Archive for October, 2010

>Friday Lunch: NFL Week 8 Picks

Posted: October 29, 2010 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

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Current Year’s Record

Dylan: 57-31

Evan: 48-40

Nick: 52-36

Will: 49-39

 

  MIA at CIN JAX at DAL WAS at DET BUF at KC CAR at STL GB at NYJ DEN vs SF TEN at SD
Dylan MIA DAL WAS KC STL NYJ DEN TEN
Evan MIA JAX DET KC STL GB DEN TEN
Nick MIA DAL WAS KC STL NYJ DEN TEN
Will MIA DAL WAS KC STL NYJ DEN TEN
  TB at  ARI MIN at NE SEA at OAK PIT at NO HOU at IND    
Dylan TB MIN OAK PIT IND      
Evan TB NE SEA PIT IND      
Nick TB NE SEA PIT IND      
Will TB NE SEA NO IND      
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By Nick Gallaudet

 

I know, it’s almost blasphemous for me. A lifelong baseball fan asking you to watch Major League Soccer’s playoffs when the World Series just started, but please hear me out. First, let me clear a couple things up. I have never seen an MLS game. I hated soccer until recently, but then I made friends with people who live and breathe the sport, so I gave it a chance during the 2010 World Cup. I used to talk about how nothing happened, and that it’s a waste of time watching a sport where it routinely ended in ties. I was used to games ending with a winner, and I think that’s why, like a lot of Americans, I got sucked into the World Cup. If you’re reading this right now, you probably watched Landon Donovan show Algeria that Karim Matmour had nothing on us Americans. If you haven’t seen the Youtube clip of all the barroom reactions to his goal, watch it now (and note Davis’ cameo, starring some Sack Lunch writers). Soccer had legs in America after the World Cup, despite America’s exit in the Round of 16. The bottom line is that I learned something from the World Cup: Soccer can be exciting…and octopi are psychic.

 

I thoroughly enjoyed the World Cup, so I thought it was about time for me to see what this worldwide obsession was all about. I tried so hard to follow the English Premier League this year, since it’s widely regarded as the best professional league in the world, but I just couldn’t for multiple reasons. The games happen at like 4 in the morning, they’re rarely televised in the U.S., only four teams ever have a chance to win, and there are no playoffs, so there are a lot of seemingly meaningless games. On top of all that, I had no allegiance to any of the teams. My interest quickly faded, especially with football starting up.

 

I had pretty much given up on my attempt to become a soccer fan, except I made a promise to fellow Sack Luncher, Evan that I would watch the MLS Playoffs. I was hesitant at first, because I really didn’t care about the EPL and thought MLS was a minor league version, but I am in no way qualified to decide how one soccer league stacks up against another. Plus, the four things that kept me from watching the EPL didn’t apply to MLS. All of the playoff games will be available to watch, eight teams are in the playoffs, and anything can happen in the playoffs. There are obviously playoffs, and all of these games will be important, so I decided to give it a try.

 

I’m actually pretty excited for them, even though I don’t have a team, hopefully that will work itself out as the playoffs unfold. Evan says the soccer is usually pretty good, and there are always fights, drama, and ridiculous comebacks, so without further ado, I would like to present to you, the Soccer Neophyte’s Guide to Watching Playoff Soccer (SNGWPS) and invite you to join me. I feel as though I need to explain to you how the playoffs work, though, since soccer apparently can’t do anything normally (but I have to be honest, I do like the way they seed the teams).

 

First, eight of the 16 teams make the playoffs, the first two teams from both the Eastern and Western Conference, and then the next four teams, regardless of conference, and it just so happens that those four teams are all from the Western Conference this year. The first round of games is a home-away series (each game is called a leg), and the team with the highest goal differential advances to the next round, and if it’s tied after both legs, it goes to overtime and then PKs. In the next round (stupidly called Conference Finals, since it’s possible that all four teams could be from the Western Conference), as well as the MLS Cup Final, it’s a one game, winner-take-all showdown, which I like because I think it creates a more exciting game.

 

I truly have no idea what to expect from an MLS game. I don’t know what the skill level will be like, I don’t know if I’ll even be able to tell the difference between these guys and national teams, but I don’t really care. I enjoy watching people play their hearts out for a title, and if the World Cup was any indication, it gets pretty exciting when both teams want something that bad, plus the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy is kind of cool looking, so join me as us soccer newcomers dip our toes a little farther into the pool of soccer.

Now that we got all that out of the way, it’s time for some expert analysis. These are your eight playoff teams: NY Red Bulls, Columbus Crew, LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, FC Dallas, Seattle Sounders FC, Colorado Rapids, and San Jose Earthquakes. The Galaxy won’t win, because Cobi Jones retired in 2007, and Landon Donovan is no Cobi Jones. The Crew won’t win because their team name stinks, FC Dallas won’t win because Tony Romo broke his collarbone, and the Red Bulls won’t win because the French tried to take over our colonies in the Seven Years War, and we haven’t forgotten, Thierry, plus we don’t allow handballs in America. We all know the winner will be the Real Salt Lake, because they linked the Sack Lunch to their official blog, so obviously they know a winner when they see one.

