Game of Thrones Season 7 Character Predictions: Part I

HBO’s Game of Thrones returns for their seventh season on July 16, 2017. The season will be seven episodes long and each episode will have an extra 20-30 minutes of content to meet the usual 10 hours per season.

Every Sunday, for the next 11 weeks, I will be posting my Game of Thrones Season 7 character predictions. This week, I will cover characters now in the Vale and Braavos.

THE VALE

Robin Arryn

Isn’t he beautiful? And strong, too. Jon knew it. His last words were “the seed is strong.” He wanted everyone to know what a good, strong boy his son would grow up to be. Look at him, the Lord of all the Vale. -Lysa Arryn, Season 1 Episode 5, “The Wolf and the Lion”

Well, that’s not exactly the most accurate description of Robin Arryn.

Anyway, Robin is actually one of the more important pieces in this “Game of Thrones.” Unfortunately, he is a bit oblivious to everything that is going on in Westeros. Robin is the rightful heir to the Vale, one of the few remaining areas of Westeros still untouched by war. As we saw in the “Battle of the Bastards,” the Vale is full of soldiers and whoever controls Robin controls the Vale.

At this moment, Littlefinger controls Robin. But who is to say that someone will attempt to pry the little Lord away from him? For instance, “Bronze” Yohn Royce did not seem happy with Littlefinger’s influence on Robin. Maybe he could organize a coup.

But perhaps the most interesting influence on young Robin could be Sansa. For one, it seems that she is learning how to play this “Game of Thrones” thanks to Littlefinger. Maybe she will try to win Robin over via marriage, which would certainly give her influence over him and the Vale. More importantly, it would diminish Littlefinger’s power.

Robin reminds me of Tommen, in that he doesn’t really have an active role in this “Game of Thrones.” It is a dangerous game to play and once there is war, it’s a wrap. But if Robin manages to steer clear of the fighting, and the Moon Door for that matter, he should make it to Season 8.

CHANCES OF SURVIVAL: 50 percent

BRAAVOS

Jaqen H’ghar

A man teaches a girl. “Valar Dohaeris.” All men must serve. Faceless Men most of all. -Jaqen H’ghar, Season 5 Episode 3, High Sparrow

I’m torn on whether we will see Jaqen H’ghar again.

From his introduction in Season 2, his purpose has been to serve Arya’s storyline. He killed for her back at Harrenhal while serving the Many-Faced God, and then later trained her to do the same.

Of course, that didn’t pan out as Arya had anticipated.

Jaqen allowed the Waif to go after Arya, which she sees as betrayal. She doesn’t need him anymore, which is why she went back home to Westeros.

But don’t you get the feeling that Jaqen let Arya leave the House of Black and White a bit too easily?

Maybe he some plan that we are not aware of at the moment. Perhaps it serves his purpose to let Arya run through her list, as we saw in the Season 6 finale.

Or worst of all, Jaqen could be following Arya silently, waiting for an opportunity to kill the person who disrespected the organization to which he’s dedicated his life. Perhaps Arya’s death is imminent in Season 7.

Then again, Jaqen could let this whole thing go and stay in Essos. Since I’m still torn on whether we’ll see him again, I’ll leave his survival rate at 50-50.

CHANCES OF SURVIVAL: 50 percent

Let me know what your predictions are for GoT Season 7 in the comment section or send me a tweet @danny_shin131

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

Top 5 Disney Songs of All-Time

As a child, there are things that make a lasting mark on your brain. For me, that thing was Disney songs.

Maybe it was that impulse to press “play” over and over or rewind the movie to the beginning of the song. Either way, Disney songs managed to leave wonderful and, at times, useless things stuck in my head. But that’s why creating an entertaining environment is important for children, because it’s possible to give a child a song they will carry with them for decades.

That’s a big part of why, thanks to massive audiences and lots of money, Disney matters. From Snow White, to Beauty and the Beast, and even Frozen, those movies, and the songs they contain, have the potential to stay with a person for a lifetime. The relationship with the movie and songs may change over time, but they will never be forgotten.

