Category: previews

Picking the Ideal USMNT 26-man Roster

Picking the Ideal USMNT 26-man Roster

The United States Mens’ National Team roster for the World Cup will be revealed on November 9th, so instead of purely complaining about Gregg Berhalter’s roster decisions after the fact, I will put out my ideal 26-man roster ahead of time. This is not in any way a prediction, as we all know Tim Ream won’t make the roster despite being the captain of a team in the middle of the Premier League table, and this roster doesn’t include any of GGG’s inexplicable infatuation with Cristian Roldan, Paul Arriola, and Aaron Long. So, who do I have on the roster? Let’s start with my starting 11, and I will keep to the current USA formation of 4-3-3.

Attack:

ST: Ricardo Pepi, Groningen

LW:  Christian Pulisic, Chelsea

RW: Giovanni Reyna, Borussia Dortmund

Pulisic is the best player the USMNT has, while Reyna might be the single most talented player to ever put on the United States kit, but injuries have already been a real concern and he won’t even turn 20 until after the rooster announcement. At the top of the attack I put in Ricardo Pepi as the winner of the position most up in the air for me, more on that later. 

Midfield:

LCM: Weston McKennie, Juventus

RCM: Yunus Musah, Valencia

CDM: Tyler Adams, Leeds United

McKennie recently went down with a thigh injury but, by all reports, is expected to be 100% come November 21 when the USA take on Wales. Musah oozes talent but has been a bit inconsistent with Valencia and has yet to really show his talents translate to the USMNT, but I still have faith. There is no single player more irreplaceable to this squad than Tyler Adams as there simply is nobody in the system that does what he does. He isn’t the best player on the squad, but absolutely the most irreplaceable. 

Defense:

LB: Antonee Robinson, Fulham

LCB: Tim Ream, Fulham

RCB: Walker Zimmerman, Nashville SC

RB: Sergiño Dest, AC Milan

Jedi is the guy left back, and he would be a top LB at an elite club if he could simply cross better. His runs from the the back are deadly, they just all seem to die on his crosses at the end. Despite that, he puts pressure on the opposing defense while defending well himself. Yes, Ream is 35 and hasn’t put on the stars and stripes in more than a year, but he wears the armband for Fulham, and does so standing next to Jedi meaning no player has more chemistry and can predict the runs better than he. Zimmerman has been a steady contributor even if his last couple appearances for the national team were a bit underwhelming. Dest has bounced around after plenty of transfer speculation away from FC Barcelona this summer, he landed a loan deal to Milan, where he has barely seen time. That said, he is the best offensive wing back and is a no-brainer to get the start. 

GK: Matt Turner, Arsenal

There has long been plenty of back and forth as to who deserves the #1 for GGG, but that seems to have been put to rest with Turner now playing for Arsenal and looking solid there. He seems to be the clear cut man at keeper for this squad. That said, he has been out the past two matches, a return Thursday would be a very good sign.

There are going to be 15 available substitutes this year, so here are my backups who should be on the roster and what position(s) they can play. 

Attack:

LW/RW: Brenden Aaronson, Leeds United

RW: Timothy Weah, Lille

ST: Jesus Ferreira, FC Dallas

ST: Jordan Pefok Siebatcheu, Union Berlin

Aaronson is a guy I have a love/hate relationship with as I absolutely love his motor, but he feels so unpolished. There is growing sentiment for him to be a starter, but his energy, off the bench, in a climate like Qatar, that could be a genuine game changer. Weah is another guy who one could easily argue to start, and I wouldn’t be against it if Reyna moves back to midfield in place of Musah and Weah gets the start up top, but I can’t trust Reyna to go 90 in every match for an entire tournament. Having Weah available as a sub will be massive. Ferreira will likely be the 9 for this squad, but he plays more like a 10, and you can’t 0-0 draw your way into the knockout round, so I like him better off the bench, especially if the USA has a lead. Pefok has the second most combination of goals and assists on the team currently atop the Bundesliga, need I say more?

