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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday Lunch: NCAA vs. NFL

   I'm taking a week off from my amazing predictions to look at an age-old dilemma. Or at least 50 years old. Which is better: college football or the NFL? Based on what topic I write on every week, I think you can figure out which of these I like better, but let's go in depth shall we? Just remember the NFL has this and college football does not. Score one for the NC double A. I'll be awarding 5 points for each category that can be split up any way. For example, a tie is worth 2.5 points for each team, while a total annihilation is worth five for one and a big fat ostrich egg for the other.

Passion: We'll start out with an easy victory for the amateur side. If you have ever watched a high stakes, late season, big conference rivalry, you'll understand what I mean. The NFL produces some high quality crowds, but where college trumps the pros is in games that don't seem to mean quite as much. At most, schools across the country, fans of all ages pack stadiums of varying sizes to cheer on their teams with feverish intensity that comes across easily even on non-high definition TV. NFL games are not exactly known for their game altering stadiums except for possibly Seattle and Indy. The fact that these two teams are constantly talked about as having a great home field advantage means that great crowds are few and far between.

NCAA: 4

NFL: 1


 

Quality of Players: This one is obvious. The best college players are taken and put into the NFL. During their time in the NFL, they grow physically and mentally and become superior athletes and football players. The only saving grace is that sometimes players are put in better situations to succeed in college or be injured in the pros. That's the only reason they salvage a point here.

NCAA: 1 (5 total)

NFL: 4 (5 total)


 

Parity: This is one that many people say should easily go the NFL, and up until a couple of years ago, I would have agreed with that. Recently college football has moved in a more competitive direction. Although it's true that Florida will play a cupcake or two every year, don't the Patriots play the Browns and Raiders? Both systems have their flaws and there will never be perfect balance in both, but I'm giving the slight edge to the NFL, because there are just a few too many 1-AA teams on schedules.

NCAA: 2 (7 total)

NFL: 3 (8 total)


 

Excitement Factor: This is where college football starts to pull away. There are very few games in the NFL season that make me want to keep watching until the end unless they involve the Steelers winning or Cowboys getting blown out. For every Brandon Stokley miracle, there are 10 Pats/Titans snooze fests. That is not the case in college. Yes, not all games live up to their hype and there are a fair number of blowouts, but momentum can swing so fast in a college game that no contest is beyond a comeback until the final seconds tick off the clock. There are only a handful of exciting pro games I can name off the top of my head (Immaculate reception, the last couple Super Bowls, and that's about it) but I could go on all day about exciting college games (Band on the field, Kordell Stewart owning Michigan's defense on a Hail Mary, Colorado's 5th down play, Blue Grass miracle, Texas-USC rose bowl, Texas-Michigan Rose Bowl, pretty much any BCS championship game not involving Ohio State). It's not only the meaningful ones that stick with you, but also every single weekend there are plenty of down to the wire games that have no implication on the championship hunt, but you know what? That's what makes college football great, anytime you turn on the TV, you have the potential for greatness and that just doesn't happen in the pros.

NCAA: 4.5 (11.5 total)

NFL: .5 (8.5 total)


 

Method of crowning the champion: If you've read my early articles, you know how I feel about the BCS, it sucks but it's not as bad as everyone says, and a playoff system may have robbed us of Texas-USC. The NFL playoffs are sweet, but there are too many blowouts for my liking. Still, the NFL takes this one easily.

NCAA: 1.5 (13 total)

NFL: 3.5 (12 total)


 

Method of play: This encompasses offensive and defensive play calling. The fact that the NFL thinks the option and the wildcat are revolutionary and creative says all you need to know. However, offenses in the pros cannot run everything that their college counterparts can in part because the defenses are too skilled. Still, seeing Tim Tebow have four options besides passing on a play and Texas Tech fill the air with footballs is a sight to see. It's not only that, Texas Tech vs. Navy is the perfect reason why college football offenses are so phenomenal. On one side, you have an offense that passes almost exclusively out of the shotgun. On the other side, you have an offense that runs without from under center almost every time. Yet both are so practiced in their methods that they both can explode for 50-plus points at any time.

NCAA: 4 (17 total)

NFL: 1 (13 total)


 

Coaches: Coaches in both the NFL and college jump around at different opportunities and leave behind players that they made promises to. Coaches at both levels have tried unsuccessfully to jump to the other league with varying degrees of success. The reason I give the NFL a huge advantage on this one is that kids coming out of high school are much more impressionable and can be hurt by coaches jumping around more than pros. It is also easier to leave via free agency then it is to transfer schools. Therefore, college coaches suck more and I'm giving this on to THE NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE. (Copyright Ron Jaworski)

NCAA: 0 (17 total)

NFL: 5 (18 total)


 

Payment: I was going to give the NCAA the easy W for playing for nothing until I remembered this and this and even though it's college basketball, this. Enough said. I give it a tie.

NCAA: 2.5 (19.5 total)

NFL: 2.5 (20.5 total)


 

If I include college football's point from the opening, that makes this last comparison worth everything.

NCAA: 1 (20.5 total)

NFL: 0 (20.5 total)


 

Stadiums: Now this may not be the most important category, but anyone who has ever watched a football game knows what a difference a stadium can make. The NFL boasts state of the art stadiums that have every luxury known to man. College stadiums have most of those luxuries, but they have more history. NFL stadiums are newer. College stadiums are bigger and have more history. NFL stadiums are set up for comfort. College stadiums are set up to be raucous and to rattle the other team. Yes, Jerry Jones new shrine to football and everything Texas is amazing, but so is the Swamp in Florida, the Big House in Michigan, Happy Valley at Penn State, Death Valley at LSU and countless other venues spread across the nation. That gives NCAA the narrow victory in this category, and a narrow victory overall.

NCAA: 3 (23.5 total)

NFL: 2 (22.5 total)


 

I could have also brought up the fact that the NCAA regular season actually matters, but I didn't want college to have too big of an edge. I'm sure you may hear a few counterarguments from my delusional colleague Will Robinson, but for now, college reigns supreme.

Now on to my top five list. For those of you who have developed amnesia over the last week, this is a list of top five most exciting players of my lifetime. 5 was pre dog fighting Michael Vick. 4 was the duo of Pat White and Steve "insert fumbling joke here" Slaton. 3 was the speedster form LSU, Trindon Holliday. And checking in at number 2…

2. Vince Young- Vincent Paul Young, Jr. was the most electrifying dual threat quarterback of all time and his size (6 foot 5 inches and 230 pounds) did not seem to slow him down at all. In fact, it just made him more powerful as a runner and playmaker. His leadership and guts were also key characteristics that led to plenty of late game heroics and made him the star of the greatest game ever played, the 2006 Rose Bowl. Even though he hasn't had the stats or the mental fortitude yet in the pros, he was a great quarterback in college and the second most exciting player of my lifetime.

That's all the time we have for today, but tune in next week for my Big 12 preview and the most exciting player of my lifetime.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Tuesday Lunch: Mock Draft 1.5

    Hey guys, what's up? I'll just cut the small talk and cut right to the rest of my mock draft. Check it out:

