Saturday, December 24, 2016

Texans Admit Tom Savage Getting a Little Too Hyped For First Start Tonight

Teammates Report Quarterback Has Been Screaming "Oh Yeah" For Last Three Hours, On Sixth or Seventh Bag of Cocaine

 


Friday, December 16, 2016

The Stache Shall Rise Again, Other Directionless Coverage

2016 has proven a devastating revolution for many, as beloved actors, broadcasters, musicians, among others, were lost in its reign. Pitt, it seems, has had its share of turbulence throughout this time. Thankfully, however, it hasn't been related to a new hire immediately unleashing a merciless beating on the punching bag he called a 'love one,' nor was it a flat-top-brandishing knobgobbler who relies on more vacuous buzz words and deception than a second-rate promoter and used car salesman.

That said, as Pitt has risen to reclaim its title as the undisputed king of 'acceptable,' eight-win seasons in football, it has not been without turnover: offensive coordinator Matt Canada has chosen to take his talents to below sea level and pave a path to a big-time coaching gig, while athletic director Scott Barnes looks poised to head back west to light one up as he directs the programs at Oregon State. The loss of Canada and the possibility of Barnes vacating his position leaves the university in a tough bind to replace them with competent counterparts who can try to push Pitt's programs to that next level. How will they do that? You've come to right place to find out.

IF BARNES BAILS, THE STACHE PREVAILS

Why Dave Wannstedt would be an ideal replacement for Pitt as athletic director, assuming he remembers that Nordenberg retired and isn't leaving voicemails on former chancellor's house phone instead of university offices

Dreadful rhymes aside, which are still a thousand-fold superior to the modifier 'high-octane,' there's undoubtedly one man who was paging furiously through his contact book upon hearing somewhere that current athletic director Scott Barnes looked certain to leave Pitt and head to the west coast. That would be none other than Baldwin native Dave Wannstedt. Like any candidate for such a position, he has his failings, but his advantages and potential areas for success suffice to overcome them in spectacular fashion. Let's explore then why Wannstedt could shine as Pitt's new AD.

1. He Won't Be Late Because of Traffic

Nothing is worse than a high-profile employee who doesn't invest him- or herself in the region. By choosing to step out from his mother's reproductive organ -- powerful individuals like Wannstedt are able to consciously make this decision -- in the confines of Allegheny County, the former Pitt boss forever dedicated himself to what is demanded of the locals: understanding a grid of poor planning, shoddier construction, and speed-limited, two-lane roadways with stoplight timing mechanisms that haven't been tweaked since the invention of the cassette player.

Think about it: a possible new hire is waiting in an office at Pitt, and where's Scott Barnes or his potential replacement? That's right, sitting in bottleneck traffic on the Veterans Bridge, trying to connect to Oakland via Boulevard of the Allies, where he will then progress slowly through the stages of lights that dictate movement along Forbes Avenue. By the time he arrives, that hire will already be off to cause an accident on the 40th Street on-ramp to 28 on his way home. But Dave Wannstedt -- the well-mustached fox that he is -- will call up this potential hire, smartly invite him to check out some of the facilities on upper campus, peel off to the right towards Downtown, cut up through the Hill District, and be there at the Petersen Event Center waiting patiently as if he had intended such an outcome all along. The hire will be sealed, and the untold story will be Wannstedt's savvy navigation of Pittsburgh motorways.

2. He Will Do Whatever It Takes to Get the Best -- to Win, Not Ethics or Any of That Shit

While Wannstedt's tenure as head coach did not produce any incredible season to look back upon, he did know how to recruit the kind of players he wanted. Many critics will argue that Pitt's biggest shortcoming is missing out on the top-tier of recruits in both football and basketball that sets the nation's top programs apart. We know exactly what that means: the team doesn't need aspiring attorneys, dentists, engineers, and CPAs; it needs communications majors -- breathing masses of flesh that can write their name down semi-legibly and vaguely grasp the concept of 'plausible deniability' when it involves questions of academic integrity. Nobody interested in a job in southwestern PA knows this demand better than Wannstedt.

Wannstedt was undeservedly bounced from his position prior to the 2011 season. As documented here, though, he had long been assembling the right crew of personnel to take Pitt to its next step. Namely, his program had 22 ('student-')athletes with a criminal charge on the roster. That, jags and jagettes, is a dedicated to what is needed to win, not to placate some fleeting desire to maintain a reputable public image. Perhaps none was better than Jabaal Sheard, an NFL regular, who once projected a man through a pane of glass to prove his point. Not to overlook the fine details -- surely a Wannstedt-inspired trait -- he went outside to assault the man physically until pepper-sprayed in the eyes. If Pitt hopes to win, it needs a man who can walk the uncertain terrain of results and the cost for bail. Wannstedt can be that man.

3. He Somehow Won Football Games (Multiple!) With Bill Stull and Tino Sunseri at Quarterback

Harping on this idea of doing what is necessary, Wannstedt will have to know his budget limitations as well; he simply won't have the excess cash to overpay for a coach who's a national name. It is likely that, at times, he will have to be creative with his money and his targeted hires, but a quick look at his rosters will demonstrate his unequivocal ability in this regard.

Need I remind you, Wannstedt  won games -- as in more than one; several, in fact -- with both Bill Stull and namesake-riding Tino Sunseri behind center, both of which, though especially the latter, should have garnered him support to win countless coaching honors, and the patience for which he must have popped up on the radar for several humanitarian awards as well. One may argue that both of these players simply handed the ball off to LeSean McCoy, Dion Lewis, and Ray Graham 7,000 times a game, to which I readily agree! To design that many run plays, pass plays within ten yards, and somehow to convince the other team that either of these players was going to be trusted to throw the ball more than a half dozen times in total is a feat that perhaps no other coach in major conference college football can boast. Imagine the way Wannstedt can cleverly allot his resources to maximize his budget and clout as an experienced member of 'the business.'

Should that not be enough to make this worthwhile, please take a quick look at this picture of Tino Sunseri.

This is an absolutely real, undoctored photo of the man put in charge of the offense, and despite have a man who evidently aspired to be a overcooked calzone under a heat lamp at quarterback, Wannstedt still managed to make bowl games.

4. God Damn, Is That Mustache Not a Ravishing Piece of Facial Hair?!

It asks for neither attention, nor respect; it simply obtains them from its own existence. Salt and pepper hues underscore the wisdom and latent vintage power within. Neatly-trimmed and fitting for all occasions, it may look no better than it would behind an expensive desk on an Oakland campus. I am writing, of course, of Dave Wannstedt's extraordinary, possibly omnipotent mustache. If nothing else, it will seize the moment and take any school's programs to new heights.

But the question really is, does Wannstedt want the gig if it becomes available? Let's turn to my jag cousin Rick to see what's rumbling with another segment of Jag on the Inside.

JAG ON THE INSIDE: THE LATEST SCOOP FROM MY COUSIN RICK

Dave Wannstedt Invites Media to Impromptu Press Conference Held at His House

"No reason in particular [for conference]," insists Wannstedt, who then asks, "So, any hot buzz on some new jobs out there?" 

Current football analyst and veteran coach Dave Wannstedt spontaneously assembled Pittsburgh sports media at his house last evening for a meeting that appeared to be an unplanned press conference.

The former college and NFL coach, most recently with the Pitt Panthers, stated that he had no particular intent for calling the media to residence other than to "chat, you know, about stuff in the sports world."

"I don't know," added Wannstedt. "I figured there might be some good tips on jobs or something on horizon."

Since his abrupt departure from Pitt in 2011, the Baldwin native seemed to show no interest in getting back to the sidelines. This meeting, however, came at peculiar time, following several reports that current Pitt athletic director Scott Barnes may leave his position in favor of one at Oregon State.

When asked about this point, Wannstedt was quick to dismiss any truth to it.

"No, no, no," he said, brushing aside a few balloons with the Pitt logo adorned upon them. "I mean, Scott hasn't said anything about it, right?"

