A Donovan Tribute

The all-time top goal scorer and assist leader for USA soccer.  Number one in MLS for career goals: regular season, playoffs AND all-star game.  This is none other than Landon Donovan.

In light of his recent announcement to retire from the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer, I present a tribute to what many feel is his greatest goal.

By the way, the announcement comes right on the heels of Donovan scoring the game-winning goal in the MLS All-Star game versus Bayern Munich.  Anyone else think Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of goal-challenged Team USA, noticed that Donovan (whom he left off the World Cup squad) blasted a goal past German goal keeper Manuel Neuer (the man universally called the best keeper at WC14)?

This tribute is a visual of the ball path leading to Donovan’s 90th minute goal versus Algeria in the 2010 World Cup (which as we know, would end up being his last).  The significance of the goal cannot be understated, as it single-handedly took the USA from elimination to winners of Group C, advancing to the round of 16.  The 90th minute goal of a 0-0 game brought pandemonium to the country, as awesomely documented in dozens of fan reaction videos, garnering many millions of views online. The accomplishment was defining.  The moment was electric.

The play developed thus: a sure-handed stop of a header by Tim Howard, who immediately overhands an outlet to Donovan.  Donovan takes the ball in stride and streaks down the right side.  The play starts with a perfect pass to Jozy Altidore who crosses to Clint Dempsey whose point-blank shot is blocked by Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi. The rebounded ball sees a quick flick of the inside of Donovan’s right foot and rest is history.

Included is the delightful and historic commentary of announcing great, Ian Darke.

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Darke’s commentary:

“…Distribution: brilliant.  Landon Donovan.  There are things on here for the USA… Can they do it here? Cross. Dempsey is denied again… But Donovan has scored!!  Oh, can you believe this?!  Go(al) go(al), USA! Certainly through.  Ohhh, it’s incredible!  You could not write a script like this!”

The Agent of Champion

I recently attended the Pre Classic track meet in Eugene, Oregon (AKA Track Town, USA).  It’s one of just two Diamond League events in the USA and has been, arguably, the most competitive professional track meet held in this country. A great day of watching track with the Rasca twins, fellow track junkies and Pre nuts.

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Upon entering Hayward Field I took a place standing right at the fence at the south end of the track across from the high jump area.  After the national anthem, up walked a fairly imposing 6’6″, broad-shouldered, salt ‘n’ pepper-haired man who took a place next to me. I looked up and said, “How ya doing?”  He gave me silent, polite nod. He wore a red polo and multiple meet credentials around his neck so I ventured a conversation starter, “Are you a meet official?”

In a thick Eastern European-esque accent he replied, “No, I am agent.”

A secret agent? Wait, if he’s Russian, is he KGB? The mob?… The reality of my surroundings sunk in quickly enough however and I replied, “Oh, who are your athletes?”

“Chicherova.” Which, in his quick Russian speak sounded to me like “Chchhhvuh.”  After reading my face, which may have given away my lack of total comprehension he added, “She is champion”.  A snarky version of me would have countered, “Well, aren’t we all?”  But a quick search on my iphone revealed, yes indeed, he is referring to the Russian, Anna Chicherova, both the reigning Olympic and World Champion in the high jump. If you come across the world for whatever “agent work” there might be in an afternoon of track for a single athlete, she is not a bad one to represent.  He was happy to chat and talked about how he like liked the area and what a great meet this was.

While all the women warming up for the high jump competition looked similar – tall and slender with long pony tails and many wearing matching magenta Nike warmups, I was, indeed, able to find his muse, who walked around the red track surface, not unlike a giraffe, with a slow, measured grace.

Later as I watched from the stands as Chicherova easily cleared 2.01m (6’7″) to win the meet I quickly looked over to the south fence and saw the giant Russian give a silent satisfied nod and clap politely. His girl is champion again.

