Author: torsten120

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.
Enjoy!

NHL DraftKings 50/50 Lineup – 2/20/21AM Games

I hate this slate of matchups. But I’ve been on a heater so why not play them anyway. The Capitals seem a bit underpriced in what could be a blowout against the Rangers. The Avalanche and Golden Knights are playing outdoors which could make for crappy ice and a low scoring affair, leaving Marc-Andre Fleury as a potential bargain in goal. That’s all I have for analysis. Enjoy.

The All “You’ve Never Heard of ‘Em” of Soccer’s USMNT

After their dismal qualifying performance for the 2018 World Cup, resulting in them missing the tournament for the first time in decades, confidence in the U.S. Men’s National Soccer Team was at an all-time low. The team’s on-field play was disjointed, they were dismally coached by Jurgen Klinsmann and Bruce Arena, and little hope sprung on the horizon. A few years later on, oh how much has changed. A string of positive performances under current coach Greg Berhalter, along with a flood of talented players making names for themselves in Europe and across the world has optimism once again coursing through U.S. soccer fans’ veins.

Recent friendlies have seen many players snag their first caps, and has thrown fuel on the fire of one soccer’s most fun guessing games: who are going to be the 23?

Well, some answers to this question are obvious. Everyone knows who Christian Pulisic is, the talismanic attacking midfielder currently kicking ass and taking names for Chelsea. Other young stars on the rise like Konrad De La Fuente, Sergino Dest, Josh Sargent, Weston McKinnie, and others are rapidly becoming household names.

But what if Berhalter wanted to really plumb the depths of the talent mine to round out the back end of the roster? He would probably schedule a friendly to audition a bunch of heretofore unknown players for those spots, wouldn’t he? Well, if WE were Berhalter, it’s what WE would do.

Here’s how that lineup might look.

Goalkeeper: Divine Imasuen

The United States has rarely been hurting for goalkeeping talent, which makes it weird that they kept running out Brad Guzan for so many games after the over overrated Tim Howard era. That being neither here nor there, the U.S. maintains a healthy stable of good goalkeepers, including but not limited to guys like Zach Steffen and Ethan Horvath. But if they ever wanted a, uh, intervention at the position, they might go with Divine Imasuen. The 19-year-old is currently contracted to Tennis Borussia in the German Regionalliga, which is somewhere between the 4th and 16th tier of German soccer. I’d say he was plying his trade, but it doesn’t look like he’s gotten on the field yet. Competition must be stiff up there in Tennis, wherever the hell that is.

Defender: Jonathan Campbell

Jonathan Campbell. He even sounds like a defender, right? John Brooks. Timothy Chandler. Jonathan Campbell. Would you even ask the question? Campbell is a veteran of sorts at age 29. Deep MLS fans may even remember the time he spent with the Chicago Fire from 2016 to 2018, and his cup of coffee in 2019 with the Seattle Sounders. Campbell supposedly announced his retirement in May of last year, but joke’s on you morons. The interwebs tell me he’s currently lacing them up for Svay Rieng in the Cambodian C-League. If my wild dreams of a Jonathan Campbell Disney movie-type late rise to stardom have any chance of becoming reality, I really hope there’s not a Cambodian A or B-League…

Defender: Rayan Holland

No, that’s not a typo, presumptuous grammar snob. You think I don’t know how to spell Ryan? That isn’t even this guy’s name. Anyway, Holland. He was born in England, but for some reason that I assume involves at least one of his parents, he has U.S. National Team eligibility. And a good thing he does, because if his recent performance for Kettering Town of the English National League (a mere four tiers below the Premiership) are any indicator, a call-up could happen at any moment. I may or may not have made some assumptions about those performances, because it’s impossible to find any information on his play, but come on. Rayan Holland! What a name!

