Author: torsten120

The USMNT Has a Goalie Problem

Over the last three decades, the United States mens team has cycled through various weaknesses that have kept it on the outside looking in at the world’s elite programs. But goalie has always been a strength. The steady hands of fellas like Casey Keller, Brad Friedl, Tim Howard, Brad Guzan, and even the few cameos made by MLS stalwarts like Nick Rimando always gave the team at least a fighting chance to hang with the powerhouses.

And now, with more and more players making the leap to, and playing significant minutes in Europe, the U.S. is in theory supposed to have its best crop of goalkeepers yet. The reality, however, is that they don’t. Even though Zack Steffen and Matt Turner are on the books at two of England’s biggest clubs, they have given fans, let alone coach Greg Berhalter, no reason for confidence. Third choice and Gold Cup hero Ethan Horvath would seem to be an option, but he can’t unseat Brice Samba at Nottingham Forest. The youth ranks include highly rated Gaga Slonina, but Poland came calling and he may very soon no longer be an option.

Oddest of all, this is rapidly becoming a five alarm fire, and nobody is talking about it. They really need to be.

Let’s start with Steffen. In his most recent high profile game, he dilly dallied in possession, allowing Sadio Mane to disposess him directly into the net, essentially sealing Manchester City’s FA Cup semifinal defeat. Now, everyone is human and even the world’s finest keepers like Jan Oblak and Thibault Courtois have had moments they’d rather forget. But it’s becoming a pattern with Steffen in big games. In last year’s FA Cup he horribly misjudged a through ball, allowing Chelsea’s Timo Werner and Hakim Zayech to combine for an easy winning goal. In the World Cup qualifying loss to Costa Rica, in which the U.S. sealed their ticket to Qatar anyway, he was caught on his heels with his hands at his sides on Juan Pablo Vargas’ well-taken header to open the scoring. While it would have taken a solid save to keep the ball out of the net, a goalie has to at least be in position to try, which Steffen wasn’t. The sting was worsened by Costa Rica’s Keylor Navas making a string of excellent reaction saves to keep the game scoreless up to that point.

The U.S. was still controlling possession and had the lion’s share of the attacking chances but the game was then put out of reach after another Steffen error, this one a brutal blunder in which he failed to hang on to a harmless cross, leading to a scramble and an ultimately easy tap in for Costa Rica to double their lead.

If Matt Turner has been better, it’s only by a slim margin. When the U.S. traveled to Canada in World Cup qualifying, a match they should have had designs on winning considering the absence of the world class Alphonso Davies, it was Turner who failed to get set on Cyle Larin’s opening goal. While Larin’s shot was well-hit, the replay showed Turner would get his fingertips on the ball despite not being able to muster any kind of a dive. An awful error? No, but once again, the pain was made worse later on in the game when Canada’s Milan Borjan produced a beautiful one-handed parry of Weston McKennie’s goalbound header to preserve Canada’s lead. Lev Yashin himself could have done nothing to prevent Canada’s stoppage time 2-0 strike, but it was nearly academic anyway as a few minutes earlier, Turner nearly gifted a goal to the Canadians by fumbling a completely harmless shot right into the path of an oncoming striker, who somehow contrived to smash the ball right back into Turner.

The U.S. is getting better, no doubt. But if they want to progress farther than they ever have come Qatar, they will need their goalkeeping to steal them a game, as Tim Howard so nearly did against Belgium in 2014, but for Chris Wondolowski to blast over when scoring seemed easier. Right now, their goalkeeping looks more likely to lose them a game than win them one.

There isn’t an easy solution. There’s no explanation why Horvath hasn’t gotten a shot at it. Chituru Odunze and the aforementioned Slonina may very well be too young for the big stage. It’s possible an MLS veteran like Sean Johnson or Bill Hamid could step up, but neither looks great so far this season.

One thing there is as a silver lining is time. The games don’t start tomorrow. Someone can step to the forefront and stand out. But step one is for Berhalter and company to admit there’s a problem. And they haven’t, and likely won’t.

Got a solution we haven’t thought of? Let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading.

The MLB Lockout: Stop Giving the Players a Pass

There’s a quote attributed to Charles Baudelaire, “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”

Well, the MLB Players Association may have once again managed to achieve its equal by convincing the virtual unanimity of baseball fans that the owners are the ones solely to blame for the lockout. Then again, your average MLB fan is an easy mark. We do, after all, cheer for the players to perform on the field, not the owners. And when we don’t get that, it must be the evil owners’ collective fault, right?

Now, before you begin to interpret this as some kind of sympathy piece on the plight of the MLB franchise owner, let’s clear a couple of things up. The owners are in fact a greedy bunch. They absolutely want to pay players as little as they have to. But what business owner doesn’t? Why do you think the guy who owns the local pub pays his service staff minimum wage or close to it? Because people will work for it. Same thing with the local MacDonald’s franchise owner. Same thing with the hardware store. Same thing with the insurance company.

