got plenty of experience in prison football. This will make him an asset on the rare occasions this team needs to air it out.

Prison movie parallel:
Deacon Moss, The Longest Yard

TE: Aaron Hernandez

Arrest story:
You had to see this one coming. A-A-Ron was just convicted of first degree murder in the shooting of Odin Lloyd. He's also going to stand trial soon for a double murder that happened in Boston several years ago. A real stand-up guy.

Football skills:
I'll be honest though, when he was teaming up with Gronk to form the most feared tight end combination in NFL history, I was loving every second of it. The guy had the speed and leaping ability of a wide receiver combined with a brawn that overpowered all but the strongest safeties. He'd be a valuable security blanket for Vick if they needed a late third down conversion. Plus, I'm sure he's not averse to roughing up a few referees before the championship to intimidate them.

Prison movie equivalent:
Charlie Cheswick, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (more a mental hospital movie, but you get it)

LT: Kwame Harris

Arrest story:
Now, if you're still reading this, congratulations. But also, if you're still reading this, you might be saying "Who?" - and I wouldn't blame you. Turns out that there aren't a lot of high-profile offensive linemen arrested these days. But Kwame's story is pretty interesting. [John Madden voice] Here's a guy who played six NFL seasons, played around a lot of great big, strong men, and it turns out he's actually[Rick Majerus voice (RIP)] a big gay guy. Sorry for all the voice changes. Point is, Kwame likes dudes, and the way we found this out was that he was arrested in California a few years ago for having a slap fight with his ex-boyfriend. Except that slap fights are different if one of the guys is 6'7 and 240 pounds. His ex had to go to the hospital with broken orbital bones and needed surgery.

Football skills:
He was the 26th overall pick out of Stanford in 2003, and played left tackle for the 49ers and Raiders before falling out of the league. I debated putting him at right tackle, but felt that another man further down the list has some slightly better credentials for blocking Vick's blind side. In any case, if he can break a few orbital bones, he can probably hold his own in the prison league.

Prison movie character parallel:
Bogs Diamond, The Shawshank Redemption

LG: Daniel Kilgore

Arrest story:
Nothing much to see here. Kilgore's a backup OL for the 49ers who was arrested for public intoxication earlier this year. Apparently after the Niners lost to the Seahawks he went home and got shitfaced with his buddies, and the cops picked him up staggering down the street.

Football skills:
According to the story of his arrest, he's a "valuable reserve" and played in every game last year. That's good enough for a starting left guard spot, because honestly no one cares about interior linemen. Plus, he and Harris both played for the Niners, and continuity is everything along the O-Line.

Prison movie parallel:
Tommy Williams, The Shawshank Redemption

C, Ray Lewis

Arrest story:
Who hasn't heard this one a few hundred times? The Ravens ought to stop drafting Rays. In short, he was outside a nightclub in Atlanta with some friends, got into a fight, and two people in the other group ended up dead. The white suit that he had been wearing that night was never found, and blood from one of the victims was found inside his limousine, but then his attorneys negotiated a plea deal where the murder charges against him were dropped in exchange for his testimony against his "friends." Sweet guy. Loves the Bible, I'm told.

Football skills:
On the field as well as off, the man is a born leader. He's a lump of solid steel and is almost impossible to get past, plus he commands the center of the field like a general directing troop movements. If he played an offensive position, it would have to be center.

Prison movie parallel:
Nathan Jessup, A Few Good Men (Not strictly a prison movie, plus Lewis never came clean. I'm reaching now).

RG: Gennaro DiNapoli

Arrest story:
In a nice change of pace, this human lump was busted for selling 330 Oxy pills to undercover DEA agents. Plus, he's absolutely one of the top ten most Italian people in the United States, and this list was pleading for some ethnic diversity.

Football skills:
I dunno, he once played for the Cowboys? He's a right guard and this team will thrive on the outside running game - his only job is to not get reverse-pancaked on every play.

Prison movie parallel:
Turley, The Longest Yard

RT: Bryant McKinnie

Arrest story:
Well for starters, he was involved in the Vikings Love Boat scandal, which some people didn't find all that terrible (me) and some found rather terrible (the media). But also, he hit a bouncer outside of a Miami nightclub with a pole and was charged with aggravated battery, among other things. All things considered, not the worst guy on this list by a long shot. He also obviously missed Nelly's tutorial on where to put the Band-Aid.

Football story:
A top-10 draft pick out of THE U, McKinnie had some very solid years in the league. This gives him the highly coveted position of protecting Vick's blind side. Along with the fact that if anyone gets in his way, there's probably plenty of poles lying around a prison yard to be picked up and used for whacking people.

Prison movie parallel:
John Coffey, The Green Mile (just because I needed to put him in somewhere)

Saturday, August 23, 2014

From the Frying Pan to the Fire(works): Balotelli Comes to Liverpool

It's not a stretch to say that the entirety of Liverpool's 2014 has been dominated by the name "Luis Suarez" - whether it was his out-of-this-galaxy play down the stretch in the Premier League, his tooth-first assault of Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, or his sale to Barcelona in late July. The man is a top-5 world talent, a menace to himself and others, and would be the first choice to be the new Dos Equis spokesman if Jonathan Goldsmith drops dead in a tragic nude hang gliding accident.

With Suarez gone, the talk turned to the Uruguayan-sized hole in the top line. Daniel Sturridge scored the second-most goals in the EPL last year, but the influence of Suarez as a source of those goals cannot be overstated. No one knows if Sturridge can carry a team himself, and fortunately, we won't need to wonder about it anymore.

That's because Super Mario Balotelli is coming back to the Premier League.

