England’s Latest FIFA World Ranking Spells Trouble on the Streets

September 4, 2008

by Jon Marum… There is chaos brewing on the streets all over England today as the news that England have somehow fallen one place to 15th in the Holy Gospel that is the FIFA World Rankings despite their inspired performance against the Czech Republic at Wembley last month.

Fans appear on the verge of rioting as England have been leapfrogged by the indomitable Lions, Cameroon, and  are now only separated by the thinnest of margins from the auld enemy Scotland, who now lie in 16th place.

Wales drop two places to 53rd, the Republic of Ireland plummet to 38th, whilst Northern Ireland remain 32nd.

However, trouble is not only limited to the streets of middle-England, as police are currently engaged in on-going battles with fans in Sao Paolo and Buenos Aries. It is said they are unhappy that their god-given right to remain inside the top-five of the rankings has been ignored again. Brazil and Argentina remain sixth and seventh, respectively.

The Argentine fans are especially unhappy that their incredibly meaningful Olympic Gold medal success in Beijing has not been counted. They have continued to assert that it is worth just as much as a World Cup win.

Elsewhere, European Champions Spain (No, really, they actually won something! I couldn’t believe it either when they didn’t choke!) remain on top of the world, literally, in first place. Turkey have snuck into the top-10, and Italy and Germany make up the top-three.

The biggest movers were those pesky Mexicans who have moved eight—yes, eight—places to replace the USA as the highest placed CONCACAF nation.

The climb has been attributed to hard-fought wins over the perennially strong members of CONCACAF—probably someone like Guatemala or Nicaragua whose strength in depth really tested the Mexicans who definitely, unequivocally, without doubt deserve their latest ranking in 24th.

Anyway, here’s the top 20 for those of you who actually care, with teams’ previous positions in parentheses:

1. (1) Spain
2. (3) Italy
3. (2) Germany
4. (4) Netherlands
5. (5) Croatia
6. (6) Brazil
7. (7) Argentina
8. (8) Czech Republic
9. (9) Portugal
10. (13) Turkey
11. (12) France
12. (10) Russia

13. (11) Romania
14. (15) Cameroon
15. (14) England
16 (16) Scotland
16 (17) Bulgaria
18. (18) Greece
19. (20) Israel
20. (19) Ghana

32. (32) Northern Ireland
38. (35) Republic of Ireland
53. (51) Wales

Well, I hope you enjoyed the update on the World Rankings, and remember wherever you’re from, whoever you support—THEY REALLY, REALLY DO MATTER. Honestly.

Will Andy Roddick Serve Better Than Novak Djokovic Returns?

September 4, 2008

by Long John Silver…

I am as excited as the next person for this one.

Two tennis players with similar extroverted personalities go head-to-head tomorrow.

Make no mistake; they both have a tremendous sense of humor…sarcasm, self-deprecation and outlandish yet logical responses to questions. They both can easily fit the role of a ‘Jester’ in King Arthur’s court.  They both entertained the crowd on Arthur Ashe Kids Day.

As the evening sun sets tomorrow, under the bright elegant lights of Manhattan, Roddick and De-Joker will go to work in the Open quarters.

De-Joker is not the fittest guy going around any day, and he has spent significantly more time than ROD on court the past week. He went to five with Robredo and won an air-tight four against Cilic. He must be tired, at least more than Roddick, but  exceptional players get up for the big occasion. Tomorrow undoubtedly is one.

ROD looked down and out against Gulbis, but he clung on to survive in a four-setter scrap. I was impressed with the way he dismantled Gonzalez. I do agree with him, it was as much as Gonzalez not playing well as much as ROD not allowing him to. Those two factors are not independent on most occasions.

Given his indifferent form coming into the tournament, the most significant factor that has stood out for me with ROD has been the way he has served throughout the tournament.  Exemplary: he got something like 75 percent of first serves in. When ROD reaches that percentage with his pace and pop on the serve, the opponent is going to have a long yet fruitless day at the office.

ROD has played with plenty of passion this tournament too. He in fact has loosened up after smashing some Babolat’s on the court.

