Dr. Ben sends us this hilarious bit of dialogue from the O'Reilly Factor:
Dr. Ben sends us this hilarious bit of dialogue from the O'Reilly Factor:
Its too late at night for a preface. Far later than I intended to get this up. Let's dive right in.
1. First things first: it doesn't matter that we just lost.
This game had nothing to do with winning or losing. It had to do with evaluating players. Most people recognize this, but I feel that it should be stated. If Bob Bradley can come away from this match with what he needs to fill out the best roster for South Africa, then it was a success. We were never going to see any grand revelations from any one player. Alejandro Bedoya or Herculez Gomez was not going to put in some kind of virtuoso performance that left the Czech defense in tearful awe at their skill. The players that had something to prove were going to go out and try to prove it and that's what happened.
2. The part of the match that I thought was most interesting was the part where Heath Pearce calmly got up from his seat on an airplane heading to Johanesburg, South Africa, thanked Bob Bradley for two weeks of free food, walked back into the the airport, and purchased a one way ticket for Dallas.
The second and third Czech goals were directly attributable to Pearce. On the first, his poor marking let Jan Polak get inside of him and then was easily beat on Polak's run at goal. Polak scored and then Pearce started screaming a the linesmen like he was offside. Pearce, none of the other defenders raised their arms in agreement because got beat. Plain and simple. On the second goal Pearce made a lazy, two footed slide tackle that completely missed Jan Polak and gave him wide open space inside our box. Martin Fenin put the ball off the bottom of the crossbar and into the net from the resulting cross. It should also be noted that Kljestan got beat on this goal.
Pearce made himself a liability, when all he needed to do was just remain a neutral factor. When you've got nagging injury issues with your defense like Bradley does and your first choice is tired or injured, you don't care if you second choice isn't quite as good, so long as they aren't a liability. He didn't have to prove that he was better than Jonathan Bornstein. He didn't have to prove that he wasn't a step down from a tired or injured Jonathan Bornstein. All he had to prove was that he wasn't a liability compared to a tired of injured Jonathan Bornstein.
3. Onyewu is not as fit as I had hoped.
You could hear them a couple of times when he was running in the second half; his legs were yelling, "Dude, we can't do this much longer!" This is something that I've heard from my legs pretty regularly. After I keep training, they shut up about it. I just hope that Onyewu can reach that point in two weeks. Hopefully, the big bag of ice that they tapped over his knee after he came out in the 66th minute was just a precaution. There was a slight limp when he approached the bench, but that could have just been stiffness in both legs after such a long time off.
4. Seven months out of practice wasn't long enough to make Onyewu forget how to play defense.
Yes, he misread a cross and got out jumped on the header for the first Czech goal. Aside from that he looked pretty solid. He had a great sliding block on Fenin in the first half. His footwork coming out of tight spaces looked good. He made a number of good clearances when they were needed. It wasn't the greatest performance that he's ever put in, but it was solid. If he can regain his fitness, he should have the form to go with it.
5. DaMarcus Beasley looked good.
Lots of energy. Lots of pace. Got forward well a drew fouls in dangerous places. He showed his usual ability to provide some solid defense when its needed. He was much more like the Beasley of old and a lot less like the Beasley of missed traps that we saw at the Confederations Cup.
6. Stuart Holden showed that he can create offense.
First it was on the right side and then in the middle when Bedoya came in. He had some great combination play with Cherudolo. He took both the set pieces that the US scored on and distributed well all night.
7. Carlos Bocanegra is not a health nut.
Several times during the match, ESPN cut to shots of the players that hadn't dressed watching the match from a corporate suite at the top of the stadium. Most of the guys were just chilling, but Bocanegra looked to be eating a hamburger and mowwing down on chicken wings. At one point, Landon Donovan was talking to him while he ate. Most of you don't probably know this, but I'm a professional lip reader. I'm pretty sure that this is what they were saying:
Donovan: I don't normally put a lot of stock in dreams, Bocs, but I'm pretty sure the one I had about a golden statue of Fabio Capelo getting devoured by a beast with the names of different British newspapers written across its forehead means that we're going to beat England. Say, you're really pounding down the chicken wings. You'd better watch it, man. You're gonna to get fat.
Bocanegra: You're gonna go bald.
8. Brad Guzan should be our number three, not our number two.
The first three goals would have been incredibly hard for anyone to stop, but it looked to me like his reaction was a little slow on the last one and looked a little shaky through out the game. After seeig Hanehman at Wolves this year, I'm expecting Guzan to be the backup backup goalkeeper in South Africa. Tim Howard will still probably play every game.
9. Maurice Edu did not look comfortable at center back.
He had a pretty solid showing in the midfield and demonstrated the knack that he has for scoring poachers up goals in the six yard box (like he did for Rangers several times), but he looked a little out of place at centerback. His ineffective challenge on a header led directly to the final Czech goal. I see Goodson or Onyewu making that one every time.