Miss me?
If you have followed world soccer in the past five years, you've heard of Balotelli, and if you've heard of Balotelli, you know exactly how excited every Premier League fan is after hearing this news. After an extremely volatile three years on the blue side of Manchester, Balotelli returned to his homeland for a season and a half at AC Milan before moving to Liverpool today. He instantly turns Liverpool into the most interesting team in the Premier League, for a number of reasons.

If you haven't heard of Balotelli, let's try to put this into American sports terms. This would be like if Latrell Sprewell was one of the top 15 players in the NBA (and the Knicks were a top 3 team) when he choked P.J. Carlisemo, then moved to play for the Phoenix Suns for a season and a half, then got traded to the Celtics, who were also a top 5 team and had just traded Paul Pierce. Kind of. Except Balotelli choked his coach stylistically by playing long stretches lost in his own head, rather than physically by squeezing his throat.

You know what? It's not like that at all. There's really nothing like Balotelli returning to the Premier League, so let's just get into what impact this move will have for the Reds this season.

Balotelli's Impact

The word "mercurial" is the most overused adjective in world football punditry. It can mean anything from "talented but unmotivated" to "talented but racist and violent towards opponents" (Suarez) to "talented but unmotivated and violent towards teammates and also sometimes he shoots off fireworks in his bathroom that one time" (our very own Balotelli). Seriously, take a look at some of the shit he's pulled and tell me he's not more of a headache than the Terrible Tooth.

So, we've taken one crazy striker and replaced him with another. But this is anything but a like-for-like switch.

Suarez has one of the highest work rates in world football. I tried for legitimately an hour to find stats on average distance traveled per player and couldn't, so you're gonna have to trust me on this one. Conversely, one of the biggest knocks on Balotelli is that he doesn't always give 100% effort. He's almost like a petulant child on the playground in some ways - one minute he'll be playing full-tilt, and the next minute he'll be distracted by a colorful butterfly (yellow card) or a group of youngsters on the swingset (heckling fans) and will totally lose his mind.

In addition, Balotelli and Suarez occupy slightly different roles within an offensive scheme. Despite Suarez's record goal haul last year, he is much more than just a poacher. Here's a map of all the places that he touched the ball during a match last season against Sunderland:

Though it's only one game, it's evident that Suarez is comfortable dropping deep to receive possession. His statistics from last season bear this out, and one in particular is interesting to note: Suarez created one chance for every 32 minutes he was on the pitch. This is in contrast to Balotelli's rate of one chance created per 65 minutes. Liverpool have some creative players in the squad, including noted assist maestros Philippe Coutinho and Adam Lallana, but Suarez was a major piece of their buildup play as well, not just a finisher. Let's not forget he finished with the second-most assists in the Premier League as well, behind Gerrard. Balotelli doesn't do assists:
Balotelli and Suarez don't share much in common physically other than excellent speed. Suarez is a slippery fish, able to wriggle into and out of jams in incredibly tight spaces at top speed. Balotelli is a more bruising presence, though he stops short of being the type of hulking forward usually seen patrolling Chelsea's top line. 

Some have said that Liverpool's attack may be even more potent this year, what with Balotelli's ability to sky for the crosses of Markovic, Lallana, Gerrard and others. I believe this to be wishful thinking - you only have to look through a highlight tape of Suarez's goals last year to know that the Uruguayan was no slouch in the air himself.

The best thing that can be said for Balotelli is that he will be an asset to Liverpool's counterattacking style. His size and speed will terrify back lines across the league. Will he replace Suarez? No. But no one could. He's an excellent striker at his best and a team cancer at his worst, so let's hope that the promise of Champions League football and Brendan Rodgers's letter-based inspiration tactics work on the young Italian.

Monday, August 18, 2014

In the Books: SAS 2.0 deliver Reds 3 points

After a seemingly endless procession of preseason matches, culminating in a loss to Manchester United in the final of the Guinness International Champions Cup, Liverpool FC finally took the field yesterday for a match that meant something.

The good news? A win, 2-1, over Southampton. 

The bad? A few issues, some new, many old, that will need swift fixes if the team is to escape the early part of the schedule with their title dreams unblemished. 

Still, as the man who scored the winner points out, the win is the important thing.

SAS 2.0 is here.

Last year's deadly strike force of Suarez and Sturridge terrorized Premier League defenses to the tune of 52 goals in 38 matches. Of course, with Suarez off to greener pastures, the goals will fall to a variety of attacking midfielders, including incumbents such as Raheem Sterling, Jordan Henderson, and Phillippe Coutinho, as well as new signings Adam Lallana and Lazar Markovic.

We're only one game in, and two of those incumbents mentioned are acquitting themselves rather well:
That's 19-year-old Sterling showing off his blistering pace, splitting the two central defenders and dispatching Henderson's inch-perfect through ball with ease.

What that Vine doesn't show is the scrap for the ball in midfield. If Liverpool's attack is to be even remotely as toothy as it was last year, they'll need to win these types of balls. Rather than a methodical, pendulum-like possession team (Barcelona, Arsenal, any team that Pep Guardiola manages), the Reds relied upon pure pace and lethal counterattacking to get goals last season. These types of goals are easier to come by if you're consistently stripping possession from your opponents in midfield. Keep it up, Hendo.

And what can you say about Daniel Sturridge, except that he's a goalscorer's goalscorer. Some may call this soft, or padding the stats. But I call him a latter-day Dirk Kuyt - a man able to be in the perfect position at the perfect time:

With a deft touch of... um... some part of his left leg, the ball ends up in the net and Liverpool regains the lead.

And also, who won that header for the assist? None other than 5'7 inch Raheem Sterling. Granted, he won it over 5'8 Steven Davis, but still. SAS is back!

The defense rests. 