Midfield:

CM: Luca de la Torre, Celta Vigo

CM: Malik Tillman, Rangers

CM/LW/RW: Djordje Mihailovic, CF Montreal

CDM: Kellyn Acosta, LAFC

There is some availability concern for LDLT as it was announced he has a muscle tear and is out three weeks, that was 25 days before the Wales match, but I am choosing to be optimistic. If you want to feel good about what Tillman can bring, watch him weave through the Motherwell defense. If you don’t want to feel good about him, go watch all his UCL appearances outside of the one against Napoli. Mihailovic will be heading to AZ come January 1, and he is not in the MLS camp which means he will not be on the club, but he had the best MLS season of any American not named Brandon Vasquez. Accosta is probably the single best free kick taker on the squad, so he is an excellent option as a late sub with a lead as he is defensive focused in midfield, but also in need of a goal as he seems to be the only player capable of getting good ball into the box on a set piece. 

Defense:

LB/RB: Joe Scally, Borussia Monchengladbach

RB: DeAndre Yedlin, Inter Miami

RB/CB: Reggie Cannon, Boavista

CB: Cameron Carter-Vickers, Celtic

CB: Chris Richards, Crystal Palace

Scally might be the second best overall wing back, better than Jedi, but he can play both the left and right so he is an easy option to be one of the primary subs in this tournament. Yedlin will likely be the only player to make GGG’s final roster with any World Cup experience and technically would be here too, although Ream was on the roster in 2014, he did not get on the pitch at any point. Bringing that experience is huge, plus he has as feisty an approach as anyone, which certainly has its place. Cannon has looked good for Boavista, and has even seen minimal time at center back, so he brings versatility to the back line the squad really lacks. CCV and Chris Richards are both guys who have looked solid and could easily be the starting CB duo in a position group that is as interchangeable as there is outside of the 9 on this roster. Richards is still a week or so away from training, so he is yet another player with injury concerns as the roster deadline approaches.

Goalkeeper:

Ethan Horvath, Luton Town

Zack Steffen, Middlesbrough

Horvath has six clean sheets in the Championship while Steffen has been busy in goal with a questionable defense in front of him in Middlesbrough. Steffen was once the answer as the future GK for the club, but he very well may be number three at the end of the month. 

This is a roster I don’t think struggles to get out of the group and, depending on draw, could get a win or two in the knockout round. It is also a team who has struggled to but the ball in the back of the net, so that 0-0 draw through the group mentioned earlier is also within the realm of possibilities and missing the knockout round is possible. Overall, the expectation is getting out of the group, with winning the group the likely target and, frankly, I wouldn’t be satisfied without a trip to the quarterfinals.

MLB 2015 AL East Preview

The AL East is as intriguing a division as there is in baseball. The two big teams in the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees both have massive needs. The Red Sox pitching staff is barely middle of the road, and the catcher who was expected to make each of them better, Christian Vazquez, is out for the year with TJ surgery. Meanwhile the Yankees have yet another old/injury prone lineup and the distraction that is Alex Rodriguez. Their pitching staff may be improved, but the depth in the middle infield, pitching staff, and behind the plate leave a lot to be desired. The Tampa Bay Rays trail only the Oakland Athletics in roster turnover it seems this off-season, but have an interesting squad. They open the season with several injury concerns, but if the young pitching staff can stay healthy and pitch up to their potential, it could be the best staff in the East by far. The Baltimore Orioles are still waiting on Matt Wieters to come all the way back from TJ and JJ Hardy will enter the year on the DL. Chris Davis has one game left on his suspension, but he has a therapeutic exemption to go back on Adderall so time will tell if he returns to his 2013 form. The Toronto Blue Jay will roll out six rookies with major roles to start the season. All have tremendous upside (except maybe Devon Travis who just has solid upside) but there is obviously plenty of risk with such a young roster.

Projected Winner: The risk just might pay off for the Jays. They traded Brett Lawrie for Josh Donaldson this off-season, and signed the best catcher on the market In Russell Martin. Justin Smoak will look to resurrect his career in the friendly confines of the Rogers Centre, and there might not be a better trio in the middle of an order than Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Donaldson. If their pitching can hold up, there is a chance the Blue Jays not only win the division, but run away with it.