10. Jonathan Bornstein still has a tendency for stupid fouls.
Bornstein got beat a couple times, but didn't look terrible. He didn't have any terrible clearances like he did against the game against El Salvador in Utah last year. What stuck out to me was the number of silly fouls he continues to make. One in particular where he went in with a really high, one footed challenge looked like a sure yellow card in a World Cup match.
11. ESPN still can't figure out how to shoot a soccer game.
There were at least three times where they had a shot of Bob Bradley or the regular starters up in their hospitality suite and had to cut back to the field in the middle of an attack that had been building. Fellas, the game is on the field. That's where you should be pointing the cameras.
12. Edson Buddle should go over Eddie Johnson, but Brian Ching should go over both of them.
Ching did what Ching does. He held up the ball, he dished it off, he made life harder for the opposing defense, and he ran like a 32 year old who used to move a little faster (this is very much how I run). Buddle was credited with an assist on Edu's goal, but both really failed to impress when they had the best offensive midfield line up to work with in the first half.
13. Sacha who?
I'm not sure who was on the field in the second half, but it wasn't the Sacha Kljestan that scored a hat-trick against Sweden. The player that I saw was the same, anonymous guy that's showed up too many times during qualifying. I did see a guy name Alejandro Bedoya that put in some solid play on the right wing. It was nothing flashy, but Sacha has disappeared for so long that I'm ready to see another name in the midfield.
14. Jose Torres can adapt.
His performance tonight was as good as I've seen him for the US. We know what he can do for Pachuca and it looks like he's finally adjusting to Bradley's style of play. I thought he wiped out doubts that anyone would have about his place on the team.
15. Clarence Goodson gets motivated on set pieces.
Goodson had a role in both set pieces that we scored on. He crashed the goal hard in the first, drawing out Cech and adding to the confusion that allowed Edu to strike home. On the second, he picked up an assist by once again crashing the goal and heading a beautiful ball back across the goal mouth for Gomez to put in. His defending was a little shaky at times, especially after Onyewu was subbed out, but at the worst, he was competent. Chad Marshal didn't even make the field, so its a pretty safe bet that Goodson will still be on the team after the roster is announced tomorrow.
16. Steve Cherudolo is a complete right back.
He's got sufficient speed. He has the endurance to still go strong at 90 minutes. He showed good footwork a number of times moving the ball up the line past defenders. He had good combination play with both Holden and Bedoya. He made his share of stops and broke up plays all evening. Reliable and well-rounded.
17. Robbie Rogers provided good service on set pieces, but not from the run of play.
He had one smashing shot that Petr Cech made a beautiful diving save to stop, but aside from set pieces, he didn't look that hot. Several times when he tried to make runs at defenders and get in positions to cross, he was stymied too easily. His combination play with other players on the left side looked flat, which may not have been completely his fault; Pearce looked scared to get forward a lot of times.
18. We're still lacking the final pass.
With both goals scored from set pieces, that familiar final-pass deficiency rears its ugly head again. Aside from Brian Ching's sweet back-heel, nutmeg that Gomez smashed straight at Petr Cech (grimace), I'm struggling to remember any time where we really worked the ball into a wide open shot. We got the ball into dangerous places. There were several blocked shots in traffic. But we couldn't consistently find the open man and feed him that last pass to get the ball into the net. Frustrating.
After watching the match tonight, here's my guess at the roster we'll see tomorrow.
3 Goalies - Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann, Tim Howard
7 Defenders - Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Oguchi Onyewu, Jonathan Spector
9 Midfielders - DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Jose Torres
4 Forwards - Jozy Altidore, Brian Ching, Clint Dempsey, Hercules Gomez
200 years of independence for Argentina! Here's praying the next 200 go a little smoother.
The USA plays the first of its pre-World Cup "send-off series" friendlies against the Czech. Republic tonight at 8PM ET in Hartford, Connecticut.
For a Czech squad that didn't qualify for the World Cup, this friendly is part of a longer period of rebuilding that is focused on qualify for the Euro 2012 championships that will begin next year. Their roster is heavy on younger players and missing some of their bigger names that I recognize, like Thomas Rosicky (Arsenal), Milan Baros (Galatasaray), and David Rozenhal (Hamburg). They lost, 1-2, to Turkey in a friendly at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J. on May 22nd. The US will play Turkey on May 29th in its final match before leaving for South Africa. For the US, this game is all about figuring out who will be on the plane to South Africa the next day.