  • 17. San Francisco 49ers – Earl Thomas FS, Texas
    • Thomas and USC's Taylor Mays have fought all year for the position for second best safety, behind Eric Berry, and I believe Thomas has won. The Niners are a really good up and coming team, with a need of offensive line and youth/talent in the secondary. They already picked up a tackle four picks earlier, and now are addressing their defensive backs. Like Berry, Thomas is a bit undersized, but he has shown that he can play very well at a great football university (Texas). Unlike Mays (who had an off year last year), Thomas had a great season. He recorded eight interceptions and a forced fumble, as well as two defensive touchdowns. I believe that he can be the best safety that San Francisco has had since Ronnie Lott (doubt he'll be as great as Lott, but I think he can be really good).
  • 18. Pittsburgh Steelers – Mike Iupati OG, Idaho
    • Despite winning two of the last five Super Bowls, there has been a common theme amongst these teams: their offensive line SUCKS. While PacBen Roethlisberger is a scrambling quarterback and is probably the hardest to tackle, there is only so much that you can do. From the beginning of their first Super Bowl season, Big Ben has been sacked 212 times! That is insane! They have also had a revolving door along the line since All-Pro guard Alan Faneca ran away to New York. Iupati is by far the best guard prospect in this year's draft, and this team sure needs one.
  • 19. Atlanta Falcons – Sean Witherspoon OLB, Missouri
    • Despite injuries to their franchise player, Matt Ryan, and leading rusher Michael Turner, the Falcons recorded their second straight winning season. However, they did not gain a playoff spot. Their linebacking corps could use a youthful addition. Witherspoon is just what they could use in their 4-3. Graham is probably a better prospect for a 3-4 OLB spot, but they need someone that can drop into coverage on occasion, which Witherspoon can do more effectively than DEs turned OLB rushers. They could also pickup Alabama CB Kareem Jackson here, which may be better value for them, but I like Witherspoon here.
  • 20. Houston Texans – Ryan Mathews RB, Fresno State
    • Some people have called Mathews the most interesting prospect in the draft. After his combine (where he ran a 4.37 40 time), he quickly caught the eye of the GMs and scouts across the league. Fortunately for Houston, they need a RB and this guy will be PERFECT for them. You may say "Oh Will, you are crazy! They have Steve Slaton! He's the best around!" I thought so too, guys. BUT, after wasting my second pick in my fantasy draft on him, he was up there with the most disappointing sophomore seasons (see Matt Forté as well as Slaton's stats). He had, on average, a fumble every other game. Mathews is the real deal. No matter where ends up (except for maybe Oakland or Detroit, two cursed franchises) he will leave his imprint on the league very quickly.
  • 21. Cincinnati Bengals – Jermaine Gresham TE, Oklahoma
    • Carson Palmer will hardly be able to contain himself after this pick. Even though he has some quality targets (Ocho, Caldwell, etc.), he has never had a good tight end that can run routes. Well, enter Jermaine Gresham. As you may remember, two years ago Gresham was ridonculous for the Sooners, and was Bradford's #1 option. However last year he was hurt, and did not play a single snap all season. He was the receiver of 14 touchdowns of Bradford's 50. This Cincy offense will be even better if/when Gresham hits top form.
  • 22. New England Patriots – Brandon Graham DE/OLB, Michigan
    • I'm 99% pretty sure that if somehow Graham fell this far, Belichick MAY make a facial expression. Graham, like some of the others in this and every draft, has been a riser. Despite playing on a mediocre Michigan squad the last two years, he sacked the quarterback 20 times. Even though they played different positions, Suh only had 19 in that same span with two bowl games and a conference championship game, where Michigan only played 24 regular season games. I expect that Graham will be a big time talent in the NFL, and with an organization like New England, he will have every resource available to him to succeed.

  • 23. Green Bay Packers – Sergio Kindle OLB, Texas
    • Despite not having Aaron Kampman most of the year, the Green Bay defense was one of the best in the league. Clay Matthews was the young, bright spot in that lineup, while former Wolverine and Heisman winner Charles Woodson won Defensive Player of the Year. Kindle was a pass rushing MONSTER his last two years in Austin. Simple as that. He was the Colt McCoy of that defense. The only issue that he will have to overcome is switching to DE if for SOME REASON the Packers switch scheme with Dom Capers, which wouldn't make any sense.
  • 24. Philadelphia Eagles – Everson Griffen DE, USC
    • The Eagles have a great talent in Trent Cole on one side of the line, and with a Jim Johnsonesque defense, the more pass rush that can be done without blitzing, the better it is. Griffen has some of the highest upside of any defender in this draft, and the Eagles could really use another pass rushing weapon. Griffen would be a quality pick here, but if any of the other DEs make it down to the Eagles, they would be fortunate and lucky. The Eagles have a very nice spot in this draft.
  • 25. Baltimore Ravens – Brian Price DT, UCLA
    • Price would be good for Baltimore to groom for two reasons. One, another inside presence with Haloti Ngata will free up Suggs and co. on the outside for rushing. Two, if Ngata decides to skip out after his contract expires, they will have someone to fill his place. I'm not trying to insinuate Price will be as good as Ngata, but it is possible. He recorded seven sacks during his last year in Westwood, and is a bigger fellow for his size (6'2", 300 lbs). If Ozzie Newsome, one of the best minds in the NFL today, decides that Price isn't right for him, he won't be in Baltimore.
  • 26. Arizona Cardinals – Jerry Hughes OLB, TCU
    • Even though TCU had an amazing/well publicized season and Hughes produced, I see him as a sleeper in this draft. He would fit very well in Arizona. They lost Karlos Dansby to Miami, and Joey Porter can't stay out of the headlines for all the wrong reasons, they have a need at linebacker. Arizona has continued to become more and more Pittsburgh West, so I don't see any reason they would drift away from a zone blitzing scheme, where good pass rushing OLBs are needed. I think with Wisenhunt and his staff there, they can make Hughes a great player for their team.
  • 27. Dallas Cowboys – Charles Brown OT, USC
    • They may need not offensive line immediately, but with this going on, there's only so much they can deal with Flozell. Brown was widely considered one of this best tackles in the country last year, making the all-Pac 10 team, and the All American Team by Sporting News. USC has produced good and bad tackles as of recent, but what school has had a steady stream of all good NFL players? I remember watching the USC/OSU game, and he was throwing the OSU defenders around like they were in Junior High. He has great strength, and a has a chance of becoming a good tackle.

  • 28. San Diego Chargers – Kareem Jackson CB, Alabama
    • After trading Antonio Cromartie, the Chargers have a bit of a gap in the secondary. If Jackson is still on the board for San Diego, I really don't know how they could pass on him. He only had one interception in a loaded Alabama secondary, but he has great size and ability at corner (6'0"), and would be great as a nickel back until he is acclimated to the speed of the NFL.
  • 29. New York Jets – Dez Bryant WR, Oklahoma State
    • Now, I really doubt that Bryant would fall all the way down to New York, but they could use him. They only have one legit downfield threat in Braylon "I can't catch the ball" Edwards, and they could use another player for Mark Sanchez to throw to. Chrebet is ok, and Smith is good for Rex Ryan's gimmick plays. Like I said though, I HIGHLY doubt Bryant will actually drop to the end of the first round, but I am no expert. For all I know, this could be the 2008 NFL Draft all over again. But despite that one incident with Deion Sanders, Bryant has a good character, and the best receiver in the draft.
  • 30. Minnesota Vikings – Jahvid Best RB, California
    • Chester Taylor was such a big impact to the Minnesota offense, as he was a fast and quick runner who could also catch balls out of the backfield. Even though Peterson is really good, he is not the best pass catcher. Best could fill that role perfectly. Even though he has had a run in with hard hits and awful injuries. Look at this concussion below:Despite that, Jahvid is a great player, and he looked VERY good in Indianapolis. He could be very good alongside AD.
  • 31. Indianapolis Colts – Maurkice Pouncey C, Florida
    • Even though they are the AFC Champions, the Colts cannot run the ball. At all. It was really embarrassing trying to watch Joseph Addai or Donald Brown run behind that awful line. So why not get the center who snapped the ball to perhaps the most prolific college player of the last 25 years. Pouncey is a decent to good quality prospect for center, but at worst, that would be a side-grade for the Colts. I think Pouncey's brother, Mike, will be better when he leaves Florida next year, but Maurkice isn't bad by any means.
  • 32. New Orleans Saints – Daryl Washington OLB, TCU
    • WHO DAT!?!? That's right, the SUPER BOWL CHAMPION Saints… still weird to say, right? Right? Anyways, at the bottom of the first round, the Saints could go a number of ways. I see them picking up someone to replace Scott Fujita, who ran off to Cleveland for a nice contract. Nawlins is missing someone in their front seven, and Washington can join that squad. Both of the TCU guys are really good, and I think Hughes is better, but Washington is very good as well.

After looking at my draft, I had one thought: this was awful, probably NONE of this out of the top three will happen. Oh well, thank God I'm not getting paid for my mock draft skills. I'll be back next week with something AWESOME (maybe not, but you'll have to look to find out!)