For much of last season, Liverpool's seemed to subscribe to the axiom positing that the best defense is a great offense. And it nearly won them the league.

This simply won't work with the squad as currently constituted. If you could roll Steven Gerrard's odometer back a few thousand miles, or conjure up a last-gasp signing of one of the big names that seem to be floating around (Cavani, Reus, Falcao... Eto'o?), then perhaps. But barring those two things, this team will have to defend better, and that means defending as a unit.

Suarez, when not devouring human flesh, was an absolute pest of a defender. Sturridge, to put it bluntly, is not. And for all Sterling's pace, he sometimes sprints himself out of position in an effort to win possession. It's obvious that a team can't be both a park-the-bus defensive unit and a swashbuckling goal-plunderer, but Liverpool need to realize that a little of the former will make up for their loss of the latter. Sterling's goal came from solid defensive midfield work - the type of work that Steven Gerrard (Warning: blasphemy ahead) might not be capable of on a consistent basis.

This was evident during long, listless stretches against Southampton, when the deep-lying central midfield partnership of Lucas and Gerrard looked toothless and reactionary. I often forgot that Lucas was even on the field, and Gerrard's long balls, while accurate, didn't amount to many scoring threats.

The defense performed passably, though there were lots of lost marks on Southampton's lone goal:

Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel, Liverpool's two longest-tenured defenders, seem to be marking shadows. This type of thing will not fly against better quality opposition, both domestically and in Europe. On the positive side, we FINALLY signed a left back, which should help.

Three takeaways. 

Let's take three things away from this week's game, just as the Reds took three points.

1. Simon Mignolet's reaction time is relatively outrageous:

2.  Brendan Rodgers loves to tinker with lineups and formations, and just look at the wealth of talent he has to do it with:

  • Adam Lallana
  • Rickie Lambert
  • Raheem Sterling
  • Jordan Henderson
  • Phillippe Coutinho
  • Steven Gerrard
  • Joe Allen
  • Daniel Sturridge
  • Lazar Markovic
3. Champions League football is back. YNWA

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Dispatches from the Worst Soccer Game of All Time

"I want this game to get chippy."

That was an actual sentence I said during the first half of last night's Liverpool-AS Roma debacle at Fenway Park.

I was obviously deluded. So deluded, in fact, that my friend had to inform me of the fact that the players for Liverpool's first team (names like Gerrard, Sterling, Johnson, Sturridge, and Reina) who were paraded across the pitch at halftime like returning war heroes were actually labeled as "Liverpool legends" by the Fenway P.A. announcer.

Yup, now apparently a 19 year old midfielder with one good season under his belt is a "legend."

This game, with perhaps two exceptions, was a disappointment from beginning to end.

Being the massive Liverpool supporter that I am, I was thrilled to be seated in the midst of the "Fenway Kop" and was expecting a full-throated, rollicking version of "You'll Never Walk Alone." The song began with no introduction several minutes after we were seated, and a halfhearted, half-full bleacher section mewled out the anthem in much the same way a kitten cries for more milk.

One positive moment was the tribute to the 96 victims of the Hillsborough Stadium disaster which happened 25 years ago in April. A banner reading "Never Forgotten, 25 years" was placed over the center circle, and there was a minute's silence, during which Kenny Dalglish released 96 balloons which floated over the Green Monster and out into the city.

From there, it went downhill quickly.

The play was uninspired, with both teams trotting out their B- (or even C-) squads. Philippe Coutinho was far and away the best player on the field, showing brilliant ball control and vision on nearly every touch. Several narrow escapes from tricky situations pulled a breathless exclamation from the Liverpool faithful.

Unfortunately, aside from one Rickie Lambert effort in the second half, Coutinho was the only bright spot for the Reds. Yes, the berserker Martin Skrtel was solid in defense, as was the lanky and somehow skilled Martin Kelly. But there was no invention going forward, with Lambert cutting a lonely figure amongst the central defenders of Roma.

The second half turned ugly, at least from our perspective.

Now, I've never attended a European football match in Europe. But I have been to many college soccer games, New England Revolution games, and two other matches between European teams (Celtic v Sporting at Fenway and Milan v Inter at Gillette), and I seem to remember standing up the whole time at all of these events.

Soccer is a game of ebb and flow, a constant swirl of motion, with few stoppages and no timeouts. Though many deride it as boring, it actually produces the most consistent action of any major sport. Thus, you can imagine our confusion when the second half started, and almost everyone in our section (allegedly the Liverpool supporters' section) remained seated.

The group in front of us, a similar collection of mid-20s soccer enthusiasts, stood up as soon as the whistle blew. This seemed to be the norm for them, as it was for us. We soon realized that we were in the minority, and if we hadn't, the people behind us were all too ready to alert us to this fact.

Curses, sarcastic jeers, comments about our appearance, and actual objects were hurled from behind us, as those patrons who no doubt sit in an office chair all day couldn't be bothered to stand up and watch a soccer game which they paid good money to attend. As a few of us turned to engage, my attention was particularly drawn to a portly man in a Wake Forest baseball cap. This was a man who clearly had less than the first clue about anything related to soccer, yet he was in the thick of it, screaming sarcastic taunts at us as we stood to watch. We returned a few words, but soon realized it was distracting for other patrons and ourselves.

I understand that not being able to see is a legitimate complaint. However, the entire section to our left was standing up, as were many other patrons around the stadium. The energy on the field was lethargic at best, but it was certainly not improved by the sentiment in the stands. Granted, we're not watching the first team go plunging into challenges on a European night at Anfield. But, come on now, this is the team that you wake up at 7 AM on a rainy Saturday in November to watch. The team that you stream at your desk during a Europa League group stage match. The team that you spend far too much disposable income on to ship products from the official team store on Anfield Road (I'm assuming that's where the team store is. I've never been.).

