Monday, March 24, 2014

2014 World Cup Draw: Group D Predictions

Haven't done one of these in a while, but we're back! Check out my previous World Cup efforts here

Group D: Uruguay, Costa Rica, England, Italy

Well now. This should be intriguing. Remember this headline from the 2010 World Cup in South Africa?

That was England's reaction to drawing the USA and two cream puffs of varying creaminess in Slovenia and Algeria. I wonder what they're saying now?

Right. Ok then.
Anyway, on to the predictions. 

Italy win group, Uruguay second. 


It's pretty clear to me that Italy is the best team in this group. They have all the keys to a successful national side: experienced goalkeeping and defending, a midfield that knows how to play their system and has the confidence to shine on the big stage, and strong, fast, lethal strikers (most particularly Mario Balotelli). 

I think you know why.
(PS: Shout out to Anderson being in that photo - first time I've seen him in about a year and a half).

I can absolutely see Super Mario cementing his place as one of the greatest forwards in world football with a dynamite tournament - when he puts his mind more into scoring goals and less into setting his bathroom on fire, the man is an absolute menace. In a good way.


Lots of wrist kisses in Brazil.
Every World Cup, a player who toils in relative obscurity blasts onto the international radar, becoming (at least for a week or three) one of the most talked-about people in sports. Four years ago in South Africa, Atletico Madrid and Uruguay forward (and blonde Aragorn lookalike) Diego Forlan was this player. He won the Golden Ball as the best player in the tournament, and scored 5 goals on Uruguay's run to the semifinals.

This year's entry won't be coming from Uruguay, that's for sure.

Noted handball aficionado, diving extraordinaire, and family man Luis Suarez will be leading Uruguay. Suarez is rocketing up the "best player in the world" rankings, and currently is sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League goal hunt, his 28 strikes taking him a stunning nine goals clear of his teammate Daniel Sturridge. The strike force of Suarez and Sturridge has worked well for Liverpool, and teaming Suarez up with Forlan and fellow Uruguayan assassin Edinson Cavani should provide more than a few fireworks in Brazil. 


This really is a tough draw for the Three Lions. Prone to hyperbole and premature mythmaking, the English press has created and destroyed more legends than George R.R. Martin in the past 25 years. Beckham, Scholes, Shearer, Owen, Rooney, Gerrard, Lampard, and Terry are just a few of the names of top-notch English footballers who have failed to claim a World Cup for the soccer-mad nation. In fact, since 1990, the English haven't even tasted a semi-final match. 

Sadly, this trend will continue for four more years. Not even Wayne Rooney's silly, silly hair can help them escape this group. 

Pictured: Wayne Rooney's silly, silly hair.
It's funny the way football narratives work. I see Italy as a deep, experienced team with a killer young tandem up front in Balotelli and Stephan El-Sharaawy, but I see England as a slow, plodding side filled with last-gaspers like Steven Gerrard and Frank Lampard, even though the English do have some young talents in Liverpool's Jordan Henderson, Arsenal's Jack Wilshere, and United's Danny Welbeck.

The question becomes - will the old guard stifle the youngsters' creativity, or will they act as a safety net to allow the kids to flourish?

Costa Rica.

This game, played in Colorado a year ago, was not the ideal scenario for a Costa Rican football team:

Not even for a Costa Rican football football team.
Never considered a world power, Costa Rica did make a game of it, but ended up losing 1-0. Upon the return visit by the USMNT in September of last year, the Costa Ricans were none too happy.

What does all this have to say about their World Cup prospects? Well, a few things. Like, for instance, the fact that they HATE the cold. So that's a point in their favor, since Brazil in June can get a bit toasty. Also, they're pretty good at the revenge thing. It's too bad this isn't a double round robin tournament, because Costa Rica crunched the Yanks soundly in the September match, winning 3-1. 

Costa Rica is a young team - their oldest player is 31, and depending on call-ups, they might only have two 30-year-olds. They don't have the skills to run with the three big boys here, but watch out for them during the next cycle.

Friday, March 21, 2014

New Short Story: "Coming Up the Dark Hill"

Just finished a new short story. Submitted it to a competition for a British short story publication. It's a bold strategy Cotton, let's see if it works out for me. Read if you wish.    

Monday, March 17, 2014

If You Want to Win Your Bracket Challenge, Don't Read This

It's finally that time of year. Tourney time. When hopes, dreams, and bank accounts are seen through rose-colored glasses, only to be dashed on the cold and unforgiving rocks of truth. You'll win some, you'll lose some, and you'll absolutely lose your family pool to Great Aunt Bertha who picks the teams based on whether she knows what the mascot is or not (sorry, Coastal Carolina, no  upset for you this year).