Monday, March 29, 2010

Monday Lunch: MLS Week 1 Recap

Wow what a weekend; Real Salt Lake could not have started their title defense out better with an impressive 3-0 away win. Seattle and LA showed that they were the class of the west by both posting shutout victories as well. While there were not a lot of goals overall this weekend, Kansas City put up 4 against a DC side that didn't even look like they wanted to be there. Overall, it was a great weekend and before I hand out my awards, I just have these few observations about things I witnessed:

  • Wells Thompson did not complete a pass throughout the entire time I was watching the Colorado-Chivas game. His touch was poor but luckily, the rest of the team picked up the slack for him.
  • Matt Pickens looked uneasy in goal. He often punched away balls out of the area that he could have easily caught. He also looked shaky on an early shot that he stopped with his shoulder.
  • Omar Cummings is an absolute player. He got behind the Chivas defense countless times and although he only scored one goal, he was easily the most dangerous player in the game. One thing that I really like about him is that while he isn't the best finisher, he is possibly the best decision-making forward in the league. There are lots of players that have better technical ability then him but they don't do anything with it. You only have to look around the league to see this. Look at Macoumba Kandji. His technical ability and athleticism is off the charts; but when he gets in front of goal, he has no idea what he is doing. While Omar Cummings doesn't always execute it properly, he knows when to pass as well as who to pass too, and when to shoot. I would take this attribute, essentially his soccer IQ, over all the technical ability in the world any day. I love this player.
  • Stefan Frei didn't control his penalty area well. He is a great shot stopper but he really reminds me of Senegal's Tony Sylva from the 2002 World Cup. He will stop every shot, but if a cross comes in you better watch out.
  • Julian De Guzman is an amazing passer in terms of both technical ability and vision. He sees things that other people just flat out do not see and his passes are always perfectly weighted.
  • Landon Donovan was hitting free kicks and crosses better than maybe anyone in the league in his debut. That being said, he made some poor decisions in front of the goal. Landon is the best attacker in MLS. He will bounce back.
  • Robbie Rogers needs to play simpler and make his decisions faster
  • Steven Lenhart is going to have a good year. His hold up play is excellent
  • Brian McBride's Bicycle attempt was amazing. He knew exactly where Bouna Coundoul was unfortunately the post prevented him from scoring an amazing goal
  • Ryan Smith looks like a great signing for Kansas City

Now for the weekly awards:

The Jaime Moreno Award (Player of the Week): I know I said that I wouldn't just give it to the player who scored two goals in the week, but there is no other choice then Javier Morales. He completely pulled the first and third goals that RSL scored out of his ass. To score one goal of that quality maybe even just once a season would be okay with most people. He also set up the 2nd goal. Honestly, without him this game could have been 0-0. No one player factored more into his team's win than Morales did this week. It is great to see him bounce back after a terrible 2009. I don't think he really felt like he was part of the team's title, as he got hurt in MLS Cup. He should be a dark horse MVP candidate. Especially when I thought he was at least on par with Guillermo Barros Schelotto in 2008 and maybe even better. (I am working on an article looking at which MVP's should have gone to other players *cough* Amado Guevara 2004 *cough*)

The 2004-2006 Alecko Eskandarian Award (Goal of the Week): Once again Javier Morales wins the award, but for which goal. He definitely scored the two best goals of the week but I like the first one better just because of the ambition and technique that is required to pull something like this off. If the Seattle Sounders fans stuff the ballot and get Fredy Montero the goal of the week just like week one last year instead of the more deserving candidate, I'ma be pissed. Anyways here is the goal.

The Marco Etcheverry Award (Pass of the Week): Steve Zakuani wins this one for his smart cutback pass for Brad Evans
to score the inaugural goal of the MLS season. Too often players get to these positions on the field and think that they must put a cross in the air. Goals like this show how doing something that is often more simple can lead to better results. The pass comes at 1:15 in the video.

The Wells Thompson Award (Worst Player of the Week): As much as I would like to give the original Wells Thompson Award to the legend himself (Wells Thompson), I don't feel like he actually hurt is team this week; well other than just being Wells (a synonym of terrible). So I am forced to give the award to Nick Garcia. Nick, you are a great player representative in the players union. Unfortunately, you are now slower than Abel Xavier
is. All I can say about the way you play is "This is not correct." Stop giving the ball to GBS in your own box.

The Josh Wolff Award (Worst Goal of the Week): Note; I will not be posting video of the worst goal of the week. It was the worst goal, why would you want to see it. Kei Kamara did the honors this week.

That is all I have for you this week. Join me next week as I preview the coming matches including the HONDA SUPERCLASSICO.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Friday Lunch Special: Matt talks about the MLS Opener

Game Recap

Despite much early uncertainty about whether or not Major League Soccer would hold its 15th season, the MLS 2010 opener went off without a hitch as 2009 expansion side Seattle Sounders hosted their incumbent, the Philadelphia Union.

The game started off with an early (1st minute) yellow to Danny Califf for an off the ball altercation with Fredy “Learn How to Spell Your Name” Montero. Way to go, ESPN, for showing the replay. I had to rewind the feed to catch a glimpse of what happened and that camera angle was even poor. Sometimes I question the production quality of MLS broadcasts. Montero’s ensuing free kick (and follow up) hit the wall, crisis averted.

But anyway, for the first ten minutes or so, Philly appeared to have the upper hand as Seattle rarely ventured out of its own half. The momentum swung in Seattle’s favor when a clever combination play in the 12th minute between Montero and Steve Zakuani on Seattle’s left flank allowed Zakuani to find time and space inside the penalty area to cut the ball back toward Brad Evans, who stuck it first time through the crowd and Chris Seitz’ legs. Union seemed to struggle to maintain their early composure as Seattle began to counter much more effectively with the one goal advantage. Seattle could have doubled its lead several minutes later if former San Jose Earthquakes castaway Roger Levesque hadn’t skied his shot.

In the 24th minute, Toni “Don’t You Know That’s How Girls Spell That Name” Stahl received a yellow card in his professional debut, leaving both Union centerbacks in danger of a send off pending a poor challenge. That was precisely what happened to the inexperienced Stahl sixteen minutes later as a knee up the butt of Fredy Montero warranted the second yellow and a trip to the locker room. This left Union with the daunting task of overcoming an early deficit as well as maintaining possession a man down.

This task was made more difficult four minutes later as a just barely onside Montero acrobatically dove to head Osvaldo Alonso’s off target half volley into the near post as Seitz watched helplessly. Not much more happened as the first half came to a close.

In the second half, Seattle seemed comfortable holding onto the ball (and their lead) and letting Philly chase. The score could have easily been 3 or 4-0 but for poor finishing from Montero and the substitute Sanna Nyassi. Of note was the entry (if not the actual play) of US U-17 star Jack McInerny, former UCLA one year wonder Amobi Okugo, and speedster Michael Fucito, who are all presumably the MLS stars of the future. In fact, all of Philly’s first round draft picks featured in this game, suggesting that Peter Nowak is indeed focusing on youth and building his team for the long run.

Positives (Not in any particular order)

1. The play of Roger Torres. Torres, one of MLS’ new Colombian players, is on loan from America de Cali in Colombia’s domestic league. During the game, he showed the ability to maintain possession, often drifting into the center of the field despite being deployed on the right side. His movement may have been attested to Danny Mwanga being played at center midfield even though his college success was as a speedy forward. Torres is also only 5’5” but was able to hold off much bigger players and ride the challenges from Seattle’s physical midfield and back line. I am excited to see him progress as Philly progresses throughout the season, especially considering that he is only 18 years old (and according to ESPN, the youngest player in a season opener since 2007, one of the most worthless stats ever).

2. Steve Zakuani. Despite my brother’s feelings, I am convinced that Zakuani was one of the best players in the game tonight. He consistently used his pace to stretch Philly’s defense and absolutely terrorized David Myrie. Zakuani is a player who can either get behind the defense with his speed or can cut inside from the left and shoot. In that sense, he’s similar to Columbus’ Robbie Rogers; both players are unpredictable and multi-dimensional. I also think his touch isn’t poor, but maybe he does rely on his pace too much at times.

3. Osvaldo Alonso has developed into a consistent performer in the last year. He began 2009 as a Cuban refugee, in the mold of Chivas USA’s Maykel Galindo but unlike Galindo is the spine of his team. Alonso battled for every ball but also used his passing ability to maintain possession for Seattle and link between the back four and the front five. Alonso is the heart and soul of Seattle; any naysayers must simply watch a clip of him getting injured last year and crying as he was forced from the field not because of pain but because he could not contribute to his team.

Negatives (Also not in order)

1. Danny Mwanga’s play started strong with the 18 year old completing some sharp passes in the attacking third. However, he soon faded out of the game as Philly lost the possession battle, and was subbed at halftime, which is (almost) the worst insult a professional player can receive (the worst being subbed out of a game you were subbed into). Perhaps his tepid play can be attributed to being played out of position or to the numerous inexperience surrounding him; either way, hopefully Nowak will figure out how to play Mwanga where he can be successful.

