Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


2 Comments

5 Observations From Week 2 of the EPL Season

Back in the USA for the second week of the Premier League season, I’ve come to appreciate how good NBC’s coverage is across the board. Aside from the Mesut Özil bashers in the studio, they do a tremendous job both pre and post match and in game coverage. Especially with games now being shown on USA Network, we can have no complaints stateside. This past week we were treated to four days’ worth of games. Here are five things we learned. For my analysis of Arsenal’s win over Crystal Palace, click here.

One team is standing above the rest

To this point, four sides have all six points. However, of the four, one is standing well above the rest thus far. A week after handling West Brom, Manchester City dismantled the title-winners Chelsea, handing them an embarrassing 3-0 loss. I’ll get to what it means for Chelsea, but for City, this was a dramatic statement that they can win the league. Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany both look to have reverted to their form from two years ago, and Sergio Agüero showed in minutes why he is the league’s best player. However, what is impressing me the most is their ruthlessness. Right from the opening seconds yesterday, they laid siege on Asmir Begovic’s goal. Agüero never stopped attacking. There was added excitement from the addition of the new stand in the stadium, and massive hype for the match, but nonetheless, they were miles better than Chelsea. City is not messing around.

Chelsea have serious problems to address

Where City looked full of options, Chelsea seems to be stuck in a one-track style of play, unable to succeed without Eden Hazard playing his best. As I’ve pointed out before, their lack of depth, especially without Oscar, gives them no plan B to turn to. And that was clearly an issue as Cesc Fabregas and Nemanja Matic couldn’t contain City’s midfield. However, Chelsea’s main issue seems to be off the field. All of the stuff about Eva Carneiro being replaced as team trainer is disguising some sort of issue with Mourinho. He’s clearly upset. This week his victim was his captain John Terry, taken off at halftime. Without the squad depth he had at Real Madrid, I don’t think he can afford to take out his anger on his players, even if they aren’t in form. If this is the squad Chelsea will have this year, Mourinho will need to do a better job of supporting his players and staff should he hope to turn things around.

Stoke expose Tottenham’s issues

Another team with a lone point from two games is Tottenham. Despite being two goals up at home against Stoke – who I might add will only get tougher when Bojan Krkic and Xherdan Shaqiri are in the lineup – they coughed away their lead. The penalty was silly, but the defending on the second was equally pitiful. When Stephen Ireland can come on and rip the defense apart that doesn’t speak well to the quality on the field. Bringing off Harry Kane for Erik Lamela seemed odd, but the degree to which Spurs fell off after the switch will be startling. If Kane goes down with an injury, they will be terrible. For me, the only player of real quality other than Kane on the pitch is Christian Eriksen, who can hit a mean free kick. As an Arsenal fan, I can only hope their meltdown is a sign of things to come.

Leicester stay hot

Over the summer, one of my tutors was a man from Leicester, who told stories of many years in the car listening to pained sports talk radio shows bemoaning Leicester City’s frequent demise. Staying up in the Premier League a year ago was for them a true achievement. Two weeks into the season, Leicester City are sitting in second place, with all six points. Going to West Ham this week looked a tough task, but the upstart group continued their stunning goalscoring form under new manager Claudio Ranieri, going up 2-0 early. However, what was most impressive was their ability to keep the scoreline at 2-1 after Dimitri Payet had taken one back for West Ham. Leicester’s defense was dialed in from that point on. They won’t stay this far up the table for long, but wins like this on the road are vital to a team hoping to avoid a relegation fight. Should Riyad Mahrez continue to dominate, the nice people of Leicester might have many more pleasant car rids home.

Despite another win, United lack something

The other two teams on six points are a more familiar name than Leicester City. But unlike the other two teams, Manchester United and Liverpool are not firing on all cylinders. For Liverpool, it’s down to quality and quite a bit of luck from the referees. But for United, it’s a little more complicated. After an own goal saved their blushes in a 1-0 win against Spurs, this week they won with a lone goal from Adnan Januzaj at Villa Park. Yet again, there was very little built through their midfield filled with high-profile signings. In the back Luke Shaw and Matteo Darmian have looked terrific, but ahead of them, Memphis Depay and Wayne Rooney are just two of those struggling to make a positive impact. Back in his striker’s role, Rooney has been almost invisible. Maybe they need time to get their new attacking players in sync with one another, but in the meantime, United need to lean heavily on their defense. Don’t be fooled by their perfect record to this point.