Let me tell you a story for context. Years ago, I was working for an insurance company, making about 60 grand a year. I wasn’t sad about it. It was a decent job, I had a decent boss, great friends at the office, a short commute, most things you could want in a job when you’re fairly young with not a ton of responsibilities. Then my decent boss left for greener pastures. Then the creative director of my department did too. I inherited the entirety of his role, but with no bump in title or pay. Ok, I thought. I will prove that I can handle this, and THEN the bumps will come. So I worked my ass off. Then our coordinator, the guy whose sole responsibility was to ship stuff where it needed to go, made so many mistakes that he was eventually stripped of all responsibility. Why wasn’t he fired? Well, he was the NEW boss’s first hire, and the new boss was terrified of looking bad on that, and just about everything else. (He was otherwise a decent fella who treated those who reported to him nicely. And sadly, raises were not approved by him – those went through his boss.) Guess who had to take that job over, while the coordinator’s role was reduced to watching old boxing matches on YouTube, and occasionally representing the department at an event (a role in which, to be fair, he was excellent). You guessed it. Suddenly, my job I enjoyed was wearing on me. The overtime was oppressive, and I admittedly didn’t handle the stress as well as I could have. I once again asked for a raise, and was told I needed to improve certain areas of my performance to justify it, despite consistently excellent annual reviews. Fast forward a couple of years, my wife and I are expecting our first child. I once again ask for a raise, and am told that my request would be reviewed at my annual review. My child is soon born, and my insurance premiums go up by $400 a month. I cut back my overtime so I can actually be a father to my newborn. They hire a new person that reports to me, but gets paid $4500 a year more than I do. At review, it’s held against me that I cut back my overtime. “Questionable dedication to the company” were the words used. Did I mention the creative director that left a while back had a salary of $115,000 a year? So, way too late, which is absolutely my fault, I decide to leave. I will find a new job so my growing family can maintain a roof over its head. So I did. Within a few months, I got an offer for a position with a new company paying approximately $17,000 a year more, with superior insurance benefits for $450 a month LESS than at the current place. For the final time, I went directly to the VP who approved the raises for my department and told him the exact number I needed to earn. He laughed at me and said, “We value your contributions but you have no leverage to ask for that kind of raise. You have a family to support and you have a stable job here. If you want to keep it stable, you should probably be more self-aware of your situation.” So I handed him my letter of resignation. I anticipated his response, maybe not verbatim, but the end result anyway. If I was wrong and he agreed with me, I could always shred it and no one would know. But that isn’t what happened.

Why did I tell you that story? Because nearly everyone has one like it. Nearly everyone has worked somewhere where they are underpaid, taken for granted, underappreciated, pick your adjective and change some of the details, and that is likely YOUR story. Maybe you handled it better than I did. Maybe you realized your situation more quickly than I did. But the majority of people just take it (like I did for far too long) because they fear change, value stability, whatever you want to call it. And these same people are up in arms that owners don’t want to pay guys who make ten million a year, twice that. They are up in arms that the league minimum is hovering around half a million, instead of twice that. Because how is a rookie in his early 20s supposed to survive on only half a million? How can any player in the entirety of baseball claim they are underpaid with a straight face? Yes, I know, some guy who outperforms the average player but earns less than him can technically, and by definition, argue it. But let’s get real.

I digress. Let’s take a look at why virtually all the arguments in favor of the players with this lockout are trash.

There are no small market teams. ALL owners are BILLIONAIRES!

False and true. There are small market teams. It’s an easy calculation of revenue. What do the Kansas City Royals get in revenue annually compared to the Yankees or Dodgers? Fan attendance? Jersey sales? I mean, I could do the research and get you the exact dollar amount, but why bother? We both know the result of that search, Mr. or Mrs. Reader. But are all owners billionaires? Yeah, maybe in terms of net worth. But most owners of MLB franchises are not just owners of those franchises. Their MLB franchise is ONE of their assets – one of their business ventures. And they are under no obligation to run it at a loss. Rich people got rich by running businesses at a profit, and investing wisely. The notion that they should abandon those business principles because some teams are perennially shitty is absurd. They are in this to make money. Just like the shitty owners at your job that could pay you $5 an hour more and not even notice it on their bottom lines, but don’t. Why? Because they don’t have to.

Minor league conditions for players are unlivable!

YES! Great energy there. And the majority of MLB owners really are dog shit for how they approach minor league compensation, housing, nutrition, etc. The problem is, you don’t care about that. There are organizations out there like Advocates for Minor Leaguers fighting the good fight to improve lives for those players. But when you suddenly posit this as an argument against owners, it’s disingenuous because all you care about is your MLB team’s owner ponying up enough money to compete for elite free agents. So kindly save the virtue signaling.

I don’t have a pithy quote for this but this is for the advanced statistics and metrics nerds.

Full disclosure, to a degree I am one of these nerds. But without fail, the loudest advocates for the players are the Moneyball believers that will denigrate your right to fandom if you don’t adopt WRC+ as the be all end all of metrics when it comes to an offensive player’s value. But when suddenly that metric and other ones like it for pitching and what have you become the justification for teams paying rookies the league minimum instead of mediocre veterans tens of millions, where does that leave you? On an island. Without an argument that holds water. Can’t have it both ways, pal.

Owners exploit guys like Wander Franco with below market deals when they could be worth so much more!