2. Roger Levesque. I mean, c’mon, how long have you been playing? If San Jose circa 2004 rejected you, then you suck. Suspect finishing and touch suggest to me that Nyassi must have had some sort of injury preventing him from starting.

3. Jack McInerny was a good solid player at the youth and U-17 national level, but in his limted minutes tonight, he didn’t seem to have much of an impact. One thing of note is that he’s only 5’8” but played mostly as a target forward for the US U-17s, so the big question is whether or not he can a) re-learn to win the ball in MLS like a target forward would or b) adapt to the much more physical game by changing his style of play. I personally doubt he’ll have much of an impact unless he has a sudden growth spurt as it is much harder to go from target to creative or speedy forward as it is vice-versa, but we’ll have to see how he develops under Nowak. One thing I did see that impressed me was his sense to drop into space in the midfield on a botched Union counter and ask for the ball, which resulted in Philly maintaining possession instead of forcing the ball to their advanced yet contained midfielders and forward (Alejandro Moreno, who continues to impress me with his work rate).

Conclusion

We already know that Seattle plays a very European brand of soccer, controlling the tempo by possessing the ball and using quick precise passing and movement to overwhelm opponents on the counter. However, what we didn’t know (but learned) is that Philly has the ability to play the same attractive, if impotent, type of soccer. The Union seemed to lack the dangerous finishing pass into Seattle’s defensive third as well as that sense for goal. Look for Fred to make those defense splitting passes in his return to play next weekend against his former team IF (and it’s a big if) he can find time and space against Clyde Simms and Carey Talley (?). For the upteenth year in a row, I have been impressed with Sigi Schmid’s team building skills and am excited to see what MLS season-almost-not brings.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Thursday Lunch: MLS 2010 is REALLY here!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Not much to talk about today; just got to get down to business. I have the Eastern Conference Preview followed by my MLS Awards picks and lastly my weekly picks. Enjoy!


 

8. Kansas City Wizards

Last Year: 8-13-9 (W-L-T) 33 points, 6th in East

Key Losses: Kevin Hartman, Herculez Gomez

Key Additions: A bunch of guys no one has ever hear of

Best Fantasy Player: Jimmy Conrad scored six goals in 2008

Overview: No one knows much about any of the guys they brought in but they lost a solid player in Hartman, although apparently their new keeper has looked good in pre-season. This has historically been one of the most boring teams to watch MLS, except for 2007 when Eddie Johnson decided to play soccer. Don't look for much to change this year.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Jimmy Conrad will lead the team in goals…oh wait that actually could happen.

Prognosis: The San Jose of the East

Could finish as high as: 6th, if all those new guys are actually good (doubtful)

Or as low as: 8th, too bad there is no relegation in MLS


 

7. New England Revolution

Last Year: 11-10-9 42 points, 3rd in East, lost to the Chicago fire 3-2 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Semifinals

Key Losses: Chris Albright, Jeff Larentowicz, Steve Ralston, Brad Knighton

Key Additions: Preston Burpo, Cory Gibbs, Trading Wells Thompson

Best Fantasy Player: I hate to say it but Chris Tierney is cheap and will likely start at left back

Overview: Losing Steve Ralston was a huge blow. Without him in the 2009 playoffs New England looked flat and out of place. Taylor Twellman is a huge question mark. If he is healthy, he will be good for 10-15 goals, but you just never know with that guy. I like the move of getting rid of Wells Thompson to get Gibbs and Burpo who should both start. The only downside was they had to get rid of Jeff Larentowicz. They must feel like Pat Phelan is ready to play a big role. Shalrie Joseph is probably the best player in MLS, but this year more than ever he will be operating with a terrible supporting cast.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Steve Nichol will get fired…and then hired as the coach of the USMNT

Prognosis: They have lost a lot, but never overlook a Steve Nichol team. He and Kinnear have been the best managers in MLS this decade.

Could finish as high as: 4th, if Nichol makes his magic happen and Joseph repeats last year's performance

Or as low as: 8th, they will always struggle to score, but if their defense turns out terrible and Matt Reis isn't ready for a while they could have a terrible season.


 

6. Philadelphia Union

Last Year: N/A expansion team

Key Losses: N/A

Key Additions: N/A

Best Fantasy Player: Dan Califf should score a few goals while anchoring one of the league's best back lines.

Overview: This team looks better than most expansion team, but don't expect a performance like the Sounders last year. Their defense is really solid but questions remain on who will score the goals and what the midfield will look like. Peter Nowak is a great coach, but he is known for overworking his players. His young players could hit the wall midway through the season.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: The Union will make the playoffs and advance 1-0 on aggregate before losing in the East final to a team from the West.

Prognosis: They have many good players but I can't see this team scoring many goals.

Could finish as high as: 3rd if Danny Mwanga emerges as a scoring threat and they win a lot of 1-0 games.

Or as low as: 8th, if the defense lacks cohesion and the goals don't come.


 

5. Toronto FC

Last Year: 10-11-9 39 points, 5th in East

Key Losses: Amado Guevara, Carl Robinson, Adrian Serioux

Key Additions: Ty Harden, Having Julian De Guzman for the whole year, Grass at BMO Field

Best Fantasy Player: After the year he had last year, how can you not pick Dwayne De Rosario?

Overview: Toronto has always had great midfields; the questions have been in the back and in the front. Luckily, Stefen Frei looks like an amazing young talent at keeper that should help everyone forget about the atrocious Greg Sutton. Although their defense was poor last year, Nana Attakora really came on at the end of it, and a three man back of Jim Brennan, Attakora, and Marvell Wynne would be better then what they have had in the past. Their midfield is as strong as ever with DDR and De Guzman as two of the best players in the league. However, who is going to score the goals? Chad "the Vasectomy" Barrett (he is where balls go to die) will likely still start, but why? I really like O'Brian White and Faud Ibrahim as young players. Hopefully, they should chip in with some goals this year but they really need a key hold up man who can do the work and bring that great midfield into the attack.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Playoffs?

Prognosis: De Guzman could be better than Shalrie Joseph, but I just don't think this team has the depth to make a lasting run. They could be madly inconsistent.

Could finish as high as: 3rd, if they sign a quality striker and their defense plays well.

Or as low as: 7th, if their lack of depth shows and BMO field doesn't provide the great home field advantage of years past.


 

4. New York Red Bulls

Last Year: 5-19-6 21 points 7th in East

Key Losses: Jorge Rojas

Key Additions: Tim Ream, Chris Albright, Joel Lindpere, Carl Robinson, Red Bull Arena

Best Fantasy Player: You know just by his name that Tim Ream is going to be a straight up boss.

Overview: All kidding aside, Tim Ream looked great against Santos, as did Joel Lindpere and Bouna Condoul. These three players could be the X-factors in turning around this struggling franchise. Their new stadium is amazing and should help propel them to a few more victories. I honestly had this team rated lower until I watched their game vs. Santos. They didn't just get lucky and win 3-1; they played smart attacking soccer and held possession for most of the game. There was one stretch at the end where they strung about 20 passes together. It kills me to say this but this team actually looks good. That being said they gave up a late goal and it looks like that could kill them again.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: They will have another Cinderella run to MLS Cup.

Prognosis: This team has to scare people and it can only get better. After the World Cup they will likely sign Thierry Henry or Raul. Juan Pablo Angel is the best forward in the league; imagine if they had the two best in the league on the same team. Scary stuff.

Could finish as high as: 1st, if Henry or Raul comes and the team becomes unstoppable.

Or as low as: 5th, if the help doesn't come. This team is too good to finish lower than that though.


 

3. DC United

Last Year: 9-8-13 40 points, 4th in East

Key Losses: Fred, Luciano Emilio

Key Additions: Troy Perkins, Danny Allsopp, Christian Castillo

Best Fantasy Player: Jaime Moreno at age 36 will score at least 12 goals this year

Overview: Troy Perkins is a top 3 Keeper in the league (along with Kasey Keller and Donovan Ricketts) so after the circus that has been United's worst position in the last two year it is good to get some stability for once. I LOVE the Christian Castillo signing. I love it so much I want to marry it. Whenever USA plays El Salvador, Castillo always destroys us on the right wing. I see him being a player comparable but perhaps better than Collin Clark of Colorado. Dejan Jakovic is a dark horse contender for defender of the year. His read on the game and composure with the ball is unreal. I have never seen anything like it in MLS. It's too bad that he's from Canada otherwise he would have a USMNT career in front of him. No one talks about him, but he just does not make mistakes. On a side note, I love how DC has signed two academy prospects that could make an impact in the near future. Experts are calling GK Bill Hamid the next Tim Howard, and Will Chang (DCU owner) says that Andy Najar will contribute this year. This is great stuff from a class organization.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Moreno will finally win his league MVP

Prognosis: People have questions about the defense, but people aren't me. This is the best defense United has had in years. Julius James is finally fulfilling his potential and despite Marc Burch's injury, they should be fine with Rodney Wallace at left back for a while.

