Posted by: mdegeorge | September 21, 2011

Another misfire by the NFL’s disciplinary talking heads (VIDEO)

At some point in the NFL’s illustrious, hegemonic history, MasterCard has been among its many sponsors. That seems fitting right about now, since the league’s backwards policies are looking increasingly like a parody of one of those old MasterCard commercials.

It should read something like this:

Repeat offense for flagrant hit to the head: $40,000

Offense of league’s unofficial rule on faking injuries: a game’s paycheck or more

Grasp on reality: priceless

Roger Goodell’s brain trust in a pair of moves this week has essentially said it cares more about players faking injuries than about those inflicting real injuries.

By the comically lenient penalties on Falcons head-hunting safety Dunta Robinson, the NFL has made it clear that they’re all bark and no bite when it comes to flagrant hits by players not named James Harrison. Robinson, who a year ago was fined for launching into Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson in a collision that left both with concussions, was at it again against Philly Sunday night when he rang Jeremy Maclin’s bell. Maclin luckily ducked the hit, preventing another devastating impact.

Robinson’s fine, as a repeat offender mind you, came out to a whopping $40,000 … less than the $50K he was fined for the Jackson hit (though it was later reduced on appeal to $25,000). Those wanting harsher penalties can rest easy, however, since the fine was accompanied by a harsh letter from Vice President of Football Operations Merton Hanks saying that ““Future offenses will result in an escalation of fines up to and including suspension.” I’m disappointed that the letter didn’t make Robinson sit in the corner to think about what he’s done. Then again, who can expect the league’s disciplinary arm to show some backbone when it’s run by this guy. Read More…

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Posted by: mdegeorge | September 16, 2011

Starting XI Points: Champions League Matchday 1

Matchday 1 of the UEFA Champions League has come and gone, ushering in a new season of Europe’s premier club competition. Even the hopeful among us can’t believe they’ve garnered enough knowledge after 90 minutes to decide all eight groups. But several things have become blatantly obvious. So I present the Starting XI things learned about this year’s UCL field.

We all should know who Mario Gotze is

Cristiano Ronaldo may not be familiar with the diminutive German teen, but the Borussia Dortmund star is serving notice quickly. The German champions were only able to manage a draw against Arsenal despite dominating for large stretches. But the cohesive unit that features exciting attackers like Shinji Kagawa, Kevin Groβkreutz, Robert Lewandowski and goal-scorer Ivan Perisic could be a factor in the knockout stages, especially if it can get a favorable draw. And the guiding light in the quest will be Gotze, who scored six goals and had 11 assists in 33 league games a season ago.

Cristiano Ronaldo and the rest of the soccer world should get acquainted with young Mario Gotze's skills. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Barcelona is human

This one may sting a little bit, especially among those of us who saw Barca on paper in the offseason and assumed they would win all sixty-some-odd matches this year. Back-to-back 2-2 draws with Real Sociedad and Milan tell otherwise, however. There are question marks. There will be growing pains in the midfield as Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez are integrated, exacerbated by Andres Iniesta’s absence for a month. And they’re riding the knife’s edge trying to subsist with a backline consisting of three defenders, the only role Sergio Busquets and Javier Mascherano seem to fill these days. It’ll take some time to figure out how all the pieces fit together.

The group of death is living up to its moniker

Group A is looking quite dangerous. We knew going in that Bayern Munich, Villarreal, Manchester City and Napoli would be a tough group to sort out. A reshuffling Villarreal got off to a poor start, losing at home to Bayern Munich behind Toni Kroos, Rafinha and the suddenly resurgent Franck Ribery. But for a team like Napoli to go into Manchester and draw the Citizens is some feat. This may be a group of death that actually elicits change since two teams from the continent’s four biggest leagues are guaranteed to be exiting the group stages. But at least it will provide some entertaining soccer for the next few months.