Predictions for Week 3
Manchester United 2 – Newcastle 1
West Ham 1 – Bournemouth 1
Sunderland 0 – Swansea 2
Norwich City 2 – Stoke City 2
Leicester City 1 – Tottenham 1
Crystal Palace 3 – Aston Villa 0
West Brom 1 – Chelsea 3
Watford 0 – Southampton 1
Everton 1 – Manchester City 4
Arsenal 3 – Liverpool 1

I’ll be experimenting with different types of Premier League related content in the coming months to determine how I want to write this school year. If you have any ideas, please let me know, either in the comments or on Twitter (@Klaus_Faust).

 


Leave a comment

Pixar Returns to Its Glory – My Review of Inside Out

[Some spoilers included]

I am not a movie guy except when it comes to Pixar. When one of the main honchos came to Davidson this fall to talk about the math behind their animation, I dropped everything to get to the lecture. I even wrote a college essay about my love for Pixar, talking about how Woody helped form my identity and personality. But maybe because I haven’t loved any of their last three films, I have been quite skeptical of Inside Out since I first heard about the concept years ago. And with the release of the worryingly bad trailer of The Good Dinosaur, the next film – and the one that was scheduled to come out in 2014 before getting scrapped and entirely remade with a different director – I was beginning to accept that the end was coming for the Pixar dynasty. A lot rode on Inside Out.

In an age with increasingly few original ideas in filmmaking, notably at Pixar, Inside Out was refreshingly different in every way imaginable. This was an idea up with the very best. Somebody hit gold. But while the idea and backdrop for the story were so interesting and clever at every turn, the movie stood out to me in how it made its larger points.

Those larger points the film made about life, emotion and memory never felt preachy, as the questions the movie asked weren’t explicit. The film separated itself from its own plot, which felt strangely secondary, instead offering these questions by approaching its characters in a unconventional way. The characters represented concepts and thought patterns more than they did typical characters. Characters such as Anger, Disgust and even Riley, the subject of the film, hardly left a mark, and weren’t developed like in a typical movie. But as suggested by the characters being humanized emotions, the film was about emotion itself rather than its characters, which was embodied by the entire cast and the design.

So when Riley’s imaginary pseudo-elephant Bing Bong sacrificed himself for Joy’s sake, the sadness I felt wasn’t about the loss of his character, but rather about the stark realization in one’s own mind that some of our most treasured childhood memories and possessions are meant to be left behind. One criticism I’ve heard of the movie is that it’s slow at times. But I appreciated that in a way, because impactful scenes like the one described above weren’t followed by another action scene. Rather, they were followed by moments when I as a viewer could allow myself to reflect.

And I thought the message was rather astute, and one not often spoken about. Sadness is not all bad after all. Being happy is good, but we need the full range of emotions in order to appreciate what is most meaningful. And without being sad, we would lose some aspects of our ability to communicate. When does Hollywood ever tell us that?

This was not your typical movie for many reasons like that. The pacing was funky with the two and sometimes three parallel storylines. The characters didn’t all need to be developed. But everything was intentional and made to allow people to think about their own childhood and relationships. I left wondering what my pillars are and which memories are at my core. How does that shape me? And how does time work into this all? I found the scene were she was asleep and the train of thought stopped particularly intriguing in that sense.

I certainly won’t remember this movie for the characters. There’s no Woody for toddlers to love. Joy was not especially compelling. And without those characters, I would imagine that this movie won’t be as meaningful for the younger crowd. But this is so much more than a kids movie. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it was not made for kids, despite its label. This is a film for everyone willing to think and reflect.

But none of that took away from the emotion in the film itself, which had moments that rivaled those of the most tear-jerking Pixar films. Between Bing Bong’s disappearance and Riley’s return home, this film made you feel the emotions it commented on. And those scenes were doubly powerful in that aforementioned connection everyone can feel to similar situations.

The film easily could have felt gimmicky. With every new place the characters ventured in the mind, there was more potential to make jokes and do things that no films had done before. But I thought the director toed, who also did Monsters Inc. and Up that line perfectly, utilizing the land that was made but rarely letting it distract from the point of the movie. Notably, impressive and clever things like their looks into the minds of animals were saved for the end credits. Sure there were a few gimmicks thrown in at times to show off, but it didn’t get distracting. And there were quite a few funny moments through it all.

