Category Archives: Blog

Minneapolis native Mukwelle Akale is winning international awards yet again – this time, in the Czech Republic. Akale was named Player of the Tournament at the Vaclav Jezek Tournament, and scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Ukraine in the tournament final. It’s another award for the youngster’s shelf; he won the same Player of the Tournament award at the Copa del Atlantico earlier this year.

Akale, who signed with Spanish giants Villareal earlier in the year, has long been a part of the USA youth setup, as well as the Minnesota Thunder Academy that’s based in Woodbury. He started in the USA’s tournament-opening 3-1 win over Hungary, and came on as a substitute in the team’s 3-2 win over the Czech Republic. His winning goal, in the 47th minute of the title match, capped off yet another starring performance for the youngster.

Should you want to see him in action, you can also see him here, scoring for the Villareal U-18 team against the Southampton U-18 team.

Nor was Akale the only local on the field in the Czech Republic. Jackson Yueill, who has also featured for the U-18 team in the past, was again in action with the squad as well. He started the team’s opening game, but missed on out the game against the Czech Republic; no box score is yet available for the championship match, so there’s no telling whether he made the field for that one. Yueill, also a Minnesota Thunder Academy product, is still part of the Woodbury program.

On the women’s side, Woodbury native Kassey Kallman is one match away from her first championship ring in the pro ranks. Her NWSL team, FC Kansas City, beat the Portland Thorns 2-0 on Saturday. Kallman started and played all 90 minutes, taking three shots, one of which was on goal. KC will face the winner of Seattle next Sunday for the NWSL title. The 22-year-old Florida State grad has started 18 of Kansas City’s 24 games this year, and has plenty of international action to her credit as well, last featuring for the USA U-23 team at the Six Nations tournament in March.

Goalkeeper Cody Cropper has also been featuring for the U-23 team, on the men’s side. The Maple Grove native started at keeper in a 5-1 win over the Bahamas senior team in early August, the culmination of a five-day training camp for the team that’s likely to feature at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Cropper, who was born in February 1993, will just meet the age limit for the games, and is on track to start at keeper – should the United States qualify, as they failed to do in 2012.

Cropper remains at Southampton, where he started for the U-21 side on Friday in their second game in the U-21 Premier League, a 2-1 win over the West Ham U-21s.

Cropper’s sometime USA youth teammate, Woodbury’s Eric Miller, has been back in the picture for the Montreal Impact in Major League Soccer. Miller started the first seven games of the year for Montreal, and has been back in the lineup recently, starting three games in August as the Impact search for a combination that will keep them off the bottom of the league. His teammate Calum Mallace, a Henry Sibley HS alum, has also been featuring for the Impact; Mallace started last Saturday against New York and picked up an assist, though Montreal lost 4-2 to New York.

And finally: Prior Lake native Teal Bunbury has started almost every game this season for the New England Revolution, generally playing on the right side of midfield. He’s scored twice and has four assists, in his first season since leaving Sporting Kansas City, where he played for four years.

NOTE: This appeared at SoccerCentric.

Ireland are your 2014 Six Nations Champions, capping their campaign with a dramatic win against France to clinch the title on the final weekend. As is traditional, the final round included all six teams playing in back-to-back-to-back matches. Brit’s Pub in downtown Minneapolis showed all three, beginning at 7:30 in the morning.

My brother Dave is not a fan of rugby, but he does enjoy activities that consist of watching sports and drinking beer, so he agreed to come with me to watch the final day of matches. We skipped the early-morning beatdown that England put on Italy, but we did see Wales wax Scotland and Ireland’s victory.

Here now, I present the rules of rugby, as interpreted by Dave, who has watched about three rugby matches in his life.

  1. SMASH
  2. You can kick it but I am not sure why you would
  3. You get to keep the ball when you are tackled, except sometimes not?
  4. Wild dives across the pile are illegal and strongly encouraged
  5. Field goals are everyone’s favorite
  6. The ref awards penalties but nobody ever knows why

I’d like to thank Dave for stopping by.

I need to feel better about the USA losing twice to Canada at hockey. In order to do so, here’s an update of the Canada-USA Tale of the Tape, from a few years back.

Data source: The CIA World Factbook

USA CANADA Advantage
Population 316,438,601 34,568,211 USA
Quebec? No Yes USA
Per-capita GDP $51,700 $42,300 USA
Military Scary Gord L. and Milt J.
(Milt off Wed.)
USA
NHL Teams 23 7 USA
Fought for own independence? Yes Wussed out USA
Was actually a country during War of 1812 Yes Despite what they want
you to believe, no
USA
World status Last superpower “We’re real nice, eh” USA
Adjective to describe flag? Symbolic Floral USA
Currency? Supports world markets Has funny pictures USA
Complex Egotism Inferiority USA
French-fry based awesomeness Chili cheese fries Poutine USA
Thanksgiving in… November October USA

I do not feel better.