This morning, EW announced that “Beauty and the Beast” was the greatest Disney song of all-time. The “Magical Bracket Game” originally began with 64 of the best Disney songs and each week, the field got cut in half until “Beauty and the Beast” remained.

In my opinion, you can’t go wrong with “Beauty and the Beast”. But let’s be honest… there are better Disney songs. So I decided to compile my list and narrow it down to the five best Disney songs of all-time. It was a very grueling process, but I think I got this one right. Of course, you can feel free to disagree in the comments below or on Twitter (@danny_shin131), but without further ado, let’s get started!

*I must place a SPOILER WARNING(!) tag on this post for anyone who hasn’t seen the following movies. Hopefully, that does not apply to many people. If you don’t care about spoilers, then go ahead.*

5. “Circle of Life” – The Lion King (1994)

In assembling a list like this, one must take into account the song’s role in the movie. Not only is “Circle of Life” the best song in a film packed with all-time great songs, but the opening scene of The Lion King is the most visually stunning sequence in the history of the Disney franchise. As all the animals meet upon Pride Rock for young Simba’s baptism, the African-inspired intro gives way to arguably the most powerful chorus of any Disney song. The shots of Pride Rock and Rafiki holding up Simba combined with the lyric, “It’s the circle of life,” makes for two of the most powerful moments in the entire movie.

However, the song also represents a painful reality for some. There’s more to see than can ever be seen/more to do than can ever be done. We all live, age and eventually die. As Mufasa states, “When we die, our bodies become the grass, and the antelope eat the grass, and so we are all connected in the great circle of life.” It is a very valuable lesson that kids will learn early in their lives. It’s the “Circle of Life” that follows each of us in life’s adventures.

4. I’ll Make a Man Out of You – Mulan (1998)

Mulan was one of the great displays of female empowerment, throwing traditional gender roles out the window. After taking her aging father’s place in the Imperial Army, Mulan trains to battle the Huns. Army Captain Li Shang sings “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” in an effort turn his clumsy fighters into soldiers, or in this case, men. More importantly, it serves as Mulan’s transition from an apprentice to a capable soldier, though her captain is unaware that she is actually a woman.

As Mulan struggles to complete different tasks, she gets better throughout the course of the song. In the climactic “be a man” part of the song, she scales a large pole to retrieve an arrow lodged into the top. With “the force of a great typhoon” and the “strength of a raging fire,” Mulan overcomes the odds and brings honor to not only her family, but women everywhere.

(Off topic, but there is no Disney movie more deserving a live-action movie adaptation than Mulan.)

3. Let It Go – Frozen (2013)

From a young age, Elsa has possessed powers that no one understands… the ability to control snow and ice. After spending many years locked in her room, she decides to flee her home and live in solitude. In “Let It Go,” Elsa builds a humongous ice castle for herself. As the chorus rises in emphasis and pitch (which I’ll get to in a moment), it becomes clear that she has had enough of people dictating her future. With a newfound confidence, Elsa really lets it all go and transforms into the best version of herself.

Now, let’s get to Idina Menzel. Her vocal performance took over not only the airwaves, but the minds of every child all over the world. Menzel’s empowering delivery helped turn this song into an anthem for adolescent girls who seek independence from the pressures of acting under traditional gender roles.

2. The Bare Necessities – The Jungle Book (1967)

Baloo was best known for letting his worries slip away, sentiments that were later reverberated in The Lion King‘s “Hakuna Matata.” Basically, “The Bare Necessities” is the “Hakuna Matata” for the previous generation. This song emphasizes the quintessential Disney lesson of not “lookin’ around for something that can’t be found.” By learning to appreciate the simple things in life, one can then truly accept the life they have. It may sound easy to do, especially in song form, but you would be surprised at how many people rarely take time to admire “The Bare Necessities” of life.