The second half, for us, was endured under the heckling of men who should have been our friends, our comrades, our drinking buddies. "You'll Never Walk Alone" blares the Liverpool anthem. An umbrella statement that seems to indicate that anywhere in the world that two people sporting the Liver bird beneath the Shankly Gate meet, they're bonded instantly by the love of a football club.

Last night, as we were pelted by insults and plastic cups while standing to support our football club amongst a crowd of those who allegedly supported the same club, walking alone to the exit doors of Fenway Park often felt the best option.

But, I did get my wish. It definitely got chippy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Luis Suarez is Gone... Is the Sky Falling?


Or, wait. Kinda.

Hold on... No, it's not.

On the surface, this is devastating. This is LeBron leaving Cleveland for Miami, in terms of your best player taking your team to the brink of glory and then skipping town to go to a superteam.

Of course, we know the story of the Heat's "Big 3" who were supposed to win Not One, Not Two, Not Three, etc. but actually only won two. Barcelona are one of the top three or four teams in the world in terms of pure skill level, top to bottom, with names that even the casualest soccer fan would know (Messi, Neymar, Mascherano of torn asshole fame, and Mr. Shakira).

Lucky bastard
This is also LeBron leaving Miami for Cleveland, in terms of a great player in the prime of his career making a career decision based on family issues. 

Unless your face has been buried in a pair of soft, pillowing breasts over the past month, you've heard that King James has returned to the shitty dominion from whence he came, and Suarez's wife's family (along with the allure of playing for the ever-elite Barrrrrrthelona) have convinced him to leave the Reds. Check out these two quotes from the stars about returning to a home. 

LeBron: "My relationship with Northeast Ohio is bigger than basketball. I didn't realize that four years ago. I do now."

Luis: "This club did everything they could, but playing and living in Spain, where my wife's family lives, is a lifelong dream and ambition." 

It's a surprisingly adult decision from two players whose antics have often been described as childish.

Suarez is more fiercely protective of his wife and his career than you probably are to your gambling/alcohol/FIFA 2014 addiction, as chronicled in this incredible profile by Wright Thompson. Seriously, take a night off from your vice of choice and read that piece - it's tremendous. 

So, rather than bring terror to back lines across the English Premier League next year, he'll be jockeying for playing time with some of the best forwards in the world in Spain. 

What does this mean for Liverpool?

A couple things.

1. Goals from nothing will dry up. 

Every sport has a few players who can create points out of absolutely nowhere - names that come up immediately in my mind, past and present, include Devin Hester, Kevin Durant, Pavel Datsyuk, and Giancarlo Stanton (imperfect comparison, but whatever).

Suarez is one of those players. Just look at the GIFage below.

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

Suarez solo goal vs Norwich

EnchantingImmaculateHumpbackwhale video iframe

Those goals, specifically the first and third, are what I'm talking about - goals scored with the type of audacity and panache that few in the global game possess. 


Kid can play.

2. Liverpool's team creativity will suffer. 

Many teams employ a striker of the poaching variety: one of those forwards who sits on the back shoulder of a central defender, timing his runs into the box and trying to end up on the end of crosses for tap-in goals. Classic poachers include all-time leading World Cup scorer Miroslav Klose and renowned Italian offside artist Filippo Inzaghi.

Suarez is the opposite - he'll drop deep into the midfield to receive the ball and link seamlessly with his midfielders to spring offensive attacks. Statistically, this is borne out by his 12 assists last season, good for second in the league (behind his teammate, Steven Gerrard). 

The most deadly part of Liverpoool's attack last year was the interplay between Suarez and his fleet-footed "S" brothers - Daniel Sturridge and Raheem Sterling. Sturridge, 'Pool's other forward, finished in second place in the league goals race, with 21 - 10 behind Suarez. Sterling terrorized left backs with his speed and deception on the wing, often put through by Suarez himself. 

With Luis in Spain, the Reds will need Phillippe Coutinho to step into a more prominent attacking midfield role. The Brazilian is still young but has shown the stereotypical "flashes of brilliance" - we'll need to see more from him as he sends new boys like Lazar Markovic, Adam Lallana, and Rickie Lambert into space this season.

3. The defense will need to step up big time.

Pretty basic analysis here: the best defense is a good offense. That was Liverpool's strategy last year - they went out with the mindset that they were going to pulverize every team into submission, and damn the torpedoes. This was the reason that they scored the second most goals in the league (101) but conceded more than 6 of the top 10 teams (50, to champion Manchester City's 37). 

While I'm pretty confident in our retooled offense's ability to put up numbers, I'm worried about the defense. 

First off, as Steven Gerrard ages, he'll start to drift further and further back to play in a Pirlo-like role, pinging balls to the forwards and wingers. However, he's not the most mobile dude on the pitch as a 35-year-old Englishman with thousands of miles on his boots. 

Secondly, our actual defense is in flux. We have a first-choice right back in England's Glen Johnson, who I'm fine with. Jamie Carragher is retired, and one of our center backs is a berserker Slovak by the name of Martin Skrtel...

Remember me?
who is not reliable enough (in my own personal opinion) to be the anchor at the back of this defense. The great blog Anfield Index has a potential lineup for this season that includes France's Mamadou Sakho at the other center back position, which frightens me to no end. I guess we could have speedster Jose Enrique or Uruguayan youngster Sebastian Coates on the left, but those aren't inspiring options either. 

So, in short:

The sky is falling more than it isn't falling. For all of his noted on-field indiscretions and associated media scrutiny, Luis Suarez is a once-in-a-generation talent. He's the kind of player that LFC fans thought we had in Fernando Torres - a mercurial striker with the ability to score goals from anywhere, at any time, and more importantly, the ability to put the team on his back. We're going to have to alter the tactics this season, so don't bet on quite as many 4- and 5- goal games as last year. 