Wannstedt was just as cryptic when asked about the Pitt backdrop he had hanging from his living room ceiling and the crude drawing of a man, labeled "me," cheering as walked to a destination listed as "Pitt."

"Just tidying up the house," he claimed. "Just like I'd do as the AD at any university that, oh, I don't know, may be looking for someone to fill that position soon."

Inquiries about Wannstedt's pro-Pitt surroundings were answered with an assertive shrug of the shoulders and blank stare at the back wall.
 Before the media could press Wannstedt more about the motives of his meeting, he excused himself to answer a call from Pitt football coach Pat Narduzzi, whom he contacted to look over his resume "for no reason whatsoever."

 

Saturday, December 3, 2016

Jag on the Inside: Hard-Hitting News from My Cousin Rick

First, pardon my absence from the profanity-laden sports insight that you so desire: my hockey publication is coming along, however, and the first edition of it should be available to all seven people who still read for pleasure shortly.

In the meantime, my jag cousin Rick refuses to stop harassing the world around him -- hey, those court orders are still be contested at the moment -- to provide the best scoops and most pressing information to the public that adores him. Here's his latest:

ADULTS NEED NO SLEEP TO FUNCTION, INSISTS RESEARCH TEAM THAT REALLY NEEDS TO GET THIS FUCKING PROJECT DONE

An impromptu study has found that adult humans only require between zero hours and "not a single, fleeting wink" of sleep to perform competently, asserts a team of researchers whose most recent project is due at 8 a.m. tomorrow morning. 

Researchers employed by the Institute of Scientific Discovery say they started the study shortly after an e-mail from a client that rejected the group's appeal for an extension on its current project. "Nothing gets results like having your nose to the grind stone -- right to the fucking grind stone," admitted project manager Dr. James Baker.

The study concluded in record time as well, completed after fellow researcher, Dr. Thomas Cogliano, began blasting Van Halen's Panama on repeat over the loud speaker. Despite the atypical results, members of the research team vouch for its authenticity and accuracy.

"Absolutely, 100% valid," remarked Dr. Shelly Kline, between frequent sips of her eighth Red Bull. Some of her colleagues were even more emphatic in their support of the findings.

"What -- does somebody have a problem? Because I'll cut them," warned Dr. Greg Sampson, who contended that he was not overwhelmed by the stress and that he "always bled from nose" and that "[the press] should stop asking questions."

"Panama!" added Dr. Sampson, while pantomiming a guitar solo.

Even with the project's deadline fast approaching, Dr. Baker states that the team has considered undertaking other same-day studies, including how many pizzas it will take "to get through this shit alive" and how many ounces of "research material" everybody wants from his guy.




Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Chuck's Moment: Today -- a Refreshing Reminder You Weren't Far From Being a Semi-Professional

The mid-evening sun in August is scorching. It burns the retinas, the skin, the senses, and dulls the spirit -- perhaps because it tires the body driving it, perhaps due to something deeper within. The river augments both the imagery and intensity; the water is a double-edged sword: blinding to the eyes, but its breeze is relieving to the skin, if only for a brief respite. 

This scene receives no national coverage, no extreme displays of fanfare, and offers no opportunity for a golden moment retained within the public persona. And yet, stationed within this barrage of heavy, soggy heat and obscurity, there they are -- the fans -- and there it is -- Highmark Stadium.

This, quite simply, is a Riverhounds game.

The surroundings alone show clear reverence for what the Steelers have done with Heinz Field -- not for its size or its overall grandeur, but for its serene position along the Monongahela as it splits from the Point. The rivers, despite their reputation for uncleanliness and exciting ride along a path of lead, are the wellspring of Pittsburgh's geographical heartbeat, and the Riverhounds organization did well in choosing a location that can connect to it. The crowd that amasses before the game, its humble numbers notwithstanding, seem to draw power from the three rivers, demonstrating the same ferocity, anticipation, and propensity for binge drinking as any fan of another local sports team. It's a heartening show of support for a team that must work desperately to make its imprint in a city that offers so many outlets for competitive sports.

A view from Highmark Stadium. I had an incisive quip to shove in here, but decided to save it for later.
Then there's also a soccer game.

That is, if I'm to be honest, a different story.

After witnessing two sinful attempts at a touch into space and several immediate passes that land directly in possession of the other team, the clean, modern design of the stadium and view of the river rushing by the city are quickly nullified. Chalking it up to cold legs and early-game jitters, the eyes forgive, though the mind is skeptical; "just getting warmed into the game," you concede.

Another thirty minutes of straight-line, obvious runs in attack, a disappointing commitment to textbook tactics, and goal-scoring opportunities that arise more from player error than a profound understanding of time and space, and a beer run becomes imminent by necessity.

Which, fairly, leads me to my next point and -- maybe, maybe not -- my greatest discovery about Highmark Stadium and Riverhounds game: relatively speaking, beer is affordable here. That's right, Magic Hat #9 16 oz. bottles are only $4 and serve to make this experience a more reasonable choice for a social gathering than, unfortunately, a showing of soccer acumen.

There is, of course, one final cause that can draw you to a Riverhounds game: the gratifying reminder that you are only (the refusal of) a couple orders of nachos removed from breaking the big time as a United Soccer League semi-professional soccer player. 

Nothing is quite as smoothing to the spirit as attending a (semi-)professional performance event and being able to say with conviction, "A little bit of work, and I could do that," and a Riverhounds game can provide this sensation in staggering proportions. 

Of course, you can't do "that," because you're several too deep and you've already been warned once by the part-time security guard about your excessive volume. But these warnings, these limitations can never suppress your ability to dream of the top -- the day you could play down at a stadium and then waste your salary later that night at Buckhead('s)*.

Don't let the dream die.

*By the way, it's called Buckhead Saloon, but I, as well as the rest of the city, depend upon the non-proper pluralization of or addition of a possessive 's' to proper nouns -- I know most of you just said "JCPenney's" and "Giant Eagles," or perhaps "Iggles," in your head -- to survive, so bear with me.


Monday, August 1, 2016

Let Them Smoke The Kush

Sorry for the brief hiatus, jags and jagettes. That said, I can assure you that it's for good reason: I'm currently writing a book about hockey that I want to release before the season starts back up, and it's vital that I stay on track despite the goings-on in the world of sports.

Before I go any further, let me say that, yes, I am in fact capable of stringing together enough statements infused with fury and curse words to create such a publication, and that the book will be created as a PDF, so that you can indulge in your Kowalski tirades at home or while on the go.

So what, then, could have stirred such fervor to divert my concerted efforts? Why, the NFL, of course, and its never-ending practices and policies of antiquity and covering its own ass at the expense of the foot soldiers who readily discard their lives for the league's benefit.

NFL TOP OF THE CLASS IN DOUBLE STANDARDS

But league still trails in understanding irony, realizing years of violent blows to the head make your brain not work

 

As this article verifies, the NFL pulls in more money annually -- upwards of $9 billion -- than a significant portion of countries around the world. What's more, they do so as a 'non-profit organization' that is therefore granted tax-exempt status. That's right, folks: the NFL is a mom and pop operation that in no way intends to make money and does not have to pay a single friggin' cent to the tax base that it manipulates so regularly to line its pockets with the hard-earned income of fans, alongside the trauma-ravished brain tissue of its direct-impact employees who, as it were, do have to pay taxes.

If I may grant myself some journalistic license -- that's rhetorical, by the way -- the NFL has established itself as a flawless allegory of the underhanded, profit-driven machine of inhumanity and hypocrisy that has infiltrated every sector of American life, from healthcare to education, and against which people of all political, spiritual, and social convictions rally and lobby in their own way, yet are so powerless to stop. It's serves only itself, and yet it is handled with more diligence and care than basic civic needs. Pittsburgh is merely one of many shining examples, as our city was ready to front the bill for Heinz Field, but continues to endure an outdated transportation system, disorganized infrastructure, failing public education offerings, and designation as a city in financial distress as per Act 47 in Pennsylvania. The Steelers, meanwhile, have faced no such financial woes.