It’s also worth noting that the 2016 live-action version of The Jungle Book couldn’t resist making a modern cover of this song. Of course, Bill Murray was the natural choice for Baloo, but I think even he had to know that he could not top the original, right? No offense to Murray, but the laid-back, jazzy singing style of Phil Harris is head-and-shoulders above the live-action version. No one will ever top it.

1. Zero to Hero – Hercules (1997)

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’m a HUGE fan of R&B and soul music.

Granted, “Zero to Hero” tends to stray towards that gospel/Motown sound (like The Supremes), but those elements are especially popular in today’s R&B/soul music. With that being said, this song is an absolute masterpiece. Who put the glad in gladiator? Herc-u-les! The clap-along melody along the change in tempo halfway through will make you want to tap your foot and dance around your living room. Not that I’ve done that before or anything…

What makes this song so intriguing is the “Zero to Hero” message. Sure, Hercules had his god-like strength, but he really struggled to fit in with other people. But with time, Hercules showed tremendous courage and will, and ultimately became someone who many people admire. This message can apply to everyone because anyone can go from a nobody to a “somebody” “in no time flat.” The Motown sound on this song is just icing on the cake.

Let me know what you think in the comments below or send me a tweet (@danny_shin131). What do you think is the greatest Disney song of all time? Did your favorite make the cut? Let the debate begin.

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 MLS 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?

WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Happy Birthday to the greatest of all-time… the “Nature Boy” Ric Flair!

Think about all of the people you know in your life. Think about their different upbringings and where they grew up. You know what all of those people have in common?

Their love for Ric Flair.

In a way, Ric Flair brings people of all backgrounds together. The “Nature Boy” is the original stunna. The shades. The suits. The shoes. Best of all, he nailed every single line.

Ric Flair was so cool that when he was a member of the Four Horsemen, he made everyone around him seem cool. Arn Anderson, Tully Blanchard, Sting, Lex Luger, Barry Windham… Ric Flair elevated all of them.

To a certain extent, Hulk Hogan and The Rock possess some similar qualities to Flair. However, not everyone could relate to Hogan and The Rock the way they could relate to Flair. The “Nature Boy” came across as the guy that won the lottery. In other words, “I was born into all of this money and now I’m going to stunt on every single one of you.”

In short, Ric Flair is everything. Happy Birthday!

Let me know WOOOOOO what you think WOOOOOO in the comment section WOOOOOO below WOOOOOO or WOOOOOO send me a tweet (@danny_shin131).

59th Grammy Awards Predictions

The 59th Annual Grammy Awards take place tonight from 8:30 to 11:30 PM ET on CBS! It’s time for us to get pissed off when the artist that we like doesn’t win… because we all know the Grammy Awards are about popularity and politics, NOT musical talent and artistic vision! Here we go!

ALBUM OF THE YEAR
25 – Adele
Lemonade – Beyoncé
Purpose – Justin Bieber
Views – Drake
A Sailor’s Guide to Earth – Sturgill Simpson

WHO SHOULD WIN? Lemonade – Beyoncé
WHO WILL WIN? Lemonade – Beyoncé

If Justin Bieber wins this award…

RECORD OF THE YEAR
“Hello” – Adele
“Formation” – Beyoncé
“7 Years” – Lukas Graham
“Work” – Rihanna Featuring Drake
“Stressed Out” – Twenty One Pilots

WHO SHOULD WIN? “Formation” – Beyoncé
WHO WILL WIN? “Hello” – Adele

Either Beyoncé or Adele can win this award. Just please don’t let Lukas Graham win.

BEST NEW ARTIST
Kelsea Ballerini
The Chainsmokers
Chance the Rapper
Maren Morris
Anderson .Paak

WHO SHOULD WIN? Anderson .Paak
WHO WILL WIN? Probably Chance the Rapper or The Chainsmokers

Just listen to Malibu and Yes Lawd! and you will see why Anderson .Paak is head and shoulders above these other artists.