In the box office in its opening weekend, the film was a smash hit, breaking records for the highest opening weekend for a film with an original idea of any genre, surpassing Avatar. Despite losing out to Jurassic World for the top spot, the film is Pixar’s 2nd highest grossing at this stage, behind only Toy Story 3. It seems people are eager to refill the void there’s been since Pixar stopped making truly great films a few years ago.

Looking forward at the wave of sequels on Pixar’s upcoming schedule, I am especially grateful that Pixar took a chance on this one and made something truly different. They knocked it out it of the park, putting it alongside Wall-E, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and the greats of the last two decades. I thoroughly enjoyed everything that Inside Out did.

What did you think of the film? Please comment below. 


Leave a comment

Davidson’s Star Trio

(Written for today’s NCAA Tournament Preview edition of The Davidsonian. I will be traveling to the NCAA Tournament tomorrow morning to cover Davidson and the other games in Seattle. For updates, check the site and follow me on Twitter @Klaus_Faust)

Before the season ever began, Coach Bob McKillop was singing the praises of his new captains, guards Tyler Kalinoski ’15, Brian Sullivan ’16 and Jack Gibbs ’17 and the work they had done in keeping the team on task in the offseason. But despite lofty expectations from their coach – though certainly not from the national media – it’s safe to say any and all expectations within the program were broken by the trio this year.

“We’re built around those three guys,” fellow starter Jordan Barham ’16 said of the three guards, “All three of them are such good all-around basketball players. There’s not one thing you can really take away [as a defense]. Teams in the A-10 will try to run them off the three-point line and they’ll go by their guys and get to the rim. You’ll try to go off a ball screen, and they’ll hit a three.”

The offense starts with the three captains, who were each named to all-conference teams last week. They’ve been at the forefront of everything Davidson has done, always directing play on the court and making winning plays.

Kalinoski has mainly played off the ball, excelling in his senior year on the offensive end on his way to being named Atlantic 10 Player of the Year. Playing almost every minute, he was in double-figures in scoring every single conference game. But where he has made his mark has been with his composure and his ability to ignite second-half runs with his shooting and his defense. He’s shooting above 43% from deep and has knocked down shot after shot on his way to average 17 ppg, 5.6 rpg and 4.1 assists.

Sullivan’s season didn’t start the way he wanted shooting the ball from deep. But amidst those struggles came a better defender and a better passer. He became so much more than just a three-point shooter because he had to contribute elsewhere. So by the time he found his stroke, he was a much more complete player. When Gibbs went down with an injury, it was Sullivan who took over at the point, and his play helped ignite Davidson’s 10-game win streak to close out conference play.

Despite a knee injury that sidelined him for seven games during conference play, Gibbs is having a sensational leap scoring wise as the primary point guard, highlighted by a 37 point effort at UCF. It’s as if he’s gained half a step from a year ago. In transition, he has been lethal, seemingly always picking the right option. And his shooting percentages have increased dramatically, up from 32% a year ago to 44% this year from deep.

Davidson’s offense was peaking right when Gibbs went down before the Dayton game. But with Sullivan sliding over and Kalinoski taking on more ball-handling duties, the Wildcats didn’t lose a beat.

“I think Brian and Ty especially, with Jack being down, really made a concerted effort to keep guys accountable and lead by example and by the way they were playing,” Barham said. “I think everyone just bought in. Jack, being on the sidelines coaching people up, really helped. The three of those guys are so key to this team in so many different aspects even aside from their play on the court.”

Spacing wise, having all three of them on the court at the same time, which McKillop does most of the time, gives opponents nightmares. They can’t focus on one or two of them, because the other will go off. Teams have tried zones, they’ve tried man, but the games when opponents have shut down all three have been few and far between.

Their threat on the perimeter gives the offense many more options in the halfcourt in Davidson’s motion and screen heavy offense. Because defenders must remain tight on the guards coming off screens, it leaves them susceptible to back-cuts and drives from Barham, who in particular has benefitted from the attention the guards receive on the perimeter. Most shooters don’t like to screen, but these guys do that too.

As a team, Davidson ranks 8th in the nation in offense efficiency behind the three guards, up from 35th a year ago. Sure, the team is shooting slightly better this year, but the main difference has been impeccable ball control. Last year, Davidson ranked 64th nationally in turnover percentage. This year, they are second, behind only Wisconsin.