Could finish as high as: 1st if another scorer emerges along with Moreno and Santino Quaranta has the type of year he says he is going to have.

Or as low as: 5th, if everyone else really is right about the defense (they aren't).


 

2. Chicago Fire

Last Year: 11-7-12 45 points, 2nd in East, beat New England 3-2 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, lost to Salt Lake 0-0 (5-4 pks) in the Eastern Conference Final

Key Losses: Chris Rolfe, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, Gonzalo Segares, Jon Busch

Key Additions: Collins John

Best Fantasy Player: Marco Pappa should continue his success from last year

Overview: This team lost a lot of its key guys but the reality is that the east is so bad that even if the Fire has a mediocre year guys like Brian McBride and Wilman Conde should be enough to ensure they finish this high up in the table. Perhaps this will be the year that Justin Mapp finally fulfills his potential; even if he doesn't it shouldn't matter. The only really question mark they have is in goal where they are handing the reins over to 24-year-old Andrew Dykstra who really has no experience. But, if they were confident, enough to cut the 2008 MLS Goalkeeper of the year maybe this kid really is special. Although Collins John hasn't scored a league goal since 2008, he was once a prolific goal scorer in both the EPL and Dutch Eridivisie. Look for him to contribute double-digit goals as he lines up with his old Fulham strike partner in McBride.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: The fire will miss the playoffs after the FIRE sale (GET IT? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHHAHA) of their players.

Prognosis: They don't really have a lot of holes and they should be solid in general but this isn't the type of team that is going to go apeshit and be blowing people out 4-0 every week.

Could finish as high as: 1st, if Dykstra is solid in goal and Collins John plays like he is still at Fulham

Or as low as: 4th, if McBride gets hurt, Dykstra plays like Louis Crayton, and Collins John does absolutely nothing.


 

1. Columbus Crew

Last Year: 13-7-10 49 points, 1st in East, Supporter's Shield Winners, lost to Salt Lake 4-2 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Semifinals

Key Losses: Alejandro Moreno

Key Additions: None

Best Fantasy Player: Guillermo Baros Schelotto is such a boss. If you don't know, don't play MLS fantasy.

Overview: The Crew probably should have won MLS Cup last year but some questionable coaching decisions and Robbie Findley being a badass cost them the title. Luckily, they return all of their starters except for Moreno who is replaced by the bossy, 80's dancing, waffro sporting, blonde locked Steven Lenhart. This guy is ready to break out. I predict an 11-goal season for one of my favorite non-DC players. Robbie Rogers had an off year last year, but he should bounce back, especially with all the experience he got from the USMNT last year. Really, there isn't much to say. They will play good soccer and they will win: end of story.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Lenhart will lead the league in goals.

Prognosis: This team could cruise into the playoffs; it's just a matter of getting hot at the end of the season in order to win their 4th trophy in 3 years.

Could finish as high as: 1st, it's going to happen

Or as low as: 2nd, if hell freezes over


 

And now for my Award Picks:


 

Best XI: Donovan Ricketts, Dejan Jakovic, Wilman Conde, Chad Marshall, Brad Davis, David Ferreira, Landon Donovan, Shalrie Joseph, Julian De Guzman, Juan Pablo Angel, Fredy Montero

Rookie of the Year: Tim Ream

Goalkeeper of the Year: Donovan Ricketts

Defender of the year: Wilman Conde

MVP: Juan Pablo Angel

The Best XI is pretty self-explanatory, but really who knows what will happen? Tim Ream is apparently really solid and he should start all the games for New York as long as he isn't hurt or suspended. I expect him to do at least as well as Omar Gonzales did last year. Donovan Ricketts should improve on his great season last year, as should Wilman Conde, who doesn't get as much press as he should. Finally, Juan Pablo Angel could challenge for 20 goals this year, especially if he is joined by Henry or Raul half way through the season. Look for him to win his first MVP


 

Lastly, replacing the top ten list every week will be my MLS game predictions. As always, the home team will be listed first:


 

Thursday March 24

Seattle 3 Philadelphia 0


 

Friday March 25

Chivas 1 Colorado 2


 

Saturday March 26

Columbus 3 Toronto 1

Dallas 2 Houston 1

New York 1 Chicago 1

Kansas City 1 DC 2

San Jose 0 Salt Lake 2

LA 3 New England 1


 

That will be all for today. Check in next week for my MLS Week 1 recap.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Wednesday Lunch: Mini East Preview

Hello everyone and welcome to this Wednesdays lunch. I have a great preview of the "Big" East coming up as well as the third entry in my top five list. Sorry for the week absence, but I realize that many of you have probably only just finished reading my last mammoth column. I apologize if I took anyone away from their friends and family because of the length and in-depthness of my last column. I was also having personal problems that prevented me from completing the column. If I were a professional athlete this would mean that I had been found with some drugs or a few women on the side. In my case it just means that my colleagues didn't do theirs and I wanted to be lazy too. If I seem more interesting if I had lots of pot or woman on the side, then by all means, imagine those personal problems. In any case, I am here now; let's get into the preview. (One quick note, even though the basketball side of the "Big" East has 16 teams and is, in fact, big, the football conference only has eight teams. Therefore, I will use quotation marks every time I mention college football's smallest conference)

Cincinnati: 2009 record 12-1 (7-0 conference)

Best Case: Even though the defending champs lost their starting quarterback, top receiver and head coach, they shouldn't drop off as much as everyone thinks. A non-conference schedule that eases them into their big date with Oklahoma couldn't have set up any better and they should get a minimum of three wins out of that part of the schedule. That should allow the offense to break in a new quarterback and allow Jacob Ramsey and the running backs to step up with more experience. A defense that overachieved for most of last year should only get better, expect this to be a strong link for this team and a possibility of 10 wins and a repeat "Big" East title.

Worst Case: Breaking in a new quarterback and receivers would be hard enough with a coach familiar with the program, butt a new coach makes this even harder. This team could struggle against top-notch programs like Pitt, Oklahoma, and Rutgers (dam right I just put Rutgers in the same group as Pitt and Oklahoma, we'll get there.) The running backs will probably continue to struggle, and if the defense played like it did against Pitt and Florida, this could be a long year. A bowl bid is likely no matter what, but seven wins isn't out of the question on the wrong end of the stick.


 

Connecticut: 2009 record 8-5 (3-4 conference)

Best Case: 2, 3, 4, 4, and 2. Those were the margin of defeat in the Huskies loses last year, which only made the passing of cornerback Jasper Howard that much more difficult. All of those losses except for one were against teams that were ranked at the time of the game or by the end of the year. With two 1,000 rushers the Huskies were a force to be reckoned with on the ground and junior running back Jordan Todman should be considered a dark horse player of the year candidate. Zach Frazer is back for another season at quarterback so the offense should have no problem lighting up scoreboards on 2010. If the defense steps up from its uneven play from a year ago, the Huskies should ride a mediocre non-conference schedule to nine wins and a solid bowl berth.

Worst Case: A team that couldn't win the close ones or stop anybody all year reverts to the same ways and loses its opener at Michigan Stadium. The team loses confidence and Todman has no room to operate on the ground. This team could easily lose six games and seven or eight at the most. No matter what, a lower tier bowl is probably the worst they will do, but you never know.


 

Louisville: 2009 record 4-8 (1-6 conference)

Best Case: Getting rid of Steve Kragthorpe solves the problems Louisville has been having the past few since Bobby Petrino left and they start to rise out of the doldrums. A few exciting freshmen signings along with bruising running back Victor Anderson create a buzz around the program that a favorable early schedule turns into eight wins and a bowl berth. This will probably be a bit of a rebuilding year for the Cardinals, but not all hope is lost.

