Category: Uncategorized

The Dodgers Must Fire Dave Roberts

Call this emotional. Call it recency bias. Call it whatever you want. Just don’t call it wrong.

Dave Roberts has been the Dodgers’ manager since 2016. Since then, they have won one World Series – the Covid-shortened 2020 season. This in spite of the fact that the team has wielded a star-studded roster with one of the game’s largest payrolls since then.

Sure, one championship is one more than most other teams have in that time frame. But considering the resources the team has, and how it has spent them over the years to make sure the team is competitive, just one title seems far short of what would be expected.

One could argue, it’s not all his fault. To a degree, they could support it. Sure, he hasn’t any idea how to manage a pitching staff, but he isn’t the one that assembled a roster that required the likes of Billy McKinney and the corpse of Albert Pujols getting key at bats. But at the end of the day, despite imperfections dotting the roster, it comes down to this. Did you win the whole thing? If not, well, why not?

Roberts isn’t without his redeeming qualities. He’s a nice fella. Keeps the clubhouse loose. Makes sure guys get enough playing time to stay involved. Faces the media.

But wow. A blind rhinoceros could handle a pitching staff, and especially a bullpen, better.

Over the 162 game slog of the regular season, his ineptness is generally obscured by a combination of indifference and success in spite of it. After all, about 100 of those games are coming against teams more interested in losing than they are in winning. If you make an absurd bullpen call against the Oakland A’s, it’s unlikely to cost you.

That luxury, however, doesn’t exist in the playoffs. There are no Oakland A’s, Colorado Rockies, et al in the postseason. Decisions matter. And while you can accuse me of cherry picking, the list is too long for that argument to hold water. Whether it’s leaving Kershaw in to die against the Astros when it was clear as day they knew what was coming; or going to Kershaw against the Nationals out of the bullpen, instead of Kenta Maeda who’d been dominant out of it, or Adam Kolarek who was acquired specifically to face hitters like Juan Soto; or leaving Joe Kelly in for a second inning when his ERA after one inning was somewhat close to a billion; or whether it was pulling a cruising and dominant Rich Hill against the Red Sox; or keeping a clearly injured Blake Treinen on the roster over battle-tested veteran Craig Kimbrel, who wasn’t nearly as bad during the season as Dodger fan casuals will have you believe, against the Padres. If there’s a big pitching decision to be made, he’s going to blow it. Every time.

But what about 2020, you say? If you need a reminder, this is the postseason where Julio Urias was utterly unhittable, and closed out the championship in style. Now, I have no firsthand knowledge of this, but I would bet my bottom dollar that there was a conversation had between Roberts and the front office that went something like this.

FO: Any big spot, you’re going to Julio

DR: But…

FO: No buts. You’re doing it.

DR: But Kenley… Kershaw can pitch in relief!!!!

FO: It’s Julio, or you’re fired.

So I digress, there is no need to belabor this point. But tonight, it came to a head.

No, it isn’t his fault that the front office has assembled a bullpen consisting of guys like Shelby Miller and Phil Bickford, while cycling through guys like Andre Jackson, Jake Reed, Dylan Covey, Zack Burdi, and Tayler Scott. It’s not his fault that instead of World Series hero Dylan Floro, they have Alex Vesia, who was so bad he was demoted to the minors a few weeks ago. It’s not his fault that Andrew Friedman got crunk as fuck one night and decided to make Noah Syndergaard an offer resembling one given to a pitcher who could get outs at the big league level. None of that is his fault.

What is his fault is not making the most of the resources he does have – primarily reclamation project turned top three reliever in baseball, Evan Phillips. Sure, there’s arguments to be made that your best reliever needs to be used to get the opposition’s toughest part of their lineup out. I get it. But in the playoffs last season, Phillips was used as early as the fifth inning. Good thing the opposition’s best hitters never come up again after the fifth inning, right?

Time and time again, he’s gone to Phillips way too early and left the likes of Brusdar Graterol to invariably fail in big situations.

Tonight it was the 8th inning, and it wasn’t even the Reds’ best hitters. Fortunately, he’d already used the calamitous Graterol earlier in the game, but going to Phillips in the 8th left Caleb Ferguson, who has struggled badly with his command, for the 9th. Even that is forgiveable, if he’d realized after the second of Ferguson’s four consecutive walk/HBPs, that he needed to make a change. Nope. About 15 pitches too late, he finally went to Shelby Miller, probably the third best option he had remaining at the time which is infuriating on its own level, to predictably give up the game-winning hit.

Back to the slog of the regular season. In years past, this gets papered over. It’s one game, and yes, Roberts is so bad at his job that he makes people yearn for the days of Don Mattingly, but this isn’t the same Dodger team as in recent years. Stars have departed, replaced by rookies who are going through their understandable ups and downs. This isn’t a team that is going to win 100+ games. This is a team that is, perhaps luckily, 9 games over .500 after 61 games. Not awful, perhaps even decent, but gone are the days of running away with the NL West. This team is nowhere near guaranteed to make the postseason, so these winnable games that are pissed away on an otherwise innocuous night in Ohio are going to matter.

Despite the tone of this article, I’m not even mad. I saw it coming as early as the 6th inning. I’m just realistic. I’m ok with this team being probably 25 games worse this season than last season, if it means making a run at Ohtani next offseason. But the trade off is, you have to win the games you have in the bag.

And the truth is, if you have a blithering idiot as your manager, it’s just not going to happen. For all of Roberts’ likability as a person, he’s an all-time bad manager. It’s time for the Dodgers to decide if they’re serious about winning, or if one title is enough for the next 20 plus years.


Pride Night: Dodgers Bungle it Shamefully

How do you screw up Pride Night? How, with billions of dollars at your disposal and thousands of people on your payroll do you screw up any night, for that matter? But especially this one. Pride Night is important.

For as long as there have been sports, the LGBT+ community has been excluded. Shunned. Ridiculed. Especially in baseball. To date, there has never been an openly gay active MLB player. Some came out after retirement, notably Glenn Burke. But how many people do you think gave up on their baseball dream at a young age because they knew they’d be an outcast due to their sexuality? Could we have had more Mike Trouts? Ken Griffey Jrs.? Dwight Goodens? We’ll never know, but odds are the sport and its fans have likely missed out on generational superstars due to institutional homophobia.

If that is ever going to change, the sport and its teams need to execute events like Pride Night correctly. Unequivocal inclusion is the message, and anything short of spotless execution is going to dilute it.

Here’s a summary of how it went down.

The Dodgers announce their Pride Night and the participating organizations. So far so good? This is where it all started going to shit. One of the organizations invited by the Dodgers was the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, a charitable organization of men who dress in drag as nuns. Nobody will dispute the group’s good works, but the problem is, they openly mock Catholics. They claim not to, but they sell dildos in the shape of Jesus on the cross on their website. Read that sentence again.

This is problematic because a large part of the Dodgers fanbase is Latino, their primary religious affiliation, Catholicism. As you can imagine, there was some blowback. The Dodgers were caught off guard, not because Catholics took offense but because nobody had bothered to do any background research on any of the invited organizations. Also getting in on the blowback were people like Florida Senator Marco Rubio, an anthropomorphized pile of excrement if there ever was one.

Then the Dodgers compounded their error by… capitulating to the blowback. They uninvited the Sisters and whoa boy. If the ballclub thought the blowback to inviting the Sisters was bad, they had no idea what they were in for. Prominent California democrats condemned the team for giving in to right wing pressure. Other invited LGBT+ organizations withdrew from the event. Social media went crazy.

And if you don’t think Social media matters, well, why do you think every big league team in every big league sport has an active Twitter account. And wow, did the Twitter warriors go nuts on the Dodgers. Now, it’s true that probably 95% of the people most outraged didn’t actually care one bit what happened. They’re not really “allies.” They have likely never donated a penny to an LGBTQ+ cause, or stood up for an LGBTQ+ person being bullied. They lack the ability to care about anything other than how many likes and retweets they get, how much clout they can acquire, how much attention they can manufacture for themselves. They lack the intellectual capacity to process nuance. They’re honestly good for little. But what they can do is amplify a message. And did they ever amplify it.

