East Coast Bias: World Cup And A Mid-season Check-up

I’m going to miss the World Cup. Seriously. As a sport, I’ve never really been a soccer watcher. But once I shed myself needing to root for the United States and was just able to appreciate the international game for what it was, I discovered it’s one hell of a ride. Will this translate to me watching live matches on the BBC station? Probably not. Will it make me watch the MLS? Definitely not. But it leaves me wishing they did the World Cup every 2 years instead of every four.

In the months I’ve been watching, I feel like I’ve learned some things about soccer.

Goalies are maniacs: There are some positions in sports where you the tried and true “you have to have a certain mindset to be a…” cliché easily applies. Closers, catchers, quarterbacks; and now I’ve added goalies. How many jobs do you choose to stand in front of 50 mph missiles and absorb them into your gut? Not only that, but the entire team’s success hinges on your back. If that wasn’t enough, if the game ends in a tie, you get have 70 mph bullets fired at you from a few yards away with zero time to see where they’re going. The goalkeepers in the World Cup amaze me, doing as well as they do with billions of people watching them. Simply amazing.

Officials control games just like in the NBA: A bogus penalty kick in the first half gave France the lead. This was kind of offset by a second half non-call in the box, so I can’t complain too much. But then a really touchy offside call in the second half took a goal away from Italy. I’m not going to complain about the officiating in the World Cup this year as it’s been done to death so far, but a couple bad calls can really change the outcome of a match. The Final match of the Cup wasn’t as gregarious as the NBA finals, but it highlighted how easily the officials can control the game with bad calls. Without those calls, Italy wins that match 2-0.

Penalty kicks are stupid: World Series, Game 7. Tie Score. At the top of the 12th, we go to the home run derby. Oh, and the World Series is only played once every four years. Can someone explain to me why they don’t just shut the clock off at the end of regulation and play until someone scores? Don’t tell me it’s too exhausting, I don’t care. These guys are out there to get a championship that’s handed out once every four years. You can have penalty kicks in the round robin, but once you get to the tournament, give me a winner. Give me unlimited 30-minute periods where each team gets one substitution. Eventually, there’s going to be a goal. I will grant you that the penalty kicks are dramatic in their own way, but it seems like an awful way end 90 minutes of drama. “My keeper guessed which way the shots were going more times than your keeper did, we win… see ya in 2010.” Did the NHL do shoot-outs in the playoffs? No, they played until there was a winner. There’s as much activity in a hockey match as there is in a soccer match. “But Daniels, soccer players run around like maniacs for 90 minutes.” No, they run around like maniacs when the play is near them. They walk or lightly jog for the rest of it. This thing is the biggest deal in international sports. There should be a real winner, not one decided in some lame, anti-climactic way. Even my girlfriend thinks it’s lame, and she doesn’t even like sports.

Americans want to fix things that aren’t broken: One of the most annoying things I’ve heard in the last few weeks is American sportscasters and talk show hosts discussing how to “fix” the World Cup. They’ve spent weeks talking about ways to tweak the rules so that it would be more exciting. Dummies; just because you don’t find it interesting, doesn’t mean it’s broken. How would you feel if someone came along and started talking about ways to “fix” baseball? “What if we took away offsides in overtime?” “What if we gave them unlimited substitution in overtime?” Guys, newsflash: everyone else thinks soccer’s fine just the way it is and, honestly, they’re right. You don’t need to change the rules, just make them play until there’s a winner.

Two yellow cards in successive games mean you can’t play the next game: I knew a red card meant you got bounced, but I had no idea that two yellow cards in successive games meant you didn’t get to play in the next game. How stupid is this rule? This seems like it would be similar to being barred from a game if you foul out twice in a row in basketball. If someone could explain the reasoning behind this rule, I’d be appreciative.

Zidane: You know, I had a big long piece typed out here about Zidane, and how I thought it would be cool for a favorite player to go out in class and style a la John Elway or Troy Aikman. The commentators had convinced me it was cool to see an all-time great go out on top. I agreed. Then he decided to take a cheap shot by head butting a defenseless player in the solar plexus drawing a red card in the 110th minute. Being selfish and babyish enough to do that in a game where you could put a flourish on your career is idiotic. The last thing people will remember about his career is poor sportsman. Being competitive is fine, being a baby isn’t. I don’t care if the Italian player may have said; be a man, don’t take a cheap shot. There’s 10 minutes left in the game, you’re the best penalty kicker on your team, and you bail? The French team ate your karma, asshole. I hope you’re happy being remembered as the jackass who bailed on his team to take a cheap shot in 2006. Douchebag.