These greater seeds of evil and debilitating self-sabotage can be tough to ingest for the loyal base of constituents who nourish the machine with their own ignorance, so let's step back and tackle the original target of my vitriol, the NFL.

Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers running back, is the most recent victim of the league's ridiculous policing of its players. Lest this thought be sent to derail my argument, let me make one thing clear: I don't give two shits that it is a Steelers player in question. I can already foresee it as the final verdict on Bell is passed: every half-witted pundit who gets paid to talk sports in this town will hoist himself -- because our city wouldn't dare honor the opinion of a 'herself' -- upon that pedestal of neutrality and journalistic duty, deriding a majority of the discourse he needs from the general public to keep his job, under the pretense that he comes from another town or can separate himself from the team or whatever pitiful device he can conjure up to obscure the fact that he is doing something that any generally intelligent, somewhat articulate sports enthusiast could do with a little patience and a paycheck. Hell, I do it with no patience and no paycheck.

Moving on, Bell's success on the field has cemented his popularity both locally and nationally, but it hasn't restrained him from making waves in other ways. Namely, Bell was arrested for driving while under the influence in August of 2014 and created a verse in his own rap song more or less demanding that he be paid in the proximity of $15 million a year. But these behaviors are merely fodder that distract the public from a more important point: smoking weed and playing football have nothing to fucking do with one another.

Whoa, simmer down your internal James Carville -- there's plenty more to expand upon here.

Foremost, yes, it is illegal to drive under the influence and Bell fully deserved the consequences for it that ought to have been dictated the set legal precedent for such an offense. Instead, the NFL suspends him from his job because, well, it can.

Furthermore, yes, marijuana can have a profound effect on your job performance, but if you're clearly performing well at your job, then the team shouldn't give a shit about your recreational habits. If you start to suck at your job, then maybe your employer is right to question what you are doing prior to showing up for work.

Most importantly, the NFL has adopted such a stringent policy on marijuana use because, regardless whether league reps will admit it, there is concern that it will reflect poorly on the league and stall the lofty ascent of its multi-billion dollar revenue stream. This particular argument overlooks, yet again, some crucial information: (1) football players are not hired to be role models; (2) marijuana does not begin to match the negative effects of domestic violence or gun violence, yet is punished more strictly; and (3) the NFL is a worse role model than any individual player.

Indeed, some football players are role models: they are highly dedicated to their craft, spend time giving back to the community, and do their best to demonstrate positive lifestyle choices. That said, there are custodians, garbage men, plumbers, accountants, stay-at-home parents, dishwashers, cashiers, and gas station managers, among others, who display commitment to a job, hobby, and family and whose behavior is commendable. The one issue is, of course, these people don't make a ton of money. In this case, NFL owners and league executives operate under the premise that "hey, we pay you a bunch relative to the average population, so 'shape up' or we'll show you," which is a standard derived purely from self-interest than in some dedication to the greater good. Maybe, then, we should consider altering our criteria for role models, or maybe just do a little less worshiping of professional athletes, and such a problem would disappear.

More damning, though, is that the league itself puts in no better performance at enviable behavior:

(1) The league chose to turn its head from obvious evidence in the Ray Rice domestic abuse case, among others. This avoidance of a serious crime is made worse in light of the proliferation of mandated reporting laws, where health care employees -- you know, who often work in real non-profit organizations -- are obliged to report any suspected abuse of individuals in their care.

(2) The league gives little to no regard to alcohol abuse, which could prove just as damaging as use of other recreational drugs. Though it stipulates that players who have had problems in the past must adhere to sobriety, alcohol is completely acceptable as long as it falls within limits that don't warrant a player seeking help.

(3) The NFL, via its favorite lackey, Roger Goodell, continues to turn a blind eye to concussion and the long-term impact of head injury. It isn't difficult to grasp: continuous damage to the head leads to irreparable damage to the head. Yet the league keeps dismissing scientific reports, silencing outside criticism, and denying any connection between the two to avoid paying anything to players who have suffered from long-term effects and to ensure the public that everything is just fine in the good ol' wholesome world of professional football.

This screen capture was taken from a NFL-provided feed of a press conference with Roger Goodell. Media outlets were denied access to the original video. Note the fishy characteristics of Goodell's appearance.

Luckily, thanks to the efforts of some online advocacy and hacking groups, the original film was located and disseminated. You can now see Goodell in his true form.

So what's the greater take-away(s) from this tirade? Let's take a look:

(1) The public needs to hold more organizations accountable and be more vigilant for its own cause: that is, we ought not let the NFL and its ownership groups get away with egregious offenses because we find the product entertaining; we can have both. It will require, however, impartiality to the player involved in disciplinary situations and more careful consideration of how we view professional athletes in general.

(2) Stop treating occupation and income as the main indicator of model behaviors and attitudes:  unfortunately, the NFL is beast that we have helped to create and sustain; accordingly, we must reign in our reverence for it. OK, so Uncle Dave might not drive a fancy sports car, run a 40 in 4.2 seconds, and tells that one joke over and over again, but he enjoys his life, enriches the life of those around him, and is a dedicated ice sculptor -- oh and he's never done cocaine off a hooker's ass crack and then beat her mercilessly with a table lamp.

(3) Players should be held to the standards of everyday humanity: you know somebody who smokes weed or, knowing my readership, you're smoking a bowl right now. Professional athletes are no worse for it than anyone else, so let's judge them for the behavior they display no matter their toxicity report, not for eating a pot brownie and falling asleep while watching re-runs of Rocko's Modern Life a few days before a drug test.

(4) Separate the heads from the beast: simply put, if a team doesn't want individual's of a certain moral character on their team, then perhaps they should be in charge of deciding what is worthy of dismissal and suspension, not the league. It would be ideal for things to work themselves out that teams with an absurd 'morality clause' will be missing out on good players and possibly good people as well, whereas teams with too loose standards will be harassed by their fan base not to support convicted abusers and the like. Of course, they could also be Cowboys fans and not care if he orchestrated a terrorist strike on their own household as long as he wins them a Super Bowl.



Thursday, July 7, 2016

Germans Taking Lyric 'Throw Your Hands In The Air Like You Just Don't Care' A Little Too Literally

Welcome back, jags and jagettes. Another day, another confounding handball by the Germans, who were unable to bounce back against France to secure a place in the final round of the European Championship. As the game wore on, the Germans showed the devastating impact of their tactical cohesion, much like they did against my Polish namesake as documented in a post from years ago, though it was aimed this time at the French defense and not an unassuming pierogi shop that turned into a battle zone of guns and artillery and potato and butter; needless to say, my family lost this particular skirmish.

Though getting to the semi-finals is no failure, this German machine expects nothing but victory, and this defeat has undoubtedly raised a multitude of questions. Why were the Germans so undisciplined in the box? Were set pieces a major concern for the team? What were they thinking? Well, don't worry: all these questions will be answered in the latest pieces here on Sports Unfiltered, so let's get right to it.

JAG ON THE INSIDE: THE LATEST SCOOP FROM MY COUSIN RICK

Löw Regrets Bringing On Dirk Nowitzki To Help With Set Pieces 

"A good idea at the time," says Löw who watched players dominate the backboards and box out the opponent, regrettably in a game where it is illegal to use your hands 


The set piece: always a dangerous moment in the game of soccer. It can be so dangerous, in fact, that it is not unusual for teams to rely on these dead-ball opportunities as an ace in the hole against opponents of superior technical skill and tactical prowess.

The German team is the reigning World Champion. They possess an intimidating combination of ability on the ball and movement off of it.  There are few teams who could attempt to challenge their soccer acumen, let alone eclipse it.  For these reasons, they are the common target of the set piece strategy, and so when training for the European Championship, German trainer Joachim Löw was faced with a serious dilemma: how does he best prepare his team for the onslaught of orchestrated free kicks and corner kicks?

