Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Dog Days of Summer

Well, I am pretty sure I have hit near rockbottom in terms of my sports fandom. The Toronto Blue Jays are simply awful. Manager Cito Gaston clearly does not care, the best pitcher in baseball Roy Halladay clearly wants out and ownership is getting ready to sell the team. The Jays started out like a house on fire, peaking at a sparkling 27-14 record, the best in the American League. Halladay was Halladay, the pitchers were pitching great, and hitters were smoking the ball. And then injuries. Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan started the year on the disabled list, and both have suffered further and further setbacks, to the point where it would not be a surprise if Dustin McGowan never pitches again. They were joined by Jesse Litsch, Casey Janssen, Scott Richmond, Ricky Romero, Robert Ray, Scott Downs and the complete and utter destruction of BJ Ryan.

On the offensive side, the Jays employ one of the worst everyday players in baseball in Vernon Wells, except he is due in excess of $60MM in the coming years. Scott Rolen, one of the most likeable Toronto sports figures I can remember, decided he had had enough and asked to be traded. The Jays then let Alex Rios and his limitless potential walk away. The end result? Since being 27-14, the Jays have gone 30-53 to sit at 57-67. And they neglected to shell out the money for their top draft picks.

This is the closest I have ever come to giving up and turning my back on this team. My brother and his wife just gave birth to a baby boy. He and I are in complete agreement that he is not to be raised as a Toronto Blue Jays fan.

I was at the Rogers Centre on Monday night. It is the only game I have been to this year and I went specifically to see Roy Halladay pitch. He really is a no-hitter waiting to happen. People often say that Toronto is a great sports town, the Leafs have sold out since World War II, the Raps have a great fanbase etc. The attendance at the Rogers Centre was 1/3rd its capacity. I have been to maybe 70 or 80 games at the Rogers Centre and the only time I had ever seen a lower attendance was for a mid-April game in 2003 against Boston in the middle of the SARS epidemic in Toronto. Sitting at the game on Monday, I don't think I have ever been so dispassionate and depressed while watching sports.

Even worse, I get to look at the standings and see a team like the Colorado Rockies locked into an absolutely amazing stretch drive playing exciting game after exciting game, while I have to cheer on a team that puts Kevin Millar, Randy Ruiz and Raul Chavez into the same lineup.

I need a drink

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Reasons you should never trust online polls

But first -- WOOOO ENGLAND WON THE ASHES!!!! STUFF IT AUSTRALIA! This was probably the worst weekend for Australian sport in a long time, they lost the Ashes to England, the title of best Test cricket team to South Africa and lost in the Tri-Nations (rugby) to New Zealand. Very crappy weekend.

Now for the feature presentation - the reason internet polls are dumb:

I suppose a small amount of explanation is required before going into my rant. You see, The University of Toronto Varsity Blues football team finished 2-6 last year. Those two wins were actually an improvement on what was expected from this team... that hadn't won a game since 2001. What right-thinking individual would rationally come to the conclusion that this is a team that was bound to win this season. Further still, how could 40.48% of respondents to the poll think that?

Effectively, the OUA (poll found here) is asking what school the respondent goes to or went to. Polls like this are moronic, they don't give any real information, they just find out whose fans visit the hosting website the most. Polls like the one TSN is currently running on their NHL website (whether Dany Heatley will still be an Ottawa Senator by October 1) are more telling, as fan allegiances only play a small role in the option the answerer clicks (although Sens fans who like Heatley will probably be clicking "Yes, he'll be a Senator").

These kinds of polls really do, to some extent, give an idea of what the public thinks on an issue. For team-based polls, though, almost any fan is going to pick their team to win it all. After all, this is the year!!! Right? So why bother?

Unfortunately, it's an idiot-trap. It's a bit like Las Vegas, you see all the fancy lights and all of a sudden some greasy-haired, shiny-shirt-wearing creep named Gino owns your house. You see the poll, answer it, and are maybe attracted by a story. Who knows? I know people who go to certain sites on a weekly basis specifically to answer a poll.

This all leads me to one very simple conclusion:

Should this blog have a weekly poll?

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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Thoughts on today's Premier League action

I can't think up a better title than that... it's late, cut me some slack.


Burnley 1 - 0 Manchester United

Who the hell saw this coming? But then, it's early days and United haven't quite gelled yet. Seeing Burnley win their first home top-flight match in 33 years was wonderful... but to see them win it against last year's league champions? Fairy tail stuff!
At any rate, positives for United: Michael Owen was decent, he got himself into dangerous positions and was moving the ball around well, but needs to find his scoring touch. Also, the possession tells the story, United were dominant with 63% of the ball, but they just couldn't score (not to say they didn't have their chances, putting 9 shots on goal and missing another 9). Unfortunately, in losing Christiano Ronaldo, they seem to have lost that cutting-edge against teams they should be beating... no one really stepped up today and they really missed that lacquered up pansy.
For Burnley, they have easily the most courageous keeper I've ever seen in their great Dane, Brian Jensen, picking up the man of the match award. Their centre-backs were equally deserving of praise, throwing themselves in front of everything United could give them, and doing their best to get in the way. An inspiring effort from all 11 on the pitch.