Fast forward to Monday, May 22nd, the Dodgers once again flip flopped and reinvited the Sisters to Pride Night, reigniting the slobbering, flop sweating rage of the right wing bigotry machine. And probably, and less vocally, a whole lot of Catholics.

This is where the nuance comes in, and the aforementioned useless clout addicts of the Twitterverse. Not a lot of people outside of the Catholic faith are going to have a ton of sympathy for Catholics. The church has a long history of sexual scandal, pedophelia, homophobia and very public opposition to marriage equality. So when an organization engages in anti-catholic behavior, the sentiment is generally, “so what, fuck ’em.” Well, isn’t that inclusion for you.

Again, more nuance. While all of the warts on the Catholic church on that front were earned, the tides have indeed shifted. President Joe Biden is a lifelong devout Catholic, and the most pro-trans president in history. And while there remains a long way to go with the Vatican, Pope Francis has taken a publicly conciliatory tone toward homosexuality. So I maintain, you are either for inclusion and equality for all, or you’re either a piece of shit or a brainless twit who derives self worth only from online engagement.

Here is how it should have gone down.

  • All organizations invited should have been thoroughly vetted.
  • Once they fucked that up, they should have stuck to their guns, and released a public statement along the lines of this. “It has come to our attention that there are some concerns regarding of Pride Night’s organizations sentiment toward Catholics. While we don’t condone actions that denigrate anyone’s faith, we continue to believe in the importance of what the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence do for the LGBTQ+ community and look forward to their participation in this important event.”
  • Then, when people critized that, they could have followed up with a statement that says, “We continue to hear concerns. While we don’t disregard any of them, the Dodgers remain committed to making baseball and Dodger Stadium a safe and welcome place for all. We believe all people should be treated equally, and if you are not of that same mind, then you are welcome not to attend Pride Night.”
  • But they didn’t.

    All it would have taken is for one low level intern to do some basic research and say, “Hey Boss? They sell Jesus on the cross dildos. Is that…problematic?”

    Hopefully other organizations learn from the Dodgers’ failure.

    Book Review: Power Players by Chris Cillizza

    You read that correctly, we at The Stain now do book reviews. The only caveat is that they have to be about sports in some way shape or form.

    So let’s get into it. Power Players examines how sports and politics have intertwined when it comes to the American Presidency. Chris Cillizza is a political commentator, probably best known for his time at CNN. His penchant for pissing people on both sides of the political aisle off, and leaning into his boldest and most absurdist political takes with full committment should make this book, at the very least, interesting.

    A couple of things gave me pause before I started reading. First, most books come rife with testimonials prominently available, either on the cover or first pages. The cover testimonial, “… a fun read for politicos and sports fans alike,” comes from none other than Cillizza’s former CNN colleague, Jake Tapper. Look, if you have to rely on a former work buddy for your cover kudos, is that really a good sign? And was calling the book “a fun read” really the best you could solicit? It sounds a lot like something you might say about the shower while you were leaving a hotel review on Yelp. “Yeah, it got me clean enough but the water never quite got as hot as I wanted, and shower head made this strange high-pitched whirring noise on the massage setting. But the water pressure was good!”

    Second, there has been no shortage of books authored by those in the journalistic world in the wake of the Trump presidency. Not that I can blame anyone for chasing a buck, but if that’s your primary motivation in the endeavor, how much effort is really going into it? In fact, Cillizza himself sort of notes this exact thing in the Jimmy Carter chapter, saying, “Nowadays, of course, it’s a rite of passage. Leave the White House, srite a dishy book about its inner workings – with you as the hero – and then cash in.” In fairness, he’s talking about aides in that reference but it certainly applies to journalists as well.

    But anyway, all that stuff would just be judging the book by something other than its contents.

    Let’s start with the criticisms.

    From the get go, Power Players reads a little bit like a text book. For something that is supposed to be a fun read, there are somewhat substantial stretches where you feel like you might have to do a homework assignment once you’re done with the chapter. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and if you’re the type to prioritize getting educated rather than entertained, it might even be a selling point for you. I, on the other hand, had hoped for a little more of the fun I was promised by Jake Tapper.

    Additionally, Cillizza makes the somewhat understandable choice to go chronologically with his profiled presidents, starting with Eisenhower and ending with Biden. However, while sticking to that timeline, Cillizza jumps around quite a bit with tidbits and “fun facts” about other presidents outside of the one he’s talking about in a particular chapter. It seems unnecessary, seeing as there’s an upcoming chapter about the other dude, and takes away from the book’s flow.

    The choice to start with Eisenhower was also a strange one to me. Didn’t sports exist before 1953? I mean, Eisenhower was a war hero and viewed universally in a positive light, so it makes sense on that level. And while I’m not sure anyone really cares about the tiddlywinks exploits of Millard Fillmore, surely there was a president of some consequence before Dwight that played… I don’t know, anything? Lacrosse is reported to be the oldest sport in America, having been played since the 1600s according to Wikipedia. Are you telling me that no president between 1776 and 1953 was a fan?

    Finally, and this ties in to how few presidents ultimately were featured in this book, but due to the paucity of material, in order to fill a chapter, Cillizza tends to go on too long with certain stories. There’s only so hard that you need to drive the point of home that Eisenhower was mad about golf. Or that Jimmy Carter allegedly insisted on approving use of the White House tennis court himself, and how that shaped public perception of him. Meanwhile, there’s plenty of plenty of opportunities for anecdote that left me wanting. Gerald Ford was a remarkable athlete with a storied history of achievement. Surely there were a few more yarns that could have been woven into his chapter, rather than repeating too often that his critics painted him as a numbskull who took too many blows to the head in football. And of course, Trump. It’s understandable and even entertaining that Cillizza would work in some of Trump’s more absurd assertions of his own prowess, and give us the unnecessary reminder of how avid a golfer he was. But I feel there were some missed opportunities, both in the story of his USFL failures / inability to secure an NFL franchise, and his involvement in pro wrestling and Wrestlemania. Both items are touched upon but they are legitimately interesting stories and I’d love to have read more than a couple of pages on each. And the note about Trump eschewing exercise due to his belief that the human body carried a finite amount of energy like a battery, though well-known, is nevertheless always a hilarious memory.

    Now, if it sounds like I’m beating up on the book a little bit… it’s because I am. But it’s certainly not all bad. There’s plenty of good stuff, and I don’t regret reading it. I learned some pretty interesting stuff – stuff I wouldn’t have expected to be true. Stuff like Richard Nixon was good friends with Jackie Robinson. Stuff like George W. Bush actually warmed up for his iconic first pitch at Yankee Stadium, because he didn’t want a repeat of a poorly thrown first pitch like the one nobody remembers from earlier that season. And there’s other good stuff like this in there, that I won’t bullet for you here as this isn’t supposed to be some kind of spoiler alert.

    I’m just trying to help you make a decision on whether or not you should spend your money on this book.

    The Verdict: So, should you? Personally, I wouldn’t. It’s $30. But if this subject matter is your thing, I wouldn’t blame you if you did. What do book reviews use these days, a four star system? If so, I’d give it probably 2.5 stars out of four. While there are certainly fun and educational parts of the book, it does seem like the research done, if any, was mostly surface level stuff you could find just about anywhere online. It doesn’t seem like any interviews were original – and there’s something that feels a little wrong about using mostly the investigative toil of others to publish something. It also seems like there was indeed an element of trying to capitalize and squeeze one last dime out of Donald Trump’s clown car of a presidency. If I’m going to cough up $30, I just want a little more for my money, ya know?

    Don’t Call Someone a F***ing C*** at Work

    ESPN reporter Marly Rivera has been fired after calling a fellow reporter a “fucking cunt,” while, for lack of a better word, on the clock.

