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In defense of Bill Simmons

I’m going to talk about sports, but only sort of. This really isn’t about sports as much as it is about the role of journalists in the age of digital media and social media. Bill Simmons got suspended this week for nothing more than doing what we will be getting back to doing here in October (WDDIJcast and The Wrath of Ruthless have been on vacation due to …well due to needing a production break honestly). He spoke his mind on his own podcast about the situation, and used the circumstantial evidence including the very public stature of the NFL to come to the reasonable conclusion Roger Goodell is lying his ass off about the Ray Rice video.

Here’s what he said: [soundcloud url=”https://api.soundcloud.com/tracks/169016474″ params=”auto_play=false&hide_related=false&show_comments=true&show_user=true&show_reposts=false&visual=true” width=”100%” height=”150″ iframe=”true” /]

Now, does that sound like this was his opinion? Or does that sound like he was making a legal conclusion? Sounds like opinion right? Exactly. This is Simmons non-ESPN podcast. But the power fo the NFL caused ESPN to change tactics on 2 separate things. What’s that? What else did they do? Well they went from supporting their guy, to offering him up to the altar of NFL. Take a look below.

 


What you see there in the highlighted section is a direct reference to Simmons comments, not long before they decide to suspend him from all ESPN work for 3 weeks. Now I’m not going to throw Stephen A. Smith under a bus but he got 1 week for just positing that women should be careful of provocation in general. Hell Michelle Beadle even publicly derided him for the comments the same day on air on ESPN. But somehow calling Goodell a liar, based on what information Simmons has, on his podcast, is worth a 3 week suspension. Bullshit.

And I’ll tell you why its bullshit. Because Roger Goodell isn’t an NFL player. He isn’t an NFL owner. He’s supposed to be the voice of reason and authority in the NFL and supposed to be a neutral arbiter of the rules and punishments based on those rules. The very idea he might have swept this under the rug is worth investigating further. The idea he might actually be more corrupt than Paul Tagliabue And in the face of what all we know, despite the spin ESPN is doing literally right now on First Take and The Herd, Bill Simmons cannot be the only one who thinks he is lying.

SO why suspend him? ESPN brought back constantly controversial Keith Olberman who just recently took aim at all the hyperbolic exuberance and celebration of Derek Jeter. They’ve let columnists come back after all kinds of incidents in recent time (Dan Lebatard I’m looking at you). But above all what message does this send? It says that if you say bad words about the NFL, ESPN will defend the league over your ability to give your opinion on an opinion based medium. No wonder Jason Whitlock’s “black Grantland” isn’t up and running. No wonder a certain former ESPN face is still inexplicably on NBC Sports Network.

Because if you say anything that might make them mad you’re out for almost a month. Put this in perspective. You can talk about the NBA, MLB, or make crazy disrespectful statements about futbol aka Soccer live on THE SPORTS REPORTERS but nope, say a bad thing about how shittly Gooddell has handled this matter, and imply based on everything the entire public knows, that Gooddell is *SHOCKER* lying to coverup how little the league gave a shit one of their stars gave his fiance a Mayweather piece in full view of a camera, and you have to sit in time out and not get paid. We come to reporters like Simmons to give opinion. If I’m listening to a podcast, I don’t expect to hear the same things I hear on ESPN shows. If I wanted that, I’D WATCH THE ESPN SHOW!

But this is scary for the average person. Not because Simmons is some everyman held down by corporate power. But because this is similar to how the 24 hour news networks roll. Fox News has an agenda. And anytime their hosts and contributors get out of that agenda they are mysteriously off air with replacements until they are back on message. MSNBC has an agenda and quite famously when Olberman, and of course Cenk Uyger deviated into something not the same as their agenda they were gone.

Sports should be the one area where there isn’t an agenda other than sports. And perhaps the constant conflict of interest that ESPN has by being so intertwined with the NFL is turning the objective nature of Sports into the agenda that Gooddell and the league has of “Protect the Shield.” I just expected better of the so-called World Wide Leader in Sports. #FreeBillSimmons I’d say more but I don’t want to be banned from the internet by the NFL and well…WORDS DON’T DO IT JUSTICE!