The solution was simple, he thought: bring in a professional.

What better man for the job than fellow German and professional NBA player Dirk Nowitzki?

"You want to find someone who not only is an expert in his field, but will resonate with the team," said Löw, who considered several others to take the position, "and Dirk is a world-renowned basketball player, who is also German, so the fit was ideal."

Löw and Nowitzki, who insisted on wearing his national team jersey, celebrate Boateng's monster board in training

It appeared to be a perfect match -- Nowitzki the missing piece for a German team poised on securing another major championship. The 13-time NBA all-star began immediately schooling his soccer counterparts on how to win the aerial game, conducting drills with obvious influences from professional basketball: basic jump ball exercises, small-sided games centered at winning a loose ball, and extensive practice demanding the opposition "get the fuck out [the player's] house."

Löw was enthralled at first at his squad's rapid understanding of the principles introduced by Nowitzki, but as the training continued, he started to notice concerning changes.

"Corner kicks, which tend to feature aggressive confrontation as is, were getting even more intense," stated Löw, citing one corner kick at training where striker Mario Gomez violently swatted the ball out of the air and began beating his chest. "It was at that moment that I had to reconsider the effectiveness of my decision."

When Löw saw veteran defender Jerome Boateng throwing talcum powder in the air prior to Germany's quarterfinal match against Italy, his nerves worsened.

"I was on the sideline when it happened and instinctively yelled 'Ach nein,'" Löw recalled. 

Boateng asked teammates to call him 'Jerome der König' (King Jerome)
The Germans confirmed Löw's fears, committing two costly handballs during the knockout round of the tournament. Against Italy, Boateng challenged the shooter Chiellini hard, only to realize that his block is completely impermissible in the game of soccer; facing France, captain Bastian Schweinsteiger made a great desperation play on a corner at the end of the first half that was nullified by the fact that there is not a single reason a field player should be flying at the ball hands-first.

After a penalty was issued, Schweinsteiger began to complain to the referee under the impression that he had received a technical foul.

"I thought the ref had 'T'd' me up," he said in a press conference, utilizing a piece of basketball slang he had learned from Nowitzki. "Then I remembered that, you know, you're supposed to use anything but your hands."

The goal put France up at half against the run of play, and the Germans were unable to overcome the deficit. Despite the loss, Löw insists he will continue to innovate the way he trains and manages the team.

"This particular attempt did not work out as intended, but there are plenty of areas that I can improve upon," he said.

Nowitzki, for his part, relished his time with the national soccer team.

"I thought it was great. I think I learned a lot in my time here, especially from Jogi (Löw)."

Most recent reports state that Löw is on the phone with Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle who keeps asking "why the hell [Dirk] is kicking the ball all over place."

(END STORY)
_______

The only thing more amazing than two egregious handballs in consecutive games is the unrelenting daggers of insight provided by my jag cousin. He never fails to impress. Now onto second piece today on Sports Unfiltered: another round of dissenting viewpoint commentary called Jag Talk.
_______

JAG TALK

Today's topic: corner kick at end of first half in Germany-France game


Jag #1: Bastian Schweinsteiger
  Position
I'm pretty sure I can bat this one out of here with my hand -- no problem.

OK Bastian, keep your head in the game. Near the end of the half here and your team is playing well; no need to do anything rash.

Corner kick. Find your mark, find your mark. There he is -- #3. Got him. Now relax. Keep your eye on your man. Don't let him through because if he scores...

Stop! Enough negative talk. You've done this a million times, Bastian; just do it once more and get yourself to halftime. Keep it simple: time your jump, up and away with header -- this is easy. You're a pro, dammit; why are you making it so difficult?

OK, here we go. Here we are; he's kicking it. Just gotta keep an eye on... Uh oh. Shit, shit, shit -- where is he?!

There he is! Oh fuck, you've done it now. Move your ass! Move! Move!

Not gonna make it. Panic time. I mean, this ref -- how much could he be paying attention? Time to get desperate.

You know what? Fuck it. I'll hit it with my hand. Make it look like a mistake. Yeah, that's it. It's almost too easy. Just jump up, get a casual skip off the arm, and everybody goes to the locker room none the wiser.

OK, line it up; time it right. Wait for the perfect moment, Bastian. There it is -- riiiiiight now!


Jag(s) #2: Every German Fan
Position
What the fuck are you doing?!

OK guys, let's do this. Just one corner and we get through to the half. We have to say, we're kind of irritated you haven't scored yet, but that happens, so do what you have to and live to bring them down in the next half.

So who's got who? Neuer looks to be in good position, on his toes. Boateng! Please. for the love of Christ, don't pull any stupid shit this time, will ya?

Who's got Evra? Schweini, you got him? Perfect. He's the consummate pro -- no way he would do something stupid or risky in a game like this.

Here's the kick. Who's got it? 

Um, wait... Schweinsteiger? What the?! What... How...

What the fuck are you doing, Schweinsteiger?!

Maybe they didn't see it. Nothing yet. But seriously, Schweini, you got away with a dumb as shit m...

Oh no. The line ref. He saw it. Oh come on -- please, no. Shit! Shit! 

Seriously, Schweinsteiger, what on Earth were you thinking, you asshole?!
 
OK, don't panic. Neuer's got it. He's good. He's the best. He won't let you down.
 
Let's do it, Neuer! Here we go, here we go.
 
Shit. Holy handballing shit.

Fine. We'll handle business in the second half then. France should take it easy on us, anyway, after that giveaway. I mean, what have we ever done to them?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Holy Shit Balls: Evidently July 1 Is Canadian Day of Making It Rain On Them Hoes

Wow jags and jagettes -- before this tumultuous weekend, including a German victory that made the Internet (it seems appropriate to capitalize) cry, the general managers of the NHL decided to meet up on July 1, apprently to play Kings and Up the River with Banker's Club until the day became an ominous blur that they experienced third-party via TSN, Rogers Sportsnet, and the tsunami of angry messages sent by otherwise benign Canadians on social media and in ransom notes. 

Pittsburgh's Jim Rutherford is far too senior, of course, to be indulging in such leisure pursuits, so it's safe to assume he just drove the gang to and from each venue, and then got them some pizza to snack on when they got home. It also didn't help that his money stack, if determined by cap space, was able to be neatly folded and carried with a rubber band, while some of the other managers rented a yacht just to transport their bankroll.

Anyhow, the GMs spent most of their brotherly bonding time, it would seem, smoking peyote and catapulting small-denomination bills on exotic dancers because their disposition on the opening day of free agency could be described as charitable, perhaps even magnanimous, and for a number of its members, decidedly regretful. It isn't difficult to do the multiplication necessary to determine contract value, and to induce vomiting out of pure offense and outrage for the contracts issued, but for the sake of underscoring my ongoing sponsorship battle, let's dive into a Numbers Crunch to examine the winners and losers of the early proceedings in NHL free agency.

NUMBERS CRUNCH: GENERAL MANGERS LISTENING TO FAT JOE EDITION

Sponsored by Duquesne Pilsner (sponsorship still pending)

This year's trade deadline blew worse than Daryl Sydor at a traffic stop, but fans of overpaying professional athletes were graced instead with a wild surge of spending and a few ridiculous trades during this free agency period. Let's take a look at which teams came out on top and which need to host an intervention for their GM's likely codependency on experimental chemicals and amphetamines.

WINNERS


[1] New Jersey Devils: OK, I know what you're thinking, and you're right: nobody 'wins' in New Jersey; you just lose less. Even when they won the Stanley Cup, it wasn't enough to overcome the purgatorial experience of working in a state consisting primarily of trash and douchebags. But hey, it's better than playing in, oh, I don't know, some towns in Alberta or Manitoba, where the only women you can meet are actually moose disguised in foundation and mascara, and drinking bathtub whiskey is considered a viable medical treatment for seasonal depression, which in these towns is a year-round ailment.

