By Christian Schneider
Like everyone else in this country with a pulse, I buried myself into Team USA's World Cup campaign last summer. I went nuts in an Arizona hotel room when John Brooks headed in the game-winning goal against Ghana. I threw the water bottle in my hand across the room of my new apartment when we let Portugal tie us in the last 30 seconds of the match. I stood and screamed with 10,000 total strangers at the Redondo Beach viewing party of USA-Belgium and was absolutely, positively CONVINCED we were gonna pull off the comeback in that game. I know almost everyone else has a story like that.
What I'm less convinced of, however, is that I will be joined in doing the exact same thing all over again this summer when the Women's Team goes to Canada. And that's sad. Because our ladies might actually win the whole damn thing, whereas the men set the country ablaze by making the round of 16. But even though the USWNT (U.S. Women's National Team) is a perennial powerhouse and three-time defending Olympic champion, they still don't have the ratings, hype, or professional impact of the men's game.
It's hard for me to remember what the first sports event I ever watched was. Usually because it was my Dad watching while five-year-old me was sitting on the floor playing with Playmobiles. But two games have always stuck out in my mind. The first is Michael Jordan hitting the shot against the Jazz in Game 6 in the 1998 Finals. I was six, but I new that MJ would score, that it was his last game, and there was no way MJ could ever lose his last game (then that second return nonsense happened but whatever).
The second was the US Women beating China at the Rose Bowl in 1999 to win the World Cup. I'll never forget it. I was at a backyard BBQ party at a neighbor's house and rather than playing in the backyard or in the pool, everyone was watching. It was the story of the summer, how Mia Hamm and Co. were selling out football stadiums all over America and trying in the process to carve a professional league for women's soccer. It ended pretty well; Brandi Chastain scored the winning penalty, the US won, and the girls got their league. Meanwhile seven-year-old me and my buddies were running around pulling our shirts off to imitate Chastain's iconic celebration, minus the sport bra of course. America rejoiced.
And that was as good as it ever got. For the following years, women's soccer suffered numerous reminders that they were still minor leaguers compared to men's sports. Their league has been suspended, rebooted, suspended again, while MLS has managed to bring in players like David Beckham.
When the US Women won gold in 2004, part of Hamm, Chastain, Julie Foudy, and Joy Fawcett's farewell tour, they were interviewed by Bob Costas who led off with the question to Mia, "So, what everyone back home wants to know: How's Nomar?" (that's Nomar Garciaparra, All-Star shortstop and Mia Hamm's then newlywed husband). As an 11-year-old New England fan who had just seen the Sox trade Nomar away, I felt like the question made sense. Until my Mom just about lost her mind. Imagine if the first question put to Tom Brady after the last Super Bowl was about Gisele's newest photoshoot. Now multiply it by a hundred. That's how offensive it was. (By the way, the four women mentioned at the top of this paragraph, along with Kristine Lilly and Brianna Scurry, all rank in the top 100 in terms of successful American athletes on the international scale. I doubt 10% of the people reading this article know their names, besides Hamm and maybe Chastain because she took her top off. Not your fault, but you get the point)
Then in 2011, a spark was struck. To be specific, a soccer ball was struck by the head of Abby Wambach into the back of the net in the USWNT's quarterfinal game against Brazil. It remains the single craziest goal I have ever seen in soccer, men's or women's, and was the signature of one of the craziest games I have ever seen. You can watch it in its entirety here:
Long story short, Brazil scores an own goal, US gets called for bogus red card that lets Brazil tie the score and forces US to play with 10 players. Brazil scores again, then starts faking injuries (not diving, like lying down and screaming, getting stretchered off and suddenly standing up and being fine. Watch Key and Peele's Futbol Flop and you'll know what I mean) in order to burn time off the clock. The crowd is furious at the bullshit and sides with the US. Brazil's strategy backfires as a bunch of time is added and in the last 20 seconds of the match Megan Rapinoe (remember the name this summer, she's a BEAST) puts in a ridiculous cross over the whole Brazil defense to Wambach, who heads it in. US wins on penalties.
