Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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My Thoughts on Evan Turner, James Rodriguez and Jake Peavy

I’ll get back to my Arsenal player previews tomorrow, but today I’d like to address a few topics from the rest of the sports world.

The news broke in the last few days that the Celtics have signed former number two overall pick Evan Turner. At first glance, this seems an especially strange free agent pickup considering what the Celtics are trying to do with their roster right now. With an already crowded backcourt, adding an easily disgruntled me-first shooting guard seems risky for a number of reasons. The Celtics need their young players to get playing time and they need them to feel comfortable shooting the ball. Turner, it would seem, could only hinder their progress. And with the team a long way away from competing, why would you pay someone relatively big bucks to block the team’s development?

However, I’ve learned to trust Danny Ainge’s judgement for the most part. Aside from Brian Scalabrine’s long-term deal, Ainge has generally done well in getting something out of players that have lost their way. Jordan Crawford was the prime example of such a player. Crawford took his lumps on a losing team, but rediscovered his game and earned himself a way out of town via trade, getting the Celtics a few more draft picks. Turner can be a similar type of project. If he plays, he’ll be able to get off a lot of shots on this team, as few players will take them from him. Then, he can reestablish his market value and the Celtics might be able to sell high on him in February. If he doesn’t play well, he can sit on the bench and watch James Young and Marcus Smart battle in front of him.

At the very least, Turner is someone who wants to score. Last year’s team was a little too pass-heavy at times, and the offense became rather predictable. On his day, Turner can contribute a triple-double. And players like that can attract fans to the TD Garden in a down year. Overall, I’m not quite sure what I think about the signing. It doesn’t seem to fit with the team’s philosophy on the court, but yet it seems strangely right up Ainge’s alley.

Moving to soccer, yesterday’s big news was the confirmation of Colombian World Cup star James Rodriguez’s big money move from Monaco to Real Madrid. By now we’re all quite familiar with the left-footed number 10, and his talent level is off the charts. He certainly is good enough to play for the biggest club in the world, and he’ll immediately form an incredible front 4 alongside Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Add in Toni Kroos and Xabi Alonso/Luka Modric in midfield and that lineup is simply unbelievable. The scary part is that the players and their styles of play complement each other, unlike whatever Barcelona is trying to do with Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi.

This move would also seem to indicate the imminent exit of Angel di Maria and/or Isco. Both of these players are world-class, and it’s astounding that players such as these two who have proven themselves more than worthy of places in the side won’t be able to get on the field. Any team will be lucky to sign any of the unwanted Real Madrid castoffs, as they are all sensational talents. But for Madrid, however good they are, they are expendable now. In order to form super-teams, you need to be ruthless to improve great teams. And Carlo Ancelloti have certainly wielded the axe ruthlessly. I won’t want to face Real Madrid any time soon.

However, this move does call into question what FIFA’s Fair Play regulations actually do. How is it that Real Madrid can keep spending absurd sums to their heart’s content? I know they have sold a couple players, but the numbers don’t come close to matching.

Lastly, while I didn’t get to watch last night’s Red Sox game, I wanted to share a few thoughts regarding Jake Peavy. The former Cy Young winner contributed to last year’s World Series championship by bringing a winner’s mojo into the clubhouse upon his arrival at the trading deadline. Even if he didn’t win every time out, he was still bringing positive vibes to the mound. Now, a year after his arrival, everything has flipped. Whenever he pitches, there is bad karma everywhere. He hasn’t pitched well by any means, but it’s no coincidence that he has the worst run support and worst record in the league.

It’s time to get rid of that bad karma. Brandon Workman can fill his role in the rotation, so the Red Sox should take whatever they can get for Jake Peavy, even if it’s a quarter on the dollar. I’m not saying this because I dislike Peavy or think he is as bad as his 1-9 record. I just think the Sox can’t afford to lose their belief every fifth day. We’ll always have the championship with Peavy. And he’ll always have the duckboat. But the Red Sox don’t need to always have Jake Peavy losing games. It’s time for a change.

That’s all for today. Hope it’s a good one.


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Don’t Give Up On Lukas Podolski Yet, Mr. Wenger

Leading up to Arsenal’s first game of the 2013/2014 campaign, I will do a series of posts profiling certain players. In these posts, I will assess their place in the squad and outline my expectations for them in the upcoming season. I might also have a few suggestions about how they should be utilized tactically. The first of these posts is about recent World Cup winner Lukas Podolski.

