Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Premier League 2012-2013 Predictions (and some other picks too)

Wasn't this summer fantastic? Because of all of the football we were able to see during Euro 2012, the Olympics and the MLS regular season, time just flew by. As a Manchester United fan, I didn't mind that quick summer, as last season didn't end on the best note. Yes, the Blues won the league, and while United choked it away the last few weeks of the season, it's fair to say that City were the best team in the league and probably deservedly won the title. Starting this Saturday, the new season will begin and every team and fan base will be rejuvenated for the long haul of the Premier League. With some transfer deals to still be finalized, these predictions are subject to change, but as of now I will make my picks the upcoming year:

Premier League

Champions: Manchester United. After missing out on the league on goal difference, the Reds will be back strong. With signings of Kagawa and Van Persie, as well as the recovery of Vidic from injury, United will add some depth in key positions. In the midfield, the return of Tom Cleverley from a season full of injuries, could be crucial as a pairing with Scholes or Carrick in the center of the park. The combination of experience and young talent will be important as United look to reclaim the title.

Champions League Spots (2nd, 3rd, 4th): Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea. City will fight to the death as they did last season, but will come up just short to United. Liverpool will have a good season, with Suarez and Gerrard leading the team back into the Champions League. Chelsea will not be able to match the great season they had by winning the Cup double, but will return again to the Champions League. Pending the sale of Modric to Real Madrid, which looks certain to happen, and Van Persie's sale to United, Spurs and Arsenal will be missing out on the Champions League and be looking to the Europa League next season.

FA Cup (finalist): Manchester United (Manchester City).

Capital One Cup (finalist): Liverpool (Chelsea).

Champions League (finalist): Real Madrid (Barcelona).

As always with predictions, we are usually more wrong than right, so don't expect this to be spot on. However, I think all football fans are excited to watch this all play out. It will also be fun to watch Madrid and Barcelona do battle again in Spain and Paris Saint-Germain look to rise to the top in France as they made some big money signings. To end the prediction fun, let's throw a little MLS around a bit:

Supporters' Shield: San Jose.

MLS Cup (finalist): Real Salt Lake (New York Red Bull).

Yes, you read that right. RSL will return to glory and lift the cup. Believe.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

NFL Wild Card Weekend Predictions...

While the NFL is by far my least favorite of the major sports, I do follow it closely in the playoffs. The playoffs start today, with the Wild Card round today and tomorrow. This season has had its fair share of surprises, but I did make some early predictions before the season started, and I will stick to those predictions. If you ask @prestonvjohnson or @ben_wagner of the PB&J Report (@pbjreport), I predicted Ravens vs Packers in the Super Bowl with the Ravens winning it all. As for this weekend, I think the games will go as follows:

Cincinnati Bengals 24 Houston Texans 20
Detroit Lions 31 New Orleans Saints 41

Atlanta Falcons 21 New York Giants 28
Pittsburgh Steelers 24 Denver Broncos 16

This would set up the following for the next round:

Green Bay Packers vs New York Giants
San Francisco 49ers vs New Orleans Saints

New England Patriots vs Cincinnati Bengals
Baltimore Ravens vs Pittsburgh Steelers

With my prediction history, I'll probably be far off on all of these, but I guess we will find out by tomorrow night. Have a good throwball weekend.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Watching the Premier League as a neutral, and early observations.

For anyone that doesn't know already (and if you don't, where have you been?), I am a big Manchester United fan. While United is always my main focus, I have watched the league with a little bit more of a neutral standpoint in regards to all non-United games. Also, my fiance is a Liverpool fan so I have watched more of their games this season than I may have in the past. Before this season, anytime that Chelsea, Liverpool, City, Arsenal, or Tottenham played, I wanted them to lose because they are all title rivals (to an extent). While that is still the case in most situations, I try not to make judgements or picks based on my United bias. We are nearly a third of the way through the season and I have made five observations:

1) City are for real - At the moment, City sit at the top of the league by 5 points, with a +31 goal differential. They won at Old Trafford by 6-2 and won at White Hart Lane, 5-1. I do not believe this form will continue throughout the season, but if they can get through the next month without any major scars (see further note), they could be in pole position for the title at the beginning of the new year.  