Sigh. We'll always have Norwich.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Liverpool's 5 Most Important EPL Matches for 2014-2015

EDITOR'S NOTE: Luis Suarez has fled to the greener pastures of Barcelona. I wrote this post before that, so disregard Suarez references. The games remain just as important, however. No one player is bigger than the cloob.
I want YOU to watch Liverpool FC.
The US is out of the World Cup. The Red Sox are horrible. The Patriots are doing their little minicamp thing. The Celtics just drafted a complete crazy person. The Bruins just let Jarome Iginla walk. Aaron Hernandez is still in jail.

OK, that last one I'm actually fine with. 

Regardless, it's a tough time to be a sports fan, particularly in Boston. All we can do is look forward and analyze (a sentence which, if the last word is pronounced differently, could be referring to butt stuff).

I'll leave the American football previews to the many who eat, sleep, and breathe that kind of thing, even as they fill their Depends with happy accidents

Instead, let's discuss the glorious Reds of Liverpool Football Club. 

They earned a 2nd-place finish in the English Premier League last year on the back of an outstanding offense. Led by Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, the Reds poured in 101 goals in 38 games, for an average of 2.65 goals per game. 

Pro tip: Bet the over on Liverpool games.

Yes, they have world football's answer to Hannibal Lecter on their team (or more precisely, off their team for the first 3 months), so the output might be curtailed a bit. But they've brought in two young English lads who can bulge the onion bag with the best of them in Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert. That oughta tide them over. 

Alright, enough jabber. Onto the games. In descending order, these are your most important Liverpool matches of 2014-2015.

If You Watch One Premier League Match All Year, Watch This One.

August 23
Manchester City vs Liverpool

The two top teams from last season face off in this early-season clash in Manchester. Though Liverpool holds a hometown rivalry with Everton and a historical blood feud with the red side of Manchester, City are rising up the rankings as a team to hate with the points of a thousand Suarez incisors. Mainly because they're what the Brooklyn Nets would be if LeBron, Wade, Bosh, Kobe, and Carmelo all played there at various points and won championships (Arab oil money vs Russian diamond money, but 'tevs).

City and Liverpool were so offensively potent last year (both teams eclipsed 100 goals, with the next-closest scoring only 71) that you might think this game will end up like 6-5 or something.

That probably won't happen. Just like in baseball, the offense of a Premier League team takes a few weeks to come alive. Teams need to feel each other out and get used to new teammates' playing styles, plus everyone's flopping isn't even close to midseason form. This match is only on the second weekend of the season, so I'm guessing City will squeak out a close, 2-1 type victory.

Pro tip: Bet the under in this game.

Pro tip: Heed my pro tips at your own discretion.

This One Could Determine The League, So There's That

May 9
Chelsea v Liverpool

Season-ending predictions at this point are about as useless as shit through a goose (I think that's the phrase), due to transfers, injuries, suspensions, managing errors, and some teams just playing inexplicably shittily. 

However, going off recent performance, there's every reason to expect that this match could determine the league. It's the third to last match week of the season (or, as various British oddballs refer to it, the "pointy end," "squeaky-bum time," or "36/38ths, which of course reduces to 18/19ths.").

Both teams will (theoretically, at least) be fatigued from a season-long Champions League effort. This one might come down to who's freshest, and who has the deeper bench. Lallana and Lambert are looking better every day. Physically and metaphorically.

Hoodie sold separately.
The One You Watch Because It's the Derby

September 27
Liverpool v Everton

A derby is a local rivalry. Liverpool's rival is Everton. You can find a more detailed explanation here, but basically, watch this game if you like sports because it's as close as we get to whatever the fuck happened in Rome's Colosseum.

Pro tip: If there's an over/under for yellow cards, bet the over.

Also Tim Howard plays for Everton. He's rather good.

This Game is Important And Not Just Because It's the First One

August 16
Liverpool v Southampton

Would this face lie to you?
Whenever these types of previews come out, the first game of the year is always highlighted. Why? Cuz, fuck, the games are back on! Gather round the tube and drink in the wonder!

That's horseshit. As mentioned earlier, the first few games aren't very fun. In fact, it took until Liverpool's fourth match last year to manage two goals.

This game is big not because of its timing, but because of its characters. While the Terrible Tooth (TM) will be playing with his niños, his position may well be occupied by a dude who played for the opponents last year.

With the summer transfer window well and truly open, and big names moving between European clubs, Liverpool have snatched up the aforementioned Lallana (the boyish lad above) and Rickie Lambert from the southern club to add even more fuel to their attacking fire. This game should be fun. 

Pro tip: Bet on Lallana or Lambert to be the first goalscorer. It probably won't happen, but if it does, you'll look like a genius. 

Watch This to Seem Knowledgeable at Holiday Parties

December 13
Manchester United v Liverpool

Man U are one of those teams that everybody knows, despite whether they know anything about soccer. So, as soccer becomes bigger and bigger in the States, some people might start to find themselves feeling left behind, much like the people in that new HBO show that everyone's raving about

You can help these people. You can be the bridge between the known and the unknown. Watch this match, then strike up a conversation at your nearest holiday party (before you get belligerently drunk on eggnog and bourbon) that features most or all of the following topics:

  • Suarez's teething tendencies
  • How Brendan Rogers (Liverpool's manager) can keep all the attackers he has at his disposal happy with their playing time
  • The relative lustrousness of Steven Gerrard's and Wayne Rooney's hair.
  • Whether United will ever return to the dominance of the Sir Alex Ferguson years
  • How many shitty cover bands called "SAS" are playing dingy Liverpool bars at that moment
  • That one time that David Moyes managed Manchester United and then signed Marouane Fellaini (feel free to engage in a knowing chuckle here)
  • That one time Liverpool's Kolo Toure had a two-year affair with a woman by claiming he was a used car salesman named Francois. Seriously.
So there you have it. The biggest games, ranked and discussed. Can't wait to get this shit started.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What Luis Suarez's Ban Means for 'Pool

EDITOR'S NOTE: I wrote this before I knew about this whole Barcelona thing. Including some bullshit that Liverpool and Barca had a transfer deal worked out for him last November. Regardless, if shit falls through (like, if he bites Lionel Messi or something) and he doesn't move to Barcelona, then this is still valid. 

