TSR’s 2017-2018 NHL Predictions

I never really followed hockey that closely until last season.

That being said, my “team” since 2007 has been the Chicago Blackhawks because of Patrick Kane. I cheered during those Stanley Cup victories in 2010, 2013 and 2015, but I never really had a close connection with the team for the simple reason that I never really connected with the sport of hockey.

Well, after spending a year on the campus of the University of Missouri-Columbia, I soon realized that in a town riddled with St. Louis Blues and fellow Blackhawks fans (Columbia, MO is about a six-hour drive to CHI), it would be wise to have some knowledge of my team as well as the rest of the league. So I started tracking the NHL last season, and through daily highlights, Twitter, and a bunch of written pieces, I can now say that I can talk about hockey with a lot more confidence.

So with that being said, I thought it would be a good idea to have a crack at predicting the upcoming 2017-2018 NHL season. I mean, why not? I’d like to think as a relatively new NHL “fan,” I offer a fresh perspective on some of these teams. Either that, or I’m just way off and should probably just stick to sports that are not hockey.

Anyway, let’s do it!

The Buffalo Sabres will be better than you think.

The Sabres intrigued me right away, though I’m willing to admit it was mostly because of the greatness of Rick Jeanneret.

It’s not like the Sabres lacked quality talent last season. In just 61 games, Jack Eichel led the team in points (57), Evander Kane upped his point total for a third straight season, Ryan O’Reilly and Kyle Okposo remained reliable, Rasmus Ristolainen took another step forward and was arguably the Sabres’ best player over the course of the entire season, and Robin Lehner was a top-five goaltender.

There were rumors and whispers that Eichel and former head Dan Bylsma did not see eye-to-eye on things. Eichel clarified the comments, but the Sabres still fired Bylsma and general manger Tim Murray. With former Nashville Predators assistant Phil Housley now behind the bench, I expect both Eichel and Ristolainen to take another step forward and possibly enter the upper level of players within their respective positions. Combine that with the addition of Nathan Beaulieu and the return of former captain Jason Pominville, and the Sabres should make a run at a Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.

If Steven Stamkos stays healthy, the Tampa Bay Lightning will make the playoffs.

The last time Stamkos played 82 games in a season was the 2014-2015 season. The Lightning reached the Stanley Cup Finals. He played 77 games the following season. The Lightning returned to the Eastern Conference Finals.

So one can probably guess what happened when Stamkos played in just 17 games last season due to a torn meniscus in his right knee. The Lightning missed the playoffs.

By just one point, though.

The injury history of Stamkos is well-documented, so of course there’s cause for concern going forward. But it’s worth noting that in the 17 games he did play in last season, he put up 20 points. If Stamkos continued that pace for the rest of the season, he would have put up 96 points, which would have been one point off his career-high.

Stamkos still possesses the talent. It’s all a matter of whether he can stay healthy over the course of an entire season. If so, the Lightning are a lock for the playoffs.

The Pittsburgh Penguins will miss the playoffs…

If you haven’t done so already, now you’re certainly questioning my hockey knowledge, or lack thereof. As outrageous as that statement is to you, I ask you to please hear me out.

The Penguins are have won the Stanley Cup title the past two seasons. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz were fantastic last season. Ian Cole, Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel are great role players.

But beyond those six players, who else provides any sort of confidence? Jake Guentzel, Carl Hagelin, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Greg McKegg, Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary all missed time last season due to injury. Not to mention, goaltender Matt Murray is still young and has never been a clear-cut number one goaltender in his career.

Combine that with the losses of Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Ron Hainsey, Matt Cullen and Mark Streit, and the Penguins lack quality depth should some of those injured players from last season go down again. The pickups of Matt Hunwick and Ryan Reaves were decent, but I don’t think it was enough.

I am willing to admit that if everyone stay healthy, the Penguins are probably the favorites to win the Eastern Conference. However, I cannot place any sort of confidence in a team that not only has injury history, but a lack of proven depth and goaltending. Even if that team does have Crosby and Malkin.

…and so will the Ottawa Senators.

Hopefully, this one isn’t too outrageous.

As opposed to their opponents in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals (the Penguins), the Senators do not lack depth up front. However, they do lack a Crosby/Malkin-like player in addition to a consistent goaltender. To make matters worse, the Senators could start the season without star defenseman Erik Karlsson after the captain underwent foot surgery in the offseason.

First off, should the Senators even miss Karlsson for an extended amount of time during the season, they can kiss their playoff chances goodbye. But even assuming he does stay healthy, it’s worth asking if they have another player, particularly on offense, who can step up to Karlsson’s level and put up 70-80 points. In other words, can Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone and Kyle Turris take another step forward, or have they peaked? Also, if Karlsson does miss time, can a defenseman such as Dion Phaneuf step up and replace Karlsson’s production?

Despite those question marks, the biggest question mark for the Senators is in net, specifically with 36-year-old goaltender Craig Anderson. Does he have another quality season left in the tank? Remember, he got yanked from net multiple times last season before big performances in Games 6 and 7 of the Conference Finals. If those struggles with “Father Time” carry over into this season, the Senators can (again) kiss their playoff hopes goodbye.

Overall, there’s just too many question marks in Ottawa and, as opposed to the Penguins, not enough top-of-the-line talent to shrug off those concerns. In other words, the Senators can’t say, “Despite our weaknesses in some areas, at least we have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin!”

The New York Islanders will make the playoffs…

Like the Lightning, the Islanders also missed the playoffs by just one point. What hampered this team last season was its slow start to the season, and in the Metropolitan division, that can prove very costly. They did go on a run in January and went undefeated in the month of April under interim head coach Doug Weight, but it was not enough.

The Islanders certainly have the offensive talent to compete for a playoff spot. Josh Bailey, new addition Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee and star captain John Tavares all eclipsed the 50-point mark last season.

Speaking of which, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for Tavares, as he enters the last year of his contract. One would think a team would have signed a player like Tavares to a long-term extension at this point, but to no avail. Again, we’ll see what happens.

Anyway, as for the defense, the Islanders will be fine with players like Johnny Boychuk, Calvin De Haan, Nick Leddy and Dennis Seidenberg manning the backline. As for the net, goaltenders Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak struggled at times last season, so that could be the one big weakness of this team.

But I just think this team is too good offensively to miss out for a second straight season. I think Tavares will get his contract extension done early in the season, and the Islanders will grab one of the two Wild Card Spots in the East.

…and so will the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Hurricanes now own the longest playoff drought in the NHL at eight seasons. However, they did finish with 87 points last season, which was within eight points of the last Wild Card spot. Watching this team last season, one could sense that they are close to ending that drought, so what they do in the offseason? Bring in a bunch of former champions.

I think the signing of three-time champion Justin Williams (Happy 36th Birthday TODAY!), a member of the 2006 Hurricanes team that won the Stanley Cup, was absolutely brilliant. He showed that he can still produce last season, putting up 48 points with the Washington Capitals. Williams will offer leadership for an attack that features young rising stars such as Sebastian Aho, Elias Lindholm, Jeff Skinner and Teuvo Teravainen.

Like the Islanders, Carolina’s biggest question mark will be in net, specifically with new goaltender Scott Darling. For the past three seasons, he was Corey Crawford’s backup with the Chicago Blackhawks, but after the Hurricanes traded for him in the offseason, they clearly think he has what it takes to become a starting goaltender. He certainly showed flashes of potential in Chicago, but we’ll see if he can become a consistent starter. If not, the Hurricanes have a more-than-serviceable backup in Cam Ward, who was the Hurricanes No. 1 netminder last season.

The Hurricanes will be fine on defense with Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin leading the way. With former champions and rising stars, the Hurricanes have everything in place to end their dreaded playoff drought.

The Toronto Maple Leafs will win the Eastern Conference.

The Maple Leafs are so stacked that Nazem Kadri, who put up 61 points last season, may start on the third line. Not only that, but he will likely be playing with new signing Patrick Marleau, a veteran who tallied 46 points at age 37 for the San Jose Sharks last season. That speaks volumes to the talent and youth on the first two lines. I mean, where do I even begin?

Tyler Bozak, Kadri and James Van Riemsdyk set career-highs in points last season, but the heart of the Maple Leafs is the trio of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander. All three surpassed the 60-point mark last season and will only get better with time. If “MNM” stick together, the Maple Leafs will have multiple Stanley Cups within the next five years. Book it.

Now, the one weakness of this team is on defense, specifically in front of Frederik Anderson, who was one of the best goaltenders in the league last season. Except for Jake Gardiner and new signing Ron Hainsey, a member of last season’s Pittsburgh Penguins championship squad, the defensemen do not inspire much confidence. Young players such as Connor Barrick, Morgan Rielly and Nikita Zaitsev will need to step up for the Maple Leafs to fulfill their sky-high expectations this season.

Those sky-high expectations are well-earned. That’s why Marleau’s presence will be so important to “MNM’s” development this season, especially come the playoffs. The Maple Leafs have what it takes to go all the way, and I believe they will.

The Colorado Avalanche are (still) the worst team in the NHL.

Gods, this team is awful.

On top of their lack of talent, there are still trade rumors surrounding Matt Duchene. A bunch of contending teams would love to add another player of that caliber, so we’ll see what happens.

Nathan MacKinnon may very well be a star in the making, but I don’t know if he can be the best player on an aspiring playoff team, let alone the Colorado Avalanche. Speaking of which…

The St. Louis Blues will throw away this season.

Being in Missouri for two years, I certainly have learned a lot about Blues hockey.

At full strength, the Blues are a Stanley Cup contender. The problem? They’re not at full strength.

Patrik Berglund is out until December after offseason shoulder surgery, Jay Bouwmeester is out for the first few weeks with a fractured ankle and Alexander Steen is out for the month of October due to a broken hand. Those three players are not just instrumental to the Blues’ success going forward, but they played huge roles in the Blues’ past playoff success. With those health questions up in the air combined with a lack of quality depth, #itsawrap for the Blues.

The Dallas Stars will rebound and make the playoffs.

The Stars had the best record in the Western Conference in 2015-2016, and were some experts’ pick to win the Stanley Cup before last season. Fast forward six months, and the Stars were sixth in the Central Division with just 79 points, a 30-point decrease from the previous season.

Sure, a lot of the players from that successful season took a step back, but I think most of the blame fell on the defense, specifically the disastrous goalie tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. The Stars let in the second-most goals in the NHL last season, so what they do to fix the defense?

Well, first they hired an experienced, defensive-minded head coach in Ken Hitchcock. Next, they went out and acquired a true No. 1 goaltender with Stanley Cup Finals experience in the 6-foot-7 Ben Bishop, as well as veteran defenseman Marc Methot from the Montreal Canadiens. Those three moves, along with John Klingberg, should improve a Stars backline that honestly can’t get any worse after last season.

Combine that with the front line of captain Jamie Benn, new addition Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin, and the Stars should return to their winning ways this season.

The Chicago Blackhawks could run into some trouble.

It pains me to say this as a fellow Blackhawks fan.

Chicago’s top line of Richard Panik, Brandon Saad, a former Stanley Cup champion who returns to Chicago after two seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, and captain Jonathan Toews will be as good as ever.

The questions come with Patrick Kane’s second line, specifically someone who can fill the shoes left by Artemi Panarin, who was part of the deal that sent Saad back to Chicago. Patrick Sharp, another former champion who returns after two seasons in Dallas, is 36-years-old and coming off a hip injury that cut his season short. In addition, Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat are still young and relatively unproven as second-line players. I think the Blackhawks will have trouble replacing Panarin’s 74 points last season.

As for the defense, Duncan Keith is still an elite defenseman and Brent Seabrook is still capable of a key role. Once again, it’s the second-line that raises some concerns. The newly acquired Connor Murphy showed some flashes during his time with the Arizona Coyotes, but is still just 24-years-old and lacks big-game experience. Outside of those three players, it’s up in the air as to who will step up into the top four.

The Blackhawks will still make the playoffs. I mean, come on now… let’s not get too crazy. That being said, I would not be surprised if it comes in the form of a wild card spot.

The Pacific Division will not change much.

I won’t spend much time on this one.