Everybody loves Lukas Podolski. It’s impossible not to. Few players in the game are as affectionate and openly passionate on and off the field as the German forward is. For many casual Arsenal fans, he is the first name they think of on the team. And not only is he personable, he is also lethal with the ball on his left foot. His shooting ability led to him becoming the youngest European player to ever reach 100 caps for an international team in 2012. Yet despite all that, many seem to think having Podolski on the field is a liability.

Having been at Arsenal two full seasons now, you would have thought Podolski would have earned a clear-cut role in the squad given his ability and goal-scoring prowess. However, Wenger has not found a spot he feels comfortable playing him in. Given Podolski’s strike rate (28 goals in the last two years in limited playing time) and obvious talent, it’s downright strange that Wenger hasn’t figured out how to utilize him. He’s not a center forward capable of holding up play like Oliver Giroud. He’s not a speedy winger that will offer support for the fullbacks behind him. And he’s not a number 10. But he’s someone who can score from anywhere, even against the run of play, and I think that’s pretty valuable.

There has been talk in recent days about Podolski looking to move elsewhere in the coming weeks. And frankly, I wouldn’t blame him for wanting to leave. His club has not loved him as much as he has loved the club. But I think it would be a huge mistake to sell the German forward this summer for a couple of reasons.

The first reason not to sell Podolski now is that I think the signing of Alexis Sanchez will help Podolski find his best form. Sanchez is the type of player that Podolski could thrive next to, and here’s why. In December of 2012, Arsenal played two of their best offensive games in recent years against Reading (a 5-2 win) and Newcastle (a 7-3 win). In those games, Theo Walcott played as a center forward, with Podolski on the left, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right and Santi Cazorla behind Walcott. As evidenced by those scorelines, this quartet played some amazing soccer together. The pace of Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain created spaces for Podolski and Cazorla on late runs into the box that Giroud never could create. Those four put on a show that December, but unfortunately, that lineup didn’t last long.

Last season, when Podolski got his run in the team in the final two months or so, he was playing alongside a rather static Arsenal side. Instead of the pacey Walcott and Oxlade-Chamberlain, Podolski was playing with Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and Giroud. None of them were opening up areas for Podolski at the top of the box by going in behind, and he couldn’t find any space to shoot in the crowded middle of the park. Only when Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil returned did Podolski start finding his form.

Players like Walcott bring out the best in Podolski, as defenders can’t hang so tightly on his left foot when the threat of Walcott running in behind is in their heads. The German only needs an inch of space to get his shot off, and when he does, it usually goes in. His shot to goal ratio is off the charts. But Walcott as a center forward had its faults against more physical teams. However, Sanchez might not have such problems. He would be able to make the same runs Walcott could, which would help Podolski out. Coupling Sanchez and Walcott with Podolski could also be an intriguing option. A front-four of Podolski, Sanchez, Walcott and Mesut Özil would be incredible offensively.

If a new defensive midfielder is signed that possesses a little more range and athleticism than Mikel Arteta does at this stage in his career, playing such an attacking minded lineup up front might be a possibility. I wouldn’t suggest using that lineup against every team, but when at The Emirates, most opponents wouldn’t stand a chance. And against the bigger teams, this could be the lineup used at the end of games when defenses are tiring. Put Podolski on in the final twenty-five minutes to run at defenders, with Sanchez and Walcott making those runs in behind, and good things will happen.

The other reason to keep Podolski around at least another year is that he is a proven winner, coming back with the confidence of a World Cup winner. Not only will that confidence manifest itself on the field, but it can also be a massive boost in the dressing room. Especially given his popularity among his teammates, another player that has tasted success could be key to this team believing they can actually win the league this year.

Yes, his defensive cover is rather troubling at times, but he does track back. He’s usually willing to run back when he loses the ball, and he does well in the air when Arsenal is defending corners. So I don’t think he’s as harmful to the team as he is sometimes made out to be. But there are a lot of players that are probably ahead of him in the squad right now. Especially considering that he’s arriving at preseason late due to his post-World Cup break, he’ll have his work cut out to earn a starting spot.

I implore Arsene Wenger to give Podolski a chance to play alongside Sanchez and Walcott this year. Think of all the goals he has scored over the last two years, and then think about him potentially having more space and time to shoot. It’s a mouth-watering prospect, one that could spark a twenty goal season should he be given a run in the team. Even if he’s not starting every game, he’s an incredibly valuable player in the squad. I would hate to see everybody’s favorite player sold before he’s given a proper chance to thrive.

I will leave you with a video of Podolski’s top 10 career goals, and you tell me if his finishing ability deserves a spot in the team.


