Wednesday, July 16, 2014

LeBron's inevitable homecoming

LeBron to Cleveland?!
Friday afternoon as I drove from Atlanta to Savannah to enjoy a slow, lazy and, of course, spirit-filled weekend (it's Savannah, after all), we heard BREAKING NEWS: LeBron James is returning home!

Well color me surprised! Just kidding, I'm not. Had LeBron chosen to stay in Miami I would have been shocked, because I believe that ending up back in Cleveland was always LeBron's plan. LeBron was forced to leave Cleveland in the first place because they didn't fully realize his worth and wouldn't build a championship team around him.

After the 2014 Finals,
who didn't see this coming?
LeBron always wanted to end up back in Cleveland. But he needed to leave in order to gain the power and sway to get what he needed to bring a championship to his hometown team. He could only get that power by leaving and doing it elsewhere. He had to make a point to Dan Gilbert: even though he loves his hometown, if they weren't going to surround him with talent to win a championship, he was going to find somewhere that would. He did that in Miami—with two championships and back-to-back MVP awards (bringing his total to four, just one behind MJ). Before, Gilbert seemed to think either LeBron could do it on his own with minimal surrounding talent, or that LeBron loved home so much that he would just accept Gilbert’s refusal to spend the money necessary to bring the right players to Cleveland. Now that Gilbert has seen what a LeBron-less Cavs team looks like, and that his superstar won’t sit back and just take it, his wallet is flying open.

But there’s another reason LeBron left Cleveland. It’s because a superstar of his caliber can't be in a town like Cleveland forever. It’s not like Jeter with the Yankees or Kobe with the Lakers – he couldn't stay with one team his whole career because his team was in Cleveland, not New York or LA; he had to get out and live somewhere a superstar lives for a few years to become “LEBRON JAMES.” Miami gave him the prestige, the “it factor,” to go along with his name. He lived it up for four years, and now he’s ready to settle down back home. LeBron got everything he wanted out of his time in Miami – two rings, the superstar lifestyle and the pull necessary to make this move back to Cleveland, where they will now do whatever he wants.

The old sweatshirt that was the
2014 Final's Miami Heat
LeBron's exit from Miami became was clear to me, and anyone else watching, during this year’s Finals. The Heat had become LeBron's favorite old sweatshirt — warm and cozy but, in reality, all worn out and he knew it was time to get rid of it. The magic was gone and would not return. The past four years with LeBron, Wade and Bosh were truly special, but by this year’s Finals they were running on fumes. I knew LeBron was gone because you could read the frustration on his face; he had gotten what he wanted out of his time in Miami and he was done.

There was no “Decision” this time. In fact, I don’t think there was much of a decision for LeBron to even make; his return to Cleveland was inevitable and inescapable. When a superstar like LeBron James keeps a home in AKRON, there is a reason: because it is home and that’s where—excuse the pun—his heart is.

Now that Cleveland lost LeBron once, they are going to do everything in their power to make him happy. What makes LeBron happy? Championships to add to his legacy. Cleveland has a better foundation upon which LeBron can build numerous more championships, with young talent like Kyrie Irving, Anthony Bennett and Andrew Wiggins. They also have the cap room with which to bring in key role players, and LeBron is someone people will take a pay cut to play alongside.

Every NBA player over age 30.
Now LeBron looks to cement his legacy as one of the greatest of all time by bringing Cleveland, his hometown, its first title in any sport in 50 years. I don’t think there is anyone who doubts he will do it. This was his plan all along.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not your mama's Brazil: The aftermath of Germany's rout

It was a beating of epic proportions; a smack down, a throttling, a whipping, a trouncing. No matter what you call it, Germany’s 7-1 win over Brazil in the 2014 World Cup semifinals was stunning—stunningly good for the Germans and, almost more noteworthy, stunningly bad for the Brazilians. Brazil was at home, where no one expected them to lose; but they were also at home, with more pressure than has probably ever been on one team.

You see, Brazil is a soccer (or fotebol) nation and they expect to always win—especially at home. But tragedy struck the team in the quarterfinals when superstar forward Neymar was hit from behind and fractured a vertebra, rendering him unable to play the rest of the tournament. The team was in shock that their star was out; in fact, it is reported that the team was so "stressed" about losing him that they had a sports psychologist come speak with them.

Apparently it didn't work.

The Brazil that showed up, also down central defender Thiago Silva who was out on the accumulation of yellow cards (which is a whole other issue we can discuss another time), looked more like a mediocre college team than a world-class national team with five World Cup trophies. They were sloppy, slow and uninspired. Instead of rallying around the loss of their superstar, they imploded.

All things said, this 2014 Brazil team was far from their best. They didn't play o jogo bonito, or fotebol arte, that we've become accustomed to seeing from them. There was little beauty in their recent games; there were no Brazilian playmakers gracefully dancing and weaving around the competition and they had the most fouls of any team in the tournament through the quarterfinals. The result (winning), not the style, was all that mattered. For a nation and a national team that prides itself on beautiful, flowing and exciting soccer, this was not the team of their dreams.