The math is easy to do. Seven of the 30 players that are currently vying for the 23 spots will be checking there luggage for a flight home instead of one to Johannesburg. By June 1st, Bob Bradley must submit his 23 man roster chosen from the 30 man roster that he submitted on May 11th. However, there's a good chance that we won't have to wait that long to find out. The roster should come out sometime after tomorrow's friendly; rumor is that it will be released on Wednesday. The game against Turkey will be our first look at the final squad
Conventional wisdom says that Bradley take eight defenders, eight midfielders, four forwards, and three keepers. That's twice the number of field players in each part of a 4-4-2 setup. Its a little more complicated when you consider players that can fill multiple positions. The final number of defenders, midfielders, and forwards might vary a little bit, but the 2/1 ratio of field players to each position is something that you don't want to stray too far from. Losing a key player to an injury is made even worse when you don't have someone else that can play that position. The roster on Ussoccer.com breaks down the mix of players on the 30 into:
3 Goalies - Brad Guzan, Marcus Hahnemann, Tim Howard
9 Defenders - Carlos Bocanegra, Jonathan Bornstein, Steve Cherundolo, Jay DeMerit, Clarence Goodson, Chad Marshall, Oguchi Onyewu, Heath Pearce, Jonathan Spector
11 Midfielders - DaMarcus Beasley, Alejandro Bedoya, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Landon Donovan, Maurice Edu, Benny Feilhaber, Stuart Holden, Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, Jose Torres
7 Forwards - Jozy Altidore, Edson Buddle, Brian Ching, Clint Dempsey, Robbie Findley, Hercules Gomez, Eddie Johnson
Its a safe bet that all three goalies are going to make the team, so all seven cuts will be coming from field players. Here's my take on which players will make the cut. Players that I think are definite have an asterisk by their name.
Bocanegra*, Onyewu*, Spector*, Cherundolo*, DeMerit*, Bornstein*, Goodson*, Pearce
The defensive conundrum is made a little easier by the fact that several of the shoo-ins are versatile and there are a couple of midfielders that can fill in on defense if they are required to. Some combination of Onyewu, DeMerit, and Bocanegra should be starting for in central defense. We've seen both Maurice Edu (at centerback) and DaMarcus Beasley (at leftback) before in the national team jersey. Bocanegra normally plays at centerback, but we saw him slot in at leftback in the Confederations Cup and he played there all season for his club team, Rennes. Spector has seen time at rightback and leftback for both club and country.
Goodson and Marshall are fighting to be the back up to whatever combination of Bocanegra, DeMerit, and Onyewu is on the field. Neither was that impressive during their starting roles in the Gold Cup last year, but Goodson has always looked more solid and is coming off good season with his team IK Start in Norway and several recent national team appearances. Marshall was out for quite a while with a hamstring injury and hasn't looked back in form yet with Columbus this year. Given what we know, I'll go with Goodson. That leaves Heath Pearce with a role as backup leftback, unless Bradley decides to go with only seven defenders to make more room in the midfield or up top. He's got the versatility to shift players to cover any position if he needs to. I think that with all the defenders that have struggled with injuries lately (Onyewu, Bocanegra, DeMerit, and Goodson), Bradley will play it safe and bring Pearce.
Donovan*, Bradley*, Clark*, Edu*, Feilhaber*, Holden*, Torres*, Beasley
The midfield is where we have the most depth and, thus, the most players fighting for the least number of spots. Donovan and Bradley are definite starters. Unless Bob Bradley changes his formation from what we've saw last year in qualifying and at the Confed Cup, Clark and Edu are vying for the second starting spot in the middle with Feilhaber and Torres in reserve. Given what we saw of him in the Gold Cup and at Bolton, Holden could be starting on the right or as the first off the bench depending on if Dempsey starts up top or on the wing.
That leaves Sacha Kljestan, Robbie Rogers, DaMarcus Beasley, and Alejandro Bedoya trying to fill one remaining slot (again, depending on where you count Dempsey). I like Robbie Rogers (honestly), but he's not going to make it. He had his chance to duke it out with Stuart Holden for a spot on the wings all last year and he came up short. A couple weeks in training camp isn't going to reverse that. Beasley, I think, will make it on his recent return to form and his previous experience at two World Cups. Yes, he looked terrible at the Confed Cup last summer, but he saw some playing time at Rangers this year (when not injured) and pitched in with a couple goals and assists.
If Beasley doesn't make the cut or if Bradley decides to bring an extra midfielder, then I'd add Bedoya. Why Bedoya? He's only gotten two previous call ups, but has looked good in both. I haven't been that impressed with Kljestan's form lately; for the national team or for Chivas USA. Go with the darkhorse candidate. There's a good chance that neither would see the field, anyway.
Dempsey*, Altidore*, Gomez, Buddle
This is the hardest group to call. Altidore is the only true forward that we've got who is a lock to start in that position. Dempsey is considered a midfielder by most, but he was listed as a forward on the US Soccer roster so I'm going to follow that. Either way, he should be starting for us. I would love to see him start up top, but its more likely that Bradley will continue start him on the right. That's why I would take Gomez and Buddle instead of Ching plus one of the those two. With Altidore the only definite starting forward, I would go for a more versatile pair of Buddle and Gomez to compliment him. Ching is a good target forward, but doesn't have the versatility that I want. Buddle has scored goals from all over the place in early goings this year at LA. Gomez was more of a poacher at Puebla, with a number of his goals coming as a late game substitute; a valuable asset if he can that continue that in South Africa. Both of them have the speed that Ching lacks; Buddle has the size, too. Speed is something that Eddie Johnson has, but I haven't been impressed by him since he was at Kansas City. Sorry, Robbie Findley, you haven't done enough this year at Salt Lake to impress me.
