All posts by vincentsalalndro

The Curious Case of the Premier League

The Barclay’s Premier League has long marketed itself as the most unpredictable league in the world. And while in most years the claim serves as a strong advertisement and nothing more, this year the words are quite true.

Look no further than the league leaders with 15 games left to play. Don’t rub your eyes, that is Leicester City’s name you see atop the table. Led by the dynamic duo of Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, the Foxes have taken the English league by storm. While the struggles of Chelsea (in 13th place) and Manchester United (5th) have allowed room at the top of the table, Leicester City was not supposed to be a beneficiary of these struggles. Leicester was supposed to be in a relegation fight with new manager Claudio Raneiri, not a fight for a Champions League spot.

With each passing week, people claim Leicester City’s bubble will pop and they will return back to earth, and with each passing week Vardy, Mahrez and Co. prove everyone wrong. Vardy set the Premier League record for consecutive games with a goal when he scored in 11 straight matches in during a red hot period from August to November and has managed 16 goals overall. Mahrez, not to be overshadowed by his teammate, has managed 13 goals, giving Leicester two of the top five goal scorers in English soccer.

It is now too late in the season to say Leicester City is a pretender. They must be strongly considered to fight Manchester City, Arsenal and Tottenham for the Premier League title.

News just this week has made Leicester’s case for the title even stronger. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City’s $90 million man, suffered ligament damage in a League Cup match against Everton that will sideline him for up to 6 weeks. This injury coupled with Arsenal’s recent struggles (2 points from their last 3 matches) make it really seem plausible that it could be Leicester City’s year.

Leicester’s magical run at the top of the league has masked some of the other unpredictable elements of this year’s Barclay’s Premier League. West Ham United, Southampton, Stoke City and Watford (all typical mid-table/relegation fighters) sit on the top half of the table within 5 points of a Europa League spot. Tottenham is experiencing a youth revitalization under Mauricio Pottechino and are threatening to qualify for the Champions League for the first time since the departure of Gareth Bale. Liverpool is struggling under new manager Jurgen Klopp, Everton is underperforming for its talent level and AFC Bouremouth is surviving comfortably in its first top flight season in its 125 year history.

Yet all these stories are being overshadowed, rightfully so, by little Leicester City. Will Leicester City keep up their torrid pace and win the league? Who knows. They’ve already dodged what many perceived as a major bullet in retaining Mahrez and Vardy during the transfer window.

This Premier League season truly has been unpredictable and will be must watch TV from now until a winner is crowned in mid-May.

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AU Women’s Basketball Drops Close Patriot League Decision

With 4:58 left to play in the fourth quarter at Bender Arena, the AU Women’s Basketball team closed the lead of the Army Black Knights to two points. Over the final minutes of the game, the Eagles struggled offensively while Army closed the game on a 12-4 run to hand AU their fourth Patriot League loss Saturday afternoon.

The Eagles (4-13, 2-4 PL) rallied from a nine-point fourth quarter deficit to put themselves in a position to beat the offensively potent Black Knights (14-2, 5-1 PL), but managed only one field goal in the final five minutes, a three-pointer by senior guard Ari Booth with the Eagles down by ten points. Each of the Eagles four Patriot League losses have come by ten points or less.

“It’s disappointing,” head coach Megan Gebbia said of the Eagles numerous close losses this season. “You know just a couple errors here and there could change the outcome. These games give me confidence in the team as this is, supposedly, the best team in the league and we’re right there with them.”

While the Eagles struggled offensively, their defense was stout, holding Kelsey Minato, the seventh-leading scorer in the nation, to only five field goals and below her average of 23.6 points per game. Senior guard Jordan Light was tasked with guarding Minato, and 10 of Minato’s points came in the third quarter with Light sitting on the bench due to foul trouble.

“I think Jordan did a very nice job on her [Minato], I wish she hadn’t got into foul trouble late in the second quarter and early in the third quarter,” Gebbia said. “They’re a very difficult team to guard. They had some role players step up for them [today].”  

The Black Knights came into their matchup with the Eagles boasting gaudy offensive numbers. In their 15 games, Army was scoring 69.1 points per game, shooting 40.5 percent on three-point field goals. AU held Army without a three-point field goal. Minato and Jean Parker came into the game shooting above 40 percent on three-point attempts.

Freshman forward Cecily Carl led the Eagles offensively with 10 points and six rebounds, while sophomore guard Emily Kinneston added eight points off the bench. The Eagles shot 33.3 percent as a team for the game and experienced long droughts over the course of the game, including no field goals in the first six minutes of the second quarter.

“I think we didn’t get the ball inside enough,” Gebbia said. “They had 32 [points] in the paint, we had 14. That’s a huge discrepancy and that needs to change for the next game.”

 

The Eagles return to the court Wednesday Jan. 20 against Lafayette at 7 p.m. in Bender Arena looking to improve on their offensive output.

 

Messi wins Ballon d’Or, FIFPro World XI Announced

Barcelona and Real Madrid had a field day at the Ballon d’Or ceremony in Zurich. The ceremony not only crowns the best male soccer player in the calendar year with the Ballon d’Or, it also names the best players at each position, naming a World XI team of the year.

Lionel Messi of Barcelona took home his record fifth Ballon d’Or, topping teammate Neymar and Real Madrid talisman Cristiano Ronaldo despite missing two months towards the end of 2015 with a knee injury. Messi still managed 52 goals and 26 assists for club and country in his injury shortened year, which is on par with Ronaldo, who managed 57 goals and 16 assists in 2015 and finished second in the Ballon d’Or voting. The numbers make it seem difficult to differentiate between the two, however there was little doubt it would be the mercurial Argentine who would take home the Ballon d’Or as Messi led Barcelona to have one of the most dominant years in the history of club soccer. Barcelona captured five trophies in 2015: the La Liga championship, the Copa del Rey, the Champions League, the FIFA Club World Cup and the UEFA Super Cup.