2) Chelsea need to clear house - So far this season, Chelsea have played three important games: @ United, Home to Arsenal and Home to Liverpool. They lost all three of those games by a combined score of 10-5. They are too slow in the back with Terry, Ivanovic and David Luiz, and too slow in the midfield with Mikel, Lampard and Malouda. Even with an attack of Drogba, Anelka and Torres (none of which are on form), if you concede 10 goals in three games to your rivals, it is going to be hard to get anything out of those games. The following players are 29 or over: Anelka, Drogba, Cole, Lampard, Malouda, Terry, Alex, Bosingwa, Essien, and Ferreira. You cannot have that many core players on the backside of their careers, and expect to compete for silverware.

3) Both Liverpool and Tottenham will make the Champions League - While I did pick Liverpool to finish in the top 4 in my preseason picks, I thought Spurs would finish 5th or 6th (Pre-season Predictions). Liverpool and Spurs are tied on points for fourth with Chelsea and Arsenal (22 points), but Spurs have 2 games in hand. I believe the title will come down to City or United, but the next two spots will be occupied by Liverpool and Spurs. Liverpool have played United at home, Arsenal away, and Chelsea away this season. In those three games, they have got 7 points (in contrast to Chelsea's 0 and Arsenal's 3 against the same schedule). These two teams also don't have the Champions League to detract them from focusing on the Top 4 spots, and as seen in the past with Arsenal and Chelsea, the toll that the Champions League can take on a team at the end of the season is high. 

4) United have steadied the ship since their defeat to City - Following their 6-2 derby day defeat at home to City, many people questioned whether United could regain form and fight for that title. However since that game, United has won 5 in a row, without conceding a goal. As is the case with City, the next month will show if United can close the gap on the top of the table. The Christmas period (5 games in 16 days time) is a tough period for every team, and history tells us that whoever is at the top of the table at the New Year, has a high likelihood of winning the title in May. 

5) Arsenal are on the up, but it won't last...and say goodbye to RvP - Since Arsenal got thrashed by United, they have also set their sails in the right direction. They've managed to climb back into a fourth place tie on points, and found themselves at the top of their Champions League group. Robin van Persie has shown himself to be a lethal striker and has saved the Arsenal on many occasions this season, since taking over the armband. They are beginning to get back a lot of their injured players, but I'd be surprised to see this form continue. As history shows us, Arsenal struggles in the second half of the season, and this year will be no different. I wouldn't be surprised to see RvP come up with another injury, as he always seems to do, and if he is able to last til the end of the year without one, he will want to go to another team. Especially if Arsenal come up without any silverware this year, there is very little chance for Arsenal to keep RvP from going to a team that can win trophies, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him off to Chelsea or Milan. 

I didn't mention Newcastle, and while they have had a great year to this point, this next month will likely be very tough for them, and will struggle to keep form in the elite group of the Premier League. They will likely be fighting for that last Europa League spot. 

As I've mentioned, the next month or so will be very crucial in the title race, as well as the other races that are shaping out in Europe. Here are the schedules for the top 6 (excluding Newcastle): 

Manchester City: 
Nov 22 - @ Napoli (Champions League)
Nov 27 - @ Liverpool 
Nov 29 - @ Arsenal (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - vs Norwich City
Dec 7 - vs Bayern Munich (Champions League)
Dec 12 - @ Chelsea 
Dec 18 - vs Arsenal
Dec 21 - vs Stoke City
Dec 26 - @ West Bromwich Albion
Jan 1 - @ Sunderland
Jan 3 - vs Liverpool

Manchester United: 
Nov 22 - vs Benefica (Champions League)
Nov 26 - vs Newcastle
Nov 30 - vs Crystal Palace (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - @ Aston Villa
Dec 7 - @ FC Basel (Champions League)
Dec 10 -  vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Dec 18 - @ Queens Park Rangers
Dec 21 - @ Fulham
Dec 26 - vs Wigan
Dec 31 - @ Newcastle
Jan 4 - vs Bolton

Nov 23 - @ Bayer Leverkusen (Champions League)
Nov 26 - vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Nov 29 - vs Liverpool (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - @ Newcastle
Dec 6 - vs Valencia (Champions League)
Dec 12 - vs Manchester City 
Dec 17 - @ Wigan
Dec 22 - @ Tottenham
Dec 26 - vs Fulham
Dec 31 - vs Aston Villa
Jan 2 - @ Wolverhampton Wanderers