Sure. Exploiting them with 200 million dollar contracts. A kid who came from nothing will now, no matter what happens, will be able to provide for his great great great grandchildren is being exploited. No matter if he suffers a horrible career ending injury, he will have 200 million dollars to live off of. Sure, you can make an argument that the Braves got a ridiculous bargain with Ozzie Albies and his 35 million dollar contract. I agree wholeheartedly. But he chose guaranteed generational financial security in the immediate with the potential for hundreds of millions more in free agency while still youngish over gambling on…what? Staying healthy so he could get hundreds of millions a few years earlier? People making $12 an hour at O’Reilly’s Auto Parts are making these arguments. Hashtag perspective and shit.

I pay $16 for a beer at the stadium! So my owner can pinch pennies!?

No, asshole. You pay $16 for a beer because Max Scherzer can make $45 million a year. And look, I don’t begrudge Scherzer that money. This is baseball economy, he’s in the top three pitchers of this generation, and he earned it. But let’s be honest. Does Scherzer NEED that money? Is he hurting? What if, hypothetically, there was a salary cap in place, and the max he could make was $20 million a year? The vast majority of Major League Baseball players will serve the highest bidder, regardless. They’ll tell you tales about wanting to win and this and that. But let’s be honest. There are maybe 8 teams that have a chance to win the World Series in 2022. All of them would gladly pay Scherzer $20 million to pitch for them. The Mets have zero chance of winning the World Series. They will struggle to make the playoffs to begin with. Scherzer is a man who is trying to maximize his own personal value. Just like the owners…

I just care about baseball…

No you don’t. Shut the fuck up. You are after Twitter clout, because that one woman you have your creepy eye on will finally give you attention if you virtue signal enough. If what you wanted was baseball on the field, you would advocate for adults on both sides (who make more money in one year than you will in your lifetime) to meet in good faith and reach amicable conclusions.

Hey man, underpaid is underpaid!

No. It isn’t. Teachers are underpaid. Firefighters are underpaid. Grown men playing a child’s game that will make them millionaires, in many cases hundreds of times over, are not underpaid. They work part time. Six months out of the year. And before you hit me with the, “oh it’s a year round thing, they have to stay in shape!” Seriously, shut the fuck up. We ALL need to stay healthy and in shape if we don’t want to die early. It’s working out for an hour a day, a few days a week.

In conclusion…

The owners are greedy bastards. The players are greedy bastards. You make five figures. You’re arguing in favor of making your own parking, ticket, beer and memorabilia prices go up. For the love of God… just stop.

And hey, now that I’ve pissed you off, follow me on Twitter at @thestainsports. I love you! Thanks for reading.

Player Ratings: USA vs Mexico

The last time I wrote one of these, I was less than complimentary of most of the squad. There’s no bigger enemy to the USMNT than Mexico, and I have to admit, I was a little worried about whether the young US team would be up to the task and pressure. I was also worried that Greg Berhalter would pull some nonsense. Happy to admit I was wrong. Without further ado, here are today’s player ratings on the standard 1-10 scale, with half points available when I can’t make up my mind.

Coach Greg Berhalter: 7.0

One of the skipper’s best games as the team’s coach. He picked ten of the best 11 available to him to start the match, the only outlier being Brendan Aaronson. He stuck with the young guys later in the game when he usually subs them out after 60 minutes or so. Not subbing Aaronson off sooner was poor, but he did little else wrong.

GK Zack Steffen: 8.0

The Manchester City number 2 is probably my USMNT number 3, behind Ethan Horvath and Matt Turner, but he was excellent today. He made a huge first half save on Herving Lozano to keep the game scoreless, and otherwise got his hands on everything else that got close. He could be more authoritative with his punches on set pieces, but tonight is not the night to quibble.

D DeAndre Yedlin: 7.0

You always worry a little that the rugged wing back is going to do something dumb and get an early yellow card, compromising him for the rest of his time on the pitch. He didn’t offer a ton offensively, but won several key challenges to shut down Mexican attacks. His most important moment was his last ditch hustle challenge on Lozano’s first half opportunity to put him off just enough that maybe he had to rush his attempted finish just a little. Solid display from the veteran.

D Myles Robinson: 6.5

A late red card, the result of a correctly called second yellow after a stupid first yellow early on, marred an otherwise sterling effort by the young Atlanta United center back. You’d like to see more composed distribution from the rear, but he was impeccable in the air tonight.

D Walker Zimmerman: 9.0

One of two candidates for man of the match, he played the best game of his career for the shirt, in what’s probably the biggest game of his career. Steady, intelligent, committed, he was brilliant. If he can do this consistently, he won’t be in Nashville for long.

D Antonee Robinson: 7.5

Always a threat on the left wing, the Fulham defender put in a relentless shift. It wasn’t always sophisticated, but he ran endlessly, tracked back on defense, and it was only subpar final balls that blemished an otherwise excellent shift from Robinson. He’s a deserved mainstay in the US defense.

MF Yunus Musah: 5.5

Not a great showing from the kid. Also not terrible. He, as he usually does, had flashes of individual brilliance, but turned the ball over multiple times in midfield, hammered a quality scoring chance into row Z, took a dive in an attempt to deceive the referee rather than have a shot while in a dangerous position. He’s a headache for opposing defenses, and should continue to start, but he’ll want to be better than he was tonight.