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Liebster Award

A few days ago, somebody commented on a post of mine telling me that he had nominated me for a Liebster Award. Naturally, I assumed it was spam. But I went to his blog and read the post where he accepted his award and nominated myself and another blogger for whatever this award was. There were a bunch of rules that went along with it which he posted that made the award seem like one of those awful email chains, but unlike those, there were no bogus consequences listed if I didn’t accept the award. At the very least, it seemed a genuine compliment that he thought my blog was worthy of any award at all.

So I looked up the Liebster Award on Google and found a ton of interesting results – look it up yourself if you don’t believe me. It turns out that this award is an unofficial welcome from the blogosphere to new bloggers. It’s been around since 2007 and while the rules have slowly changed over the years, it’s pretty legitimate. The award is meant to help bring attention to the “best new blogs” and is meant to help them earn new followers and readers by linking them to other blogs. So in other words, the chain is only meant to help the bloggers out, opening up their readership. Even if only a few people click on the links to the other blogs, it’s worth it if it brings in new faces to the site.

Despite all this, I wasn’t planning on accepting this award because I didn’t want to answer the ten questions asked by my nominator. However, over the last few days I have reconsidered. With my viewership going into a post-World Cup slump recently, before picking up a bit yesterday, I decided I needed to thank him for representing all those reading my blog and appreciating it. I owe it to all my readers to respond to this gesture. So I accept the Liebster Award, and thank James Bromley for nominating me. (The link to his blog is here: jamesbromleyblog.com)

So without further ado, I plan on following the rules of this award, continuing the tradition of welcoming new writers to the blogosphere.

The rules of this award are as follows:
1. Thank the person who nominated you and link to their blog.
2. You must answer the 10 questions given to you by the nominee before you.
3. You must nominate your favourite blogs with fewer than 200 followers and notify them of their nomination.
4. You must come up with 10 questions for your nominees to answer.

James Bromley has given me the same questions he was asked, so I will now answer those.

1) Where is your favorite place?

I’d be inclined to say Fenway Park, home of my beloved Boston Red Sox. It’s a beautiful ballpark and some of my favorite memories have happened there.

2) Who is the best Bond?

I can’t say I’m the biggest James Bond fan, but I have liked Daniel Craig in the role in the two Bond movies I’ve seen. I’ll go with him.

3) Name three things that you are proud of.

I am proud of my sports writing achievements, both with this blog and at my college newspaper. I am proud of my ability to continue to stay motivated every day as I write multiple posts for this site. It’s tiring at times, but I couldn’t imagine stopping unless I absolutely have to. And I’m also proud of being from the Boston area and going to the One True School.

4) What was the last thing that made you laugh?

I laugh often. Some would probably say I laugh too easily. But I enjoy being happy. I certainly laughed last night when I was out golfing with my friend. I remember one instance when he pointed out how I instinctively put tees behind my ear after I tee off. I laughed at that one.

5) Do you do any regular exercise/sport?

I play pick-up soccer and basketball pretty often, and I have played a lot of tennis over the years.

6) Do you have any pets?

Nope. Never have, never will.

7) What would you do in the event of a zombie apocalypse?

I really have no idea. I’d probably surrender pretty quickly. I don’t do well with zombies.

8) What was the last book that you read and enjoyed?

I typically do more writing than reading, but in my English classes last year, I particularly enjoyed reading Ernest Gaines’s A Lesson Before Dying.

9) What annoys or irritates you?

Sports wise, it annoys me when players don’t take accountability for any transgressions. It’s okay to make a mistake, but you have to be able to own up for it.

10) If there was a movie of your life, what would it be called and who would play you?

I don’t think my life would make for a very interesting movie. But it could be about living with many severe food allergies. So I guess it would be called 100,000 Lightly Salted Rice Cakes. I was once told that the late Gregory Peck would play me in a movie. I don’t know why, but I’ll go with a young version of him to play me in this hypothetical situation.

Now comes the time for me to nominate three other blogs for this award. Obviously, they don’t need to accept this by making a similar post on their blogs, but they should feel free to continue the tradition. I hope that they at least appreciate the gesture. These are three of my favorite blogs to read, and I would like to get them a few extra readers if nothing else. If they want to accept, they should comment on this post and I’ll tell them what their questions will be.

Play the Advantage – This was my favorite blog to read every day during the World Cup. It’s a commentary on referees, but taken to a level I never knew possible. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Observation Blogger – There’s a lot of great sports content on here both about baseball and soccer. Definitely worth checking out.

Heart Beats Football – This is a wonderful blog about a wide variety of soccer stories, but specifically about France and French players across the globe. I really like the writing style of this one.

