At last, the first of the Spring Training games are upon us, and baseball fans across the country are filled with hope that their baseball club have what it takes to make it to October and even a championship.
I’ve got the Mets/Cardinals game on, but this all a preview to 7pm, when we get the first Cubs Sprint Training game against the A’s. The Marquee Network has all the coverage and if you’re in Des Moines, you’ll find it on Channel 768 on Mediacom or on DirecTV or Hulu.
Tomorrow, the Cubbies face the Dodgers and from all initial looks, LA looks strong this season.
While we’re on the topic, New Era rolled out new Spring Training caps, which are a mash-up of the home and away logos. While some look reasonable, what was the thought on the Cubs’ cap?
But, on the other hand, the Blue Jays and the Yankees seemed to have gotten it right with a more straight-forward design with heavier contrasts and a better blend in their designs.
In some ways, the FA Cup (The Football Association Cup) is the finest of all soccer competitions in the world. It brings together English clubs from each of the tiers, with exciting play where lower teams have a chance to topple larger clubs. Many of these matches will be absolute crackers, with teams you’ve never heard of stepping up to bravely take on some of the biggest names in the sport. For the back history on the FA Cup, check the wikipedia page.
Throughout the full soccer season, these English clubs battle their way down to the final match in May. This weekend, we hit the Third Round of proper competition, so you’ll see clubs from the Premier League and Championship League battling for dominance in knockout rounds to stay in the competition. Here is whats on tap for the weekend.
Here are the matches I’m really looking forward to:
Brighton v. Sheffield Wednesday. You know I’ve got to support the Owls. It is still (as I write this) 0-0 at the beginning of the second half. I’d have thought Wednesday would be a bit stronger than they’ve looked, but Brighton seems to be full of surprises.
Reading v. Blackpool. At the half, Blackpool was up by a goal. This match feels more evenly spread between the teams.
Man City v. Port Vale. This will be a fun game to watch, though City may absolute destroy Port Vale. I love watching smaller teams play the big boys. Port Vale have nothing to lose and I hope they play with a strong heart.
Chelsea v. Nottingham Forest. This is going to be a match of pure fun too. I watch a lot of Nottingham’s matches and I think they’ll give Chelsea a good run. But, I ultimately hope Chelsea pulls it off.
Crystal Palace v. Derby County. Derby has Wayne Rooney on their side. This should be an absolute smash-up.
Gillingham v. West Ham. Up the Hammers, of course.
Arsenal v. Leeds United. I’m anticipating Leeds makes it up the Premier League next season as they currently sit atop the Championship League table. It’ll be a good test of Arsenal’s metal to see if they can make it past Leeds United.
The first day of 2020 brings us a full day of Premier League, thank goodness. Here’s the schedule and if for some unfathomable reason, TheBlackPitch.com is your main source of soccer insights AND you’re a Chelsea fan, I hope you have some other reminder to wake up early for the first match, because we’re only hours away at this point, and you’re likely still out in the streets, whooping it up and drinking yourself into the abyss that was 2019.
PSA: Don’t drink and drive. If you’re gonna drink, don’t drive and if you’re gonna drive, don’t drink.
Of course, tomorrow (or today, depending on when you’re actually reading this) will be a good day to have NBC Sports Gold Premier League Pass. The Watford v. Wolves match should be interesting, as should the West Ham v. Bournemouth. It’ll be West Ham’s first match at home with newly-reappointed manager David Moyes. Typically, you’d expect a bit of a rebound bounce from a club bringing in a new manager, so we’ll see what the actual turnaround might look like for The Hammers. Of course, the standard NBCSN lineup will provide plenty of fun for the day, as I anticipate you, like me, won’t be leaving the couch.
2020 New Year’s Resolutions
The bigger thing I’ve been thinking about is resolutions for the new year, as it relates to my indulgence in soccer/football/the beautiful game. Here are my Top 5 Resolutions for 2020.
Make a better effort to consistently catch the NWSL and Women’s FA club matches. As much as I’ve caught matches here and there, both leagues haven’t been in my regular rotation as much as they should be. Part of this was tracking down a better way to watch, which I think I might have a solution for, but some of this really comes down to putting together a viewing calendar to make sure I’m not tuning in last minute, all of the time. I do this for Premier League, Bundesliga and MLS, so I simply need to add these leagues to the rotation.
See at least four of the Des Moines’ Menace’s home matches this season. I like the Menace. I have a ton of fun watching the lads, especially in recent seasons. Part of being a supporter of local soccer is getting out to the soccer you have in your community. Sometimes, and this is me being totally transparent, but our local club can be a bit of out-of-sight, out-of-mind for me, and remember, soccer is my favorite sport. Part of this is the ease of watching the bigger clubs with the better viewing options. While it allows me to be a soccer fan and digest a lot of matches, it also allows me to be a lazy fan. I have to be out supporting the community in which I live if I hope that we ever have a real chance at fostering a club in a larger league in the Des Moines area.
Regularly watch USL Championship and USL One matches on ESPN+. While these aren’t new additions to ESPN+ (I believe), I simply need to add them to the rotation. In recent months, my attention has turned to interests in the more localized/regional soccer options. These are all great clubs and I don’t mean this in any type of disrespect, but it’s simply easier to be a fan of the biggest clubs in the world. Soccer has to be, first and foremost, local for it to grow and flourish. So, while our Menace will be playing at the League Two level and I’ll have to see it in person, I can help the audience grow by watching the matches on ESPN+.