MF Tyler Adams: 8.0

Customary excellence from the captain. Mexico never was able to attain any comfort in midfield possession and it’s largely because Adams didn’t let them. He’s simply a world class holding midfielder. His presence allows the US creative engine to operate. There probably isn’t a more important player to the team.

MF Weston McKennie: 7.5

His second half goal put the game on ice. Ran tirelessly and maybe deserved a better rating. Nearly had a goal earlier if not for a nice reaction save from Memo Ochoa. He was a little bit too easy to dispossess on multiple occasions, and his first touch let him down a few times, so there’s room for growth, but there was far more good than bad today. He’s a star.

F Timothy Weah: 9.0

A star is born, but let’s be honest, we all knew it was in there. Like Zimmerman, this was Weah’s best game for the USMNT. A constant threat on the ball, always looking to create, he has the makings of a superstar. Beat a quality player in Jesus Gallardo one on one to set up Pulisic’s game winner. Was everpresent in tracking back on defense. Berhalter left him in until his legs were ready to fall off, and he earned every second. No amount of praise for his performance tonight would be enough.

F Ricardo Pepi: 5.5

He certainly tried hard, and in true center forward form tried to create shots out of nothing, but it wasn’t there for him tonight. Didn’t do a whole lot wrong, but you need your center forward to be more of a presence, especially against Mexico’s suspect center back duo. Nothing to worry about. Better performances will come. He’s the number 9 whenever he’s fit.

F Brendan Aaronson: 3.0

It’s difficult not to pull for him because of his absurd effort level. He pursues relentlessly, chases lost causes, and gives it every ounce of his being for every second he’s on the field. The problem is he isn’t a good soccer player. He shatters offensive shape with wildly ineffective runs, tries trickery when simplicity would be better, and turns the ball over too much. Way too much. I never thought I would say this, but the US is far better off with Paul Arriola. Neither is international quality, but Arriola is at least a steady veteran who will run to the right places.

The substitutes

Christian Pulisic: 8.0

Came on for the final 25 minutes and scored the winner. There’s such a difference in quality when the oft-injured winger is on the field. Also helped well with composed defending while the US protected their lead late on. He’s world class, and we saw it again tonight. Now do it for 90 instead of 25.

Kellyn Acosta: N/A

Not on the field long enough to get a rating, but that’s a good thing. He’s the worst player in the US squad and shouldn’t be anywhere near it. Committed a stunningly idiotic foul seconds after coming on to help Mexico start an attack.

Chris Richards: N/A

Not on the field long enough to get a rating. Made a couple of solid headed clearances late on. Looked composed for the handful of minutes he played, and that’s a positive departure from the last time we saw him on the field.

Jesus Ferreira: N/A

Not on the field long enough to get a rating. Looked a bit jumpy and nervous. Lashed a late chance narrowly wide. But the commitment was there.

USMNT v Costa Rica US Player Ratings

The USMNT came into Columbus to face Costa Rica in as close to a must-win game as a team can have at this stage of World Cup qualifying, considering their humiliating performance against Panama last week. For these ratings, we’ll be using a standard 1-10 scale with half points available when I can’t make up my damn mind.

Coach Greg Berhalter: 3.0

It’s not a good look when you come into a vital fixture and your team immediately gives up a goal in the first minute. His tactics lack imagination, and far too frequently, the team ends up passing back to the goalie when having been in a threatening position. It’s brutal to watch. To give him credit where it’s due, he stayed with his effective players longer than against Panama, and didn’t repeat the calamitous mistake of subbing off Yunus Musah 20 minutes before he had to. Berhalter remains one of the worst coaches in CONCACAF, but at least this was slightly better from him.

GK Zack Steffen: 4.5

He was partially to blame for Costa Rica’s opener after a wild and unnecessary attempt at a headed clearance, though he was unfortunate that Tyler Adams played Costa Rica onside on Keysher Fuller’s opener. Didn’t have to do much else, but looked tentative on multiple late Costa Rica set pieces. He’s better than he showed, and US will need him to be better if they want to qualify.

LB Antonee Robinson: 5.5

One of the more skillful players on the pitch for the US, Robinson was assured in defense and marauded up the left wing with regularity. Sadly for the kid, the quality on his final ball was lacking every time. Every. Fucking. Time. He’s a star and only getting better, so one would think the consistent quality will come with more experience on the national stage.

LCB Chris Richards: 3.0

He’s just not an international quality player yet. Miles Robinson was the more calamitous of the two US center backs today, but Richards did a shit job communicating, and his distribution was atrocious. The US has better at their disposal, so it’s hopefully a short term problem.

RCB Miles Robinson: 1.0

He’ll want to forget this one. By far the worst player on the pitch for either side. Did nothing good, lots of bad, and now I have to explain to my five year old what “GET HIM THE FUCK OFF THE FIELD” means. His diabolical giveaway with the result still in doubt was only not a disaster because Bryan Ruiz runs about as fast as an ice skater in quicksand. He’s part of the future in the US defense, but the present leaves tons to be desired.