The top four teams in the Pacific last season, in order, were the Anaheim Ducks, Edmonton Oilers, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames. I still believe those are the four teams that will make the playoffs from this division. The order will differ, however. I think it will go Edmonton, Calgary, Anaheim and then San Jose.

In other words, don’t expect those Vegas Golden Knights to pull off the miracle and make the playoffs in their first NHL season.

So now that I’ve gone through the entire league, what team have I yet to touch on that could hoist the Stanley Cup?

Washington? Columbus? Nashville?

Nope.

The Minnesota Wild will win the Stanley Cup!

I actually feel pretty confident about this pick because I truly believe the Wild have the best roster, top to bottom, in the NHL. Let’s break it down:

OFFENSE

Charlie Coyle is 25 and coming off a 50-point season.
24-year-old Mikael Granlund emerged as a rising star last season, tallying 69 points.
Captain Mikko Koivu is also coming off a 50-point season.
Nino Niederreiter, another 24-year-old, is coming of his most productive season (57 points).
Eric Stall put up the second-most points (65) on the team in his first season in Minnesota.
25-year-old Jason Zucker took a huge step forward and is entering his prime.

DEFENSE

Goaltender Devan Dubnyk was arguably the best goaltender in hockey last season.
23-year-old Mathew Dumba took another step forward last season.
Jared Spurgeon is coming off the best season of his career and looking to enter the upper level of NHL defenseman.
Ryan Suter, the best player on the Wild last season, is already an elite defenseman.
Jonas Brodin and Kyle Quincey are more-than-serviceable defenseman and had decent seasons last year.

Not including Zach Parise, who will miss the start of the season due to a back injury, right there are 12 players who figure to play a key role for the Wild this season. I think the Wild’s Stanley Cup chances will ultimately come down to whether Dubnyk can repeat his elite season last year. If so, #itsawrap in the Western Conference.

Obviously, there are others that will have key roles, but the point is that barring multiple injuries to key players, this team has the depth and talent to win the 2017-2018 Stanley Cup.

2017-2018 STANLEY CUP FINALS PREDICTION: Wild over Maple Leafs in seven games

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The World Needs a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl

January 26, 1997. Superdome. New Orleans. Super Bowl XXXI.

Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21.

Most people remember Super Bowl XXXI as Brett Favre’s only Super Bowl win of his Hall-of-Fame career, but this was also the closest Drew Bledsoe would come to leading his team to a Super Bowl win.

Over the next twenty years, events occurred that led to the downfall of both quarterbacks. Bledsoe went down with a life-threatning injury in the second game of the 2001 season, and never started another game for the Patriots. As for Favre, he led the Packers to another Super Bowl appearance in 1998, but fell to John Elway and the Denver Broncos. He never made it back to the big stage over his last eight seasons as a member of the Packers.

But the downfall of two great quarterbacks led to the rise of two legendary quarterbacks.

Tom Brady, a 23-year-old sixth-round pick out of the University of Michigan, took over for the injured Bledsoe and just a few months later, led the Patriots to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history. Over the next fifteen years, Brady would go on to win four more Super Bowls, as well as three more Super Bowl MVPs and two League MVPs. Some have already dubbed him as the “greatest of all-time.”

Aaron Rodgers, a 21-year-old first-round pick out of the University of California-Berkley, had to wait three seasons before becoming the starting quarterback of the Packers. But like Brady, once Rodgers took over, he never looked back. In his third season as the starter, Rodgers led the Packers to their first Super Bowl title since Super Bowl XXXI. Like his predecessor, Rodgers was also named Super Bowl MVP. Since then Rodgers has won two League MVPs and a number of NFL records, including the best touchdown-to-interception ratio in NFL history. Today, at age 33, he is the best quarterback in the NFL.

Many forget that a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl could have happened in two of the last three seasons. Had it not been for the Seahawks in 2015 or Atlanta Falcons last season, we would have already seen this matchup on the biggest stage. So to teams like the Seahawks, the Falcons, the Dallas Cowboys, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and many other contending teams… please do not get in the way of football poetry.

The world needs a Packers-Patriots Super Bowl, and they need it now.

Brady is 40-years-old, and while he has said that he wants to play another three to five more seasons, father time ultimately catches up to everyone. Who knows, it may catch up to him this season. Not to mention, Rodgers will be 34 in December. The point is that the clock is ticking.

Rodgers is 1-1 against the Patriots in his career, but it’s worth noting that the one loss came in 2006, when he stepped in for an injured Favre. He went 4-of-12 passing for just 33 yards, and the Patriots won the game 35-0.

The first “real” matchup between Brady and Rodgers took place in 2014. Both quarterbacks had similar stats: Brady went 22-of-35 passing for 245 yards and two touchdowns, while Rodgers went 24-of-38 passing for 368 yards and two touchdowns. The Packers won the game, 26-21. So one can look at a potential Packers-Patriots Super Bowl matchup as a rubber match or “Brady’s revenge game.”

Either way, everybody wins.

The NFL wins. They get to market this Super Bowl around two of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. Not to mention, viewership records will surely shatter once again.

The media wins. Can you imagine the field day they will have with this matchup?

The players win, for obvious reasons.

But most important, the fans win. Any fan who would not want to see Brady vs. Rodgers in the Super Bowl is not a true football fan.

Two Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Two No. 12s. Two historic, successful franchises. Two deep-rooted, passionate fan bases.

So go ahead, and cheer on your respective teams this season. Just be aware that they will likely be interfering with poetry in the making.

2017/2018 English Premier League Preview

The 2017/2018 English Premier League season kicks off today! From the south coast, to Wales, to Merseyside, to the Northwest, to the Northeast, to the Midlands, to the capital of England, and even to Yorkshire, 20 clubs will compete for one of football’s greatest prizes.

Who will come out on top? Here is a breakdown of all twenty clubs.

ARSENAL FOOTBALL CLUB

Arsenal supporters believe that their team should contend for the Premier League title every season. However, the Gunners have not won the title since 2003/2004 and finished outside of the top four last season for the first time under manager Arsene Wenger. Provided he can get a strong enough squad to work with, Wenger can definitely get Arsenal back into the title race.

The potential title hopes would all but evaporate if the transfer rumors surrounding Alexis Sánchez are true. The Chilean forward has been, by far, the club’s best player since arriving in 2014/2015. The Gunners must do everything they can to keep Sánchez and avoid taking a tremendous step in the wrong direction.

They did bring in striker Alexandre Lacazette to become the main goal scorer. Every Premier League title contender needs a player who can put up 20 or more goals in a season, and Lacazette has the potential to do that right away.

But even if Arsenal were to keep Sánchez and get 20 goals from Lacazette, it will still be tough to contend for the title considering the improvements made by both Manchester clubs and Liverpool as well. If Arsenal miss out on the top four again, Wenger will likely be shown the door.

ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB BOURNEMOUTH

After a top-half finish in just their second Premier League season, Bournemouth have proved that they truly belong in the top flight.

Instead of quantity, manager Eddie Howe opted for quality in the transfer window. The Cherries made permanent moves for Chelsea’s Nathan Ake, who enjoyed a successful loan spell with the club last season, and Asmir Begovic. Bournemouth also brought back Jermaine Defoe, who led Sunderland in scoring in the last two seasons. The 34-year-old striker also scored 10 goals in 10 games for the Cherries back in 2000/2001. One of his teammates from that team? Eddie Howe.

Bournemouth forged a successful attack last season, but struggled at times on defense. With Manchester City and Arsenal looming in their first four matches, the Cherries will find out how much help they still need at the back.

BRIGHTON AND HOVE ALBION FOOTBALL CLUB

Brighton are back in England’s top flight for the first time in 34 years after knocking on the door of the Premier League in four of the last five seasons, and what a journey it has been for the Seagulls.

In 1996/1997, Brighton needed one point against Hereford to stay in the Football League. They did get the draw, but unfortunately, the sale of the Goldstone Ground in Hove meant that the Seagulls would be forced to play their home matches 70 miles away at the grounds of Gillingham. After two seasons, Brighton returned home to play at Withdean Stadium, an old athletic complex with a 8,850-seat capacity. In October 2005, the supporters and board of directors received planning permission to build the now-30,750 seat Falmer Stadium, a.k.a the Amex, which opened in December 2011.

As for squad, manager Chris Hughton has done a fantastic job of building a team that plays together. However, they will likely be underdogs in almost every match simply because of the talent gap and lack of Premier League experience. While avoiding relegation is the goal, both players and supporters should take everything in and just enjoy this season.

The battle has just begun, but Brighton have already won the war.

BURNLEY FOOTBALL CLUB

Burnley, led by manager Sean Dyche, defied expectations and avoided relegation for the first time in club history. They picked up 33 of their 40 points at their home venue of Turf Moor, a foundation the Clarets will need to build on to stay in the Premier League.

With defender Michael Keane sold to Everton in the summer, Burnley have brought in Phil Bardsley, Charlie Taylor, and Jack Cork as defensive reinforcements. Striker Jonathan Walters should also offer firepower to an attack that scored just 39 goals last season. But even with those additions, Dyche’s squad is only at 25 players, so more additions are likely.

CHELSEA FOOTBALL CLUB

After their 3-0 loss at Arsenal in late September, no one expected Chelsea to then rip off 13 straight wins. After that loss, the Blues did not drop points in consecutive matches for the rest of the season and clinched the Premier League title with two matches remaining.

The squad is still loaded with talent at every position and made some great signings in summer, such as striker Alvaro Morata. In 26 league appearances for Real Madrid, the 24-year-old scored 15 goals, the second-most of any player on the club. It will be interesting to see how he copes to the Premier League. The quicker he can adapt, the better it will be for the entire team.

With that being said, losing Diego Costa, who is spending time in Brazil at the moment, will be a huge blow for Chelsea. On top of Eden Hazard’s ankle injury that will keep him out for a few weeks, Chelsea have some big holes to fill in their starting XI right away. In the meantime, players like Michy Batshuayi, Pedro and Willian will need to step up.

Chelsea are the defending champions. The pressure will be on to show that they can do it again.

CRYSTAL PALACE FOOTBALL CLUB

Crystal Palace secured Premier League safety last season thanks to Sam Allardyce, but his resignation just two days after the season threw the club into turmoil. To replace him, chairman Steve Parish opted for Frank de Boer, who won the Dutch League title four years in a row at Ajax. However, his most recent spell at Inter Milan lasted just 85 days.

As just the second foreigner ever to manage Crystal Palace, de Boer has looked to bring a more international flair to the pitch. However, attempts to play a more attractive style last season ultimately ended in a relegation battle and Alan Pardew’s sacking in December. Expect de Boer to carry out a more pragmatic approach to gradual improvement, as opposed to constantly switching the styles of football and going from zero to one hundred in a short time span.

de Boer’s early transfer activity was especially revealing. Chelsea’s 21-year-old loanee Ruben Loftus-Cheek and 20-year-old star Dutch defender Jairo Riedewald are both young players that de Boer can shape to fit his style of football.

EVERTON FOOTBALL CLUB

Everton’s seventh-place finished under manager Ronald Koeman suggests that the club on the rise. There is no denying that the loss of prolific striker Romelu Lukaku was a huge blow, but that void was filled by seven new signings, headlined by the return of Wayne Rooney.

Last season’s reliance on Lukaku was obvious. Behind his 25 goals, the next-highest scorer was Ross Barkley with just five goals. Koeman’s mission will be to build a squad which provides a threat from all angles.

The Toffees spent big money on goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, Dutch attacking midfielder Davy Klaasen, and defender Michael Keane. With spending already at unprecedented levels, Everton have made it clear that they want to crack the top six this season. If they can overtake Liverpool and prove themselves as the top dog on Merseyside, then it could be a huge first step towards a very bright future.

HUDDERSFIELD TOWN ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB

Last season, Huddersfield jumped up 14 spots in the Championship table to fifth place and went on to defeat Reading in the Playoff final to seal promotion to the top flight for the first time in 45 years.