Worst Case: Their four wins last year were by an average of less than 8 points per game, and if you take out the Indiana State game, that drops to less than four per game. Southern Miss, Arkansas State and Syracuse were the only wins over FBS teams and this team could be even worse. New Coach Charlie Strong has a huge rebuilding project at a school with not a whole lot of tradition. If Anderson struggles this team may only win three games against a schedule that turns brutal by the end.


 

Pittsburgh: 2009 record 10-3 (5-2 conference)

Best Case: Dion Lewis becomes the fourth straight sophomore to win the Heisman as Pitt knocks off Utah and Miami early to start an undefeated season that ends with a National Championship.

Worst Case: Lewis has a sophomore slump and the Panthers anemic passing game can't step up enough. They lose big to Miami and get upset on the road by Utah and Notre Dame. This sets the tone for a difficult season that ends with eight wins and hated West Virginia winning the Big East.


 

Rutgers: 2009 record 9-4 (3-4 conference)

Best Case: Savage, Martinek and Sanu become household names as Rutgers offense regularly explodes for 50 plus points against a pillow soft schedule. If this team gets on a roll, they could take the Big East by storm and any amount of defense could turn the Scarlet Knights into a dark horse national title contender.

Worst Case: The team that was blown out by Syracuse shows up and after losing one or two in their creampuff schedule, their defense is eviscerated and they barely scrape into a bowl. Tom Savage has a sophomore slump and Mohamed Sanu can't catch anything. This makes life harder for Joe Martinek and his production drops off as well. Expect a bowl no matter what, but a lower tier one could be in the Scarlet Knights dim future.


 

South Florida: 2009 record 8-5 (3-4 conference)

Best Case: A team that traditionally starts fast explodes out of the gate with a win over Florida in the second week of the season. They replace Jason Pierre-Paul and George Selvie at defensive end and the defense returns to its dominant form from a year ago. This year is different for new coach Skip Holtz as he keeps up the momentum from early in the season to win nine games and tie for the "Big" East crown. If dual threat quarterback BJ Daniels can pick up where he left off last season, he could be one of the most electric players in the nation and the leader of a very productive offense.

Worst Case: A team that starts fast doesn't this year with a blowout loss to in state rival Florida and the collapse down the stretch continues as normal for the Bulls. A late season loss to Miami loses them major recruits in the state of Florida and the program suffers for years because of it. BJ Daniels has a sophomore slump and the defense gets no pressure on the quarterback. Four wins and home in the bowl season.


 

Syracuse: 2009 record 4-8 (1-6 conference)

Best Case: This will be a rebuilding year at Syracuse, so 2 or 3 wins and good recruits would be excellent. Sorry Orange fans, you have a basketball team in the Sweet 16 (and probably further), stop complaining.

Worst Case: Oy. This could be painful. They should be able to beat Maine at home, but beyond that, I don't see an easily winnable game on the schedule. Though time to lose your best quarterback, running back and wide receiver in the same year. Although if your best quarterback was Greg Paulus, you had some work to do in the first place, so maybe it's for the best.


 

West Virginia: 2009 record 9-4 (5-2 conference)

Best Case: I don't think I can talk about this team rationally, so Noel Devine could win the Heisman and West Virginia could win the conference championship. If I say anymore, I could start hyperbolizing.

Worst Case: A new quarterback and normally below average (read, shitty) defense along with a trip to Death Valley (the stadium in LSU, not the stadium at Clemson or the desert in Southern California) kills the Mountaineers confidence and they finish with eight wins.

Now that I got past talking about West Virginia without exploding let's move to number three on my top five list of most exciting players of my lifetime. If you missed the last two entries, Michael Vick (pre-dog fighting) checked in at number five and the Steve "I just fumbled again" Slaton and Pat White checked in as a tandem number 4. Numbers 3 isn't as well known to many people, but trust me, he was awesome.

3. Trindon Holliday- Anyone who has enjoyed watching the Florida Gators ridiculous speed the past few years would have enjoyed burner Trindon Holliday even more. Holliday was used sparingly on offense as a receiver and running back, but the tiny speed demon was a terror returning kicks and he could take it to the house faster than any player I have ever seen.

That's all the time I have for this week's lunch, but join me next week for a Big 12 preview and the number 2 most exciting player of my lifetime. Also, there will be this.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tuesday Lunch: 30 Days, 18 Hours, 2 Minutes, 55 Seconds…

    Can anyone guess what the time in the title is of? Waiting. Waiting. Still waiting… Oh, what's that? Yes you are right! It's the amount of time from when I first started writing to the beginning of the 2010 NFL Draft! Woooooooooooooooo! I am so excited, as I know all of you are.

    Oh? It won't be as good this year? You're probably right, as the original timeslot for the draft made it an unofficial holiday for us NFLers (Saturday morning, then to Saturday afternoon, then ending on Sunday). But this year? It's a three day extravaganza, starting on Thursday during east coast primetime, and ending on Saturday. But hey, I'll still enjoy it. Hopefully, I don't have class (which I may, sadly) on the first day, but I'll do my best to catch it. Since we're talking about this great event, I think I will do my first mock draft (part one)! After I complete my next part for next week, I'll update it as needed and have it at the bottom of my post in two weeks in its entirety. My firsthand knowledge of the prospects is obviously nonexistent, but hey I have a blog, and you don't (most likely). So DEAL WITH IT. Ok, on the clock now…