    As is per the usual in today’s outrage climate, social media was immediately ablaze with takes such as “white men say worse all the time and don’t get in trouble,” and also with people celebrating her dismissal because, well, some people are pieces of shit who revel in the misfortune of others.

    What if I told you there is a middle ground? In fact, there’s really only one ground. If any of us, regardless of what our job is, called someone a “fucking cunt” whilst at our job and representing our company, the prevailing likelihood is that we would be fired. No muss, no fuss, no social media outrage. Just, “you called someone what, exactly? Yeah, you’re gone. Can’t do that.”

    Never mind that the fellow reporter Rivera called a fucking cunt is married to MLB’s Vice President of Communications, John Blundell, which absolutely, positively, 100% played a role. You can’t do it.

    Rivera, made the double-sided statement on her own behalf that she “fully accepts responsibility,” but also that “there were extenuating circumstances,” which is, of course, hogwash. You either take responsibility or you don’t.

    Let’s also address the other elephant in the room. Yes, it has absolutely been harder for women and people of color to get a job in professional sports media, let alone a woman of color. Is that wrong? 100%. Discrimination needs to be eliminated in it’s entirety. That too comes with it’s own other side that nobody wants to to acknowledge.

    If we are going to preach 100% equality, then we also need to accept that with it comes 100% responsibility. To imply that Rivera should get cut slack here because she’s a woman of color is antithetical to the notion of equality. Not to make apples to asparagus comparisons here, but what if it had been Rivera who uttered derogatory homophobic slurs on a hot mic instead of Thom Brenneman? Would any punishment resulting from that also be because she’s a woman of color?

    This should be a learning experience for Rivera, as these types of things should be for anyone who as ever said something stupid at work and suffered the consequences. Or even those who have gotten away with it. You can’t say things like this in the course of your employment, even if the target of your ire may deserve it, and expect to keep your job.

    ESPN did the correct thing by firing Rivera. That said, I do hope she gets another crack at a job in baseball. Second chances are a thing, after all.

    2023 NFL Mock Draft

    There are plenty of great mock draft simulators out there, for this I used Pro Football Network to make it easy to copy into this post. The big ones here for me is the number three QB, I don’t see a world where Anthony Richardson slips all the way to Detroit at 18, but I really feel the Colts need to go with a more ready QB hence me giving them Will Levis, and then the slip just based on need. If the top four play out this way, expect a trade soon after by a team to come up and get Richardson. The other one that slipped here that I don’t expect to slip as far once the draft starts is Bijan Robinson. Robinson in the best RB prospect in years, which is the only reason he is being considered in the first round, much less possibly the first half of the first round. He slipped to the Cowboys here and would be an ideal fit for them given the Tony Pollard injury and the fact the Cowboys are best when the running game is on.

    ROUND 1

    • CAR1. Bryce Young, QB, Alabama
    • HOU2. C.J. Stroud, QB, Ohio State
    • ARI3. Will Anderson Jr., EDGE, Alabama
    • IND4. Will Levis, QB, Kentucky
    • SEA5. Tyree Wilson, EDGE, Texas Tech
    • DET6. Jalen Carter, DT, Georgia
    • LV7. Paris Johnson Jr., OT, Ohio State
    • ATL8. Myles Murphy, EDGE, Clemson
    • CHI9. Broderick Jones, OT, Georgia
    • PHI10. Christian Gonzalez, CB, Oregon
    • TEN11. Jaxon Smith-Njigba, WR, Ohio State
    • HOU12. Jordan Addison, WR, USC
    • NYJ13. Peter Skoronski, OT, Northwestern
    • NE14. Devon Witherspoon, CB, Illinois
    • GB15. Michael Mayer, TE, Notre Dame
    • WAS16. Joey Porter Jr., CB, Penn State
    • PIT17. Lukas Van Ness, EDGE, Iowa
    • DET18. Anthony Richardson, QB, Florida
    • TB19. Cam Smith, CB, South Carolina
    • SEA20. Kelee Ringo, CB, Georgia
    • LAC21. Quentin Johnston, WR, TCU
    • BAL22. Bryan Bresee, DT, Clemson
    • MIN23. Brian Branch, S, Alabama
    • JAX24. Dalton Kincaid, TE, Utah
    • NYG25. Deonte Banks, CB, Maryland
    • DAL26. Bijan Robinson, RB, Texas
    • BUF27. Zay Flowers, WR, Boston College
    • CIN28. Isaiah Foskey, EDGE, Notre Dame
    • NO29. Nolan Smith, EDGE, Georgia
    • PHI30. Trenton Simpson, LB, Clemson
    • KC31. Darnell Wright, OT, Tennessee

    Player Ratings – USA vs. Mexico, International Friendly

    Setting the stage: If you’ve read our site before, and judging by our analytics you haven’t, you know how this works. But anyway, we use a half point system because it’s more fun, generally talk shit about the ineptness of the manager’s strategy, etc. etc.

    A couple of important things to note about this game; we aren’t in a FIFA window so clubs were not required to release their players for international duty. Save for Sergino Dest, players were indeed not granted their releases to play in this game. As a result, you will see some newer faces and if you follow MLS, some familiar faces who might not otherwise crack an international roster.

    We’re currently about 30 minutes from kick off here so we have a few minutes to share some early thoughts. Primarily this. Expect a dumpster fire. A bunch of guys who don’t normally play together, playing together under an interim manager who has never had any measurable success at any of his stops. Fun times to come! *cracks beer*

    10 minutes to kick off: So one thing is already pissing me off. This game is being streamed on HBO Max, which sucks because it just took me about 13 minutes to reset my password since I haven’t used the stupid service in forever, and quite frankly forgot that I was paying for it.

    Recap: Well, nobody was expecting a clinic tonight, were they? It wasn’t ugly soccer — you’ll see a lot worse. In fact, considering the lineup trotted out, the team acquitted itself reasonably well. Still, you’d have liked to see the team a little bit more interested in, you know, scoring some more goals before Mexico took the lead. The US pressed Mexico into a couple of turnovers that led to promising counters in the first half, perhaps getting a little unfortunate for Jordan Morris not to score. But as we saw so often during the Gregg Berhalter era, possession in the opponent’s third too often ended up in a pass back to the goalie. A criminally bad turnover by Aaron Long, really capping off a criminally bad performance by a criminally bad player, let to Mexico’s opener. The US didn’t capitulate, continued to press, and despite Mexico clattering the woodwork with a shot that could have put the game to bed, got a deserved equalizer late on through Jesus Ferreira.

    The Players:

    GK, Sean Johnson – 4.5: Johnson didn’t have a lot to do outside of the goal, and there wasn’t a ton he could do about it. Came out smartly for a few crosses. Did make a halfway decent save low to his left on De La Rosa in the second half. Was beaten cleanly on a couple of close calls where a better keeper may have gotten a hand to it. Where he was nearly exposed most on multiple occasions was his inability to play with the ball at his feet. Multiple shanked clearances, wayward or underhit passes, and general discomfort is not what you want to see. It’s not a big deal because he’s about 14th on the US goalie depth chart, but for that reason he probably shouldn’t have been the guy tonight anyway.

    LB, Sergino Dest – 5.5: Dest switched sides for this one from his customary right back position. In general, he looked ok. Didn’t get beaten on the wing by anyone, and generally made it difficult for Julian Araujo and company to provide useful service from his wing. Committed a couple of fouls that led to free kicks in the attacking zone for Mexico, but that happens. What we really missed from Dest were his marauding runs up the wing on the counter. He was entirely non-existent on offense in the first half, and that’s where he’s at his best. And when he finally did charge ahead, he beat three Mexican defenders and released Jordan Morris for the US equalizer. We needed more of that. Disappointing.

    LCB, Aaron Long – 1.5: Maybe one day we’ll see what the fuss was ever about. To be fair, he had one nice cover to erase a Mexican counterattack in the first half, but apart from that, his few clearances were undecisive and his passing at the back was, if not erratic, inaccurate. Most glaring, he was entirely to blame for the turnover that led to Mexico’s opener. Yes, Acosta played him into a difficult spot but there was no reason to let Antuna win that ball from him. He’s quite simply terrible. Hopefully this is his last game in the shirt. Off for Miazga in the 70th minute.