In the light of hockey analysis, however, former Penguins GM Ray Shero did well with a club that's looking to re-establish itself in the league. Moving away from an organization with violently high expectations has allowed Shero to get back to his initial managing approach: patient caution with the occasional dive into calculated risk.

Ben Lovejoy was a notable signing around these parts, but a more daft contract was his keeping Devante Smith-Pelly, acquired from Montreal, for two the next two years. Smith-Pelly had fallen out of favor in the Canadiens organization as the team soured mid-season, and he clicked immediately with the Devils, tallying eight goals and 13 points in 18 games to finish the year. His upside was questioned throughout the year after having been drafted #42 overall in 2010, but it looks as though the Devils may have gotten a steal that works out for the player as well: the two-year term means a much more lucrative deal could be in store.

"Hey Adam, what do you know about Edmonton? Nothing? Perfect."
Moreover, Shero's trades continue to suggest that he spends most of his scouting budget on high-end camera equipment, espionage technology, and filling out his staff with former undercover agents, as the trade for Taylor Hall could have been completed without photo evidence of Peter Chiarelli getting in a limo with a transvestite moose hooker in the alleys of Edmonton. Though Adam Larsson -- the player going the other way, the hapless bastard -- was a high draft pick and had the potential of being a solid, "won't show up on the highlight reel" anchor on the back end, Shero's acquiring a face for the franchise in Taylor Hall in a direct swap is, well, absurd. In fact, it must have been two moose hookers.

Somebody probably should have warned him
Notable Deals
Devante Smith-Pelly, two years at $1.3 mil.
Taylor Hall (via trade), four years at $6 mil. 
Not signing a bunch of useless sacks of shit to long-term contracts
________

[2] Tampa Bay Lightning: now, instead of having to deal with excessive garbage and assholes, players here have to deal with Floridians, who are a unique breed of repugnance in their own right. At least it's sunny, and if things turn to shit, there's always the chance that a hurricane can barrel through town and put you out of the your misery.

Lightning GM Steve Yzerman, one of the more fruitful transitions from the ice to the front office, did a whole lot to maintain the status quo -- a result that will be considered a resound success and rightfully so.

Having made it to the conference finals two years in a row, the team didn't need much to change; in fact, the greater concern was that the players who pushed to the cusp of a Finals berth would chase big-money deals from other organizations seeking that 'winning edge.' But Yzerman was able to maintain his core without so much as a minor slip, and he didn't have to unravel the Lightning's financial situation to do it.

Interestingly, Yzerman's first victory came in his putting baby in the corner, that is, telling Jonathan Drouin to eat shit and sending him to minors. Drouin, after some time crying in his room and a glass of chocolate milk, decided to stay with the club and made an undeniable impact on their playoff run -- one that I would have rued and for which I would have burned him an effigy, had he not had the good sense to be offsides at the start of game 6 against the Penguins.

The team also kept both Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos under contract for a large portion of their meaningful playing years. Hedman (25) is signed with the team until 2025, while Stamkos (26) would have his contract expire the year prior. These two players ensure the Lightning will remain competitive over the next decade, not unlike the brilliant stretch assembled by the Red Wings with Lidstrom, Datsyuk, and Zetterberg.

Hedman's contract, which kicks in for the 2017-2018 season, will make him the second-highest-paid defenseman in the league behind P.K. Subban, but not far off from many others -- a number of whom, one could argue, are inferior to Hedman in ability, including Dustin Byfuglien ($7.6 mil.), Ryan Suter ($7.54 mil.) and Dion Phaneuf ($7 mil.). Stamkos, meanwhile, chose to stay in Tampa in a deal that comes in under the yearly cost of other top-tier players, such as Alex Ovechkin ($9.54 mil.), Sidney Crosby ($8.7 mil.), and the identical deal issued to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane ($10.5 mil. each). Combined, these two deals were a huge score for Tampa.

The underrated signing made by the Lightning was extending young goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for three years after his initial contracts expires at the end of next season. Vasilevskiy proved his value in the playoffs, taking over for the injured Ben Bishop, and almost willed the Lightning into the final round. Locking him in for several more years opens up a lot of possibilities for the team.

One of the most intriguing possibilities is moving Ben Bishop, who remains tied to the team through next year ($5.9 mil.), but is now expendable thanks to Vasilevskiy's playoff display. Trading a goalie who will be an unrestricted free agent following the season seems unlikely, even if ideal, so the Lightning will likely have to wait it out to let him go at the year's end. When they do get that contract off the books, though, they could have a nice chunk of cash to work with, whether to acquire players to get them to that last rung of the playoff ladder or to pay players with expiring deals like Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.

To solidify this off-season as one of their finest, the Lightning still have to work out deals with restricted free agents Nikita Kucherov and Alex Killorn: both were valuable contributors to the team's playoff run and are seemingly unfazed by the unsavory types who populate the Floridian landscape.

Notable Deals
Steven Stamkos, eight years at $8.5 mil.
Victor Hedman (extension), eight years at $7.875 mil. 
Andrei Vasilevskiy (extension), three years at $3.5 mil.
_______

[3] Nashville Predators: perhaps not a hockey-crazed town, but it can't hurt to be able to walk along the street without being harassed on the  unless you are related to or penetrating a country music icon. The only misfortune to befall a player here is the chance of having to talk to Toby Keith -- if only they could send him to Edmonton.

The Predators were another team who didn't wade far out into the free agent pool, but instead make the list for adding to their already impressive collection of players. The team did well last year, losing in seven games in the second round to the Western Conference champions, the San Jose Sharks; however, the Predators have long been a team that has done 'well enough' and look poised to make that next step, lest they take too long and end up like the geriatric Sharks who barely had enough energy to activate their Life Alert bracelet on the ice when they needed a shift change. The Predators only have seven players older than 30, though, and other than Pekka Rinne (33), the list includes nobody in their core.

So what exactly did the Predators do? They made two simple moves to safeguard their long-term success, as well as make their roster a promising one for the upcoming season.

The simpler move was re-signing 21-year-old Filip Forsberg to a reasonable six-year deal. With more than 30 goals last season, the young Swede has nowhere to go but up, and the Predators are slowly developing a team that can rely on its offense to win games, unlike their reputation in years past.

Then, in a jaw-dropping exchange, the Predators sent long-time captain and potential hall-of-famer Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban. Weber is only 30, but still three years Subban's senior and under a similar, though slightly cheaper, contract. On the other end, Subban (27) brings a dynamic edge to the team's back line and will fit nicely with its speed, an area most teams are looking to improve after the Penguins Cup victory. His contract is constraining, but the Predators have their young defensive unit locked over the next several years, including players like Roman Josi who are more affordable while still securing the team's presence in the back.

The roster now includes a wide selection of young players who can contribute on offense, but none of whom demand an untenable salary, such as Ryan Johansen (23; 34 points in 42 games; $4 mil.), Colin Wilson (26; 20 goals in 2014-2015; $3.94 mil.), Craig Smith (26; 21 goals; $4.25 mil.), and even that hardheaded prick James Neal (28; 31 goals; $5 mil.). If nothing else, it's good to see Nashville dedicate itself to something other than shitty bro country.

Notable Deals
Filip Forsberg, six years at $6 mil.
P.K. Subban (trade), eight years at $9 mil.
Something for people to talk about other than Luke Bryan
_______
 
TEAM WHOSE GM IS PROBABLY GETTING A DUI RIGHT NOW


[1] Edmonton Oilers: in recent interviews, Oilers GM Peter Chiarelli has stated in effect that he doesn't care what anyone thinks about his deeds, and he feels just fine about his actions. Anyone with experience in the field of social work or psychology knows that these statements are desperate pleas for help from somebody who has encountered such trying personal crossroads that he feels he can no longer be saved. We have to this poor man because, clearly, there is no telling what he may do next. I have provided a list of numbers you can call to get him the support he needs.