ABC covers international sports better than NBC: Every time the Olympics are in Europe, people complain about NBC’s coverage of the event. NBC, owned by GE, are apparently unaware of this thing called the “Internets” where people can get results of events moments after they occur. As such, once people know, for instance, that someone won a gold medal in X, they are less likely to watch X just to see how said person won. Equally, if I read that Roger Federer owned someone at Wimbledon in 77 minutes, I am likely not going to watch said owning just to see if it was as bad as I’m visualizing… it probably was. ABC was smart enough to air these games live, even if the games were at 9 am and, you know what, the people who wanted to watch watched. I found myself at bars at 10 in the morning to watch England play. I left work to watch games live during “long lunches.” People who want to see things live should have the opportunity to see these things live. If you’re going to take control of International sports, you have a responsibility to air them correctly. Sorry if the “Today Show” has to take a hit for a couple weeks, but it does.

World Cup success in the states will never equal MLS success: I’ve tried to sit through an MLS game or two, and it’s not even close to being on the level with this kind of soccer. Watching the MLS is like watching a Junior League. There’s a reason the WNBA, the AFL, and NFL Europe have never caught on. There’s a reason we don’t watch AAA or AA baseball on television. Americans don’t care to watch B-leagues. I’m sorry, the WNBA is B-league. The reason college basketball and college football has stayed successful is because they’ve differentiated themselves enough from the professional leagues to stay competitive. NCAA basketball is a more team-oriented game than the NBA. You can watch an NCAA game and feel like you’re watching pros. In some cases, you are. Same thing with NCAA football. A B-league is never going to catch on in the States, and the MLS is a B-league.

The World Cup Trophy is awful: The thing gets awarded ever 4 years and it’s that little tiny 18-inch tall thing? Come on… if you’re only awarding it every four years, at least make it as big and cool as the Stanley Cup. It represents more than the Stanley Cup does, make it a reflection. Same thing goes for the medals. Those things should be the size of a Flava Flav clock medallion at the very least.

Mid-Season Doldrums

As the World Cup draws to a close, we draw into the worst week to be a sports fan. That’s right, the All-Star break, made extra awful this year by, because of a scheduling quirk, more than half the teams also having Thursday off. This was, according to the MLB, because they wanted to have baseball on Memorial Day this year, which was lacking last year. The girlfriend is excited to have a week without baseball (and I can’t blame her as I dragged her to a Mets/Marlins doubleheader on Saturday) and I’m just left with a Wednesday and Thursday which won’t leave me with much else to do other than watch a Yankees Classics. (Aside: during the Mets/Yankees rain delay earlier in the season, SNY (The Metwork) aired the game from earlier this season where David Wright walked off. YES countered by airing Game 5 of the 2000 World Series. Pricks.)

Mid-season is as good a time as any to pay for your pre-season picks. First, let me allow my esteemed East Coast loving partner to chime in on his picks. I’m trying to convince him to make this a regular segment, but he’s lazy.

The Mike Hulse Sports Rant

NL East: Original Pick: Mets

Whoohoo!! As a biased Mets’ fan, can I just say I’m feeling the dozen game division lead? It’s not a lock by any means, but it’s a good situation. I’m going to go out on a limb and keep this pick.

NL Central: Original Pick: Cardinals

They only have a 3 game lead, but then again, they lost the best player on the planet for a few weeks. The Reds have been a nice surprise, but the Cards should hold on. I’ll keep it.

NL West: Original Pick: Giants

I said the Giants would walk to a huge division win because the NL West is bad and they had Barry Bonds. Of course, I was picturing a Barry Bonds with a .300 plus average and about 20 home runs…not .250 and 12, like he’s had. They’re 2 games out at the turn, and I’m not big on mulligans (I should save one for later). I’ll stick with the Giants to win and advance.

NL Wild Card: Original Pick: Astros.

Somehow only 2 games out of the wild card, even though I can’t remember a single time I looked up and noticed them doing anything decent. I’ll keep the pick for now, hesitantly.