 

– THE Ruthless Wonder

The FIFA Corruption: Part I

AND… We’re back!!!!  My sincerest apologies to my fellow writers, and of course my Commander-in-Chief Ruthless.  But my deepest apology goes to you; the readers!  I have deprived you of sports awesome, and I am truly sorry.  Assuming Ruthless does not execute me I promise to be more prompt and consistent in my posting.  However, first a quick word on a specific social situation in my home state… for those here for sports, simply skip the next paragraph.

I have lived and grown up in Missouri for most of my life.  I feel it necessary for at least a brief remark on the situation in Ferguson, Missouri (just outside of St. Louis).  I will leave the much more in-depth analysis and commentary for my fellow writers and other individuals much more intelligent than myself.  I will simply say this:  A man once shared his dream with an entire nation.  While some small steps may have been made, and the man’s dream is now shared with every school child in America (we even celebrate a national holiday for the man) we are still very distant from realizing that dream.  My thoughts and sympathies go out to all the people around the world who suffer from the sort of militaristic treatment seen in Ferguson, MO.  Oppression is a horrific and terrifying thing especially in the “land of the free.”  But as a nation remember this; our nation is also “home of the brave,” and brave people, like the man who shared that dream long ago, can absolutely change the world.

OK… and now, speaking of the world, on to “the world’s game,” (Known as Futbol around the world and Soccer here in the USA).  The World Cup, one of the biggest sporting events in the entire world, wrapped up earlier this summer.  This is supposed to be a showcase of “the beautiful game,” but the true problem is that it masks the overwhelming troubles of the game. It is probably no secret to people in the USA that there is inherent cheating at sports.  Maybe it is widespread, or maybe it’s only a select few jackasses that want to win WAY more than they give a shit about their integrity.  It goes without saying though that the bigger the sport, and the poorer the places it is played in, the far more likely corruption can take place.  The organization known as FIFA is the governing body for the sport of soccer (futbol) for the entire world.  The are stationed in Europe, but yet investigations like this one are becoming far more common:

http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/sports-jan-june13-soccer_02-05/

Hell, even the organization’s most coveted showpiece, The FIFA World Cup, was under hot water due to scandal:

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/06/01/sports/soccer/fixed-matches-cast-shadow-over-world-cup.html?_r=0

So what is the point of all this?  Well, let me fill you in… it is rampant and drastically changes the product fans receive watching the games.  Sure there has not been any ties to the massive clubs of the world; Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Bayern Munich, or Paris St-Germain.  But these clubs scout players from lower leagues, and as one of the above articles suggests:  That is the problem point.  Referees at lower levels of professional soccer are akin to those umpires in the minor leagues of baseball.  They do not get payed much, and have horrific travel schedules that frequently keep them far away from their families.  Many players get paid very little for their international work (which in turn can cost them paychecks they would be collecting by trainning with their club team.  ALL it takes is a persuasive peron, with plenty of cash (often times an amount close to what a player or ref could make in half a year), and a player or ref interested in making money.  The overall goal of these payoffs, somehow to create better odds when games are bet on so the man who handed cash can totally clean up as a local bookie (or from a local bookie).

This kind of action has been frequent throughout soccer, but the problem is no one has ever truly eyed the all-powerful government body FIFA.  Well that is all changing with the recent determination to host the 2022 FIFA World Cup in the country of Qatar.  I realize that is a long way off, but it is truly better for us as a group that does like honest sporting competition to address it now.  The dirty politics makes the stuff we see here is the USA between politicians seem almost tame… almost.  There is so much to touch on, and it will ultimately lead to another of my famous Radical predicions.  For this issue I Radically predict you’ll want to read Part II of this story next week because right now… Words Don’t Do It Justice.