World Cup Brand competition

World Cup fever is continuing to swell with competition in Brazil starting in just two weeks.  News and stats have been coming out recently regarding brands involved with World Cup players and teams. And in light of Adidas and Nike thought to be about equal, currently, in soccer revenue and Puma coming on strong lately in pursuit of teams but, interestingly, also deciding to hold off all its marketing push until after the World Cup, I thought I’d provide some visuals regarding these three giants of the footwear and apparel industry. Of the 32 teams involved in WC14, 27 are sponsored by the big three: Image

Nike sponsors six of the top 10 most marketable players (calculated mostly by perception of global awareness).  This year’s Ballon D’Or winner, Ronaldo, interestingly, has three times the number of Facebook and Twitter followers as the average of the rest of the top 10…

 

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*Note: Not all top 10 most marketable will get to continue their exposure over the next month.  Zlatan’s Sweden failed to qualify for WC and 36 year-old Henry is not on Les Bleus’ squad.

Houston = Portland?

On one odd day in late April, 2014 the cities of Houston and Portland took a long look at each other on the field of play and may have felt like they were looking in a mirror.  Despite their notable differences in player personnel and style, the professional teams from these two cities found they had identical offensive output at the end of the game… in two different sports on the same day!  So, kinda weird, right?

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Okay, maybe not so shocking since we know the Timbers are (not so) secretly the Tie-ers, and the Blazers and Rockets have gone to overtime 3 out of their 4 games so far in this 4/5 NBA playoff first round match-up of teams who had the same regular season record (54-28).  But nonetheless, I give pause to this sporting world anomaly we may never see the likes of again.

 

Title Town, USA

Regional honor.  Civic pride.  You take this to heart:  You know the colloquial slang.  You can name the local famous people.  You know each neighborhood’s personality.  You eat the food.  You own the t-shirts.  And yes, when the topic of cities comes up, you know how to boast…

“Portland has hipsters and brewpubs.”

“Boston has colleges.”

“San Fran has tolerance. And bridges.”

“New Orleans has jazz and Mardi Gras.”

“Houston has the multi-cultural flair. “

“Chicago has skyscrapers, the Obamas and Michael Jordan.”

“Seattle has (had) grunge.”

“Austin is Weird.” (shh, that’s actually Portland)

And don’t get me started on everything a New Yorker might tell you.

Maybe nothing puts that infatuation with our hometown better into focus than collectively putting our unwavering faith in people running around in a stadium with matching jerseys with our city’s name on it.  They say it takes a village to raise a child.  Well, it takes a city to win a sports championship.  And that city will (riot and) take credit when it’s been won.  If we didn’t know that before, Seattle’s 12th man this past year taught us as much.

There is a great TheOnion article from 2001 that puts this concept into sobering perspective.  It’s headlined: You Will Suffer Humiliation When The Sports Team From My Area Defeats The Sports Team From Your Area.  As if no matter where our head hit the pillow, not only would our allegiance there follow but so would our unaffected opinion of that team’s competence.

Along that same line is a funny VectorBelly cartoon that subtly highlights the absurdity of putting our hopes and dreams in sports teams… but that is probably another debate for another day.

So, okay, we all think our city is the best.  But if our sports teams are our best city ambassadors, and those teams measure success with championships, then who is right?

Who has won the most titles across all sports?  Which towns see a trophy parade as a regular occurrence?  Who’s won the most per capita?  And maybe more fun to call out is what cities are the worst, er, I mean, have won the least?

Let’s take a look.

Combining the titles of the five men’s sports leagues in the US that play at the highest level: the NBA, the NFL, the NHL, MLB and MLS, here are the best of all time.

The Most Championships won:

1 New York                45 (incl. the Giants and Jets who actually play in East Rutherford)

2 Boston                     34

3 LA/Anaheim          26

4 Chicago                   18

Detroit                    18

6 Pittsburgh              14

7 San Francisco        12

7 St Louis                  12

9 Oakland                  9

10 Baltimore             8

10 Minneapolis         8

12 Washington DC   7

12 Miami                    7

12 Dallas                    7 

15 Philadelphia         6

Sure, NYC is the runaway winner but they also have twice the people and twice the teams!  (I do love that when the NJ Nets moved across the river they took on the borough name)

Let’s look at it “Pound for pound”.  The most titles per capita (including all adjacent suburbs whose residents surely love the teams) is Pittsburgh, with 14 titles (ranked 6th) representing just 2.35 million people (ranked 22nd).

