2014 World Cup: Competition is Wide Open

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is winding down. Gone are the days of the group stage where four games took place on the same day. Arrived are the quarterfinals. The final eight. While pre-tourney favorites Brazil, Argentina and Germany are still alive, but they have looked flawed. As have teams like France and the Netherlands who have impressed since the first kick.

The final eight is loaded with favorites and under-dogs alike, but many have looked vulnerable so far.

Hosts Brazil may have been the field’s biggest favorites, but they have looked anything but perfect so far. They survived by the scruff of their necks in their penalty shout out win against Chile due more to the Chileans inability to convert penalties then anything they did themselves.

It wasn’t just the surviving act against their fellow South Americans, Brazil looked susceptible in the group stages. They were shout out by an admittedly strong defensive Mexican unit, looked shaky early against the Croatians and even struggled for a period against a dreadful Cameroon side.

Brazil aren’t the only South American team to struggle at times in both the group stage and the knockout rounds, Argentina also struggled. The Argentines needed moments of brilliance from Lionel Messi to pull away from Bosnia, Iran and to an extent Nigeria. That’s not mentioning their Round of 16 game against Switzerland where they escaped penalties only thanks to a late strike by Angel Di Maria.

Another tournament favorite, Germany also looked human at times. After their sheer domination of Portugal, they didn’t look like favorites in a draw against a spirited Ghana squad before escaping the United States in a 1-0 win thanks mainly to a clinical, world-class finish from Thomas Muller. Algeria gave the European powers everything they have, and almost forced penalties in a 2-1, extra-time victory by Die Mannschaft. There’s also the fact that Jogi Low seems to prefer playing four center-backs across the back instead of two central defenders, and two outside backs. This limits the Germans going forward and also exposes them to quicker attacking wide players.

Other teams that struggled in the first round included the Netherlands and Belgium. The Dutch played a strong Mexican defense, and only won the game due to some late game heroics. For 80 minutes, it seemed as if the Europeans would crash out after an impressive group stage. Their Belgian counterparts played the US to a dead-lock after 90 minutes. They prevailed in extra time 2-1, but only after their now trademark late scoring. Belgium has thrived on goals late in close games. The competition will only get tougher, so the Belgians could find their late goals too little, too late against elite teams. The Red Devils also seemed to break down physically at the end of the Round of 16 contest, letting the United States back into the game. This could be an issue moving forward.

The tournament is wide open thanks to the struggles of nearly every team in the competition. While picking a winner seemed somewhat easy a month ago, now it seems more difficult despite fewer options.

World Cup 2014: 5 Things We Learned from Day 3 of the World Cup

1. Greece will struggle to score

The Greeks struggled to create scoring chances for much of the game against Columbia. While this strategy is excusable when you don’t allow any goals, it makes for a long day when the other team is scoring against you. It won’t get easier as the Greeks will have to face the physical Ivory Coast and the technical wizards of Japan. This group is being dubbed the “Group of Life,” where everyone has a shot to advance. Greece needs to shows signs of life offensively to have any hope of advancing.

2. Costa Rica is no pushover

That could have been the headline after a first half where Costa Rica played well and only conceived a well-struck penalty to Uruguay. However, the Ticos came roaring back for a historic win. This put a colossal dent in Uruguay’s hopes moving forward, but also gave Costa Rica a huge chance to move forward.  The CONCACAF reps not only beat their South American counterparts, but they also controlled the game and kept the likes of Edinson Cavani and Diego Forlan in check.

3. No Buffon, no problem for Italy

Italy was without legendary ‘keeper and captain Gianluigi Buffon for their clash with England. His replacement: PSG shot-stopper Salvatore Sirigu was superb in the 2-1 win. The Italians were deserving of the win, and Sirigu was vital in the match. The fact that the team was able to adapt so well without their leader, Buffon, speaks volumes to the quality of Cesare Prandelli’s side.

4. Italy should have their group rapped up

One would think that the Azzurri are now in control of the “Group of Champions” as a win versus Costa Rica on Thursday would clinch passage to the next round for the 2006 champions. Especially considering that if they beat the Ticos (not a foregone conclusion, just ask the Uruguayans) they could be facing an Uruguay side potentially without Luis Suarez. The South Americans looked derived of creativity in their walloping by Costa Rica, if Suarez can’t make it back, it could be a very brief stay in Brazil for last year’s semi-finalists. Should Italy win all three games, they would face the second place team from Group C. Which, if Columbia wins, will be Japan, Ivory Coast or Greece. That’s a more pleasant route than finishing second in the group, facing Group C’s winner, likely Columbia, beat them (not a forgone conclusion) and then potentially run into Brazil. This is all guess-work and forecasting at this point, but winning the group definitely holds a much easier outlook for Italy.

5. Is there a changing of the guard in the Ivory Coast Squad? Not yet

Iconic striker Didier Drogba started the Ivory Coast’s opening game on the bench as Wilfred Bony was handed the start instead. Bony responded with a goal, but the African side scored both of its goals in the 2-1 win after the former Chelsea legend’s introduction into the game, cementing his importance.