As I mentioned in my post about this week’s podcast, I’ve been getting in a lot of disagreements – notably with friend of the blog Michael Rand – about new Vikings offensive coordinator Norv Turner.

Turner is mostly famous for his years as the head coach in Washington, Oakland, and San Diego, but before he got into the head-coaching game, he was an offensive coordinator in Dallas, where he won two Super Bowl rings. He has since been been a coordinator in four places – San Diego, Miami, San Francisco, and last season in Cleveland.

Mike went through his various coaching stops the other day on his blog, and came to the conclusion that Turner had improved (or “maintained”) offenses at each of his stops, based mostly on the NFL ranks of Turner teams in offensive scoring.

Rather than argue about the relative merits of using offensive scoring or offensive yards as a measurement, I went over to footballoutsiders.com and looked at the Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) numbers for Turner’s teams. (DVOA is explained here, but if you don’t want to read the explanation, just note that it ranks teams based on how successful they are on a play-by-play basis.)

Without belaboring the details, the DVOA numbers more or less matched Rand’s findings; in general, Turner’s teams were either better, or not a lot worse, in his first year at any of his stops. (The one exception was his head-coaching gig in San Diego, where the Chargers went from second in the league to 14th in his first year.)

That said, one could equally look at things the other way, and examine how Turner’s teams did after he left. If he’s an exceptional offensive genius, then teams should have gotten markedly worse when he no longer darkened the doorstep. Here’s what I found:

  • Dallas: after Turner left, the Cowboys were third in offense, then first. No drop-off whatsoever.
  • Washington: the Redskins dropped to 25th and 26th when he left, after being 14th in his final year.
  • San Diego: the Chargers were 17th in his one year as offensive coordinator, then 15th and 12th after he departed.
  • Miami: the Dolphins went from 11th and 17th in his two years as OC to 31st and 18th in the two years following.
  • San Francisco: The 49ers were in the league’s bottom six offenses in the two years before and the two years after Turner, 23rd in his one year there.
  • San Diego again: As head coach, Turner’s team finished 24th in the league in offense in 2012, then third last year without him.
  • Cleveland: We don’t know yet, but Turner took a Browns team that was 25th and 27th in offense the year before him, and made them 26th last year.

So teams have gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse when he arrived… and have gotten better, stayed the same, or gotten worse when he left.

The conclusion I’ve come to is that Turner, as an offensive coordinator or a head coach, has really had very little to do with how good an offensive team he’s put on the field. In Dallas, he failed to screw up the Aikman-Smith-Irvin juggernaut, which continued on the same without him after he left. In San Diego, he did better with Doug Flutie than his predecessor did with Ryan Leaf, which is not much of a special accomplishment. He couldn’t do much in San Francisco with Alex Smith at the helm, just like the guys who came before and after couldn’t make it work with Smith, Tim Rattay, or Trent Dilfer; he didn’t mold Jason Campbell into a superstar in Cleveland, any more than others couldn’t make Colt McCoy or Brandon Weeden workable.

Ultimately, what will decide whether the Vikings have a good offense in 2014 rests far more on the arm of whoever takes the snaps, and far less on any purported two-decades-old genius. We can argue all we want about Turner, who’s been run out of multiple towns. But if Christian Ponder is at quarterback for the Purple, head coach Mike Zimmer can stitch Don Coryell, Bill Walsh, and Dutch Meyer together, Frankenstein-style, and it won’t matter, any more than Turner will.

Maybe this is the place we can all agree: Norv Turner isn’t bad or good. He’s just irrelevant.

UPDATE: Friend of the blog Brandon Broxey did some research, and put together this helpful chart, showing Turner’s year-on-year offensive improvement.

Norval

That is underwhelming, to say the least.

Monday, Michael “RandBall” Rand and I got into a Twitter argument about Twins starting pitcher Mike Pelfrey.

As always, Mike was optimistic; he thinks Pelfrey will have a good year in 2014. I, however, think Pelfrey – in keeping with his long and distinguished tradition – will stink next year.  I think my reasoning is sound: Pelfrey was never that good in the National League, which when it comes to pitching is basically Triple-A. Then last year in the American League, following Tommy John surgery, he was rotten all year.

RandBall, however, remains optimistic, and so he proposed a wager. A beer windfall – beerfall? – awaits the winner of the following bet, which was arbitrated by local baseball expert Aaron Gleeman:

If Pelfrey throws at least 180 innings, AND beats the average for American League starting pitchers in ONE OF ERA, K/BB ratio, xFIP, WHIP, and OPS against, then Rand wins. Otherwise, I win.