The state of several player's fitness could change a lot of this. The past two weeks performances at training camp could sway things considerably, too. Bob Bradley is pretty hush-hush about both those things, so, given what we know right now, I'm pretty confident with those picks. If Bradley thinks that his back line is completely fit, then you could see Pearce dropped to open up another spot up top or in the middle. If Beasley isn't quite back to his old self, Kljestan or Bedoya could supplant him.
The line up against the Czech Republic is tough to call; it could reveal a lot about who the final players to make the roster will be. We'll probably see a number of regular starters rested. With Onyewu not playing a competitive match since the Costa Rica game in October, there's a good chance that he'll go the whole 90, if he's fit. Heath Pearce will probably see some minutes to prove his worth, but I doubt we'll see Chad Marshall. I think its possible that we won't see Dempsey at all. Donavan is so key to our offense, that I see him playing most of the game so that Bradley can evaluate how the different forwards link up with him. The rest of the starting midfield is a toss up, depending on what Bradley is looking for players to prove to him. I'd like to see both Buddle and Gomez get substantial playing time since they haven't had call ups in quite a while. There's a lot more speculation that could be made, but I'm excited to see it play out and get an idea of who's been impressing in training camp.
The game is on ESPN at 8PM ET. I'll be watching it at the Chatham Tap on Mass Ave. in Indianapolis, if you want to join me. Check back here for some post-game analysis.
This column deals with the finale of Lost. If you haven't watched it yet. Don't read this!
Everything was going so smoothly. We were headed for an epic finish the likes of which have rarely if ever been seen. Then, inexplicably, the rug was pulled out from under us. Suddenly, decisions and choices that once seemed defensible no longer made any sense at all. Suddenly, the ball was knocked loose, and the score tilted the wrong way.
No, I'm not talking about Painter-gate. I'm talking about the series finale of Lost.
Let me make some things clear:
I didn't need all my questions answered. I'm fine with the writers choices to focus on resolving the emotional story lines rather than the 'technical ones'. Most of the last episode of Lost was complete incredible. Unfortunately, like the Colts' perfect season, that last episode was 15 minutes too long.
Here's my laundry list of complaints:
The Island turned out to be a McGuffin. A McGuffin is an object everyone fights over that means nothing (the Lost Ark, the Holy Grail, the Crystal Skull). For three seasons, the Island was a character. It had a will. It had a plan. Somewhere along the way, the writers turned the Island into a man named Jacob. So at the end, when Jack descends to the heart of the Island, there's nothing there but a giant cork of sorts. I'm sorry, but that violates the promise of the whole show. The Island contains the Light? What the eff is the light? Why does that matter? By refusing to tell us why the Island matters they cheapened everything that was sacrificed for it.
The 'real' timeline made no sense. They had to answer why what happened happened when Juliet set off the bomb at the end of last season. Nothing that happened in episode one of this final season made any sense. Things have to happen for a reason. It's fine to turn the story into an allegory about finding people and what life is all about, but the events have to follow an internal logic. They provided none. Juliet sets off a nuke. They all should have died. Having them inexplicably thrown 20 years into the future to do battle with Smokey for a season makes no sense at all. There may be a way to answer that question, but it has to be provided.
The explanation for the "alternate now" does not match the reality they showed. The alternate now was the result of Juliet setting off the bomb. We know this because the Island is clearly under water. As a literary device it clearly sets up the denouement for the characters' lives. Christian describes the "alternate now" (or was it just the church?) as 'a place you made together'. Ok, so the alternate functions as a sort of 'pre-heaven' or (ironically) purgatory? Then why is Keamy there to get shot by Sayid? Why is Aaron in the church as a baby still? The events of the season simply don't match up with that explanation.
The "Alternate Now" ends up being meaningless. I suppose you could say that the alternate now was a valid timeline, and by entering the church they are choosing to leave it as a kind of ascension, but that's pretty strained. Let's say that everything Christian refered to ONLY means the church. The church is the meeting place, the place they created. So what does that mean for Jack's poor son? Both his parents are about to teleport away to some kind of afterlife. Jack has no son, so says John Locke. That relationship meant nothing. That character meant nothing. Then why did we waste an episode on it? Nothing that happened in that timeline mattered. It all just served as an excuse to set up the amazing 'revelation' scenes (which were all incredible). You don't create a timeline and then have it not matter at all. That's cheating at best.
All the answers didn't have to be revealed, but there had to BE answers. I despise Agatha Christie books. Why? Because the clues are meaningless. The mystery is always solved using some completely external data and nothing revealed in the plot matters. Everything is a red herring. That's a waste of time. Lost had some great suspense, dialogue, and human drama. It was crappy mythology. I left that final episode feeling not like the writers chose not to answer questions, but rather like they had never bothered to think up answers at all. It cheapened the world they had built. Why did Libby give Desmond money to buy a boat to sail around the world? In the end, it ends up just being a freaky coincidence. That's lame and a waste of time.