Watch at least half as many Sheffield Wednesday matches as I watch Chelsea FC matches. One of these days, the Owls will be in the Premier League. Then, my heart will be tugged into two parts. But, until that day, I need to do a better job keeping up with SW.
Finish hanging my new Chelsea FCand Sporting KC flags in my home office. Typical me. Received two brand-new, beautiful flags to hang in the home office, but both are sitting, folded neatly on my desk. There’s got to be a break in the action on New Year’s Day, right?
You really have to give it to Jurgen Klopp. He knew what it was saying when he told the world that he’d turn “doubters” into “believers.” Today, just one match shy of the halfway mark in the season, they lead the table by 13 points, with a crushing performance against the second place team, Leicester City (Liverpool 4:0 Leicester City). Today’s match, as in nearly every match since the season began was beautiful, with Liverpool playing with the confidence of champions the world hasn’t seen since the early 90’s Chicago Bulls. This team is truly special (and this is from a Chelsea fan) and it is clear proof that Klopp is a genius.
Tottenham scored a brilliant second goal against Brighton (reminder thanks to my brother-in-law, Keith, who wasn’t in a Theraflu-induced morning nap like this guy was). Bournemouth/Arsenal was a dumpster fire that ended in a draw. Somehow, Watford punched above it’s class to result in a draw with Sheffield United. In the fight for the bottom of the table, Aston Villa outpaced Norwich, which leaves the Canaries at the bottom of the pile. Crystal Palace squeaks one out on West Ham (Happiness for pals Molly and Sarah who I believe got to watch the match live from a box). Everton beats Burnley, Man United sticks it to Newcastle and Liverpool brings the hammer of God down on the Foxes.
So, Boxing Day leaves us with this view of the table.
If Man City beat the Wolves, they’ll put Leicester City out of the second position, but a draw will keep ’em even.
Just a reminder of what is on, in the event that you’ve somehow just tuned in to what is important in life. Premier League is going full tilt all day with some great match-ups on NBCSN and the NBC Sports Gold Premier League Season Pass.
If you’re wondering why we watch soccer on Boxing Day and not actual boxing, read up on the holiday here. Also, if you have to ask why you would need a reason to watch soccer, you’re clearly in the wrong place.
Thursday, December 26 will be no day to sleep on. The Premier League will be in fine form with enough matches to get you through whatever Xmas-hangover you may be experiencing.
Me? I’ll be starting the day really early with Tottenham and hanging around for the Chelsea match. Then, of course, I’ll double-dip on a ManUnited and a Leicester v Liverpool cracker. I’m not sure how quickly NBC Gold’s Premier League Season Pass will have the OnDemand content up, but I’ll definitely be coming back for the Crystal Palace v West Ham match.
Today was the kind of day that you wait weeks for, and it wasn’t just because the Blues came out victorious with a win at Tottenham. The match was a pure 90+ minutes of incredible play, showing Chelsea in rare recent for.
Frank Lampard set the boys in with a new formation, one that worked very well to their comfort zone. Both of the goals were scored by Willian, first at the 12 minute mark and then again right before the whistle blew for half-time. There wouldn’t be another goal in the match, but Chelsea held off Tottenham thoroughly throughout the remainder. Tottenham simply couldn’t get it together.
Though Chelsea had only a little more than half of the possession, check out how dominate and effective the Blues’ play was. More shots, more shots on target, better pass accuracy. Tottenham is a fairly technically proficient team. They simply weren’t creating opportunities today.
Now for the Ugly Bits
Sixty minutes into the match, Rudiger fouls Son, who then kicks his foot up (cleats up) into Rudiger’s chest and Rudiger goes down. It looks blatant. Son gets the red card after a bit of theater from the Spur and gets sent off. Shortly thereafter, you could hear the Spurs crowd taunting monkey noises at Rudiger.
The referee halts the match momentarily to handle the report from Rudiger that he’s being verbally taunted and Spurs supporters in the stands are making monkey gestures at him. As all of this is happening, someone throws a drink out onto the pitch at Chelsea’s goalkeeper, Kepa. There are three different PA announcements about refraining from racist behavior in the stands. Three. You can’t make this up.
And this is the sour to a great match-up. Going in, you had all the drama of the story line between Spurs’ Mourinho and Chelsea’s Lampard, the master and the student. You have a young Chelsea team that are steadying their pace as they hold onto the top tier of the table, while Tottenham is working to right the ship as they’ve come out of a dark period under their former manager. Lampard brings in a very effective formation and things start clicking immediately.
Then you have the idiot Spurs supporters who caused all the ruckus in the stands near the end of the match and swayed all the attention from a perfectly good Chelsea thumping to a storyline of racist actions by supporters.
There should be cameras everywhere in the stadium. As Tottenham review the incident, they should be able to figure out who was behind this ugly distraction. And, to be completely transparent, an ugly distraction is the watered down version. I can’t imagine that whoever is behind the incident are REAL supporters. And, if they are, it says a lot about the state of our beautiful game. A lifetime ban from English football would be a starter. Getting a good thwacking from some visiting St. Pauli’s guests would be one better.
People from all different walks of life and places the world over come together to make soccer the greatest sport ever played. If, as a supporter, you have to rely on vile, racist/homophobic taunts and insults to defend your club’s short-comings, cash in your chips and get out of the game. I hope the Premier League, and every league for that matter, make a very strong stand that individuals who display these ugly tendencies have no welcome in our stadiums. They’re not real soccer fans. They’re not true club supporters.