Gasperini is not long for Milan at this rate Read More…

Posted by: mdegeorge | September 16, 2011

A weekend retreat for failing soccer players (VIDEO)

The weekend is almost upon us. For these two soccer players, it’s a badly needed — if not terribly deserved — respite. The question is, though, who needs it more.

The first contender is Artem Gomelko a Belorussian goalkeeper on loan from Lokomotiv Moscow to Torpedo-BelAZ Zhodino. In a match against Dnepr Mogliev, Gomelko rather nonchalantly approaches a long shot by defender Anton Matsveenka that appears to be going wide of his post … until the 21-year-old stopper fails to line the shot up and deflects it into his own net while trying to casually one-hand it.

Then there’s Egyptian striker Amir Sayoud. The Al-Ahly player’s penalty fail, in which he tires to toe-poke the Egyptian turf before feebly nudging the ball off the spot in the process of falling flat on his face, is bad enough. But adding insult to injury is 1) his receipt of a yellow card for some type of violation in the taking of the kick, and 2) the 21-year-old’s subsequent loan just days later from the parent club to Al-Ismaily.

The verdict: Gomelko gets the edge for the bigger fail. After all, he turned a sure non-goal into a goal, while no penalty is a guarantee. But the booking and transfer make the circumstances of Sayoud’s blunder far more embarrassing.

Posted by: mdegeorge | September 9, 2011

It’s been red, white and boon for host country at U.S. Open

As Donald Young was erring himself out of Flushing, ensuring that the sports’ fearsome foursome would remain intact in the quarterfinals of 2011’s final major, he probably wasn’t in the mood to contemplate the ramifications of the performances this week and a half in New York by those flying the same flag as he.

The 84th ranked player in the world exited in the round of 16 to Andy Murray Thursday in straight sets, committing 53 unforced errors in the conclusion of the deepest run in a major in his still (no pun intended) young career. The effort will likely allow him to climb to his highest world ranking, the previous mark set at No. 73 in the spring of 2008.

Even if he's not the future of American tennis, Donald Young and his compatriots have mad the most of this year's U.S. Open. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

He and others could be forgiven for failing to believe the 2011 U.S. Open would be a boon for players from the host country. Sure, Mardy Fish entered the tournament playing the best tennis of his life, fresh off a win against a beat-up Rafael Nadal.

But the positives for the Americans were few and far between. For the first time in a decade, Andy Roddick wasn’t the standard-bearer for the American men – that honor going to Fish – as Roddick tumbled to 21 in the rankings. The other frequent male protagonist over the last decade or so, James Blake, is smack in the middle of his exit from the sport’s upper (or rather middle) echelon at age 31. On the women’s side of the draw, Venus and Serena Williams, the only American women worth mentioning for the last five years or more, arrived off fourth-round exits at Wimbledon with seeds in the 20s and more medical procedures and injuries in the last year than tournaments played.

It had the makings of a disastrous tournament for the host nation.

But even before the backlog of washed-out matches unfurls ahead of Monday’s planned men’s final, the 2011 U.S. Open has the chance to be a defining moment in the course of the nation’s tennis program. Read More…

Posted by: mdegeorge | September 7, 2011

Ringing in the new football season in garish fashion

It’s good to see the college football season returning. But joy aside, it hasn’t always been easy on the eyes.

Non-conference games have always given schools a chance to trot out controlled portions of their playbooks and test their mettle to a degree not possible on the practice field. Apparently, it’s also given schools carte blanche to recruit fashion school dropouts to conjure up the most unwieldy, kitschy, mass-consumerism pandering abominations of uniforms possible.

Photo via Twitter user @umterps

How do you know it’s a bad week of outfitting on the gridiron? It’s when Oregon’s faux-metallic, black-on-battleship-gray, vented numbers appear not that bad.

There were the relatively minor infractions: Minnesota’s distractingly glittery helmets, Tulsa’s Pro Bowl-surplus unis, the Duke Blue Devils all-black jerseys and the Florida Creamsicle outfits.