All three of this trio have stepped up to hit shots that kept the Wildcats’ season alive. Think back to a trip to George Mason, when Gibbs was out, when Sullivan sent the game to overtime with a contested three, just seconds after Oskar Michelsen ’18 had made one to cut the deficit to three. Or on the road at URI, when Gibbs hit a go-ahead step-back three in the corner to give the Wildcats the lead after a rough night of shooting. Or in the A-10 quarterfinal, after making a couple big triples down the stretch, Kalinoski had the presence of mind to drive to the hoop and lay in a winning basket as time expired against La Salle.

Had they missed those shots, those would have been costly losses. But these three have proven game after game that they have the utmost confidence in themselves and in their teammates. That is what you want from captains. You want stars on the court who can lead by example with consistently superb play. But you also want those who want their teammates to succeed, setting them up on the court with assists and off the court with steadfast commitment and leadership.

It is rare to see the three-guard system work so effectively in college basketball. But Kalinoski, Sullivan and Gibbs have found ways to complement each other in every fashion. Together, they’ve been the engine behind Davidson’s remarkable season.


Leave a comment

USA Player Grades

Good morning, everyone. I’ve had a night to reflect on the World Cup campaign and my views haven’t really changed. This team did well. But the more I see of Chris Wondolowski’s chance, the more I feel an opportunity was really missed. But oh well. So I figure on a day with no action, a player-by-player grading will be the best way to examine the success of the United States in Brazil. To be clear, these are grades on the whole tournament, not just yesterday.

Grades (A-F)

Jozy Altidore – Incomplete It would be unfair to assign Altidore a grade. His hamstring injury in the opening minutes of the Ghana game proved fatal to his campaign, and his presence was sorely missed. Had he been fit for the Belgian game, things might have been different. For everyone’s sake, let’s hope Jozy gets another chance in 2018.

DeMarcus Beasley – B- For a player who had no experience playing defense as recently as eighteen months ago, the fact that the wily veteran started four games at left back is incredible. And for much of the tournament, he didn’t look out of place. He had some nervous moments against Ghana, and his crosses left a little to be desired, but overall, he was solid in defense.

Kyle Beckerman – B+ Beckerman had to be wondering what he did wrong to get left out for the Belgium game, because he was one of the U.S.’s most reliable players in the group stage. The veteran was particularly impressive in stopping the famed Portuguese counter attacks. His positioning was excellent, and he allowed Jermaine Jones the freedom to go forward. Klinsmann looks a genius for bringing him back into the fold.

Alejandro Bedoya – C+ Bedoya started three of the four games in Brazil, yet I can hardly recall a moment when he had a hand in an attack. The winger did his job covering the fullbacks, and was always committed to the cause. But the U.S. really could have used a little more from him going forward.

Matt Besler – B+ Besler has to be the surprise star of this World Cup cycle. His unexpected rise to being the first name on the team sheet in defense was earned through steady play at the back. He defended crosses well, was always positioned correctly and communicated impressively with the rotating cast of players beside him. Besler should have been stronger against Romelu Lukaku on Belgium’s opener in extra-time, and for that, he falls out of the A range. I believe a move to Europe could do wonders for Besler’s continued development.

Michael Bradley – C Bradley was not cut out for the number 10 role handed to him this year when playing against the world’s best. He was poor in possession and at times looked like he was completely lost on the field. He needed to step up in Altidore’s absence and he simply didn’t. A perfect ball to Julian Green in extra-time against Belgium and an impressive work rate will save him from complete embarrassment.

John Brooks – A- In his limited role, Brooks made quite an impact. His winning header off the bench against Ghana will go down as one of the great moments in U.S. soccer history. He’ll need to improve his consistency in the coming years, but he looks a talent in defense for the future.

Geoff Cameron – C+ Cameron got the start in central defense for the first two games, and struggled at times to clear the ball, giving up Portugal’s opener with a horrific error. A surprise start in central midfield against Belgium demonstrated his versatility, but it also showed Klinsmann needs to hand him a permanent position so that he can settle into the national team. Cameron’s European pedigree should have been an asset, but instead, he disappointed for much of his time in Brazil.