So what do I think will transpire?

I think fitness will play a factor. It is immaterial how many hours Rafa Nadal spends on court, he will still be just as fit as the bloke across the net, but De-Joker is NO Nadal. So, ROD has the edge on that front.

They both are bipolar on how they serve; ROD plays FAST, De-Joker on the other hand takes time to bounce that round optic Wilson on the ground. The bigger the point it is,  the more the number of bounces and, longer the inhalation of oxygen before serving. But both of them don’t have a problem with each other’s way of playing.

I think De-Joker has a better ground game by virtue of his backhand being better than ROD. Their forehands are equally penetrating. I also think De-Joker moves the ball around better than ROD, which is crucial. ROD has a tendency to hit mid court short balls sometimes; if that happens, De-Joker will dine, wine, and feast on it all evening long.

What’s the KEY? Serve, it all comes down to what sort of a serving day ROD has tomorrow. He has a better serve than De-Joker, I’ll give him that. But tomorrow will come down to how ROD serves, how much De-Joker can get into ROD’s serve games and the number of breaks he can get.

Equally important is ROD’s return game; the number of times he breaks serve is also crucial. Once he secures a break, except for when he plays Federer, he is confident of winning the set.

For ROD to win, he has to serve BIG, mercilessly and relentlessly. There might at least be a breaker or two, and I give the edge to ROD on those.  They both play a brand of tennis in which there is going to be some heavy ground games involved, so no easy points (fitness?).

The X-Factor: the NY crowd loves them both, but they’ll unabashedly take ROD’s side tomorrow, he is the underdog going in. ROD is excellent in feeding off the crowd’s energy as he did against Gulbis. He is playing fearlessly, and win or lose he will go down bombing.

For De-Joker to win, he needs to be minty fresh and needs to have a dream day for his return game. The former he is not, the latter is not entirely under his control either. That seals the deal.

Overall, I think De-Joker has a better game. But ROD’s good old thunderbolts and the Manhattan crowd will see him through in an air-tight four…or a 6-3 or 6-4 five.

Don’t miss this one, either way the energy inside Arthur Ashe will be electrifying.

Cheers!

PS: A shout out to both Murray and Del-potro…what a performance from Andy tonight. Brilliant! Rafa next for the Scotsman…go to work, Andy, I like your chances if you play medium-high risk tennis.

Why Would Manny Pacquiao Agree to Fight De La Hoya Now?

September 4, 2008

by Nelson Estupin… Okay, it appears that the date has been set: December 6th.  The stage has been set: HBO PPV and the MGM Grand in Vegas.  It has potential is to make upwards of $100 million for the night.  But the question remains…why, Manny? Why?

Under most professional scruitiny and given the state of boxing as it is today, Manny Pacquiao is arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter right now.  He could have his pick of any fight in the game today and who does he choose? Oscar de la Hoya.  What the fuck?

I was a de la Hoya fan for a long time…since his Olympic days, in fact.  I watched him change his game through the years, bettering himself with each fight, each championship, each win.  But now, he’s all but washed up.  Even he’s said he’s close to retirement.  He’s not the old Golden Boy we once knew.

I hate to say this, because I loved the fighter he was, but taking this fight on diminishes his career for me.  Why?  Because he’s taking on the best pound-for-pound and at 35, I just don’ t know if he’s still got it.

Yes, one could make the argument that George Foreman won a title at a much more advanced age, but the counter argument there is that the Heavyweight division relied much more on power than speed and none can come faster right now than the Pacman.

Now, besides an obvious payday, what does Pacquiao have to gain with fighting de la Hoya?  He’s already the best pound-for-pound.  Everybody…EVERYBODY knows his name…he has a whole freaking country that stops whatever it is they’re doing when he fights.  When he fights, crime is at zero percent in Manila.

We all know that boxing is so spontaneous that one punch could turn the tables, and given Pacquiao’s current successes, one punch could deflate everything he currently has going for him.  A one-punch from a true contender to his belt or his PFP status is one thing—a one-punch from an aging former pound-for-pound is another.