All of a sudden people are watching Women's Soccer again. The final defeat against Japan brought in 13.5 million viewers, the most for an ESPN soccer game. That is, until the USA played Portugal in their second group game last summer. That one got 18.22 million, more than even the 1999 final, which everyone supposedly watched and was on ABfreakingC, not cable. I'll repeat that; the single most significant game in American Women's Sports was beaten out by the second game of group play in the men's tournament.
And so here we go again; soccer is supposedly buzzing in the US after the heroics of the men's team and we've got a whole new tournament, one that could very well end with the USA hoisting the Cup. Are we gonna watch? And if we do, why?
The two biggest soccer stars on the USWNT are Alex Morgan and Hope Solo. There is absolutely no question that they are elite talents and deserve all the hype they get, but they also do modeling work; Morgan was in SI's swimsuit edition, and Solo went nude for ESPN's Body Issue. Anything wrong with that? Of course not, God knows women, especially women athletes, aren't paid what they should be in this country, so grab all the cash you can get ladies, before you can't play anymore!
But do we have the same stardom for Christie Rampone, the 40-year-old defensive captain who has been with the team since before the 1999 Final? Or Rapinoe? Or Carli Lloyd, the highest scoring midfielder in US history, who single-handedly won us the Gold Medal in London? Or Abby Freaking Wambach, who has scored more goals than any other player in US history, including Mia Hamm? Like with Mia Hamm before them, the USWNT has had to sell its image to the red-blooded American man in order to gain traction. That's a sad reality because these girls have got more than enough game that it should speak for itself.
So please, watch the Women's World Cup this summer. I know I will. But watch it for sports reasons and not because it's a more acceptable form of model wrestling. Watch it because this is Abby Wambach's last shot at winning a World Cup (she's got three gold medals, but not the top prize). Watch it because 2011 should have been theirs but Japan scored two crazy lucky goals and robbed them. Watch it because every time you've said "Wow, how sick would it be if the USA won the World Cup?" you were forgetting that WE ALREADY WON IT!!! TWICE!!!
The World Cup starts on June 6th. It's in Canada so don't worry about the time difference. I don't know if there's gonna be a viewing party at Redondo Beach. But I hope there is. I really do.
The Minnesota Twins are the hottest team in the American League.
Did I really just write that?
Wow... I did.
Not a statement I thought was going to be remotely plausible when the season got underway, given the suspension to the highest paid free agent in franchise history, and the lack of upgrades on what has been, arguably, the American League's worst offense the past three seasons. But here we sit.
Yes, it's early. It's only the first week in May. But the Wild got swept, the Vikings just got into rookie mini-camp, and the Wolves, despite some glimpses of what we all hope will be the resurgence of competitive basketball in the great white north, were a dumpster fire competing for draft lottery position; so forgive me for getting a little carried away. But after an abysmal 1-6 start, the Twins have kicked it into high gear. Despite losing to Cleveland two days ago in a series finale, the club had won nine of it's last ten, including four in a row before the loss. In total, the Twinkies have gone 17-9 in their last 26.
So how has this team, who lost it's most expensive free-agent acquisition to a PED suspension the last day of spring training (thanks, jackass), and lost 90+ games the last three seasons, find themselves in the upper-third of the MLB power rankings to start the season? And more importantly, can it continue?
First thing's first... offense. The Twins have delivered an all-out assault on the AL Central. Leading this barrage is an all too familiar face.
Torii Hunter said he was "coming home" this last offseason, and made it clear that he was here to compete. I'm not going to deny, it was hard for me to believe that the 39 year-old (he'll be 40 in two months) would be able to spear-head what has been an injury-riddled, dumpster fire of a lineup the last few years. I mean, really... how much could he possibly have left in the tank? Turns out, through one month, Hunter's still got some pop in his bat. While Twins' fans shouldn't expect to see the Hunter of old, ranging the outfield and scaling walls in Spidey-esque fashion, robbing homers and sending our collective jaws to the floor, it suddenly doesn't seem too far-fetched to believe that maybe Mr. Hunter can bring more to this club than a veteran voice within the clubhouse.