    RCB, Walker Zimmerman – 6.5: Won every arial challenge in his radius, and in general bailed out his central defensive partner fairly well. Any time Mexico got close to scoring while he was out there had nothing to do with him. Biggest contribution was a critical late clearance out of the six yard box as Mexico chased a winner. But much like Dest, he didn’t provide anything on offense. While he doesn’t blaze up and down the field like Dest, he usually manages to provide some positive passing from the back. For some reason, he decided to play a bunch of entirely unnecessary, unpressured long balls today. They weren’t necessarily awful, but why play them when a better option exists? Still, more good than bad, as usual, from the dependable World Cup veteran.

    RB, DeAndre Yedlin – 5.5: Yedlin still has blazing speed, even though he’s on the wrong side of 30 with a lot of miles on his tires. In general, the veteran defender looked at home in the squad, snuffing out attacks with his speed, and creating space on the attack by surging up the wing. However, he seems entirely uninterested in doing anything enterprising in the final third, electing usually to play an unnecessary back pass. And he’s always good for a few unnecessary fouls that lead to free kicks in dangerous situations. Certainly not awful, but he could have been better.

    LM, Cade Cowell – 2.5: I’m not sure I heard his name called in the first half. Had a couple of opportunities early in the second half to create something off of a turnover but barrelled headlong into cul de sacs. What a crushing disappointment from one of the more promising youngsters in the US squad. Off for Alan Sonora in the 64th.

    CDM, Kellyn Acosta – 2.0: Dreadful. The veteran is usually trusty, if not particularly impactful. The fact that the US had very few free kicks or corners throughout this game really limited the impact Acosta could have, as he’s the best deliverer of deadball situations. But usually he’s a fairly responsible defensive presence. The US would have been better off playing with ten men today. Couldn’t keep possession. Couldn’t make a tackle.

    CM, James Sands – 6.5: Well well well. Anyone who knows me knows that I laugh at James Sands. I never got the appeal of him in MLS, and his Scottish loan was hilariously disastrous. Why even put him in the squad when better options like… well, me, exist. But, let’s be honest, he was the architect of every positive attacking play the US had in the first half. Frequently made himself available in space, and sprayed about half a dozen inch-perfect cross-field passes to set up promising opportunities. Also slid comfortably into a center back role as the US reconfigured to chase the equalizer, including a crucial challenge in stoppage time to prevent a golden chance for Mexico to snatch a late winner. His first touch still lets him down too frequently, but this was something to build on. I’m always happy to be proven wron

    RM, Jordan Morris – 5.5: Morris always runs his ass off, and generally gets in space as a result of it. He’s been on an absolute tear for Seattle in MLS as their center forward. Looked decent on the wing for the US tonight, but as is the case with just about everyone on this squad, the final product is generally a let down. He had about ten chances, no exaggeration, to put a useful ball into the box for someone to latch onto. It wasn’t until his 11th, a lovely ball in on Ferreira’s equalizer, that he got it right. It was a nice assist. He should have had about three of them.

    CAM, Jesus Ferreira – 4.5: You can always count on Ferreira to run tirelessly, and he’s an easy guy to cheer for. One of his several dozen full steam runs into the attacking third was finally rewarded with the equalizing goal, a reflexive finish off a nice Jordan Morris cross that took a slight late deflection. Other than that, his passes were consistently astray, his first touch was awful, and he simply doesn’t look the part of a number 10 / false 9. He’ll never have to be ashamed of the effort level, and seems to get stronger as the game goes along, but he always leaves you wanting more.

    F, Brandon Vazquez – 1.0: Was he even on the field? He seemed entirely uninterested in doing anything at all. Off for Aidan Morris in the 64th minute, which was about 54 minutes too late.

    The Subs

    Alan Sonora – 5.5: Didn’t have a ton of opportunities to leave his mark on the game but the US had a different complexion to them once he came on. Hard not to give him a lot of credit for that.

    Aidan Morris – N/A: Minimal impact, apart from a nearly costly turnover.

    Matt Miazga – N/A: Minimal impact.

    Paxton Pomykal – N/A: Thank Christ we only saw him for the final few minutes. He’s abysmal.

    Caleb Wylie – N/A: Would have liked to see him for more than just the last few minutes. With the helium this kid gets from the pundits, we should have had the opportunity to see him play.

    The Great Scrabble Controversy of ’93

    Today marks the 30 year anniversary of the most controversial Scrabble match in the history of… well, word games. The year was 1993. The location? A musty ballroom in a Baltimore Holiday Inn and Suites. At stake? $3500. What, you expected something more dramatic? It’s not like the U.S. Scrabble Tour has a lucrative multi-media deal, especially when people were still watching tv with bunny ear antennas.

    Defending champion Morton Grumby was set to face off with Cindy Li, a relative unknown in Scrabble cirlces, but who had decimated all six of her opponents on the road to the final, while Grumby had uncharacteristially struggled. He would later blame his underwhelming play on mistakenly taking night time cold medicine rather than the daytime version, which most medical experts would confirm is the better option at 10 am.

    Grumby and Li would engage in a best of five for the cash prize, but also, the winner would get their entry and travel to the World Championship in Helsinki, Finland subsidized.

    The first two games were uneventful, each player winning one of them, playing a very conservative style – wary of opening up any avenues at all for a big scoring word for their opponent.

    That’s when it got weird. Grumby got off to a big start in game 3 and had a 37 point lead on Li. Time and tiles were running out on Li so she decided to take a chance, playing OVA with A landing on top of the previously played CORN to make ACORN. It wasn’t a massive score, but it got her back in the hunt, presuming of course that Grumby didn’t have the tiles to capitalize on the opportunity. For several tense minutes, it appeared he didn’t.

    These days, you can get the entire compendium of allowable Scrabble words in a matter of seconds from the Internet. In 1993, you didn’t necessarily have that luxury. If someone played a word their opponent didn’t think was legal, they could challenge it, risking a loss of turn and likely the game as a result. The match officials, yes there are referees, would consult with a manual list of accepted words and any addenda recently published to either allow or deny the word.

    Turn times are loosely governed at about five minutes in tournament Scrabble play, but are rarely strictly enforced. Grumby, a sportsman if there ever was one, and well liked by his fellow competitors, tried hard to observe the rule on his end. As the seconds ticked down, he elected to play MIXT, with the X landing on top of OVA to spell XOVA – a devastating score that all but lucked up game 3 for him. The dozens in attendance looked at each other nervously. XOVA? Was that a word?

    Li was taken aback as well. What she lacked in reputation prior to this event, she made up with astute play and obscure words that were nonetheless found in all of the reference materials’ accepted plays. But she didn’t recall XOVA in any of them. After taking a moment to wrack her brain, and with nothing to lose, she challenged the play.

    Ashgar Patel, the head referee for the event, and a former World Runner Up in Scrabble himself, strode to the table and signaled for a challenge time out, similar to the way an NBA referee would call a technical foul – probably on Dillon Brooks because that guy is a dick, even though he hadn’t been born yet.

    Most challenges are quickly resolved as the questioned word is either on the list of allowed plays, or it isn’t. But as Patel reviewed the compendium, not finding it, he was nudged by assistant referee Carlos Bergman. Bergman was a medical researcher by trade, and was fairly certain he’d seen XOVA used in some clinical trial documentation he’d worked with.

    It wasn’t unusual for Scrabble’s allowable plays to be updated, even frequently. So the compendium Patel was referencing wasn’t necessarily the gospel single source of truth.

    “Are you sure?” Patel asked Bergman. As long as XOVA wasn’t a brand name, or otherwise a proper noun, it could potentially be allowed.

    “Fairly,” Bergman replied. “I can’t say for 100% sure, but gun to my head, I’d say I saw it.”