RB Sergino Dest: 7.5

Lest you think I’m just a cynic who slams everyone, Dest was a bright and shining star for today’s US side. His inch perfect strike brought the US level and he consistently caused problems for the Costa Rica defense with his inventiveness and relentlessness. The quality of his final pass was lacking at times too, and I also penalized him half a point because I can’t figure out how to put the tilda above the n in his name, and wasted like ten minutes trying to figure it out.

MF Yunus Musah: 7.5

The sky is the limit with this kid. Once again he was a menace for the US in midfield, consistently springing his wing backs free with perfect passes after drawing defenders to him. He’s willing to compete for 50-50 balls despite not being all that big. Simply put, he’s as vital to this US attack as Christian Pulisic is when the latter is healthy. If he lacked something today, it was aggression. He can run at guys, and a leaky Costa Rican defense presented the perfect opportunity.

MF Tyler Adams: 4.5

Adams is the backbone of the US midfield, and crucial to the team’s defensive efforts, especially considering the abysmal play by their center backs today. He played Costa Rica’s opener onside, and wasn’t his usual commanding self in the defensive center of midfield. His passing was mostly poor, but to his credit, he never failed to track back at full effort. Middling overall, and he can do better, and hopefully he does against Mexico.

MF Weston McKennie: 5.5

Always dangerous with the ball at his feet, McKennie covered a ton of ground and put in a maximum effort shift. The quality that you want on his passes wasn’t there, and he failed to get off any meaningful shots – turning the ball over while in advantageous position multiple times. But all in all, he helped a lot more than he hurt. As an aside here, I dinged him half a point because he too is prone to giving up on a threatening situation too quickly, and making a play that inevitably ends up as a back pass to the goalie six touches later.

F Brendan Aaronson: 4.5

Aaronson is maddening. On one hand, he has a flair about him and isn’t afraid to try things with the ball at his feet. He’ll run at defenders with abandon, and nothing is off the table in terms of creativity. On the other hand, he is prone to being out of control. And that’s what happened today. He tried a lot of stuff, and tried it hard. Not a lot, if any of it worked, but the effort was there. You’re not seeing the finished product with him yet, so he should remain in the side most matches. Hopefully some of that polish he needs comes in the qualification campaign. Apropos of nothing with this game, Aaronson reminds me a ton of Shane Long, the English striker who spent a bunch of time at West Ham. Not the most skillful of players, but never quit on a play, chased lost causes, and infused his side with energy. There’s no small amount of value in that.

F Ricardo Pepi: 5.0

The inevitable tap of the brakes with Pepi-mania had to happen. After how his first couple games went, I mean, come on. Now, the kid was nowhere near bad, and victimized by largely inaccurate crossing from his teammates, but at the end of the day you want your center forward to have impact. And today wasn’t that day. Subbed off late on and was gassed, so the energy expenditure was up to snuff, and again, there’s value there.

F Timothy Weah: 7.5

THERE it was! I’ve been waiting to see what the hype was about for a minute now, and we saw it tonight. Even before his cracking shot that resulted in the winning own goal, he was consistently involved in the offensive play. He used his body well to shield and win balls, and always seemed threatening with the ball at his feet. He was the total package. If there’s room for improvement in today’s performance, on several occasions he waited a little too long to lay the ball off to various teammates, resulting in a slow of momentum. Nothing to be even remotely concerned with – he’s still playing his way back into form after a lengthy injury layoff. If it wasn’t Dest, Weah would be man of the match.

The Subs

FB Deandre Yedlin: 6.5

It’s hard to grade a sub on just the fifteen minutes or so that he’s out there, and Yedlin is normally terrible, but today he shone in limited exposure. Sent in a few well placed crosses, provided good outlets in space to his teammates, and in general kept the Costa Rican defense off balance with his speed. Good showing from the veteran in a big game.

MF Gianluca Busio: 6.0

Came on late for a tiring Musah, and in general slotted seamlessly into the play. He’s another guy that’s just a kid in the big picture, so any rough edges we assume are going to get sanded with experience. He’s certainly not intimidated by the qualifying stage, and looked strong on the ball. My one complaint is he had a quality chance on goal to put the game out of reach, but clobbered an uncomposed shot harmlessly into the legs of a Costa Rican defender, when a fake and one extra touch may have had him alone against the keeper. Like Yedlin above, nothing to be ashamed of in his time on the pitch.

Gyasi Zardez: 7.0

This might be the role for him. Another guy who I think is generally just not good enough, he was the best of the US subs after coming on for Pepi. Thoroughly disinterested against Panama, Zardes threw his body into the game, competed fiercely for 50-50 balls, and defended responsibly on two late Costa Rica set pieces. If you can get 15 minutes like this from him, he’s worth a squad spot.

FB Walker Zimmerman: N/A

Was only on the field for a few moments, brought on for the specific purpose of marking a big Costa Rican attacker on a set piece, and managed to flub the assignment but to no penalty. Would be harsh to grade him on his one play, so we’ll leave it as N/A.

F Matthew Hoppe: N/A

Came on late for Weah. Made a couple decent plays, including a pseudo bicycle kick to keep a wayward cross in bounds, and hustled. Too limited of a sample size to issue a proper grade, but he certainly didn’t hurt anything by being on the field.

Overall: 5.0

Some bright moments today, by some bright talents, but if this team doesn’t want to get blown out by Mexico next game, 75% of the guys on the pitch have to be better, and not just by a little bit.