I’ll let them know I have nominated them, and hopefully they’ll accept. But overall, this award is about recognizing other great blogs and these are three deserving of attention. So please check them out.

I will get back to regular sports content before the day is over. But I felt I had to acknowledge this award, because I really appreciate my readers welcoming me to the blogosphere.

 

 


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Rating the Arsenal Performances at the World Cup

Making the transition from World Cup content to Arsenal content, I would like to write about Arsenal’s players in Brazil. The Gunners sent nine players to Brazil for the World Cup. Three of those players got knocked out in the group, three exited in the quarterfinals and three come back to London as world champions. Here, I would like to assess each of those players individually. And for the record, I am not including new signing Alexis Sanchez in this list. And as far as Joel Campbell, I left him off this list as he has yet to train even once with the club. However, I’ve had extensive coverage about Campbell over the past month which you can search for if you want to see that. Here is a link one of those pieces.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (England) – Having overcome injury concerns late in the season to make the final roster for Brazil, the Ox was terribly unlucky to pick up another injury in England’s final preparation friendlies. The hope was that he’d make it back in time for the final group game, but by then, England was already out, and Oxlade-Chamberlain never saw the field. It was a huge blow to the youngster, but one that might ultimately be beneficial. The added rest will hopefully mean he’s fit and firing by the opener, and he shouldn’t have to miss much of preseason. With other players in his position coming back from extended breaks and injuries, the Ox should be in line to start a few games early on, giving him a chance to show his continued development.

Jack Wilshere (England) – Wilshere was a frustrated figure for England in Brazil. He came off the bench to mild success in the opening loss to Italy, was an unused substitute against Uruguay, and started the meaningless game against Costa Rica. At times it looked as if Wilshere felt sorry for himself, but mostly it looked like he thought he should be the first name on the teamsheet. That was seen as confidence a year or two ago, but with mixed results lately, it looks a lot more like arrogance. As the young midfielder might be looking at a lot of time on the bench this year, he’ll need to channel all of those negative feelings into making himself better. Going out and smoking cigarettes on his holiday isn’t a good way to show everyone that he’s working hard.

Santi Cazorla (Spain) – While Spain was generally terrible in Brazil, Cazorla looked one of their better players when he was on the field in the final two games. He created a number of chances, and he was one of the few Spaniards to show any sort of urgency when they were down against Chile. Arsenal would seem to benefit from Spain’s exit, as Cazorla could be ready for preseason. And as he gets older, more rest can only be a good thing for the veteran midfielder. It’ll be nice to have him fit for the Crystal Palace game. And as he’s already won a European Championship, Cazorla still carries the winner’s mentality.

Thomas Vermaelen (Belgium) – This was a thoroughly disappointing World Cup for the Arsenal captain. Even though his team made the quarterfinals, he made only one start, and had to come off with an injury. A year away from the first team at Arsenal saw him lose his place with the national team, and he had to watch his team struggle all tournament. This World Cup disaster will surely cause Vermaelen to reconsider his future as a Gunner. I expect him to leave the club by the end of the window.

Laurent Koscielny (France) – The Arsenal center back surely would have wanted to start for his country, and he will be massively disappointed in his place on the bench for much of the tournament. Especially against Germany, when he could have been on the field against a few of his Arsenal teammates, he was quite unlucky to have been on the bench. I certainly feel he’s better than Mamadou Sakho, so it made little sense to me. Being a defender, he won’t need much of a preseason to be ready, so there shouldn’t be too much of a worry there. But overall, Koscielny won’t look back on this World Cup with particular fondness.

Olivier Giroud (France) – Giroud’s World Cup was a mixed bag. In the group stage, he played his way into the lineup with a series of impressive displays alongside Karim Benzema. Against Switzerland, the big frontman grabbed an assist and a goal. But when France took on Germany in the quarterfinal, Giroud was back to the bench. From an Arsenal standpoint, it would have been nice to have seen him score a big goal in the knockout round, but alas, he once again failed to make much of an impact against the very best teams. However, Giroud did force his way into a very talented team for a few games, and that should be good for his confidence going forward.

Lukas Podolski (Germany) – While Podolski didn’t see much of the field, totaling zero minutes in the knockout round, he leaves Brazil a world champion. And watching him on the field in the postgame celebrations, you could see how much it meant to him. Although he didn’t play a whole lot, this summer should still do wonders for his confidence. Nobody can take away the fact that he is a world champion footballer. And hopefully he was playing up Arsenal to Sami Khedira for the last month. While he’ll miss much of preseason, Arsenal should be able to deal with his absence until he’s fit.