Manager David Wagner deserves a ton of credit for transforming the Terriers from top to bottom. Expect a lot of passion on the sideline, similar to fellow German manager and good friend Jurgen Klopp. As the former manager of Borussia Dortmund II, Wagner worked with Klopp for four seasons before taking over Huddersfield in 2015/2016. In those two seasons, Wagner has emphasized a high-intensity, counterattacking style of football that should transition well into the Premier League.

The signings that Huddersfield have made show that they intend to stay in the Premier League. The Terriers signed Montpellier striker Steven Mounie, who scored one less goal in Ligue 1 than Monaco superstar Kylian Mpabbe last season, as well as FC Copenhagen captain Mathias Jorgensen. Add them to Aaron Mooy and Christopher Schindler, and Huddersfield may give some top teams a scare this season.

Of course, survival is the mission for Huddersfield this season.

LEICESTER CITY FOOTBALL CLUB

Now freed from the pressure of being champions and no European football to drain their resources, Leicester City enter this season with optimism. Manager Craig Shakespeare saved the club from relegation, winning seven of their last 13 matches after the sacking of Claudio Ranieri. Shakespeare will aim to make his own mark on the squad, but he will likely have to do it without star midfielder Riyad Mahrez.

Shakespeare’s first signing as permanent manager was Hull City’s promising defender Harry Maguire. The 24-year-old will offer fresh blood for an aging backline, providing competition for the likes of Robert Huth and captain Wes Morgan. Up front, the arrival of striker Kelechi Iheanacho adds firepower to the first-team squad. Deprived of first-team starts last season, the 20-year-old should relish the prospect of regular football.

LIVERPOOL FOOTBALL CLUB

Compared to where Liverpool were 18 months ago, the club is way ahead of schedule. Last season, manager Jurgen Klopp got the Reds back in the Champions League for the first time since 2009.

Now, the focus will be on maintaining their top four status and solidifying the squad, especially at the back. Expect Liverpool to only bring in players that will improve the first team, as opposed to signing players in bulk for the sake of expanding the squad. For instance, new signing Mohamad Salah should go straight into the starting XI and compete with the likes of Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane every week.

Another concern with this Liverpool squad is their lack of a twenty-goal striker similar to the likes of Aguero, Kane, Lukaku, and Sánchez. It will be interesting to see if a player like Firmino can step up and have that type of impact for Liverpool.

The Reds played well in the preseason, winning the Asia Trophy and defeating Bayern Munich, 3-0, at the Allianz Arena. With the improvements of the other top clubs combined with the grind of Champions League football this season, keeping hold of their place in the top four will be a tough task for Liverpool.

MANCHESTER CITY FOOTBALL CLUB

Expectations were high among Manchester City supporters when manager Pep Guardiola arrived last summer. However, problems with the fullbacks and goalkeepers ultimately led to a disappointing third-place finish.

This summer, the club has brought in players that will not only help their defense, but also play the style of football that Guardiola wants to play. Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy will stretch the field and offer speed down the flanks. If Vincent Kompany can stay healthy, City will be better defensively in terms of organization and experience.

One of the most exciting players to watch out for this season will be forward Gabriel Jesus. The 20-year-old Brazilian hit the ground running in limited action last season, scoring seven goals in ten league matches. Now entering his first full season, Jesus has the potential to become one of the best players in the Premier League.

Based on the money Guardiola has spent since his arrival, City should win the title. Not only is the squad extremely talented, but manager is arguably the best in the world. For Guardiola to keep that reputation, he must win the Premier League within the next two seasons.

MANCHESTER UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB

Considering that he has coached Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid, manager Jose Mourinho is running out of clubs to prove himself. Unlike last season, the Portuguese will have less excuses because he now has a side that better fits his style of play as opposed to the mish mash of players from last season.

Goal-scoring was a problem at times for United last season, but striker Romelu Lukaku could be the solution. Mourinho’s better teams often feature a big, powerful target man to lead the attack such as Didier Drogba. Lukaku can hold the ball up and occupy two to three opposing defenders. He’s young, hungry, and most importantly, a proven goal scorer in the Premier League.

But perhaps United’s most important signing this summer was midfielder Nemanja Matic. The 29-year-old Serbian midfielder has played under Mourinho at Chelsea and gives United strength, stature and protection in front of the backline. Over the last three to four seasons, there have been few defensive midfielders in the Premier League as good as Matic.

Mourinho will need to unleash his tactical genius this season and propel United back into the title hunt. If he does not win the Premier League or Champions League at United, his run will ultimately go down as a failure.

NEWCASTLE UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB

The famous black and white of Newcastle is back in England’s top flight. The passion and pride of the club was restored last season under manager Rafa Benitez. The Spaniard brought a stringent level of professionalism into the dressing room and made sure to let the supporters know that both the manager and players care about playing for Newcastle United.

The relationship between Benitez and owner Mike Ashley seemed strong last season, but Benitez has not been shy about his frustration of not sealing players early in the transfer window. Ashley must give Benitez the control and the money he promised at the end of last season to prevent another trip back down to the Championship.

One of the main areas of concern for Newcastle is the attacking midfield. During Jonjo Shelvey’s five-game suspension last season, the Magpies struggled mightily, losing to the likes of Sheffield Wednesday and Blackburn Rovers. The 25-year-old is so important to the squad that without him, the team have trouble creating scoring chances. Benitez could use another creative midfielder to create chances should Shelvey suffer an injury or suspension.

But when Newcastle did create chances, they had some trouble scoring goals. Dwight Gayle did score 23 goals in 32 appearances last season, but the Magpies struggled finishing in the box when he was out. Adding another striker, specifically a physical target man who can finish in the box, would go a long way to preventing another relegation fight this season.

Realistically, Newcastle should expect to finished around the 13-15 range for the next year or two, with an eye on the top ten. If last season was any indication, the top ten is not that difficult to break into as long as the club can be consistent. Looking at the big picture, if Benitez does stay on board and Ashley gives him the money he promised, Newcastle should return to their glory days within the next five years.

SWANSEA CITY ASSOCIATION FOOTBALL CLUB

It’s a shame that Swansea City will likely have to move on from star midfielder Gylfi Sigurdsson, who appears likely to join Everton in the near future. While the sale could go upwards of 50 million pounds, it’s still a huge loss for the Swans.

Manager Paul Clement unloaded sixteen players over the summer, including Borja Baston and Jack Cork, possibly to keep Sigurdsson. Among the new additions are midfielder Roque Mesa and Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham, who knows Clement from his time in the youth ranks at Stamford Bridge. The Swans would be wise to add some more attacking options if Sigurdsson does leave.

SOUTHAMPTON FOOTBALL CLUB

For months, the big story surrounding Southampton has been the situation surrounding Virgil Van Dijk. The defender wants out, but the club seem unwilling to sell him.

New manager Mauricio Pelligrino replaces Claude Puel, who led the Saints to an eighth-place finish and EFL Cup Final last season. The only notable signing for Southampton was Poland U-21 defender Jan Bednarek from Lech Poznan. Time will tell whether he will replace or play with Van Dijk.

The Saints scored just 41 goals in 38 league matches, so it will be nice to have Charlie Austin and Manolo Gabiaddini full healthy this season. Pelligrino has played both players together in preseason to carry out a more attack-minded style of football.

STOKE CITY FOOTBALL CLUB

Last season was a disappointment for manager Mark Hughes and Stoke City. After three consecutive top half finishes, the Potters finished in 13th place last season, picking up just two wins in their last 11 matches.

Only the bottom five teams scored fewer goals than Stoke last season, so Hughes will need to address their goalscoring woes. In the meantime, Stoke added experience in the form of midfielder Darren Fletcher and defensive energy in Chelsea loanee Kurt Zouma.

Stoke took eight games to record their first league win last season, so Stoke will look to hit the ground running this season.

TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR FOOTBALL CLUB

Tottenham were the most exciting team to watch in the Premier League last season. After a sixteen-point improvement, which would have won them the title in 2015/2016, Spurs are more hungry than ever to achieve Premier League glory.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino has done a fantastic job in his two years at the helm of bringing young players such as Harry Kane and Danny Rose through the system and turning them into valuable players. While Spurs have yet to make any signings, chairman Daniel Levy tends to wait until the last few weeks of the transfer window to conduct his business. They could certainly use a quality striker behind Harry Kane if he goes down with an injury.

Spurs also sold Kyle Walker, which is not that big of a loss compared to past Tottenham players such as Gareth Bale and Luca Modric. That’s no slight to Walker, but with Kieran Trippier ready to step in, Tottenham should not lose much at right back, if anything at all.

The biggest concern for Spurs will be adapting to playing their home matches at Wembley Stadium. Every player has dreamed about playing at Wembley, so visiting teams will definitely raise their level of play against Spurs over the next two seasons. It will be interesting to see whether Spurs can do the same.

If Tottenham do not start winning major trophies in the near future, the supporters will begin to question the club’s direction, similar to what fans are doing now at Arsenal.

WATFORD FOOTBALL CLUB

Another season, another new manager for Watford. Marco Silva is the eighth appointed manager since the Pozzo family bought the team in 2012. The Portuguese impressed last season at Hull City, but their heroic turnaround was not enough to save them from relegation. This year, Silva will have another challenging season ahead of him.

Striker Troy Deeney will miss the first one or two games due to a groin injury. so don’t be surprised if Brazilian wonderkid Richarlison sees time during Deeney’s absence. As for other signings, Kiko Femenia, Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah are all expected to get playing time this season.

WEST BROMWICH ALBION FOOTBALL CLUB

Last season, West Brom finished in the top half for just the second time in club history, but that highlight was matches by lowlights. The Baggies ended last season on a nine-match winless streak, and to make matters worse, the club has brought in little reinforcements to make sure that the streak will not continue into this season. Outside of forward Jay Rodriguez and Egyptian international Ahmed Hegazi, West Brom have not spent the money to further improve the squad under manager Tony Pulis.

Despite the disappointing finish to last season, the Baggies proved that they are one of the more dogged, driven teams in the Premier League. They will have to operate under that state of mind once again they hope to finish in the top half.

WEST HAM UNITED FOOTBALL CLUB

In their first season at the London Stadium, the bright future of West Ham seemed to have dissipated, with the team winning just seven home matches. Manager Slaven Bilic will hope new signings such as Marko Arnautovic, Joe Hart and Pablo Zabaleta will help the Hammers improve not just their home form, but last season’s tenth-place finish as well.

Last season, West Ham forwards scored just 15 goals between them, which means all eyes will be on striker Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez to rectify that problem. The “Little Pea” averaged about one goal every three matches during his time at Manchester United from 2010 to 2014. If he can buck West Ham’s trend of underperforming strikers, West Ham have the talent to return to the top seven for the second time in three seasons.

Of course, as fate has it, Chicharito’s first game back in the Premier League will be at Old Trafford against Manchester United.

2017/2018 English Premier Table

1. Chelsea
2. Tottenham Hotspur
3. Manchester City
4. Manchester United
5. Liverpool
6. Arsenal
7. Everton
8. West Ham United
9. Bournemouth
10. West Bromwich Albion
11. Leicester City
12. Southampton
13. Crystal Palace
14. Swansea City
15. Newcastle United
16. Stoke City
17. Burnley
18. Brighton and Hove Albion
19. Watford
20. Huddersfield Town

Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor Will Tear America Apart

It’s actually happening.

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Undefeated boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr. (49-0) will fight UFC Lightweight Champion Conor McGregor (21-3) in a boxing match on August 26 in Las Vegas. According to Yahoo, the fight could take place at either the MGM Grand Garden or T-Mobile Arena.

On paper, this fight seems to make sense. Both men are, in very different ways, “obnoxious” and fight in the 145 to 150 pound range. In addition, both fighters will likely get huge paydays, as McGregor pointed out a few months ago.

However, this fight between a boxer and mixed-martial artist will ultimately end in America tearing each other apart, limb from limb. All you need to do is look at the history of boxing, some of which involves Mayweather.

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America Couldn’t Handle Jack Johnson vs. Jim Jeffries

On July 4, 1910, Jack Johnson, an African-American and then-world heavy weight champion, defeated Jim Jeffires by technical knockout. (White) People were so angry at the result that they started riots across the country. Here’s the story of just one of the riots in New York:

In the “black and tan” and “San Juan hill” negro sections mobs set fire to a negro tenement house, hurled stones at windows, and tried to keep the occupants in by blocking the exits. The fire department routed the mob.