 

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>By Dylan Davis
 
This is getting a little bit ridiculous. For the third Saturday in a row, the top ranked team lost on the road to a ranked conference foe. This week, AP #1 Oregon travels to southern California to face the Trojans; could the Ducks make it a four in a row? Oklahoma-Missouri was the biggest upset of the day, but it wasn’t even close to being the biggest college football game. It was overshadowed by the Giants game, which was on at the same time, but also by the ridiculous outing Cam Newton had against a supposedly stout LSU defense. Let’s get right into what we learned on Saturday.

  • Michigan hired Rich Rodriguez as their head football coach two years ago to bring his spread option offense to Ann Arbor and bring the Wolverines a title. While Michigan has sputtered to get out of its own way much of the time, the spread option is the offense of choice for many of the top teams in the nation. Oregon and Auburn occupy the top two spots in all the polls and both run variations of the spread option. Almost every team in the top 25 uses the spread option as a part of their offensive arsenal, but after seeing what the Ducks and Tigers have done, we may see more dual threat quarterbacks running this in the future.

  • Not only are offenses employing the spread option to annihilate defenses, they’re speeding up the tempo. Oregon and Auburn are once again great examples of how more is better. The offenses are keeping it simple so they can execute at a higher level, but they are cranking up the tempo so that defenses can’t keep up. We saw the Oklahoma Sooners do this two years ago when they had Sam Bradford leading the charge, and that team scored over 50 points a game. There are now defensive schemes being created to contain the spread, but a fast tempo has no answer.

  • Virginia Tech lost a nail biter to Boise State to start the year then promptly were embarrassed by James Madison at home. At that point, they dropped out of the national title race, and thus, out of the national conscience. Since those losses, the Hokies have been on a tear. They have not lost a game and their offense has been clicking with the best of them. Tyrod Taylor has finally figured out how to blend his arm and athleticism and all of the weapons at his disposal are finally reaching their potential. While they have most likely dropped themselves out of contention for a title spot, they can still help Boise State’s strength of schedule with 10 wins. I expect to see them in the ACC title game, and most likely advancing to a BCS bowl.

  • Once again, Boise State trounced an inferior opponent. Once again, a team ranked ahead of the Broncos lost. Yet, once again, the Broncos stayed in the third slot, and the TCU team directly behind them in the polls crept even closer to overtaking them for that spot. It’s been said many times that this is Boise’s best chance so far to capture the national title, but the way things are going, they may not get there. It’s been shown all of this year that undefeated teams from power conferences will jump the Broncos no matter what. As we get closer to the end of the year, we may even see a team like Alabama jump into the top two with 1 loss. That doesn’t even count TCU, which would almost certainly gain a spot with a win over ranked Utah. The Utes could jump the Broncos if they beat the Horned Frogs and went undefeated themselves. A lot of things could happen for Boise to be kept out of the ranks, and it’s looking more and more like a real possibility.

  • The ending of the Iowa-Wisconsin game was a classic, but I was confused how Les Miles was coaching two games at once. His LSU Tigers were taking one on the chin at Auburn, but he was the only one who could have mangled a clock situation as horribly as the Hawkeyes did down the stretch against Wisconsin. Iowa trailed by 3 with time running out. They got a first down and were ready to spike the ball, but instead Kirk Ferentz decided to use his last timeout instead. This backfired when Adam Robinson was tackled in bounds on the next play and time ran out with the Hawkeyes down by 3. I don’t know what Ferentz was thinking, but he probably cost his team a shot at overtime against a ranked conference rival.

Heisman Watch:

    1. Cam Newton (QB Auburn) – His performance against a great LSU defense was absolutely stupendous. He shredded the Tigers for over 200 yards rushing and did not throw an interception. He is still leading the SEC in rushing and is second (behind Kellen Moore) in the NCAA in passing efficiency. Most years the Heisman is given to the best player on the top ranked team because the voters are lazy and don’t want to do research, but so far this year, Cam Newton is deserving. He should continue to put up numbers, but the big test will be the showdown against Alabama to end the year. (Will’s note: Just look at this run. Insane.)
    1. LaMichael James (HB Oregon) – James had another huge performance against an overmatched UCLA defense. He leads the nation in yards-per-game on the ground and fits the best player on a top team corollary. If Oregon can beat USC and Oregon State behind big games from James, he may sneak by Newton for the trophy.

    1. Justin Blackmon (WR Oklahoma State) – Blackmon was arrested earlier this week on suspicion of DUI, but his numbers are absolutely mind-boggling. Even though he was matched up with the top corner in the nation, Prince Amukumara, he still continued his ridiculous pace. He has over 60 receptions, over 1000 yards receiving, and 14 touchdowns on the year. If Oklahoma State can stay in the Big 12 south title race and Blackmon puts up huge numbers, he will stay in this race and vault his draft status even more.

    1. Kellen Moore (QB Boise State) – Like I said above, Moore has the highest efficiency numbers in the country, but if he doesn’t do it in nationally televised games, it may not matter to the voters.