Hunter was red-hot in Cleveland. He went 7 for 12 with 2 homers and 5 RBIs. At this point, he is tied in leading the club in batting average (he's tied with Joe Mauer at .287) dingers (he's tied with Trevor Plouffe at 5), and alone atop the team in RBI's (20). He's also .429 in the month of May. Not too shabby for a guy that's been in the league for 18 years. But he's not the only veteran providing the spark.
"There's no holes in the lineup," second baseman Brian Dozier told FSN North. "I feel like everybody's kind of locked in right now. I haven't seen that in the past few years."
You're tellin' me, Brian. According, to twincitiesland.com, the twins have had 10 plus hits in 15 of 31 games on May 10. That's a good sign you're getting production from the top of the lineup to the bottom.
But it doesn't stop with the lumber. The arms have been the biggest surprise. After getting shelled in their first series of the season against the Tigers, getting outscored 22-1, the rotation has been able to get things squared away. Kyle Gibson put together a scoreless inning streak of 22, until giving up a solo homer last evening in a 2-1 loss to Detroit. Mike Pelfrey, who was asked to take a bullpen position during Spring Training, has stepped up immensely to start the season posting an ERA of 2.62 (tops in the rotation). While it hasn't been pretty for Pelfrey, his ability to eat innings has been instrumental to the hot start.
An even bigger surprise has been the bullpen. What was expected to be more of a playpen, has actually held strong. According to cbsminnesota.com, the Twins bullpen has been the 5th best in the AL, posting a 3.33 ERA, with 64 strikeouts to only 26 walks, despite losing their best set-up man Casey Fein. Glen Perkins has been his typical clutch self. The former Golden Gopher has been pitcher perfect, nailing 11 of 11 save opportunities.
Much credit must be given to Hall of Famer and new/first time manager Paul Molitor. No doubt, the club took a massive hit right out of the gates when it was revealed they would be without their newly acquired ace Earvin Santana after testing positive for stanozolol. After struggling out of the gates, the team was finally able to settle in and find their groove.
I really admire the way Molitor has experimented with the lineup. Molitor has been fairly open to moving his best veteran hitters around, shuffling Mauer and Hunter between the 2 and 3 holes in the lineup. As much as I love Mauer and what the hometown hero has been able to do for this team and the Twin Cities, it's abundantly clear that he will never be requisite of the power hitting numbers he is being paid. That doesn't make his bat any less effective, just so long as he's healthy (*proceeds to place laptop down and knock on wooden table*). When Mauer is healthy, hitting .320 by mid-season isn't far-fetched, making him a better table-setter for the big boppers behind him, than driving in the speedsters in front and back of the lineup.
As much as I respect and adored his predecessor, Ron Gardenhire, it's become extremely apparent that his voice had grown tired in the cluhouse. Molitor has been no bullsh--- nonsense since day one, placing cellphone bans in the clubhouse 30 minutes prior to game time and yanking a daydreaming Aaron Hicks in spring training for losing track of how many outs there were. Even more, he despises losing. You could see in the first seven games that he was exhausted from losing in all of his postgame press conferences. He's here to win, and to instill that attitude into the younger guys on the roster. Twins fans were ecstatic by the steps that young players such as Kennys Vargas, Oswaldo Arcia, and Danny Santana took in the closing of last season. These young guns have struggled mightily out of the gates, and Molitor has handled it well.
Lavelle E. Neal, beat writer for the Twins in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, provided a prime example to Paul Allen on KFAN's" Nine to Noon" show on the Twin Cities sports radio station, indicating that the struggling Vargas was trying too hard to deliver moon-shots every time he stepped up to the plate. Molitor moved him back in the lineup, telling the kid to stop trying to hit the ball 500 ft., and to start trying to hit MLB pitches, working the count in his favor.
So the question remains, can this continue?
The easy answer would be "no." We are barely a month into the season, and it's the latter half of the season that really makes or breaks clubs. It's hard to imagine veterans such as Torii Hunter and Mike Pelfrey maintaining their pace to keep the club competitive, simply due to age. But if they can, and if Molitor can find a way to get the young guns in Vargas and Arcia launching homers in the fashion they were down the stretch, and if prospect Byron Buxton continues killing it in the minors, scorching his way through the farm system, the AL Central better keep an eye on the rearview... things could get awfully exciting come September.