Per Mertesacker (Germany) – The big German center back started for much of the tournament, but lost his place in the final three games when Germany moved Philipp Lahm to right back. However, that decision was not a reflection on Mertesacker’s play. He was solid in the back, and represented Arsenal well with every header won. And of course, he comes back to the club a World Cup champion. He is already held in a high status in the dressing room and this should only further that reputation. I expect a fully fit Mertesacker to be ready for the opener, and he’ll be in a great mental state going in to the new campaign.

Mesut Özil (Germany) – Arsenal’s record signing received a ton of flak throughout the tournament for a perceived lack of effort. Compared to Thomas Müller, Toni Kroos and many of his other world-beating teammates, his work rate wasn’t the best. However, despite being pushed out wide, Özil did play a lot of telling balls in the final third, and was unlucky only to garner a single goal and an assist. And he played his best game in the final, which should do wonders for his confidence. Being a World Cup winner could do more for Özil than anyone else, as he should now be of the mindset that he can be among the very best. Hopefully this means we will see Özil live up to his potential. While the Arsenal playmaker will miss much of preseason, this World Cup should do wonders for him for next season.


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A Tip of the Cap to Derek Jeter and Now a Needed Sports Respite

There was a time in the not so distant past when the All-Star Game was one of the highlights of my summer. I would look forward to it for weeks, devoting hours and hours to following vote totals, roster predictions and of course all the roster announcements and replacements. But as I sat on my couch watching the game last night, I realized I had done none of that this summer. Two days removed from the World Cup, it was finally time to move on to other sporting events. The next four years of sports before Russia 2018 officially began last night in Minnesota.

But of course the All-Star Game was much more about Derek Jeter than it was about the baseball. If there’s someone out there who doesn’t respect the retiring Yankee shortstop, I don’t want to meet them. Growing up a Red Sox fan, I was always taught to hate every Yankees player but Jeter and Mariano Rivera. They were different. And after saying goodbye to Rivera last year, we got to do it again this time with Jeter. There isn’t much to be said about the shortstop that hasn’t been said already, but he is something special. He was the face of baseball when I became a fan around the year 2000, and he remains that today. What Jeter has accomplished on the diamond is incredible, and he has done it in style. I wish him only the best in his final two and a half months in baseball.

The Air Jordan Jeter commercial that I’m sure you’ve all seen by now is incredibly well done and encapsulates how everybody feels. There is nothing but respect for the captain. Forgetting the fact that the now former Red Sox A.J. Pierzynski never caught Jon Lester, the commercial was an appropriate tribute to the Yankee shortstop by the footware company. It was fitting that yesterday’s in-game tributes began with Jeter tipping his batting helmet to everyone as he stepped to the plate. And of course he went 2-2 at the plate.

I thought he was taken out of the game too early though. That it was still light out when Jeter was called back to the dugout will make the moment less memorable than Mariano Rivera’s farewell last year. While it’s unfair to compare the two All-Star Game goodbyes, it’s inevitable to do so. And in my opinion, Rivera’s was done much better. Jeter’s All-Star Game suddenly wasn’t his any longer in the top of the fourth. I would have liked to have seen more of him.

As such, I wish there was less pressure on the managers to get every player in the game, as I really would have liked to have seen some of these pitchers go more than an inning. The game used to be decided by the superstars, but now it’s decided by the fringe all-stars in the later innings. Something has to be done so that we can have more star power playing in the important moments. Wouldn’t we all have preferred to see more from Clayton Kershaw for example?

On a different note, today is probably the slowest sports day of the year. But at least we get the ESPY’s tonight. The ESPN equivalent of the Oscars for the past twelve months in sports is always a favorite of mine. However, I don’t think Drake will do a particularly good job hosting the show. My all-time favorite ESPY’s moment was after the World Cup four years ago when Seth Meyers was the host. His German accent making fun of Paul the Octopus was too funny. Somehow I don’t think Drake will be quite as hilarious as the great Seth Meyers. But at least we’ll get a night full of highlight videos and celebrations of the great moments in the sports world. I wouldn’t dare miss it.

This week of rest from the sports world comes as a refreshing break after the World Cup. But after few light days, the sports world will begin to go back to normal by the end of the week, with baseball soon taking over the spotlight from the World Cup and NBA free agency. The Red Sox will then have an interesting week or two as they try and sort out whether they will be buyers or sellers at the trading deadline. And Arsenal have their first preseason match this Saturday. So while this might be the only three days in the year we get somewhat of a break from the sports world, it’ll be nice to recharge the batteries.