Nov 21 - vs Aston Villa
Nov 26 - @ West Bromwich Albion
Nov 30 - vs PAOK Salonika (Europa League)
Dec 3 - vs Bolton
Dec 11 - @ Stoke City
Dec 15 - @ Shamrock (Europa League)
Dec 18 - vs Sunderland
Dec 22 - vs Chelsea
Dec 27 - @ Norwich City
Dec 31 - @ Swansea City
Jan 3 - vs West Bromwich Albion

Nov 27 - vs Manchester City
Nov 29 - @ Chelsea (Carling Cup)
Dec 5 - @ Fulham
Dec 10 - vs Queens Park Rangers
Dec 18 - @ Aston Villa
Dec 21 - @ Wigan
Dec 26 - vs Blackburn Rovers
Dec 30 - vs Newcastle
Jan 3 - @ Manchester City

Nov 23 - vs Borussia Dortmund (Champions League)
Nov 26 - vs Fulham
Nov 29 - vs Manchester City (Carling Cup)
Dec 3 - @ Wigan
Dec 6 - @ Olympiakos (Champions League)
Dec 10 - vs Everton
Dec 18 - @ Manchester City
Dec 21 - @ Aston Villa
Dec 26 - vs Wolverhampton Wanderers
Dec 31 - vs Queens Park Rangers
Jan 2 - @ Fulham

This is the best time of the year to be a soccer fan. There is so much to watch, so get comfortable on those early mornings, and get ready for some great soccer. 

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Why Seattle's Open Cup win is good for RSL...

Last night, Seattle beat Chicago in the Open Cup Final, 2-0. With this win, Seattle claimed their 3rd straight Open Cup, and qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League, beginning summer 2012. The Open Cup is one of 5 ways for an MLS team to qualify for the Champions League. The following are all the possible ways to qualify:
  1. MLS Supporters' Shield winner
  2. US Open Cup winner
  3. MLS Cup winner
  4. MLS Cup runner-up
  5. For Canadian teams: The winner of the Canadian Championship (Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver)

In the past, RSL has qualified for Champions League by winning the 2009 MLS Cup. This year, it seems that the Galaxy will win the Supporters' Shield, and Seattle has now claimed the Open Cup spot. Should one of the league's teams qualify in more than one spot (say the Galaxy, or Seattle, reach the MLS Cup or even win it, they would occupy more than one spot), there is a determining factor for selecting another team that will take that spot. By the rules, it says, "Should the same team qualify multiple times and/or should a Canadian team occupy one or more of the MLS qualifying places, then the American MLS team(s) with the best regular season records not otherwise qualified will be entered.".

Looking ahead at the playoffs, and barring any major collapses, LA will likely be the #1 seed from the West, and then Seattle will be the #2, with RSL coming in at #3. LA will play against the lowest seed that comes from the wild card games, and will be favored to go through to at least the Conference Final. Let's just say there is a very high probability of LA getting to at least that point. In the other matchup of the Western Conference, Seattle and RSL will sure be a great battle, but the winner will then face LA for a chance to get to the MLS Cup. Should RSL win both of those potential matchups, and reach the MLS Cup, they will qualify for the Champions League. However, if they drop either matchup, Seattle or LA, then they will not directly qualify. But, with Seattle and LA already qualified, the MLS Cup final qualifying spot (either the winner or runner up) would then fall to the "American MLS team with the best regular season record not otherwise qualified." In this case, that would be RSL, as we have not only the third best record in the Western Conference, but the third best record overall.

That is why it is important that we finish out these last few games on a high note. Regardless of if we cannot catch LA for the Supporters' Shield, or even Seattle for the #2 seed, our current position is important to qualifying for the Champions League.

And that is why, for one night only, I wanted the Sounders to win a game. And they did. The rest is in our own hands.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Premier League 2011-2012 Predictions...and some other picks too...

IT'S FINALLY HERE!!! After a long summer of boring football, the European season is about to kickoff (and some leagues even kicked off last weekend). The Premier League starts this weekend, and in the next few weeks, Serie A and La Liga will follow. While City will try to take the title away from United, and the regular challengers like Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool attempt to do the same, there will be lots to play for this season in England. On a European front, Barcelona look to continue not only their dominance in Spain, but also their dominance of Europe. They will be yet another team that will try and be the first to win back to back European Cups since Milan won it in 1989 and 1990, and looking to be the first to do it since it changed to the new Champions League format. Here are my predictions for the upcoming season:

Premier League

Champions: Manchester United. They are too strong this season for the rest of England. While they went out and picked up a few key signings this summer (David De Gea, Ashley Young, Phil Jones), most of their rivals stayed with their current squads, when they could have brought in a few big names. United's depth will be very important as they look to claim their 20th top flight title.