People who suffer as significantly as Chiarelli is won't directly confront their issues or take advantage of opportunities for help, so you will have to do it for him. When you call, it's important that you have a thorough report of the observable, unsafe behaviors carried out by the person in need, so let's go over that now:

First, this ill, beleaguered man traded one of the league's best forwards, who was still under contract for four years at a reasonable salary for a defenseman who is somewhat cheaper and plays, you know, alright -- not great, but he's pretty good -- and that's it. No picks, no other roster players to build with. It's evident that this man does not know the value of importance things if he was willing to throw away his possessions so carelessly.

Sometimes, though, behaviors can seem dangerous or bizarre, but actually be working towards a healthy goal. Accordingly, the person on the other line may say, "Well, he does have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, so maybe he is trying to establish a fresh beginning." At that point, you can mention that he signed Milan Lucic, on average a 20-goal scorer, for seven years at $6 million per season, and then they should be sending help right away.

Peter Chiarelli has fallen on tough times, but you can help
Our flooding of emotion for Mr. Chiarelli aside, the Oilers seem to be perpetuating their strategy of using luck for naught. Having been gifted four first overall picks in the last decade or so, the first string of these picks is running bare and they don't have much to show other than a revolving door of coaches, none of whom could get this putrid roster in the right direction.

Nail Yakupov is turning into a bust and won't haul much of a return. Jordan Eberle and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have got the puck skills, but their dedication to the defensive end of the game remains in question. Their 'top-pairing' defenseman is Andrej Sekera, a 30-year-old who was a -21 last year and is signed for another five seasons at $5.5 million each year; I don't get paid enough (read: at all) for these posts, so I don't have time to cross-examine the advanced stats, but I think we can agree that that's still bad. Adam Larsson may help some, but as young defenseman it's not clear how well he will develop into a long-term solution. Meanwhile, Cam Talbot appears viable in net based on the small window of play to go by, but the Flames were smart in getting a player like Brian Elliot at a discount and re-evaluating their goaltending at a later time. 

The one piece they did have to bolster their roster more immediately was Taylor Hall, and they got one player in return; that's it. With the money they saved from removing his contract, they spent it on Milan Lucic, who doesn't look entirely different from former Oiler Dustin Penner, whom the Oilers  signed back then to a five-year deal at a much better value with the same idea: he had won before with the Ducks, could score goals, and was a big guy who could take the body. We will see, though, how such a style of play suits Lucic long-term and how well it contributes to the overall success of the team -- for instance, when Penner scored a career-high 32 goals and 62 points in 2009-2010, the Oilers still finished last.

Ultimately, the Oilers seem to be doing the opposite of the Lightning and Predators organizations, both of which have worked towards internal building and reasonable contracts outside the stars they really want to keep, and we will see if it costs them. 

I will try to be fair with Chiarelli, though: maybe Shero gave Lucic a copy of the moose hooker picture, too.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Worthy of Pay-Per-View: German Efficiency Faces Off Against Collective Italian Hatred of People Who Aren't Italian, And Probably A Couple Who Are

A FORETHOUGHT

This post will focus primarily on soccer. Don't worry, though: the anticipated complaints of you naysayers have already been dealt with in the text. Even so, I expect to arouse a few internal objections from the other end, i.e., the soccer enthusiast. Allow me to make a few things clear to this group now:

[1] At no time will I refer to soccer as 'football,' you elitist prick. I don't call it football, nor have I ever. Furthermore, the term 'soccer' emerged from 'association football,' which, frankly, more closely resembles what soccer is today: teams, i.e., 'associations,' that have assembled to play one another in league competition. Should that not be enough, keep in mind that the majority of the reading public is American and would therefore benefit from a clear separation of the sports 'soccer' and (American) 'football.' Finally, I'm not a delusional jackal that feigns cultural superiority by using foreign terms for everything, so go fuck yourself.

[2] In relation to the first point, I will not use any unfamiliar or otherwise borrowed term for soccer jargon, including 'pitch,' 'kit,' and 'boots.' You, to whom this criticism applies, are more welcome to maintain this charade that you were born in a different country or raised by family who said these things, but alas you were not -- you're just a fucking asshole. 

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, please read on... or if your ego is too bruised, then engage in one of the unpleasant behaviors I've recommended.
___________________ 

Hi there again, jag and jagettes. The 4th of July weekend is nearly upon us, and I have no reservations that, come Tuesday, we will both enduring its aftermath: heavy combat against the advances of paralyzing stomach cramps and immobilizing headaches, and frequent bouts of cursing in tandem the first person to apply raw meat to an open flame (or that fuck Prometheus for discovering fire altogether) and the pioneer of the keg stand. In anticipation of the holiday's latent wrath, we may as well plan to party the hell out of it and cherish the experience as a memento that, sadly, does not double as a antacid or pain reliever. 

To this end -- the partying one, that is -- we have a much easier solution. 

Sports are a natural complement to a long weekend of indulging, and nothing culminates such debauchery better than violently questioning the ethics of referees and umpires, wishing ill will upon fans of the team you don't like, and ruing its players' continued avoidance of debilitating injury.  There will be plenty of baseball to watch, of course, but with the Cubs up 7,000 games in the NL Central, tied neatly to their turbulence-inducing climb in player salary, and the Pirates pitching looking more like bell hops on Love Boat than intimidating seafarers of any variety, the outlook for a pleasurable three-day span seems foreboding at best. There is, however, one event that is sure to keep viewers on the edge of its seat, as it features two sides of interwoven roots, distinct tactics and strategies, and representing cultures that harbor an unrelenting streak of xenophobia: Germany vs. Italy.

I can already hear the groans from the nether regions of the internet; I can detect the sighs of an adult male who is too easily provoked by a sports blog he reads while casually browsing porn online. Before I go further, brave paladin of digital sports media, let me assure you that your internal monologue is attempting to give you sound counsel to shut the fuck up and deal with it. Football hasn't started, hockey and basketball are over, and long-term exposure to baseball has been shown to cause slow wits and social disorders in lab rats, so work your way through a couple more tabs and grant me the opportunity to explain why this match up is worth your time -- as if it owes anything to you.

WHAT'S ON TV: GERMANY VS. ITALY

Latest reports from your mom indicate you should stop being an incompetent piece of shit and watch a game of quality soccer


Listen, above all, I'm sorry your mother was so harsh; maternal advice can be rather vexing. That said, it is her refusal to let another nine innings of your life be claimed by a game that involves livestock running 90 feet at a time that has blessed you with the opportunity to witness -- for all that which is holy, I hope -- technical, entertaining soccer.

To diffuse your immediate criticisms and excuses, e.g., "I've watched soccer before and it sucks," let us first return to the wisdom passed on to you by your internal monologue. Moreover, you've probably watched the MLS, the entertainment value of which fits neatly between bass fishing and self-help videos to set up your cable box, featuring none of skill seen elsewhere around the world nor the magnitude of brutality inherent in other sports that make the average viewer forgive its faults. 

Even if you have watched the Premier League, well, just look how well the English managed in a major tournament again. That league has about four team full of foreigners -- you know, the teams that win all the time -- and then another four with some foreigners, and a bunch more are packed with useless Brits who think that the fashion in which they mount and impale the prey they bring home from the club is the appropriate way to play soccer. Talent isn't heavily concentrated in a league that North America owns, and that subsequently owns North America in its twisted relationship between consumer and provider, and this dynamic raises the expectations of the international game. 

In case I still haven't convinced you, considering I've already lost half of my easily angered, porn-addicted readership, let us look at a couple more reasons why this match is so promising.

THE HISTORY

Bullies are a confused bunch. A display of aggression, with which they are commonly associated, is often carried out with the goal of having and maintaining power or control, unlike the situation elsewhere; it is a surrogate for the intrinsic needs that the young person cannot satisfy under other circumstances.