In the Champions League semifinal against Bayern Munich, Messi delivered one of the most iconic goals of 2015 when he glided past Jerome Boateng and delicately chipped Manuel Neuer. The goal carried Barcelona into the final, where Messi was at the heart of everything good for Barcelona and set up Luis Suarez’s go-ahead goal in the 3-1 victory over Juventus.

Messi was at his best less than a month later, scoring two goals in the Copa del Rey final, including a solo run that saw Messi dance down the right touchline past four Athletic Bilbao defenders.

Messi was also named to the FIFPro World XI team, joined by Barcelona teammates Neymar, Andres Inesta and Dani Alves. Real Madrid also had four players make the World XI team: Ronaldo, Sergio Ramos, Marcelo and Luka Modric. Paul Pogba of Juventus, Thiago Silva of Paris Saint-Germain and Manuel Neuer of Bayern Munich rounded out the World XI.

Ronaldo and Messi’s appearance on the World XI team marked the ninth team each player had made the Team of the Year, while Inesta was named to the World XI for the seventh time in his career. Neymar, Pogba and Modric appeared on the World XI for the first time in their careers.

Real Madrid and Barcelona’s representation in the World XI continues La Liga’s dominance over the World team in the past six seasons. Since 2010, 47 of the 66 players on the World XI have come from La Liga. The Bundisliga is the next most-represented league, with seven Team of the Season players in the past six seasons.

The only major European league not recognized in the World XI was England’s Premier League.

2016 Baseball Hall Of Fame Projections

Later this afternoon, an announcement will be made with the results of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America vote and a new Hall of Fame class will be revealed. While there are big names up for first time election, slugger Ken Griffey, Jr. and closer Trevor Hoffman, it seems unrealistic to expect another large Hall of Fame class like the four inductees in 2015.

Of the 32 Hall of Fame finalists, there are 15 newcomers, many of which will struggle to gain the 5% threshold to remain a part on the Hall of Fame ballot in the future. Players like David Eckstein, Brad Ausmus, Garrett Anderson and Mike Lowell had nice professional careers and should feel honored to be on the final ballot, but realistically they have no shot of gaining the threshold for reelection, let alone the hall of fame. Players who also don’t have a realistic chance for Hall of Fame election include former Red Sox Shortstop Nomar Garciapara and those whose careers where mired by steroid allegations. While Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, Roger Clemons, and home run “king” Barry Bonds all have the numbers to make them first-ballot hall-of-famers, their links to steroids will prevent many baseball writers from ever voting them into baseball’s most exclusive fraternity. While I personally feel these players should be honored as the best from an era where steroid use was common and very much part of the game, I don’t believe the Baseball Writer’s Association of America will ever share my opinion.

With all that being said, a simple question might arise: Who will get into the 2016 hall of fame? Mike Piazza should get enough of the vote to enter the Hall of Fame, and will be joined by at least one first-timer on the ballot. While there is uncertainty about whether first-timer Trevor Hoffman should receive first-ballot recogniton (this writer believes he should), the only doubt about former Seattle Mariners and Cincinnati Reds outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr. is how much of the vote he will get.

Many believe Griffey, Jr. can challenge Tom Seaver’s record of 98.84% of the vote in 1992. The Kid, as he was known to many throughout his electric career, revitalized baseball in the Pacific Northwest and brought excitement to Seattle with the expectation of either a monster home run or an acrobatic catch looming every time he took the field. Griffey was slowed by injuries in his career, but still managed the fifth most home runs in Major League Baseball history (630). One of the greatest “what ifs” in baseball is estimating how many home runs Griffey would have managed if he had stayed reasonably healthy during his career.

Hoffman had an equally dominant career on the West Coast with the San Diego Padres. He was the first closer to reach the 500 and 600 hundred save milestones, and at 601 career saves, was the all-time save leader until 2011, when Mariano Rivera surpassed Hoffman’s mark. Hoffman retired with the highest strikeout rate among relievers and 1,133 strikeouts to his name. Relievers usually do not receive much recognition when the Baseball Writers convene to decide the Cy Young (annually given to the best pitcher in each League), however, remarkably, Hoffman finished second in the Cy Young voting twice. While Hoffman is more than merited and will no doubt one day be in the Hall of Fame, it remains to be seen whether the Baseball Writer’s give him the nod this year or make him wait before his inevitable inauguration into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Jeff Bagwell (55.7%) and Tim Raines (55.0%) had the second and third highest vote totals for those not elected in the Hall of Fame a year ago. With 11 and 9 years left of their eligibility left respectively, it is only a matter of time before their long careers are honored with a call to the Hall of Fame. However, 2016 will not be their year. Bagwell and Raines can expect to get somewhere in the 55-65% range this season with election in 2017 or 2018 more likely.

The only other player certain to join Griffey this year in Cooperstown is former New York Mets Catcher Mike Piazza. Piazza received 69.9% of the vote a year ago, agonizingly close to the 75% required for Hall of Fame election. It only seems logical that this year Piazza will receive a larger percentage of the vote, enough to make him a 2016 Hall of Fame inductee. Piazza has the record for most home runs by a catcher (427) and is regarded by many as the greatest offensive catcher of all time. The twelve-time all star retired with a career .308 batting average and one of the most famous moments in modern sporting history: an eighth inning home run on September 21, 2001 to give the Mets the lead in the first major sporting event played in New York after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.