    1. Denard Robinson (QB Michigan)- The Wolverines were off this week, so I can’t completely knock Denard out of the top five. He has to have another monster outing and win in every game this year if he wants to stay in the race. Injuries are also a huge concern.


Week 9 Games of the Week:

  • Michigan State vs. Iowa: This is the Spartans last major hurdle in their quest for an undefeated season. I think Iowa playing at home will come out with a vengeance trying to prove that last weeks loss to the Badgers was a fluke. If the Spartans win this, I’ll finally start to believe in them. Pick: Iowa-28 Michigan State-24

  • Missouri vs. Nebraska: The Huskers showed last week that their offense is legit as they put up huge numbers against Oklahoma State, but the Cowboys torched their defense. Missouri, on the other hand, looked great on defense against the top ranked Sooners in the upset, but I think they’ll have issues coming out and proving they’re legit. This game could decide who plays for the Big 12 title, and I think that turns out to be the Huskers. Pick: Nebraksa-23 Missouri-20

  • Oregon vs. USC: This is the week I finally jump on the bandwagon of top-ranked teams losing on the road. This is all USC has to play for this year and the Ducks have had some issues on the road this year. Everyone has been telling them how great they look (including me), and this sets up perfectly for a loss. USC has just enough firepower on offense to squeak by the Ducks in my upset special. Pick: USC-30 Oregon-28


That’s all the time we have for today, join me next week as I recap all the weeks exciting action and look forward to the biggest non-BCS conference game of the year.

>By Will Robinson
 
Ugh. That’s all I have to say about NFL Week 7. Ugh. My beloved Broncos were trounced in a game with the same margin of defeat as this semi-important game one. Denver left Zach Miller WIDE open for a 43-yard touchdown, Kyle Orton threw a pick-six, and Darren McFadden scored a rushing touchdown… and that was the first six minutes of the game. Oakland was responsible for the first 38 points of the game, and Denver failed to score until 1:56 left in the first half. They opened up the 2nd half with a quick score, but then allowed Oakland to score the next 21 points, to end the game 59-14. I couldn’t turn off the game until after the 3rd quarter. Yes, it was a bit masochistic, but I was genuinely interested to see how many touchdowns McFadden could get. I wanted him to get another, for fun, to bring his total to 5. I was glad Coach McD took full blame for the game, but really, the players executed horrifically. I guess they’re trying to take the harder way to 11-5 (kidding…). Fortunately, they travel to London and play the Alex Smith-less and very disappointing 49ers.


Not-So-Quick-Hit-Thoughts
· Roddy White and the Falcons looked very dominant in their win against Cincinnati, despite allowing the Cardiac Cats to rally in the 3rd quarter. I have the Falcons as the second best team in the NFC, behind the New York Giants, who I will discuss later. The Falcons’ defense needs to be more consistent, but I like the way their offense is rolling.
· I am so happy I didn’t watch the Redskins vs. Bears. In a game that boasted 9 turnovers, including 5 Jay Cutler interceptions (4 to DeAngelo Hall), the quarterbacks’ combined QB ratings for the game (56.8 + 54.3) was less than either quarterback in the aforementioned game. The top question of the pre-season for the Bears was: how could Jay Cutler NOT succeed in Mike Martz’s offense? Well, we have a pretty good luck six games in.
· To everyone who had Kenny Britt sit on their bench in fantasy football (present company included), I feel for you. In the league with the TSL staff, my friend Alex Satre started Britt and Darren McFadden (who I stupidly traded, thinking he would slow down this year), which led his team to the largest point total in Gnar Gnar’s two-year history (158 points) over Evan. Even without the better QB unable to take the field, the Titans crushed the Michael Vick and DeSean Jackson-less Eagles. Tennessee is a top team in the NFL. My 10-6 optimistic prediction for them may be right on track, or even too low. I could see them splitting the season series with Indy and Houston, falling to San Diego on the road, and either Kansas City or Miami, giving them that 10-6 record. I really like this team, especially when Vince Young comes back.
· So, now that the Chiefs have equaled my low-end pick for their 2010 win total, it appears they have the team to win the AFC West. They have lost to two quality opponents (Indy and Houston), and have crushed inferior ones twice this year (the San Fran rout and this Jacksonville one). Matt Cassel looks like an NFL player now and Dwayne Bowe has been one of the best receivers the past two weeks. Their schedule does not get tougher at all, with their toughest opponents being Tennessee, Oakland (2x), Seattle, and St. Louis. Yes, I know. A team is in good shape if those are their hardest games in the second half of the year.
· I’m sorry Miami fans, that was a tough loss; but, the correct call was made. The refs probably should have given Miami the ball at their own 20, but there was not conclusive evidence that Miami recovered the ball in the pile. Yes, a Dolphin emerged with the ball, but there was no way to tell if a Steeler had possession of the ball under the pile for a long time, and then a Dolphin player just took it once the pile had become less compact. Either way, the Steelers still hold the best record in football.
· Somebody get the Saints a parachute, please, because they are free falling. Who knew Reggie Bush meant this much to the team? Without Bush, they are 2-3. He isn’t the sole reason, as Pierre Thomas has been out, and they haven’t looked good in general, but the correlation coefficient is at least a 0.8 (thanks Mr. Legé!).
· I don’t agree with you Raheem Morris, that your team is the best in the NFC. Let’s see how you play against some more quality opponents, such as Atlanta in week 9/14, and Baltimore in week 12. For now, props for pulling a late victory against a decent Rams’ team.
· Stop me when you’ve heard this one before: the Niners lost–. Keep it going, and the you only have to fight the Bills for the Andrew Luck sweepstakes!
· Too close of a win for the Ravens, with a questionable fumble call in overtime. At home, a strong team has to handle the Bills, not beat them by 3 in overtime, in addition to allowing 34 points. If Baltimore wants to be a top team, they have to have a more dominant performance against a subpar team.
· Seahawks leading the NFC West? Who had that? Not this guy, that’s for sure.
· The Patriots tried another 4th and 1 this year, and failed. However, unlike last year, this was the proper call. At their own 49, the BJGE was stuffed trying to pick up the game-ending first down. San Diego drove down the field and was poised to kick a 45-yard field goal to end the game… but a false start made the field goal five yards longer, and Kris Brown missed it. The Pats are tied for the AFC East lead, and look to be a part of the elite of the 2010 season.
· Finally, Green Bay won again. Neither quarterback had a fantastic game, but The Brett Favre led Vikings fell to the Packers for the first team. The Shiancoe catch PROBABLY should have been a touchdown, and despite the Old Gunslinger’s poor game, he almost led the Vikes to a comeback win. I am slightly interested to see how the drama between him and Childress plays out this week.
· The Cowboys had a +3 turnover margin, were at home, and lost by 6 points. Yet, this game appeared MUCH more one-sided than the final result suggests. New York looked great in this game (save their first two series), and consistently hurried both quarterbacks that played. To me, they are the top team in the NFC. Barring a 2009 style collapse, they will be in contention to come back and play in Dallas a second time.
 