Hull 1 - 5 Tottenham Hotspur

6 points from two games. It took Spurs 10 games to reach 6 points last year. Oh... and we're top of the table. I'm not taking a win over a decidedly crap Liverpool and Hull as a sign we'll win the championship, but it's rare you hear the Match Of The Day pundits declare (without laughing) "Tottenham for the title". I choked up a little when they said it, I'm not lying... in 21 years I've never heard that said seriously. Spurs were magnificent today, the passing, the movement, the Jermaine Defoe hat-trick... I'm really excited this year. It seems to be clicking.

Birmingham City 1 - 0 Portsmouth

David James will forever argue the penalty... but he shouldn't have been challenging for the ball in the first place, it was nowhere near the goal. I think the most significant question one can ask from this game is: why has he decided to make himself the most utterly ridiculous-looking footballer in the league (Cissé's in Greece now)? He really looks like some ridiculous 70s pornstar, getting into the habit of grabbing all kinds of stray balls (I'm sorry, this is a family-friendly blog... I couldn't resist though).

Liverpool 4 - 0 Stoke

This result should never have been in question... but last year both matches with Stoke ended with goalless draws... so I suppose Liverpool had reason to be wary (especially after their horrible start to the season at White Hart Lane). Glen Johnson, Liverpool's new right-back fresh from Pompey, might be the most inspired non-Spanish acquisition ever made by Rafa Benitez. In the attacking third of the pitch, he gives Liverpool so many new options, he was hands down their best player today (as he was against Spurs on Sunday).

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Fore and Against

Amrit already mentioned it, but I feel like I have to chime in as well. The inclusion of golf into the Olympics is simply regrettable. If the Olympics are supposed to be the pinnacle of athletic achievement for anybody in their given sport, then golf should not be included. If Tiger Woods wins, will anyone care? Will people fundamentally alter their viewing of him? If he does not win, will his career not be full? Will any of them really be representing their countries? The proposed format, a simple 72 hole tournament with a field of 60, is not even interesting. If it were organized by country, whereby each country has a team of 4 and they do something this way, it would be much more interesting.

Let's say Tiger Woods, Phil Mickleson, Anthony Kim and Stewart Cink are teamed up for the USA in the gold medal match against a British team led by Rory McIlroy, or a Spanish team led by Sergio, especially if the 2016 Games are in Madrid. Make me want to look forward to the Olympic golf tournament like I look forward to the Olympic basketball or hockey tournament. I can only see Lebron and Kobe teaming up with Chris Paul at the Olympics, or Sidney Crosby setting up John Tavares at the Olympics. I can see Tiger and Phil dueling at any tournament, but teaming them up against every country in the world would be something special. Watching Padraig Harrington or Ernie Els or Ryo Ishikawa or Jeev Mikah Singh try to will their respective countries across the finish line would be a site to behold.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Canada's Olympic hockey jerseys hit the interwebs

As you may have seen on Icethetics and Puck Daddy, Canada's 2010 Olympics jerseys leaked. They are these:

I both dislike and like them. I like them in that they're simple, Canadian and the weird little pattern inside the maple leaf is First Nations artwork. Classy.

I dislike them because of the fact that THE CANADIAN HOCKEY FEDERATION LOGO IS STILL ON THE JERSEY, which you may remember being the problem in the first place. Secondly, while I like the idea of the First Nations artwork, I think it makes the maple leaf look sloppy. We should be embossing the artwork into the main body of the jersey, as Puma did during the 2006 World Cup (to the right is Ghana's jersey, Ghana's soccer team being known as the Black Stars).

EDIT -- Apparently the national federation logo is allowed to be on the jersey, it's just not allowed to be the main crest. That's why Sweden's jersey still has the circle with the ship in the top left corner. So I guess my only real problem with the jersey isn't actually a problem at all. That said, I think they would still look better with the embossed pattern being on the body of the jersey rather than the crest.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Greetings from away! (again)

Hello interworld!

Similar to this time last year (maybe a little earlier in the month, but nevertheless) I'm off on vacation during summer, and have decided to compile a list of thoughts. That said, this list should be more sport-related than the last one.

1. Golf should never, ever be an Olympic sport. I could live with Rugby 7s being in the Olympics, it's a great sport, it might increase rugby's popularity (not just league, union or 7s, but as a whole) and is evenly contested (the alleged problem with softball and baseball). Don't get me wrong, the concept of the amateur athlete competing in the Olympics is totally false, and that's not the argument against golf. It's a bit like tennis in the Olympics -- they're nothing special, just another blip on the Championship circuit. For every other sport, the Olympics are something really special, something to work towards, something to take your game to a higher level for. For tennis it's just another tournament, except with less prize money. And I feel that's what would happen with golf.

