Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Premier League Report and First XI...First Half

So it is nearly halfway through the season in England, with the exception of this coming weekend and some games to be made up due to weather. There have been many surprises to this point, both positive surprises but also many disappointments. For those of you who don't know (which is probably nobody who reads this on a regular basis), I am a big time United fan. So obviously, I am loving that. However, that isn't really that big of a surprise being that they have been there before. Three surprise stories so far in the Premiership are:

1.) Owen Coyle, Stuart Holden and the re-emergence of Bolton Wanderers - After Bolton's run in the 2007-2008 UEFA Cup, in which they earned a famous result away to Bayern, got the first ever European win at Red Star Belgrade (for any team), and defeated Atletico Madrid in the round of 32, they fell down and became a team that seemed to be struggling for survival year after year. Owen Coyle took over the team in January and revived the team from a near-bottom position last year to finish 14th and looking forward to this season. Bolton had one of the best transfer summers of any team in the Premier League, picking up American Stuart Holden, Martin Petrov and Rodrigo Moreno, which replenished their midfield options. They have picked up results against Manchester United, Everton and Aston Villa, while getting big victories against Newcastle and Tottenham. They currently sit 7th in the table, 1 point back of 5th, and have the 5th most goals scored and 5th highest goal differential. They were predicted by most people to finish in the bottom half of the table and while there is a lot left to be played for in England, Bolton looks to lock up another trip back in a European competition for the first time since that memorable run in 2008.

2.) Tottenham's Impressive Debut in the Champions League - With last year's strong finish to fourth, they qualified for their first ever UEFA Champions League. After they made it through a tough tie to qualify for the group stages, the draw put them against Defending European Champions, Inter Milan, as well as Dutch Champions FC Twente and a strong German outfit, Werder Bremen. Spurs were picked by most experts to go 2nd or 3rd in the group. However, with the help of Gareth Bale and new signing Rafael van der Vaart, Tottenham were able to get home wins against each team in their group, as well as 2 away results. The one game they didn't get a result from was away to Inter, in which they were down 4-0 after 30 minutes and came all the way back to 4-3 after a second half, Gareth Bale hat trick. They finished top of their group and were "rewarded" with a knockout stage tie with another Italian giant, AC Milan. Regardless of how they do against Milan, Tottenham can be proud of their performance thus far in their first ever Champions League.

3.) The Disappointment of West Ham - By no means were the Hammers supposed to be near top half finishers this season, but the start of the 2010-2011 season has been a complete embarrassment for the East London side. They are bottom of the table with only 13 points through 18 games. They have conceded the most goals, and have the worst goal differential of any team in the Premiership. Only one team has ever recovered from being bottom at Christmas, to survival at the end of the season (West Brom's Great Escape - 2005). It doesn't get any better, with talks of Avram Grant near the sack at the club. Although they were able to get a great 4-0 win against Manchester United, that did come in the Carling Cup and unfortunately does not help their league position at all. It is going to be a tough fight from now until May for West Ham.

Although I have not seen every game so far, however I have seen a lot, I feel I can pick a First XI team that represents the majority of performances this season. My team is as follows:

GK: Tim Howard (Everton)
DEF: Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)
DEF: Rio Ferdinand (Manchester United)
DEF: Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United)
DEF: Gareth Bale (Tottenham)
MF: Samir Nasri (Arsenal)
MF: Stuart Holden (Bolton)
MF: Rafael van der Vaart (Tottenham)
FWD: Dimitar Berbatov (Manchester United)
FWD: Andy Carroll (Newcastle)
FWD: Danny Welbeck (Sunderland)

Subs: Carlos Tevez (Manchester City), Luka Modric (Tottenham), Rafael da Silva (Manchester United), Johan Elmander (Bolton), Florent Malouda (Chelsea)

Thursday, December 16, 2010

United Go Top, Sox Big Signings and Jimmer Goes Off...Again

Monday night marked the first Manchester United vs Arsenal matchup of the year, this one taking place at Old Trafford. There has always been a fierce rivalry between these teams, but over the last few years this rivalry has died down a bit. Yes, Arsenal has beaten United on a couple occasions, but they have not won a trophy in over five years and the battles that used to exist between Keane and Vieira have escaped the game a bit. Looking back at this rivalry over the years, I have to point out a few of my favorite games. I wasn't a fan of United until a couple months after this game (but I have watched the full replay on numerous occasions since then) but the 1999 FA Cup Semi-Final Replay comes to mind first. We all know about "that goal" by Giggs in extra time that sent United on their way to the first ever Treble in English Football. Another game that comes to mind is the 6-1 drubbing of Arsenal at Old Trafford in 2001. Dwight Yorke's first half hat trick sent United on their way to a great win. However, of all the great matches against the Arsenal, the match at Highbury in 2005 was absolutely unbeatable. Before the game even started, Vieira and Keane were getting at each other in the tunnel. The rest is just pure greatness. Check out the highlights of that game here:

United 4 Arsenal 2

A certain player, Cristiano Ronaldo, made a big impact and put his name on the international stage with 2 goals to lead United to victory. John O'Shea's reaction after scoring the last goal was absolute class. In recent years, the Champions League Semi-Final Second Leg victory at the Emirates was amazing as well, except when the referee sent off Fletcher for nearly a clean tackle. However, the 3-1 win was enough to send us to the European Cup Final.

Back to Monday's game, where United looked to go top of the table with a win, and Arsenal tried to keep top spot with a draw or a win. This game had a feel that was similar to some of the great games of the past; high intensity, tackles flying in, and great energy from the crowd. United got a first half goal from Ji-Sung Park, who tends to have a knack for finding the net in the big games. The second half was pretty dull, as United plugged up Arsenal's midfield and didn't let them have anything going forward. The back line of Evra, Rio, Vidic and Rafael shut down any attack from the Arsenal. United were awarded a penalty kick after a hand ball in the box by Gael Clichy. Rooney stepped up to take the kick but absolutely made a mess of it and took it well over the goal. It was a little upsetting to see Rooney miss that kick as he usually drills it low and hard into one of the corners, but in the end it didn't hurt United as they finished with a fairly comfortable 1-0 win. With the win, United go top of the table by 2 points ahead of Arsenal and City, and 3 points ahead of Cheslea, also still with a game in hand. I am very pleased to this point how United are performing in all competitions, with exception to the one game at West Ham in the Carling Cup. To have missed their best player for 2 months, and to be top of the table with a game in hand, it is very nice. With another big match this weekend at Chelsea, United could distance themselves even further from the rest of the league.