Most Impressive Team: Tennessee Titans/Kansas City Chiefs
Honorable Mention: Oakland Raiders
 
Most Impressive Offensive Player: Kenny Britt
Honorable Mention: Darren McFadden, Roddy White
 
Most Impressive Defensive Player: DeAngelo Hall
Four interceptions. Some good corners don’t reach that number in a single year, and Hall achieved that in a game.
 
Most Unimpressive Team: Denver Broncos
Most Unimpressive Player: Jay Cutler
Bad weekend for current and former Broncos alike! Suck it, Jay.
 
Best Game per Time Slot of Week 8 (Excluding Sunday/Monday night)
10:00 AM PDT
Green Bay Packers vs. New York Jets
I am very excited for this game. Green Bay travels to the Meadowlands to try and take on the red-hot, rested Jets. Should be more exciting than Denver playing in Wembley at the same hour.
 
1:00-1:15 PM PDT
Minnesota Vikings vs. New England Patriots
There is a pretty weak slate for afternoon games, partially because six teams are on a bye this week. However, that said, Randy Moss’ return to New England should be an interesting one.
 
Best Game of Week 8
Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts
NO and PIT is a close second, by the Saints have been terrible recently. The Texans had a small skid, but coming off a bye, I like them to have a good showing in Indianapolis, even though they may not win. Peyton Manning, home game, national primetime game. 95%, this is a win.
 
Most Interesting Game of Week 8
Denver Broncos vs. San Francisco 49ers
Two coaches go to London, ONLY ONE MAY COME BACK!
 
Bounce Back Performance of Week 8
New Orleans
Denver is clearly one, but as I think I have forced this down your throats already, the Saints gotta get their crap together. Losing by double digits AT home against Cleveland? Come on, now.
 
Down to Earth Performance of Week 8
Carson Palmer
Last week was an anomaly for Palmer, who has been horrendous this year. I think he’ll get back to his 3-interceptions-a-game form.
 
Bold Predictions of Week 8
· Buffalo will upset Kansas City.
· Randy Moss doesn’t try against New England.
· Jon Kitna performs better than Tony Romo’s best game this year.

>By Evan Ream
 
Another MLS season is in the books, and with just the playoff games left to decide the Cup winner, it is time to hand out my post-season awards. There were many deserving candidates this year in David Ferreira, Landon Donovan, Edson Buddle, Javier Morales, and Omar Cummings, but I have to go with the man, the myth, the legend, the WONDO. Chris Wondolowski had an MLS season for the ages. The man almost single handedly guided the Earthquakes into the playoffs. With 18 goals, Wondo accounted for over 50% of his teams goals. Wondo was one of only three Earthquakes to score multiple goals. Second on the team to his EIGHTEEN were Ike Opara (a rookie defender) and Arturo Alvarez (the most inconsistent player in the history of soccer) with 3 goals each. A lot of pundits have been pointing out the fact that Wondo only had 1 assist on the entire season, but with numbers like this it is clear that Wondo had no one to pass to. In addition, many of his goals came from either right midfield, or while he was partnered up top with the terrible Cornell Glen.
 