    Phone calls happened. Hushed conferences happened. An errand boy was even sent out to find copies of the scientific resource Bergman thought he’d seen the word used in – North American Medical Journal. Ultimately, Bergman was able to reach one of his researcher colleagues who confirmed for him that XOVA was indeed a word. Copies of a study containing it would be faxed to the hotel, but in the meantime, Bergman wanted to rush the verdict back to Patel.

    The explanation sufficed for Patel and in a hurry to get the festivities going again. He strode to the table and with great pomp and self-importance, loudly stated, “word,” as he pointed to the board, much like a soccer referee would indicate a penalty kick was awarded.

    Grumby was visibly delighted with the ruling, while Li remained stoic. There were still two games she could win, and she was tough.

    Shortly after, roughly a third of the way into game 4 of a possible 5, is when the problems started. The fax with XOVA used in context had arrived via a lobby machine, and been brought to the judges. Patel immediately glared at Bergman. XOVA was short for XOVALEFRIN POLYFLUOXIDE, an arthritis drug that had shown ineffective results in trials, but was now being investigated for potential therapeutic benefits with other maladies. XOVA was simply the abbreviation for it, making it ineligible for Scrabble play, even if it hadn’t been a proper noun, also making it ineligible. Bergman hadn’t shared the context of his question with his researcher pal, and in his haste to deliver the news, hadn’t waited for an explanation from him.

    Patel consulted the official rules for the Scrabble championship and found on page 18 that all officiating decisions are final, even if made in error. There would be no way to go back and undo this call. Patel decided he would wait until after the match was concluded to share the mistake with Li and apologize. And the way it was looking, she had a shot. She had pulled ahead in game 4, and looked certain to force a deciding game 5.

    Bergman was embarrassed and angry, and threw the faxed copy of the study in the trash bin.

    Bad became worse. One of Grumby’s friends in attendance, Abdelkader Baan, himself a strong Scrabble player who had been eliminated in the quarterfinals, had noticed the somewhat heated exchanges between Patel and Bergman, and was curious what two game officials could be arguing about. He inauspiciously made his way to the trash bin and snuck a peek at the sheaf of papers on the top of it. He smiled to himself. “Wait until Morty finds out about this,” he thought to himself.

    Meanwhile, Li had locked up game 4, and the two competitors agreed on a quick restroom break before resuming. As Li headed off for the ladies room, Baan followed his buddy Grumby into the mens room. “You got away with one!” he laughed. Grumby then told him something wildly unexpected. “I grabbed the wrong tile. By the time I realized it, it was too late.”

    He had meant to play MINT, and make NOVA, but grabbed the X instead of the N by mistake – a shocking error for a player of Grumby’s quality, but he’d considered playing a different word using the X and had what he would later characterize as a brain fart. By rule, once a player releases his hand from the final tile he or she plays, it’s final. Had he only not released his finger from the T, he could have unplayed the X and avoided the controversy.

    When Grumby returned to the table, Li was waiting for him, none the wiser. He felt bad, and wanted to apologize to her, but them’s the breaks. He would figure out a proper apology after.

    Game 5 was a tight one. Grumby was saddled with a bunch of vowels with his tiles while Li was sitting on the always tough Z, X and J tiles. After several more turns back and forth of conservative plays, Grumby had acquired a better tile situation and was able to play EMBARGO, a full 7 tile, 50 point bonus on top of the word score. Li had edged to a narrow lead but was now seemingly hopelessly behind. She smiled at Grumby and said, “Nice one.” If there was a silver lining to Grumby’s huge play, it was that it opened up opportunities for Li. She was able to play HAZE on a double word score, ridding herself of the troublesome Z and climbing back to within striking distance.

    Grumby had gotten unlucky with his new 7 tiles and didn’t have any great options. Sometimes when a player is in this situation, they’ll try to gum up the open tiles by playing a series of two letter words along it, but Grumby chose to open up a different avenue by playing OVA using the O from EMBARGO.

    This is when it all went to hell. Li, who had remained mostly stoic throughout the match, laughed to herself. She looked up at Grumby and said, “You’re gonna either hate me or laugh.” She played XI, making XOVA with the X as well. Grumby smiled, and shook his head. “That’s insane,” he said.

    Inside his head, an internal debate raged. He now knew that XOVA wasn’t a word, but he had been credited for it in game 3. Was it fair to challenge? By rule, the officials can’t intervene unless a player challenges a word. Patel’s eyes betrayed nothing behind his professorial glasses.

    “Hell with it,” Grumby mumbled to himself. “Challenge,” he called loudly.

    Wasting no time, Patel strode to the table and made a dramatic signal like an NFL referee would indicate an incomplete pass, and in an even voice said, “No word.”

    Li was incredulous, more than upset. “How is that possible?”

    Patel’s face turned red from embarrassment and he explained the error to Li. She said nothing, nodded grimly and stood. “I concede,” she said.

    “The game isn’t over yet! Anything can happen!” Grumby tried in vain to convince her to finish the match, but her decision was made.

    Prize money was given and the most controversial finish in organized Scrabble history was recorded in the annals. What’s done is done.

    So, if you’ll now check your calendar, you’ll see it’s April Fools, and none of this actually ever happened. But what IS happening, is that The Stain is back. And along with our usual stylistic content, rife with nincompoopery and absurdity, we’ll be featuring a monthly segment called, “Did it Happen?” We’ll tell you a crazy story about a sporting event, and it will be up to you to determine whether it happened or not. No Googling allowed!

    Thanks for reading.

    USMNT Player Ratings – USA vs. Serbia

    With games like this – friendlies in the January camp – you have to take everything with a grain of salt. That said, our competitive spirit means we want to win. That clearly didn’t happen. The US was completely outplayed by a novice Serbian squad, containing none of its World Cup contingent. To be fair, many of the US players were either uncapped, teenagers, or both as well. If we’re being honest, the expectations should have been low. Combine inexperience with precious limited practice time, throw in an unmitigated disaster of caretaker manager, and you get what you got today. Defeat. Not all is lost however. There were some moments of brightness, reasons for optimism, and perhaps even glimpses of guys who might play more meaningful roles with the national team in the future.

    Before get into it, as per the usual we use a ten point rating system, with half points issued when I can’t make up my mind. In case you were wondering, there are no zeros, though they might have been appropriate for a couple of the guys. Ok, without further ado.

    LB Jonathan Gomez – 6.0

    One of the few bright spots today. No shortage of energy and effort with this fella. He’s a liability on defense but marauding up the left wing, he constantly had the Serbian defense on its heels. Let down a couple times by a brick-footed first touch, and a couple of others by Cade Cowell (more on him later) choosing poorly in distribution, he could have had more of an impact on the game. Certainly nothing to be ashamed of though.

    LCB Jalen Neal – 4.0

    What a mixed bag. The LA Galaxy youngster looks absolutely splendid on the ball. Firm, accurate passes. Confident in possession. Positive in his intent. He was fun to watch… parts of him anyway. Now for the bad. If you’re a center back, you can’t be blundering the ball away in the defensive third… which he did twice, once leading directly to a goal. He’s an absolute oil spill on defense at this point. He’s just 19, and may get a bunch of experience in the upcoming MLS season, but let’s get another look at him in two years.

    RCB Walker Zimmerman – 3.0

    Supposed to be the veteran presence among the youth. Was mostly anonymous, which isn’t always the worst thing for a center back, but he was directly to blame for Serbia’s equalizer, abandoning his post in the wall just as the shot was taken. Failed to keep an organized back line. His partner Neal’s passing was far more positive, not to mention accurate. One to forget for the World Cup veteran.

    RB Julian Gressel – 5.0

    Hit a beautiful cross right onto the dome of Brandon Vazquez for the US opener. That’s about where the positives end. Got turned inside out too easily on several Serbian attacks on his wing. Generally positioned himself well, but didn’t look at all capable of winning a one on one battle. He’s a marvelous MLS player but the international stage is just too big for him, based solely (and possibly unfairly) on this one performance.