One For The Armchair Quarterbacks

It’s a tale as old as time. Laughably out of shape dude several beers down shouts at the television about what an idiot his NFL team’s head coach is. The retort is virtually always the same. “Oh, you think your fat ass could do it better?” Well, actually…

So here’s the thing. Most NFL coaches are so laughably bad at their jobs that they’d be fired instantly for equivalent performance in a “real life” job. Honestly, think about it. Let’s say you’re a project manager and you have a high visibility project due by the end of the week, and an employee to handle each key deliverable. However, instead of having the graphic designer do the art, and the copywriter do the writing, and the procurement specialist get the printing and production in order, you decide to have the meth head from the train tunnel do all three.

Now, there’s a lot that we don’t see that goes into a coach’s job. All those practices and video sessions on every other day of the week besides Sunday (or the odd Monday or Thursday) but literally not a single person gives a shit what goes on on anything other than game day. A team could spend every practice kicking each other in the nuts as hard as they can, and if the team won on game day, nobody would give a shit.

Unsaid here is that, in many cases, the plays are called by the Offensive Coordinator, so there’s some element of a buffer between the head coach and the play calling, but hey, the shit rolls uphill.

To be fair, the average Joe could never scheme up an offensive plan or philosophy that would work on a pro field. So we’ll give the actual coaches this one. But then, they’d never be able to score meth with the ruthless efficiency of the guy from the train tunnel either, so…

Back to the fun bit, why could your average Joe be a better coach than, say Ron Rivera? Well, let’s just take a look. On Sunday, the WFT took on a talented Buffalo Bills squad with an explosive offense and exploitable defense. It’s no secret that the WFT will live or die by its defense, but the do have a couple of explosive pieces on offense in the wildly talented Antonio Gibson and the criminally underappreciated Terry McLaurin. So naturally, to give his team the best chance to win, Rivera made sure to give the ball to his best offensive players as little as possible. Sound stupid? That’s because it is. Rivera has actually been reticent to include Gibson, who was a God damn RECEIVER in college, in the passing game at all, opting instead to use JD McKissic on all passing downs. To make matters worse, Gibson actually took a screen pass 73 yards for a score in the first half… and then didn’t see another pass all game. McLaurin? Only four receptions all game. Yes, the WFT was missing starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, but that’s no excuse. Defenses can scheme ways to minimize a wide receiver’s impact (at the expense of course of leaving other guys wide open) but there’s no excuse for Gibson having only 14 touches. None. And this isn’t a one-off.

What about Nick Sirianni? I mean, anyone who saw that introductory press conference already knew… but good God… this guy isn’t a tool. He’s the entire shed. Even giving him the benefit of the doubt that he’s essentially brand new to his job, the following is criminal. It took until midway through the second quarter for Miles Sanders to get his first carry. He finished the half with two. He finished the game with two. Coaching 101, when you face a high-flying offense, the best defense against them is to let them on the field as infrequently as possible. But no, against an exploitable but opportunistic defense, Sirianni decides to have Jalen Hurts heave the ball downfield and abandoned the run entirely. It’s immediately fireable.

It’s not limited to the guys we can all agree are laughing stocks. The Jacksonville Jaguars would never yeet Urban Meyer just three games into his tenure, but in a winnable game against the Cardinals on Sunday, James Robinson got only 15 carries. Yes, he also got six receptions, and 21 touches ain’t horrible but when you have a stud, feed him. More criminal than that, Laviska Shenault, the Jags’ most explosive playmaker, got a mere four touches. Rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence has been given free reign to heave the ball all over the field so far though, and the five interceptions the last two weeks is the proof.

Virtually everyone in the football world knows the Rams’ Sean McVay is a savant. The problem is, they never put the asterisk by savant to denote that it’s purely at designing schemes. Play calling is another story. He actually called a good game against Tampa Bay on Sunday but the previous week, with a chance to ice the game against the Colts on the road, he entirely shit the bed, as he’s done over and over with the Rams. The situation, it’s a late fourth quarter third and two, and the exhausted Colts defense hasn’t been able to stop the burly Sony Michel on something like six consecutive runs. So rather than sticking with what clearly was working, McVay called for a receiver sweep to Cooper Kupp that ended up losing five yards. Just because a play fails, however, doesn’t mean it was 100% the wrong call. But calling a play that can’t possibly succeed, such as a receiver sweep that goes 15 yards horizontally against a nine man front before it turns upfield, is stupefying. All’s well that ends well as the reliably Matt Gay made a field goal and the defense held, but it’s a pattern. Never mind the Superbowl loss to the Patriots, but the playoff miss of 2019 can be attributed to at least three losses McVay’s atrocious play calling exclusively caused. He’ll be the Rams coach for life if he wants to be, and that’s probably deserved considering he’s managed to bring success to a franchise that suffered through Jeff Fisher, but Jesus, man, let your offensive coordinator make the calls.

And then there’s Bill Belichick! Just kidding. He’s the GOAT.