When it comes down to it, the way I define the Most Valuable Player award is the player that means the most to his team. FC Dallas scored eight fewer goals this year than they did last year; the reason for their success this year wasn’t their offense, but the improvement of their defense. Thus, David Ferreira is cut out of my vote. When Donovan and Buddle went to the World Cup, LA didn’t really miss a beat. In fact, their team didn’t really start to slump until they came back and even then, they still finished with nearly 60 points and set a franchise record with 18 wins (post shootout). Javier Morales was on by far the best overall and deepest team in the league and when he was hurt, they didn’t miss him. Omar Cummings had a good season as well, but you couldn’t key on just him because Colorado has Conor Casey as well. In the end Wondo, isn’t just the best candidate, he is the only candidate. Of his 18 goals, 9 were game winners and the Earthquakes only won 13 games. Pretty much the only difference between this year’s Earthquakes team and last year’s was the play of Wondo. I don’t know what else can be said, the man was a genius.

For my Best XI, I decided to do something a little different. There were so many quality individual performances this year that I essentially decided to make a best XXXIII or Best XI first, second, and third teams. As always, since everyone in MLS uses a 4-4-2, I will be going by that formation, none of the BS 3-5-2 that the media always uses to determine the Best XI. When I made these teams, I tried to focus mainly on playoff teams because more important than any other statistic, is winning. I chose players that directly contributed to their team’s wins.
 

Best XI Third Team
 
Angel      Ferreira
 
Shea   Mastroeni   Juninho   Gaven
 
Dunnivant   Iro   Marshall   Alston
 
Pickens

 
Juan Pablo Angel (New York Red Bulls) proved as always that he can score goals, scoring 13 goals for the 3rd place team in MLS. For the first half of the season, he was first team material, but he dropped off towards the second half.
 
David Ferreira (FC Dallas) is an MVP candidate for many people, and could well win the award, but I have a hard time putting a forward who scored just 4 non-penalty kick goals higher on the list. He does deserve credit for being the focal point of the Dallas offense that scored 42 goals (4th in the league) and contributing 13 assists; but I just didn’t think he was as good as the other four forwards I put on the list.
 
Brek Shea (FC Dallas) had a breakout year and would be higher on this list in most years, if not for the depth of quality left midfielders this year. Shea, who wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the season, scored 5 goals and drastically improved his overall game to the point that he got a call from the USMNT.
Shea_shadowed_DSN0841
Pablo Mastroeni (Colorado Rapids) had his first good MLS season in a long time. For a while now, it had seemed as if he would just coast through his games, not really caring about winning. The addition of Jeff Larentowicz to the midfield seems to have changed all of this as Pablo has actually shown up to play in one of the best central midfields in the league.
 
Juninho (LA Galaxy) was the most underrated part of the Supporter’s Shield winners this year. Without him in the lineup, the Galaxy often seem lost and unable to build up consistent attacks. Juninho didn’t score or set up a lot of goals this year, but for my money he was the best linking player in MLS this year. As good as the Galaxy’s defense and offense was, in the midfield they usually had a bunch of aging veteran role players. Juninho was the guy who put the team on his back and did work both offensively and defensively.
 
Eddie Gaven (Columbus Crew), although his Goals Against Average this year is a Dario Sala-esque 10.00 by my count, he still makes my Third Team. The Eight Year Veteran (who is still apparently just 24?!?!?!?!?!?!) contributed 3 goals and 5 assists while providing consistent work defensively for the hard working Crew team. Gaven wasn’t the most spectacular, but in the mold of a young Brian Mullen, you could always count on him to get the job done and give you 110% every game.
 
Todd Dunnivant (LA Galaxy) is simply an average left back in a league with a lot of terrible left backs. Dunnivant had some good and bad moments, but he is just a role player.
 
Andy Iro (Columbus Crew) was on the team that allowed the second most goals (34) among playoff teams. The reason why he is on this list is not because of that amount though. I blame the Crew’s defensive problems on the rapid decline of Frankie Hejduk and the injury to Gino Padula. Iro had a breakout season partnering the always good Chad Marshall, and even chipped in 3 goals. In order for the Crew to win games, they need to get goals from their role players because they don’t have a traditional scorer and Iro helped this cause greatly.
 
Chad Marshall (Columbus Crew) pretty much did the same types of things as Iro, but was a little bit better in every way.
 
Kevin Alston (New England Revolution) is the only member of a non-playoff team that made any of my Best XI teams. It should be noted that there aren’t a lot of great outside backs in the league, but Alston is one of the exceptions. Fast and athletic, Alston was also good in contributing to the attack and was one of the few bright spots of the Revolution season.
 
Matt Pickens (Colorado Rapids) was one of the reasons why the Rapid’s patchwork defense (that is made up of four outside backs) actually worked this year. Although the Rapids allowed 32 goals, Pickens was excellent (aside from the last game of the season).
 