America Couldn’t Handle Larry Holmes vs. Gerry Cooney

On June 11, 1982, Holmes, an African-American and then-WBC heavyweight champion, took on Cooney, who promoter Don King dubbed as the “Great White Hope.” At the time, there had not been a white world heavyweight champion in 22 years, and Cooney was looking to change that.

As you can imagine, there was a lot of racial tension and animosity leading up to the fight. Both white supremacist groups and African-Americans stated that they would have armed supporters at the fight. There was even a story that police put sharpshooters on the roofs of hotels surrounding Caesars Palace for fear of violence.

Holmes picked Cooney apart and eventually knocked him out in the 13th round to keep his title. But perhaps the bigger story was that two judges had Holmes ahead by just two points when the fight ended. If Cooney did not have three points taken away from him during the fight for low blows, Cooney would have been ahead on the judges’ scorecards.

Nothing brings out the worst in people like a boxing match.

Remember When Mayweather Fought Ricky Hatton?

You don’t believe Americans will root for McGregor because he’s not from America? Guess again.

Do you remember when Las Vegas was Ricky Hatton’s backyard for one night in 2007? Listen to the crowd before Mayweather’s entrance:

If I didn’t tell you the place of the fight, you would have thought it took place in Hatton’s home country of England. Despite the “Born in the USA” entrance, Mayweather was a man without a country that night. The crowd booed him mercilessly before he easily defeated Hatton via TKO in the tenth round.

Americans will have no problem rooting for McGregor.

Remember When Mayweather Fought Oscar De La Hoya?

The fight took place on May 5, 2007, also known as “Cinco de Mayo.” Keep in mind, De La Hoya is of Mexican descent, though he did represent the United States in the Olympics back in 1992. Anyway, here is how Mayweather came out to the ring:

Obviously, wearing the sombrero to the ring was very problematic. But the point is that Mayweather is not going to have many fans backing him in this fight, as shown by the chorus of boos he received on his way to the ring. Even if he were to do something offensive to insult McGregor’s Irish nationality, it really won’t make much of a difference since most of America is already rooting against him.

Remember When Adrien Broner Fought Marcos Maidana?

Broner, an African-American, fought the Argentinian Maidana in San Antonio, Texas at the Alamodome. The 5,000 mile distance between Argentina and Mexico did not seem to matter, as the fans made it clear who they were rooting for that night (from ESPN’s Dan Rafael):

He [Maidana] had Broner in serious trouble as he winged hard shots from all angles. Broner was holding on as the crowd chanted, “Chino! Chino! Chino,” Maidana’s nickname.

Not to mention, Argentina and Mexico do not have a lot in common. But on that night in 2013, they sure received Maidana as one of their own. I can’t imagine how many people will watch this fight wrapped in an Irish flag or in some type of St. Patricks Day apparel.

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Remember When Mike Tyson Fought Lennox Lewis?

Most of America will become Irish on Aug. 23. Boxing promoters are very good at getting the public to believe that the underdog can emerge victorious. People don’t even need an emotional attachment to the fighter to believe. They just need a reason.

Back in 2002, Mike Tyson fought then-WBC heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis in Memphis. This fight was at the tail-end of Tyson’s career and he was three years removed from biting Evander Holyfield’s ear off. He just wasn’t the same boxer he was in his prime.

Tyson came out in the first round and got picked apart. It was clear he was not going to win that fight. But because he was Mike Tyson, there were people who said, “He’s still got a chance.” When it comes boxing matches, people will convince themselves of something and hold on to that belief for as long as possible.

Don’t trick yourselves into thinking, “It only takes one punch.” Don’t trick yourselves into thinking that McGregor can win this fight.

Mayweather-McGregor Will Not Go Over Well in America’s Current Environment

You have all seen what has happened to America since November’s presidential election. America is more divided than ever along not just political lines, but racial lines.

Mayweather has used race baiting to promote fights in the past. More specifically, he has used those tactics against Latinos (see Oscar de la Hoya). His uncle and former trainer, Roger Mayweather, used to refer to himself as the “Mexican Assassin” due to his many wins over Mexican fighters. In five of the past ten years, Mayweather has fought on Cinco de Mayo weekend. All five of those opponents were of Latin descent.

Unfortunately, McGregor has dabbled in some race baiting as well, though not nearly to the extent of Mayweather. In a press conference last year, he called the little brother of opponent Nate Diaz “a little cholo gangster from the hood.”

From the promotion to the real fight itself, Mayweather-McGregor is nothing but a clown show. McGregor has absolutely no chance of beating Mayweather in a boxing match. Don’t buy the fight. You will not only be wasting your time, but you will be furthering the divide of the United States of America.

Colin Kaepernick *May* Be Getting Blackballed from the NFL

It’s been almost two weeks since the NFL Draft, and Colin Kaepernick still does not have a job in the National Football League.

Keeping in mind that he underwent offseason shoulder surgery before the 2016 season, Kaepernick played in twelve games. He ended the season with 2,241 passing yards, 16 passing touchdowns, four interceptions, 468 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. According to NFL analyst Cian Fahey, Kaepernick is one of the more accurate passers in the NFL and the wide receivers on last year’s 2-win San Francisco 49ers squad dropped a lot of catchable passes.

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So why doesn’t Kaepernick have a job in the NFL? Well, the popular theory is that he is getting “blackballed” from the NFL for not standing during the playing of the national anthem before each game. There is certainly evidence that this is the case.

Fans burned his jersey.

Former NFL quarterbacks referred to his actions as “an embarrassment.”

Anonymous NFL executives have called him “a traitor.”

He got blamed for the NFL’s drop in ratings. Guess who?

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He’s also received death threats, for what that is worth.

So Kaepernick is getting blackballed… right?

A few weeks ago, Tim Kawakami of the San José Mercury News said that his line of blackball demarcation was Kaepernick’s former teammate – quarterback Blaine Gabbert. In other words, if Gabbert got an NFL job before Kaepernick, then we need to start asking some serious questions about whether the NFL is blackballing Kaepernick.

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Well, Gabbert just got a job with the Arizona Cardinals. Keep in mind that Gabbert lost his starting quarterback job last season to Kaepernick after five games and finished the season with five touchdowns and six interceptions.

This prompted Kawakami, as well as Yahoo’s Charles Robinson, to write a column on the “disinformation” surrounding Kaepernick.

“Kaepernick is not in football shape.”

Apparently, he’s back up to “2013 playing weight” of 230 pounds. So clearly, his vegan diet is affecting his muscle mass, right?

“Kaepernick wants too much money.”

This is false because he has not even had one meeting with an NFL team. He’s not demanding $9 to $10 million per season, which is popular theory among NFL circles. Yesterday on ESPN’s The Dan Le Batard Show with Stugotz, The Nation‘s Dave Zirin said this about Kaepernick’s “demands”:

None of that is true. I spoke to Kaepernick and what he said was that he was training every day. He’s in the best shape of his life, he loves football, he wants to play, and then I spoke to people around Kaepernick… and they said to me that they have gotten no calls… You’re talking about a total ghosting of Colin Kaepernick… He’s asking for an invite to [training] camp and he’s asking for a sit-down and a meeting. We’re talking the most barebones level. He’s asking for some kind of engagement with the National Football League and the chance to play quarterback in the National Football League and that is not being offered to him.

So NFL executives are willing to call and see what Gabbert wants as opposed to Kaepernick? Interesting.

So… blackballed?

Well, let’s pump the brakes for a second.

Based on the evidence above, it is certainly fair to question whether Kaepernick is being blackballed. However, it’s hard to say that in a definitive statement because the concept of “blackball” is very difficult to prove.

Here is the more important question:

Why are people so confident that Kaepernick is not getting blackballed?

It’s important to point out that “quarterback” is the scarcest position in all of sports. It’s very difficult to find a decent quarterback, let alone a good to great quarterback. It’s crazy to think that an NFL team won’t even have a meeting with a quarterback who has played in the Super Bowl and has won multiple playoff games.

“Kaepernick is not good anymore. He doesn’t fit in many NFL offenses.”

How many systems does Gabbert fit?

More importantly, how many systems did Michael Vick fit? From 2009 to 2015, three different NFL teams signed Vick to back up their current starting quarterback. So a team wouldn’t have to change their system to accommodate Vick, a mobile quarterback who was on the verge of getting run out of the NFL before getting sent to prison?

Even if there is no concerted effort by the NFL to keep Kaepernick out of the league, how can anyone say that the issue is not related to the national anthem or the work he does to advance the cause of marginalized people in the United States?

“Signing Kaepernick would be bad public relations.”

So is this bad PR?

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Community first !! 100suits & Colin Kaepernick @ Queens parole

A post shared by Kevin Element Livingston (@100suits) on Apr 30, 2017 at 5:28am PDT

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Wouldn’t our country be a lot better if people who got out jail could find jobs? If those people do not have jobs, what do you think is most likely to happen?

The work that Kaepernick is doing is worthy of the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award. Is this the bad public relations?

Or what about this:

There was zero distraction. He met with the team immediately after [his first protest]. He met with the other team leaders. He explained his position and where he was coming from. And literally, that was it. Colin was focused on football. He was all about the team and trying to help us win.

This is a direct quote from then-49ers head coach Chip Kelly, who was once questioned for his ability to get along with independently minded black players.

It seems like there were not any problems with Kaepernick.

So what is the “bad PR?”

Here’s another important question – do you think Kaepernick provides bad PR for black people?

The point being, this bad PR is another way of saying that, “We are scared that white people will not tolerate Kapernick’s presence.”

White fans in Philadelphia sure got over Vick and his dogfighting scandal. The Cincinnati Bengals sure got over Joe Mixon punching a woman back in the 2014.

It seemed like fans in San Francisco were tolerant of Kaepernick. Granted, the Bay Area is a bit more liberal than other places, but it’s not like the population isn’t majority-white.

This “intolerance” of Kapernick is not bad PR. It is fear that people are too racist to deal with Kaepernick and his views, which is likely not true. There is no way that all the charity work he has done is bad PR.

BOTTOM LINE

Again, it is difficult to definitely say that the NFL is blackballing Colin Kaepernick. On the other hand, no one can definitively say that he is not getting blackballed either.

Whether You Like It Or Not, Joe Mixon Will Be A Star in the NFL

Since declaring for the NFL Draft back in January, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon has been the topic of a lot of conversation in NFL circles. Back in 2014, he punched a female student during an argument, which has raised questions about his character and whether he deserves to play in the NFL.

For what it’s worth, OU suspended Mixon for the entire 2014 season, but it wasn’t until 2016 – after the release of the video of the incident – that he issued a public apology. He was also suspended one game this past season for arguing with an OU parking attendant after he received a ticket.

Despite Mixon’s off-the-field incidents, he has been one of the best running backs in the country over the past two seasons. In terms of talent, Mixon can play in any NFL offense. Gap-blocking, I-formation, shotgun, spread – he can do it all. It’s also worth keeping in mind that he shared the load with another quality running back in Samaje Perine.

But again, it all comes back to his off-field troubles.

The 2017 NFL Draft Class is Full of Talented Running Backs

It will be interesting to see which team ultimately takes a chance on Mixon.

Most mock drafts across the internet predict that LSU’s Leonard Fournette will be the first running back taken in tonight’s draft. However, everything I have seen him do in college has involved running over players or running past players. I’m not sure if being bigger and stronger than everyone else will be as big of a factor in the NFL. For those reasons, I believe that Dalvin Cook AND Mixon are better NFL prospects than Fournette.

But let’s get back to the real issue at hand.

“No NFL Team Should Draft Joe Mixon Because of His Past”

Ummm… is he suddenly not allowed to earn a living anymore because he committed a crime?

“No, It’s Just That He Can’t Do a Job That Others Want To Do”

Yeah, sorry. Life just isn’t fair.

Mixon’s situation ultimately comes down to one question… will he commit another act of domestic violence?