Then there were the major violators (shockingly, Miami was not among them). Read More…

Posted by: mdegeorge | September 7, 2011

Klinsmann era off to a sputtering start

It’s far too early to reach for the panic button on the Jurgen Klinsmann era of U.S. soccer.

But it’s clear after matching 1-0 losses to such soccer powers as Costa Rica and Belgium this week that the hopes of an attack-minded German savior suddenly whisking the program to dizzying heights, heights predecessor Bob Bradley was negligent to the point of deserving termination in not reaching, are slightly misguided.

Brek Shea has been good, though perhaps not the instant starter some think he may be under Klinsmann. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Obviously the results of Klinsmann’s first three matches in charge come with a caveat. These games must be looked at as a means to the ultimate end – success at the World Cup – rather than an end unto themselves, and thus the developmental nature of the squads he has selected. Factor in the small sample size, and it’s easy to blow the ramifications of the losses out of proportion.

Still, another lifeless performance raises the cynicism that those being felt out for possible inclusion in the squad are merely fill-ins.

Time is still the ally of the American team, and it’s entirely possible that players like Robbie Rogers or Brek Shea could make the type of leap in ability that makes their inclusion on squad sheets so tantalizing. Shea especially, with his amazing talents, has impressed during the otherwise lackluster performances.

The matches under Klinsmann, though, have served one main purpose: When it comes to the forward line and midfield, lack of change will rule the day. Read More…

Posted by: mdegeorge | August 29, 2011

Preseason Diagnosis: La Liga

It’s that time of year again: Soccer season is upon us. Now that the summer tournaments and international fundraising showcases are wearing off, it’s time for everyone to get back to business. With the major European leagues slowly springing to life one-by-one, I’ll be previewing each of the big leagues as they open their schedules throughout August. Up next is La Liga.

Armed with new weapons, Lionel Messi and Barcelona may repeat as Spanish champs. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

As they say, better late than never. That certainly applies to La Liga, which belatedly struck a deal between teams and players to get the season under way a week later than we all expected.

Perhaps waiting a week to experience the onset of one of the most beautiful brands of soccer in the world will make us appreciate the fluid, flowing, attacking virtuosity that the Spanish league brings even more. Maybe the strike will bring a temporary pause to the onslaught of spending by Malaga.

Either way, it’s time to look at what La Liga will have to offer this season. The top of the table, that’s pretty easy to predict. But we’ll see what the bottom has to offer.

It’s not great stretch to name Barcelona as the predicted pace-setter. The two-time fending champions and Champions League holders needed only to make small improvements this offseason. Instead, they ended their long-standing dance with Arsenal to acquire the future of their midfield in Cesc Fabregas and added a dangerous winger in Alexis Sanchez. The departures were minimal and included recouping significant value for Bojan Krkic, Jeffren Suarez, Oriol Romeu and Martin Caceres, all deemed surplus to requirements. Those makeweights netted €25 million, making the over €70 they spent on the two arrivals more palatable. As always, Barca is the best in the world at doing what they want to do, and in Fabregas and Sanchez they have more players able to do that. The only concern is over continuing rumors as the departure of David Villa, their only true center forward. A versatile forward like Villa is important in making their attack work, making it somewhat surprising that they didn’t try to replace Krkic in some capacity. Still with Lionel Messi in the picture, I’m sure the Blaugrana won’t be wanting for goal production in what likely will be a third straight title.