Best XI Second Team
 
Cummings   Montero
 
Zakuani   Larentowicz   Alonso   Richards
 
Benitez   Ream   Borchers   Pearce
 
Rimando

 
Omar Cummings (Colorado Rapids) is the reason why Conor Casey scores goals. Cummings is arguably the most dangerous player in the league. He can beat you with either foot or in the air. He finishes well and creates well for others. Cummings is one of the few complete players in the league and for that, he is deservedly on my Second Team.

Fredy Montero (Seattle Sounders FC) was not only one of just seven players to put up double digit assists, but he was only one of two players to put up a 10-10 season (10 goals 10 assists) and the only one to do it for a playoff team. For a few months in the season, Montero put the team entirely on his back and led them to their playoff push, only to cool off in the end.
 
Steve Zakuani (Seattle Sounders FC) was the other big reason why Seattle found success this year. Zakuani, in his sophomore season, was the only midfielder to score 10 goals this year. Zakuani is the best dribbler in MLS, and combining that with great vision, and decent finishing gives you a great player. I wish I had two spots in my First Team for left midfielders because Zakuani had the best season of anyone on the Second Team XI.
 
Jeff Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids) was the player most responsible for turning the Rapids from playoff outsiders to the team everyone is picking to upset a higher seed. Larentowicz combined his usual great ball winning skills with better distribution, and he even scored the odd goal (4), not to mention being the reason for Pablo Mastroeni to actually start trying again. Pretty good deal for just Cory Gibbs.
 
Osvaldo Alonso (Seattle Sounders FC) isn’t a flashy player, but when it comes down to it, he gets the job done better than almost everyone in the league. The Alonso-Sturgis midfield pairing turned the Sounders into one of the hardest teams to breakdown in the league with Alonso being the premier player in that partnership.
 
Dane Richards (New York Red Bulls)Richards finally found himself: all he needed was Thierry Henry. Before Henry arrived, Richards was a speed demon who could trouble defenses, but also made too many mistakes to be taken seriously. After Henry arrived, Richards gained the confidence (and apparently skill) to take players on and score spectacular goals. Richards scored 5 goals over last half of the season, at times putting the Red Bulls on his back; seemingly regaining his 2008 playoff form in which he absolutely trashed Wade Barrett, Chris Wingert, and Gino Padula.
 
Jair Benitez (FC Dallas) was a huge reason for Dallas’ success defensively this year, despite the plethora of injuries. Benitez was great in the attack and rarely got beat the entire season. He is pretty much the definition of solid if unspectacular.

 
Tim Ream (New York Red Bulls) was one of two players to play every minute of every game this season. To do this as a Rookie should pretty much win him the award. For more thoughts on Ream, check here.
 
Nat Borchers (Real Salt Lake) was the third best defender on the best team and defense in the league (which speaks to their depth). Borchers made very few mistakes in helping RSL set the record for fewest goals allowed in a season (20). Borchers also scored clutch goals in consecutive weeks against Colorado and New England in order to keep RSL in the hunt for the Supporter’s Shield.
 
Heath Pearce (FC Dallas) could be the best and only left footed right back in the world. It boggles my mind that Dallas has two left footed outside backs when most teams can’t even find one. Pearce managed to overcome his genetics and have a terrific season defending while still contributing 6 assists to the attack.
 
Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake) has really matured over the years. He used to be just a great shot stopper who lacked size and made mental mistakes. Rimando put it all together finally and led the best defense in league history, not to mention leading the first MLS team to win a CONCACAF Champions’ League group as well.
 

MLS Best XI First Team
 
Buddle   Wondolowski
 
Lindpere   Beckerman   Morales   Donovan
 
Wingert   Olave   Gonzalez   Franklin
 
Hartman

 
Edson Buddle (LA Galaxy) scored 17 goals in 25 games. I’m not really sure what else to put here. This just seems (and is) a no-brainer.
 
Chris Wondolowski (San Jose Earthquakes) see top of article.
 
Joel Lindpere (New York Red Bulls) was the best player for the Red Bulls this season, and my vote for newcomer of the year (if I had one). Lindpere provided 3 goals and 6 assists including the first ever goal in Red Bull Arena. This guy just did everything this season though. He scored and set up goals, he provided great linking play, he had a great defensive work rate, and he filled in at central midfield when needed.
 
Kyle Beckerman and Javier Morales (Real Salt Lake) get to be mentioned together because they play so well together. RSL’s starting central midfield for the last three years is by far the best pairing in the league. Although they can both defend and attack, they are so complimentary that they let each other focus on their specialty. Beckerman is a great defensive midfielder and linking player. Morales is a great offensive midfielder and also a great linking player. Together they were the co-quarterbacks for the best passing team in the league (and possibly league history). Consider that as a central midfielder Morales had a 9-9 season. There have certainly been better seasons then that, but when your attacking midfielder has a season that good and you play with two true forwards, then you are likely compromising your defensive responsibilities by pushing up too often. Not here. Not RSL. They allowed just 20 goals and the defense shouldn’t be the only ones to get credit for it. This is the best and most important partnership in MLS and they deserved to be mentioned together because of that.6a00e54ef2975b883301157115b59c970c-500wi
 
Landon Donovan (LA Galaxy) was his usual amazing self. When on form he is one of the best players in the league, if not the best, and he was on form this year. In just 24 games, Donovan provided 7 goals and a career high and MLS best 16 assists. If you are reading this blog then you don’t need any more convincing that he deserves this spot.
 