Desmond's actions made no sense. Why was he waking everyone up in the Alternate now? He clearly didn't need to. He beat the snot out of Ben to wake him up. Why? Ben didn't even go into the church? Desmond and Penny should have been able to just go on their own. Some characters stayed and others left, but there was no rhyme or reason to it.
Basically, I was enraptured with the episode right up until Christian Shepherd started speaking. Had he just said nothing I would have been happier. No explanations at all would have been superior to the nonsense he was spouting. I could have lived with a 'you figure it out for yourself' kind of artsy silent film ending. Anything would have been better than the "Curtis Painter drops back for the pass and we all know that whatever happens it won't be good" schlock. If that was the ending/message they wanted, then that's fine. The screw up wasn't in the finale it was in the previous episodes that set it up. The coaches should have been a lot more clear about what kind of game they were playing before they got our expectations all revved up.
Again, understand that I felt that show was just minutes away from nailing the ending. Merging the two time lines in a way that made sense and made both important was the last step, but they fumbled the ball, and it started bouncing the wrong way. I don't want to hear about how beautiful the message was. I get the images and the symbolism and all of it. In the end though, instead of explaining why one timeline happened, they left it so that neither one made any sense at all.
I love so many of the themes of Christian's Shephered's final speech. Community, eternity, reality, belonging...they are powerful ideas and images. Unfortunately, they are more powerful when placed in the context of a cohesive, logical world. Even one filled with Magic Islands and Smoke Monsters.
Allegory is fine. Mythology is better.
...to derail what was for about 2 hours one of the most viscerally satisfying series finales I've ever seen.
Yet in 10 spectacularly bad minutes of nonsense and slow motion, they managed to do it.
How could the same people that wrote the first 2:15 of that show be the same people who wrote the last 15 minutes?
So this is the end.
Tomorrow's finale of Lost marks the end of one of the most enjoyable hour dramas in TV history.
We've been following Lost from the first season, and frankly I'm more than a little depressed about saying goodbye to it.
Like many others, I'm still waiting to for a bunch of questions to get answered. The funny thing about Lost is that the answers never seem to blow your mind. They always make sense, and to that end feel a little disappointing. You expect your mind to be blown, but instead the answers fit the clues so well that you just have to nod along and say, "Ok, I get it.".
Take the alternate timeline that still has yet to be resolved. We know it started when Juliet (who is my bet to be the mother of Jack's son), set off the atomic bomb. Her dying (after dying?) words indicate that they succeeded in destroying the island. Even though that time line seems mysterious, it actually makes some modicum of sense for all fans of sci-fi time travel. What actually doesn't make sense is why when the bomb went off did everyone suddenly wind up back on the island in the future. They should have been obliterated, not time traveled. Zombie Locke (aka Smokey the Air) is trying to get off the island in that time line, but what world would be trying to get back to? It would make more sense if they were all stranded in some sort of nowhere (ala The City on the Edge of Forever). Instead, they are right back where they started. How does that figure?
You see, it's bait and switch. We've accepted the 'original' timeline as normal because we are used to it, but in reality it requires some serious explanation. Meanwhile the timeline that makes sense (the alternate now) is the one everyone wants explained. No matter what happens tonight, we are going to be left with more questions than answers. I suppose that's ok. That would just be in keeping with the spirit of the show.
What I expect to find out is that the survivors from the alternate now will somehow cross over...(cross backwards?) to set events in our timeline in motion. Don't ask me how that will be explained...I have no freaking idea. As my questions below indicate, I think Libby's 'dead husbad' (whose money was used for Desmond to buy the boat that first got him onto the island) was Hurley. Temporally that makes no sense, but I suspect that's where things are headed. Eloise Hawkins will have a similar kind of purpose. She seems to be a 'floater' who is aware of and immune to the temporal changes that ripple out from decisions made on the island (remember he interaction with Desmond in the jewelry shop all those seasons ago?).
My own list of what I need to know is brief:
1. Why did Libby give Desmond money to buy the boat that he took to get the island? Why was she in a mental institution in the first place?
2. What's the deal with Walt?
3. Why was it that that 'only Claire' could raise her baby? That was set up as a major plot point early, but has just flat vanished.
4. Is the island purgatory? (just kidding)
Mostly, I've stopped trying to figure Lost out. That's the highest compliment I can give a show. I'm the guy who tries to solve every mystery ahead of time. I'm usually rife with theories and ideas. With Lost, I've shut of my need to solve, and I'm just enjoying the ride. Next week, I'll start rewatching the whole series from start to finish. My wife and I did that with the X-Files a few years ago, and loved it. I'm looking forward to taking it all in again.
There are so many things to hope for from this final episode.
There are characters that I want to see find happiness (Hurley, the real John Locke, Desmond and Penny); there are characters that I just want to see go out in a blaze of glory (Ben Linus); there are characters that I just want to see go (Kate).
There are philosophical questions that I want an answer to. I'm intensely deterministic (let's just say that I like four of the five petals on Johnny C's flower), but I've always respected the 'mystery position' that holds that 'destiny' and choice are sides to the same coin and cannot be adequately separated. It's this position that I sensed in last week's discussion between Jack and Jacob.