The news has all been about how bad Brazil was; but one of the reasons they were so bad was their opponent played nearly flawless soccer. The Germans played a masterful game and even a healthy Neymar couldn't have stopped their relentless perfection. They created opportunities and took advantage of every opportunity given by Brazil (and there were many). The Germans score five goals in the first half — in just 18 minutes. They were fluid, aggressive and physical. The result was perhaps the most complete, and certainly the most dominant, game in World Cup history.

I, along with most of the world, always forgets how good Germany is; how good they've always been. This was the fourth World Cup semifinal they've made in a row and the second final in the last four, with this game their redemption to losing to Brazil in the 2002 finals—the only other time these two teams have met. In 18 World Cups, they have finished in the top four 13 times (including this year's yet-to-be-determined final result); they won it all in 1954, 1974 and 1990, they've been runners-up four times (1966, 1982, 1986, 2002), come in third four times (1934, 1970, 2006, 2010) and fourth once (1958). Impressive to say the least. Their striker, 24-year-old Thomas Mueller is playing in his second World Cup with 10 goals in 12 games, making him just the second player to score five goals in consecutive World Cup tournaments. The other? Mueller's teammate Miroslav Klose, who did it in 2002 and 2006.

Germany is a national team that historically, and currently, is a force to be reckoned with. If you  want to read about how and why the German national team is so good, I highly suggest you read this article: How Germany's 14-Year Plan Destroyed Brazil, it's fascinating.

In the aftermath of the bloodbath in Belo Horizonte, we expected objects thrown onto the field and riots to break out across Brazil as fans openly and unapologetically wept in the stands. But then something beautiful happened: at the conclusion of the game, the Brazilian fans stood and applauded the German side that had just embarrassed their team (and some would say their nation). The show of sportsmanship was unexpected and inspiring; it reminded us that this game, this beautiful game, is more important than any result. And though national pride is at stake, the love of the game itself is the final outcome.

Monday, July 7, 2014

World Cup Semis ... from a female perspective

And then there were four; four teams and four World Cup semifinalists worthy of our admiration. We said "Au revoir" to Olivier Giroud of France and Nacer Chadli of Belgium, and "Adios" to Yeltsin Tejada of Costa Rica and James (Hi-mez) of Colombia. But those four who remain... well, let's just say I don't expect these semi final games to disappoint.

Game 1


Germany
Brazil

Germany vs. Brazil
Tuesday July 8 
4 p.m.





Representing Germany, we have Mats Hummels!
Mats Hummels, Germany

After somehow missing Mats in the first round, he has made a strong comeback. The 6'4" central defender scored a beautiful header in the quarterfinals against France. Much like in WWII, the Germans out-muscled the French, in no small part to Hummels (too soon?).

















Representing Brazil, we have Oscar (Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior), the Chelsea attacking midfielder.
Oscar, Brazil

With the unfortunatel and devastating injury to Brazil's superstar Neymar, the hopes of the host nation lies squarely on the young shoulders of 22-year-old Oscar. With only one goal in the tournament and the expectation of 200 million Brazilians, I expect Oscar to step up to the role, but his for team to still have a difficult time against the much bigger and stronger German side.



Result: Losing Naymar is a killer for Brazil, and the squad hasn't even looked at good to begin with. The Germans are in their fourth-straight World Cup semi final and I expect them to push Brazil around physically in a way they aren't used to and won't react well to. Look for Die Mannschaft to head to their sixth World Cup final.

Game 2


The Netherlands
Argentina
    The Netherlands vs. Argentina
Wednesday, July 9

 4 p.m. 







For The Netherlands, we have their captain, Robin van Persie. This Dutch team isn't the Oranje of yore - it is the trickery of coach Louis van Gaal that has gotten them further in this tournament than anyone expected.

Robin van Persie, The Netherlands
The Dutch were clearly the stronger team in their quarterfinal match against Costa Rica, but their inability to score, primarily van Persie's multiple misses, are troubling. But if the Flying Dutchman - a moniker he earned after his diving header against Spain in the opening game of the World Cup - can get back to his form of the first two games of the tournament, Lionel Messi and his squad will have their hands full trying to reach the final.







Ezequiel Lavezzi, Argentina
Representing the other South American semi finalist nation, we have Ezequiel Lavezzi of Argentina. As Sergio Aguero's replacement in the last two games, Lavezzi, has done a fair job of supporting fellow attackers Gonzalo Higuain and superstar Lionel Messi. However, with Aguero being declared fit to play in the semifinal match, it is unclear if Lavezzi will have a starting role. He has played well enough, but is not the proven goalscorer that Aguero is - something the Argentinian squad will desperately need against Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben and the rest of the hungry Dutch squad.