Whether it’s right or wrong, most teams have probably answered “no” to that question. If they have already taken him off their draft boards, however, it is completely understandable why they would make that assumption. Mixon’s actions towards the female OU student were largely preventable. He should have just walked away.

Today, I believe he would walk away because… a) a year-long suspension from football is a pretty big deal and b) he’s carried this with him for almost three years and will carry it with him for the rest of his life. If NFL teams believe that he will not fall victim to recidivism when it comes to domestic violence, than a team will draft him.

“Like Ray Rice, Mixon Will Suffer Because of the Video”

For those who may have forgotten… back in 2014, then Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice assaulted his then fiancée at an Atlantic City casino. Just over a month later, TMZ released a video of Rice dragging her out of an elevator after apparently knocking her out. Rice was ultimately released by the Ravens in Sept. 2014 and has not played in the NFL since the incident.

Of course, people will make the lazy argument and say that the video is why Rice is not signed to an NFL team. However, it’s worth noting that Rice struggled mightily to start the 2013 season due to injuries and after four straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons, he was held to just 660 rushing yards. For the past three years, there have been legitimate questions as to whether Rice can still be a serviceable running back in the NFL.

If teams thought he could still be a serviceable player, Rice would be on an NFL roster because he has handled the incident as well as anyone could have asked him to handle it. Rice has put in the time and effort to make himself a better person. Last year, he vowed to give all of his potential salary to various domestic violence charities. Unfortunately, Rice has never made it back to the NFL because teams don’t think he can play anymore. It has nothing to do with the video.

In other words, the video will not affect Mixon’s draft status at all… because he could become a star NFL running back for many years to come.

How Long Will People Continue to Adjudicate Mixon’s Incident?

Again, it’s worth noting that this incident happened three years ago.

When Mixon gets to the NFL, there will be backlash once again among fans and the media because they’re new to him. There will be the CBS/ESPN/FOX/NBC broadcasts that start with, “Here is Joe Mixon, a young man who did [explain story]…” and we will hear the same thing for at least his first season in the NFL.

But Remember Tyreek Hill and Randy Moss?

Back in 2015, Hill pleaded guilty to domestic assault and battery by strangulation in a 2014 incident involving his then-pregnant girlfriend. In November, NBC’s Cris Collinsworth said this of Hill during the broadcast of the Chiefs-Broncos game:

As an organization, they obviously put him through every program you can imagine, and it’s still ongoing… but it obviously gets into those fine lines of second chances versus maybe you don’t deserve a second chance sometimes. But they took a chance.

To me, what Hill did was FAR WORSE then what Mixon did.

The reason I bring up Hill is because he was not taken until the fifth round of the 2016 NFL Draft. This past season, he was only one of two rookies named first team All-Pro (as a punt returner) and was one of three rookies named to the Pro Bowl.

How many teams do you think are mad at themselves because they passed on Hill?

The same thing happened to Randy Moss during the buildup to the 1998 NFL Draft. The past issues were laid out for everyone to see:

– 30-day jail sentence for misdemeanor charge in high school
– expelled from said high school
– violated probation after testing positive for marijuana and served another 60 days in jail
– dismissed from FSU football team

After two All-American-type seasons at Marshall University, Moss projected as a high first-round pick. However, he fell to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 21 overall after a number of teams in need of a wide receiver, most notably the Dallas Cowboys, passed on him due to his documented legal problems.

How mad do you think Jerry Jones and those 19 other teams are for passing on Moss?

So When Will Mixon Get Drafted?

NFL Draft analysts and scouts believe Mixon possesses first-round talent. There will be multiple general managers that want to take him later in the draft, but don’t be surprised if a team sneaks up to take him in the second or third round.

So Yeah… Mixon Will Be A Star NFL Running Back

It is perfectly understandable why people will never root for Mixon again, especially after watching that video. We all have things that we decide that we just cannot forgive.

But in this case, life just isn’t fair. It’s not worth getting worked up over something that is bound to happen. Joe Mixon will become an NFL running back, and chances are, he will be a star.

All you can do is hope that Mixon becomes a different person than he was that night in 2014.

Let me know what you think in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131

There Will Never Be Another Tim Duncan

On July 11, 2016, Tim Duncan announced his retirement from the NBA after 19 seasons with the San Antonio Spurs.

In other words, Duncan saw that Kevin Durant signed with the Golden State Warriors and said, “What more do I have to prove? Thanks, but no thanks.”

Behind Duncan, the Spurs have “basically” won 50 games in all 19 of his seasons, depending on whether you count their 37-13 regular season record in the lockout-shortened 1999 season. The math adds out, so I am counting it.

In 1,392 career games, Duncan and the Spurs accumulated a .710 win percentage (1,001-391), which is the best win percentage of any NBA, NFL, NHL or MLB player over that 19-year span. On top of that, he won five championships, two Most Valuable Player awards, and three NBA Finals MVP awards.

There is no debate. Duncan is the most accomplished basketball player of the last 20 years.

Duncan Always Had a Level Head

While he was not one for showing much emotion, Duncan had that “dog” mentality and played very furiously on the court. Sure, he didn’t scream and yell like Kevin Garnett or pound his chest after a foul like LeBron James, but Duncan sure got in the face of the referees. I bet he believes that he never committed a single foul in his entire career.

Duncan was also thrown out of an NBA game for laughing on the bench, something that no NBA player has ever done.

Bless your heart, Joey Crawford.

Duncan Did Not Always Carry the Spurs

Duncan was fortunate to play with David Robinson, the most underrated big man of all-time, for the first six years of his career. When Robinson came to San Antonio in 1989-1990, the Spurs made the playoffs in seven of their next eight seasons. However, “The Admiral” could never get San Antonio over the hump.

That is, until a back injury and broken foot limited Robinson to just six games in 1996-1997. As a result, the Spurs landed the No. 1 overall pick in 1997 NBA Draft.

The pick? Tim Duncan.

Duncan was the player who turned the Spurs into legitimate championship contenders. Sure, it took about two or three years for him to become a better player than Robinson, similar to Magic Johnson playing with Kareem Abdul-Jabaar early in his career. It’s also worth noting that NBA writers and broadcasters named Duncan to the All-NBA First team in his rookie season, something only eight other players have done. That’s also a testament to Robinson’s greatness, since he was the best player on the Spurs in 1997-1998.

Duncan Went Head-to-Head Karl Malone… As a Rookie!

April 8, 1998.

Within the first three minutes of the game, Karl Malone caught Robinson with an elbow to the head and knocked him out for the rest of the game. It also looked like he knocked him out cold as well. Classic Karl Malone…

The Spurs did lose the game, but that did not stop rookie Tim Duncan from putting up 34 points and seven rebounds.

This was the game when most people realized that Tim Duncan was an emerging NBA superstar.

Duncan’s Consistency Was Off the Charts

Just look at his “per 36 minutes” stats.

As he got older and the minutes decreased, Duncan’s productivity and impact never wavered. He led the league in defensive rating (an estimate of points allowed per 100 possessions) four times, including in 2013 when he was 36-years-old!

Duncan Has the Jaw-Dropping NBA Finals Performance

2003 NBA Finals. New Jersey Nets. Game 6.

Tim Duncan put up 21 points, 20 rebounds, 10 assists and eight blocks in San Antonio’s 88-77 win.

You read that correctly.

Not to mention, outside of Duncan, the 2003 San Antonio Spurs were not that good. Tony Parker, a 20-year-old point guard who the Spurs were willing to trade for Jason Kidd, was the second-best player for the Spurs that season. Duncan put that team on his back.

Duncan Could Very Easily Have SEVEN Championship Rings

2004 Western Conference Semifinals. Los Angeles Lakers. Game 5.

With 5.4 seconds left, down one point, Tim Duncan hit one of the most incredible buzzer-beaters in NBA history.

Then Derek Fisher made an even more incredible buzzer beater.

If Derek Fisher did not make that shot with 0.4 seconds left, I believe that the Spurs would have won the championship. They would have beat Kevin Garnett’s Minnesota Timberwolves in the Western Conference Finals and beat the Detroit Pistons in the NBA Finals.

So many things had to right for that buzzer-beater as well. Fisher had to shoot with his left hand, considering the sideline where the ball was being inbounded. In addition, the inbound pass was in a direction where only a left-handed shooter could fade to the baseline and make the basket. In other words, there is no way Kobe Bryant makes that shot.

2013 NBA Finals. Miami Heat. Game 6. Spurs Lead Series 3-2.

Up three points with 19.4 seconds remaining, Ray Allen hit one of the biggest shots in NBA history.

2013 NBA Finals. Miami Heat. Game 7.

Being guarded by the 6-foot-8 Shane Battier, the 6-foot-11 Duncan missed a wide-open layup to tie the game with less than a minute remaining.

Duncan was 19.8 seconds away from having more championships than Michael Jordan.

Is Duncan a Power Forward or Center?

This is a very important question, considering Duncan regularly moved back and forth between both positions.

When talking about great NBA big men, one must separate the “centers” from the “non-centers.” Before the NBA changed the illegal defense rules, there was a premium placed on centers who could get shots close to the basket. Prior to the 2001-2002 season, it took forever to double-team big men close to the basket due to the ban on zone defenses.

However, if you consider Duncan a “center,” he is one of the greatest centers of all-time. If you consider him a power forward, he is unquestionably the greatest power forward of all-time.

Duncan Probably Doesn’t Want Me Writing This Post

Answer this question… do you know what Tim Duncan’s voice sounds like?

Before writing this post, I didn’t either.

Duncan would probably prefer that no one ever speak of him or his career ever again. When the Spurs sent out his retirement statement, it didn’t even have a quote from him!

It would not shock me at all if he just called the Spurs that day and told them, “Hey guys, just wanted to let you know that I’m not coming to work anymore.”

Nineteen seasons. Five championships. One team.

There will never be another Tim Duncan.

Let me know what you think in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131

Jackie Robinson Day is MLB’s Admission of Guilt

70 years ago today, Jackie Robinson made his Major League Baseball debut for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Since 2004, MLB has celebrated not only his career, but for ending about eighty years of baseball segregation. Today, many ballparks will pay tribute to Robinson. All coaches, managers, players and umpires will wear the No. 42 on their uniforms.

However, there is a very big problem with “Jackie Robinson Day.” But first…

Jackie Robinson was a fantastic baseball player and athlete

Never lose sight of this fact.

Robinson was a four-sport athlete at UCLA (football, basketball, track & field, baseball) and as ESPN the Magaizine‘s Howard Bryant notes in Ken Burns’ PBS documentary, Jackie Robinson:

You can make an argument that Jackie Robinson was the greatest athlete in American history… he could have been a star in every single one of those sports. Not just a good player, but a superstar.

Following college, he had multiple short stints in semi-professional football leagues before getting drafted to the army in 1942.

In 1945, Robinson became a member of the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro League. From there, he signed a contract to play baseball for the Montreal Royals of the Class AAA International League, a team affiliated with MLB’s Brooklyn Dodgers. By 1947, Robinson was the Opening Day first baseman for the Dodgers.

His career WAR (Wins-Above-Replacement) of 61.5 is Hall of Fame-caliber having only played ten years. From 1949 to 1952, Robinson was the best player in the National League. Just look at the numbers.

To appreciate his greatness, think about this… when Michael Jordan attempted his baseball experiment in 1994, what if he became an All-Star by 1996? That is basically what Jackie Robinson did.

Unfortunately, there are not many people who remember Jackie Robinson playing baseball at an elite level. As a result, most people know Robinson simply as the pioneer who broke baseball’s color barrier.

So when you think of Jackie Robinson, it’s wise to remember how great of baseball player and athlete he was during the ’40s and ’50s.

Now… what about Larry Doby?

Jackie Robinson played for the Brooklyn Dodgers, so he was the first black player in the National League. The first black player to play in the American League?

His name was Larry Doby.

Granted, he did enter the league after Robinson, but just because one black player was already in the league doesn’t make the second player immune to abuse.

Most people are aware of the abuse Jackie Robinson endured from fans, managers and players at various National League ballparks. What do you think Larry Doby went through at those American League ballparks?