However… if you combine total titles rank with per capita points and also include credit for championships across all sports the dial points toward Boston who have won titles in football, baseball, hockey and basketball in the last 10 years.  Even the Revolution, while never taking home the big one, earned a US Open Cup in ’07 and a Superliga #1 in ’08.  Then there’s the whole Boston marathon legacy and now “Boston Strong”; these guys seem to live and breathe sport excellence.

Now what about the other end of the list?  Those cities with lots of hope and little hardware?  Some might call these cities ‘desperate’.  Or ‘pathetic’.  You can argue they’re ‘deprived’.  Political correctness might dictate, “in a dry spell”:

My beloved Portland is in the ‘bad’ category, with nothing on the mantle but the Blazers’ title in 1977.  We cling to the memory of that sole championship like a toddler to his blanket.  In fact, our best sports bar is named The Spirit of ’77!

Worse still is Milwaukee, with only the Bucks’ 1971 NBA championship to boast.  And man, if you saw the Bucks play this year, that trophy seems like many lifetimes ago.

The longest title drought actually belongs to none other than Cleveland, who have not seen a final #1 ranking since 1948, a 66 year and counting wait for the Cavaliers, Browns or Indians to bring home the bacon.  Come to think of it, I can’t remember that last time any of those three were even in the playoffs, so good luck with that, guys.  Maybe with a couple more #1 picks, eh Cavs?

The per capita loser turns out to be Houston, with a massive 4.7 million-person metropolis but just 2 titles to show for their sporting efforts.

But surely there must be cities that have never even won one you might say?  You’d be right.

El Paso and Austin in Texas are big but don’t have any major league teams.  Too busy wrangling to care?  Memphis and Nashville also have the size AND have teams …but no titles.  Too busy playing music?  Or perhaps horse racing and NASCAR are higher priorities?  But most conspicuous on the list is… drumroll, please….

San Diego, our biggest loser, the 17th biggest metropolis and home to the Padres and Chargers but a big fat goose egg in the glass case.  At least they can blow off steam with some surfing.

 

A few assorted thoughts and notes on the topic:

• Much was made of the 2004 World Series title won by the Boston Red Sox.  It was a special moment in time to finally break the supposed Babe Ruth curse and give Red Sox fans their first title since 1918, 86 years in the making (and remarkably captured in ending of the Jimmy Fallon movie, Fever Pitch). But don’t feel sorry for Boston.   The city of Boston has regularly delighted in sports championships as noted above, especially their beloved Celtics (who are the most decorated franchise in NBA history).  During the baseball drought, 16 NBA titles were won by the men in green not to mention the many Bruins’ Stanley cups for Boston’s hockey fans and several early 2000s Patriots Super Bowls.

• The creation of MLS, a top league in the global world of soccer gave a lot of cities their very first taste of a title including San Jose, Salt Lake City and Columbus.  And Kansas City took home the Cup in 2013, breaking that city’s drought dating to George Brett’s Royals’ victory of 1985.  Now, I imagine nearly every soccer title parade pales in comparison to NBA or NFL but hey, a title’s a title.

• God bless Drew Brees and his Saints, who brought hurricane-riddled New Orleans their first and only championship in 2009.

Baltimore, a city who seems to consistently have teams taken away from them, came up big with a Ravens’ SuperBowl win in 2000 and book-ended the Ray Lewis era with another in 2012.

• Atlanta thanks its lucky stars for the 1995 Braves because they don’t have a single other championship in any first tier men’s sport despite having long-standing franchises in the MLB, the NBA, the NFL and an NHL team from 1999 to 2011.

*Editor’s note: For simplicity, I chose to ignore Canadian Cities in American leagues who have most of their championships in hockey anyway.  But no offense meant to our lovely neighbors to the North.


 

Masters of the Tie / What’s in a Name?

Over the course of the 2013 season the Portland Timbers recorded 15 Ties (for my British friends, that’s a ‘draw’).  This led the league.  By a lot.  In fact, the next closest team netted 11, 36% fewer.  The league average was 8, nearly half the total of my beloved Timbers.  Why is this, you ask?  Could it be part of the team’s mindset, part of who we are/just what we do?  Play to our opponent’s level but not beyond?  Well, turns out it’s right there in our name!