World Cup 2014: What We Learned From Day 2 of the World Cup

  1. Mexico players could be kicking themselves over those disallowed offside goals

El Tri’s 1-0 win over Cameroon could have been more commanding. A 1-0 result and three points are great for Mexico to open the tournament, but you would have liked to think that the Mexicans would have been more comfortable in terms of qualifying for the next round with a 3-0 or even 2-0 win. The point is that goal differential could be key in Group A. Brazil is obviously the favorite in the group, but should Mexico run into a situation where they are even on points with Croatia and they finish behind the Europeans by virtue of goal differential, they could be “kicking” themselves for not staying onside before scoring, or simply not being happy with the refs.

2. Brazilians don’t like Diego Costa

All throughout Friday’s Spain/Netherlands heavyweight tilt the local fans relentlessly booed Brazilian-born Costa, who plays for the Spanish. You get the impression that they don’t fancy him all that much.

3. Spain are definitely trending down

La Roja got exposed big time against the Netherlands, getting burned on numerous occasions on the counter and just looking poor in defense. If there was ever a time to question the defense of the Spaniards, it’s now. It simply wasn’t there for Spain. Another reoccurring issue for Spain is the fact that they were again stymied by a three-man defensive line. Italy has used a three-man back-line to great effect against the Spanish and now Holland has done it as well. The defending champs just looked like the walking dead, the defense especially.

4. The Dutch are for real

Just as it’s premature to completely count out Spain, it’s probably a little premature to bump the Dutch to co-favorites or favorites. But… the Netherlands annihilated the defending champs. Annihilated.  They look potent and sharp on the counter and simply didn’t allow the Spanish to play the way the Spanish want to, especially in the second half. If this team can beat Spain this convincingly… who knows what they can accomplish?

5. Chile at their best are entertaining

Chile plays kamikaze football. They press high with numbers up the pitch. When this works, the Chileans can put up a wonky score line. The South Americans will sometimes press everyone forward with the exception of the two center backs, who will sit at mid-field. The entire team plays high up. Because of this they can also be scored on in droves. It’s an ultra-aggressive style of play, but one that has benefited the Chileans so far.

NBA in Seattle: A Retrospective Look at Traded Players with Local Connections

We may not have a team in the Emerald City at the moment, but a host of players with Seattle/Washington ties were moved at the trade deadline. Whether this is good or bad remains to be seen. Here are those esteemed Washingtonians/people with Washington connections.

  • Aaron Brooks

The Seattle native was acquired by Denver from Houston to fill a need at back-up point guard. He cost the Nuggets young, swing-man Jordan Hamilton, but hopefully the former Rockets standout will provide Brian Shaw’s team a spark. The Nuggets only moved for Brooks to fill their back-up point guard spot after losing fellow Seattleite Nate Robinson for the year due to injury.

  • Luke Ridnour

A former Sonic and graduate of Blaine High School, Ridnour is one of the few ex-Sonics left in the league. He and Gary Neal are headed to Charlotte, while Ramon Sessions and Jeff Adrien moved the other way to Milwaukee.

  • Spencer Hawes

Hawes, the first Husky on the list, was dealt from deadline-seller Philadelphia to quasi-contender Cleveland for Henry Sims, Earl Clark and two second-round draft picks. Here’s hoping he finds a smidgen more team success in Cleveland than in Philly.

  • Austin Daye

The former Gonzaga standout isn’t from the state of Washington, but he was a superb collegiate player in Spokane. He’ll look to rekindle his career in San Antonio.

  • Reggie Evans

Another non-Washingtonian makes the list. Evans started his career as a Sonic and is one of a few left. He and the next player on the list were dealt to the Kings for Marcus Thornton.

  • Jason Terry

The Jet has moved again. This time from Brooklyn to Sacramento. He’s out for the year with an injury. Hopefully he finds success in Sacramento.

Seattle Seahawks’ Repeat and Dynasty Potential: Why Team’s Superb Player Development is the Key

The Seattle Seahawks have experienced some of the usual perks of winning a Super Bowl. The parade, the sudden interest shown by media in the team’s players, etc.

Another result of the Super Bowl win has been a number of teams taking interest in the Seahawks’ free agents. Other teams are/were looking to take some of the Seahawks’ exceptional depth. The team has already lost supporting players Chris Maragos, Paul McQuistan and Clinton McDonald to free agency while key players like Golden Tate, Red Bryant, Walter Thurmond and Chris Clemons have also left town.

In addition to those players, the team also lost cornerback Brandon Browner and tackle Breno Giacomini, while players such as Sidney Rice and Michael Robinson could be brought back, but nothing is certain.

All of these losses will be felt in one way or another, but the team’s superb player development will help them sustain their winning ways.

Pete Carroll and friends find diamonds in the rough. Players like Doug Baldwin, Jermaine Kearse, Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor. Players who were late-round draft picks or undrafted. These players soon develop into starting players, as evidenced by Sherman’s meteoric rise to elite status.