It scares me to think of those consequences for this fighter.  I’m a Pacquiao believer right now, but this decision is as mind boggling to me right now as the Pavin selection by the GOP.

I hope come December 6 I can make heads or tails as to why.

An Ode to Tomas Kaberle

September 4, 2008

http://www.thescore.ca/sixpack/kaberle_graigabel.jpgby Navin Vaswani… As I was lying on the beach this past weekend, basking in the glory of some incredible Labour Day long weekend weather, all I could think about was the hot and scantily clad women all around me… Tomas Kaberle.

I found the following big tune while wasting time on . It is simply phenomenal. Enjoy:

Catchy, eh? I know. I’ve been singing it for days, while I walk to work, and while in the laundry room in my building. Yep, people have definitely been looking at me funny, but I don’t care, “because he’s Tomas Kaberleeeee, defenceman for the Maple Leafs.”

Kaberle for life.

Training camp is only 16 days away, my friends…

Guess That Ass

September 4, 2008

Though she’s hardly known in North America, she’s one of Italy’s most popular celebrities. In addition to her fashion modeling and television appearances, she hosted the popular show Zelig, World Idol and Germany’s version of American Idol. Tall, dark blonde and blessed with an incredible booty, she is almost physically perfect. If these features weren’t enough, this knockout also has a great pair of legs, a flat stomach and an overall excellent body, topped off by perky breasts. When you realize she also has an angelic face and full lips, you’re ready to melt. http://www.xarj.net/wp-content/uploads/2008/02/michelle-hunziker.jpg

BT’s 2008-09 NHL Season Preview: Colorado Avalanche

September 4, 2008

by Bryan Thiel…

Preface: The CL’s are back! Kind of…

Following the preview of Minnesota where we were sans Community Leaders, we’re back to where we are with Edmonton: Introducing some new writers you may not have heard of!

Anyways, today we’re moving on to the Rocky Mountains, and dealing with the Colorado Avalanche.

Let’s get to it:

There were only a few things I could think once I heard that the third jerseys were coming back to the NHL.

One of them was that I hope the Avalanche’s old jersey comes back.

I can honestly say that I miss the diagonally written “Avalanche” across the front of the maroon jersey with the old-style tie-ups at the front. I thought they were snazzy.

And yes, I just said snazzy. And no, Clinton from “what not to wear” isn’t proofreading this.

A few years ago though, I looked forward to Colorado Avalanche playoff runs as much as I’m looking forward to the new Pacino-DeNiro movie.

Now, both are older, both have slipped a little—but at least we’re guaranteed a release date on the movie. The Avs aren’t guaranteed anything in this division this year.

Roster Additions: Darcy Tucker-F (F.A.), Andrew Raycroft-G (F.A.), Daniel Tjarnqvist-D (F.A)

Roster Subtractions:
Jose Theodore-G (F.A.), Andrew Brunette-F (F.A.), Jeff Finger-D (F.A.), Kurt Sauer-D (F.A.), Peter Forsberg-F (F.A.),Jeff Jillson-D (F.A.), Brad Richardson-F (Trade)

How did 2007-08 go? 44-31-7, 95 points, Sixth in conference, second in Northwest, lost in second round of 2008 playoffs (Western Conference).

2008-09 Goal:
First in Conference, Conference Semi-Finals.

Let’s break’er down!

As the Colorado Avalanche geared up for the playoffs last season, it seemed that everything old was new (or returning a wee bit older) once again.

Peter Forsberg, the annual head (ok, foot) case had returned to his old stomping grounds—I’m serious…there’s no pun intended there whatsoever—in hopes of recapturing some magic with the seemingly ageless Joe Sakic. Adam Foote was acquired from the Columbus Blue Jackets in an attempt to add some added insurance and stability to the blue line, and the Avs looked to be going on a reunion tour, hopefully with their favorite member—Lord Stanley—in tow.

Well, that didn’t happen—and with that, the Avs were forced into a summer of decisions, with some of their older acquisitions approaching free agency along with some of their younger players.