Futbol: Soccer for the Uneducated

world cup trophySo, for those that have either been living under a rock for the past month (or those “bored” by the sport of soccer) I have a message:  GET OVER IT!!!!!  Soccer is here for the long haul people.  I am a huge fan of what many people around the world call “The Beautiful Game.”  That picture in my bio is me standing next to the MLS Cup that was recently won by my hometown team Sporting KC.  But today this post is to help inform you about the BIGGEST SINGLE SPORTING EVENT that happens on this planet once ever four years (and I swear to God I have inserted a virus in here that will make your computer blow up if you said “the Olympics” out loud).  That’s right, the event of which I speak is the FIFA World Cup.  It is the Super Bowl of soccer, the Olympics involving only ONE sport, and a world stage like nothing else the that can be produced on this planet.  They play for this trophy right here (to the left), and people (children and full grown adults alike) cry when their national team fails to bring it home.  The following article is to help fill you in on all that you missed during this amazing tournament, and to shed light on those of you that can’t understand why your friends were chanting “I believe that we will win” for the last month or so.


First a quick glance at the group stage with a few key happenings in each

Group A

This group consisted of the host nation, Brazil, as well as Mexico, Croatia, and Cameroon.  The big story here was really that there wasn’t a big story.  It would have been a catastrophe if Brazil (and their star player Neymar Jr.) had not made it out of their group, but they did.  Mexico made a very strong showing, and so did their crazy emotional manager.  Biggest happening was Mexico finding a way to somehow tie with Brazil (seriously, a tie with the host nation was MASSIVE for El Tri).  Brazil and Mexico advanced to the knockout rounds in 1st and 2nd place in their group respectively.

Group B

This group had both of the teams from 2010’s World Cup final in defending champion Spain and the runner-up Netherlands.  The group was supposed to be rounded out by Chile and Australia.  However, the big happening here was that on the second day of the tournament (and first game of this group) the Netherlands demolished Spain 5-1!  That is a big deal, and it clearly had a long lasting impact on Spain.  Chile fought and clawed its way to take second place in the group meaning the Netherlands took first, and the defending champs were out in the blink of an eye.  The fall of one of the pre-tournament favorites in Spain was a huge talking point.

Group C

This group had the nations of Columbia, Greece, Ivory Coast, and Japan.  It seemed fairly wide open, but a guy named James (pronounced Ha-mez) saw things differently.  Brilliant displays from this young star allowed Colombia to coast to first, while Greece managed to gut it out with their stingy defense for second.

Group D

THIS GROUP… WOW… JUST WOW!!!  We had three countries in Uruguay, England, and Italy that were considered powerhouse soccer nations; and then poor little Costa Rica rounding out the field.  Boy did this group not go according to the FIFA master plan.  Little ol’ Costa Rica (whom the US national team was capable of beating in qualifications) won 2 out of their 3 games (and only ended up tied in the other one) to WIN THE GROUP!!!!  Uruguay, behind the goal scoring prowess of Luis Suarez, squeaked out second place.  However, in the process of scoring goals apparently Suarez got a craving for some Italian food: Suarez bites Italy playerThis bite seen round the world cost Uruguay dearly as Suarez was banned for 9 international games, and four months of any soccer activity.  Without Suarez this team was entirely different, and did not pose close to the threat they had in the group stage.  Lost in all of this controversy was that this group knocked out two nations with big expectations during any World Cup in England and Italy.

Group E

This group contained France, Ecuador, Switzerland, and Honduras.  France looked very strong and clinched first easily, so it was up to the other squads to fight it out for second place.  In the end, the Swiss were able to stop being neutral, and crushed a few other countries to take second.

Group F

Featuring the other South American powerhouse of Argentina (not to mention the “best player on the planet in Leo Messi) this group was basically a battle for second between Nigeria, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Iran.  Argentina did not disappoint, winning all three of their matches (though not as impressively as some might have thought.  Nigeria was able to squeeze through for second.

Group G

This was supposed to be the infamous soccer “Group of Death” that happens in every World Cup (it was really between this one and Group D in my opinion).  Of course, this was also the group the United States was drawn into (and so naturally the one I’ll talk about the most).  There were two teams ranked in the top 5 in the world in Germany (a pre-tournament favorite) and Portugal (who had the “other” best player in the world in Cristiano Ronaldo), and then there was Ghana (who had beaten the United States each of the last two World Cups).