Developing late-round/undrafted players also gives Seattle a huge boost in terms of the salary cap and money. These players’ rookie contracts are much cheaper than a first or second-round picks’ contract. All of this adds up, thus the team can target more players in free agency to supplement the team.

So far, some of the Seahawks’ more prominent losses in free agency are easily replaceable with much cheaper players who could develop into better players.

For example, Tate’s will be replaced by Jermaine Kearse, while a healthier Percy Harvin will improve the offense even more so. The two should more than make up for the former Notre Dame standout.

Kearse is still on his rookie deal, while Tate signed for five years and as much as 31 million dollars with Detroit. This will save the Hawks lots of cash to funnel into players like Harvin or complementary veterans on shorter contracts.

On the offensive line, McQuistan and Giacomini will be replaced by younger players like Michael Bowie and Alvin Bailey. The team showed confidence in the latter pair last season and could also draft a lineman or two come April. Former first-round pick James Carpenter could also start.

Cornerback Byron Maxwell is another young player who will find himself starting again next year. The former Clemson Tiger filled in admirably for Browner during his suspension and in the process left no doubt that he was the better player for the role, as opposed to Thurmond. Maxwell, as well as young, cheap and talented corners Jeremy Lane, DeShawn Shead and Tharold Simon, will make up for the loss of the departed players.

All in all, players like Kearse, Bowie and Maxwell may or may not turn into star players. Their impact probably won’t be the sole reason the Seahawks turn into a dynasty. What will propel the Seahawks into a dynasty is their ability to continually find and develop under-valued players into impact performers.

Seattle Mariners: Signing Nelson Cruz Doesn’t Guarantee Success

Rumored Mariner signing Nelson Cruz would add a powerful bat to a lineup already bolstered by the arrivals of Robinson Cano and Corey Hart. What signing Cruz doesn’t do is guarantee success.

An offensive triumvirate of Cruz, Cano and Kyle Seager isn’t one to balk at, and is a wonderful foundation for the team moving forward, but in terms of success, it guarantees nothing.

In most divisions, like say the NL West, these kinds of additions (Cano, Cruz, Hart) would push a team towards the top of the table. Not so much with the Mariners in the AL West.

The rest of the division is stocked. The Mariners’ rise to “playoff-contender” status, if not the realm of respectability, has vaulted the division to a ridiculous level. On paper, the Angels, A’s and Rangers all have the talent to be playoff teams. Throw in Seattle, and you end up with a lot of unhappy teams come the postseason.

It wouldn’t be completely surprising to see, even with Cano and friends, the M’s finish in the same exact place in the standings as last year. They’re probably going to have an improved record, but as stated, the division is stacked.

If one thing is clear after watching postseason baseball, it’s that pitching is needed to contend. Teams like Detroit, Boston, St. Louis and Oakland found great success last year with tremendous staffs. And it wasn’t just those four teams; most playoff teams boasted strong pitching. Great pitching is nearly synonymous with a playoff squad now-a-days.

Which brings the topic of one-way conversation in the piece to the Mariners’ pitching.

The M’s will use some combination of Erasmo Ramirez, Taijuan Walker, James Paxton, Brandon Maurer and recent signing Scott Baker for the last three spots in the rotation. This is where question marks come into play. Moving into the future, both Walker and Paxton figure to be mainstays in the Seattle rotation thanks to their fantastic potential, but between them they have a grand total of 39 innings at the big league level. Whether they continue to show promise or hit a wall remains to be seen.

Ramirez and Maurer have both shown flashes of potential in the past, but the jury remains largely out on the pair. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Baker, given his experience and quality, leapfrog one or both of them to claim a rotation spot. The bottom line is that the Mariners’ rotation could show the promise and poise that Oakland’s young hurlers have shown, or they could continue to display the growing pains that have plagued the team.

If anything, a potential Cruz signing puts more pressure on the rotation to succeed. The one-time Brewer coupled with Cano, Hart and Logan Morrison would vastly improve a team that had issues scoring runs. The run output in Seattle should, at the very least, be slightly above average. The Mariners need their young pitchers to step up. If they can do this, Seattle will be in a position to contend. If not, well let’s just say get ready for all those low-scoring losses to turn into higher-scoring losses.

Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl Champions: Top Photos from seahawks.com

Here’s a cool picture slideshow from seahawks.com showing everything from the team heading to the airport to last Wednesday’s victory parade. Click the link to check it out.

Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl Champions Gear

From scarves to shot glasses to whatever a wristlet is, their is one of everything when it comes to the Seahawks’ championship gear.

 

Seattle Seahawks: Rally Tickets and Overflow Seating

To a lot of folk’s dismay, the seating for the rally at the Clink for tomorrow’s festivities is full. However, overflow seating is available in Safeco Field. Depending on when you read this, it may or may not be full, but none the less, try throwing your hat in the ring!