Switching sports, some other big news is coming from the Northeast, and specifically in Boston. The Red Sox have made their presence known in the off season with the signings on Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. The signing of Crawford from the Rays did not surprise me, as the Sox had made it known that they were looking for an outfield bat. On the other hand, the money they have given Crawford did surprise me a bit. I don't believe that he is worth $140 million, but maybe if we had not offered him that, he would have gone to the Angels. I don't like the stuff people are saying about the Sox and comparing them to the Yankees, now that we have spent some real money on a guy. Everything about, "If you want to beat them, you have got to become them" is not true. We spent money on 2 guys, not nearly an entire squad. If we are to continue doing this over a few years, then maybe we can be considered on the same level as the Yanks, but for now, financially they are still miles ahead of everyone else. I do like the intentions of Theo Epstein, in that we do need some big names to become a legitimate contender for the World Series. Before the Sox signed Gonzalez, I had only heard the name, but didn't know anything past that. However, once I looked at his stats, especially playing in a pitcher's park in San Diego, this may be a bigger signing than Crawford. He is a 5-time All-Star, was 4th in the NL MVP voting last year, hit over .300 had over 30 home runs and had over 100 RBIs. In addition to his hitting, he is a great first basemen and this allows the Sox to put Youk back at third, where he is much better than he was at first (not to take anything away from his great defensive skills at first). There are still a few holes in the squad, namely a middle reliever and maybe a catcher, but with DP, Youk, and Ellsbury returning from injury, and these new signings, I really am looking forward to April when the season starts.

Lastly, there must be some mention made of Jimmer. Before this last week of games against Vermont and Arizona, Jimmer had been pretty solid to start the year. He was averaging about 20 points a game, which is a little lower than most would think, but his minutes were down because of the lesser opponents that the Cougars had faced. He has been recognized by Sports Illustrated as one of the best players in the country and was even rewarded (or cursed?) by making the cover of an issue a few weeks back. He was voted the third best player in the country by fellow players and coaches. Wednesday's game against Vermont was his homecoming as it was played in Glenn Falls, NY, his hometown. This was well deserved for Jimmer after the years of hard work put into the program in Provo and he stood up tall for this occasion. He finished with 26 points and led the Cougars to a blowout victory. It was a great sight to see as he got a standing ovation from the New York crowd. On Saturday, the Cougars played in another neutral arena at Energy Solutions Arena vs the Arizona Wildcats. For those who don't remember, Jimmer dropped 49 on Arizona in Tuscon last year. There was a lot of anticipation for this game to see if he could even come close to that again. Arizona was 9-1 coming into this game and looked to pose a threat to BYU's undefeated season, to this point. However, from the start it seemed that BYU was going to runaway with this game. Jimmer was hot, and with some help from players like Jackson Emery, Noah Hartsock, and Charles Abouo, BYU extended their second half lead to over 20 points. Jimmer was consistent throughout and finished with 33 points. That total may have been higher had he not been pulled out with about 6 minutes to go. To watch this kid play is just pure joy. all the players on the court know that he is going to get the ball, and so most teams have double and triple teamed him any time he touches it. However, his range, his quickness and his ability make it nearly impossible for any team to stop him, especially if he is hot. BYU is 10-0 so far this season and ranked 16/18 in the polls. It will be fun to watch Jimmer and the rest of the Cougars this season. 

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"Don't Give Up, Don't Ever Give Up"

So its is Jimmy V week on ESPN and I had to make mention of this. For those of you who don't know much about Jimmy Valvano, I will give you a little clip about him from his wiki page (I know, that's kind of lazy, but deal with it).

"While the head coach at North Carolina State University, he won the 1983 NCAA Basketball Tournament against high odds. Valvano is not only remembered for running up and down the court after winning the 1983 NCAA championship, seemingly in disbelief and looking for someone to hug, but also for his inspirational 1993 ESPY Awards speech, given just eight weeks before he died of cancer."

Here is the video of Valvano after winning the 1983 title with NC State, (watch the ending for his reaction):

1983 National Championship

Later in life, he was diagnosed with bone cancer and was given 8 weeks to live. He fought through the battle of life and lasted nearly a year before losing the battle. In 1993, Valvano was awarded the Arthur Ashe Courage and Humanitarian Award at the first annual ESPY Awards. His acceptance speech will be quoted and remembered by all those involved with sports, for years to come. There are so many great parts to just highlight a few, so here is the video of the entire speech:

Jimmy V 1993 ESPY's Speech

Watch the whole thing, it is absolutely amazing the emotion he exhibits throughout the speech.

There is no way to explain this, but I hope this makes an impact on some of you, as it does every time I listen to it. What a great man, a legend that will live on forever.

Monday, November 8, 2010

RSL Eliminated, and the BYU and Utah Recaps...

So it has been quite a while since I last wrote, but I had to focus on my GMAT studies for a bit. Now that that's over, I'm going to try and get back to writing on a more normal basis.