Defender: Tom Tom Johnson

If you’re wondering why Johnson’s first name is Tom Tom instead of just Tom, or Thomas, or Tommy, so am I. Imagine being a 25-year-old from New Jersey, and having to introduce yourself with a name that sounds like something your grandma puts in your birthday card accompanying the wool sweater she knit you. Well, grandma can be proud of lil’ Tom Tom because he’s representing Rincon in the Spanish Autonomicas Division. I don’t know anything about Rincon, or Autonomicas for that matter, except that it’s below the Tercera Division, which my high school Spanish gives me reasonable confidence in asserting it’s well below the Primera Division as well.

Defender: Leo Krupnik

This is funny because Krupnik is old enough to have been born in the Soviet freaking Union!!! At 41, he’s still younger than me but whatever. While I can’t find any statistics on him after 2015, he’s still apparently somehow with Maccabi Umm Al Fahm in the Israeli Liga Bet. If the name sounds familiar to you, it’s because Krupnik actually had a fairly long, if a bit undistinguished, career in pro soccer, including a brief stint with the New York Red Bulls in 2009. And if you think 41 is too old to have a shot at making your international debut, well then you’ve clearly never seen Dennis Quaid in The Rookie. Jimmy Morris may have been about 36 when he cracked the big leagues with the Devil Rays, but Quaid was at least 60 when he played the part.

Midfielder: Mukwelle Akale

I had a whole litany of funny things to write about Akale, who is from Minneapolis and currently patrols the wing for Pafos in the Cypriot first division. That means it’s in Cyprus, you uncultured cretin. Turns out, I’m the dingus and the joke is on me. If Akale ever did get that call up to the senior team, it would only be his first time representing the senior team. That’s right. Akale has represented the U.S. at the U-17, U-18, and U-20 levels. *throws jokes into trash can*

Midfielder: Nehemia Perry

Perry is a 27-year-old of Jamaican descent but American eligibility who patrols the midfield for St. Andrews. No, not that St. Andrews. Not the other St. Andrews either. This St. Andrews is in the Maltese Challenge League. This is noteworthy because I was today years old when I found out that the Malta has multiple tiers of professional soccer. The Challenge League is not in the top one. To be fair to Perry, the limited statistical availability for Maltese lower league soccer still confirms he’s logged a few minutes for the team, even smashing home a goal. And can you say that you have scored a goal in professional soccer? Yeah, I didn’t think so, so shut up.

Midfielder: Athanasios Scheidt

In case you wondered, Scheidt’s name is pronounced shite. I know this, because I understand the basics of enunciation, and in the off chance I’m wrong, it means that God hates us and we’re all doomed anyway. Scheidt was born in Germany but apparently has at least one American parent, which passes the sniff test because we’re known as a country in which parents name their kids some pretty weird ass shite. See what I did there? Your new favorite player with the name Athanasios earns that distinction over all the other Athanasiosi by playing for Radomiak Radom in Polish I Liga. Or maybe it’s the 1 Liga? Who the hell knows, but it’s not the Ekstraklasa, which is evidently the top tier in Polish soccer.

Midfielder: Ben Sippola

Remember this guy? No you don’t, you damn liar. I mean, sure, there’s an off-chance you were a die-hard Columbus Crew supporter circa 2011, and knew his name from the occasional appearance on the substitutes bench. But let’s just be honest with one another. You weren’t a Crew fan in 2011, you’ll never be a Crew fan, and I had a third thing I wanted to say here but my train of thought got derailed. The 33-year-old Sippola currently is on the roster of Torslanda in the fourth tier of Swedish soccer. I can’t find any stats for him after 2013 so he might just be a coach. But it’s more fun to think of him out there whipping crosses and snapping fibulas in sub zero temperatures.

Forward: Arda Bulut

Bulut currently smashes goals into the back of the net for Karacabey Belediyespor in the Turkish second division. Yes, I absolutely copy and pasted that team name, because the chances of me typing that out without a typo that changed it’s meaning to goat humper or something embarrassing was close to zero. Also, Bulut has really only smashed in one goal. In 70 career minutes. Wipe that smirk off your face. It’s one more goal than you’ve scored.