BEST POP VOCAL ALBUM
25 – Adele
Purpose – Justin Bieber
Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande
Confident – Demi Lovato
This is Acting – Sia

WHO SHOULD WIN? Dangerous Woman – Ariana Grande
WHO WILL WIN? 25 – Adele

Yes, Dangerous Woman is better than 25.

BEST DANCE/ELECTRONIC ALBUM
Skin – Flume
Electronica 1: The Time Machine – Jean Michael-Jarre
Epoch – Tycho
Barbara Barbara, We Face A Shining Future – Underworld
Louis Vega Starring…XXVIII – Louie Vega

WHO SHOULD WIN? Ummm…
WHO WILL WIN? Flume?

BEST ROCK PERFORMANCE
“Joe” (Live From Austin City Limits) – Alabama Shakes
“Don’t Hurt Yourself” – Beyoncé Featuring Jack White
“Blackstar” – David Bowie
“The Sound of Silence” – Disturbed
“Heathens” – Twenty One Pilots

WHO SHOULD WIN? “Don’t Hurt Yourself” – Beyoncé Featuring Jack White
WHO WILL WIN? “Don’t Hurt Yourself” – Beyoncé Featuring Jack White

David Bowie winning this award would be cool as well, but the Grammy’s are probably planning that image of Beyoncé carrying all of her awards down the red carpet because that would make for a great photo-op, right?

BEST METAL PERFORMANCE
“Shock Me” – Baroness
“Silvera” – Gojira
“Rotting In Vain” – Korn
“Dystopia” – Megadeth
“The Price is Wrong” – Periphery

WHO SHOULD WIN? Why is this is a genre of music?
WHO WILL WIN – Baroness?

BEST ROCK SONG
“Blackstar” – David Bowie, songwriter (David Bowie)
“Burn the Witch” – Radiohead, songwriters (Radiohead)
“Hardwired” – James Hetfield & Lars Ulrich, songwriters (Metallica)
“Heathens” – Tyler Joseph, songwriter (Twenty One Pilots)
“My Name is Human” – Rich Mayer, Ryan Mayer & Johnny Stevens, songwriters (Highly Suspect)

WHO SHOULD WIN? “Blackstar” – David Bowie, songwriter (David Bowie)
WHO WILL WIN? “Blackstar” – David Bowie, songwriter (David Bowie)

Radiohead winning this award would be cool as well.

BEST ROCK ALBUM
California – Blink-182
Tell Me I’m Pretty – Cage The Elephant
Magma – Gojira
Death of Bachelor – Panic! at the Disco
Weezer – Weezer

WHO SHOULD WIN? Ummmm… Brendon Urie & Friends?
WHO WILL WIN? Maybe Weezer, but knowing the Grammy’s… Blink-182

This is the worst field for “Best Rock Album” in the history of the Grammy Awards.

BEST ALTERNATIVE MUSIC ALBUM
22, A Million – Bon Iver
Blackstar – David Bowie
The Hope Six Demolition Project – PJ Harvey
Post Pop Depression – Iggy Pop
A Moon Shaped Pool – Radiohead

WHO SHOULD WIN? Blackstar – David Bowie
WHO WILL WIN? Blackstar – David Bowie

This will likely be the year that David Bowie wins many awards because he’s a huge legend that tragically passed away in the past year. Not to mention, Blackstar got fantastic reviews across the music world and he’s contributed so much to rock music. The only problem is that Blackstar is not as “alternative” as some of the other nominees, and that’s likely due to the fact that he’s such a huge star. But regardless, it would be great to see him take home this award.

BEST R&B PERFORMANCE
“Turnin’ Me Up” – BJ the Chicago Kid
“Permission” – Ro James
“I Do” – Musiq Soulchild
“Needed Me” – Rihanna
“Cranes in the Sky” – Solange

WHO SHOULD WIN? “Cranes in the Sky” – Solange
WHO WILL WIN? “Needed Me” – Rihanna

It’s worth noting that “Needed Me” is not that good of a song. “Cranes in the Sky” should win by a landslide.