I’d say the odds are roughly 95% in my favor, to be honest. First of all, thanks to the Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes signings, the Twins rotation is not the junior-high band concert it used to be; Pelfrey won’t get 34 starts no matter how badly he pitches, like he might have in past years. He’ll have to pitch well to make it to 180 innings, and he’ll have to stay healthy all year, and if the bet was “will Mike Pelfrey pitch 180 innings this year” I think I’d still be the favorite to win.

Even if Pelfrey does hit the innings target, though, he has to beat the average in one of those five categories. And he won’t. He’ll never get near the average in K/BB ratio because he strikes out nobody and would have to walk about five guys total all season to get close to the AL average. Because he strikes out nobody, he gives up a ton of hits, so you can throw WHIP and OPS against out, too. And it’s not like the Twins are good enough defensively to keep runs from scoring when the ball’s flying all over the ballpark, so his xFIP and ERA will be plenty high, as well.

Anyway, there’s your wager. I’m thinking about asking Mike to pay up now, as I don’t want to wait until next October to collect.

I was honored to be invited to participate in a Very Special Episode of the du Nord Futbol Show podcast. Hosts Bruce McGuire and Wes Burdine, along with the voice of Minnesota United, play-by-play guy Chris Lidholm and I, sat down to talk about the first half of the Minnesota United season, and look forward to the second half.

I thought it went really well, so please, take a listen.

The Norwegian people are free from those Swedish jerks! In celebration, let’s learn something about Norway:

Well, that was… edifying.

Wales 30, England 3. I’ve no doubt that there are Welsh people, child and adult alike, who will never forget that score.

England were the pre-tournament favorites, and had won their first four games, though in decreasingly convincing fashion. Wales, meanwhile, came into the tournament as defending champions, but had lost every single game they’d played since winning the 2012 trophy. They played a terrible first half of the first game tournament, which led to a loss against Ireland, but had come back and won their next three.

Wales needed to win by seven points to win the Six Nations. They weren’t favored to do so; England was, at the beginning of the game, a 1/4 favorite to take the trophy.

But the Wales defense, so good for all but that first half, stifled England. And Leigh Halfpenny, the player of the tournament for me, kicked four more penalties. And in the second half Wales went on the counter-attack twice and Alex Cuthbert crashed across the line twice and the Millenium Stadium crowd went berserk with joy. 30-3; a dominant performance, and the tournament trophy was no less than they deserved.

And I bet this kid was thrilled.

What’s next: Every four years, the nations of the British Isles – England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland – get together a best-of-the-best team and tour a Southern Hemisphere country. This year, the British and Irish Lions tour Australia, beginning in June. I am not an expert, but judging from reaction, this is just about the highest honor for a British player. (For some reason, the Lions usually get killed by the international teams they face on these tours. In 2009, for example, they lost two of three games against South Africa.) I’m intrigued.

A wrap-up of round 4 of the 2013 Six Nations (just one more round to go!):

Wales 28, Scotland 18: In round 3, Scotland beat Ireland with a very simple strategy: trying to actually hold onto the ball as little as possible. Scotland is not very good at gaining ground by carrying the ball, so they just punt it back to the other team as often as possible. Surprisingly, this leads to a fair number of penalty attempts for the Scots. Despite not coming anywhere near scoring a try since round 2, Scotland got one win and darn near had another in this round.

This match set a record for the number of penalties (field goals, for we Americans) attempted, with 18 between the teams. Wales made seven. Scotland made six. This was as boring as it sounded.

England 18, Italy 11: This match was played in England. It was kind of cold. England played badly, only scraping by a bad Italian team. The fans were silent throughout, except to boo at the end, and every time the camera cut to the crowd, it showed either A) Italians dressed up in ironic, stereotypically Italian costumes (think Chef Boyardee, or a politician paying to visit a prostitute), or B) English people looking in every way entirely miserable.

Nevertheless, those two results did set up an England-Wales championship match next week, though Wales would need to win by 15 to clinch the title.

Ireland 13, France 13 – France finally didn’t lose. Ireland still have played exactly one good half in the entire competition. Both appear to want this tournament over as fast as possible.

 

 

One question, from each of the matches in Round 3 of the Six Nations:

England 23, France 13: Why is France so French?

Wales 26, Italy 9: How did France ever lose to Italy?

Scotland 12, Ireland 8: How is it possible to win a rugby match without ever carrying the ball forward for more than one second at a time?

These games were two weeks ago, so the real question is, why am I so slow?

Anyway, if Wales can beat Scotland tomorrow by a pile, that’ll set up a true championship match between Wales and England in Cardiff, next Saturday. And that should be a lot of fun. Assuming England doesn’t conspire to lose to Italy, and even though Owen Farrell is out hurt, I don’t see how that can happen.

Also, I think you should know that my fantasy rugby team is 4th out of 87 in my league, which proves that just like fantasy football, knowledge is not a pre-requisite for fantasy rugby.