  • 1. St. Louis Rams – Sam Bradford QB, Oklahoma
    • A shocker! A quarterback going #1 overall? Madness! Ok well maybe not so much, but the Rams definitely need a franchise quarterback. If Spagnuolo thinks Bradford is his man does not have any major aftereffects from shoulder surgery, then the Rams can justify paying a crap ton of guaranteed money to one player when they need so many. I among many other people believe that Ndamukong Suh is the overall best player in this draft, however, it's harder to justify paying $15 million a year to a defensive lineman than it is to a field general. Despite being a Sooner, I hope and believe Bradford will be very successful in the NFL in St. Louis, or wherever he ends up (or Washington).
  • 2. Detroit Lions – Ndamukong Suh DT, Nebraska
    • The surprise of the draft is if this Senior falls past number three at Tampa, as him or Gerald McCoy (DT Oklahoma) are considered very close talent wise. McCoy had a down year but was still very productive, but Suh was just flat out the most dominant, best player in the country last season. He sacked fellow Heisman candidate Colt McCoy four and a half times when they met in they met in the Big 12 Championship game. It's not his fault that his offense BLEW, and got very unlucky with that McCoy pass going out of bounds, and keeping one second on the clock. I expect Suh to make a very nice impact to Jim Schwartz's defense, who produced godly numbers for fellow DT, Albert Haynesworth. I like Suh to be a perennial Pro Bowler, even though he's in Detroit.
  • 3. Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Gerald McCoy DT, Oklahoma
    • Like I said in the previous paragraph, the Bucs will pick up either Suh or McCoy, whoever doesn't go to Motown. McCoy had a very successful career in Norman, and will help out a horrific Tampa team on defense, but only minimally this upcoming year. I do not like what I've seen out of young headman Raheem Morris to do much of anything good. That defense is bad and will only marginally get better until it gets a better overhaul then it has gotten. McCoy will be a star in the league, just not as fast as Suh if he ends up in Tampa.
  • 4. Washington Redskins – Russell Okung OT, Oklahoma State
    • Now right here is where the draft starts to get interesting. Many people believe that Clausen will not get out of the top four, but some people think that he will be picked up in the second round. This round is very deep, and I don't think that Shanahan will pick up Clausen without improving the porous offensive line. I mean, if they have someone on their roster that shares my name, I don't think they are in good shape. Okung is the clear-cut number one tackle on the draft board, and coincidentally, the 'skins need help on the offensive line! It's a match made in heaven (not as good as Marshall/Lily, but close)! Okung had a relatively quiet combine, but did better overall than the other tackles, and kept him ahead of the others in terms of best tackle in the draft. He'll get picked up here.
  • 5. Kansas City Chiefs – Eric Berry S, Tennessee
    • I originally had Iowa tackle Bryan Bulaga at this spot, but then I looked the safeties they had on roster, and they all sucked. Plus, the Chiefs just signed G Ryan Lilja, so their line is better(ish). Berry is the premier playmaker in the secondary this draft. I believe Mel Kiper Jr. has him as his best player on the board, but I could be wrong. Berry was phenomenal last year despite playing for a major doucher in Lane Kiffin, but that's beside the point. The Chiefs have a sever need for help in the last line of defense, and this guy is one of the best on the board (or well, in my scenario, THE best). Despite being undersized, Berry is a phenomenal athlete and should be great for whatever team he ends up on (hopefully not in the AFC West).
  • 6. Seattle Seahawks – Bryan Bulaga OT, Iowa
    • Seattle is on the clock, and they need a playmaker, BUT, they can wait on CJ Spiller. They do need to fix up their line. Former great Walter Jones is going to retire soon, and they need to add some youth to that line to even consider helping a playmaker succeed in Pete Carroll's offense. Hasselbeck is also gaining age, but since they acquired Charlie Whitehurst, their quarterback situation is presumably solved. Bulaga has been climbing up draft boards, and I expect Carroll to go with this big guy from the Big 10. Be careful though, while Bulaga looks like a sure thing, he may turn out as well as former Hawkeye, Robert Gallery. Buyer beware.
  • 7. Cleveland Browns – Joe Haden CB, Florida
    • Haden comes off the board here as the first corner, even though he had a rough combine. He ran a bad 40 at the combine, but has shown that he has the best skills in his game tape. The Brownies have made multiple changes this offseason with the new brain trust in the front office (Holmgren and Co.), they need to improve the secondary. If Berry were here, I think Holmgren would have snatched him up in two seconds. But their secondary is terrible, and they need some instant help.
  • 8. Oakland Raiders – Bruce Campbell OT, Maryland
    • Raiders need offensive line help. Al Davis likes freakishly good athletes. Bruce Campbell ran a 4.8 40. Therefore, Al Davis drafts Bruce Campbell.
  • 9. Buffalo Bills – Trent Williams OT, Oklahoma
    • Three Sooners will be drafted in the first round this year. Craziness! Williams has also been climbing up draft boards in the league due to his solid workouts and will also be the fourth offensive linemen picked up this round. The Bills dealt Jason Peters last year, so they obviously need help on the line. Also, they have two number one backs in Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson, so any help up front, the better they would be.
  • 10. Jacksonville Jaguars – Derrick Morgan DE/LB, Georgia Tech
    • So even though Jacksonville used two first round picks on "future elite pass rushers," they have not panned out. Surprising, right? Morgan was a beast last year in Georgia Tech, and may end up as the best DE out of this draft. So either he can help keep the Jags in Florida, or at least give them some good PR for when they move to LA.
  • 11. Denver Broncos – Kyle Wilson CB, Boise State
    • This is a very optimistic pick for my Broncos. I really hope that McDaniels and Xanders make a smart pick by picking someone to help out the aging secondary. I really hope that they either take Wilson or Texas FS Earl Thomas. This is, however, assuming that Brandon Marshall is not traded. Even though there have been upgrades to the defense, the secondary is still old. Bailey and Dawkins are aging, and they won't be getting younger. Wilson has done nothing but looked better and better for scouts and teams, and he may not last long past Denver if he is passed up at the 12 spot.
  • 12. Miami Dolphins – Dan Williams DT, Tennessee
    • The interior line of Miami has been lacking recently, and Williams can fill that spot. Parcells has always had a special place in his (cold) heart for big, strong players, and the 6'3" 327 lb Williams could fill that void. It's getting late right now, so I will keep my explanations shorter and shorter.
  • 13. San Francisco 49ers – Anthony Davis OT, Rutgers
    • There have been varying concerns about Anthony Davis playing ability, and has also looked worse in game tape. However, he is still a great talent that would fit in with the Niners. Despite having an unsure decision at their quarterback decision, Gore and Coffee are a nice one-two punch for them and Crabtree looked great in his brief time last year.
  • 14. Seattle Seahawks – CJ Spiller RB, Clemson
    • As I stated earlier, Seattle needs a playmaker, and Spiller is a perfect fit for that role. Pete Carroll made Reggie Bush look like a #1 pick candidate(riiiiiiiight). Spiller lived up to the hype at his workouts, and will be very, VERY good at the next level. Man I need to sleep…
  • 15. New York Giants – Rolando McClain MLB, Alabama
    • The Giants cut captain Antonio Pierce, and now have a gaping hole at Mike. Despite relatively still and a lower motor than some recent first round middle linebackers, McClain is the best in the draft. This seems like a pretty good fit.
  • 16. Tennessee Titans – Jason Pierre-Paul DE, South Florida
    • Pierre-Paul had a good combine and great workouts, but only played one season at South Florida. He may very well end up as another edge rushing bust (i.e. the other two pass rushers the Jags have). I do hope Pierre-Paul is successful. The Titans lost Kyle Vanden Bosch, and need a new outside rusher, and I think they will take DLine at this spot.

I was planning on doing the entire first round tonight, but since I procrastinated and I am getting very tired, I don't feel like staying up until 4:30. So NEXT time, I will have the rest of the first round.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Monday Lunch: MLS 2010 is here!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Holla, what it do? Sorry about last week guys, I had to pick up Will from the train station and that apparently took me 7 days. But what can I say? It was an exciting week. The new MLS CBA was signed and there will not be a strike!

This week marks a change in content in my usual column. I will still provide the same observations, but as MLS is upon us, I will be shifting my focus more towards MLS and be taking some of it away from Americans Abroad that are not named Clint Dempsey. Speaking of DEUCE, (make sure to 720p this one).

What a goal. Grant Wahl called it the best goal an American has ever scored for a club team in Europe (taking into consideration quality of the goal, competition and meaning) and I agree. For those of you that think that that was a cross, L2Soccer.

Anyways time to start talking about MLS 2010 where I will be previewing the Western Conference today.

Here are some general observations before I get to my actual preview:

  • The West is much, much, much better than the East
  • Blanco is gone so now my least favorite player in MLS returns to being Wells Thompson
  • With 16 teams there is a balanced schedule for the first time ever (each team plays each other 15 times at home and 15 away) which is great but it means one fewer HONDA SUPERCLASSICO
  • Red Bull Arena is cool, but the Red Bulls are still lame
  • DC United still doesn't have a stadium, WTF
  • I'm hearing that Seattle will average 40,000 this year; truly amazing
  • According to World Soccer Magazine, Seattle's 2009 average attendance of 30,943 ranks 50th in the World, just behind Gremio of Brazil with 31,725 and more than Italy's Fiorentina with 28,928. If they average 40,000 like is planned, they will rank 32nd, ahead of storied clubs such as Aston Villa, Werder Bremen, Sevilla, Porto, Lyon, Tottenham, Everton, Fenerbache, and PSV Eindhoven.
  • Only half the teams will make the playoffs this year, making the regular season actually competitive for once
  • San Jose blows

Starting next week, every Monday I will be handing out my weekly MLS awards, which are as follows:

The Jaime Moreno Award: For the player of the week, and unlike the MLS website, I won't just be choosing whichever player scores two goals.

The Marco Etcheverry Award: For the best pass of the week.

The 2004-06 Alecko Eskandarian Award: For the best goal of the week.

The Wells Thompson Award: For the worst player of the week.

The Josh Wolff Award: For the worst goal of the week.

Now for the actual preview. A few things to know about this preview before you read it. 1. I am only predicting regular season finish in ascending order; I will put up my "playoff bracket" on Thursday.

2. Actually now that I think about it, the first point was really the only thing you needed to know.

Enjoy!


 

8. San Jose Earthquakes

Last Year: 7-14-9 (W-L-T) 30 points, 8th in West

Key Losses: Shea Salinas, Darren Huckerby

Key Additions: Ike Opara

Best Fantasy Player: Ryan Johnson should score some goals. If he is cheap, pick him up.

Overview: This team was absolutely atrocious last year and they did nothing to get better. Ike Opara should be a good defender one day but he is raw and they don't even get him until he graduates college. Bobby Convey was a major disappointment last year. With the retirement of Huckerby, they don't really have any good players. At all.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: They will win five games.

Prognosis: Not Even

Could finish as high as: 7th, if Bobby Convey plays like its 2005/06 before his World Cup miss.

Or as low as: 8th obviously, but this team could challenge for the worst team in MLS history. Sorry Matt.


 

7. Chivas USA

Last Year: 13-11-6 45 points, 4th in West, lost in the Western Conference Semifinals 3-2 on aggregate to LA

Key Losses: Shavar Thomas, Eduardo Lillingston, Paulo Nagamura

Key Additions: Michael Umana?

Best Fantasy Player: Jonathan Bornstein, but he will be expensive.