    LM Paxton Pomykal – 2.5

    The Dallas FC veteran, which sounds funny to say because he’s only 23, doesn’t belong on an international pitch, even in a friendly. Consistently slow to react, second to 50/50 balls, uninventive in possession – what else is there to say? He’s a perfectly adequate MLS player – and maybe some of his rough performance is just not knowing the system – but I can’t imagine him seeing another minute for the USMNT in any scenario. Which probably means Hudson gives him 90 against Colombia.

    CM Aidan Morris – 6.5

    Another one of the few bright spots for the US. Most people have no idea who he is, mainly because he plays in Columbus. But there’s some real ability here. Absent a traditional holding midfielder – a role generally inhabited by the outstanding Tyler Adams – Morris was left to absorb a lot of those responsibilities. And while he didn’t look great defending, he was a force pushing the ball forward. Distributed nicely as well as intelligently, and had a suberb strike from 22 yards kept out by a very nice save from the Serbian goalkeeper.

    RM Alan Sonora – 3.5

    Could be even lower but we give marks for effort here. Scuppered several attacking opportunities for the US by being out of position, with a shitty first touch, or simply losing possession. I had hopes for him. Not high ones, necessarily, but considering his club pedigree, a better performance wouldn’t have been a shock. Alas, it wasn’t to be. Another guy who probably shouldn’t be invited back.

    LF Cade Cowell – 7.5

    Easily the man of the match for the US. Was at the center of about 80% of the US’ attacking threats. Hit the woodwork twice in a span of minutes in the second half, and fired a curling effort narrowly wide in the first. Could have conceivably had a hat trick, was savagely unlucky to not have at least one goal, and ultimately had zero. The future is bright for him though. On the negative side, on multiple occasions he either simply missed an overlapping, surging Gomez on his left or elected to force a pass into a more congested space. He’s marvelously talented, and always open it seems, but you have to also make the right choices. Given time, I would think, he will.

    CF Brandon Vazquez – 5.0

    Well, he scored a goal on a marvelous header. Other than that, he did jack shit. Also took a goal right off the foot of Julian Gressel as the Serbian defense fumbled their way around a US corner. Hard to get too mad at him for that since a center forward’s job is to be greedy around the net… but he literally did nothing apart from the goal. Maybe he had… what, a dozen touches total? Only one of them good. But hey, a goal is a goal.

    RF Alejandro Zendejas – 5.5

    It took him a half, but he grew into the game. Got himself out of position a bunch early on, which jacked up the US formation in transition and congested the field. On the plus side, showed some real ambition in the second half. The final product needs some work, and he was unlucky not to win a penalty in the second half (announcer Kyle Martino, a former US international himself, said the referee got the no call correctly, but the slow motion replay showed a clear foul, even if it wasn’t an egregious one). We haven’t seen the last of him.

    The Substitutes

    Aaron Long – 4.5

    Came on for Zimmerman into the heart of the US defense. Let’s just throw it out there. He isn’t good enough. Another guy who isn’t out of place at all in MLS, but put him against quality opposition and he’s a liability. To his credit, he came forward on all set pieces and attacked them well. Just didn’t get anhy results out of it.

    Matthew Hoppe – 1.5

    Came on for Vazquez. Just useless. From Bundesliga hat trick scorer to… what even is he now? I can’t imagine he’ll last even at Middlesboro.

    Kellyn Acosta – 2.0

    I had come nearly all the way around on Acosta after initially praying for his banishment from the national squad. From playing brilliantly in World Cup qualifying, to acquitting himself well in somewhat limited time at the big tournament, what wasn’t to like? To start, today. His trademark excellence at set pieces was nowhere to be seen (how the fuck do you smash a cross right into a one man wall?) and from open play he either underhit or overjuiced nearly every one of his passes. Just a sinkhole of a performance form him.

    Eryk Williamson – 5.0

    Williamson is an interesting one. He’s a hard worker and a tremendous athlete, and immensely popular with Portland Timbers fans. He was unlucky to see a fizzing effort from 20 plus yards go narrowly over, and generally had a more positive impact than negative. The problem with him is, he’s already 25, and the finer points (first touch, passing, etc.) are lacking in his game. He will probably get some more minutes against Colombia, and he earned them, but he’s not one for the future really.

    DeJuan Jones – 4.5

    Came on for Gressel. He actually looks to be an interesting prospect. Had one unforgiveable turnover in defense and was lucky it didn’t result in a goal. You simply can’t do that as a defender. But showed real gumption getting forward, and fired no less than four dangerous crosses in from the right wing. He’s one we’ll need to see more of, and if the defensive brainfart was the aberration rather than the norm, there’s a future for him. We saw the God awful Shaq Moore get World Cup minutes, after all.

    Paul Arriola – 6.0

    Did his usual bit. Worked hard. Ran hard. Wasted a glorious opportunity by rolling his shot tamely at the keeper. Also had a much better effort kept out by a brilliant save. And importantly, made all the right runs on attack. They generally didn’t work out because he was relying on the likes of the hapless Matt Hoppe to provide some service to him, but nonetheless, quality showing from the popular and dependable veteran.

    Coach Anthony Hudson – 5.0

    In history, and I mean since these things were tracked for coaches, no coach has a more futile record than Hudson. He’s literally never had success as a coach, anywhere he’s coached. That’s fucking impressive, in its own way. So no, keep this man far away from the full time job. That said, not a ton to lambast him over. The formation was fine. He gave minutes to some guys we needed to see. But, as they say, results matter and they lost. Additionally, it would have been nice to see Paxten Aaronson get in the game…and John Tolkin too… and while we’re at it, Emmanuel Sabbi.

    Did we get it wrong? Right? Indifferent? Let us know on Twitter @thestainsports. Thanks for reading.

    USA vs Netherlands – USMNT Player Ratings and What We Learned

    Sadly, and to me, unexpectedly, the USA’s run in the World Cup came to a crushing end today with a 3-1 defeat to The Netherlands. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a big surprise, but with an aging Holland team that had a flu bug raging through its ranks versus a young and athletic USA team, I fully expected the USA to win today. Alas, it didn’t happen.

    Before we get into the ratings, here’s what we learned today.

    The USA desperately needs a center forward, and there’s nobody currently in the player pool who looks the part. Josh Sargent is ok and works hard, but that’s about it. Jesus Ferreira is what he is, which is great against poor competition and anonymous against any sort of quality. Haji Wright is just a guy, and while he got a goal today, it’s unlikely he knew much about it. Unless you have someone, ideally more than just one, at the 9 who can be a consistent threat, all this possession the US can dominate is pretty meaningless. Tim Weah can play the 9, and probably be servicable, but it’s not his best position by a long stretch. We need to develop a center forward. Period, full stop.

    Tyler Adams is human.

    This team will never achieve its full potential with Gregg Berhalter as coach. And while the man deserves some credit for getting the team qualified, something his predecessors could not do for 2018, he has a long enough track record at offensive ineptness that expecting change at this point is insanity.

    Matt Turner is world class goalie. You can win a World Cup with him.

    There’s more, but we’ll get into it in greater detail with the individual ratings, which as always will include a half point scoring system because… reasons.

    GK Matt Turner – 7.0

    Pretty wild ride for Turner this tourney, but he was mostly excellent. He’s still an adventure with the ball at his feet, and at least once a game (he did it again today) he will have an awful touch or make some wildly unnecessary dribble. But the man can stop shots. He couldn’t have done a thing about any of the three goals scored by The Netherlands today, and made three solid saves to keep his team in it. There’s still a ton of upside with Turner and if Arsenal gives him a chance to play more often, he should be even better in 2026. In international circles the US has been largely known for excellent goalkeeping and there’s no reason to think that should change with Turner now the clear cut number 1.