Not too long ago, as history goes, Germany and Italy were two of such a breed, clasped at the hand as they clotheslined other countries and then shook them upside down for enough lunch money to get another wurst. They suffered alike, but their troubles blossomed from different seeds. Germany had to go home to an abusive struggling artist, who wasn't even his real dad; he was a short, ill-tempered Austrian, the stupid bastard. But he shouted and frenzied and droned on and on, day after day about what being 'deutsch' really meant, and it seemed easier at the time to let him get it out than to ask him for some peace and quiet, so that the neighbors could drink their Hefeweizen in peace. Italy, meanwhile, was a poor, illiterate son of a deity that spent more time praying than reading and more money on his stepdad, who like to be called "The Pope," than, oh, you know, infrastructure, education, and social progress. Germany saw a chance to have another brutish fool to manipulate for his own needs and moved in to sow what he could.

Italy's dad and Germany's stepdad often left their kids at home and went for pleasant rides on the local roller coaster
Germany and Italy quickly became close, knotted by their shitty family life and penchant for bad decisions, and their behavior spiraled out of control. Their notoriety soared and they left their indelible mark on the neighboring countries to whom they applied wet willies, gave Indian burns, and called 'Jew' and 'faggot' without remorse.

After awhile, though, child services were called in from abroad and teamed up with local agencies to find the least restrictive placement possible to improve their behavior. Italy had it easy enough: they kicked their dad's ass to the curb; Germany, though, had to be fostered by four different families, only then to be subject to a turbulent custody battle for decades until finally reaching the age of emancipation in 1989. Both would argue that this checkered narrative of their upbringing, for better or worse, has made them what they are today.

Nowadays, both are more or less well-adjusted, though it's questionable whether Italy ever learned to read. Germany is a straight-laced, no-nonsense sovereign nation that prides itself on efficiency and a refreshing candor about itself and others, while Italy is kind of a self-centered dick, who doesn't like most people, but stunning good looks keep things steady at least.

Consider now, then, that these two bullies of the past must suit up and take on each other head-to-head -- both forged into their unique identity by the tides of history and both, no doubt, still possessing a submerged desire of dominance that can reveal itself on the soccer field.

THE SKILL

On the domestic front, i.e., the professional leagues around the world, La Liga (the top league in Spain) and the Premier League (England) get the most attention, mainly because of Barcelona and Real Madrid for winning, as well as the habit of English teams to invest a sinful amount of money into their roster rather than something beneficial to society. It would be easy to argue then that a game between England and Spain would be most desirable -- except for the minor hang-up that both have already been summarily executed from this tournament

England posted a pathetic showing, losing 2-1 to Iceland, a country of 300,000 people. Some pundits have already taken offense to the notion that Iceland is a 'Cinderella story,' claiming their success is a well-orchestrated showing of soccer acumen. While their fervor has been impressive, let me assure you of this: they qualified through a shitty, underachieving group and beat the most overrated team in international soccer today; they still have a long way to go.

As for Spain, well, their loss only strengthens my claims, as it came to hands -- or 'feet,' I suppose is more fitting -- of Italy. While the Spanish league does tend to take precedent in professional soccer, the team itself is a worn-out, hackneyed crew of fine technical skill, but no variety, and have been a predictable bunch for too long; their slide continues.

 After having discovered Spain's weakness in the 2014 World Cup, Robert Loggia spreads word to other nations in need
  
The numbers show, though, that Germany and Italy have made nearly an equal impact to international soccer, and to go wanting for a battle between two teams in soccer limbo would be foolish and ignorant to the stats at hand.

Take top European competition: when looking at the number of players from each nationality who participated in the UEFA Champions League, the "elite tournament" spanning the entire continent, Spain clocks in at #1 with 95, but as we have said, most of their team is log-jammed at the national level and their own 'play-it-safe' approach to the team's roster and development has yielded them an early exit. France comes in at #2 with 73, and their game would receive unquestioned approval were it not against the lead princess in the next straight-to-DVD film by Disney, Iceland. Moving on, Brazil, not associated with this tournament, lands at #3, with Germany following at #4 with 60 players. England holds #6 with 39 players and Italy #10 with 31. 

All in all, the gap is not significant and is based mainly on Spain's dominant player distribution, mostly because its young players can't crack the lineup of the league giants that trained them and get sent out to other teams around the globe. It is also important to note that Italy is guaranteed one fewer spot in the Champions League than Spain, England, and Germany (who each get four), and that one team could mean a bump of more than dozen players, depending on the team that qualified. 

Had enough yet? Too fucking bad because the stats just keep coming. Next, let's look at each country's victory count in all major international competitions:



It doesn't take much to realize that the historical resumes of each country stack up in way that -- internationally, at least -- favor a Germany-Italy showdown over a Spain-England one. Were it not for Spain's incredible run from 2008 to 2012, these stats would have appeared even more lopsided.

So, convinced to watch it? I hope like hell because I'm tired of the laborious task of combing each country's career achievements to convince your ignorant ass. Let's move on to the elements of the game to watch carefully in the next segment, Pounder Points.

POUNDER POINTS

Why call it Pounder Points, you ask? Because every jag likes to be right in a sports 'discussion' -- in other words, the volatile array of spit, shoulder poking, and "don'tcha remembers" that stand in its place in our fine city -- and in its midst, every no-nothing shit-for-brains that once overheard a minutely relevant piece of information in a rerun of Pardon The Interruption will champion said nugget of purported wisdom and nurture it like a glowing suckling divined by the heavens to win the argument and, with that, a free pounder from the bar. I'm sure your buzz might be wearing off as we speak, so time to dive into the main areas to watch in this bout.

#1: Boateng vs. Bonucci


Quite the odd couple -- sufficient for any sitcom: a black German and a man who represents a country whose fans hurl racial slurs at minority players, Italian or not, as a leisure activity. Stranger yet, in a way that isn't shameful to society, both play centerback for their respective country.

Why, then, would two centerbacks be the focal point of such a game?

For you jags who can recall Paul Coffey, the man wasn't so much a defenseman as he was a fourth forward who liked moving and playing the puck from a deeper position, and these two gentlemen -- as a pronoun; I don't know shit about their personal (lack of) virtues -- are built in the exact same mold. 

Build-up play has evolved drastically in soccer, particularly as suffocating ball control found itself en vogue once again within the last decade. Defensive players are more important than ever now in maintaining and properly utilizing possession: they rocket long passes, skipping 'layers' of players as needed, and spring into motion frenzied counterattacks or relieve massive swells of pressure from the defensive end of the field. Here are some instances of both in action:


Even in this tournament, their immense skill at placing a pass is evident. Bonucci lofts and weights a perfect ball in over Belgium's high-lined defense, not unlike what Italy may see against an attacking Germany, and the resulting goal inspired Italy the rest of way in their 2-0 opening victory.

Boateng, meanwhile, is an equally capable provider, as evidenced by this ridiculous half-volley pass that makes up one instance of, quite literally, a myriad videos online dedicated to his long-range passing ability.


Both are able defenders as well, and that shouldn't be neglected when considering how valuable each player is to his team's victory. Fortunately for Boateng, none of Italy's attackers are nearly as talented as Lionel Messi who made Boateng look like an amateur breakdancer in last year's Champions League campaign.

It's a little-known fact that Messi can also use Jedi Mind Tricks mid-dribbling
I'm sure Boateng isn't offended, however: he's won a World Cup, and Messi hasn't. Meme-worthy flaws notwithstanding, both players will be looked on to make plays that help break open an opposing side that is well-organized on defense. It's particularly notable when compared to some of the other 'major powers.'

Too bad I don't get paid for any of this shit; stats provided by www.fourfourtwo.com
In this massive display, you'll see how Bonnuci and Boateng -- versus Sweden and Slovakia, respectively -- aided the team with numerous long passes to help work through defenses who were keen to sit back and bide time. The Spanish (Ramos) and English (Cahill), however, were less reliant on such long attempts from their defenders, asking instead that they make the tidy but hellishly unimaginative side-to-side shifts that drive most away from the sport. Interesting to note is that Boateng's passes were often aimed cross-field, while Bonucci's tend to be more direct. This difference will play a role in the next section.