And yes, there are questions and little details that I'm just dying to find out about.
The departure of Lost means that I'm mostly just left with Smallville (which was stone-cold incredible this season, including the great finale) to satisfy my nerd TV jones. I've picked up Fringe into my rotation (thanks for the tip Shake), but it's a poor substitute for the X-Files and Lost.
Good bye Jack, John, Charlie, Hurley and Ben.
I hope you find your way home. Wherever (and whenever) that is.
The Patriots are the last NFL dynasty. Their accomplishments are more remarkable because of the salary cap.
The Colts have won 10+ games every year since 2002. It's more remarkable because of the salary cap.
They won 12+ games for seven straight years. They broke the record of the 49ers who did it for five straight from 1994-1998, which was remarkable because there was a salary cap.
The NFL won't survive without a salary cap.
The NFL doesn't want to be like baseball. Too many teams have no chance of competing in baseball.
Without a cap, mid-market teams like the Colts won't compete.
Lies. Lies. Lies.
Here's the truth about the salary cap and competitive balance: there is no evidence that it matters at all.
I've looked high and low, and I can't find any statistical or even anecdotal evidence that the salary cap has meant more parity or fewer dynasties in the NFL. We now have 16 years of data on the salary cap and the league, and I can't find any justification to keep telling the kinds of falsehoods mentioned above.
Let's consider the NFL from 1978-1993. For that 16 year stretch the NFL featured a stunning array of dynastic teams. But did the lack of a salary cap mean that the NFL wasn't competitive? Not all. In fact, let's look at playoff participation during this era compared with the salary cap era of 1994-2009:
Percentage of Teams Qualifying:
|Opportunity %||Playoffs||Conf Champ||Super Bowl||SB Champs|
As you can see, teams were as likely to make both the playoffs and the conference championship game BEFORE the salary cap. We see more diversity in terms of who wins that game after the salary cap, but I'm not sure how much the cap can be credited with that and how much is just the random outcome of a few games. Perhaps it even has something to do with changes in the way football is played that there are more upsets in conference championship game now than before.
What happens when we compare these numbers with baseball over the same time span?
|Opportunity||Playoffs||Champ||SB/World Series||SB/WS Champs|
As you can see, Major League Baseball has been absolutely as competitive as the NFL over this span. During this time, Baseball had no salary cap, but the NFL did. Despite allowing far fewer teams into the postseason each year, MLB sent basically the same percentage of teams to each round of the playoffs as the NFL did with a salary cap. Remind me again why the lack of a cap keeps teams down? Just because Pittsburgh and Kansas City have management issues (and both clubs make a TON of money) doesn't mean the league has a problem. Don't gripe about the Red Sox and Yankees winning four titles this decade and going to six world series. The Colts and Pats have won four titles and gone to six Super Bowls. THAT'S WITH A CAP. I don't see how anyone can claim the AFC has been any more wide open than the American League this decade.
There are reasons why the cap doesn't matter:
1. The careers of most NFL players are short. Under the old system, you had exclusive rights to players drafted for four years. Most players in the league are used up by then. The whole idea of "keeping teams together" is a fallacy. Most guys are just interchangeable parts. Over the past decade, the Colts have lost a few players thanks to the cap, but not very many. Is losing five to ten mid-level players a decade really that big a deal in the grand scheme of things? The truth is that most guys who hit free agency are pretty used up. Most free agent acqusitions just don't pay off.
If the players want to do away with the cap, the owners should say ok, but only if you give us six years service time before free agency is an option. This is the actual current NFL rule for the 2010 season. That would make free agency an irrelevant issue for the majority of all players who ever play in the league.
2. The NFL is about quarterbacks now. One player levels the field much more than ever before. Even the capless baseball has super-stars in small markets. The best player in the game is in St. Louis. In a capless NFL, teams would have to focus on drafting and signing their QBs to a long term deal. It wouldn't be that different. The key is to make the right decision.
3. Smart beats rich. Sure, smart and rich is always best, but there will always be room for the well run teams to take advantage. Ask Dan Snyder if being rich is the same thing as fielding a good team.
4. A lack of guaranteed contracts. Ok, so you made a bad move and signed Vince Young as a free agent. Six months into his stint as your new quarterback, he starts moonlighting as a male stripper. What do you do? CUT HIM! The NFL system allows teams to get out from under bad deals instantly and the only penalty...comes with the salary cap. Cut out the cap and there is less incentive than ever to keep a crappy player. The phrase in baseball is that money lets you make up for mistakes. Teams like the Reds are stuck with Aaron Harang at $12 million a year. The Cubs couldn't unload Soriano for anything. In football, if you screw up, you cut the guy. Sure you are out the money you already paid him, but you never have stare at a corpse of a bloated useless tackle for five more seasons at $7 million per.