This weekend had some great games all over sports. The Premiership obviously started the weekend off right, and the College Football world presented it's normal quality that it does week in and week out. However, the only thing I want to talk about is the MLS. Anyone who knows anything about the MLS, knows that the playoff system is completely flawed and by looking at the matchups for the first round of the playoffs, there is an obvious problem. Even though New York was a decent team throughout the season, it could be argued that the 4 best teams were squaring off in the Western Conference and the next best 4 were squaring off in the "Eastern Conference". It really was a shame to see that Dallas and RSL would be playing in the first round. Unfortunately, things didn't go right for the boys from Salt Lake over the two legs and were eliminated Saturday night on a 3-2 aggregate score. In the first leg, RSL scored an early goal but could not hold off Dallas and a late goal gave the Texas side a 2-1 win. Arguably, the biggest talking point of the first leg was the sending off of RSL playmaker, Javier Morales. How RSL was going to adjust in the second leg to cover his absence was immense. To start the second leg, Will Johnson was able to fill in nicely after recovering from his injury. Our starting lineup looked pretty solid, but the creativity was lacking with Morales out. I felt like we could have gone with Nelson Gonzalez to play that creative role in front of the midfield. He is not as experienced as Morales, but his creativity and quickness is just as good. Ned Grabavoy had a very average game and I thought we could have benefited from having Gonzalez out there instead.

RSL started out very well and had a couple good breaks early. Dallas responded after just a few minutes and created what seemed to be the opening goal early on, however Shea was offsides for Dallas when he put it into the net. Just a few minutes later, Ferreira played a ball across to Shea and he chested it down for Dax McCarty to finish off past Rimando. After this goal, I felt it could be over unless RSL quickly turned the scoreline around. Before halftime, Dallas could have extended their 3-1 aggregate lead, but narrowly missed the goal on two different occasions. The second half was very different for RSL. They came out flying, with Espindola getting multiple chances to even up the game, however Hartman made a couple big saves for Dallas. RSL were eventually able to get a breakthrough from substitute Robbie Findley. For all the slack that I have given Findley this year, that goal was big time and helps him end the season on a positive note, in my mind. The atmosphere from the time RSL scored (80th minute) until the end of the game was absolutely unexplainable. The crowd was crazy and it was something that anyone would enjoy. RSL pushed forward looking for the series equalizing goal but it wasn't meant to be. To be fair to Dallas, they were the better side over the two legs, and as Kreis put in his postgame interview, "We played scared, wondering what would happen if we lost". Last year, in the run to the MLS Cup, we played with nothing to lose and attacked every team in our path. Being the favorite this year, it was a different position and I felt that hurt the team. It is a completely mental attitude that had to be dealt with, but the pressure of being the "team to beat" seemed to get to RSL. Although there will be no repeat MLS Cup this year, we cannot take away the absolutely wonderful season the boys gave us. Becoming the first team in MLS history to win their group in the Champions League, least goals conceded, undefeated at home, among other records that were set are just some of the highlights. More than anything else for me, the pride that I now have in my team is unbelievable. Everyone who knows me, knows about my love for Manchester United, but this year RSL took over the top spot for me. I will always love my club and I look forward to the knockout rounds of the Champions League in February.

Some other great notables were the two blowouts in the Mountain West Conference. Obviously, I am a BYU fan so it was nice to see Jake Heaps put in a performance that shows the potential that he can achieve. He had 2 TDs but could have easily had 5, with some receivers tripping up inside the 5 yard line, after making catches. It is nice to see the Cougars finally putting it all together, even the defense played well with a few takeaways and big stops early on and then keeping it consistent throughout the game. To be fair though to all BYU fans, we have to remember this was against UNLV, who is no strong team by any means, but a 55-7 victory is always something to celebrate, especially with the season we have been experiencing.

The other game that happened, and was also a blowout was the Utah-TCU game. This was hyped as "The Biggest Football to ever be played in Utah". This may or may not have been an accurate assumption, but it was by far the result that Utah fans did not want to see. As much as I would love to just rip apart Utah, the credit here has to be given to TCU. Utah had their worst game of the season, but that was more because of the superiority of the Horned Frogs. Their ability to score on offense at will, and make stops on defense when they needed it the most proved to the entire nation that they are one of the best teams in the nation. They didn't allow Utah, one of the most explosive offenses to this point, to cross the 50 yard line until about midway through the 4th quarter.

I'm not going to hate on the Utah team, because they just got beat by a better team but I am more excited about this because of the unrealistic Utah fans that I have encountered this year. Utah was ranked #5, much higher than they should have been. Prior to this game, they had the #113 ranked strength of schedule (out of 120) in the nation. Their biggest win was against the 5-5, Iowa State. Utah fans will still say that "it is still better to be 8-1 than 4-5", or "how's thats season in Provo going?" or other various knocks at BYU, but that is the nature of the rivalry. Utah is a better team than BYU. I didn't expect anything differently. However, when you play a tougher schedule (BYU's SOS is #59), you graduate one of the best QBs your program has ever seen, and you start a true freshman quarterback, you don't expect to have a great season. Utah should win this week at Notre Dame, but could have a dogfight at SDSU in a couple weeks time. BYU should cruise against Colorado State and New Mexico. After the next couple weeks and hopefully with both teams looking their best, the last installment of the MWC Holy War should be heated as ever.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

World Series Game 1 and Carlos Tevez

It's official. Cliff Lee is no longer invincible. Last night, in Game 1 of the World Series, Lee was absolutely battered by the San Francisco Giants. He didn't last 5 innings, and gave up 7 runs, 5 of which were in his last 2/3 of an inning. Lee was THE hype going into this series, and the majority of the stories revolved around pitching. If the first game is any indication of how the rest of the series will be played, then sit back and enjoy the slugfest. The game ended 11-7 for the Giants. As much as I would love to see a high scoring series, both of these teams are known for their pitching, and tonight will likely be a turnaround to favor the pitchers. However, if we look at last night there are a couple people I feel like need recognition for their performance.

Although Juan Uribe entered with a batting average below .200, but has had some clutch hits so far in the playoffs. In the series against the Phillies, he had a walk-off sacrifice fly as well as the game winning HR in the series clinching game. Last night, in a 5-2 game, Uribe came to the plate with 2 men on base. Uribe got thrown a pitch right down the middle and he was not going to let the pitcher off the hook. He absolutely crushed it to left field and essentially put the game out of reach with the 3-run HR. He also made some unbelievable plays in the field while playing at 3rd base. When I first started watching the Giants this season, I was a little surprised seeing Uribe play 3rd. He has a little bit of a bigger build than other MLB infielders, but he has the ability and quickness as any other does. He has really surprised me so far and I look forward to watching him even more.