Timmy Chandler – N/A One of two field players not to see action, Chandler must improve to see time in the next cycle.

Brad Davis – C- Davis was a bit of a surprise inclusion in the squad, but as a spot kick specialist, he could have been valuable. In his one big opportunity, a start against Germany, he failed to make much of an impact. This could be his last time wearing the red, white and blue.

Clint Dempsey – A- Asked to play the role of a lone striker, Dempsey did his best and created a number of chances. His early goal against Ghana set the tone for the tournament, and his goal against Portugal was equally important. He will rue not converting the chance he had at the end of the Belgium game, but the U.S. couldn’t have asked for much more from their captain.

Mix Diskerud – N/A The other player to fail to see action, Diskerud will be disappointed. It seemed strange he wasn’t given a chance, because he was someone who could have provided some spark in the midfield. He will hope to remain a part of Klinsmann’s plans for the future.

Omar Gonzalez – B+ Gonzalez came into the tournament without a defined role, but by the end, he had rediscovered the form that made him seem like the U.S.’s best defender a year ago. He was particularly impressive against Belgium, always being in the right place. He and Besler look to be the pair in central defense for the considerable future.

Julian Green – A Green arrived with no expectations. He was expected to sit on the bench and soak everything in. But instead, he nearly saved the Americans’ life. His volley past Courtois right after coming on in extra-time against Belgium will spell big things for the teenager. His goal made Klinsmann look pretty smart for his selection. I think we’re all glad Green is committed to be an American soccer player.

Brad Guzan – N/A Guzan could have started for most teams in Brazil, but remains permanently behind Tim Howard, watching from the sidelines once again. He doesn’t complain, and he should be admired for that. It’s nice having assurance that if Howard goes down, Guzan will be ready. It looks doubtful that he’ll take over the number one shirt any time soon though.

Tim Howard – A+ Howard was simply incredible for the U.S. His performances between the posts were among the very best in Brazil. He kept the Americans in matches with unbelievable save after unbelievable save. At age 35, Howard still looks to be getting better. Let’s hope for everybody’s sake that Howard sticks around for a few more years.

Aron Johannsson – C- Much was expected form Johannsson in Brazil as a sort of super sub. But in his big chance, he failed to seize the opportunity to fill Altidore’s shoes. It was a big ask, but Johannsson was not ready to lead the line in Brazil. After that, it was notable that Wondolowski was preferred to Johannsson off the bench. In a few years, he might be our top striker, but in this World Cup, he could not do what we needed him to do.

Fabian Johnson – B+ Johnson was one of the United States’s best players in Brazil, constantly making dangerous runs down the right and sending in quality balls from the byline. In defense, he did well against the top talent he had to face. His injury against Belgium was unlucky, and the Americans really missed his dual-threat in his absence. He should be a regular for years to come.

Jermaine Jones – A Few would have pegged Jones as the U.S.’s best player going in, but the veteran midfielder was just that in Brazil. He was great defensively and was tremendous going forward throughout. He was constantly making dangerous runs and playing accurate balls in the final third. His beautiful equalizer against Portugal typified his tournament. Without Jones, the U.S. wouldn’t have had much of anything going in attack.

Nick Rimando – N/A The number three keeper will be happy to have been in Brazil.

Chris Wondolowski – C+ Wondolowski did almost everything right in his substitute appearances. He held up the ball nicely against Portugal, and his pass to Dempsey on the late set piece against Belgium was spot-on. However, he made one crucial mistake that will forever cloud his World Cup experience. When he should have scored the winning goal against Belgium, he shanked his kick. That could haunt him forever.

DeAndre Yedlin – B+ A surprise inclusion in the side, Yedlin proved his worth with a series of impressive substitute appearances. Especially against Portugal, his pace down the right changed the game. His suspect positioning against Belgium showed he still has a lot to learn, but he performed beyond anyone’s wildest expectations in Brazil. He is one to watch for the future.

Graham Zusi – C The U.S. counted on Zusi to help fill the boots of Landon Donovan, and he did not deliver. Apart from his corner against Ghana that produced John Brooks’s goal, his set pieces and crosses were horribly inaccurate. And in possession, he rarely made any decisive passes. His work rate and cover down the right were vital to the defense, but the U.S. needed a lot more from Zusi going forward.

Have a great day, everyone. I’ll share some thoughts on Jürgen Klinsmann later.