Is there a Wild Card, perhaps? Probably not, but there are some situations that I could see a team sneaking in. The division is rather weak as a whole, so if a team like Tampa Bay or Baltimore perform really well within the division, they could put up enough wins to sneak in as a Wild Card. The bottom of the division will likely be the Red Sox and Yankees, unless the Red Sox move some of their quality pitching prospects and outfield depth to improve both their rotation and bullpen. If they get a guy like Cole Hamels and a bullpen piece or two in July, it could be enough to catapult them up to Wild Card contention.

2014 MLB Predictions

Shaun’s picks for the 2014 MLB Season

 

AL East: Boston Red Sox

AL Central: Kansas City Royals

AL West: Oakland A’s

AL Wild Card #1: Detroit Tigers

AL Wild Card #2: Tampa Bay Rays

AL Pennant Winner: Tampa Bay Rays

AL MVP: Mike Trout

AL Cy Young: James Shields

AL Rookie of the Year: Xander Bogaerts

NL East: Washington Nationals

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Card #1: Cincinnati Reds

NL Wild Card #2: Pittsburgh Pirates

NL Pennant Winner: Washington Nationals

NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez

NL Cy Young: Jose Fernandez

NL Rookie of the Year: Chris Owings

World Series Champion: Tampa Bay Rays

 

Torsten’s picks for the 2014 MLB Season

 

AL East:  Tampa Bay Rays

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Texas Rangers

AL Wild Card #1: Boston Red Sox

AL Wild Card #2: Oakland A’s

AL Pennant Winner: Tampa Bay Rays

AL MVP: Mike Trout

AL Cy Young: Chris Sale

AL Rookie of the Year: George Springer

NL East: Washington Nationals (it was Atlanta before 3/5ths of their starting rotation suffered arm injuries)

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Los Angeles Dodgers

NL Wild Card #1: Cincinnati Reds

NL Wild Card #2: San Francisco Giants

NL Pennant Winner: Los Angeles Dodgers

NL MVP: Hanley Ramirez

NL Cy Young: Madison Bumgarner

NL Rookie of the Year: Arquimedes Caminero

World Series Champion: Los Angeles Dodgers

 

AFC Conference Championsip Preview

New England +4.5 @ Denver (55): The New England Patriots beat the Denver Broncos in overtime, in New England earlier this season, after the Patriots handed over a 24-10 halftime lead thanks to multiple fumbles early in that game.  This game is in Denver, and I don’t expect it to be a sloppy game like the first one.  I do believe the Patriots will pull this game out, but if the line was Denver +4.5, I would tell you to take Denver on the betting line. 

The game will come down to a field goal or less, because, well, why not when you have a matchup of the two best quarterbacks in this generation.  In all the great Peyton vs. Brady mathups, neither has ever won a playoff game against the other on the road, but that changes this weekend.  Denver fans can get loud, but nothing like the Colts fans used to get in the dome, so Brady’s audibles at the line shouldn’t be an issue on Sunday.

The Broncos have lost another defensive back, and that could prove to be the difference.  The Patriots have the biggest selection of unassuming wide outs, Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and Austin Collie, as any team has ever had, but they are productive.  In addition, the running back depth is impressive, and Shane Vereen can create mismatches all over the field.

For the Broncos to win, they will need to lean heavy on Knowshon Moreno.  The Patriots are thin at defensive tackle and middle linebacker, so a between the tackle running attack is their biggest weakness on defense.  Despite this being a game between two Hall of Fame quarterbacks, the winner will be the team that is able to run the ball more efficiently.

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NFC Championship Preview

San Francisco +3.5 @ Seattle (40): Does anyone else think it’s really funny that the Seahawks refused to sell tickets to anyone in California? Hey, a “rivalry” suggests that teams don’t like each other, right? And while both would probably deny it if you put them on the spot, I’m pretty sure the coaches don’t like each other much. Well, Pete Carroll probably doesn’t like Jim Harbaugh much from their college days after Harbaugh went for a needless two-point conversion with Stanford late in a blow-out win over Carroll’s USC Trojans. And Harbaugh…well, he’s just kind of a d*ck. 

Anyway, here’s where we cover all the obvious stuff. The game is in Seattle. Seattle almost never loses at home. It’s really loud. Blah blah blah. 