5. Revenue sharing and the TV deal. The Yanks and Sox are richer than all the other teams in part because of lucrative local TV deals. In the NFL most (not all) revenue is split between the teams. Yes, there are disparities in revenue streams for some teams, but they aren't as stark as in other sports. Jerry Jones has his mammoth stadium (which he paid for himself), so that helps, but by and large teams are working with much more similar incomes than in baseball. If teams operate with a balanced budget, most of them will end up having similar resources.
The salary cap is a complete and utter red herring in sports. There is no evidence that it promotes competitive balance. It has not made the NFL more competitive. It has not made the NFL more competitive than baseball. All it does is save owners from themselves.
If the salary cap never comes back to the NFL, there is no evidence that it will matter.
Last night, I was lying in bed with my wife and we were discussing our various writing endeavors. Finally, I said, "I have to get to sleep. Tomorrow I have a 7:30 AM meeting and then I have to come home and write about the Ultimatum Game and it's affect on the NFL CBA negotiations."
She replied, "Yeah, me too. I have to write about a raccoon with trust issues."
I've noticed a trend in recent discussions about the Colts and the number of impending free agents. Most of us have been operating under the working assumption that the NFL will continue operating under a system that is comparable to the one that is currently employed.
There have been discussions of a salary cap, tagging of players, ect. I'm not offering any criticism of that. We have to assume something I suppose, and I've certainly been as guilty of it as anyone.
It seems these days the prevailing assumption is that football is making too much money for both sides to 'kill the goose that lays the golden eggs'. Everyone knows that a work stoppage could result in profound fan backlash. To that end most of us have been assuming they'll reach an agreement that looks roughly similar to the last one.
Such assumptions are almost assuredly wrong.
In many ways, the new CBA negotiations are like a giant version of the Ultimatum Game on steroids. For those who don't know, the Ultimatum Game is a fascinating psychological game that works like this:
Player A receives $1.00. He has to divide the dollar between himself and player B.
Player B has no say as to what he receives, but should he decide to veto the offer from Player A, neither player receives anything.
Economists have long held that because man is rational, Player B should accept any offer from player A because that is more than he would otherwise receive. Player A should always offer one penny to Player B because if he turns it down, he's turning down a free penny. It's in Player B's interest to accept the lowball offer. Unfortunately for people who believe that man is rational, the game rarely works that way. In fact, its been shown that people will act in a way that works against their self interest just to punish Player A for his unjust offer.
Granted, when the pot is $1 Billion instead of one dollar, things get tricky, but the principle still holds: people aren't rational.
So, now we consider the NFL. The owners opted out of the old agreement strictly because of money. Consider what that means. They've said openly, "The golden eggs aren't golden enough for us". They are asking the players to take less money despite no real evidence of hardship to the owners. The owners are Player A. They hold all the cards right now. 78% of NFL players wind up in or near bankruptcy two years after retirement. Most guys in the NFL are living paycheck to paycheck. The owners know it. They know they can break the union. They are warming up for a fight and they know they can offer a penny to the players, and they have to take it.
So on the surface it appears that only option left to the players is to veto the ultimatum and wait out the owners. They do have some bullets in their gun, however.
The owners are trying to control the percentage of revenue that the players receive and limit what revenue streams count toward that end. However, by allowing the salary cap to lapse, they've opened the door for a major concession to the players. The players have 'generously' offered to let the NFL reinstate the salary cap (knowing that in the short run it means more money for them because there will also be a salary floor). However, let's say they give in on the percent of revenue but secure it by not taking a salary cap. The cap is the mechanism by which the owners control what percentage of the revenue the players get. If the NFL goes to a baseball style system with no cap, no tags, no floor the end result will be that the owners won't be able to control themselves (please, no whining about competitive balance. That's a myth) In the long run, the players union will win the war for losing the battle.
The players can let the owners cut the pie any way they want, as long as there is no way for the owners to control one another, the player slice will keep growing. This is where the Ultimatum Game breaks down. Player A isn't one player (as much as Goodell wishes). Player A is 32 individual selfish players. They want to screw over Player B, but they also want to screw over each other.
So what are we left with? Chaos. One thing is for sure: whatever system we get in the NFL next year (God willing there is one), it won't look like the one we have now. There's no reason to assume that current terminology like restricted free agent, franchise tage or even salary cap will apply at all next year.
Finally, we'll all be watching the Manning negotiations closely. They are an important barometer of what is to come. I've already explained why Peyton has to try and score the biggest deal he can, and why his teammates will be 100% behind that. But did you catch the subtle change in tone from Irsay this week? Before the Super Bowl he was all a twitter about 18 getting the biggest deal in history. Now, he's wondering aloud if there will be money left over for anyone else. Do you think someone pulled him aside and said, "Uh, Jim, we are trying to convince everyone the league is poor. Stop talking about how much money you want to give Manning!"
Jim Irsay isn't like other NFL owners. The team is his fortune. In addition, he's also incredibly influential in the league. Oh, and the 2012 Super Bowl (for the 2011 Season) is going to be in Indy. Irsay could be a swing vote in the whole process for the owners. He carries a lot of weight. A mega deal (with lots of upfront money) for Manning puts a lot of pressure on Irsay to get the Colts back and playing. No one in the NFL has as much at stake for the 2011 season as he does.