David Culley… oh, you haven’t heard of him? Don’t blame you, neither have I. But he’s the Texans coach. With reliable veteran Tyrod Taylor at the helm, equally reliable veteran Mark Ingram got 26 carries in a bruising week 1 win. Fast forward to week 3, with Taylor injured and rookie Davis Mills at quarterback against a 2-0 Panthers team… 6 carries. It’s wild, isn’t it?

I could go on. And this isn’t a recent phenomenon. The Bengals somehow stuck with Marvin Lewis for two seasons in which they totaled…what, one win? Nobody in the history of football combined longevity and dumbfuckery quite like Jeff Fisher. Ask any Rams fan.

So this one’s for us, the doughy beer drinking armchair quarterbacks who think our favorite team’s coach is an idiot. We don’t just think it. They are.

MLB Needs to Change This Rule

How’s that for a title? Any idea what I’m talking about? If you don’t, in an era where the powers that be can’t help themselves, tinkering with ridiculousness under the laughably absurd false pretense that the games are too long. But hey, if you think they need robot umps for balls and strikes, I can’t really fault you. Home plate umpiring is terrible and only getting worse. If you think they need a universal DH, that’s ok. You can be wrong and still be a decent person.

But this isn’t about any of that. This is about the tragicomic way the recent Mets Marlins game ended, when Michael Conforto was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. You can check out Jomboy breaking it down here. Or for a quick recap, here’s what went down:

With the sacks packed in a tie game, Marlins reliever Anthony Bass threw a two strike slider to Conforto that was well in the strike zone. Conforto, possibly sensing he’d been beaten, leaned out and stuck his elbow pad into the pitch. The ball grazed the pad and nestled firmly in the catcher’s mitt. Home plate umpire Ron Kulpa, a special brand of terrible unto himself, actually started ringing up Conforto for strike three, and mid flourish, changed his mind and awarded Conforto first base, and the Mets the game.

Obviously, Bass and Marlins manager Don Mattingly argued the call but the damage was done. Kulpa and umpiring crew went under the hood to review the play, but could only make the determination that Conforto was indeed struck by the ball. Why? Because that’s all they were allowed to review.

By rule, a batter must make a reasonable effort to avoid being hit by a pitch. If the umpire rules that he doesn’t, then he doesn’t get awarded first base and the pitch is called a ball, assuming it’s out of the strike zone. From this rule, it can be inferred that a batter cannot deliberately put himself in the path of a pitch either, which Conforto clearly did. But, alas, not reviewable.

Moreover, also by rule, if a batter is struck by a pitch that is in the strike zone, the umpire is to call a strike and not award the batter first base. Bass’ pitch to Conforto was clearly a strike – even Kulpa was ringing him up before having last second change of heart. But of course, this is also not reviewable.

Why are they not reviewable? Who the heck knows, to be honest. The confederacy of dunces that runs Major League Baseball will do what it’s going to do. That said, when it comes to replay review, the line does have to arbitrarily be drawn somewhere. Where is that line? I don’t know and I don’t care.

However, what I do know is that MLB can take a cue from another major professional league who constantly struggles with its much maligned replay system, and what can and can’t be reviewed. The NFL automatically reviews all scoring plays. Someone scores a touchdown? Ok, let’s just make sure nothing wonky happened. Seems reasonable, right?

Here’s what MLB can do, and start doing immediately. Automatically review all plays on which a winning run scores. In 99% of cases it will be academic anyway as there won’t be any dispute. But in the odd case that there is, like we just had with Miami and the Mets, the review office can make a swift determination that shenanigans went down.

Sure, rule changes have to be collectively bargained or whatever, but I can’t see the Players’ Association fighting this. And if they do, Joe Torre can tell Tony Clark to go eff himself and make the change anyway. What are the players going to do? Strike?

Who knows, maybe the Mets would have won the game at some point anyway. But maybe they wouldn’t have. And maybe the Marlins will finish the season one game out of a playoff spot. MLB has to do everything in its power to ensure things like that don’t happen due to a butchered call.

DraftKings MLB Tournament Lineup – 4/1/21

Is there a better day of the year than Opening Day? In honor of my favorite day of the year, here’s the DK tournament lineup to make you rich.
Early in the season, your biggest opportunities to field a powerful lineup is the lag in which it takes pricing to catch up to new aces. If you want to start the powerful Dodgers in hitter friendly Coors? Ok. Then you need to either punt multiple positions or find value with your starting pitchers.
You won’t see Woodruff and Alcantara available at these prices by June, or maybe even May. Now is the time to pounce. Here is today’s money maker. Use it. Or don’t, and let me get rich alone.

Best Low-Key NFL Free Agent Signings So Far

It’s the big money deals that make us ooh and aah, isn’t it? After all, they’re what grab the headlines. However, it’s often the case that the biggest impact signings are of the smaller, more under-the-radar variety. This is especially true in football. While bona-fide stars infrequently hit the free agent market, the resulting scarcity driving up the price of comparative also rans to comical levels, savvy GMs are targeting quality if unflashy veterans to do what they always do – put in a solid shift and help the team.

Here are the five best of the unheralded signings of the free agent market so far.