So maybe MLB, specifically the American League, should look into honoring Larry Doby. Similar to Robinson’s debut in the major leagues, MLB could make July 5 “Larry Doby Day” for the American League, or better yet, the entire league.

So when you think of Jackie Robinson, don’t forget that Larry Doby had to put up with just as much abuse in the American League.

In addition to opposing teams, the Dodgers weren’t so nice to Jackie Robinson either

One of the many incidents of abuse from opposing teams involving Robinson was with Philadelphia Phillies manager Ben Chapman. According to former Dodgers pitcher Ralph Branca:

When Jackie came to bat, he [Chapman] just said “Hey boy! I need a shine! Come shine my shoes! Hey boy! How come you’re not picking cotton? Hey boy! Come over and let me rub your head for good luck!”

Obviously, Robinson faced this level of abuse in almost every stadium he visited. He also faced this level of abuse from his own team. In 1947, outfielder “Dixie” Walker (of course that was his name…), along with a few other southern players, signed a petition against Robinson playing on the team.

And you know that famous story about Pee-Wee Reese putting his arm around Robinson as he suffered the abuse from fans in Cincinnati? Apparently, that moment never took place.

So why does that myth exist? It certainly doesn’t help Robinson’s image. The purpose of that myth is to build up Reese, the Dodgers, and everyone else around Robinson. Did you know that during a birthday celebration at Ebbets Field, the Dodgers honored Reese, a native of Louisville, KY, by raising a confederate flag up the flagpole?

Yeah. I don’t think I need to explain what was wrong about that.

So when you think of Jackie Robinson, don’t forget that he took abuse from everyone, including his own teammates and organization.

So what about “Jackie Robinson Day” in 2017?

Even after 14 years of this day commemorated to Robinson, there is still a lot of absolution of guilt. By placing so much emphasis on Robinson and his importance to Major League Baseball, there is much less emphasis on the people who treated him so poorly.

And those people who treated Robinson so poorly… happen to work for the institution that is Major League Baseball. So if “Jackie Robinson Day” is all about praising him, then nobody has to discuss the roles that various people played in creating the circumstances surrounding Robinson.

That’s a problem.

It’s also worth noting that a lot of MLB teams were very slow to integrate black players with their major league rosters. For instance, the New York Yankees “technically” integrated in 1955 when they signed Elston Howard, but he did not become an every-day player until 1959. The Boston Red Sox, the team that passed on signing Willie Mays, were the last MLB team to integrate in 1959.

Why is all of that important?

Look at the current landscape of MLB. Look at the declining participation of black Americans in MLB. On one hand, everyone wants to praise Robinson for integrating MLB, but more and more of the people who most closely resemble Robinson are not getting into baseball. Sure, you can argue that black Americans simply don’t want to play baseball at a young age.

You could also argue that MLB just doesn’t want them people bad enough.

So to honor Robinson on this day, here is an important passage from his 1972 autobiography, I Never Had It Made: An Autobiograhy of Jackie Robinson:

People have asked me, “Jack, what’s your beef? You’ve got it made.” I’m grateful for all the breaks and honors and opportunities I’ve had, but I always believe I won’t have it made until the humblest black kid in the most remote backwoods of America has it made… (Some) whites are expert game-players in their contest to maintain absolute power. One of their time-honored gimmicks is to point to individual blacks who have achieved recognition: “But look at Ralph Bunche. Think about Lena Horne or Marian Anderson. Look at Jackie Robinson. They made it.” As one of those who has “made it.” I would like to be thought of as an inspiration to our young. But I don’t want them lied to… I don’t think anyone in or out of sports could ever seriously accuse Willie Mays of offending white sensitivities. But when he was in California, whites refused to sell him a house in their community. They loved his talent, but they didn’t want him for a neighbor. Name them for me. The examples of blacks who “made it.” For virtually every one you name, I can… (tell you) how they have been mistreated, humiliated.

Jackie Robinson stood up for himself and whole lot of people throughout his life. It’s a shame MLB doesn’t do more to celebrate and recognize this man then have everyone wear the No. 42.

Do you think all the coaches, managers and players know why they wear No. 42 on the back of their jerseys? Do you think that those people are aware that Robinson made their sport better by putting them in a position to meet people they may not have ever met ordinarily?

So when you think of Jackie Robinson, remember him as not just a hero for black America, but for all of America.

Let me know your thoughts on this topic in the comments or send me a tweet @danny_shin131. Do you think “Jackie Robinson” is Major League Baseball’s admission of guilt?

College Basketball Has a “Quality” Problem

I love watching basketball.

But at the same time, basketball is not enjoyable if it’s “okay” or “decent” or “pretty good.” Obviously, it’s not enjoyable if it’s mediocre.

In other words, basketball is only enjoyable when the professionals play the game. That’s just the way it is. Some sports are not as fun to watch when the amateurs play the game, and basketball is one of them.

Recently, I’ve heard two common complaints about this year’s NCAA Tournament.

“The referees are calling too many fouls.”

Yeah, that’s because the players commit too many fouls. Why do they commit too many fouls?

Well, it was only four years ago that coaches and scouts pointed out that college basketball referees did not call enough fouls. Not to mention, the statistics showed that fouls reached historic lows, which led to a decrease in scoring.

Of course the referees are going to call more fouls.

“College basketball should go to six fouls.”

A typical 48-minute NBA game allows six fouls per player, which comes out to one foul for every eight minutes. A typical 40-minute college basketball game allows five fouls per player, which also comes out to one foul for every eight minutes. Adding another foul for each college player would not only further increase the number of fouls called, but it would extend the game even longer then it already does. It’s simple math.

So… do we blame the one-and-done players?

Look, if a player can make money playing professional basketball, they should take that opportunity and never look back. Not to mention, the increase in the salary cap only further entices these talented players to take the risk and play in the NBA, even if it means not playing as much right out of the gate.

Right now, the 18 and 19-year-old one-and-done freshmen are the most talented players in college basketball. On the other hand, the players who stay in school into their twenties are just not good at basketball or become exposed for who they truly are as players (EX: Grayson Allen). Just look at any 2017 NBA Draft big board.

The fact of the matter is that today’s college basketball players, while talented, are just not that good. The main difference between this era of college basketball and earlier eras of college basketball is roster depth. Previous eras of college basketball not only had talented college basketball players, but they had physically mature college basketball players.

As a result, quality of play decreases. So how does one fix that?

“Get rid of the one-and-done rule.”

Hold on a second… before the one-and-done rule, there was the “none-and-I’m gone” rule. Talented players such as Kobe Bryant, Kevin Garnett and LeBron James never played a single college basketball game in their lives. Today’s extremely talented players would have gone straight to the NBA if not for the “one-and-done” rule.

Plus, will college basketball ultimately suffer because Lonzo Ball and Jayson Tatum only stayed in school for one year as opposed to not going to school at all?

The one-and-done rule has made college basketball better. Unfortunately, it has become a lazy answer for people who are trying to explain what is wrong with college basketball.

How We Watch the NCAA Tournament

It’s worth noting that the NCAA Tournament is a much different viewing experience than it was five to ten years ago because everyone has access to every single game. In the past, people could only watch the NCAA Tournament on CBS. Viewers trusted CBS to take them out to the close games, which was great because everyone could watch the exciting finishes of each game.

Now that everyone has access to all the games, it seems that people have ignored the fact that CBS often spared viewers from some pretty mediocre basketball. Most of the time, the end of an NCAA Tournament game is better than the real NCAA Tournament game.

“College Basketball is a lot like baseball.”

In both sports, it’s difficult to keep up with every single team throughout the course of a season. As a result, fans will make this relationship with one team and follow them for 162 games or 34 games, depending on the sport. Of course, part of the charm is watching the changes and evolutions of that team throughout the course of the season.

For example, this year’s Duke team started this season as the top-ranked team in the country and ended the season as the No. 7 team in country with eight losses. Think about all the obstacles the Blue Devils had to overcome from the first day of the season until the last day; head coach Mike Krzyzewski’s back surgery, Grayson Allen tripping players, top draft pick Harry Giles sliding down draft big boards due to injury, and losing three out of four games on two separate occasions.

When you think about it like that, college basketball could actually be pretty fun and interesting. However, that type of narrative thinking takes away from the real quality of the basketball.

BOTTOM LINE

The NCAA Tournament has a certain element of drama, but at the same time, college basketball is relying too heavily on the structure of a 68-team, single-elimination tournament. It is resting on the alleged, at times tiring, contrivance that is a single-elimination tournament.

In the end, college basketball is enjoyable. Just try not to focus on the “basketball” part.

Let me know you thoughts on this topic in the comments or send me a tweet @danny_shin131. Do you think college basketball has a “quality” problem?

2017 Major League Soccer Preview

MLS is back! 2017 marks the league’s 22nd season, so it’s only fitting that the league added two more teams to bring the total to 22 teams. After a one-year expansion break, Atlanta United and Minnesota United are ready to make their mark on MLS in 2017.

Out go marquee names like Steven Gerrard, Robbie Keane and Frank Lampard. In come young designated players such as FC Dallas striker Cristian Colmán and Real Salt Lake midfielder Albert Rusnak. MLS is getting younger and faster, which bodes very well for the future of the league.

For each team, I will touch on three storylines to keep an eye on this season, name a starting XI, and predict where they will finish in their respective conference. So without further ado, let’s get started!

ATLANTA UNITED FC

1) The Young Designated Players

Atlanta went very young with their designated players, signing midfielders Miguel Almirón (23), Josef Martinez (23) and Hector Villalba (22). If they can live up to the hype, then Atlanta has a good chance of making the playoffs in their first season.

2) ‘Tata’ Martino Takes On MLS

Martino’s impressive resumé includes stops as the manager of Barcelona and Argentina. Expect him to make an immediate impact in terms of technical ability and tactical awareness, especially on the American players.

3) Playoffs… In Their First Season?

Atlanta can make the playoffs this season with their current roster. Not to mention, the home crowd will be one of the best in the league. However, this is a relatively inexperienced side when it comes to MLS. Some haven’t dealt with the travel, the challenges of turf fields or playing in vastly different environments. Until Atlanta can set up a team identity, the postseason will have to wait.

STARTING XI

atlanta-united-fc

PROJECTED FINISH: 9th in Eastern Conference

CHICAGO FIRE

1) The Fire Ripped My Heart Out

In other words, they acquired midfielder Dax McCarty from New York Red Bulls in exchange for $400,000 in allocation money. He was the captain and, arguably, the most important player on the Red Bulls over the past three to four seasons. With McCarty and former LA Galaxy midfielder Juninho on board, Chicago will be rock solid in both central midfield spots.

2) The Best Defense… Is A Good Offense?

Only Orlando City SC allowed more goals than Chicago Fire in 2016. In order to remedy that problem, expect manager Veljko Paunovic to carry out a more possession-based attack centered around McCarty and Juninho. In addition, look for David Accam, Arturo Alvarez, and left back Brandon Vincent, to use their speed down the flanks to jumpstart counterattacks and set up new striker Nemanja Nikolić.

3) No Balance = No Playoffs

It will take some time for these new pieces to gel. At times last season, the Fire struggled to find balance. For instance, when they brought everyone back behind the ball, they couldn’t score enough goals. If the Fire can’t find that balance, they will finish in last place… again.

STARTING XI

chicago-fire

*Expect McCarty and Juninho to switch roles from time to time*

PROJECTED FINISH: 8th in Eastern Conference

COLORADO RAPIDS

1) Did Colorado Overachieve Last Season?

To some extent, yes. Despite giving up the fewest goals in MLS (32), the Rapids scored the fewest goals from inside the 18-yard-box. Last season gave off a bit of a fluke-ish vibe, especially when you look at all their 1-0 victories (10, including playoffs). While their defense remains the same, it’s highly unlikely that the Rapids will match last season’s spectacular form.

2) ‘Don’t Make Mistakes’

On the bright side, Colorado has the advantage of cohesion and chemistry. They will be very difficult to break down, which will bode well early in the season. While the Rapids may not play the prettiest soccer in the world, expect manager Pablo Mastroeni to use a “Don’t Be Stupid” strategy on defense, which will be enough to get them back to the postseason.