Well, last time San Francisco came to Seattle, they got embarrassed. Don’t think they will have forgotten that. So, the question then is, will that serve as motivation for the 49ers, or will it boost the confidence of the Seahawks defense? 

It’s going to prove tough for both offenses to move the ball. It may come down to which of two excellent kickers, Phil Dawson or Steven Hauschka, gets more opportunities. There have been times, this season where Seattle could be run on. If Frank Gore and company get going, it could make the difference. I’m going with a 16-12 win for the ‘Niners, with a late comeback attempt by Seattle stalling in the red zone.

NFL Divisional Weekend – AFC Preview

I will twist Torten’s rodeo analogy, a solid pull by the way, and twist it into the upcoming Olympics.  The Stain is standing atop the podium receiving our gold medals for terrible predictions last week.  Among the eight potential betting lines, spread and over under for each game, I am pretty sure we almost got one right, so if you are in Las Vegas this weekend, be sure to go completely opposite of our choices here.

Indianapolis +7 at New England (53):  As a Patriots fan, and knowing my history in predictions posted online, I am tempted to take the Colts in a blowout, you know, to reverse jinx it, but I have to remain objective here.  The Patriots should win this game, but the seven point spread is huge for this matchup.  With Brandon Spikes hitting IR this week, join Jarrod Mayo and Vince Wilfork, the three best middle defenders, and run stoppers, are now on IR.  Lucky for the Patriots, the Colts are terrible when it comes to running the ball.  The Colts will have to rely on Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton, which is actually a good matchup for them this week.  Aqib Talib is a master at shutting down big #1 receivers, but can struggle against the smaller quicker types, aka T.Y. Hilton.  The Patriots offense is a whose who of who’s that.  Gronk is on IR, and the only household name left is Tom Brady.  Shane Vereen is as versatile a back as there is in football, and the best rusher is a guy best known for decking a guy on Boise State, LeGarrette Blount.  Amendola and Edelman are excellent slot guys, but the big play will need to come from one of the rookie receivers.  Robert Mathis will be in the backfield all game, and Brady will come out of the matchup beat up, but will do enough to win.  I see a high scoring game, 34-30 Patriots. 

San Diego +9.5 at Denver (55.5): San Diego is the hottest team in the NFL, having won five straight, including two against Kansas City, and one against Denver, and will give the Broncos all they can handle again.  Picking against Denver is a terrible idea regardless of the matchup, they are the most talented team in the NFL, and have the greatest offense in NFL history, so, I pick the Chargers to win.  Yup, I am running with the terrible idea, and I feel good about it.  Weather shouldn’t play much of a factor in the game, outside of the wind gusts that should reach about 25 mph, which can cause some trouble for Peyton, but that is not going to be the difference in the game.  Keenan Allen is as good a rookie receiver as there has been in several years.  He seems unassuming when watching the game, and never makes the big highlight plays, but watch a Chargers game, and #13 will be a staple.  He will end each game with near 10 grabs, around 100 yards, and a touchdown or two every game.  Ryan Matthews is running like the first rounder they expected when they drafted him several years ago, and Phillip Rivers might be the second best quarterback in the league right now.  Yes, I just punched myself in the gut after writing that, but he is truly playing the quarterback position as good as anyone not named Peyton Manning.  In order to win the game, the Chargers need to keep the score reasonable, and they will, easily covering the spread, and just coming in on the under.  I pick the Chargers, 28-24.

You can follow Shaun Kernahan on twitter @shaunkernahan, add him to your network on Google, and like Shaun on Facebook.

NFL Playoff Weekend Preview: NFC

Well, if they were giving out belt buckles for worst playoff predictions last weekend, our pants would certainly have been securely fastened to our waists. This weekend’s matchups will hopefully make us look less like blithering fools, and more like we actually know what we’re talking about with this stuff. 

New Orleans +8 at Seattle (46.5):  Well, what do we know? Seattle is brutal at home. Last visit the Saints made up there didn’t go well for them at all. And whatever this polar vortex thing is, it’s making places cold. Very cold. Does Drew Brees like the cold? Not really. Seattle can be run on, but unfortunately, the Saints don’t really have a strong running game. Last week, I bagged on the Saints D a little bit, but they performed better than I thought against Philadelphia’s explosive offense. And Seattle, while good, is not Philly on offense. That 46.5 over/under looks really high for me. I’m seeing a defensive and elemental battle here. Nobody (besides Arizona) beats Seattle at home, I’m taking the ‘Hawks 17-10. 