    LB Antonee Robinson – 3.5

    Shockingly bad today. He’s still quite the talent and we shouldn’t make any rash judgments on his future on one bad performance. After all, Denzel Dumfries is an extraordinary player, but when the guy you’re essentially in charge of has a hand in all three goals your defense allows, you didn’t do your job. He still tried hard, ran forward and tried to create, which is nice. And his final balls into the box were better than they usually are, but when you’re a defender, you’ll be judged first on your defense, and his was woefully lacking today. Leaving Dumfries entirely alone at the far post for Holland’s third was criminal.

    CB Tim Ream – 6.5

    Just a brilliant tournament from the veteran Fulham captain. Smart in possession and accurate with his passes, he showed a steadiness in a massive game that was missing from his younger compatriots. His lack of footspeed got exposed a few times on Netherlands long balls into space, but he recovered each time into solid position. You’d like to see him actually get to the ball first, but speed isn’t something you can teach. In any case, if he’s still playing at age 39 when the World Cup comes back around again, it’s not crazy to think he might be one of the center backs for the US.

    CB Walker Zimmerman – 6.5

    Probably his best game of the tournament. Notably, he played smartly in one on one situations that could result in penalties pretty easily in the case of an unwise challenge. Despite their win, The Netherlands were entirely ineffective on set pieces and that’s largely due to Zim’s dominance in the air.

    RB Sergino Dest – 5.0

    Holland did little on their left flank and he too made wise decisions in one on one situations. But while he’s usually a menace on the right wing, he offered little in attack. Emblematic of his game was when he had a clear shot on goal from about 22 yards away and it ended up in a throw in. For the Netherlands. It would have taken a remarkable shot to score from that distance, especially with the excellent Andries Noppert in goal, but when you take a shot that’s meant to score… and it ends up being a throw in for the opposite team… dude…

    CM Tyler Adams – 2.5

    Woof. The captain and fearless leader of this team turned in a performance to forget. Not sure if it was fatigue or what, but Memphis Depay’s opener was from his office, the backbreaking second from Daley Blind was from almost the exact same spot. There’s not much else to say. Both goals were preventable with responsible defense and he wasn’t there to do it.

    CM Yunus Musah – 5.0

    Rendered mostly ineffective by Holland’s strategic defensive posture, you didn’t hear his name called enough. He didn’t do a ton wrong, but you’d like to see a creative player like him make some adjustments and utilize the spaces he’s given. It didn’t happen today, but he wasn’t awful.

    CM Weston McKennie – 5.5

    You can copy paste Musah’s summary above. Played a nice ball in to Pulisic on which he should have scored in the third minute but otherwise accomplished little, though not for lack of effort. Exhausted after an hour, was subbed off. Not a knock on him, he came into the tournament short on match fitness and gave it his best.

    LF Christian Pulisic – 5.0

    Spurned a golden opportunity to open the US accounts in the third minute by firing straight into Noppert’s leg when alone through on goal. You just have to score there, especially when your team doesn’t create much in terms of quality chances. Moreover, he found himself with space to shoot on several occasions, but rolled the ball harmlessly into Noppert’s gloves. It would be unfair to say he was poor, and the effort was once again there, but someone had to provide a spark and it wasn’t him.

    RF Tim Weah – 5.0

    Utilized space on the right wing well, but time after time was unable to provide a useful ball into the box. Overall there’s grounds for huge optimism for Weah’s future on the USMNT, and he should be everpresent. Today just wasn’t his day, though like most of his teammates, it wasn’t for lack of trying.

    CF Jesus Ferreira – 1.5

    Did nothing. And I mean nothing. As a Ferreira truther of sorts, I took this personally. Should have some work to do before wearing the US shirt again. Subbed off at half time, which was probably 44 minutes too late.


    Haji Wright – 5.5

    Well, he got a goal, though it was pure luck. Should have had one before after smartly intercepting a back pass, but an abysmal first touch around Noppert put him too far towards the end line and his tame attempt on goal was easily cleared. There may be something there with Wright but for now, he’s a work in progress and if the US was going to advance farther than they did, they need better from the center forward position.

    Gio Reyna – 5.0

    Came on at halftime for Ferreira. While his paucity of minutes this tournament will be a subject of debate for quite some time, I imagine, he didn’t do a lot with his opportunity. He’s definitely a threat when he’s on the ball, and we saw that today, but the final quality – stop me if you’ve heard this before – was missing. Body language is also an issue. He tends to pout and slouch when the ball gets turned over rather than hustling back. That’s a problem.

    Brenden Aaronson – 5.0

    Came on for Weah. You’ll never fault the effort. And his rating today is purely on that. He will run relentlessly, and moreover, plug passing lanes on defense with admirable commitment. The problem is, a player of his profile needs to be offensively effective. He just isn’t good enough to beat guys one on one. He won’t run at anyone and try to win a penalty. His passing isn’t good. And that’s what we saw today. He may one day be good enough to be an international midfielder, but we aren’t there yet, and the hype train needs to pull the air brake.

    DeAndre Yedlin – 5.0

    Look, it’s not his fault that when in desperate need of a goal, Berhalter replaced the offensively capable Dest with the rugged and defensively inclined Yedlin. Did well recovering on the wing when the US threw resources forward, but as one of those resources, we again saw why he is still without a goal in 80something games as a US international. That’s fine. He’s a perfectly viable defender on the international level. Just not who you needed today.

    Jordan Morris – N/A

    Wasn’t out there long enough to calculate any rating of meaning. But in the few minutes he got, he ran hard, as he always does. After all he’s been through with injuries, it was nice to see him get a few minutes here and there this tournament. It’s hard to imagine he’ll be on the roster in 2026, but he’s an easy guy to cheer for.

    Coach Gregg Berhalter – 4.0

    It’s always easy to point fingers after a loss. Scapegoat. Call for heads, etc. Starting Ferreira today was a gamble, and it didn’t pay off. That’s ok, he pulled the sub string at halftime. Here’s the brass tacks. If you blame him for the team’s offensive ineptness at scoring goals, you would be well within your rights. You would also, however, have to give him some credit for their defensive excellence in this tournament. And if not for an uncharacteristically poor game from their excellent captain today, it could have been 1-1 after 90 minutes. But the bottom line is, he just lacks imagination. For Christ’s sake, needing to score, he replaced the offensive minded Dest with the defensive minded Yedlin. This team needs to score goals. And his coaching track record is flush with leading teams that struggle to score. Give him credit for what he got done. He got the team here. He got them through the group stage. But this is as far as they’ll ever get with him at the helm. A change is needed.

    Thanks for reading.

    USMNT Player Ratings – USA vs. Iran

    The USA overcame a nervy close and brutal mismanagement from Gregg Berhalter after a dominant start to advance out of the group stages in the World Cup. Their reward, a round of 16 battle with a talented, but also beatable Netherlands team. You know, had someone told me before the games began – hell, before the GROUPS were picked – that the US would advance to the knockout stages, I’d have signed on the dotted line. Wouldn’t care how they got there, who they beat, who they lost to, etc. Or after the groups were announced, I wouldn’t care that they drew against Wales, easily the weakest team of the group. Or that they looked like the better team for much of their draw against England, easily the group’s powerhouse. Or that it took a nervy finish against a tough and resilient Iran squad. It’s weird that I care now.

    Anyway, I digress. Let’s take a look at our individual performers and (barf) the coach from today’s game. As always, a half point scoring system will be used because I feel like it.

    GK Matt Turner – 5.0

    I wouldn’t say that Turner made any huge errors, but after two games in which he was solid, authoritative, decisive, a little nuts, and mostly confidence inspiring, he just seemed unsure of himself today. Especially late on, it seemed he could have come for a couple crosses, marshalled his back line more effectively and be more assured of his positioning. Hey, a clean sheet is a clean sheet and he deserves some credit for that, but he will hope for a more commanding performance against the Netherlands.

    LB Antonee Robinson – 8.0

    This might be his coming out party as one of the world’s best left backs. Fulham, I suspect, will be getting some calls in January. Once again he was a terror all along the left wing, and once again he was virtually unbeatable as a defender. And before you say anything regarding the quality of opponent, Iran is much better than you think they are, and even if they weren’t, then he did what he was supposed to do anyway. As always the caveat with him is that his final ball is poor, and there was nothing today to indicate it wasn’t, hence the 8.0 instead of even better.