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But that was last year, right?  Well, the 2014 season is underway and the Timbers are 0-0-2, having tied both matches so far.  Deja vu all over again.  The name fits.

Group of Death and friends

In honor of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil being less than 100 days away, I present an analysis of the strength of the W.C. Groups based on the latest FIFA World Rankings.  The term ‘Group of Death’ has historically been given to the toughest draw, a group where teams outside of the top two are expected to have easily advanced if put in a different group.  We do have a clear ‘Group of Death’ this World Cup and coming out on the shortest end of all the sticks is none other than my nation, the good ol’ US of A.

While not the “deathiest” of Groups of Death in history, this year’s is certainly rough with two top 5s together and two other strong soccer nations.  And USA ends up as the highest ranked team with two higher teams in its group.  So, come on stars and stripes!  And congrats Korea for being far and away the worst team included and yet having one of the easiest paths to advance!

But aside from the “grupo de morte”, what about names for the rest of the groups?  Below is the W.C. group, the (total number of) rankings of its teams, and a new Group Name.

GROUP G (56) GERMANY 2 PORTUGAL 4 USA 13 GHANA 37  Group of Death

GROUP D (65) URUGUAY 7 ITALY 8 ENGLAND 15 COSTA RICA 35  Group of Near-Mortal Wounding

GROUP B (78) SPAIN 1 NETHERLANDS 10 CHILE 14 AUSTRALIA 53  Group of Severe Uncertainty

GROUP E (88) SWITZERLAND 6 FRANCE 18 ECUADOR 24 HONDURAS 40  Group of Ho-Hum

GROUP C (90) COLOMBIA 5 GREECE 12 IVORY COAST 23 JAPAN 50  Group of Cake

GROUP A (92) BRAZIL 9 CROATIA 16 MEXICO 21 CAMEROON 46  Group of Look Mom, I’m on TV!

GROUP F (105) ARGENTINA 3 BOSNIA 17 IRAN 38 NIGERIA 47  Group of Kittens and Ice Cream

GROUP H (120) BELGIUM 11 ALGERIA 26 RUSSIA 22 KOREA 61  Group of We Probably Rigged the Draw

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Nothing makes me prouder to live in Beaverton than this sign

Nothing makes me prouder to live in Beaverton than this sign

Somehow I just expect the crudely-carved little wooden beaver to be attached to a stick and a man standing behind the sign, sliding him along a cut-out track, having the beaver make his way past the boob-shaped deep green hills of Beaverton in front the setting sun. And he does this for every passerby who make their way past the city limit, and maybe every once in a while when he feels a bit spicy, makes the beaver bounce ever so slightly as if happily dancing along. Happy trails, Mr Beaver…

NFL Mascot strength: update… how are they faring?

With the NFL season now 2/3 complete, here is an update to my Mascot strength rankings.  The horses are galloping away.  Lions, Tigers and Bears are pretty good.  Those who spend time on the sea are all wet.

(average # of wins categorized by type of mascot)

Horses 8.0 (Best) – Broncos, Colts
Dogs 6.0 (Great) – Browns (bulldog mascot), Saints (St Bernard mascot)
Native Americans 6.0 (Great) – Chiefs, Redskins
New Americans 6.0 (Great) – 49ers, Cowboys, Patriots
Bears 6 (Great) – Bears
Birds 5.6 (Good) – Seahawks (An Osprey?), Ravens, Cardinals, Eagles, Falcons
Cats 5.25 (Good) – Tigers (Bengals), Lions, Panthers, Jaguars
Aircraft 5 (Average) – Jets
Working Americans 4.5 (Below Average) – Steelers, Packers
Lightning 4 (Below Average) – Chargers
Mythological Peoples 4.0 (Below Average) – Giants, Titans
Horned Mammals 3.3 (Poor) – Rams, Buffalo (Bills), Texans (Bull mascot)
Marine Mammals 3 (Poor) – Dolphins
Pirates 3.0 (Poor) – Raiders, Buccaneers
White People 2 (Worst) – Vikings

NO, SERIOUSLY.

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Did the poor child every get a serious answer?

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