Honorable Mention: Corey Bojorquez

This is cheating a little bit, hence why he’s included here instead of on the actual list, but whomever signs Corey Bojorquez is going to get a hell of a punter. The 24-year-old California native averaged just below 51 yards per punt for Buffalo last season, which is absurd. Buffalo signed Matt Haack, who isn’t terrible, in a weird move. With the enhanced attention paid to analytics in football, and the resultant emphasis on field position, it’s weird that the Bills would let a guy who flips the field better than anyone else go. And given his youth, one can realistically expect Bojorquez to continue to improve.

5. John Brown, WR. Las Vegas Raiders

The Patriots have certainly opened some eyes with their spending spree on pass catchers, a certain departure from the last two decades of free agent philosophy under Bill Belichick, it is after all the post-Tom Brady era in New England. But while they snagged the headlines for shoveling well north of 100-million dollars in multi-year deals to the likes of Nelson Agholor, Kendrick Bourne, Jonnu Smith and Hunter Henry, the Raiders got Brown for less than four million on a one-year deal. Yes, Brown does come with a bit of an injury history but he’s one season removed from a career year. If he can stay healthy, an admittedly big if, he’s as good of a deep threat as there is in the game. If he doesn’t, the Raiders risked little and will have lost little.

4. Yannick Ngakoue, DE. Las Vegas Raiders

I swear, we aren’t Raiders fans. But for all of the deserved criticism they’re getting for dismantling their offensive line, you cannot argue with the value here. While Shaquille Barrett, Leonard Floyd, Bud Dupree, Trey Hendrickson and others are signing huge money deals for four plus years, the Raiders inked Ngakoue for two years and a modest 26 million. It can be argued maybe Ngakoue isn’t quite in the class of a Barrett, but you can make a strong case that he’s better than Bud Dupree, who is both older and three times as expensive.

3. Ryan Fitzpatrick, QB. Washington Football Team

Quick reminder, the FT made the playoffs last season. They accomplished this in spite of a 7-9 record, and ruinously bad quarterback play from the likes of Dwayne Haskins and Kyle Allen. It’s true, the team performed better under the leadership of Alex Smith, but if we’re being honest, the heartwarming story of his comeback from a limb and career-threatening injury somewhat obscures the fact that he didn’t play that well either. It wasn’t until Taylor Heinicke emerged from the very definition of nowhere that the team got any kind of inspired play at the position. While he makes for another nice story, a team with playoff aspirations may want to see more than a couple of inspired performances before hitching their wagon to him. Enter Fitzpatrick, the beloved veteran of now his ninth team. Fitz’s occasional turnover problems are well known, but he’s a tough guy, a leader, and every single team he has every played for has been better because he was on it. While teams like the Rams and Colts shelled out draft capital to upgrade their lots in life at the QB position, the FT did it for one year and ten million. Solid business.

2. Malcolm Brown, RB. Miami Dolphins

There’s an old saying about never having too many running backs. There’s also a saying about not paying top dollar for running backs. And if there isn’t, there should be. There were and still are some big names on the running back market. Aaron Jones re-upped with Green Bay, but household names Chris Carson, Leonard Fournette (fresh off a dominant Super Bowl performance) and Kenyan Drake remain out there. The Dolphins snagged Brown, a productive and dependable veteran for one year at less than two million.

1. Alex Mack, C. San Francisco 49ers.

It’s not often that a 35-year-old center clearly in the twilight of his career is the signing that moves the needle. But while the headlines are on the gazillion dollar deal the Niners reached with Trent Williams, replacing the injured Weston Richburg was of tantamount importance. So they got the best guy available. (Note, Rodney Hudson ended up being traded before he was released, so he was never technically available.) Mack may not be the dominant force of nature anymore that he was early on with Cleveland, but he’s still been good for Atlanta the last few years, and there’s no reason to think he won’t continue to be. The one year deal Frisco gave him is well worth the risk to find out. Also, fun fact. Mack’s real first name is Javon, making him the only white guy named Javon in NFL history. I have no idea if this is true or not, but I didn’t feel like looking up an image history of every NFLer ever named Javon.

Did we miss anyone? Let us know on Twitter @thestainsports. Thanks for reading.

NHL DraftKings Tournament – 3/7/21

A good opportunity to play a competitive contrarian lineup in a two game slate presents itself this morning. One figures that most players will go Tampa Bay heavy but the underrated Blackhawks are at home, and a good Islanders team remains underappreciated.
Of note, starting goalies have not been announced so be prepared to swap Lankinen for Subban if that’s who Chicago slides out today. Good luck!

NHL DraftKings Tournament Lineup – 2/26/21

UPDATE: Grubauer is sitting tonight, so you can fairly comfortably pivot to Hunter Miska or, if you’re feeling a little more bold, one of the Kings goalies, whichever starts.

Today is a small game slate, which removes a little hit of variety in terms of your punting options. It also heightens the importance of not screwing up your goalie choice, and the best option today is probably Grubauer. If you believe in the fallacy of “due,” the Avalanche certainly are – hence the choice of their line here.
I’m avoiding the Kings except to punt with Maatta on defense as Doughty’s partner. It figures to be low scoring which might make Quick an attractive play but his stats actually look better than his play recently. If the Kings start Cal Peterson instead, you can start him with confidence and maybe upgrade a punt.

Of the punts available to you, the Rangers’ Lafrenierre is attractive on price point, power play time, and his opponent just leaked seven goals to the Islanders.