San Francisco -1 at Carolina (42): I hate clichés like “point are going to be at a premium,” and nonsense like that. Points are always at a freaking premium. Without them, you can’t win. It’s going to be a real “field position battle.” Really? F*** you! Every game is a field position battle. If it wasn’t, teams would go for every single fourth down. But anyway, they rankle me less for this game than others. I’d bet my life’s savings (not very much) on the under (and probably lose, kowing my luck). Coaches, except in game-winning situations, view field goals largely as consolation prizes. Well, we didn’t get in the end zone, send the pseudo football player out there to boot one through the big yellow thing. But when you look at this game, “field goal range” is probably going to be a very early consideration. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy: when you go against superior defenses (which both teams have), you tend to adopt a conservative game plan, thereby putting a ceiling on how effective you can be on offense, making it easier for the defense to stop you. But at least you’re not committing turnovers! Anyway, both teams use the read option, so both teams can stop it. I really have no idea. I’m going to go with Carolina by a score of 16-6, but not because they’re the home team. Because they have former 49er Ted Ginn returning punts, and he might break one off.   

There you have it. Am I right? You can bet on it! Just know, if you do, you might lose.

NFL Wildcard Weekend – AFC Preview

So, without further ado, the AFC predictions sure to go wrong:

Kansas City (+2.5) @ Indianapolis, 47: The Indianapolis Colts have been a truly blessed franchise going from Peyton Manning straight into Andrew Luck, but they are not yet a complete team.  Even with the franchise quarterback, the Colts needed a corporate partner to buy up the final 1,200 tickets, granted for a good cause, in order to avoid a blackout.  Trent Richardson should have a bounce back season in 2014, but it won’t start Saturday against the Chiefs.  The Kansas City defense is really good, despite struggling down the stretch, and the Colts just don’t have enough offense.  T.Y. Hilton is really the only threat Andrew Luck has ever since Reggie Wayne went down with a knee injury.  The Chiefs offense can ride check down king, Alex Smith, to a win in the playoffs, but they are not a Super Bowl contender.  Jamaal Charles is an easy MVP in almost any season except this year, and he will have a great game on Saturday.  Look for Charles to put up close to 200 yards of total offense in a game where the final score is much closer than the feel of the game, 20-17.

San Diego (+7), @ Cincinnati, 47: The Chargers might have been the most dangerous team of the final four AFC teams that had a chance at the playoffs, but then again they almost lost a must win game against a Chiefs team that was almost entirely backups.  The Bengals have an excellent 1-2 punch in the backfield with Benjarvis Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard, and the second best receiver in football, A.J. Green.  Their biggest issue is quarterback Andy Dalton.  Dalton is not a championship level quarterback, he is overrated because of Green’s incredible ability to catch bad balls and defenses ability to keep games close.  Ryan Matthews is finally looking like the first round running back Chargers fans had been hoping for since the day he was drafted, and Keenan Allen has emerged as a star at receiver.  This will again be a close game, with San Diego covering the spread, but in the end, I see the Bengals escaping with a victory, 27-24.

You can follow Shaun Kernahan on twitter @shaunkernahan, add him to your network on Google, and like Shaun on Facebook.

NFL Wildcard Weekend – NFC Preview

Want to make some money on this upcoming weekend’s wildcard games? Then whatever you do, don’t take the advice in this column. Just kidding. There’s at least a 50/50 chance we’ll be right.

The NFC has some entertaining match ups on tap. Superbowl contender San Francisco travels to Green Bay to take on the NFC North-“winning” Packers…and I only put the quotes around winning because the Pack managed to do so despite only eight wins. Nonetheless, few home field advantages are as powerful as Lambeau’s. And wild card New Orleans packs their bags for the flight to Philly to take on the East-winning Eagles. There are a couple of intersting sub-plots, mainly that the two home teams are the patently inferior ones in these match-ups, but they do play the games for a reason. Let’s take a look at the games.