Burnaby Joe looks to captain Colorado to another Cup

The biggest news for the Avalanche this season is probably that Joe Sakic is returning for one more season. In contrast to all of the hype surrounding Mats Sundin’s decision, Joe Sakic quietly took his time in deciding one more year was worth it for the heart and soul of the Quebec-Colorado franchise.

Although I hate to say it, Sakic returning to Colorado is far more important than Mats Sundin returning to the Leafs. While Mats has been doing little bits of something with nothing surrounding him in Toronto, Sakic has recently posted a 100-point season (2006-07) and led the Avs to the playoffs, working with a young roster with few consistent standouts.

As has been the theme of the past few seasons, the Avs’ young stars will have to step up. Wojtek Wolski will have to hold on to the two-way presence he found last season, but put up some points while he’s at it and become a 60-point threat.

In his first two seasons, Paul Statsny has looked every bit the replacement for Sakic—and if Sakic’s decision is put out of doubt next season, Statsny can prove he’s ready by posting the first 80-point season of his career.  He’s had two 70 point seasons so far.

Marek Svatos will have bigger fish to fry though, as while he’s trying to recapture that elusive 30-goal season, he’ll also have to work to recuperate from a torn ACL, suffered late last season.

But aside from the three emerging stars on the Avs, the established veterans will have to show up as well. Ryan Smyth and Darcy Tucker are both going to have to overcome subpar seasons, while Ian Laparrier will just have to keep adding grit with a little bit of scoring to help out the younger forwards.

The race to replace Roy continues

Peter Budaj or Andrew Raycroft. Is that really a question you want to ask yourself?

With the departure of Jose Theodore from the Avalanche (28 wins, 2.44 GAA, .910 save percentage), the Avalanche will return to Peter Budaj in hopes of finding that elusive franchise starter that they’ve missed since St. Patrick retired.

For Budaj, the ball is in his court—he’s young (25), he’s already posted a 30-win season (31 in 2006-07), and he finished the regular season on a strong note last season, allowing six goals in five games.  Of course, we’re overlooking the Detroit series where Budaj filled in for a malady-stricken Theodore fairly well—aside from allowing five goals in Game Four.

Budaj is going to have to come out of the gate strong, as Colorado has shown that they’re willing to go with the hot hand in net—whomever it may be.

If Budaj can’t shoulder the load, then it will be up to former Calder-winner Andrew Raycroft (who looked miserable as last season wore on in Toronto) and Jason Bacashihua, the highly-touted junior goalie who has yet to pan out in the NHL.

Raycroft has obviously seen success at the NHL level—his Calder trophy proves that—but since his rookie season, it seems that Rayzor has been on a downhill slide. Yes, he was able to secure a record 37 wins in his first season as a Maple Leaf—but he’s also been prone to giving up too many shaky goals, and he’s seemingly lost the ability to steal a game for his team.

Bacashihua still has yet to find a home at the NHL level. He has all the tools, but after being blocked by Marty Turco in Dallas, and an failing to strike in St. Louis, his chances at becoming a star in the NHL are fading fast.

Obviously, the Avalanche need Budaj to return to form to compete—and after a year of ups and downs, he’s poised to make another big splash.

Lost a Finger, salvaged a Foote, and a Sauer taste in the mouth.

On defense, the Colorado Avalanche will look a little bit different this season.

For starters, the team will be missing both Kurt Sauer and Jeff Finger. Both defensemen logged heavy minutes for the Avs last year and made impacts—but which of the two was better depends on whether you ask Toronto or someone else.

Either way, there were some holes left to fill on the Colorado blue line that needed to be addressed.

One step Francois Giguere took was re-signing former Blue Jacket Adam Foote in the offseason. From a leadership standpoint, Adam Foote is a great player to retain—but aside from that, the Avalanche resigned a 37-year-old defensive defensman who was abused by Detroit in the playoffs, and could be a very likely buyout candidate in a year’s time if his performance continues to decline.