Chris Wingert (Real Salt Lake) was the second best defender on the best defense in the league. Wingert didn’t have a great season attacking, but since he is not needed to, I don’t hold it against him. RSL keep their outside backs home most of the time because of how much their midfielders push up, so when tasked with it Wingert defended and defended well. Wingert doesn’t really get beat, nor does he make mistakes and that is why he is the Best XI First Team left back.
 
Jamison Olave (Real Salt Lake) was the best defender on the best defense in the league and is my 2010 Defender of the Year. Olave is a physical beast who is also great with the ball at his feet. The difference between this year and last year is that he cut most of the mental mistakes out of his game and became a much smarter player. Olave also chipped in with 3 goals, a great amount for a defender.
 
Omar Gonzalez (LA Galaxy) improved on his rookie season and parlayed his strong play into a USMNT call up. Gonzalez still needs to cut down on his fouls and yellow cards, but he has all the physical tools to succeed and he did just that. The Galaxy allowed just 26 goals, a lot of which had to do with Gonzalez.
 
Sean Franklin (LA Galaxy) built on his promise and became the best attacking and defending outside back in the league. His ability to hit crosses was amazing this year and was reflected in his 6 assists on the season. Franklin is hard to beat one on one and hard to track up the field because he runs all game. He and Donovan form the best right side pairing in the entire league.
 
Kevin Hartman (FC Dallas) only played in 19.5 games before getting hurt, but he was THAT good that he is still my Goalkeeper of the Year. All you need to know is that in the 20 games in which Hartman played, Dallas allowed 12 goals and lost just 1 game. In the 10 games that Dario Sala played, Dallas allowed 16 goals and lost 3 games. Essentially, without him, they were average, but with him, they were impeccable.
 
Lastly, I would like to ACTUALLY preview the playoffs. To do this, I am going to do power rankings for each team starting at the bottom (IE the number 8 team would be the least likely to win MLS Cup in my opinion, while the number 1 team would be the most likely).
 
8. San Jose Earthquakes: Being the lowest seed is always tough, as SJ will welcome Henry, Angel, and Marquez to Buck Shaw this Saturday. San Jose probably has the worst actual team among playoff teams, but in the playoffs it can all come down to individual performances. San Jose could still win if their attacking trio of Wondolowski, Convey, and Geovanni does work, but I think this team is more just happy to be in the playoffs at all given their quality.
 
7. Columbus Crew: Losing your top keeper in the last 10 minutes of the last game of the season in a meaningless game has to hurt. Slumping in the last month of the season also has to hurt. Playing a team on a major hot streak probably hurts the most. That is why the Crew are going to get upset this series by the Rapids and go home early for the second straight year.
 
6. FC Dallas: Dallas are slumping and are winless in their last three games in addition to being just .500 in their last five. They are still one of the hardest teams to beat in MLS, but Dario Sala sure makes it easier. Dallas will probably lose to RSL, but they definitely will if Hartman doesn’t play.
 
5. Colorado Rapids: The Rapids have lost just once in their last five games, but that isn’t why they are so dangerous. Both Conor Casey and Omar Cummings are on form right now. It only takes one hot striker to win a playoff series, but Colorado has two. Adding the experience of Brian Mullen also helps.

 
4. New York Red Bulls: Despite being the top seed in the east, the Red Bulls are very beatable. They have won three of their last five, but I just don’t know if they can do it given the form of their forwards. This being said, they have the easiest path to MLS Cup, being in the same bracket as the San Jose and Colorado who picked up just 46 points each, and Columbus who are in the middle of a major slump. If they don’t make it to the Cup, they should be majorly disappointed, but they likely lose to the west seed no matter what which is why they are so low.
 
3. LA Galaxy: I know, I’m crazy putting the Galaxy all the way at third, but their schedule is so hard that it has to be this way. Opening up in Seattle is the hardest opening game anyone will play this round. Although they won the Supporter’s Shield, they have been only a mediocre team in the second half of the season. They soundly beat Seattle in both games this season, but they also lost four games at home, which doesn’t exactly strike confidence in anyone.
 
2. Seattle Sounders FC: Seattle lost their last game, but they didn’t really have anything to play for which makes it understandable. Seattle has won four of their last five games to finish off the season stronger than anyone else. With Steve Zakuani, Blaise Nkufo, Fredy Montero, and an emerging Sanna Nyassi, the Sounders have too many in form attacking weapons to be denied by LA’s sturdy defense.
 
1. Real Salt Lake: If you have been following this blog in any way shape or form, then you know that I have a major boner for this RSL team. They are just too good and too hard to beat for them to lose, especially in the first round. This team is an improvement on the team that grinded out results last year in the playoffs and won on any way possible. They do have a tough opening game in Dallas (assuming Kevin Hartman plays), but if any team can do it, its RSL. They are my favorite to win MLS Cup again.
 