BEST URBAN CONTEMPORARY ALBUM
Lemonade – Beyoncé
Ology – Gallant
We Are King – KING
Malibu – Anderson .Paak
Anti – Rihanna

WHO SHOULD WIN? Lemonade – Beyoncé
WHO WILL WIN? Lemonade – Beyoncé

This field has the two of best albums of 2016. Lemonade will win, but Malibu is SO GOOD and seeing Anderson .Paak win this award would be an absolutely amazing story. But unfortunately, it’s the Grammy Awards, which means Rihanna probably has a better chance of winning than Anderson .Paak, which is an absolute travesty.

BEST RAP PERFORMANCE
“No Problem” – Chance the Rapper Featuring Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz
“Panda” – Desiigner
“Pop Style” – Drake Featuring The Throne
“All The Way Up” – Fat Joe & Remy May Featuring French Montana & Infared
“That Part” – ScHoolboy Q Featuring Kanye West

WHO SHOULD WIN? “No Problem” – Chance the Rapper Featuring Lil Wayne & 2 Chainz
WHO WILL WIN? “Panda” – Desiigner

Let it be known… Desiigner will win a Grammy Award before Future.

BEST RAP/SUNG PERFORMANCE
“Freedom” – Beyoncé Featuring Kendrick Lamar
“Hotline Bling” – Drake
“Broccoli” – D.R.A.M. Featuring Lil Yachty
“Ultralight Beam” – Kanye West Featuring Chance the Rapper, Kelly Price, Kirk Franklin & The-Dream
“Famous” – Kanye West Featuring Rihanna

WHO SHOULD WIN? “Broccoli” – D.R.A.M. Featuring Lil Yachty
WHO WILL WIN? Anything but “Broccoli” – D.R.A.M. Featuring Lil Yachty

Kanye West should not even be nominated because The Life of Pablo was an awful album. GET HIM OUT!

The reality is that “Hotline Bling” and “Freedom” are both really good tracks and are more likely to take home the award. But “Broccoli” is so stupidly good, though…

BEST RAP ALBUM
Coloring Book – Chance the Rapper
And the Anonymous Nobody – De La Soul
Major Key – DJ Khaled
Views – Drake
Blank Face LP – ScHoolboy Q
The Life of Pablo – Kanye West

WHO SHOULD WIN? Views – Drake
WHO WILL WIN? Views – Drake

Compared to recent years (like 2013 or 2016), this is a very weak field for “Best Rap Album.” Drake will win, as much as you all don’t want him to win, because Views is better than every other album listed above (even though it’s not as good as Thank Me Later or Take Care).

Again, it’s the Grammy’s. Let’s learn to live with disappointment, okay?

Let me know what you think in the comment section below or send me a tweet (@danny_shin131). Who do you want to see take home a Grammy Award this year?

Super Bowl LI: New England Patriots vs. Atlanta Falcons Preview + Predictions

This has been the most boring two weeks leading up to a Super Bowl game that I can ever remember. There has been NOTHING to talk about this year.

And to think… all Cam Newton had to do last year was show up to the Super Bowl to get everyone hyped up. Last year, there were more storylines around his race than there have been with this year’s game.

Anyway, the AFC Champions, the New England Patriots, will take on the NFC Champions, the Atlanta Falcons, in Super Bowl LI tonight in Houston, TX at 6:30 PM ET on FOX.

So let’s get to the game, shall we?

Can the Falcons defense get after Tom Brady?

Can they? Sure, but here’s a better question.

Do the Falcons have FOUR PLAYERS that can get after Tom Brady?

Think back to those two Patriots vs. Giants Super Bowls in 2008 and 2012. In both games, the Giants were successful in pressuring Brady with just four pass rushers. In other words, blitzing Tom Brady will not do the trick.

Not convinced? This season, Brady led the NFL in passer rating against the blitz (122.3). In six Super Bowls, Brady has completed 66.2 percent of his passes against the blitz.