Tim Lincecum was the starter for the Giants in Game 1. It looked to be going in the wrong direction early for Lincecum but he was able to fight his way through 5 2/3 innings. In the first inning, the Rangers got a run and had a guy on first and third with only 1 out. Lincecum was able to get Kinsler, one of the best hitters for Texas, to ground into a double play to end the inning. The next inning, he gave up another run, but stranded a man on third again. Although he did give up 2 more runs in the 6th inning, he outlasted his opponent, Cliff Lee, and was able to register the win in his first ever World Series, at the age of only 26.

The other story, which is still developing, is about good ol' Carlos Tevez. For those of you who don't know how I feel about Tevez, let me give you a quick background. He played for one of the best Manchester United teams in recent history. A team that won the Premier League two years in a row, a team that won the European Cup. Tevez was essentially a fringe player, but came off the bench many times to score the very crucial goals for the club. He was well appreciated by the fans (as demonstrated by me buying a Tevez jersey two months before his controversial exit) but because he was not starting every single game, he asked to leave. He began to talk negatively about the club and upset a lot of fans. To even make matters worse, he went to Manchester City. That move, coupled with his negative comments, put him in the absolute dog house with anyone associated with Manchester United. I don't respect anything the guy says anymore, let alone believe any of it. He left for "first team football" but that didn't involve playing in Europe, which he had said he wanted, and he was convinced to play for City because he was paid more.

Anyways, since he started playing for City, and not winning any trophies, he has made multiple comments about how he doesn't enjoy the life of a footballer and may consider early retirement. Not just retirement from Argentina, but from football altogether. This may be horrible to say, but as a United supporter, hearing him say these things makes me happy. It reinforces the fact that United is the strongest club in the world, not just on the field, but off the field. While he was in Red, he only had positive things to say about football and how he played for the love of the game. Now he cannot say anything besides how he wants to quit. Yesterday, after picking up an injury on the weekend, he traveled home to Argentina to recover from his injury. This only brings up the question of if he will ever come back. A couple years ago, we saw Robinho leave City for a couple weeks to go home and take care of some personal issues, and never come back. I would love to see Tevez try and make it big with Boca, and of course realize a few years down the road that he should have never left England, let alone United, if he hasn't realized that already. Just another example of the intelligence and power, or lack of, that City has in their attempt to become one of the biggest clubs in the world. And in dedication to Elder Matthew Duke, "This is how it feels to be City. This is how it feels to be small. This is how it feels to be a team that wins nothing at all, nothing at all."

On a side note, I think I found my dream job, to an extent. ESPN posted a job listing for a tax accountant. I think I'm going to take my chances, and see what comes of it. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Chicharito Saves The Day Again

Yesterday, United took on Wolves in the last 16 of the Carling Cup. On these nights, we typically look to play some of our young squad, or players that don't seem to be finding much first team action. Some of the players that benefited from this were Amos, Fabio, Evans, Obertan, Gibson, Macheda and Bebe. Even though we may not be as sharp in these games as those played by our first 11, I almost get more excited to watch these games. I love seeing the young guns come out and put on a good show for the crowd. They rarely get the opportunity to show what they can do, especially at Old Trafford, so it was important for their experience that they make the best of this opportunity.

For those of you who did not see it, the first half was a complete bore. Their were a few good moves by both teams, but overall I was completely disappointed. The second half was about as good as it gets. United started strong and got a goal from Bebe, who was making his full debut for the club. Regardless of how it went in, looked to be a cross that deflected over the goalie's head, the ambition of Bebe and creativity he possessed out on the wing was very good to see.

In the typical United fashion, at least for this season, we gave up the equalizer to Wolves on a set piece. It looks as though our defending problems are across the entire squad, not just the first team. It was really surprising to me that Wolves was able to respond so quickly, as I thought we might kill the game off after getting the first goal. However, after the equalizer, we pushed forward even more. Park, who hasn't had his best season with the club to this point, scored a fantastic goal to put United ahead 2-1. He cut across the box and finished across the face of the goal, with his left foot. It had to be over with just about 15 minutes left, right?

Wrong. We conceded again. 2-2. This was really getting frustrating to see our boys give up goal after goal like they had been all season. This was already the 8th time we had given up a lead this year. Fergie looked to make some changes late on, and brought on Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez to try and take control of this game. I thought it was important to bring him on, even if it was for just a minute or two, so that the crowd could show their appreciation to him for his goals at the weekend. He had about 10 minutes to make an impact and did he ever make such an impact!! Normally a striker, he seemed to find a role right behind the front line, almost as a midfielder. He passed the ball around with such class, however it didn't seem as though we would get an equalizer and we would be heading to extra time. As the 90th minute came, so did the heroics. Chicharito picked up the ball in his own half and played a great ball to Gibson. Gibbo ran with it for about twenty yards as you could see Chicharito make the run all the way up the field. The ball was perfectly slid into the Mexican as he calmly put one defender on his butt, and then dispatched the winner past the keeper. I couldn't believe that he had done it again. He is unbelieveable, and with Rooney out with an ankle knock and in bad form, this is exactly what United needed. He now has 6 goals in 11 games, and his per minute scoring is 1 goal every 90.5 minutes, which is the best in England (Drogba 119, Berba 125, Tevez 142, Malouda 146, Rooney 457). Hernandez reminds of a United great, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. If only he is able to live up to the hype and do what Ole has done for the club. Maybe, if we can get to another European Cup Final, he can try and equal the heroics of that night in Barcelona, 1999.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Reaction to the Rooney Signing

After a long day of deliberation between Manchester United and the team of Wayne Rooney and Paul Stretford, both sides agreed to terms and Rooney signed a new 5 year contract that will keep him at the club through June 2015. There is a lot to be said about this whole situation, especially after what Rooney said just a couple days ago. There are a few points that I want to look at after today's signing.