Result: Without Messi, this Argentinian squad wouldn't have even made the quarterfinals. But the Dutch weren't supposed to be here, either. But with Angel DiMaria's thigh tear, Argentina's second best player and Messi's right-hand man is out, which spells disaster for the South Americans. If the Oranje can score like they did in the first round (which requires van Persie to return to form after a slight hamstring injury in practive before the quarters), then I don't see the injury-riddled La Albiceleste (The White and Sky Blue) matching them on the scoreboard, and the Dutch heading to their second-straight World Cup final.

If all goes according to my predictions, we'll have a German-Dutch World Cup final at Estádio Maracanã, in Rio de Janeiro.

The Netherlands
Germany




Will this be our World Cup Final?
Check it out:
Sunday, July 13,
3 p.m on ABC



Wednesday, July 2, 2014

World Cup Quarterfinals - which of our favorites are left?

And then there were three. Well, there are eight teams left, but only three of our "favorite" players from the original list remain. As a reminder:

Nacer Chadli, Belgium
Those abs... and arms... and face...and hair... and...


Robin Van Persie, The Netherlands
In all his chiseled glory.


Olivier Giroud, France
Handsome doesn't being to describe him... but the cheating scandal does hurt his hotness factor to a slight degree.


But only three just won't do. Thus, I've decided to add a player from each of the remaining teams, and I think we have some hotties that very well should have been on the initial list. So, here we are:

Mats Hummels, Germany

Are. You. Kidding. Me. HOW did I miss Mats Hummels on the first go-around? Germany's 25-year-old central defender is currently signed to Borussia Dortmund, but there are reports that Manchester United have bid on this schöne menschen (clearly it's true)... actually, they've reportedly bid on him the last three transfer windows, but the German club is holding on tight to this one. Can you blame them? *swoon*

Oh, he scored a goal against Portugal in this World Cup. 

Relationship status: NOT MARRIED! But his girlfriend was named Bundesliga's 2013 WAG of the Year


Yeltsin Tejeda, Costa Rica

Yeltsin Antonio Tejeda Valverde. An unfortunate first name (his mother was allegedly a big fan of the first president of the Russian Federation - true story) but man... he sure makes up for it. This picture says it all. Though, from other pictures, it seems like he suffers from pretty acute RBF. Look it up.

A hidden gem, this one, who plays professionally in Costa Rica for Saprissa. This 22-year-old midfielder is wanted by Premier League Clubs, including Everton and Fulham, and reportedly turned down offers from Belgian and MLS clubs to pursue playing in England or Spain.

Relationship status: Appears to be single. With leaving Costa Rica in the near future for millions upon millions in England or Spain... that's smart of him.


James, Columbia 


This was an easy one. Yes,  James David Rodriguez Rubio (known simply as James - I love the South American one-named soccer players) looks young (he's just 22), but he is easily considered the best young forward in the world. Through four games, he has scored five - yes five - goals in the World Cup. His first World Cup. It's amazing. And I'm sorry, but if LeBron James is giving you a shout out? Killer. 

In 2013, James signed with AS Monaco (from Porto) for a transfer fee of €45 million - the second-most expensive transfer in Portuguese football history, and the 10th most expensive transfer ever.

Relationship Status: Married to the sister of the Colombian starting goalkeeper. Another married 22 year old, are you kidding me? Geesh.


Oscar, Brazil

Most lists are taking the easy way out and naming Naymar. But... no. No, no, no. I will make the less popular, but more correct choice of Oscar (Oscar dos Santos Emboaba Júnior), 22, who plays for Chelsea and is known for his play-making abilities. This young hottie scored in Brazil's opening match of the World Cup.

Relationship Status: Oscar is married to his childhood sweetheart. Just one week before the opening game of the World Cup, he became a father.

Now Argentina gave me a run for my money - in a good way. But in the end I went with...


Ezequiel Lavezzi, Argentina  


Oh lordy, lordy. Holy sweet muscles and tattoos. The 29-year-old Paris Saint-Germain attacker wasn't exactly an unknown quantity to soccer fans before this World Cup; but for the millions of casual viewers watching Argentina play Nigeria, we were in for a TREAT. When Sergio Agüero, one of the much-hyped “fantastic four” strikers, was forced off the field due to injury, the camera focused on a shirtless Ezequiel “Pocho” Lavezzi getting some last-minute pointers from coach Alejandro Sabella, that brief glimpse at his tattooed, muscle-bound body and perfectly coiffed beard was enough to set social media atwitter. Lavezzi fever has begun. Do you have it? If not, Google him - you will soon catch it.

Relationship status: 29 and SINGLE. Hallelujah! 

#ThingsTimHowardCouldSave


Thankfully for Red Sox Nation, Tim Howard and his heroic saving abilities were not in the Bronx that night. 
(Still sucks to be A-Rod)