Apparently, a Chanticleer is a bird with a nutsack for a chin.
And along with tourney time come the projections. Now, if you only read one March Madness preview article, don't read this one. I haven't watched nearly enough college basketball this year to make predictions that can be judged as fair or accurate. I usually lose my pools in spectacular fashion. And the fact that this is the first year that I'll have a Bovada account during March Madness does not bode well for my ability to pay rent this month.

Regardless, here are some fearless predictions, trends, and observations, many of which will surely be proven right, wrong, or somewhere in the middle.

1. Wisconsin will not make the Sweet 16
Wisconsin is a wonderful team to have in the Big Dance, because they're always prime candidates for an upset. Since making it to the Final 4 in 2000, the Badgers have only made it to the Sweet 16 in 5 out of the 13 tournaments, despite seeming to be a top 5 seed every year. They also play NO defense this year and they have barely any athleticism. I can actually see them getting a scare from American, and I'll almost bet the rent on a 7-over-2 "upset" by the Ducks of Oregon, an athletic team that was nationally ranked for much of the season.

2. Take Michigan State one round further than you think.
These first two predictions, both of Big Ten teams, are ironclad, set in stone, and as bankable as a bar of solid gold. Brought to you by the tournament handicappers of Vogel and Galloway, one of the most respected firms on the East Coast, it's just a lock that Tom Izzo will take a bunch of hardnosed, athletic, great-shooting Spartans on a Shermanesque march through the field. My gut tells me to put them into the Elite 8, which means that, per this rule, I'll be dropping them right into the Final Four. Look up their past results - all Tommy I does is romp through the tourney.

3. Take the under in the Harvard - Cincinnati game.
This is a battle of two of the best defensive teams in the tournament. Cincy lets up a paltry 58 points a game, and Harvard is only slightly less stingy, allowing 60 per contest. This game will be a war down low, and though Harvard might not have the power to contend with the Bearcats, they'll keep it close, milk the clock, and drag out a low-scoring game.

Not to mention, Cincinnati is coached by Ned Schneebly.
4. New Mexico State will beat San Diego State
This game is going to be awesome. San Diego State hasn't been scoring at the crazy clip that put them into the top 5 earlier in the season, after they had beaten Creighton, Marquette, and Kansas in a month(ish)long span. They beat 21st-ranked New Mexico by putting up 51, blew out a terrible Utah State team, then managed only 59 and 58 in their next two, against UNLV and New Mexico again. The Aztecs will feel like they've only played teams from New Mexico when they meet New Mexico State and 7-foot-5 Sim Bhullar. Yes, I said 7-foot-5. SDSU doesn't have anyone over 6-10. You do the math. Height > no height.

5. Creighton - Baylor will be an amazing game.
Provided both teams can escape the first round, this game will be incredible to watch. Dougie McBuckets and the Blue Jays might sound like a band that Buddy Holly and the Crickets would have had to contend with for airplay on the AM dial, but in reality it's just a scrappy bunch of 3-raining white folk who wear t-shirts and have names like Ethan Wragge. Baylor plays a lot of zone, so expect Creighton's snipers to be hoisting from deep. The Bears are no slouches themselves, setting a ton of ball screens on offense to open up looks for their shooters, most importantly noted loose butthole monocle aficionado Brady Heslip. This game will be close, exciting, and high-scoring. If I were a betting man (and I am), I'm taking Creighton. They have too many shooters.

6. Oklahoma - North Dakota State will be a 12-5 upset.
Usually, when faced with two teams about which I know nothing, I pick the team that came from the better conference. And I usually fail miserably. So this year I'm switching it up. No fancy analysis, no looking up stats and trying to determine which team will hit foul shots when it counts, just gut feeling. The Bison will bludgeon the Sooners. Da fuck is a Sooner anyway?

7. Arizona will be the only 1 seed to make the Final Four
Their region is stupidly easy, plus every single upset I've just described happens within this region. Wisconsin, the 2 seed, will fall. Creighton, the 3 seed, could trip up against Baylor. San Diego State, the 4 seed, will lose to New Mexico State. Oklahoma, the 5 seed, will lose to North Dakota State! The whole region will be rife with upsets! And that will clear a path for Arizona straight through to Arlington.

This is what people's West regions will look like.
8. Wichita State is not as weak as everyone seems to think.
While everyone is lamenting the fact that the Midwest region is stacked and that Louisville somehow ended up with a 4 seed, the national narrative has left the Shockers undisturbed. I'm pretty sure that's good, because they're flying under the radar. I've seen a bunch of brackets that have them losing to Kentucky, and even more which have them losing to Louisville in the Sweet 16. Anyway, the Shockers are legit. Baker can rain, Early can slash, Van Vleet has a sick name, and their coach has 3 Gs in his name, which has to count for something. Wichy to the Elite 8 is not at all out of the question.