3. Villarreal4. Valencia5. Sevilla6. Atletico Madrid7. Malaga8. Athletic Bilbao9. Osasuna10. Getafe11. Espanyol12. Sporting Gijon13. Real Sociedad14. Mallorca15. Real Betis16. Racing Santander17. Levante18. Rayo Vallecano19. Real Zaragoza20. Granada

2011-12 La Liga Predictions
1. Barcelona
2. Real Madrid 3. Villarreal 4. Valencia 5. Sevilla 6. Atletico Madrid 7. Malaga 8. Athletic Bilbao 9. Osasuna 10. Getafe 11. Espanyol 12. Sporting Gijon 13. Real Sociedad 14. Mallorca 15. Real Betis 16. Racing Santander 17. Levante 18. Rayo Vallecano 19. Real Zaragoza 20. Granada

Was this actually a transfer window in which Barcelona outspent Real Madrid? It’s the case, though Madrid brought in more players, though not necessarily a better chance at a title. Yes, Cristiano Ronaldo and his 40 goals are still there. To the capital club’s sizeable stable of Turkish-born, German-bred midfielders comes Nuri Sahin and Hamit Altintop, while the defense corps is wisely reinforced by young sensation Raphael Varane (just as former young sensation Ezequiel Garay leaves town) and big-ticket signing Fabio Coentrao. The problem for Jose Mourinho’s men is too many midfield options. With the arrivals and persistence in the squad of somewhat out-of-favor players like Kaka and Lassana Diarra, I count a dozen options for midfield selection when everyone’s healthy to occupy at most four spots. Barcelona relies on a tight nucleus that even last year lacked depth. A Rafael Benitez-like revolving door approach in the midfield isn’t going to foster the type of cohesion needed for Los Galacticos to shed their recent bridesmaid role. Read More…

Posted by: mdegeorge | August 17, 2011

Hurricane Shapiro threatening to level Miami programs

At its heart, the widespread NCAA violations alleged at the University of Miami center around one small, sad man.

Nevin Shapiro, the entrepreneur turned Ponzi schemer turned booster, is a pathetic tale. Suffusing the tales of prostitutes, night clubs and high-end restaurants is a shifty little crook, a 5-foot-5 modern-day Napoleon who thought he would conquer the world – and what probably are his many inadequacies – one high-powered football friend at a time. “Some of those players – a lot of those players – we used to say we were a family,” the diminutive transplanted Brooklynite admitted, saying he came forward only after reaching out to some of the myriad players he had pampered into the pros for help when he met his own financial demise for securities fraud and money laundering only to be rebuffed or outright ignored.

Beneath it all, Shapiro’s tale of lavishing gifts on athletes he pitifully idolized and desired to buy friendship from is no different than a narrative playing out at elementary schools and summer camps the nation over. The only difference is that instead of unquestionably handing over snacks at lunch or last night’s homework to the popular kids, Shapiro upped the ante and the value of the gifts substantially. The indiscretions range from the pathetic (letting players and hookers use his $1.6-million yacht as a brothel) to the atrocious (paying for a prostitute’s abortion after she alleged being impregnated by a player).

Consequentially, the NCAA should ramp up its punishments in kind. And unfortunately for the school, it could be more than just a brief timeout.

The violations revealed by the Yahoo Sports investigation far exceed anything else we’ve seen in the last year of violations tumult. Think the allegations against Cecil Newton were bad? Cam Newton was prosecuted in the court of public opinion for his father allegedly taking a payout to get his son to go to Auburn. That’s one payout, one player, one time. Try Shaprio’s dozens of player delivered to The U and payout to players delivered in the form of illegal benefits such as trips to strip clubs and prostitutes.

Or how about those groundbreaking revelations at Ohio State? Players getting tattoos and rounds of golf for free? Try hookers and booze while underage, multiply the number of players by ten, add cash payments and “bounties” like we’re in Slapshot and then you’ve got a real controversy, Buckeyes.

What then should the punishment be? There’s not much that can be done to Shapiro, who agreed to cooperate first with Yahoo investigator Charles Robinson while serving a 20-year sentence for a Ponzi scheme, reason enough for a judge to deem him worthy of dropping off a cliff. Hopefully, he gets to live every day with the revelation that he spent millions of his hard-stolen and defrauded money on people who won’t give him the time of day. Read More…

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