Forward: Dion Acoff

Listen, man. You can’t go out there and bag goals for an Icelandic powerhouse like Throttur Reykjavik without being a badass on the pitch. Or maybe you can. Maybe you just have to be kinda good at soccer. And Acoff might be, because the 29-year-old from Fontana, California sees semi-regular playing time with Iceland’s biggest soccer club and has netted 16 career goals for them.

Substitutes Bench

Goalkeeper: Brian Schwake

The 19-year-old Schwake still has his whole career in front of him. If he doesn’t suck, it could be a long one. He does, however, play for Linlithgow Rose in Scotland. Heard of them? If not, that’s because they play in the Scotland Feeder Leagues. I don’t know what a Feeder League is, but it’s likely several levels below the Premiership, which is home to storied clubs like Rangers, Celtic, Dundee United, Hibernian and others.

Defender: Stephen Payne

Shaun accused me of writing too many homer articles. And while he’s right about that, I’m passive aggressively clapping back by including as many Southern California guys as I can. Payne was born in Riverside, which I just now noticed could just as easily be in Nigeria as it could in California, but whatever. He’s logging full-time minutes for Vilaverdense in the Portuguese Campeonato de Portugal Prio. That’s a few levels below iconic clubs such as Benfica, but hey, how many minutes are you logging in pro soccer? In Portugal? Where smoking hot women basically grow on trees? Exactly.

Midfielder: Faris Abdi

Hey look, another Southern California kid! Abdi is 21 years old, which low key sucks ass for him because he plays for Al Quadisiya in Saudi Arabia, and rumor has it if you drink alcohol there they lop off body parts. Abdi started his career in 2019 with Austin Bold in the U.S., and while I can surmise little more about them apart from being in Texas, my feeling is he shoulda stayed there. Dude could be getting druuuuuuuuuuuuunk right now.

Midfielder: Lee Nguyen

Remember this guy? This time I believe you. Why? Because Nguyen has logged more than 20,000 minutes of MLS soccer in his career. Those days are behind him as he currently plays for Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam. Fun fact, in the off chance that Nguyen did somehow get a call up to the National Team at age 33, it wouldn’t be the first time he did. From 2007 to 2016 he was capped by the U.S. nine times. In his prime, he was a heck of a player.

Forward: Maki Tall

Standing at 173cm, Tall is anything but. I’m clearly running out of jokes and I also don’t have any idea how many feet and inches that translates to. I only know my German parents used to say, roughly translated, “that guy is nearly two meters tall,” to anyone over six feet. 173cm is not two meters. At least it freaking better not be, otherwise I’ll throw my laptop in my non-existent swimming pool and go to bed. Tall is 25, was born in Washington D.C., and plays for Francs Borains in Belgium. They’re an amateur team, which I assume means they’re in a tier well below teams that are…well, in a professional league.

I hope you’ve enjoyed this article. I would remiss if I didn’t credit Soccerway.com here. Without that amazing website and its innumerable soccer rabbit holes to jump down, it would have taken me years to write this article, and I’ve have damn quit after 45 minutes.

The LA Kings Are Ready to Compete. So Why Won’t They?

Yes, just another armchair GM wondering what a guy who gets paid to do the job is thinking. This column isn’t meant to impugn the job Rob Blake has done as Kings GM. The team is almost universally regarded to have the best prospect pool in NHL, so he’s quite obviously done a remarkable job in accumulating talent. One could argue he waiting too long before conceding the team was in need of an overhaul, and flipping dependable veterans like Alec Martinez, Jake Muzzin and Tyler Toffoli for young assets and draft picks. But all in all, if your team is number 1 in something like prospect quality, you get to take credit for that.

In the title, I say they’re ready to compete. This isn’t to imply they’re some kind of Stanley Cup favorite or anything, but they’ve shown me enough in a limited sample size, despite a brutal schedule and significant injuries to multiple key players, that they could be very much in play for a postseason spot in a very competitive Western Conference. Stars like Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty are playing as well as they ever have. Sean Walker and Matt Roy have emerged as two of the NHL’s best young defensemen. One-time captain Dustin Brown is aging like wine in an age when most NHL players age like bread. Cal Peterson is in the process of wresting the starting goalie job away from multiple time Stanley Cup hero, Jonathan Quick. There are a lot of reasons to be excited.