In Brett Clark, Ruslan Salei, and Scott Hannan, the Avalanche have three defensemen who can stand up the opposition on their side of the blue line, but aren’t exactly dynamos when it comes to point production. Add in to that the defensively-reliable and hockey-smart Daniel Tjarnqvist, and the Avs have a strong defensive corps that will help keep the puck out of Peter Budaj’s net.

For points, however, the Avs are hoping for a bit of a resurgence from John-Michael Liles. In a trend never before seen in pro sports, Liles suffered his worst professional season in 2007-08—otherwise known as his contract year. He scored fewer than 10 goals for the first time in his career (he posted 14 his first two seasons), and his point total from last season was only two higher than his assist total from 2006-07 (32 vs. 30).

Liles will be looking to prove that last season was a fluke, and that he can (and probably will—flirt with the 50-point plateau once again in his career while being buoyed by his defensive teammates.

Depth-wise, Kyle Cumiskey and Jordan Leopold may also be able to provide some scoring depth on the back end.  However, that will depend on Cumiskey’s development this season—and whether or not he can tap into his offensive game at the highest level—as well as Jordan Leopold finding his stride for the first time since the lockout. Frankly, I’d put my money on Cumiskey.

So what does this all mean?

The Colorado Avalanche have been a good team for a long time, but even the best are bound to fall eventually. Unfortunately, this year seems to be Colorado’s time to tumble.

While I don’t doubt the goaltending, the problem I see with the Avalanche is quality on the back end, especially in the depth of the forwards.

Last year, the Colorado Avalanche reminded me of the New York Yankees, as they bought their way into the playoffs with older players. Well, even the Yankees have to misstep sometimes.

Fourth in Northeast

Now introducing: Jordan Walsh and Shane Giroux!

First up, Jordan:

I think the Avalanche will do a lot better than everyone thinks. Now , I’m not saying they’re going to win the Cup, or even come close—but I think a playoff berth is definitely not out of the question. I also believe Ryan Smyth and Darcy Tucker will rebound quite nicely.

I believe you have underrated Colorado’s blue line. Their blue line is going to be great this year. With the shutdown pair of Foote and Hannan, the offensive pair of Liles and Cumiskey, and the solid stay-at-home defencman Salei and Tjarnqvist you can’t go wrong.

In net I think this is Petr Budaj’s shot and I think Bacashihua might give Raycroft a run for the backup job. I think Budaj is going to do an alright job and I believe he is going to surprise a lot of people.

The Avalanche have a lot to prove this year—but to be honest, I think they can do it.

And now, Shane:

Goaltending

The goalie situation this year has people a bit concerned, but the apocalypse is not upon us. While Peter Budaj is no Robert Luongo, he has shown himself to be a capable starter when given the chance.

He stole the job from Theodore two seasons ago—as easy as it was to do—and led the team on a 15-2 run to end the season. However, last season the Avalanche management seemed intent on Theodore being the No. 1, and put a halt to Joel Quenneville’s goaltender rotation.

With Q gone—along with his motto of “One bad performance and you’re benched,” I think Budaj will flourish under Tony Granato’s watch. Jeff Hackett is not a “goalie whisperer” as others have said, but it can’t hurt to have a full-time goaltending coach either.

If Raycroft can come in and win 50 percent of his starts as a backup, the Avalanche should do fine.

Defense

The defense is the best part of the Avalanche roster. It’s not an elite lineup, but it has a nice mix of bangers, grinders, and puck movers. I’d like to see a No. 1 like Lidstrom back there, but what fan wouldn’t?

Ruslan Salei will be the team’s best defender this year, bar none. I knew of Salei prior to his acquisition, but hadn’t seen a lot of his play. Once he came over in the late season trade, I was an instant fan. He’s got great awareness, good defensive positioning, solid checks, and a good shot from the point—which is something the Avalanche have been lacking since Blake left.

Unfortunately, I just broke my own rule with that last point. (I swore I’d never bring up the lack of a point shot for the Avalanche after hearing Pierre McGuire say it one too many times.)

This squad should be able to provide offensive support, while letting Budaj do his job in goal and without worrying about trying to clear his own rebounds.