By Christian Schneider
I Christian, of House Schneider, first of my name, do this day implore the sports gods (whether that is one of the Seven, R'hllor, Many-Faced God Whose Name is Death, the Drowned God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, or- well you get the picture) to deliver me this ONE favor.
Know that I have not prayed to you once this year. Not when my Patriots jousted for the 49th Bowl of Superiority, nor when my most hated nemeses the Blue-clad Devils of Duke triumphed in the tournament of 68, nor when the defender of truth and justice Manny Pacquiao wet the bed against the rapscallion Floyd Mayweather.
Not once. But now I raise my hands in the air (hoping that is a gesture that you find respectful, I still have no clue what you or y'all's rituals look like) and ask one boon: Please Sports God(s), give us Warriors vs. Clippers.
This is the battle we need, if not the one we deserve. It is the heavyweight bout that Pacquiao/Mayweather should have been (I know they're not heavyweights people, SHUT UP). It is the Grudge Match that should keep America enthralled for at least 6 memorable rounds. It has enough plotlines to pack a Robert Altman movie. It is a surefire classic and we NEED it to happen.
Please don't think this is meant as a slight on the Rockets or Grizzlies. James Harden is the most dangerous player in the playoffs (yep, I include Lebron, Harden gets to the line WAY more and that's what kills you in playoff games) and Kevin McHale has crafted a team that was previously seen as soft (Howard and sort of Harden) and washed up (Josh Smith, Jason Terry) and turned them into contenders. The Grindhouse Grizzlies are impressive, Marc Gasol is a truly great big in a league devoid of them, Mike Conley is a warrior, as he proved in Game 2, and Z-Bo is Z-Bo.
But these two are standing in the way of a showdown for the ages. What Pacers-Heat should have been last year. As far as bad blood goes, you'd have to go back to Lakers-Kings 2002 to match this. It's that heated.
Let's recap: The Clippers and Warriors hate each others' guts. They fight a lot during the regular season. They are division rivals. Chris Paul is the best pure point guard in the NBA but Stephen Curry is the MVP and they guard each other. Andrew Bogut and DeAndre Jordan are two of the best defensive centers in the game and they seem to lock horns every time they play. Blake Griffin is playing the best basketball of his career in these playoffs, having overcome the Spurs and carrying the team in Game 1 against the Rockets without Paul. But Draymond Green will be assigned to him and, in addition to being exactly the kind of rough-and-tumble defender that has always given Griffin fits, he wants to prove that the NBA Defensive Player of the Year was rightfully his. Locking up Bad News Blake seems like a good way to do it.
And that's just the marquee showdowns. How about JJ Redick vs. Klay Thompson? The veteran sharpshooter looking for his shot at being a key part of a championship run against the emerging superstar sharpshooter trying to achieve Scottie Pippen wingman status. How about the Barnes vs. Barnes battle? Has there ever two more different players with the same name squaring off than tatted-up, foulmouthed, enforcer Matt against cleancut, passive, intellectual Harrison? Throw in "please drop kick me now" Austin Rivers and the paper-thin Clipper bench trying to make Daddy proud against the deep and reliable Warrior backups, best in the league? War veteran Shaun Livingston against his old team? (just kidding)
And then there's the coaches. Veteran Doc Rivers, who has had to drag his team through the Donald Sterling mess, jam a bunch of mismatched pieces together and find them a toughness and chemistry capable of beating the defending champion Spurs, and get them over the mindset of being, y'know, the Clippers? Squaring off against amiable little rookie coach Steve Kerr who hopped out from behind the commentators' booth, grabbed the keys to a Mitsubishi (Mark Jackson's 51-31, first round out Warriors) and turned them into a Porsche (67-15, best team in Warrior history, most exciting team in at least a decade, if they get a ring they are top 15 all time Warriors).
Throw in the fact that they played a classic First Round series last year that ended with a classic Game 7 in the Staples Center, whereupon Chris Paul hugged it out with Steph Curry, then screamed taunts into the visiting Warriors' locker room and the fact that both these teams are playing like the best teams in basketball right now. You've got yourself a classic. It's gotta happen.