3) Can Colorado Score Goals?

Unfortunately, the Rapids did not add any firepower in the attack this past winter. So if players like Shkelzen Gashi and Kevin Doyle can’t score goals on a consistent basis, the Rapids will finish no higher than fifth in the Western Conference.

STARTING XI

colorado-rapids

PROJECTED FINISH: 6th in Western Conference

COLUMBUS CREW SC

1) What Happened Last Season?

Well, Crew SC went from Eastern Conference champions to Eastern Conference strugglers in the span of a few months. They scored just 26 goals in their first 21 games, and top striker Kei Kamara forced his way to New England Revolution after a verbal incident with teammate Federico Higuain over who would take a penalty kick.

2) Columbus Remained Patient and Added Depth

Crew SC’s struggles in 2016 were due to two factors: poor finishing and unnecessary defensive errors. As for the defensive errors, manager Gregg Berhalter traded center back Michael Parkhurst and parted ways with goalkeeper Steve Clark. For replacements, Berhalter signed center back Jonathan Mensah and recalled 21-year-old goalkeeper Zack Steffen from loan. Crew SC also added quality depth in left back Jukka Raitala and midfielder Mohammed Abu.

3) Will Columbus Bounce Back?

Yes. If the 24 goals over the last 13 games of 2016 were any indication, Crew SC are still one of the best attacking teams in the league. The midfield trio of Ethan Finlay, Federico Higuain and Justin Meram will score plenty of goals and create chances for striker Ola Kamara.

STARTING XI

columbus-crew-sc

*Expect Homegrown Alex Crognale to see some time at CB*

PROJECTED FINISH: 3rd in Eastern Conference

D.C. UNITED

1) D.C. Moving Away From “BennyBall”

The origin of the term “BennyBall” comes from manager Ben Olsen’s direct and defensive-oriented style of play. In 2016, United drifted away from “BennyBall” and instead opted for a more stylish, entertaining approach. Led by 22-year-old attacking midfielder Luciano Acosta, United implemented an attacking juggernaut via a 4-1-4-1 formation. Although the backline struggled at times, they managed to outscore their opponents 33-21 over the last 13 games of the season. Every MLS manager would take a +12 goal differential in a heartbeat.

2) A Few Changes To The 4-1-4-1

Former right back Sean Franklin is now primarily a center back, former midfielder Nick DeLeon is now a right back, and new addition Ian Harkes will make an immediate impact in the central midfield. Although Acosta is now nursing an injury, Julian Buesher was solid in limited playing time last season. United are ready to fully embrace their new style of play in 2017.

3) Will Other Teams Take Notice?

If United start thrashing opponents early in the season, there is no doubt that MLS front offices will take notice. D.C. will have built a legitimate contender in a radically different way than most teams around the league.

STARTING XI

dc-united

*If Acosta is still injured to start the season, expect Harkes or Jared Jeffrey to split playing time in the No. 10 role*

PROJECTED FINISH: 4th in Eastern Conference

FC DALLAS

1) Dallas is Building a Juggernaut

Last season, Dallas captured the U.S. Open Cup and Supporters’ Shield, becoming the first team in MLS history to top 60 points in consecutive seasons. What’s even more impressive is that this team can do all that and more in 2017. Midfielder Kelyn Acosta is ready to emerge as one of the best players in MLS. Young players such as Homegrown defender Reggie Cannon and new striker Cristian Colmán give Dallas even more depth and talent. There are not that many holes and questions about this roster, considering all the big-game experience and young talent.

2) 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1?

Unfortunately, star midfielder Mauro Diaz may miss all of this season after tearing the Achilles tendon in his right leg in October. This means that Dallas will likely have to switch between a 4-4-2 with Colmán and Maxi Urruti up top, or a 4-2-3-1 with new addition Javier Morales playing in the No. 10 role behind the lone striker. Manager Oscar Pareja did opt for the 4-4-2 in the first leg of their CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against Arabe Unido, but opted for the 4-2-3-1 in the second leg. Thanks to their improved talent and depth, both formations should work.

3) FC Dallas Can Win MLS Cup in 2017

Granted, there will be some bumps in the road and an inevitable CCL hangover. Nonetheless, this team has the depth, talent and the proper mix of experience and youth necessary to not only top 60 points once again, but make a serious run at MLS Cup in 2017.

STARTING XI

fc-dallas

*Don’t be surprised if Michael Barrios and/or Maynor Figueroa work their way into the Starting XI by season’s end*

PROJECTED FINISH: 2nd in Western Conference

HOUSTON DYNAMO

1) Houston Has A Long Way To Go

If the Dynamo want to have any success this season, they will need to play a super narrow, counterattacking style of soccer. But for that to work, they will need either Romell Quioto or Alberth Ellis to have an immediate impact both on and off the ball. However, Quioto and Ellis are not natural wingers, so it may take some time to figure everything out.

2) There Will Be A Lot Of Goals… For Opposing Teams

It’s unknown if Houston’s defense is capable of sitting back and welcoming pressure. In addition, they don’t have a playmaking central midfielder that can open up the field.

3) It’s Not Going To Be Pretty

Yeah.

STARTING XI

houston-dynamo

*NOTE: ‘Cubo’ Torres has not scored an MLS goal since 2014*

PROJECTED FINISH: 11th in Western Conference

LA GALAXY

1) There Is Cause For Concern in LA…

The Galaxy actually have a lot more question marks than one may think. They are not particularly deep on defense, Gyasi Zardes is still recovering from a broken foot, and the new central midfield pairing of Jermaine Jones and João Pedro may not click right away.

2) …But They’re Still Loaded

Despite the departures of Robbie Keane and Steven Gerrard, the Galaxy still have the raw talent to make some noise in the Western Conference. The additions of Jones and French winger Romain Alessandrini make it hard to bet outright against the Galaxy.

3) LA Will Be Fun To Watch

Expect a lot of high-scoring games and a bunch of goals from striker Giovani dos Santos. This style of play not be sustainable long-term, but it will be entertaining to watch as the Galaxy take their first steps in the post-Bruce Arena era.

STARTING XI

la-galaxy

*Jack McBean could also see playing time up top w/ dos Santos*

PROJECTED FINISH: 5th in Western Conference

MINNESOTA UNITED FC

1) This Team Is Underrated…

MNUFC is the most underrated team in all of MLS heading into 2017. They added a playmaker in midfielder Kevin Molino from Orlando City SC in the expansion draft, signed a reliable defensive midfielder in Collen Warner, and selected striker Abu Danladi with the first overall pick in the MLS SuperDraft. Most of all, Minnesota have a lot of CONCACAF talent with international experience, which bodes well in terms of adjusting to the rigors of MLS.

2) …But They’re Still An Expansion Franchise

They have some nice pieces, but like Atlanta United FC, they will run into the problem of simply being an expansion franchise. No expansion team has made the playoffs in their first MLS season since Seattle Sounders in 2009. Don’t expect Minnesota to break that streak in 2017, though they will be competitive and a lot of fun to watch.

3) Remember the Name… Collin Martin

The Homegrown midfielder was excellent in preseason and could get minutes as a central midfielder. It’s also possible that manager Adrian Heath could move Molino back to his natural outside midfield spot and slot Martin into that No. 10 role. Either way, expect the 22-year-old to make an impact in 2017.

 

STARTING XI

minnesota-united-fc

*If the Calvo/Demidov pairing doesn’t work, Heath could move Calvo to left back and bring on Joe Greenspan to start in the vacant center back spot*

PROJECTED FINISH: 8th in Western Conference

MONTREAL IMPACT

1) Montreal’s Attack Has Everything

Montreal was the most dangerous counterattacking team in all of MLS last season. It certainly helps when you have the speed of Dominic Oduro, vision of Matteo Mancosu, and the everything of Ignacio Piatti. They advanced all the way to the Eastern Conference Championship against Toronto FC and exposed one of the best defenses in all of MLS.

2) Who Said the ‘Old Man Game’ Wasn’t Effective?

The Impact’s veteran midfield trio of Patrice Bernier, Hernan Bernadello and Marco Donadel was fantastic in 2016. They cover the entire field and are very difficult to break down, which only helps the defense led by Belgian international Laurent Ciman.

3) Can Montreal Win with the Exact Same Team?

As much as Montreal exposed Toronto in that amazing Eastern Conference Championship, Toronto also exposed Montreal. The Impact were awful at defending set pieces last season and they paid for it. In addition, they struggled at times against teams that sat back on defense, which makes sense since they are mainly a counterattacking team. Montreal did not make any major moves in the offseason, which means that they believe they have what it takes to make a run at MLS Cup. Whether they can make it back to the Eastern Conference Championship, though, is unknown.

STARTING XI

montreal-impact

PROJECTED FINISH: 6th in Eastern Conference

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION

1) New England Could Be Really Good…

There are very few attacking trios in MLS that can match up with Juan Agudelo, Kei Kamara and Lee Nguyen. In addition, the Revs picked up two solid center backs in Benjamin Angoua and Antonio Mlinar Delamea. New England could definitely make some noise in the Eastern Conference.

2) …Or Really Bad

However, it’s worth noting that 2016 was not very kind to the Revs. They were awful at defending crosses into the box and probably had more shots hit the crossbar than any other team in MLS. In addition, key players such as Xavier Kouassi missed huge chunks of time. It’s probably safe to assume that the Revs will once again finish in the middle of the pack.

3) The Buffalo Bills of MLS

Here’s another reminder that the New England Revolution are 0-5 all-time in MLS Cup Final matches. As a Red Bulls fan, that fact brings me much joy.

STARTING XI

new-england-revolution

*Don’t worry… I didn’t forget about Diego Fagundez. I’m sure he’ll get playing time this season.*

PROJECTED FINISH: 7th in Eastern Conference

NEW YORK CITY FC

1) NYCFC Got Younger

At first glance, you wouldn’t think that a team with David Villa and Andrea Pirlo would be the sixth-youngest team in MLS. That’s because NYCFC set out to get younger at almost every position in the offseason and parted ways with the likes of Frank Lampard, Andoni Iraola and Josh Saunders. In addition, manager Patrick Viera now has a year of MLS coaching experience under his belt.

2) This May Be It For Villa and Pirlo

It’s likely that Villa and Pirlo only have one more year left in their tanks. With that being said, young guns Jack Harrison and rookie Jonathan Lewis have great potential and new midfielder Maxi Moralez will make an impact right away. The future is bright for NYCFC beyond the 2017 season. Maybe now they should focus on finding a home pitch that isn’t shaped like a rhombus…

3) NYCFC Still Have Problems On Defense

NYCFC will score goals in bunches and produce a few “Goal of the Year” nominees as well. At the same time, they will give up a lot of goals as well. Sean Johnson is definitely an upgrade over Josh Saunders in net, but if NYCFC can’t find full-time solutions at defensive midfield and center back, they could fall to the back of the pack in the Eastern Conference. That would fill my heart with joy. #NYisRED

STARTING XI

nycfc

*McNamara and Moralez could switch spots. Also, don’t be surprised if center back Alexander Callens works his way into the Starting XI*

PROJECTED FINISH: 5th in Eastern Conference

NEW YORK RED BULLS

1) Despite Struggles/Change, RBNY Are Still Loaded

The Red Bulls stunk up the joint against Vancouver in CCL play, have backline injuries, lost their captain in the offseason, and are in the process of switching formations. But the fact remains that #NYisRED and the Red Bulls are still LOADED. They have the best goalscorer in MLS (Bradley Wright-Phillips), the best set-up man in MLS (Sacha Kljestan), a top center back in his prime (Aurélien Collin), and a bunch of promising academy players ready to break out (Derrick Ettiene Jr. and Tyler Adams, to name a few).

2) This Season Hinges On Gonzalo Veron

Sure, the Red Bulls have two legitimate MVP candidates in the attack, but do they have enough game-changing attacking quality to match up with the best in MLS? That’s where Gonzalo Veron comes in. Red Bulls fans (such as myself) have been waiting for the DP to make an impact since he arrived in 2015. Unfortunately, a series of injuries led to a lack of playing time and concerns about whether he fits manager Jesse Marsch’s style of play. If Veron can elevate his level of play in 2017, this Red Bulls attack will be UNSTOPPABLE.