2. I've been watching Czech league hockey as they compete for the Tipsport Hockey Cup* (I think it's this thing... but it's clubs so I'm confused now) and have come up with three conclusions. (a) You don't really notice the ads on the jerseys unless you look for them. (b) I love big-ice hockey, there's so much space, defense needs to be more positional, hits need to be more thought out (and the Czechs love to throw hits, I didn't know it either), and transfer between defense and attack is unbelievably fast. It's really entertaining. (c) I like no-touch icing, it's safer and doesn't seem to kill the game all that much.

2a. Where else can a lowly North American like me continue to watch Hasek do the worm on ice?

3. Czechs drink some weird, weird hard liquor. There's Becherovka, which is a 'must-have' drink that tastes like a mouthful of herbs. There's just about 5 different colours of absynthe, and a cannabis flavoured absynthe, not to mention cannabis flavoured vodka, rum and all kinds of other drinks (including tea).

4. Czech beer is fantastic. Doubleplus delicious.

5. There are souvenir shops galore in Prague, and a lot of them sell North American sport-related Matryoshka dolls. It's weird to be in central Europe, and seeing a little Russian doll painted up like a Montreal Canadian, another one painted up like Tony Romo, one beside that in Chicago Bulls strip, and finally a nondescript Boston Red Sock to finish up a row of bizareness. (I couldn't be bothered to resize my own ginormous digital camera picture, so I'm ripping this one off the internet... much like all the other pictures. It does the trick).

Anyways, as you read in yesterday's post from Phil, England seemed to do pretty well against the Dutch. Unlike Phil, I think England are actually capable of winning 2010's World Cup for two reasons:
1) With a solid, first-choice keeper in goal who doesn't play for West Ham, England can be a force to be reckoned with (as long as the media doesn't tear their confidence to shreds... read; Robinson, Paul whose gaffe against Crotia [which I still argue was Neville's fault] continues to haunt him)
2) Spain won their second Euro 44 years after winning their first. England won their first World Cup in 1966. There ya go.

Netherlands v England: An assessment

It's been some time since I last posted, but let's just forget about that and get right down to business.

England claimed a creditable 2-2 draw today in Amsterdam after some horrible defending gifted the Dutch two goals in the first half. While there was quite a bit to note from both sides on the technical level, which is why I watched with a pen and pad ready, both the English and Dutch fans at the Amsterdam ArenA last night can be forgiven for not being any closer to an idea of how their teams will fare in South Africa come June.

1. David Beckham is a good footballer, but one suspects that he's a bit of a luxury to be a whole 1/11th of a side challenging for a World Cup. There's no doubting he's one of England's best players even now, but I think a bit more courage could be shown over the next few months to find a permanent option down England's right flank. Perhaps the Premier League season will enlighten us and provide Fabio Capello food for thought? Maybe Jermaine Pennant, perhaps England's only footballer playing abroad, will shine at Real Zaragoza (he loves Spain's 13% 'non-domiciled' tax rate) and get his chance?

2. The full-back play was generally average, with one exception. Glen Johnson looked all right at best, and we've come to expect much more in an attacking sense from Ashley Cole that he gets 6/10 from me when he simply defends. Johnny Heintinga is nothing special on a good day, and faced against Ashley Young in the first half he was unadventurous. However, Edson Braafheid, the latest Dutch footballer from the Surinamese production line, looked very good at left-back as he did under Steve McLaren at FC Twente and looks like a very good purchase for Bayern Munich. Expect to see much more of the short yet solid full-back.

3. Rafael van der Vaart produced a fine display playing behind the main striker as part of the attacking three in midfield (perhaps out of romanticism, news websites listed the Netherlands' squad as 4-3-3, but in reality they're still playing Marco van Basten's much-maligned "un-Dutch" 4-2-3-1). He has a point to prove to his employers in the Spanish capital, who haven't even bothered giving the man a squad number for the coming season.

4. Is this the end of the road for Emile Heskey? While he seems to have formed a good relationship with Wayne Rooney, we all know that Heskey had a near-telepathic relationship with Michael Owen. Depending how the upcoming season goes, you may see West Ham's Carlton Cole leapfrog the ageing and slightly out-of-form Villa man for a World Cup starting berth, especially as Owen is out of the England picture for good.

5. Neither team is likely to win the World Cup in South Africa next year, that's just the way it is. England lack a certain guile at times, even though they are now more rigourously coached tactically than at any time since the late 1980s. And the players at Capello's disposal are, with few exceptions, not every exceptional. The Netherlands have a strong footballing culture (but a weak domestic league) yet players like AZ Alkmaar's Stijn Schaars, while impressive at times in his passing and decision-making tonight, and certainly improving, can't provide that trophy-winning je ne sais quoi.

Then again, it was just 95mins of useless friendly, wasn't it?