So, sports gods, please don't deny us this. That Grizzlie win in Game 2 was a real bummer. We don't need another series of the Grizzlies parking the bus. Or of James Harden on the free throw line. We need a melee, a bloodbath, a Seahawk-49er, Ravens-Steelers, Bulls-Knicks throwdown. So please, you gods, let us have Warriors-Clippers.
By Tyler Berry
Mayweather vs. Pacquiao. Good vs. Evil. Abuser vs. Philanthropist. It was billed as the Fight of the Century. Instead, what we saw wasn’t even the best fight of the night. No one was in the arena or even watching their PPV feeds yet, but Lomachenko vs. Santa Cruz was a much more entertaining fight. Lomachenko was a monster in the ring, capping off a surge of strong punches with a ninth round knock out. The future, perhaps, was born on Saturday night.
But that’s not what we’re here to discuss. What we’re here to discuss is whether or not the two best, most famous fighters in the world pulled the wool over our eyes. Was this even a real fight? Or was is simply a glorified sparring match that was billed as a real fight?
My thoughts on this all started during Manny’s in-ring interview after the decision was announced. He was smiling and shaking the hands of fans, as if he had just knocked Money Mayweather out cold. In reality, he barely touched him, save for rounds four and six, and utterly, completely lost that fight. The kicker was during the interview, when Pacman straight up said that he thought he won the fight. He said verbatim, “he didn’t do nothing.” He, obviously referring to Mayweather. He didn’t do nothing. That’s absurd and my colleague/co-host, Drew pointed that out. He looked at me and asked “What if both these dudes just pulled a fast one on all of us?”
So after that, I couldn’t shake this feeling that we really were duped, that this whole thing was a ruse. You’re probably thinking that such a high profile event, one involving hundreds of millions of dollars and extensive planning, could never be “fake” or “a ruse.” Don’t be so quick to dismiss it though. Let’s look at some facts.
1. The Walk-Out Entourages
Floyd Mayweather is well-known for his extensive entourages, many times involving notorious d-bag, Justin Bieber. The Biebs has even been part of his walk-out entourage in the past. He’s not who I’m focused on for this. I’m more focused on the fact that the BURGER KING was part of Money’s walk-out crew. What in the world was that about? Product placement? Come on. That is completely unnecessary.
Pacman’s entourage isn’t much better. He walked out with Jimmy Kimmel dressed as if he came straight from a Run DMC video shoot.
You get four people, FOUR people, that walk out with you. You’re telling me that, in a serious fight, one that truly is the fight of the century, that the two fighters would walk out with a fast food mascot and a late night host? I don’t buy it.
2. It Was a Prepaid Fight
If I recall correctly, Mayweather received a check for $60 million before the fight and Pacquiao received around $40 million. Isn’t is possible that these two fighters saw those checks and realized that, hey, we don’t have to even go out and give it our all. We’re already getting more money than we can spend in a year. That “we” refers to normal people, not Money Mayweather.
3. The Undisclosed Injury
Manny decided that is would be a good idea to keep a serious shoulder tear from the Nevada State Athletic Commission until a couple of hours before the fight. In a post-fight interview, he used his injury as an excuse for his poor performance and lack of punch connection. This was the first that any of the public had heard about it. Really?
So you’re telling me that, after years of build up, Manny decides to go out with a serious injury and participate in the fight anyway? Some might say he was brave or a hero for giving it a go. I’m calling him a moron, a selfish moron.
True boxing fans (which I can’t even really consider myself, although I do really enjoy the sport) would have gladly waited longer for this fight to happen if it had been disclosed that Manny had a serious injury. Instead, his camp kept it from millions of people AND the Nevada State Athletic Commission. And now he’s facing possible legal trouble for hiding the injury. GOOD.
In the end, this was not the outcome anyone wanted to see. Floyd and Manny had a perfect opportunity to help bring about a boxing resurgence. They had the opportunity to capture a lot of new fans. Instead, they turned off millions of people from buying PPV fights, tickets, and anything to do with the sport of boxing.
The Fight of the Century? Are we sure?