1) When Rooney put out his statement before Wednesday's game and one of the points made by him was that he was not given any assurance about the future squad, and the ability to bring top name players to the club. This has two sides to it, the financial side and the current form side. As reported, Manchester United and the Glazers are in massive debt and over the last few years have been less likely to spend on big names like they were in previous years. Watching United play over the last few weeks, it is obvious that with the likes of Scholes, Giggs, Neville and VDS soon to be finished up, there will be some replacements needed. There are some good players that are able to fill a few of those spots (Gibson, Obertan, Rafael, Fabio, Amos) but in the long run, those names will not be able to deliver the trophies that the club is known for. Yesterday, as Rooney met with Manchester United, and the Glazers, I believe that he was given these assurances and we may be looking to buy in January, and if not then, next summer. Some of the names that have been mentioned are: Sneijder, Bale, Hart, Benzema and Stekelenberg. We don't need to do that much, but we do need a goalkeeper, and at least one midfielder, preferably the attacking type.

2) No one has a stronger influence on a player than Sir Alex does. So many people had completely written this off, and it appeared Sir Alex had himself when he did the interview with MUTV. He was emotional, taken back and by the comments he made, it really seemed as though United had lost the battle with Rooney and he was on his way out. Then it was a complete "Roo-turn". Referring to Rooney's statement Ferguson laughed and said, "haven't I won about 30 trophies or so in my time?" The man is a complete legend, and is arguably the greatest manager of all time. He has 35 trophies since taking over for United back in 1986, including 11 Premier League titles and 2 Champions Leagues. Ferguson had another interview with MUTV after the signing today and you could see the attitude change. He was strong, and you could just see it in his eyes that he was not going to let the boy leave. He doesn't get bullied by players, especially a 24 year old. He makes the decisions at the club.

3) Rooney has a lot of work to do to make amends with the club and the fans. In his statement earlier in the week, he referred to the club as "MUFC". As someone who lives in the United States, I saw this as disrespect towards the club. I can only imagine how someone who grew up in Manchester saw this. Rivals' fans, the media and other teams refer to us as "MUFC" but everyone who is within the club knows that we are "United". There is the famous phrase that is said in Manchester, "There's only one United" that shows the passion our fans show to make this name ours. This may seem like a little issue to those who aren't as attached to this club as I am, but I am not the only one to be taking exception to this reference. By putting out his statement and saying he wanted to leave, Rooney was trying to be bigger than the club. No one is bigger than Manchester United. He will have to show the fans that he can perform on the field and he deserves to be here. He needs to shut his mouth and show us he cares.

4) Lastly, I think it is important to point out how dumb the City fans are. In the past, we have seen Kaka tattoos, European Champions tattoos, and Champions League banners (when they don't even make the top 4). Now, we see a City fan posting a picture of himself in a Rooney jersey in front of Wastelands, oh wait, I mean Eastlands. Of course, the idiot posts the picture online and now everyone can see how dumb he is. I cannot wait until November 10th and we get to watch the Manchester Derby and once again we will see that there is only one team in Manchester, and that team wears red. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Champions League Recap and MLB Playoffs

Yesterday was a little bit of a slow sports day. There were some big matches throughout the day, however there weren't as many as we sometimes may see. However, it was a good one nonetheless. The day started off with the last round of Champions League games for Matchday 3. Some of the notable fixtures included: Manchester United 1 Bursaspor 0, Inter Milan 4 Tottenham 3, and Barcelona 2 Copenhagen 0. In Manchester, as well as everywhere else in the soccer world, the lead story of the day was once again the Wayne Rooney story. In the last couple days, Sir Alex Ferguson has responded to the initial reports, and yesterday Rooney also made a statement regarding the issue. (Tomorrow, I will write my full reaction on this) However, there was an important match to play and United looked to prove they could be fine without Rooney. Bursaspor is not a powerhouse team by any means, but it was vital for United to get the win after a couple draws in a row in domestic play. With a game at Stoke this coming weekend, Ferguson fielded a young squad with the likes of Macheda, Rafael, Smalling, and Anderson. United started strong and after only 7 minutes got a goal from Nani. It was a great strike from about 20 yards out and the keeper really had no chance to save it. The rest of the game was a little bit of a bore, with United controlling the possession but not creating many chances. Late on, Gabriel Obertan and Javier Hernandez brought a little spark to the team but weren't able to finish anything off. Overall, it was a solid performance, especially on the defensive side for United.

The next match, and by far the most exciting, took place at the San Siro, in Milan. Inter started the match by getting a goal from Javier Zanetti after just 1 minute. A few minutes later, Spurs' keeper Gomes took down Biabiany in the box and was sent off. To add to the troubles, it was also a penalty kick and Samuel Eto'o scored go up 2-0. By halftime, the game was at 4-0. Inter were absolutely cruising in this match and at this point, it was just damage control by Tottenham. Early on in the second half though, Spurs midfielder, Gareth Bale, scored a magnificent goal after making a run over half of the field and then firing low past Julio Cesar. As injury time approached, Bale netted almost an identical goal as his first one to get the game back to 4-2. Soon after that, he finished his hat trick by netting his third. Unfortunately for Spurs, there was only one minute left in the game after Bale's last goal, and Inter just held out to get the win. It was a wonderful hat trick by the young Welshman, and Spurs have to be happy with the result in the end. They will get Inter at White Hart Lane in just a fortnight, with a full squad and their star players, Rafael van der Vaart and Luka Modric, back in the lineup.

The last game didn't have much to talk about, Between Barcelona and Copenhagen. It was a great match and Copenhagen did have their chances to score. They hit the post once, and missed a couple sitters. However, in the end, Messi finished with 2 fine goals and Barcelona took all the points to go top of their group.

The MLB Playoffs continued yesterday, with both matchups taking place. So far, the playoffs have been very entertaining and today's games were no exception. The first game of the day was the Yankees vs Rangers, in Arlington, Texas. The Yankees sent their ace, CC Sabathia to the hill, looking to extend the series back to New York for a sixth game. Early on, the New York side was able to hit CJ Wilson all over the park. In the 3rd inning, Nick Swisher and Robinson Cano hit back-to-back HRs to get the Yankees going. From there on out, the Yankees avoided any major slip ups and CC was able to scatter a bunch of Rangers' hits. The Yankees won the game 7-2 and look to Game 6 starter Phillip Hughes to extend the series even more.