3) RBNY Can Win MLS Cup (Duh!)

Once Gideon Baah, Connor Lade and Kemar Lawarence are fully healthy, they will be as deep as any team in MLS thanks to smart signings and development of academy players. There’s still a feeling that the Red Bulls are capable of winning more trophies, but this could be the beginning of a golden age. This team is ready to win now and possesses legitimate championship aspirations. If players like Veron and Ettiene Jr. can make an impact in the attack, no one will stop the Red Bulls from winning MLS Cup and potentially the U.S. Open Cup as well.

STARTING XI

new-york-red-bulls

PROJECTED FINISH: 2nd in Eastern Conference

ORLANDO CITY SC

1) Orlando City Will Be The Most Entertaining Team in MLS

Thank you manager Jason Kreis and the 4-4-2 diamond! As the former manager of Real Salt Lake, Kreis’s team played beautiful soccer, won an MLS Cup and became the first MLS team in history to reach the CONCACAF Champions League Final in 2011. Remember, Kaká had the best seasons of his career as the No. 10 in AC Milan’s diamond, and the forward pairing of Cyle Larin and Carlos Rivas is one of the best in the Eastern Conference.

2) Unfortunately, They Will Give Up A Lot Of Goals…

Those RSL teams gave away so much space on the flanks and dared teams to beat them in the air because they had two shutdown center backs in Jamison Olave and Nat Borchers. Jordan Spector was a solid pickup, but him and Jose Aja are nowhere near as great as RSL’s former pairing. As a result, they are also likely to give up the most goals in MLS in 2017.

3) …But Who Cares?

This team reminds me a lot of the Houston Rockets. So much firepower on offense, but almost no regard for defense. Obviously, Kreis will make adjustments throughout the season to try to improve the backline, but I am just so excited to watch Kaká and Larin play in Kreis’s 4-4-2 diamond.

STARTING XI

orlando-city-sc

PROJECTED FINISH: 10th in Eastern Conference

PHILADELPHIA UNION

1) Philadelphia Has A LOT of Question Marks

Can 2016 MLS Comeback Player of the Year Chris Pontius, who has a long injury history, produce two productive seasons in a row? Does former USMNT center back Oguchi Onyewu have anything left in the tank? Will Keegan Rossenberry and Fabian Herber avoid sophomore slumps? Will Josh Yaro and Maurice Edu ever get fully healthy? Can the Union find a replacement for Vincent Noguiera? There’s just too many questions surrounding the Union heading into 2017.

2) So… Can Philadelphia Find a Replacement for Vincent Noguiera?

The Union looked like a playoff-caliber team over the past two seasons with Nogueira on the field. It will be interesting to see who manager Jim Curtin pairs with Bosnian international Haris Medunjanin in the deep central midfield. Homegrown player Derrick Jones is the favorite, but whoever starts next to Medunjanin will have some big shoes to fill. If the Union are unable to figure out their central midfield pairing, they will struggle to rack up points.

3) Andre Blake is a Human Highlight Reel

Just watch.

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STARTING XI

philadelphia-union

PROJECTED FINISH: 11th in Eastern Conference

PORTLAND TIMBERS

1) Portland Still Has a Center Back Problem

Two-time MLS Cup champion and center back Nat Borchers (you know… the guy with the long, red beard) announced his retirement after the 2016 season. But even with Borchers and Liam Ridgewell last season, the Timbers backline still managed to let in the most goals in the Western Conference. To make matters worse, they didn’t really address the issue in the offseason other than acquire 32-year-old defensive midfielder David Guzman from Costa Rican side Saprissa. Expect Guzman to sit in front of the backline while Diego Chara plays in a more box-to-box midfield role.

2) Portland Still Has a Great Attack

Striker Fanendo Adi was top-5 in goals scored in 2016, new signing Sebastian Blanco should pair well next to Diego Valeri, and Darlington Nagbe has done a great job of bringing left back Vytas into play on overlapping runs in the preseason. Throw in Chara as well and this attack could a lot of problems for opposing backlines.

3) Portland Still Has Playoff Aspirations

If the Timbers can somehow concede less than 50 goals in 2017, they will make the playoffs without much trouble. Also, it might help if they could improve on their awful 0-11-6 away record from last season. Had they won just ONE road match last season, they would have grabbed the last playoff spot in the Western Conference.

STARTING XI

portland-timbers

*Expect a new signing at center back by the summer*

PROJECTED FINISH: 3rd in Western Conference

REAL SALT LAKE

1) The Attack is Still Very Good…

Both Joao Plata and Yura Movsisyan are solid MLS players and new 22-year-old DP Albert Rusnak will be very good player as well. In addition, Jordan Allen showed flashes in preseason and 19-year-old Brooks Lennon, now on loan from Liverpool, has played well as a winger for the US U-20s.

2) …But Everything Else is Not

The problem with RSL is every other position. At times last season, the players operated like individuals, and injuries also took a toll. Who knows how much players like Kyle Beckerman, Demar Phillips and Nic Rimando have left in the tank. There’s a chance that 2017 could be a passing of the torch.

3) RSL is on the Right Track

There is promising, young talent on every line. Plata, Allen, Rusnak, Justen Glad and Omar Holness are all approaching the primes of their careers, and there are more promising youngsters coming up through the ranks. RSL is not quite ready to take that next step in 2017, but they are definitely set up to succeed in 2018 and beyond.

STARTING XI

real-salt-lake

*Justen Glad will likely take Schuler’s spot once he returns from the US U-20s*

PROJECTED FINISH: 7th in Western Conference

SAN JOSE EARTHQUAKES

1) San Jose Added A LOT of Pieces

New general manager Jesse Fionarelli, formerly of AS Roma, added depth at every position and picked up starting-caliber players such as center back Florian Jungwirth and midfielder Jahmir Hyka. On some days, there could as many as five to seven new starters on the field, which could spell trouble for manager Dominic Kinnear.

2) Finding the Right Starting XI

The disadvantage of bringing in a bunch of new players is putting together an XI that fits together. With San Jose, there are a lot of players with different skill sets. If Kinnear takes out the wrong piece, it could affect five or six other players on the field. In addition, San Jose doesn’t have the raw goal-scoring ability to deal with that problem for an entire season. A lot of pressure will be on Kinnear early in the season to figure out a compatible starting XI. Otherwise, he may the first coach shown the door in 2017.

3) Again… It’s All About Chris Wondolowski

San Jose knows that they have to put Wondolowski in the best spots to score goals. Fortunately, the USMNT striker has scored double-digit goals in seven straight seasons and is the only proven attacker on the roster. Although a 4-3-3 formation might make more sense for the team as a whole, expect Kinnear to carry out a 4-4-2 formation to get his goalscorer more looks at goal.

STARTING XI

san-jose-earthquakes

*Expect 19-year-old midfielder Jackson Yueill to get some playing time this season*

PROJECTED FINISH: 10th in Western Conference

SEATTLE SOUNDERS FC

1) Nicolas Lodiero is Amazing

The Argentine midfielder emerged as one of the best players in MLS last season. The interesting thing about Lodiero is that he usually starts games on the right side, but manager Brian Schmetzer allows him to drift inside to a No. 10-type role. As we saw in the MLS Playoffs, the Sounders can support Lodiero thanks to the structure of their 4-2-3-1 formation.

2) Seattle Finally Addressed the Central Midfield

Over the last two seasons, the Sounders are 3-9-2 without Osvaldo Alonso is not in the lineup. Fortunately, Alonso missed only two matches in 2016, but at age 31, who knows if Alonso has 30+ full games left in him. With that in mind, Seattle finally added some depth in the central midfield, acquiring Swedish midfielder Gustav Svensson from Chinese side Guangzhou R&F. This means that the 31-year-old Alonso will be able to take a few more matches off in 2017.

3) Seattle Sounders Can Win MLS Cup

The defending MLS Cup champions have what it takes to do it all again in 2017… if they address a few small holes in their roster. If they can pick up another piece or two on the backline and add some more speed in the attack with Jordan Morris, the Sounders will be very tough out come the postseason. Even if Clint Dempsey is unable to stay healthy in 2017, Seattle still has enough firepower to make another run at MLS Cup in 2017.

STARTING XI

seattle-sounders

*NOTE: Svensson is now filling for the injured Brad Evans, who will be out for the next 5-7 weeks with a calf muscle strain*

PROJECTED FINISH: 1st in Western Conference

SPORTING KANSAS CITY

1) SKC Are Gonna SKC

They’re going to stick with a high-pressure 4-3-3 formation and try to get out on the counterattack as much as possible. Expect nothing new from manager Peter Vermes in terms of tactics.

2) Someone Besides Dom Dwyer Needs to Score Goals

SKC had Krisztián Németh two seasons ago to help take some pressure of Dwyer, but no one emerged last season. So this offseason, they went shopping for goal-scorers. SKC picked up a new designated player in winger Gerso Fernandes and a high-scoring young winger from Ghana named Latif Blessing. If neither player is the answer, SKC will stay in the middle of the pack for the fourth year in a row.

3) Is SKC Still Solid Defensively?

For the first time in a while, SKC may have some questions to answer about their backline. Will center back and U.S. international Matt Besler take a step back after offseason ankle surgery? Can Ike Opara become a full-time starter? How long will it take before Graham Zusi is fully comfortable at his new right back position? What kind of impact will defensive midfielder Erik Palmer-Brown make when he returns from US U-20s duty? Time will ultimately tell.

STARTING XI

sporting-kc

*Expect Gerso and Medranda to switch sides often*

PROJECTED FINISH: 4th in Western Conference

TORONTO FC

1) Toronto Should Have Won MLS Cup 2016

TFC deserved to win MLS Cup last season. They held eventual champions Seattle Sounders without a shot on target, and just three shots total, in 120 minutes of scoreless soccer. I believe that if manager Greg Vanney had brought on forward Tosaint Ricketts 20 minutes earlier as opposed to the 103rd minute, I believe Toronto FC would have won MLS Cup…

2) No Changes Necessary

…So it only makes sense that Toronto brought back every key player from 2016. The Reds did add a few new pieces such as winger Victor Vazquez. But most importantly, TFC now have a clear identity. They will press high up the field, play on the front foot, and attack through Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore.

3) Toronto FC Are the Favorites to Win MLS Cup

Unless center back Drew Moor gets hurt, TFC has no real weakness. They have the depth to survive a potential injury to Giovinco, Altidore or Michael Bradley. After the painful postseason experience gained in 2016, Toronto FC have everything they need to climb to mountaintop once again.

STARTING XI

toronto-fc

PROJECTED FINISH: 1st in Eastern Conference

VANCOUVER WHITECAPS

1) Vancouver Needs a Goal-Scorer

The good news? Vancouver made two key signings to rebuild their attack. The bad news? One of the newcomers, Yordy Reyna, is recovering from foot surgery and will return during the summer. The other, Fredy Montero, is a solid player, but has failed to top double-digit goals in the last two seasons. In addition, Kekuta Manneh is still adjusting to his role as Vancouver’s No. 10. If the Whitecaps can’t find a goal-scoring threat, the playoffs will have to wait.

2) They Have Some Talent…

The sky is the limit for 16-year-old winger Alphonso Davies, who started both legs in Vancouver’s CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal against New York Red Bulls and played well. Matias Laba and Kendall Waston remain rock solid on defense, and goalkeeper David Ousted is still one of the best goalkeepers in MLS.

3) …But Will It All Come Together?

To have any success in 2017, the Whitecaps will have to play some low-scoring games and convert on the counterattack as well as set pieces. It will be tough, considering the strength of the Western Conference.

STARTING XI

vancouver-whitecaps

PROJECTED FINISH: 9th in Western Conference

Head over to my Twitter account @danny_shin131 for more predictions, including my predictions for MVP, Supporters Shield and MLS Cup. Let me know what you think as well. Who do you think is going to win MLS Cup?