The Falcons can win this game if they can consistently apply pressure with four pass rushers. But again, does Atlanta even have four pass rushers? Besides Vic Beasley, who accounted for about 46 percent of Atlanta’s sacks this season, who else is a legitimate threat on the defensive line?

With that being said, expect the Falcons to find ways to move Beasley inside and get pressure right in Brady’s face. Again, the Giants were able to do that twice and even the Texans were able to get pressure up the middle with Whitney Mercilus and Jadeveon Clowney in the AFC Divisional Round.

But if the Falcons can’t get consistently pressure Brady with four players, they will not win this game. Simple as that.

How will New England’s defense stop Atlanta’s offense?

The Falcons averaged 33.8 points per game in the regular season, which ranks eight in the NFL history. It is worth noting, however, that none of the seven teams ahead of them won the Super Bowl. So if the Falcons score over 30 points and win the Super Bowl, there definitely enter the conversation for the greatest offense of all time.

As for the Patriots defense, although they rank first in defensive scoring, Football Outsiders ranks them 16th in defensive DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every play to a league average based on situation and opponent. In addition, other than Russell Wilson in Week 10 and Ben Roethlisberger in Week 7 and the AFC Championship game, New England’s defense has not played against many quality quarterbacks. In a way, New England’s defense is getting the benefit of the doubt because of the success of head coach Bill Belichick.

Unlike Atlanta’s strategy for Brady, look for the Patriots to pressure quarterback and newly-crowned NFL MVP Matt Ryan with four or more players. The Falcons are fantastic at spreading the ball around in the passing game, even if their opponents only rush three players and drop eight back in zone coverage. According to Football Outsiders, the Patriots send three pass rushers and drop eight into coverage more than any team in the NFL.

So you would imagine Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia came together and said, “Yeah, we’re not sending three pass rushers.”

Instead, look for the Patriots to put five players on the line of scrimmage and rush four or five on every play. As for the secondary, look for the cornerbacks to force the receivers inside towards all the linebacker and safety help over the middle.

Now, what about Quintorris Lopez “Julio” Jones? Well, the Patriots will double-team him similar to how they defended Antonio Brown two weeks ago. They will put their No. 2 cornerback, Logan Ryan, on Jones and have one safety linger over the top to prevent any big plays. As for No. 1 cornerback, Malcolm Butler, they will put him one-on-one with Atlanta’s No. 2 receiver, Mohamed Sanu and try to take him out of the game.

How will Atlanta’s offense counter?

Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan will test New England’s defense early and often by moving around running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman with different shifts and motions. For instance, if Atlanta motions the running back out wide, will the Patriots switch to a zone defense or man coverage? Shanahan would be wise to answer to this question on the first drive of the game.

What about New England’s running backs?

Atlanta’s defense ranks 26th in the league in yards per rushing attempt, so expect offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels to run the ball early in the game and limit Atlanta’s time of possession. What the Patriots will do is use Dion Lewis to tire out Atlanta’s defense by running sideways and moving the Atlanta defense horizontally instead of vertically. Once the defense tires out, they can bring on LeGarrette Blount, who led the league in rushing touchdowns this season, to burst through the middle and finish the job.

And New England’s receivers?

As opposed to the offenses of the Green Bay Packers or New York Giants, the Patriots rely solely on scheme to get their receivers open. Of course, having Brady helps a lot in terms of finding holes in a defense. The Patriots will have no problem getting receivers open because they have been able to do that successfully for the past 16 years.

So who is going to win Super Bowl LI?

I picked the Patriots to win the Super Bowl before the season, so why change it up now? Plus, who doesn’t want to see Roger Goodell hand that Lombardi Trophy to Brady, Belichick and team owner Robert Kraft?

PATRIOTS 28, FALCONS 24

Let me know what you think in the comment section below or send me a tweet (@danny_shin131). Who do you think is going to win Super Bowl LI?