The late game was Game 4 of the NLCS between the Philadephia Phillies and the San Francisco Giants. Both teams sent fairly young pitchers to the mound, and the Giants were able to get on the board first. They led 2-0 going into the 5th inning and the Phillies were able to take the lead with 4 runs after some big hits from Shane Victorino, and Placido Polanco. The Phillies were looking to even up the series, but couldn't hold the lead for long. Over the next two innings, the Giants were able to score 3 runs and take the lead back heading into the last few innings. The Giants' bullpen, with a few guys promoting "Fear the Beard" with their big black beards, is usually very solid, but Sergio Romo gave up a run in the top of the 8th inning and it allowed the Phillies to tie the game. Going into the 9th inning, the Giants brought on their closer, Brian Wilson to face a strong Phillies lineup. He was able to get all 3 batters out that he faced and set up a dramatic conclusion in the bottom of the ninth. Roy Oswalt, one of the three Phillies aces, came out of the bullpen to pitch the 9th inning. After getting the first batter out, he gave up a single to Aubrey Huff and then a double to young Buster Posey. Juan Uribe, who had just recently came into the game in the 9th inning, was able to recover from a missed call by the home plate umpire after he was hit on the hand by an Oswalt pitch, but the umpire called it a foul ball. Two pitches later, Uribe hit a fly ball to left field to allow Huff to come in on the sacrifice fly to win the game. It was bedlam in San Francisco as they won the game 6-5 and took the lead in the series 3-1. They will look to close out the Phillies tonight, as they send their ace Tim Lincecum to the mound to face the best from the Phillies, Roy Halladay.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Champions League, MLB Playoffs and RSL vs Cruz Azul

Yesterday was the first installment of matches for Champions League this week. Some of the notable results were as follows: Chelsea 2 Spartak Moscow 0, Arsenal 5 Shakhtar Donetsk 1, and Real Madrid 2 AC Milan 0. In both the Chelsea and Arsenal matches, the English team was fairly comfortable throughout. Arsenal continued their fine form in the group stages for a second year running. However, it is important to note that Arsenal tend to get a fairly easy draw in the group stage so they typically cruise to the knockout rounds every year. Whether this easier schedule will help or hurt them as the tournament progresses remains to be seen. Though, if you are an Arsenal supporter, you have to be happy with what you have seen, especially with the young squad that Arsene Wenger puts out.

Chelsea was able to put the past behind them after returning to the Luzhniki Stadium for the first time since failing to win the Champions League there in 2008. Two first half goals from Nicholas Anelka and Yuri Zhirkov put the game out of reach by halftime. Chelsea have nearly reached the "10 point plateau" that is usually enough to qualify for the knockout stages, and will look to do so in the return leg between these two clubs at Stamford Bridge.

Lastly, was the face-off between Real Madrid and AC Milan at the Bernabeu in Madrid. Real got the start to the game that any team looks for when Cristiano Ronaldo scored a free kick in the 13th minute. Only one minute later, Ronaldo turned from scorer to provider and set up Mesut Ozil for Madrid's second goal. Although Milan had their share of chances to close the gap, Madrid proved too good for the Italian side. Milan will look to rebound when the two sides play again at the San Siro, in two weeks time. The match in Milan will be very important for the Italian team as they now are tied for second and looking to qualify for the knockout stages for the second year running.

Today, there are eight more games scheduled in the Champions League, which are: Inter Milan vs Tottenham, FC Twente vs Werder Bremen, Lyon vs Benefica, Schalke vs Hapoel Tel Aviv, Manchester United vs Bursaspor, Rangers vs Valencia, Barcelona vs Copenhagen, and Panathinaikos vs Rubin Kazan. The groups on this side have been a little more tightly contested, with some of the bigger clubs dropping unexpected points in the first couple groups. However, the likes of Manchester United, Inter Milan and Barcelona will all be looking to get wins. In the United match, the team from Manchester will look to extend their lead at the top of the group after getting a big win against Valencia last time out. With Wayne Rooney out with an ankle injury, and soon to be departure from the club, United will look to the likes of Dimitar Berbatov and Nani to lead the Reds to a much needed win.With their domestic form being far from perfect, this win could get United back on the right track.

The other marquee matchup of Wednesday's games will see Tottenham Hotspur travel to Milan and face the defending European champions, Inter Milan. With Rafael van der Vaart out with an injury, Spurs face a mighty task but look to continue their good run in their first ever Champions League season. So far, they have 4 points out of 6 and are tied for top of the group with Inter. This game could be a step in direction towards qualification, if the London side are able to get a result in Italy.

Yesterday, also featured two great matchups in the respective League Championship series', as the Giants faced off against the Phillies in Game 3 of the NLCS, and the Yankees faced off against the Rangers in Game 4 of the ALCS. Matt Cain took the mound for the Giants, and had a magnificent perfomance to lead the Giants to a 3-0 victory. They now hold a 2-1 series lead over the Phillies and look to extend that lead today in San Francisco.

As for the matchup in New York, the Yankees got out to an early lead but couldn't hold on. The much debated start of Yankees pitcher, AJ Burnett, ended up hurting the team in the end. He gave up 5 runs in 6 innings and without any help from the Yankees hitters, Burnett took the loss at Yankee Stadium. The Rangers' bats have been on fire this series and without one good inning from the Yankees in Game 1, the Texas side would have been closing out the Yankees in a sweep last night. The game finished 10-3, to the Rangers, and now the series stands at 3-1. The Yankees will send out their ace, CC Sabathia, in hope that he can help get the team back on track and send this game back to Texas. If CJ Wilson, Rangers pitcher, pitches like he did in Game 1, the Yankees could be staying home after tonight to think about a season that could have been something great. The New York team will be missing power hitter and golden glove first baseman, Mark Teixeira, after he pulled up with a hamstring injury, and will need to look to their bench for some production in that spot.