Picks:

Colorado 2 Columbus 0
FC Dallas 0 Real Salt Lake 1
San Jose 1 New York 2

LA Galaxy 0 Seattle Sounders FC 1

 
Thanks for reading, join me next week for a playoff round 1 recap.

>

 

Current Year’s Record (Recalculated, 100% accurate):

Dylan: 48-26

Evan: 38-36

Nick: 43-31

Will: 41-33

 

  CIN at ATL WAS at CHI STL at TB SF at CAR BUF at BAL PHI at TEN JAX at KC PIT at MIA
Dylan ATL WAS STL CAR BAL PHI KC PIT
Evan ATL WAS TB SF BAL TEN KC PIT
Nick ATL CHI TB CAR BAL PHI KC PIT
Will ATL CHI STL SF BAL PHI KC PIT
  CLE at NO ARI at SEA NE at SD OAK at DEN MIN at GB NYG at DAL    
Dylan NO SEA NE DEN MIN NYG    
Evan NO SEA SD DEN GB NYG    
Nick NO SEA NE DEN MIN NYG    
Will NO SEA NE DEN GB NYG    

>By Kenny Durell
 
Kenny Durell here, coming in from 3,000 miles to the East as an off-and-on again correspondent on live sporting events out here for my Sack Lunch-ers back in Davis. Well, it’s now a few weekends ago, but looking back, where I went and what I did was hands-down one of the best sporting events of my life, regardless of sport: an MLS game at the Red Bull Arena between the New York Red Bulls and the Kansas City Wizards. I journeyed out to the New Jersey hinter land (yeah, don’t let the New York name fool you; like the Jets and Giants, the Red Bulls play across the water in the Garden State) with two other Davisites, and hardcore fútbol fans, Isaac and Dot,  who also both go to school on the East Coast for college. 1
 

I could try to explain with words the awesomeness and grandeur of coming onto this literal footballing mecca after a very typical New York hour on public transportation that included walking, the subway,3some glimpses of the new work on the Ground Zero site, the New Jersey/New York PATH train,2and some more walking, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.
 
The stadium was unbelievable from the outside alone, with huge billboards on storage facilities lining the walk to the stadium5
 4announcing the newfound competitiveness of the New York MLS franchise after years of futility (link), and acoustics that literally made it sound like a jet plane engine starting up when the fans united in chants and oohs-and-ahhs.
 
And yet, inside might have been even better.
 
We paid 16 dollars apiece to sit eight rows up from the corner flag,6and as you can see, it felt like you were right in the action.
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I’ve never had that sort of experience in sports ever, save for one time sitting on the glass at a Kings hockey game, and even then, certainly not for the price I’d just paid. It was nothing less than breath taking, and truly felt as though you were an integral part of the action…though maybe being in the Red Bull ultra-fan zone might have been even more intense. 15I have the pictures, so decide for yourself I guess. Now on to the actual game.
 
Now, I fully admit that I know less than my Davis counterparts (specifically Evan) about MLS, its rankings, its best players etc., but thanks to my handy MatchDay handout, I was able to stay on track and know that the Red Bulls were fighting for first in the East with Columbus, while the Wizards were sitting in third in the East at the start of the game. And that Thierry Henry and Rafael Marquez, the big paycheck “saviors” of NYC football, would both be starting, which was not a given because of nagging injuries to both.
 
The first and ultimately only goal of the game came six minutes in, not from either of the publicized stars, Marquez or Henry, who both had flashes of brilliance in passing, though struggled in finishing near the goal, but off the foot of Dane Richards after a heads up steal in the Wizards’ backfield. After that initial, early jolt of electricity into the stadium though, Bouna Coundoul, the Red Bulls’ goalie, provided the rest of the fireworks. 
 
Even Isaac, a rabid Premier League and La Liga fanatic, was impressed at some points, especially with the soccer-specific set-up of the stadium and the skill, which went in spurts (great plays interspersed with less-than-stellar sequences). Twelve saves (to Nielsen, the Wizards’ goalie’s, four), eighty-four minutes, and a shutout later, Coundoul was unquestionably the most valuable player in the game, with three sprawling, reaction, diving stops and a handful of corners neutralized.
 
And, after such a performance, Coundoul thanked the very appreciative Red Bull faithful, much the way one would expect to see a star in Europe do, which because of the context obviously impressed me.
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The Red Bulls grabbed first place from the Crew with the victory, locked up a playoff spot, and have since held that lead over the last few weeks, with the playoffs looming large (link). And, while Dot headed back to Princeton on her train, Isaac and I jumped on the PATH back to NYC, with many a Red Bull fan in tow.
 
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If you like soccer at all, if you don’t like soccer, if you’re kind of into soccer, it doesn’t matter. The experience is too unique, the setting too epic, the whole deal way too economical to miss. If anyone who reads this is ever in New York, I will personally take it as an excuse to accompany him/her to a game, school, or activities be darned. It’s that good.
 
Over and out,
 
Kenny