9. The highest seed in the Final Four will be a 4.
In the past few years, March truly has been Madness. Teams like Butler and Wichita State and George Mason have come from relatively nowhere to stun team after team, making runs to the Final Four which left office floors littered with torn-up-bracket confetti. This year, things will be different. Upsets will happen, as they always do. But this year's top 4 seeds, with a few notable exceptions (Villanova, San Diego State, Wisconsin) are unreal. All the 1-seeds are contenders, and many people have Louisville or Michigan State (both 4s) as champion. Add to this perennial powers like Duke, Kansas, Michigan, and .. um.. Creighton (?), and you have a recipe for a top-notch Final Four.

10. You will not win your bracket pool.
And neither will I. You will lose money, respect, happiness, sleep, your cool, and your dignity. And you will love it.

You will look like this. Trust me.

Let the Madness begin.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Best XI: Names of the 2013-2014 English Premier League

This is a bit on the late side, as the Premier League season is already sprinting to its inevitably breathless conclusion. We're somehow 28/38ths of the way done, which, of course, reduces nicely to 14/19ths.

But I digress.

Since its inception in 1992, the Premier League has seen players from more than a hundred different nations suit up for its clubs. That's a lot of very foreign, and very interesting names. Some of my favorites from years past include:

Papa Bouba Diop

Morten GAMST Pedersen

Ruud Van Nistelrooy

Alright, enough chitter chatter. On to the Best XI: Names of the EPL. We'll be using a 4-3-3 formation because we're pressing up for maximum goals. Feast or famine with this side.


G: Jussi Jääskeläinen - West Ham United

Those thighs look awfully jussi.
If West Ham fans don't refer to this Finn as Juicy J, then I've lost all faith in humanity. Also, LOOK at all those accent marks! The dude's last name looks like a damn daisy meadow.


Nacho Monreal - Arsenal

I read this guy's name as "Nacho Montreal" every time, without fail. Makes me think of some fancy French-Canadian tortilla chip dish. If Ben Foster had a brother named Bananas, we could have the dessert as well as the appetizer.

"Atomic Forearm!"
Along with having a surname composed of a Biblical term and a woman's first name, Kev here has a damn accent mark over the "e" in Kevin. How are we supposed to pronounce "Kevin" any differently? "KAYvin"? 

John Arne Riise - Fulham


'Nuff said.

Ahmed Elmohamady - Hull City

"Sandwich time for Ahmend!"
Anyone with "Elmo" in their name makes the squad. No exceptions. 


Tom Cleverley - Manchester United

"EW Ahmed get that sandwich outta here."
The fact that there's a midfielder named Cleverley is fantastic.

Rocket fart in 3.. 2.. 1...
This dude's name is more confused than Adam Sandler in 50 First Dates. His given name is John Michael Nchekwube Obinna. Then, in 2003, the Nigerian Football Association submitted his name on a team sheet as "Mikel" instead of "Michael." He liked the sound of that, and clearly hated his father Michael, so he just changed it permanently to Mikel. At some point, he dropped the unpronounceable N-name in the middle, as well as the end of his surname, and then switched his middle and last name, turning into the famous John Obi Mikel. Now, inexplicably, his name on team sheets appears as John Mikel Obi again, although he has stated that he prefers to be called Mikel John Obi.

Got all that?

Robert Snodgrass - Norwich City

Robert Snodgrass is the perfect name for a Scotsman. And that's what we have here. A red-nosed, bearded, evidently psychotic Scotsman. 


Peter Odemwingie - Stoke City

"Cool story bro!"
This name is just fun to say. I mean, Peter is decent, but Odemwingie is tremendous. O-dem-wing-gee. Wonderful.

Sammy Ameobi - Newcastle United

Of all the combinations of words that flow well off the tongue ("creamed corn," "buttered biscuits," "tally whacker," "playfully anti-Semitic"), Sammy Ameobi is the unquestioned champion. Say that name five times and unicorns will erupt from the nearest fire hydrant.

Ricky van Wolfswinkel - Norwich City

"Hooah! Gut punch activated!"

That name was destined for stardom.