Offense

With Sakic back, there is no need to call Tyler Arnason the No. 2 center, which has dropped my blood pressure about 50 points. But even with Sakic back, this lineup will run into scoring depth issues.

The top two lines should have no problem racking up points, but the third and fourth lines are looking a bit weak in that department. If Tucker and Arnason—potentially this year’s odd couple—can find some sort of chemistry, it could alleviate my worries.

Per Ledin will be this year’s Jaroslav Hlinka. Hlinka was much heralded at the start of training camp, and during preseason he appeared to be worth the hype. However, as last season wore on, Hlinka seemed to lose his scoring touch.

Fortunately for the Avalanche, it appears if Ledin isn’t scoring. he’ll be pestering the opposition—which when done in a non-Sean Avery style is always fun to watch.

The squad has scorers and it has bangers, but I worry the banging-to-scoring ratio is tilted towards banging. I shall now strike the word “banging” from my dictionary due to overuse.


Playoff Bound

With Sakic back in the mix, I’m comfortable in calling the Avalanche a playoff-bound team. They’ve even got a shot at winning the division, as do all the teams in the Northwest—Vancouver notwithstanding.

There you have it—a few different looks at how the Avalanche could end up this season in the Northwest division.

Stay tuned for the next Northwest team tomorrow!

Until then…

The Game Stood Tall

September 4, 2008

by Jamie Uyeyama… I usually like to tie a story in with a movie reference so everyone can get a better grasp of what the story is trying to say. This time there is no need to bring a movie into the mix. Maybe because I know that no movie or pop culture reference could really compare to what just happened for the 2008 University of Toronto Varsity Blues. No reference could possibly do it justice.

49 in a row.

Over 6 years of not winning a football game. Wow, that’s a long time. Some players went through their entire college careers without tasting a win. Honestly, I cannot even imagine working through that. There is no other game that challenges athletes both mentally and physically like football. For that reason, there is no other game where a win is more rewarding and for that same reason there is no other game where a loss is as disappointing.

I remember when the losing streak was first brought to my attention. I was finishing up my college football career in BC and was watching the ticker on the Score. I saw a score flash by the screen and it was 82-0 nothing for some team in the OUA over U of T. Needless to say, I was completely blown away. In my mind, that was a score you only see when you are playing Rookie skill level on Madden. It’s a freaking video game score!

I remember the following weeks and seeing similar scores on the ticker. Just seeing these scores on TV was surreal for me. I’ve been around a lot of winning football teams and have been a part of a couple of losing ones as well, but I had never seen anything like what was happening at U of T. Football wise, I didn’t know how to relate to that.

In February I became a coach at U of T so I really didn’t have a choice but to relate to it in someway. As an outsider, I didn’t know what to expect coming in. What I saw surprised me. I saw a good coaching staff that was dying to help these kids out. I saw some legitimate football players competing on the field. I saw players working their asses of to get better each day.

I saw hope.

From February until now their have been some changes on the staff, but the passion to win and improve was continuing to build. Every day was a work in progress, but you could see things formulating that made you believe. It didn’t matter what the media or anyone was saying about the team. The people involved in the program had all dived right in and they all truly believed.

Neil Hayes is the author of a book that tells the story of the De La Salle football program in Concord, California and their incredible 151 game winning streak. The title of the book is When the Game Stands Tall. It goes in depth into everything about the program and in my opinion it showed a lot of things that are great about the game of football like discipline, work ethic, and camaraderie.

On Monday night the Varsity Blues, the bizarro De La Salle, displayed a bunch of other things that make football great. Players fought through injuries. They fought through adversity. They played for each other. They never gave up. They believed. They won the football game.

There was a certain magic of how it all came about.

It was a wonderful feeling for the players to achieve something that they haven’t felt in a long time. I am so proud to be a part of the program and I’m definitely excited to be a part of a brighter future for 2008 Varsity Blues. More than anything, I’m proud that I got to play a small role in a night where the game stood tall.

For more you can check out his blog Top Cheddar at www.topcheddar.com.

BLUES WIN! BLUES WIN! BLUES WIN!