#2: Four-Man Versus Three-Man


Don't get your hopes up; discussion isn't transitioning to the merits of hosting a gangbang with varying amounts of male participants. Instead, the focus here is the 'back line,' i.e., the defensive setup, for each side. To start, let's see how each side lined up during its most recent victory.

Germans had a lot of trouble adopting modern formations from the inconsolable rage caused by the lack of symmetry
The Italians opted, and have for this entire tournament, to play three men in the back -- need I remind you to settle your entendres -- working in a 3-5-2 formation generally, though De Rossi has tended to drop deeper than his position here suggests. On the other side, the Germans have used a chain of four defenders throughout, leading to a 4-2-3-1 formation with numerous moving parts.

The commonly adopted defensive standard is to have one player in surplus: if the other team has one or three attackers, a four-man defense is preferred; with two or, on rare occasion, four attackers, a three- or five-man defense, typically featuring defensive 'wing-backs,' is selected. With each team's resounding success so far, it;s doubtful that either will back out of its blueprint, even if only to suggest confidence in the team's style of play. As the game wears on, though, what will each formation mean for the flow of the game?

For Germany, the concern will be the exposure of the defensive line by counterattack, which, to be fair, is a fairly common, if not cliche, weak point in modern soccer, but valid nevertheless. The Germans tend to move both fullbacks aggressively into attack, and Boateng will even occupy space where a deep midfielder sits to get involved, especially with Italy's resolve on defense.

Italy will pass better than Slovakia did, and as Bonucci has shown, he is capable of latching a deep pass onto a hurtling forward, and Italy can release its wing-backs to do the same. Look, for instance, how Italy was able to take advantage of Spain's aggressive push forward.

Thanks to the Germans who have too much time on their hands at www.spielverlagerung.de (German soccer analysis)
As the tactical breakdown shows, Spain's fullbacks push forward regularly in attack -- a trait Italy was able to take advantage of in part by having their attackers flood into that space, causing problems for the two, not three, Spanish defenders -- a liberal term for that pair of ass-hats, Ramos and Pique. 

What works against Italy is that it doesn't have as strong of a passing midfield as it once did. De Rossi is a good passer, but not exceptional, and he won't have much time to make incisive passes if Germany presses him higher up the field. Pirlo, arguably the best passer in the country's history, is making hand over fist in New York, while Marchisio and Montolivo -- two veteran midfielders accustomed to this style of play -- are not at the team's disposal.

Italy's shot to take advantage of Germany will be by using its wing-backs and forwards aggressively to turn any misplays or changes of possession into quick opportunities. Italy will almost certainly fall behind Germany in possession, but it won't matter if they stick to their plan.

So, what can Germany do in response to this potential weakness? There are a few options:

[1] Play Boateng as fullback and take them head on: by sliding Boateng over, he can get more license to roam without leaving the back fully exposed. The goal would be to keep him included in the attack, while also holding the Italian outside midfielder on that side at bay; his athleticism and speed would prove valuable here as well.

[2] Play three men in the back: Germany could also match Italy man-for-man, so to speak, though that is unlikely to happen for reasons mentioned above. Hummels could hold the center position with Boateng and likely Hector flanking him. This move may limit the two from getting as forward, but Boateng's passes are deadly from all over, and it would spare them a man in case of a dangerous counterattack.

[3] Play one, possibly two, defensively sound pivots: Germany commonly uses a 4-2-3-1 formation, the "2" representing the 'pivots,' i.e., the midfielders shielding the back line. Toni Kroos is a wonderful distributor, so it may be hard to part with him from the lineup, but Sami Khedira and Bastian Schweinsteiger are both strong defensive options and capable short- and mid-range passers who could slide deeper into defense as help is needed. In build-up play, it's not unusual for one pivot to fall between the centerbacks and create a faux three-man line; such a maneuver could be considered by the Germans here.

Pep Guardiola regularly utilized the third option at Bayern Munich with Alonso, a pivot midfielder, dropping deep
Moving on to Italy, their main concern is without question Germany's unpredictable movement in and out of the midfield. The Germans, who looked to be somewhat stagnant earlier in the tournament, have an adept and strong-minded coach in Joachim Löw -- whose looks alone feed German stereotypes found in every facet of pop culture; and Löw's willingness to introduce tactical variation and solid player management has brought his team continued success as others have declined. The most jarring part of watching the German team play is their combination play that involves multiple players moving in succession and filling roles that may be outside their standard position.

This isn't absurdist German art, believe it or not; it's Germany's passing chart against Slovakia


And I shit you not; this is the man who trains and directs the Germans to do all that crazy technical and tactical work

This tendency to flood the midfield with different players was on display during their last match against Slovakia.


The chart here shows the average touch position of the German players, that is, where they would have the ball at their feet; the lighter shade symbols are for substitutes who came on later and can be ignored. It is clear to see that the six players who make up the defense and midfield were in generally stable roles, but the top four all made constant commotion leading into the attacking third, a threat that Italy will have to deal with. By numbers alone, they have enough to deal with Germany's attack, but can they handle the rapid movement and change of position for a whole 90 minutes?

Particularly dangerous is youngster Julian Draxler (#11) who not only boasts incredible speed and agility, but also high-end technical skill that has gained him the chance to play at this level at 22 years old. If Mario Gomez (#23), that giant fuck, can push back Italy's central defenders, occasionally swapping with Draxler for the sake of unpredictability, it will help create pockets of space for Draxler and Özil who thrive in such areas. What can Italy do to counter such a potent attack?

[1] Strict marking: Italy prides itself on its tough defensive posturing mixed with strong technical ability, and the team knows its route to the final won't get any tougher than this match here, even if it faced the French team who is playing at home. Accordingly, they could put it all on the line here, getting direct orders from manager Antonio Conte to cover specific players throughout the field. The issue here is whether they have the stamina for it, and it may be advisable to call for some players to be checked more readily than others instead of an all-out defensive showing.

[2] High pressing: Borussia Dortmund, a German team, were renowned for this tactic, and it could be used by the Italians in this game. By applying loads of pressure on the German midfield, the Italians could create turnovers for high-percentage chances and if they score, the team will be able to sit back and hold its defensive shape with less exertion. The skill of Boateng and Kroos as deep-lying playmakers, however, could make this strategy a significant gamble, as a high press demands the whole team move up the field -- space the Germans could abuse much like Italians have against strong possession teams in recent years.

[3] Slow the game down: above all, fuck the Dutch. I say that because their team's god awful excuse for soccer in 2010 World Cup Final, in which they committed a foul every six seconds to slow down the since-deceased Spanish juggernaut. That in mind, may the Italians rot in a layer of hell inconceivable even by Dante's brilliant mind if they attempt to derail the Germans with sheer physicality and purposeful interruption of the game. For the sake of the game, I like to believe the Italians appreciate the sport enough -- more than they do fellow man, no doubt -- to avoid such heavy-handed tactics.

#3: Choose Your Stereotype


Quite frankly, these teams embody the people of their country. Germany plays in a precise, carefully plotted style fit for a land in which it is a federal offense to choose the wrong definite article for a noun and arriving late is punishable by decapitation. The Italians play with suave charisma, a borderline arrogance that sees them through trials that would swallow a weaker ego. If things go poorly, they can always start kneeling and praying to Jesus, a strategy that has helped their country avoid turmoil and hardship since, uh, well never, but it's worth a try. 
___________________  

That's it, jags and jagettes. So, this Saturday, it'll be easy to fall into the trap of tedium: rinse and repeat a viewing of the American 'past time,' called that, of course, because it's well past time that you change the damn channel to something worth watching, and that will be Germany-Italy.