My personal favorite game from yesterday was between Real Salt Lake and Cruz Azul in the CONCACAF Champions League, at Rio Tinto Stadium. I attended this match, and had the most personal tie to this one as well. It was the last match in the group stages, and both teams had already qualified for the knockout round. RSL had to win the game to win the group, and consequently, get home field advantage in the quarterfinals next spring. With a big match in the league this weekend, RSL fielded a reserve team and I didn't expect them to do well against the Mexican powerhouse. However, RSL was able to get the victory 3-1. Even though it was a home game for RSL, it felt as though we were the road team as more than half of the stadium was wearing blue and supported the team from Mexico. The atmosphere was electric and it probably was the most exciting RSL game that I have ever attended in my life (maybe the MLS Cup Final last year wasn't bad either). Paulo Jr, the young star from Brazil, made his first start for RSL and had 2 goals to lead the way. Colleen Warner also had a goal after an unbelievable individual move by RSL veteran, Andy Williams. It was great to see the players from Salt Lake play with such passion against a great side like Cruz Azul. It also showed how much this competition meant to the players, and the opportunity to showcase their talents at such a high level. With the win, RSL became the first MLS team to ever win the group in CCL history. I look forward to February, when the tournament will resume, and hope that RSL can become the first MLS team to ever win the competition. The draw for the quarterfinals will take place on November 1st.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ALCS Game 3, and a Champions League Preview

Game 3 of the American League Championship Series was at Yankee Stadium and it pitted Andy Pettitte, who had the most wins in playoff history, against Cliff Lee, who had never lost in the playoffs. Lee is a free agent at the end of this season and most of the talk has been about how he will be a Yankee next season, so I saw this as his unofficial tryout for the Yanks. There was a lot of pressure on him, as many people already chalked this game up as a Texas win, and he lived up to the hype. Lee pitched 8 innings, gave up 2 hits, 1 walk and had 13 strikeouts. He would have pitched the 9th inning to finish off the complete game, but the Rangers were scoring at will in the top half of the inning, therefore giving Lee too much time to possibly tighten up. It also gave the young closer Neftali Feliz, for the Rangers, an opportunity to pitch against the best Yankee hitters, even though at that point it didn't mean anything for the current game. He struck out Jeter, got Texeira to ground out and struck out A-Rod. Not bad for a 22 year old kid. The performance by Lee was one of the best I have ever seen. Yes, Halladay pitched a no hitter, and Lincecum had 14 strikeouts in one of their postseasons starts, but for Lee to have this game against the Yankees, at Yankee Stadium, just shows how great he is. The Yankees losing is something I will be happy about, but unfortunately, he all but locked up his position in the Bronx for next season.

Thankfully, the Champions League is back this week. To me this is, hands down, the greatest sports competition in the world. I will watch any game, even if United is not playing in it. And having been to a few Champions League games, I can say there is no atmosphere like at a match on a European night. Today's games include: Spartak Moscow vs Chelsea, Roma vs Basel, Bayern vs CFR Cluj, Marseille vs Zilina, Ajax vs Auxerre, Real Madrid vs AC Milan, Arsenal vs Shakhtar Donetsk and Braga vs Partizan Belgrade. A couple of these games I am extremely excited to watch.

The first is the Chelsea game in Moscow. This is the site of 2008 Champions League Final, where I can proudly say that United beat Chelsea in a shootout after Tiny Tears (aka John Terry) slipped on a banana peel before he took his kick to win it. This is the first time Chelsea has been back to that stadium, and I am sure there will be some interesting feelings for them. Another point about this game is an unfortunate one, racism. There is a well documented history of racism in Russian football, and I would not be surprised to hear some of it shown tonight. It's really hard to see this kind of stuff, regardless of the team you support. But with Chelsea, who will likely have some of Drogba, Malouda, Anelka, Mikel, Cole, Essien, Ramires in their squad today, could be a victim of abuse. In an Italian league game this past weekend, the fans at Calgilari chanted racist things, and booed every time Samuel Eto'o touched the ball for Inter Milan. The referee actually stopped the match and there was an announcement over the public address that if the racism didn't stop, the referee would abandon the match. My hope is that the game today doesn't get to that point, but I guess we will have to sit tight and see for ourselves. Regardless of all of the off field notes, I expect Chelsea to win this game. My prediction is 3-1 for the Blues.

The next match, which is definitely the biggest of today, is between Real Madrid and AC Milan. These two were matched up in the group stages just last year, and the match today should be just as exciting, if not more. It will be contested at the Bernabeu in Madrid, which I think will allow it to be much more free flowing and open than if it was at the San Siro in Milan. The fact that both teams are playing extremely well just makes this game that much more attractive. I watched both of these teams play on the weekend and Milan was about as good as I have seen them in a long time. Pato is unstoppable, Pirlo and Ronaldinho are back to the form that made them two of the best players in the world at times in their career, and when you also have Zlatan, Robinho, Seedorf and Zambrotta, it is just a good side to watch. Now for Madrid. As good as the squad looks for Milan, any team could be seen as inferior against Madrid. Their starting team from the weekend, which should be similar to what we see today, was: Casillas, Carvalho, Pepe, Marcelo, Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso, Khedira, Higuain, Ozil, Ronaldo, and Di Maria. Every single player in that squad has the firepower to make magic happen out on the field. Add to the amazing squad a man they refer to as "The Special One", Jose Mourinho. Arguably, the best coach in the world. He won everything with Chelsea in England, won everything with Inter in Italy, and now he will likely win in Spain with Madrid. Let's hope this game lives up to the hype. My prediction is Madrid to win 3-2.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Merseyside Derby, NFL, Jazz vs Lakers, and the Rooney Transfer Rumors

Yesterday, I started off my day waking up at 6:30 am to watch the Merseyside Derby. For those of you who aren't that well versed in soccer terminology, the Merseyside Derby is one of the biggest games in all of the world. It is between Everton and Liverpool. Both teams are in the same town and their stadiums are only 5 miles apart. Think of BYU vs Utah, times about 100. There was a lot of pregame hype heading into Sunday's match, whether it was about the John Henry and New England Sports Ventures' purchase of Liverpool last week, or that both teams were in the bottom 4 and desperately needed a win. The game was at Goodison Park (Everton's home stadium) and was great from the start. There are very few games in the world that demonstrates the passion in both the players, and the fans, than this derby match typically does. In the end, the talisman pair of Cahill and Arteta each got a goal for Everton and they won 2-0. This left Liverpool tied for bottom of the table, and on goal differential they stand second from the bottom. It moved Everton up to 11th on goal differential and they will to push forward in hopes of challenging for a spot in Europe. Personally, I loved this result because I really do appreciate when Liverpool do poorly (as does my good friend Steve, who is a dedicated Everton fan).