    CB Tim Ream – 7.0

    I’ve seen enough. He’ll be 39 when the 2026 World Cup is hosted in North America and I’m ready to name him to the squad there already. You didn’t hear his name much today, but that was game script rather than anonymity. No mistakes. The right play every time. Held firm in the dying moments. He isn’t the captain here like he is at Fulham, but he’s a veteran leader and he’s acting and playing like it. Another good one from him.

    CB Cameron Carter-Vickers – 6.5

    A (maybe?) surprise starter ahead of Ream’s normal partner in crime, Walker Zimmerman, CCV didn’t look out of place. I suspect he got the nod over Zimmerman because he’s more of a threat on offense, not any kind of punishment for a shaky cup so far from Zim. Sure enough, he looked threatening on offense, and was good enough on defense. Maybe got lucky not to concede a penalty in stoppage time – not because he committed a foul. He absolutely didn’t. But because the referees were abysmal today and virtually every call of consequence went in favor of Iran. Nothing to be ashamed of from him today.

    RB Sergino Dest – 8.5

    Another marauding performance on the right wing from the dynamic Dest. Much like his countepart on the opposite wing, Dest was a constant menace against a durable Iranian defense. Also defended better than he generally gets credit for, and crucially assisted on the game’s only goal with an inch perfect headed pass. Also like Robinson, you’d probably sacrifice your firstborn to see his cross delivery improve, but now you’re wanting your cake and to eat it too.

    LM Weston McKennie – 6.5

    Solid, if unspectacular from him. Not that he was bad by any stretch, but after dominating in the game against England, he was merely… good-ish today. You wonder if fatigue is becoming a factor with him. Match fitness was going to be a question before the games started, and he’s given a tremendous effort. Visibly flagging after an hour, Berhalter correctly subbed him off.

    CM Tyler Adams – 8.5

    He’s irreplaceable, for his calmness and leadership as much as his play. Asked to be more involved in the offense with today’s formation, he was, and sacrificed zero of his defensive excellence to do so. I’m running out of superlatives for him. He’s simply special.

    RM Yunus Musah – 9.0

    Ok, son. I see you. Everyone and their mom was gushing about Musah’s play the first two games, to the point of annoyance and tedium. He was indisputably one of the team’s weaker players on the field. Which brings us to today’s man of the match performance. Borderline flawless. Excellent defensively, creative and aggressive offensively, all that was missing was a goal. If he can put in performances like today at age 19, the sky is the limit in 2026. He can be that good, and better.

    LF Christian Pulisic – 8.0

    He keeps playing like this, I might have to start liking him. Another guy who wasn’t wearing the armband, but led by example. Even had his dick and balls not been smashed on his game-winning goal, it was still a courageous finish with a heavy collision all but certain. After receiving treatment, he gutted out the last few minutes of the first half in hopes of recovering enough to play the second. It wasn’t to be. The dick trauma was understandably too acute for him to continue and he was subbed off to start the second half. Hell of a 45 minutes though from the US’ most recognizable player.

    CF Josh Sargent – 6.0

    I wish I had better things to say about Sargent. He’s certainly trying hard, and he’s been fine defending from the front on set pieces. He’s just not the sort of greedy, goals by the bushelful center forward this team needs. Nobody on the roster is, to be fair, but still. Never seemed likely to score today, and you just can’t have that from your center forward if you have designs on getting very far. Other than that, he was decent enough.

    RF Tim Weah – 7.5

    Let’s just get this out of the way. He was onside. This isn’t sour grapes. This isn’t an accusation of cheating, favortism, or gambling by the officials, though let’s be honest, they probably do. At least some of them. But the review technology for offside is fatally flawed. FIFA has fucked with the rule over the years to the point where it’s absurd now. But back to the automated screen, the graphic we were shown was not representative of reality. It was a good goal. If it was even debatable, I would tell you that. It wasn’t. In the live replay we were shown Weah as level at worst with the Iranian defender. Last I will say on it is this. I am in favor of technology helping officials get calls right. Ok? I am. But the technology has to be accurate. And this isn’t. It’s a shitty rule in its current form, and it has shitty technology to help enforce it. Ok, I’m done.

    Back to Weah, he was a constant threat. Apart from his goal that should have counted, he could have at least two more with better finishing – the only wart on an otherwise sterling performance.


    Brenden Aaronson – 6.0

    Came on for the injured Pulisic and made himself a constant nuisance to the Iranians. As Berhalter abandoned any endeavor to get a second goal, Aaronson was in the unfamiliar role of having to almost exclusively defend. It’s not his ideal application but he didn’t look out of place and gave it his usual 100% effort.

    Kellyn Acosta – 5.0

    Replaced an exhausted McKennie in about the 65th minute. Didn’t do a whole lot wrong, but was in the wrong role for the formation. He’s essentially a not as good Tyler Adams, so you either play two defensive mids when they’re both on – an option – or you’re fucking doing it wrong. Not his fault. Just saying. Not many opportunities for his signature set piece delivery either. Also not his fault.

    Walker Zimmerman – 6.5

    Replaced Weah late on with Iran attacking for their tournament lives. Another sub that made sense with the game script, but could have turned disastrous due to formational application. Not his fault. In fact, had a crucial block and clearance late on with Iran posing a real threat. Didn’t seem out of place as a sub after starting the first two games.

    Haji Wright – 4.5

    Came on for Sargent and was almost entirely anonymous. Not all his fault, but he’s just not the caliber of player that plays center forward for a team that’s going to win anything big. I hope I end up being wrong.

    Shaq Moore – 1.5

    Shaq Moore is a perfectly fine right back in MLS. Especially if the game is low pressure. In a World Cup scenario, he’s simply awful. Came on for Sergino Dest. Made poorly timed runs. Didn’t close down attackers. Needlessly conceded corners. There is absolutely no reason for him, apart from injuries to the first dozen guys who would play a better right back than him, for him to ever see the field again this World Cup.

    Coach Gregg Berhalter – 3.5

    Wow. Just, wow. How this team has managed to succeed at all inspite of their coach is actually inspiring. If we’re being fair, the decision to start CCV in place of Zimmerman was a good one, and tactically logical and sound. GGG also deserves credit for sticking with the guys that have worked well so far. And that’s where the plaudits end. Yes, it sucked to have Pulisic have to leave injured. But it’s unconscionable for him to abandon all pretense of attacking and just park the bus the entire second half. You want to talk about chicken shit?

    Now, while it does make sense late LATE on to bring on guys like Zimmerman and Acosta in place of more attack-minded players like McKennie and Weah, you have to adjust your formations accordingly. Because otherwise you’ll end up with three center backs, two defensive center mids, and two outside fullbacks, and only two of these players (two of the three center backs) will know where they need to be. Simply throwing on another defender in place of an attacker without a plan beyond that isn’t enough.

    Lastly, we come to the Shaq Moore debacle. When he was included on the final roster, the incredulous looks were likely accompanied by “well, does it REALLY matter who the 26th guy is? Not like he’ll see the field.” Well, he has now. And no sane man or woman will have seen his appearance against England and thought, “that guy needs to be on the field again.” Yet here we were. Berhalter really looked at Joe Scally, the Borrussia Moenchen Gladbach right back whose sterling performances against Alphonso Davies of all people elevated him to national awareness. And he really looked at the rugged and dependable veteran DeAndre Yedlin, a guy with actual world cup experience. And he thought, “nope, I’m going with Moore!” It’s indefensible.

    This team is too talented to be saddled with the brutal ineptness of Berhalter’s in-game management. Once again, yes, the team qualified with him as coach, and ADVANCED with him as coach. But it’s becoming more and more clear that any success this team attains will be in spite of him, not led by him.

    Not for the first time today, I hope I’m wrong.