AL East: Original Pick: Red Sox

I said this would be the year the Yankees got old and fell apart. Nailed it. But somehow, they’re still in it. They lost Gary Sheffield and Hideki Matsui for the season…and suddenly they MAY be back in August. Boston’s up in the standings and I’m not changing my pick, but the mere fact that the Yankees have survived the injury onslaught means this could come down to the last game of the year.

AL Central: Original Pick: Indians

Ok, now I want my Mulligan. I thought Cleveland was the best team in this division over the second half of last season. I thought they were young and on the way up. Somehow they seemed to take a step back, and when you factor in the White Sox being as good as they are, the Tigers improbable run not seeming to end, and the Twins possibly being the best team in baseball over the last 3 weeks, the Indians are done. Finished. So I’m going to go with Detroit, They seem like they could be for real, the Twins have too much ground to make up, and I have a gut feeling that Chicago is due to falter in the second half.

AL West: Original Pick: Oakland A’s

Ummm…. this division isn’t that good and Oakland is the best they offer, no need to change it. Whoever wins goes out early in October.

AL Wild Card: Original Pick: White Sox

They have a 5 game lead on the rest of the AL, and they’re too good to relinquish it. I’ll take 7 of 8 predictions to the bank. Now, onto the playoffs

NL Playoffs:

NLDS; Cards vs. Giants:

I took the Giants in 4 originally, and I think I need to flip flop. You’ll get the same match up, but the Cards are too much. Bonds is, in fact, human (or clean, whatever you want to call it). Cards in 4.

NLDS; Mets vs. Astros.

The Mets are on a roll. Whoever wins the wild card is done. Mets sweep.

Original NLCS: Mets. Vs. Giants; Changed to Mets vs. Cards.

The Mets have proven to be the class of the NL, and while the Cards are very good, in the end, I gotta go with chalk… Mets to the series in 6.

AL Playoffs

ALDS; Red Sox vs. White Sox:

I took this originally and I picked Boston to win it, and I’m sticking to it. I think they have a better top of the rotation with Schilling and Beckett, and they have Senor Octobre. Red Sox in 5.

Original ALDS: A’s vs. Indians; Changed to A’s vs. Tigers

Oakland has never won a playoff series, and they won’t end the streak here. The Tigers are better than Oakland and will prove it. Tigers in 4

Original ALCS: Red Sox vs. Indians; Changed to Red Sox vs. Tigers.

Every pundit predicted that the Mets recent trip to Boston was a World Series Preview. These two teams are rolling and poised to keep doing so.

I hate pundits.

Boston is going to battle both the Yankees and the Blue Jays all season. Boston is an old club who will run out of gas when they need it the most. The Tigers are younger, fresher, and are going to shock the world. Tigers in 5.

Original World Series: Mets vs. Indians; Changed to Mets vs. Tigers

Ok, I told you before I’m biased. On paper the Tigers are an excellent team, and the American League dominance over the National League all says the Mets will lose. Well, I think they win. I think they’re the only team in the NL that can hang with the AL, and their huge lead will allow them to rest their key guys for the October run. Mets in 7.

Now I just need tickets.

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As for my picks, I may need more than one mulligan:

American League

AL East: Original Pick: Toronto Blue Jays. You can make all the noise about the Yankees that you like. You can expect Matsui and Sheffield back. You can expect Damon to heal up, but you’re still left with a shaky rotation and a Mariano that doesn’t seem quite as intimidating as he did last year. The Yankees and the Red Sox have 9 games left against each other. The Blue Jays had a chance when both the Yankees and the Red Sox were fielding some injuries to make a move. They didn’t. Now, of the three teams, there’s only one of them I expect to play worse than .500 ball down the stretch and it isn’t located in the United States. I still think we see a Yankeeless playoff for the first time since 1993(!). New Pick: Boston Red Sox.

AL Central: Original Pick: Chicago White Sox. I’m sticking with this. Two games back at the midpoint behind a team that I still can’t buy as division champions.

AL West: Original Pick: Los Angeles Angels. The Angels have been playing way below their ability and they’re only 2 games out of the lead in the division and 2 games under .500. This division is still wide open and no one has managed to deal a death-blow quite yet. All other things equal, I’ll take the Angels rotation and K-Rod over the A’s rotation and a breaking Huston Street. I still expect to see the Angels come October. Maybe only in early October… but still October.