Overview: They lost a key defender, midfielder and forward and they have replaced him with LA Galaxy reject Michael Umana. Preki knew what he was doing; getting out at the right time. This team is so bad that Steve Sampson thinks they are good. Jesus Padilla is my least favorite MLS player. He has no idea how to pass or cross. I truly hate him.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Sacha Kljestan will lead the league in assists.

Prognosis: They have holes at center back, right back, center midfield, left midfield, and forward. Other than that, they are great.

Could finish as high as: 4th if Sacha Kljestan takes his expanded leadership role and actually doesn't suck this year.

Or as low as: 7th, this team is bad, but not San Jose bad.


 

6. Colorado Rapids

Last Year: 10-10-10 40 points, 6th in West

Key Losses: Cory Gibbs

Key Additions: Jeff Larentowicz

Best Fantasy Player: Omar Cummings is going to explode this year.

Overview: With Connor Casey and Omar Cummings, they probably have the best forward pair in the league. Even if Casey misses time for the World Cup, (I hope this isn't the case for the USMNT's sake) they should combine for at least 20-15 with 30-20 not out of reach. Unfortunately, they traded their best defender when defense wasn't their strong suit. I do like the addition of Jeff Larentowicz, however. He and Pablo Mastroeni should form a great central midfield pair, although don't expect a high offensive contribution from the pair.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Pablo Mastroeni will score a goal.

Prognosis: I am unsure about their defense but they have a solid keeper and are pretty solid everywhere else.

Could Finish as high as: 3rd, if their defense turns out to be decent and the Larentowicz-Mastroeni pairing works wonders.

Or as low as: 7th, if their defense plays like the 2008 LA Galaxy.


 

5. Real Salt Lake

Last Year: 11-12-7, 40 points, beat Columbus 4-2 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, beat Chicago 0-0 (5-4 pks) in the Eastern Conference Final, Beat LA 1-1 (5-4 pks) in MLS Cup

Key Losses: Yura Movsisyan, Chris Seitz, Clint Mathis

Key Additions: Luis Gil, Alvaro Saborio

Best Fantasy Player: Robbie Findley will have his best year as a pro

Overview: RSL was lucky to get into the playoffs at all. They have DC's major choke-job (a CJ, not as cool as a BJ……that was in poor taste) to thank for even being there. They were a mediocre team that caught fire at the right time. This being said, no one wants to play these guys in an elimination scenario. Nick Rimando was great last year and Jamison Olave could be the best defender in the league if he learned that two footed tackles from behind sometimes get you sent off. This is a good team, but their offense goes with Javier Morales who had an off year last year after being amazing in 2008.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Alvaro Saborio will score double-digit goals.

Prognosis: This team is madly inconsistent and has yet to register a winning season. Look for them to beat the best teams and lose to the worst.

Could Finish as high as: 2nd, if Javier Morales rediscovers his form and Saborio and Findley form a deadly partnership.

Or as low as: 7th, if Jason Kreis plays Fabian Espindola in more than half of the games.


 

4. Houston Dynamo

Last Year: 13-8-9, 48 points, beat Seattle 1-0 (After Extra Time) in the Western Conference Semifinals, lost to LA 2-0 (AET) in the Western Conference Final

Key Losses: Ricardo Clark, Stuart Holden

Key Additions: Adrian Serioux

Best Fantasy Player: Brad Davis will not be going to the World Cup and will have a larger role in the offense. He could post a 7-15 season.

Overview: On paper, this team should not succeed. They lost two of their best players and this is the year after they lost De Rosario. Fortunately soccer is not played on paper and the reason I have confidence in them is Dominic Kinnear; the league's best manager. Kinnear is a dark horse candidate to take over the USMNT spot after the World Cup and he would be a good choice. It seems like every year they lose a great player but they still are in the thick of things at the end. Look for Corey Ashe to break out this year as the Dynamo drop, but not out of the playoff picture.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Geoff Cameron will make his second straight appearance on the MLS Best XI team, but as a midfielder.

Prognosis: This will be the most organized team and hardest working team in MLS, but they have lost too much talent to finish 2nd in the West again.

Could Finish as high as: 2nd, if new players emerge and Brian Ching scores in the double digits.

Or as low as: 6th, if the losses of Holden and Clark prove to be too much.


 

3. LA Galaxy

Last Year: 12-6-12 48 points, 1st in West, beat Chivas 3-2 on aggregate in the Western Conference Semifinals, beat Houston 2-0 (AET) in the Western Conference Final, Lost to RSL 1-1 (5-4 pks) in MLS Cup

Key Losses: David Beckham (possibly)

Key Additions: Three Brazilian guys and Clint Mathis

Best Fantasy Player: If Landon Donovan isn't on your fantasy team, either you don't deserve to play, or your name is Matt Ream (noob).

Overview: I really thought this was the best team last year even though they didn't win the Supporter's Shield. They got Beckham back and made a great run to MLS cup in which they were unlucky not to win. This team doesn't really have any holes and getting back Sean Franklin and Edson Buddle for the full season should really help them. The only question mark is if David Beckham will play after his recent Achilles injury. I think he will make it back before the season ends, but in the meantime Chris Birchall (an underrated player) will have to fill in.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Dema Kovalenko and Clint Mathis will combine for six red cards.

Prognosis: With Ricketts in goal and a solid backline, they will have the best defense in MLS but their scoring options are few outside of Landon Donovan. Bruce Arena will not let this team miss the playoffs.

Could Finish as high as: 1st if Donovan stays the whole year and Edson Buddle goes Keyser Söze when Donovan is at the World Cup.

Or as low as: 3rd, even if everything goes bad, this team is too good to finish lower than 3rd.


 

2. FC Dallas

Last Year: 11-13-6 39 points, 7th in West

Key Losses: Dave Van Den Bergh
Key Additions: Kevin Hartman

Best Fantasy Player: Jeff Cunningham could repeat his 17 goal 8 assist performance.

Overview: This pick will most likely make me look like a tool at the end of the year; but I really like this team. Their only key loss was Dave Van Den Bergh, but Brek Shea is ready to take his spot. They have a young team and brought it together surprisingly well at the end of last year. David Ferreira was terrible at the start of the season, but amazing as he acclimated to the league. His partnership with Jeff Cunningham and whoever plays the other forward role will be key in this team's success. They have some defensive issues. I do however like the addition of Kevin Hartman. Dario Sala has been my least favorite keeper in MLS for a while now. I think he led the league in goals scored on him in which he never made an attempt for the ball, never a good sign for your keeper.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Brek Shea makes the MLS Best XI and then gets sold to Manchester United

Prognosis: The team lacks experience, but I think they will put it all together and make a run at the Supporter's Shield.

Could Finish as high as: 1st, if their young players play like they did during the last half of 2009.

Or as low as: 6th, if what everyone else says about this team is actually true (I may be the only person in the world who likes this team).


 

1. Seattle Sounders FC

Last Year: 12-7-11 47 points, 3rd in West, lost to Houston 1-0 (AET) on aggregate in the Western Conference Semifinals, won the US Open Cup

Key Losses: Sebastien Le Toux

Key Additions: Blaise Nkufo (summer)

Best Fantasy Player: Fredy Montero should only improve on his 12 goal, seven assist season, assuming he isn't transferred before season end.

Overview: This team plays fantastic soccer. I have never seen a team move the ball from one side of the field to the other as fast as they do without just playing long balls. They have all the players they need to compete; the only question is if they will be able to score by the end of the next season. Fortunately, they made the best signing of the off-season by agreeing to get Swiss National Team striker Blaise Nkufo after the World Cup. Currently playing for FC Twente in the Dutch Eridivisie, Nkufo has scored 114 league goals in the past 7 years with them as well as 7 goals in 29 appearances for Switzerland. Despite concerns about his age (35 when he comes over) this could be a signing on par with the Juan Pablo Angel signing a few years back.

Bold prediction that likely won't come true: Fredy Montero has a sophomore slump

Prognosis: The only player they lost wasn't a starter so they return all of their best players and gain another one in Nkufo. If Freddie Ljungberg comes back in the form he was in at the end of last year, the sky is the limit.

Could Finish as high as: 1st, although expect them to win the Supporter's Shield

Or as low as: 2nd, this team has too many good players to finish out of the top two. Even if they are hit by the injury bug, they still have enough players to make it happen.

That will be all for today. Join me Thursday for my Eastern Conference Preview as well as my MLS "playoff bracket" and my Award Predictions.