Of course, the United States played Ghana first (it was the only game we were given any hope of winning).  And in this case revenge was a dish best served cold!  A goal within the opening minute of the game by the US captain Clint Dempsey put the United States up earlier than anyone could’ve hoped (or the US coach probably wanted).  Ghana of course scored an equalizer, but late in the game, after coming on as a substitute, John Brooks headed home the winner on a Graham Zusi (Sporting KC player) corner kick!!!  This game was the beginning of soccer euphoria in the United States; setting off celebrations around the country (this one proudly happened in my hometown of Kansas City, but believe me there were celebrations at gatherings all over the United States… just look it up):

Meanwhile, Germany dispatched the “greatest player in the world” in Cristiano Ronaldo with ease.  This meant the U.S. playing Portugal next would be a huge match.  While the game ended a tie due to the ONE AND ONLY shining soccer moment Ronaldo had the entire World Cup; the U.S. made us proud.  They fought hard, had a stunning goal from Jermaine Jones, and ultimately probably deserved more from this game.  However the game at least gave me (a self-proclaimed Ronaldo fan) one image that will last forever:  My hometown hero Matt Besler of Sporting KC standing over the “best player in the world” whom Besler had just put on his ass.

Besler standing over RonaldoTake THAT European soccer!!!!  Well, at least until the U.S. played Germany and lost 1-0.  But still, the U.S. took second place in their group, and getting out of the “Group of Death” was something a lot of analysts did not even think would be possible for the U.S.  In case anyone cared, Germany won the group.

Group H

This group contained dark horse favorite Belgium; along with Algeria, Russia, and South Korea.  Belgium and its loaded roster of high quality players crushed the group for first place.  Surprisingly, or perhaps not to some, Russia struggled, and Algeria was able to secure second place in the group.


On to the Knock-Out Rounds!!!

Brazil beat Chile

It took penalty kicks and some heroics by the Brazilian goalkeeper (who plays in MLS currently by the way).  This game should not have been as close as it was, and it also should have been our first clue Brazil might not see its dream realized of winning a World Cup on home soil.

Colombia beat Uruguay

Without Suarez to bite anyone (or score any goals) the Uruguay side had a tough time stopping the Colombians.  James (pronounced Ha-mez) Rodriguez played exception once again, and lead his team on to the quaterfinals.

France beat Nigeria

Not much to see here… just another European powerhouse looking awfully strong and beating up on an African side that had already over-achieved.

Germany beat Algeria

It took extra time; which was slightly surprising.  But then again we probably should have seen that coming when Algeria tried to park the whole team in front of their own goal.  Germany was just to skilled and technical to be stopped.

Netherlands beat Mexico

This wasn’t any sort of a surprise, but it was still sad.  Mexico’s manager was the most animated and entertaining to watch, and the Mexican goalkeeper was undoubtedly one of the best in the entire tournament.  However, the Dutch had the skills and experience, and ultimately proved to strong to handle.

Costa Rica beat Greece

Talk about your all-time lucky draw in the World Cup.  Costa Rica was not even supposed to make it out of their group, and now here they were knocking on the door of the semi-finals because Greece simply had no real scoring threat to throw at them.  The game went to penalty kicks and Costa Rica’s goalkeeper came up big!  A great win for CONCACAF (that is the FIFA region where Mexico and the U.S. also play to qualify for a World Cup).

Argentina beat Switzerland

Thanks to a little extra time magic from Messi (the other “greatest player in the world”) Argentina squeaked by in this game.  It should not have been so close, and it was another sign that the South Americans would need a “hand of God” like occurrence (YEAH, that is absolutely a shot at the Argentinian legend Diego Maradona) to pull away with the title.

Belgium beat United StatesHoward Secretary of Defense

Oh the agony!  It took extra time, and even when all seemed lost the Americans still fought back in the dying minutes to score at least one late goal.  This was the game that might have taken soccer to a completely unheard of level in the U.S.  People gathered in parks, bars, homes, and hell even stadiums (Soldier Field in Chicago and Jerry’s World in Dallas) just to watch this game.  It was an absolute heart-breaker, and to make it worse was the performance of the U.S. goalkeeper Tim Howard.  In what will likely be his last appearance in a World Cup; Tim Howard had more saves recorded than any goalie over the past 50 years in a World Cup match.  It was such an amazing defensive performance that for a brief moment even Wikipedia recognized the accomplishment.  An extremely emotional loss, but the valiant effort right down to the bitter end gives American soccer fans plenty to be hopeful about in four years time when the World Cup goes to Russia.