New Orleans (+2.5) @ Philadelphia, 54: At first blush, the over-under looks a bit daunting, until you realize that both teams have players the other just can’t account for. The Eagles, not exactly a defensive bastion to begin with, have to figure out a way to slow down Drew Brees, Jimmy Graham and company, and simply do not have the man power to do it. Meanwhile, much has been said about New Orleans’ vastly improved defense, but let’s get real. They were torched a few weeks back by the Kellen Clemens-led St. Louis Rams, and I don’t remember them borrowing rushing champ, LeSean McCoy for that game. This game might be approaching 54 points by half time. New Orleans is actually getting 2.5 points, and it makes sense a little bit because they are on the road, the weather in Philly will probably suck, and Brees and Company are used to their cozy dome. Here’s another subplot for you, I’ve long said no team as ever won the Superbowl with a crappy kicker. Well, actually I said sh***y kicker, but we don’t use potty language when our moms are around. Regardless, there’s a good reason Shayne Graham has been unemployed for the last couple of seasons, and it would be unfair to judge Alex Henery before he’s had a chance to compile a body of work, but wouldn’t it make you feel better if your team had a solid kicker late in the fourth quarter of a close game, just in case it came down to it? I’m no less perplexed now by New Orleans’ decision to cut bait on Garrett Hartley after he missed an ultimately meaningless 27 yarder against St. Louis than I was when it happened. Sure, Hartley had struggled a bit this season, but this is the same guy that should have been a Superbowl MVP after going 4/4 including three from 43 yards or longer just a few years ago. Ultimately, it’s academic in this game. Neither team is going to the big game. I just felt like thinking out loud. My prediction, The Saints take it 45-34.

San Francisco (-3) @ Green Bay, 48: These two have put on some entertaining battles the last two seasons, that’s for sure. I don’t see this one being as much of a shootout though. Colin Kaepernick has not been as explosive as last season. Either that, or teams have done a better job of defending the read option this year. The latter is actually what the numbers indicate, but I think it runs deeper. Last year, the Niners had this guy named Delanie Walker, an all-purpose tight end/H-back. Walker, since departed to the Titans where played well until injuries curtailed his season, performed a ton of roles for San Francisco last year, and Vance MacDonald has not been a suitable replacement. Meanwhile, Green Bay has franchise quarterback Aaron Rodgers back, and will be at close to full strength offensively. And this year, he has a running game to help him, with Offensive ROY favorite, Eddie Lacy. I think because of that, as well as a 49er defense good at taking the ball away, time of possession and field position are going to be huge focuses, and you won’t see a shootout. I think the home team takes this one by a nose. Green Bay over the 49ers, 23-17.

Stay tuned for Shaun’s take on this weekend’s AFC match ups. I can’t wait to read what he has to say about the Kansas City Indianapolis game.

2014 World Cup Preview: Group H

Group at a Glance: Belgium, Algeria, Russia, and South Korea.  This is another one of the weaker groups in the World Cup, but still has some star power and plenty of intrigue.  Algeria doesn’t have what it takes to compete in this group and will likely settle in as the fourth team in the group.  Belgium was one of the eight seeded groups coming into the World Cup draw, but currently sit outside the top ten in FIFA rankings.  South Korea and Russia have plenty of talent to challenge for the top spot in the group.

Favorites to Advance: The favorite to advance is Belgium, but it is no sure thing.  I actually have them finishing second in the group.  Russia is a common favorite to secure the second spot out of the group stages, but it will go to South Korea.  The Korean’s have some really talented footballers that could catch other squads off guard.  I like South Korea to secure the top spot in the group with Belgium close behind, and look for an epic showdown between the two teams star players when they face off, those two players are my players to watch.

Player(s) to Watch: The best player in the group is Eden Hazard of Belgium. He has scored or assisted on 12 goals in 19 matches in the Premiership this season, but has just 5 goals in 42 matches while playing for his country.  Belgium might be able to get out of the group without Hazard playing great, but he needs to step up big time in the knockout rounds for them to make any kind of run, especially with the talent coming out of Group G.  Son Hueng-Min will star for South Korea.  The 21 year old has played great for both club and country over the past 12 months and could be a true wild card in the group stage.

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