Oh, there are flaws. For one, they’re not deep. We saw how badly their defense sagged after Walker and Roy suffered injuries in the same game – Walker taking an errant slapshot to the eye, Roy on the receiving end of a brutal cheap shot into the boards by Minnesota’s Kevin Fiala. They’ve also got a few too many place holders keeping seats warm for whenever the prospects get called up. There’s nothing wrong with guys like Trevor Moore, Blake Lizotte, Michael Amadio et al as human beings, and they probably deserve to be employed in the NHL, but no team with designs on contending is giving them significant ice time. And there’s of course the big one, which has been the big one for several seasons now. The “experts” will tell you it’s secondary scoring. Secondary scoring is just a fancy way of saying…well, scoring. Funny thing about ice hockey, it’s a difficult sport to win games in if you don’t have guys who can smash the puck into the net with some kind of frequency. Kopitar is a likely Hall of Famer, and one of the best two-way players of this generation, but has always been a pass first guy. He’s on the top line with Brown and Alex Iafallo. Brown leads the team in goals to date with seven, but is unlikely to sustain that pace considering his last (and only) 30-goal season was thirteen years ago. Iafallo is a nice player with terrific CORSI and ‘goals for percentage’ numbers, but has never broken the 20-goal threshold. The only name hockey casuals will recognize from the second line is Jeff Carter, who is well past his prime as a goal scorer, but still a tremendous defensive forward and elite penalty killer. So where are the goals going to come from?

That deep prospect pool, right? Well… here’s the thing. None of the Kings’ top prospects are that Alex Ovechkin type scorer. I mean, Ovechkin is a unicorn and one of the greatest to ever play, so maybe his standard is unreachable. But there’s no Leon Draisaitl. No Alex DeBrincaat. No David Pastrnak. No Sebastian Aho. Name whomever you want.

Top prospect Quinton Byfield profiles more as a Kopitar type, and while that’s nothing to shake a stick at, it’s not an elite goal scorer. Alex Turcotte is a relentless energy guy and plays both ends of the ice, but again, not an elite scorer. Arthur Kaliyef has the talent profile to potentially develop as a goal scorer, but persistent concerns about his work ethic make reaching his ceiling prohibitively unlikely. The other guys: Gabe Vilardi, Samuel Fagemo, Rasmus Kupari, Carl Grundstrom, Jared Anderson-Dolan and a handful of others all project to be quality second and third line player – a tremendously valuable collection of assets there – but again… no elite scorer.

It’s hard to find an top end goal scorer. There’s maybe one Auston Matthews, or Nathan MacKinnon, or Patrick Kane to draft every year or two.

That’s what makes the Kings disinterest in grabbing one this season all the more perplexing. It’s the consensus missing piece to the contention puzzle. But when the salary cap troubled Vegas Golden Knights made Max Pacioretty available during the off-season, the Kings weren’t interested despite having the most available cap space in the league. When Winnipeg’s disgruntled sniper Patrick Laine became available early in the season, the Kings once again demurred, and Laine was ultimately flipped for fellow disgruntled stud Pierre-Luc Dubois and Jack Roslovic. Even when Alex Galchenyuk, a former third overall pick whose production never quite lived up to his immense talent, was essentially free to a good home with zero long term commitment, nothing.

Where are the goals going to come from, if not grown on trees?

Back to the current squad, all the Kings’ best players are north of 30. Kopitar? The 14-year veteran is now 33. Doughty? The 9-time all star is 31, having averaged an absurd 26 minutes plus of ice time over his career. Brown and Carter are both 36. If they wait too long to make another charge at a title with their current veteran core, they’ll have to replace them too.

It’s a frustrating and peculiar complacency being shown by the organization. It’s one that poses the question, what is it exactly that they are waiting for?