 

 


Quarterfinals

Brazil beat Colombia

This was the sad ending for TWO absolutely spectacular players in this World Cup.  James Rodriguez of Colombia won the Golden Boot award (for scoring the most goals in the tournament), and became a world-wide sensation in the process.  But sadly with his team eliminated he disappeared into the sunset, but not without his team leaving a devastating mark on Brazil.  Late in the game a player went up to challenge Brazilian savior Neymar for a ball in the air, and kneed Neymar in the back so hard that it literally broke a vertebrae in Neymar’s back.  Neymar was done, and you could feel Brazil’s chances of lifting the World Cup were done with him.

Germany beat France

This was not that exciting of a contest.  However, in the semi-finals it appeared that Germany awoke.  So apparently they were saving their best against France for what would come later.

Netherlands beat Costa Rica

The dream run was over for Costa Rica, but not without some tension.  The game went to penalty kicks, and just before the final minute of extra time was over the Netherlands manager (and future manager of Manchester United) made a VERY bold move.  He subbed out his goalkeeper.  He put a guy in off the bench who had not played the whole tournament simply to go stop penalties.  And STOP them he did!!! Tim Krul became a national hero, and Van Gaal (the manager) was proclaimed a genius.

Argentina beat Belgium

On the back of a little more Messi magic Argentina was barely able to pull this one off.  The hopes of a Brazil vs. Argentina final were still alive.  The hopes for Messi to go down in history as one of the greatest to ever play were still alive.


Semi-Finals

Germany DESTROYS Brazil

GoT Germany beats BrazilThis will be the game everyone remembers.  Soccer is a traditionally low scoring affair, but this game was anything but low-scoring, and even worse for Brazil it was very one sided.  If pictures can say 1000 words then this depiction to the left of The Mountain Gregor Clegane in a Germany jersey crushing the skull of the Brazil supporting Oberyn is all you really need to know.  Germany scored 5 goals… FIVE… on Brazil… IN THE FIRST HALF!!!!!! 4 of the goals came in the span of about 10 minutes.  The score ended 7-1 (and only cause Germany got a little lazy at the end and let a goal slip through in stoppage time).  I don’t know if it was the loss of the Brazilian talisman known as Neymar, or simply the quality of the German squad, but I do know I will never forget this game!  An entire country, who prides itself on legendary soccer greatness, was applauding the Germans for how well they played.  Meanwhile, every dream and hope dashed to bits of Brazil winning on native soil, the only thing that could rub salt in the wound would be Argentina finding a way to win the World Cup on Brazilian soil…

Argentina beats Netherlands

Brazil’s worst nightmare was that much closer to reality.  This game was not even close to the behemoth of a game that was Germany vs. Brazil, but it did go to a penalty kick shoot-out.  This time, however, the brilliant manager of the Dutch had used up all of his substitutes by the end of extra time.  He was unable to use the tactic he used against Costa Rica, and it ended up costing the Netherlands dearly.  Argentina’s goalkeeper came up with some big stops, and the Argentina dream for Messi to hoist a World Cup  (the BIGGEST trophy a team can win in soccer) was that much closer to reality.


FINALS

Germany beats Argentina 1-0 in extra time

Many people would try and tell you that a low scoring game can’t be exciting… they are all idiots!!!!  They do not even come close to comprehending the beautiful game for what it is.  The free-flowing movement of the ball and players makes for a game where something can happen at any moment.  Sure the score was 0-0 at the end of regulation time, but God some of the chances both teams had were incredible.  You could literally feel the tension building as the game got closer and closer to a possible penalty shootout.  Then a young substitute named Gotze put his personal signature in the German history books.  A beautiful goal led to a Germany victory, and a very well deserved victory at that!