Luis Suarez has many nicknames. El Pistolero, or "The Gunman," for his lethal finishing. El Conejo, or "The Rabbit," for his quickness and, presumably, his tremendous chompers.

But now, thanks to those very chiclets, he's lived up to a nickname that my friend and I gave to him senior year: the Terrible Tooth. 

By now, you've heard about the bite, and the fact that this is his third incident where he intentionally put an opponent's flesh into his stupid Uruguayan mouth. The man is a serial biter, which is a fine thing to be, provided that you're horribly uninformed on the spelling of a common breakfast item. 

The sentence doled out by FIFA was swift and harsh - a 9 match ban from playing for his country and, more significantly, a 4 month ban from all football (soccer). 

This is, in a word, disastrous for Liverpool. This is a club that prides itself on trophies. They have won the second-most English league titles (18 to Manchester United's 20) and the third-most Champions League titles (5 - tied with Bayern Munich and trailing AC Milan and Real Madrid). 

Simply put, they are one of the most historic and successful clubs in the world. And Suarez is their best player. 

Shit yeah I am!
Liverpool haven't played in the Champions League (a yearlong tournament to crown the best club team in Europe) since 2009-2010.

There's nothing really like the Champions League in American sports, since it runs concurrently with your team's actual regular season, but the best analogy is the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In both instances, players go their whole careers trying just to get into the tournament. Once you're in, it feels like an entirely new season, as the grind of the playoffs/CL is so long and arduous. But the payoff, winning that championship, is unquestionably the pinnacle of the sport. World Cups and league titles may be nice, but for many soccer players, a Champions League title is the dream.

By virtue of their 2nd-place finish in the English Premier League last year, Liverpool have qualified for the tourney. Suarez was the main reason for this qualification, as he dominated the league to the tune of 31 goals and the MVP Award (called the PFA Player of the Year). 

This 4 month ban will see Suarez return to Merseyside at the end of October, which means he will miss not only the first three months of the English league, but the first three matches of the Champions League group stage. Without their fiery (read: crazy) and talented striker, Liverpool's dreams of returning to glory could be over before they begin. 

It's not all doom and gloom for the Reds, as they have added a few players into the mix who will certainly bring some skills to the table, but that's a post for another day. 


Monday, June 23, 2014

Liverpool 2014 Season Preview: Schedule

EDITOR'S NOTE: Luis Suarez has fled to the greener pastures of Barcelona. So disregard all Suarez references. The preview remains the same, however. No one player is bigger than the cloob.

With the World Cup in full swing and people actually (kind of seriously) caring about soccer, it's the right time to start looking ahead to when the summer starts winding down, the chill returns to the air, and we all start looking towards the start of another football season.

European football, of course.

Yes, it's never too early to prognosticate some predictions about the English Premier League campaign, coming to an NBC affiliate station near you on August 16.

With that in mind, let's get in a few quick thoughts on the schedule of everyone's favorite one-eyed, one-horned, flying red-clad people eaters: Liverpool FC.

Full Liverpool schedule.

No rest for the wicked (and weary).

Luis Suarez might be the most polarizing player in world football. Tragically misunderstood as a bloodthirsty cannibal, he is actually a lover, not a fighter. And he loves victory, so he'll do whatever he can to get it. Including eating people, eating people, and stopping shots with his hands (despite the fact that he's not a goalie).

But it was against Ghana, so, it's cool?
Regardless, it seems like the powers that be have conspired to give the Reds a surprisingly difficult start to the season, with a home match to tricky Southampton, then two away matches at champions Manchester City and a talented Tottenham Hotspur side.

For the record, those last two are just referred to as City and Spurs. Handy soccer lingo. A 2-1 start would be excellent, and 1-1-1 wouldn't be too bad either. 

We could win every game between October 4 and December 20.

Of course, we could win every game of the season, but that rarely happens. (Oh, by the way, Liverpool is "we" now - deal with it). 

Fucking deal with it.

But for real, after the derby match with Everton on September 27 (more on that later), the teams that Liverpool play are rather pitiful. With the exception of Chelsea (3rd last year), the nine teams that we play had an average finish of 14th place (out of 20). 

That means that we should be at or near the top at Christmas, which is the spiritual and metaphorical halfway point in the season. It's also important because recent history shows that the top of the league table (aka the standings) doesn't change much between Christmas and the end of the season (which is in late May). Top at Christmas? You've got a good shot at winning the league. Seems simple, and it is.

Big games are scattered throughout.

There are no "Months of Death" in Liverpool's schedule (if that's even a thing). There's the huge early-season clash with City (August 23), the derby match at home against Everton (September 27), a birthday brawl with Arsenal (December 20 - send money to my Venmo account), and the return fixtures in these matchups: February 7 at Everton, the last day of February 75% of the time against City, and an April 4th match vs. Arsenal. 

Long story short: there are no two big games back to back, even if you count Chelsea among one of the sides to be reckoned with (I don't, despite their new signings. The Premier League has not been kind to Spanish forwards at Chelsea).