AL Wildcard: Original Pick: Oakland A’s. This is going to wind up an AL Central only race. A couple questions come into this. Are the Tigers for real? Are the Twins’ winning ways going to continue? You could argue, and you’d have a good point, that everyone’s high on the AL Central right now simply because they ran over the NL Central, and you’d have a good point. However, The THIRD PLACE TEAM has Johann Santana and Francisco Liriano. The Wildcard team, for the first time since 2002 is not going to come from the AL East and, for the first time in the Wildcard’s history, from the AL Central. The Tigers just have to play .500 ball down the stretch to keep the Wildcard, and I think they will, possibly becoming a 100 win wildcard team. New pick: Detroit Tigers.

National League

NL East: Original Pick: Atlanta Braves. I said: “until they lose it, you can’t bet against them.” Well, they’ve lost it. The Braves are a mess. They have no closing situation to speak of rendering their still reasonable starting pitching useless. They are a mess of injuries, with three of their rotation gone. The replacements aren’t very good. Meanwhile, the New York Mets are playing like someone told them they’re second-class citizens and it finally sunk in with them. A dozen games closer than the nearest division competition with no indication of anyone doing anything. New Pick: New York Mets.

NL Central: Original Pick: St Louis Cardinals. Two questions: do the Astros have another Cinderella in them and are the Reds for real? No and no. $22 million dollars spent on nothing. Staying with the Cards.

NL West: Original Pick: Los Angeles Dodgers. 2 games back. I still like this pick. Staying.

NL Wildcard: Original Pick: New York Mets. Since I changed them to win the Division, I guess I have to pick a new wildcard. There are eight teams with a legitimate shot. The teams in the NL are in rough shape and there’s nothing really separating any of them from the pack. All other things being equal, I’m going to go with experience. The Braves are a mess, but they’re only 6 out, and they have a few guys that no how to win. 13 games might be too much for them to make up. 6 isn’t. New Pick: Atlanta Braves

Playoffs

ALDS: Original Pick: White Sox/A’s. New pick White Sox/Angels. Different victim, same result… White Sox in five.

ALDS: Original Pick: Angels/Jays. New Pick Red Sox/Tigers. As good as the Tigers have looked against the NL Central, they got nothing for the Red Sox. Red Sox in 4.

ALCS: Original Pick: White Sox/Angels. New Pick: Red Sox/White Sox. These teams just met up this past weekend and the Red Sox went 2-1. I said it before that I don’t think the White Sox’s rotation has another miracle in them and I still believe it now. Red Sox in 7

NLDS: Original Pick: Cardinals/Mets. New Pick: Mets/Dodgers. I had the Mets going out in the first round, but that was before I realized how well this team would play together. Six all-stars vs a pained NL West division winner. The Mets will be the team that gets the wildcard unless the wildcard comes out of the east. I will take the Mets in a short series vs any team in the NL right now, even the Cardinals. Mets in 5.

NLDS: Original Pick: Braves/Dodgers. New Pick: Braves/Dodgers. Typing this almost makes me feel insane given the way the Braves are playing this year and their playoff history, but since I still believe the outcome of all sporting events are written in a smoke-filled room by guys in business suits, I feel like they’re going to book the Mets up against their division nemesis for the pennant.

NLCS: Original Pick: Braves/Cardinals. New pick: Braves/Mets. The Mets can’t be taken seriously until they unseat their rival. Much like the Red Sox finally slaying the Evil Empire, the Mets have to slay their Evil Empire as well… even if it’s an Evil Empire that isn’t really evil, nor an empire. This year, they can do it.

World Series: Speaking of a dramatic match-up booked in a smoke-filled room deep in the bowels of Fox; Oh the Drama of a rematch 20 years later. The Red Sox with a 20-year score to settle. The Mets with a 20-year old karmic debt coming due. The Mets walked into Fenway and got swept two weeks ago. Don’t read too much into this. The first game was vs the Mets’ five-starter. The second game was against a nervous Pedro. This game actually helps the Mets’ cause. When Pedro walks into Fenway now, it will be with the butterflies gone. You’re giving me Pedro/Schilling, Beckett/Glavine, and El Duque/Clement for the World Series. I give that to the Mets. Bullpens, I give to Red Sox. Unfortunately for me, living in New York has put me firmly on the Bandwagon to Flushing, and I can’t get off now. Mets in 7, and the folks in Boston remember they hate that there other team in New York, too.

Your 2006 World Series Champions, the New York Mets.

And the 7 Train Bandwagon rolls on.

See you on Thursday.