What does all of this mean for the United States and Soccer in the U.S. in general

The ratings to watch a tournament of soccer games (the World Cup) were higher in the United States than they were for the NBA finals!!!  Let me say that again… MORE PEOPLE WATCHED THE BIGGEST EVENT IN SOCCER THAN THEY WATCHED THE BIGGEST EVENT IN PROFESSIONAL BASKETBALL.  Make every excuse you want soccer haters:  Ah the NBA sucks too, the NBA finals weren’t that good this year anyway, the NFL is still the king in this country (I won’t argue that one).  The point is soccer mania via the World Cup gripped this country in ways that even the Super Bowl doesn’t do.  You don’t see thousands of people gathering across the country and going absolutely bananas over a touchdown during the Super Bowl, but almost every major city in the U.S. had HUGE watch parties like in the video above with people going just as crazy (no, seriously… look it up on youtube… type in USA world cup watch parties… I’ll wait).  I’m in no way saying soccer is now the most popular sport in America (more likely soccer interest will drastically dwindle until the next World Cup).  What I am saying is that there is hope; hope that one day this country will truly be interested in what is already the most popular sport in the rest of the world.  Hope that young generations of kids won’t be so quick to stop playing little league soccer the second their moms say it is okay for them to put on a football helmet.  This World Cup, while the U.S. didn’t win it, did quite a lot to advance the game if only a little bit further in this country, and simply put… words don’t do it justice!

 

Green Grass and Bright Lights – The tale of Lucrèmo, Episode 0: Prologue

“My Name is Matthew Elisha Williams.

When I was born there was not a lot of fanfare.

I was just another normal kid trying to find his way.

But when I was introduced to the beautiful game all that changed.

By age 10 the only sport I would play was soccer, or football like they call it everywhere but where I’m from.

By age 12 people were batting around terms like prodigy.

At age 13 La Fabrica and La Maisa came calling to have me play in their systems.

On my 14th birthday with enough Spanish to survive, my parents sent me and my Uncle to learn from the school that had given the world Messi.

I spent my time learning everything possible. When the big club came to visit I was sat between Thierry, Ronaldinho, and Lionel for photos. They called me the future.  These titans looked at me and saw something in my eyes. They gave me the name you will one day shout from stadiums at me. That was the day Lucrèmo was born.

I bled for Barca every day of every year after that. I trained like life could only be found in learning the bounce angle for every single inch of goal post. I pushed my body to gain more endurance than all of my teammates so I could stay in late in case we needed a last minute goal.

I studied the greats, and the goats, so I could never be shocked.

And what did I get for it? I sat behind all their treasured millionaires. At 17 they could have given me a deal for first team or reserves that proved they wanted me. So when they didn’t I knew I was walking when my youth deal ended. And so Lucrèmo became a hired gun.

There were no suitors like La Blaugrana had been. So I went to England, where I got a deal that leads us to where we are today. Exeter City isn’t much. But they had a few rich former players appear and decide to slowly rise up the ranks. They spent money on me, my countryman Julian Green, and their biggest signing was from what my dad calls the Yankees of soccer. Shinji Kagawa for far more than he was worth was clearly meant to say something, and I was clearly an after-thought at best, a gamble at worst. They also grabbed a couple of guys with potential like me. I live with Julian and one of them, Terence Kongolo.

They tell me this season they want me to prove everyone wrong about me and why I left Barca. That if I can, it will be rewarded with something special. I suspect they will be putting me on the market though if I do too well. I need to setup 8 goals, score 25 goals, shoot better than 29%, and keep a rating of 8.4 or better. I crushed that assist total already 2 games in, so I’m not worried. But I need to learn to curb my shoot first attitude because I’m only at 36% conversion on 3 goals.

Since you’re along for the ride I guess I should tell you what I am planning. Shinji told me he’s out of here soon if things don’t go well. And that I should have a backup plan. So I asked him for the number of guys with his old clubs. The Red Devils are on my radar. Because how better to make Barcelona pay than to get them in a bidding war with Real and Man U for me? Sure Lucrèmo will one day go home. But they aren’t going to get King Matthew cheaply. Until then. I need to start proving myself, and less time daydreaming about my coronation. I’m going to be the best. I’m going to make you scream my name on or off the pitch. But I’d be lying if I said I knew whether I’ll be the hero of this story or the villain. For now, just enjoy the ride.”

Lucrémo