As massive contract for Manning signals to the fans and players that:
1. teams have more money they are letting on
2. that Jim Irsay really needs there to be a season
3. That ownership won't be able to control themselves in a capless environment.
A win for Manning is a win for the players and a major loss of NFL ownership. If a respected and influential owner can't hold the line, who can? As it turns out, Racoons aren't the only ones with trust issues.
All this means is that when the owners get together as Player A and offer a pittance to Player B, the Player B should take the deal with one condition:
No cap. No rules.
That means the next time, 32 owners will tripping over themselves bidding to offer as much of that dollar as they can to Player B.
just remember: the owners said they didn't like the old system. The players have said they'll never take the cap back. No matter what happens, things are never going to be the same.
(Editor's note: Here's part two of my good friend Tim Landrum's inaugural effort to provide World Cup coverage on 18to88.com. You can read part one here.)
10. There's not any other football on to watch in June
Its the NFL off season. You've gotta get your football fix somewhere. Does it really matter if the ball isn't oblong? Remember, football fans, Indy's minicamp ends June 7th. This starts the "dead zone" of the year where there is no news about the Colts for a month as everyone (reporters included) goes on vacation. The Cup starts June 6. It's the perfect way to burn off a month of sports frustration while you wait for the 2010 season to kick off.
11. US Coach Bob Bradley looks suspiciously like a young Grand Moff Tarkin from Star Wars Episode IV
The US probably won't win the World Cup this year, but by the time Bradley finishes his transformation into the commander of the Death Star we'll be ready to blow up Alderaan, metaphorically speaking.
12. France vs. Mexico is like another Cinco de Mayo
I'm not a history expert, but I know that the Cinco de Mayo has something to do with Mexico kicking the French out of their country and then drinking cheap, frozen margaritas. Mexico plays France on June 17th. Who doesn't want to watch our favorite regional rival upset a woefully under-performing team Frechmen? Don't get me wrong, I like Franc Ribbery and co. as much as the next under-age French prostitute does, but I like to cheer for my neighbors (unless they're playing us, of course). Somebody get me a slushy machine and a bottle of Cuervo!
13. The US Men's National Team is like a multi-ethnic rainbow of awesomeness
Homogeneity sucks. America is a melting pot of peoples and cultures and right now the national team represents the reality of that like not many other things in the sporting world. Jesse Jackson wishes he had demographics like they do: African-America, African-Hungarian-American, Latino, Caucasian, Scottish-American, Hawaiian-Chinese-American, first and second generation immigrants, upper-class, middle-class, working-class. I was going to dig up a whole slew of links for this one, but one of the writers at Pitch Invasion kindly did the perfect piece to point you to just the other day.
14. Everybody loves crazy sports fans
Crazy fans are like Christmas decorations; that's not the point of the event, but its pretty sweet if you go way over the top. The world cup is the ultimate reason for fans to dress up like idiots and go crazy when they see themselves in the jumbotron. There's a certain logic to displaying your national pride by strapping on a string-bikini that we can all get behind. How can you not watch when there's a chance of catching that during a crowd shot?
15. The chance to watch a player transcend the game
The best players in the world step their game up to the next level and that can be a thing of beauty. Two games before the infamous head butt that tarnished the end of his career, Zinadine Zidane put in a masterful performance against Brazil. By the end of the game, the Brazilians looked half-scared to even get close to him when he had the ball. He has since retired from soccer altogether, but the World Cup is where performances like this happen.
16. Because, let's face it, your attention span could use some work
There are no TV timeouts in soccer. In fact, there are no timeouts at all. The clock doesn't stop when the ball goes out of bounds. Its just two 45 minutes halves where the seconds never stop ticking away. Not for injuries, fights, and fans streaking the field. The ref gets to add some discretionary time at the end of each half to make up for any interruptions, but, in general, the play doesn't stop. After being constantly saturated by sports and TV shows that stop the action every five minutes to tell you what to buy, isn't it time to challenge yourself with something that will make you focus? You'll still get all the commercials you can handle before and after the game and during halftime. And if that's not enough advertising for you, every conceivable surface in the stadium will be plastered with corporate logos from around the world.
17. Because you love your family, even if they act weird sometimes
Football and soccer share the same roots, as do rugby (both types) and aussie-rules football. The generally accepted historical narrative is that the modern sport developed out of the Shrovetide mob-football games played primarily in England as far back as the thirteenth century (which are still played in some places). When colonists came from Europe to the New World, they brought their ball games with them. The rules developed slowly and really began to be formalized in schools and universities through out the nineteenth century in both England and America with the result being the distinct sports that we have now. It'd be nice of you to get to know your weird cousin a little bit better.
18. Goals like these
Some are pure joy. Its why the game is watched and how the game is won. They can be pure class or wholly criminal. It doesn't matter if its ten in a single game or the single goal scored in a game in the final moments. If there's one reason to watch, this is it.
Thanks Tim. Tim will be back regularly from now until the end of the World Cup.