Champions League Spots (2nd, 3rd, 4th): Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool. It will be a fight at the end of the season for that 4th spot between Liverpool and Arsenal, but as in many past years, Arsenal will struggle down the stretch and this year will miss out on the Champions League. Liverpool will get back to the Champions League for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

Relegated (18th, 19th, 20th): Blackburn, Norwich City, QPR. Premier League new boys, QPR, will finish last by quite a few points, but Blackburn and Norwich will also fall in the late stages of the league as Swansea, Wigan and Wolves will beat them out for the last few spots in the league.

FA Cup (finalist): Manchester United (Chelsea).

Carling Cup (finalist) : Manchester City (Arsenal)

Champions League (finalist): Manchester United (Real Madrid) - further predictions to come when the group stages are finalized, and knockout matchups are announced later in the year.

For those that know I am a United fan, you may think these picks are very ambitious. However, I have a good feeling United will be gunning for the competitions more than the Premier League this season. Having not won the FA Cup since 2004, and losing in the Champions League Final last year, United will look to achieve glory. Could the Treble be on again? I think so.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Donovan's goal vs Wambach's goal (and the '99 US Women's team)

Over the last couple days, since the great US comeback against Brazil, I've been in discussion with a couple friends (@ben_wagner and @prestonvjohnson) about the comparisons between Landon Donovan's game winning goal against Algeria in the 2010 World Cup, and Abby Wambach's equalizing goal against Brazil in the 2011 Women's World Cup.

For those of you who don't remember, I will give a quick synopsis of the Donovan situation. The US needed to win their last group game against Algeria, and they would go through to the knockout stages of the World Cup (and with a little help from England, they could clinch first in the group). The game was 0-0 going into the 90th minute, then this happened:

England then went on to beat Slovenia, which gave us top spot in the group on goals scored. We moved on to the round of 16 to face Ghana, where we were knocked out of the World Cup, when we lost 2-1.

Just two days ago, the US Women's team faced Brazil in the quarterfinals of the Women's World Cup. After taking an early 1-0 lead, the US went down a man, and then later, down a goal. They faced elimination, just as the men faced a year before. The game approached the end of the second period of extra time and then this happened:

Wambach's goal marked an unbelievable comeback by the US side, but sent the game only to penalties. Hope Solo became the hero again as she made a big save on one of the Brazilian spotkicks, allowing the US to finish off Brazil and advance to the semifinals of the tournament.

I think it is impossible to say one goal is more dramatic than the other, because each had it's individual elements. Also, I am partly biased because I was in attendance as Donovan put his goal past the Algerian keeper. I know what happened in that stand after the goal went in, and that was beyond any feeling I've ever experienced for a sporting event in my life (even better than the '99 Final, which I attended as well). However, when you look at the significance of each goal, I feel that Donovan's goal played a bigger part.

1) What did each of those goals give their respective teams?
          US Men: Donovan's goal ended the game and locked 1st place in the group, something that the US Men's National Team had never done before in their history. 
          US Women: Wambach's goal equalized the quarterfinal, and sent the game to penalties, where one Hope Solo save, and 5 nicely taken penalties, sent the US to the semifinals (a place the US has achieved in every single Women's World Cup to date)

2) Without each goal, where would both teams have stood (ST and LT)?
          US Men: Eliminated from the tournament in the group stage, after being near locks to make the knockout round, but not favored to do much after that (ST). Bob Bradley had a lot of pressure to do well in this tournament, and he would have likely been fired. Players like Donovan, Bocanegra, Onyewu, Howard, DeMerit would have been questioned and possibly slowly weeded out as "too old" or "not good enough" for the National Team on a big stage (LT).
          US Women: Eliminated from the tournament in the quarterfinals, for the first time in World Cup history  (ST). But they lost 4 years prior to Brazil, in the semifinals, so it wouldn't have been that big of a shock had Brazil won. The US team has a fairly young team, and I doubt their coach would have got much backlash, seeing the poor officiating that occurred against Brazil. Germany, 2 time defending champions, and hosts, had already been upset, so the US loss wouldn't have even been close to the loss of the Germans (LT).