The NFL had all but one of their weekly matchups, and there were some pretty good games. I am competing in a fantasy football league this year, for the first time in my life, so I am watching NFL a lot more than I normally would in a season. I typically don't have a "favorite" team, but I do like Peyton Manning and I will follow the former BYU players as well. I do, however, dislike the Broncos and the Cowboys, so I obviously hope for both of them to lose. So, as a result, I followed my fantasy players more than watching any game in particular during the day, but I did closely watch the Colts vs Redskins game on Sunday Night Football. The Colts got out to an early lead with some absolutely clinical work by Peyton and his receivers. Austin Collie, former BYU receiver, caught one of Manning's early TD passes. After three lost fumbles, a couple missed FGs and some poor tackling by the Colts, the Redskins were right back in the game. They had the ball with a minute left and about 80 yards to go. They needed a FG to tie. Donovan McNabb, QB of the Redskins, threw a bomb to Santana Moss but it was intercepted by Aaron Francisco, also a former Cougar, on an acrobatic catch. The game ended 27-24, in favor of the Colts. I have one side note about my fantasy team, and the Cowboys game this week that must be mentioned. My fantasy team didn't have a great week, but did alright and I felt like I was in pretty good shape to get the win after Roy Williams only caught two balls all day for the Cowboys, both for touchdowns. I sat on 96 points as the Cowboys game wound down. The Cowboys trailed by 3 and relied up a "hail mary" play with lots of laterals to make their way up the field. In this play, Williams caught one of the laterals, ran back a few yards (8 to be exact) and then lateraled to another player. This negative yardage got me -1 points for the play. For some reason, I had a feeling that point would hurt me. Oh yes, it did. I ended up tying my match, which I didn't think was possible in fantasy leagues. Frustrating, but I guess it is what it is. As a friend of mine says, "You win some, you lose some", and I guess you tie some too.

Late Sunday, the Jazz played the Lakers in some sort of preseason tournament championship. We had beaten the Clippers the day before, and the Lakers had beaten the Nuggets, so we faced off in the final. I didn't know the NBA had this sort of thing, but it added a little to another Lakers/Jazz showdown, even though it is only preseason. Deron Williams was still nursing a calf injury and so he didn't play. I was a little worried we would get thrashed but we actually did pretty well. We started out well, played a great second quarter and led by 5 going into halftime. Then Kobe, who had 0 points at the half, scored 19 in the third quarter. I was literally terrified. Luckily for us, our bench is better than theirs and the fourth quarter was essentially bench vs bench, with the exception of Millsap and Miles for the Jazz and Gasol and Odom for the Lakers. The Lakers at one point of the third quarter led by 11, after Kobe went off, and I thought it was over. However, we fought back and took the lead about midway through the fourth quarter, and held on for a victory. Gordon Hayward, the rookie from Butler, had 26 points to lead the Jazz to their 6th win in six games. I know this is only preseason, but I will celebrate any victory of the Lakers.

The last thing I want to talk about from yesterday are the rumors surrounding Wayne Rooney and his apparent bust up with Sir Alex, and the possible sale of Rooney in the January transfer window. I know there was no game to talk about with this one, but personally, this was the biggest news that came out yesterday. Last season, Rooney was scoring at will against whoever he wanted. He had about 2 years left on his contract, which is typically the time United will begin negotiations for a players' new contract. There were talks about setting up a contract for Rooney to be at United "for life". However, with the World Cup looming, United said they would let Rooney focus on that and then once he returned to Manchester they would get his new deal set up. He went to the World Cup, and did poorly and so far, he has been awful this season. It is almost embarrassing the way he has been playing. Add to that the story that came out about Rooney getting with a prostitute while Colleen, his wife, was pregnant with their first child. Ferguson, in the last couple weeks, has come out in defense of Rooney's personal issues and said that the media needs to lay off of him. He has also come out and said that Rooney has an ankle injury and that is why he isn't playing as much as normal. The media then questioned Rooney about the injury and he denied it, saying Ferguson was lying about the injury because he had nothing wrong. The latest news is that Rooney has essentially quit United, saying he will not sign a new contract and wants out in the January transfer window. This brings up the next issue about where he will land. The teams that I see in the running are City, Madrid and Barcelona, and a longshot is Chelsea. Of all of those teams, I think the favorite to get Rooney would be Madrid, based on his friendship with Ronaldo, and also his desire to get away from England and their tough media. However, Madrid's officials have come out this morning and said they do not really have a place in the team for Rooney, so they do not know if now is a good time to make a move for Rooney.

That's all news, now for what I think on it. He cannot go to City. They do have the money, but I have loved Rooney for so long and there is no way I could respect him if he left to the blue side of Manchester. Also, no one is bigger than Manchester United. We have let Paul Ince, Jaap Stam, David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Carlos Tevez all walk from United. We have survived and done fine without them. If Rooney does in fact leave, which I think all the problems can still be sorted out, I will still love my club. And with exception of one league title between Beckham and Ruud at Real Madrid, none of those players have won anything once they left United, and United continue to win trophies. Also, Ferguson knows best. He has been around for 24 years and has seen it all. He essentially brought United out of the dust back in '86 and his credibility is more than any player or coach in the entire world. I trust him and if he benches Rooney, its what is best for the team. Anyways, its time to let this story take its course. We'll never die, we'll keep the red flag flying high.