Wait, what's a derby?

Glad you asked. It's this - or if links aren't your thing, it's a local rivalry. Think Cubs-White Sox or Yankees-Mets (in terms of location) but Duke-UNC or Alabama-Auburn (in terms of intensity). Everton is the other major soccer team in Liverpool, and the stadiums of the two teams are separated by less than a mile. It's an absolute madhouse every time these two get together, and the cliche usually holds up: records and position in the standings mean nothing during a derby. 

It's also pronounced "darby" - Brits are a goofy bunch.

So there you have it - a tough start, a cupcake autumn, and the chance to space out and prepare for some big fixtures. Yes, we'll be playing in the Champions League as well (FUCKING FINALLY RIGHT?), so fatigue will be a thing. But with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge up front, I don't see why expecting another top-3 finish is out of the question.

 ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  -- why not us?

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

6 Reasons Why Phil Mickelson Won't Win the US Open, and 1 Why He Will

Just to be clear, I love me some Phil Mickelson. The guy is a genius with a golf club in his hand, and one of the best players to ever play the game. He's finished second at the US Open a record 411 times (just kidding it's six, but still), and, as usual, he's jazzed to get started at Pinehurst tomorrow. Ctrl+F "excited" in that link. It's like a damn Tim Tebow press conference.

Some people think he's finally going to get over this US Open hump, just the way he did at Muirfield last summer, and take down the career Grand Slam. Here are 6 reasons why that simply won't happen. And one why it might.

  1. No lefty has ever won a US Open.
  2. Only one player has won a US Open at an older age than Phil's 43 years, 364 days (yup, it's his birthday the day after the tournament ends), and that's Hale Irwin at 45 years, 15 days.
  3. The tournament has only been played at Pinehurst Number 2 twice, and neither winner on those two occasions grew up in the Western U.S. Time Zone.
  4. In fact, seven of the last ten US Open winners have not been American.
  5. No man with the initials P.M. has ever lifted the US Open Championship trophy.
  6. More startlingly, not only have zero Phils won this event, but there's nary a Paul, Peter, Patrick or Prescott to be found. The only winner whose name starts with a "P" is, you guessed it: Payne Stewart.

The US Open has only been played in the Southeastern United States three times. Twice at Pinehurst and once at Atlanta Athletic Club. Of those three winners, two of them (Payne Stewart and Jerry Pate) had names (first or last) that started with "P".

This has been your astonishingly dumb US Open preview. Jim Furyk or Matt Kuchar will win. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

5 Really Bold World Cup Predictions

One of my favorite quotes from "Game of Thrones" comes from the Imp, Tyrion Lannister, when he basically sums up the theme of the show in one sentence:

It's powerful and simple, and makes the viewer realize that what we thought we knew about how the world worked in a good and just society hold no sway in this story.

Kind of like what you think you know about the World Cup holds no sway once the actual tournament starts. (How about that for a segue?)

The World Cup is, like many lives in Westeros, nasty, brutish, and short. Characters take their turn upon the stage for three or four games, only to be ruthlessly beaten down and eliminated by more powerful opposition (usually the Germans).

With that cheery image in your head, let's get into some ruthlessly bold World Cup predictions.

(Editor's note: I had this post almost all written last night and it somehow got deleted. So this is going to be a severely shortened version. Take it up with Google if you have an issue.)

1. Colombia won't make it out of their group.

Ooh. Kill em.
Two words: Radamel Falcao. Colombia's all-time leading scorer, and one of the best players in the world, won't make the trip to Brazil as he recovers from a knee injury. That's bad news, obviously. They have some other solid players, like the sillily named Jackson Martinez and Napoli's Camilo Zuniga. But Falcao was the talisman (just look at that body), and without him I predict they fold like a house of cards. Plus, I think Japan is sneaky good and the Ivory Coast will finally realize their potential as a group of ubertalented stars.

2. The United States will not only escape their group, but will beat Belgium in the round of 16.

Boo. Hoo.
Two words: dark horse. That's what the US comes into this tournament as, and what people had been calling the Belgians until recently, when they just became a horse. The Yanks aren't even expected to make it out of the Group of Death, what with Germany (world #2) and Portugal (world #4) on the docket, as well as recent US-killer Ghana waiting in the wings.

But the US has won all three of its send-off matches, something that has never happened. And though they won ugly, they won. And winning builds confidence. And confidence builds more winning. It's like Fat Bastard's vicious cycle, but positive (unless you really like eating). So here's what'll happen: the US will go down and thrash Ghana 3-1. Then we'll draw with Portugal 1-1, and probably lose to Germany 2-0. I'm not gonna sit here and figure out goal differential and other team's records, I'm just gonna assume that we get through. Then, on to Belgium.

Belgium has a stupidly easy group with Russia, South Korea, and Algeria. They'll go 3-0 and win that group, having not been tested. And then, suddenly, they're in the knockout rounds. Shark-infested waters. These Belgians have a fair bit of experience, but don't boast any obvious goal threats with Christian Benteke hurt and Romelu Lukaku possibly nursing an injury. Plus, they're already being touted as an outside contender for the title. That's called pressure - something the US will have exactly none of after escaping the Group of Death with their lives. And in a single-elimination game, I'll take the team with no pressure on them over the pressurized team all day err day.

3. Bosnia-Herzegovina will beat France in the round of 16.

A face only an underage prostitute could love.
The talk of the tournament on the eve of the tournament is the players who will not be playing in the tournament.

Wait. What?

I'm talkin' bout injuries. There's been a slew of big-time players going down with ouchies lately, so much so that several websites have created their lists of best players to miss the World Cup due to being physically done for. One of the finest players to drop to the turf writhing in (actual) pain lately is that fellow up there - France's Franck Ribery, midfielder extraordinaire and World's Ugliest Man Lifetime Achievement Award winner.