3) In comparison to historical events, where did these goals put the respective teams? 
          US Men: The US Men have never won a World Cup, and since 1954 (when the tournament expanded to 16 teams) the US hasn't made it past the quarterfinals. On a world stage, the US doesn't match up with many teams, and is consistently ranked somewhere between 10-25. Not that FIFA rankings are the only determining factor, but based on that alone, any knockout round appearance has to be seen as a positive for the US, and this was only the 3rd time in the last 5 World Cups that the US made it past the group stages.
          US Women: The US Women have never been knocked out of the World Cup before the semifinals, and they have won the entire tournament on two previous occasions (1991 and 1999). We all know the dramatics of '99: hosting the tournament for the first time, selling out big stadiums around the country, the Final vs China at the Rose Bowl, and winning in penalties. The US/China game in 1999 got a 13.3 Neilsen Rating, where the US/Brazil game got a 2.6 rating. While the dramatics may have been close to equalizing the 1999 Final, the significance and importance of the US/Brazil game to the American public is nowhere close to the game in 1999.

While many people argue that the goal by Abby Wambach is a bigger goal than the one scored by Landon Donovan, it is nothing new to the US team. They are the #1 ranked team in the world, and were second favorites to win the tournament (behind Germany). They had to face a tougher team like Brazil because of their group stage slip ups, but they were still favored to beat Brazil. Although they made it more difficult on themselves than hoped, they got the expected result. Donovan's goal reached marks for the Men's National Team that had never been achieved before. The historical significance and importance to that team outweighs that of the Wambach goal.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Problems with the Open Cup

RSL played in the 3rd round of the Open Cup last night against the Wilmington Hammerheads and got a comfortable 2-0 victory to advance to the last 8 in the tournament. This could be the best chance that RSL has to make it back into the Champions League next season, as a team's depth is often tested, and RSL has often showed they are very deep and talented throughout the squad.

While the Open Cup is the longest standing tournament in the United States, I feel there are a few flaws with it's format.

1) All Professional teams should automatically qualify for the tournament. I feel like this is somewhat the equivalent to England's FA Cup, in which any team can qualify, even from the amateur club level. And in this case, 8 teams do qualify from that level. But if they can qualify, why can not every team ahead of them, automatically be in it? I understand that there would be a few more rounds that would need to be added, but if they start it in March or April, they would have plenty of time to include all professional teams (MLS, USL, PDL, NPSL) and add a few amateur teams as well. RSL is fortunate enough to qualify based on the previous year's results, but if I was a player on Chivas, or even Toronto, I'd feel ripped off that these lower division teams qualify but we have no chance to do so because we had a bad season, in MLS.

2) There should be an open draw after each round. The first round should start with all the non-MLS teams and then the 3rd or 4th round start including all MLS teams. While this is somewhat the case, in that MLS teams join in the 3rd round of the tournament, an open draw, like the FA Cup, should occur after each round that doesn't necessarily give the "higher ranked" teams automatic home field advantage. Last night there were 8 games, all of which gave the MLS team the home field advantage. In 7 of the 8 matches, the MLS team won, and the one exception was Columbus, who played down a man for the last 25 minutes of their matchup against Richmond. I feel like the home field advantage was a key factor in those matchups. Also, in the current format, all MLS teams are separated until at least the quarterfinals. An open draw could plot two MLS teams against each other earlier in the tournament, forcing managers to decide whether they play their starters, or they give them rest and gamble with a weakened side in the tournament. This would also create some early excitement in the tournament, whereas right now, it was almost a sure thing that all MLS sides would advance. This would play into some smaller team's favor and you could see a PDL team go to the semifinals or even win the whole thing, but instead they have to get through 4 MLS teams to do so.

3) Lastly, the Final should be played at a neutral site, or at least a predetermined site. Whether it is a scheduled rotation, or the same field every year, I think it is unfair to determine who hosts the tournament based on a "ranking system". Play the game at the Home Depot Center, Red Bull Arena, Pizza Hut Park, or even Rio Tinto Stadium. As long as it is mentioned before, I feel like it is much more fair. Last year, the Sounders defended their title against the Crew, AT HOME. Of course, if you have 35,000 fans screaming for you, it is going to be tough. At least at a neutral ground, both teams have an equal right to buy tickets, and support their team in the Final.

Here's to hoping RSL can put together 3 more strong performances and get 3 more victories on their way to win their first Open Cup.