Jed Steer, Goalkeeper, Aston Villa
Lee Cattermole, Midfielder, Sunderland
Yussuf Mulumbu, Midfielder, West Bromwich Albion
Gary Hooper, Forward, Norwich City ("Hooper drives the boat, Chief!")
Adnan Januzaj, Forward, Manchester United
Romelu Lukaku, Forward, Everton
Gabriel Agbonlahor, Forward, Aston Villa

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Throwback Thursday Speculative Rip: Perry Kitchen

Perry Kitchen is a 22-year old soccer player with a silly fucking name. Like, seriously, Mr. and Mrs. Kitchen, your kid's last name is going to be KITCHEN. Maybe you could think about giving him a nice, normal name like John or Steve? Anything but Perry. Kid must have been teased mercilessly growing up.

Regardless, he now plays for DC United in MLS. But in 2010, he was a member of the NCAA Champion Akron Zips. And he scored an absolute peach of a goal during the early rounds of the College Cup. Enjoy.

More like the Akron RIPS, am I right???

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Best Athlete to Wear Every Number

The number that an athlete wears on the back of their jersey seems like it would be just that - a number. But it is so much more than that. Some athletes wear numbers to pay tribute to other athletes, some to honor family members, and some because they have a chip on the shoulder that doesn't have a handgun holstered to it.

Still not as good as Shawn Marion
Whatever the reason, athletes become attached to their numbers. There are tons of stories of players moving to a new team and paying the current wearer of the number an outrageous sum for their coveted digits. Shit, Giants punter Jeff Feagles sold his number 10 to Eli Manning for a vacation in Florida, then sold his new number 17 to Plaxico Burress for an outdoor kitchen at his Arizona home!

Obviously, numbers are a big deal. And there are a hundred and one of them in sports, starting with 00 and ending with 99.

Want to know who was the best to ever wear a certain number? Scroll down.

00 - Robert Parish
0 - Shawn Marion
  1. Ozzie Smith
  2. Derek Jeter
  3. Babe Ruth
  4. Bobby Orr
  5. Joe Dimaggio
  6. Bill Russell
  7. John Elway
  8. Cal Ripken Jr
  9. Ted Williams
  10. (Tie) Pele and Diego Maradona
  11. Mark Messier
  12. Tom Brady
  13. Wilt Chamberlain
  14. Pete Rose
  15. Bart Starr
  16. Joe Montana
  17. John Havlicek
  18. Peyton Manning
  19. Johnny Unitas
  20. Barry Sanders
  21. Roberto Clemente
  22. Emmitt Smith
  23. Michael Jordan
  24. Willie Mays
  25. Barry Bonds
  26. Wade Boggs
  27. Carlton Fisk
  28. Marshall Faulk
  29. Satchel Paige
  30. Martin Brodeur
  31. Greg Maddux
  32. Magic Johnson
  33. Larry Bird
  34. Bo Jackson
  35. Kevin Durant
  36. Jerome Bettis
  37. Shawn Alexander
  38. Curt Schilling
  39. Dominic Hasek
  40. Gale Sayers
  41. Tom Seaver
  42. Jackie Robinson
  43. Dennis Eckersley
  44. Hank Aaron
  45. Pedro Martinez
  46. Andy Pettitte
  47. Tom Glavine
  48. Daryl "Moose" Johnston
  49. Ron Guidry
  50. Mike Singletary
  51. Dick Butkus
  52. Ray Lewis
  53. Don Drysdale
  54. Tedy Bruschi
  55. Junior Seau
  56. Lawrence Taylor
  57. Francisco Rodriguez
  58. Jack Lambert
  59. Jack Ham
  60. Otto Graham
  61. Josh Beckett
  62. Jim Langer
  63. Gene Upshaw
  64. Jerry Kramer
  65. Elvin Bethea
  66. Mario Lemeiux
  67. Bob Keuchenberg
  68. Jaromir Jagr
  69. Mark Schlereth
  70. Sam Huff
  71. George Connor
  72. Carlton Fisk (yes, he is the only player on this list to appear twice). 
  73. John Hannah
  74. Merlin Olsen
  75. "Mean" Joe Green
  76. Steve Hutchinson
  77. Ray Borque
  78. Bruce Smith
  79. Roosevelt "Rosey" Brown
  80. Jerry Rice
  81. Dick "Night Train" Lane
  82. Raymond Berry
  83. Andre Reed
  84. Randy Moss
  85. Jack Youngblood
  86. Hines Ward
  87. Sidney Crosby
  88. Mario Lemieux
  89. Mike Ditka
  90. Neil Smith
  91. Sergei Fedorov
  92. Reggie White
  93. Doug Gilmour
  94. Charles Haley
  95. Richard Dent
  96. Cortez Kennedy
  97. Jeremy Roenick
  98. Tony Siragusa
  99. Wayne Gretzky