So my prediction is that France win their group, Bosnia-Herzegovina gets second in theirs, and then the B-H boys beat the Frenchies.

Yes, France are stocked with talent (Giroud, Pogba, Evra, Benzema, etc.), but they're French. And French people fold. They folded HARD at the World Cup in 2010, then bowed out in the quarterfinals of the Euros to eventual champions Spain.

Granted, the Bosnians are no Spain, but they've got some motivation that the other teams don't - specifically, the fact that their country is barely 20 years old, and most of the players were displaced by the Bosnian war and grew up as part of the diaspora (SAT word). The country has not had a competitive football team in ever (in ever, Jerry), so this is kind of a "put the country on my back" deal for Edin Dzeko and the Bosnians. National pride means a lot in the World Cup. The French might still be stinging from the last two major tournaments, and the Bosnians will come in brimming with hope. (Plus they friggin dominated their qualifying group.)

4. Brazil will beat Argentina in the final, but Sergio Aguero will win the Golden Boot.

Mom made pizza rolls?!
Call this a parlay prediction. Both outcomes are rather likely (Brazil are 3/1 to win it all and Aguero is 14/1 to finish top scorer), but put em together and what do you get?

Bippity boppity boo?

No. You get a bold fucking prediction.

Argentina have scored a lot of goals lately against bad teams like Trinidad and Tobago (3-0) and Slovenia (2-0), with exactly zero goals from Captain Happy McChuckles up there. Their goals have come from midfielders (and Messi, duh), but that's OK. Goals in the World Cup come from forwards (except if you're the USA) - just check out this list of Golden Boot winners. You have to go back to 1974 and a West German named Grzegorz to find a dude who doesn't play forward winning that award. Rather strange, then, that the three players deemed more likely than Aguero to win this award are Lionel Messi (questionably a forward, often deployed on the wing), Neymar (questionably a forward, often deployed on the wing), and Cristiano Ronaldo (questionably a for-- yeah, you get it).

This will happen. Mark it down.

5. The Diego Forlan award for rocketing into the US's collective national attention will go to Angel Di Maria.

Once upon a 2010, an attacker from a prominent La Liga team went into the World Cup with high expectations, excellent hair, and a light blue jersey. After an explosion of highlight reel goals, Uruguay's Diego Forlan was the talk of the nation. It didn't hurt that he resembled Adonis's better-looking younger brother.

You want some of this milk?
After a scorching game in the Champions League final, Argentina winger Angel Di Maria is in great form. He'll rise to the challenge in Brazil, using his tricky feet and speed to get past outside defenders and either whip in crosses or take a few rips at goal. Plus, when the Argentines meet up with the USA in the quarterfinals, no one will be able to miss him with this righteous 'do:
(It looks like he's got an onion on his head)
A few goals, a few assists, a few embarrassed defenders, and you've got yourself a recipe for American stardom.

6. BONUS PREDICTION: One team's hotel will be robbed. 

I mean, it is Brazil. Something has to go wrong.

Monday, June 2, 2014

World Cup Preview: Group H Predictions

And we've arrived. Barely a week before the tournament, this is the final group preview in the World Cup. If I get enough time, I may do a knockout preview, but we shall see. Read everything you need to know about every World Cup group here.

Group H: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, Korea Republic

Blue Steel.
This is the group the USA could have had. Weep for the poor Americans. Weep, I say.

Prediction: Belgium win group, Korea Republic second.


This picture is too good to use just once.
Belgium are kind of an under the radar superteam. Along with Eden Zoolander Hazard up there, Belgium has EPL studs such as Romelu Luk(kakukuku)kaku from Everton, Vincent Kompany from Manchester City, and the oft-maligned but undeniably talented Marouane Fellaini from Manchester United. They're just really stacked overall and they should have no problem rampaging through this group. There really are two types of groups at this World Cup - the deathy ones and the non-deathy ones. This is as far from death as you can get.

Korea Republic.


Not sure when these guys started going by "Korea Republic" instead of the ever-popular and much more easily understood "South Korea", but regardless. I think they'll get themselves out of this group. Mainly because their manager has selected a group of players that make their living in the more competitive European leagues, such as Arsenal's Park Chu-young, Bolton's Lee Chung-yong, and Bayer Leverkusen star Song Heung-min (that guy up there). 

The Koreans are a young team, with no player in their 30s. Youth usually equals fresh legs and strong lungs, two attributes that will be needed in abundance against the high-scoring Belgians and the pacey Algerians in muggy Brazil. That was a lot of adjectives. Regardless, look for Korea to sit back and play their possession game against Belgium, and perhaps press Algeria into a few mistakes at the back. The decisive game in this group will be Russia vs Korea on June 17.


Hey there.
Wait a minute. This isn't terribly model-esque. I think Eden can do better. Eden?

You got it, dude.
Thanks Eden.

Russia's problem in my eyes is that they just didn't take the right players. I don't care how out of form and favor some players are, the Russians are simply a worse team without Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and Roman Pavlyuchenko. They play against better competition than the squad that manager Fabio Capello has selected, which contains only players in Russia's domestic league. The camaraderie might be invaluable, but I'm not sure how far it will get the Russians. Plus, Russia = cold and Brazil = hot, and their three send-off games are against the weak nations of Slovakia (a 1-0 win), Norway (a 1-1 draw) and Morocco (playing on June 6). 


Algeria has one of the coolest nicknames in the tournament: the "Desert Foxes". Unfortunately, they basically suck. They're sort of like Iran in that they're the best team from a terrible region. They barely snuck in after beating a country called Burkina Faso. They'll be lucky to draw a game.