Monday, June 27, 2016

History Repeats Itself

I wrote an article at the beginning of the NBA playoffs if the tournament was going to be disappointing, a letdown as much as an inevitable crowning of the dynastic champion. Obviously, through both some injuries and drop in play from Golden State and some inspired performances from both the Thunder and finally Cavaliers, this was not the case. Golden State went down, and went down hard. After becoming just the third team to overcome a 1-3 series deficit in the Conference Finals, they became the first team (out of 33) to lose when up 3-1 in the Finals.

In that article, I compared the Warriors to the 2007 Patriots, probably the most recent Superteam that entered a playoffs as such a heavy favorite. And in the end, while that article featured a lot of hypotheticals and analyses that turned out to not be true, the comparison did. The Warriors joined the Patriots in infamy, blowing a clear shot to be the best team in the history of their sport. The comparison actually runs really deep.

The Incredible Start

The Warriors and Patriots both entered their season as the favorite. The Warriors were the defending Champions, and the Patriots were 12-4 the previous season and added Randy Moss and Wes Welker (and Dante Stallworth and Adalius Thomas), seemed loaded to break out. And boy did they both do just that.

The Warriors started the season 24-0, and it really seemed for most of that run they would seriously challenge the Lakers 33-game win streak record. They were unleashing a new type of offense, or at least doing so in more volume and with more speed, than anyone had previously. Raining threes, moving the ball and moving players just as much. Their offense was a whirring streak of beauty, equal parts an incredible system and singular talents. They got basically halfway through the season at 37-4, outscoring opponents by 13 points per game.

The Patriots were basically the same. Obviously, they started the season 16-0, but the real peak Patriots started the season 8-0. In those 8 games they played football about as good as it could be played. Their offense was something completely new. Unabashedly passing the ball, both short to Welker, middle to Stallworth and Watson, and deep to Moss, with equal efficiency. They had outscored their 8 opponents a dominant 331-127, both the league's best offense (one that was putting up a ridiculous level of efficiency through that point) and one of their best defenses. No one really came close. Their closest game to that point was a 34-17 win over Cleveland - a team that would finish 10-6 - a game that they lead in 34-10 before a garbage time TD. The Patriots were unparalleled.

Beyond just their respective brilliance, both teams showed some strength and added determination competing under a dark shadow. For the Patriots, obviously it was Spygate, arguably the best in-season motivation a team was ever given as they played out to prove that stealing signals had no part of how good they had been or would be. For the Warriors, it was the leave of absence by coach Steve Kerr through the first 43 games. Neither issue stopped the team at all.

The Brilliant but Mentally Tough finish

Both teams would continue on their way to historic seasons and do so in similar fashion. Both were still historically great in the 2nd halves of their seasons, the Warriors going 36-5, and the Patriots, obviously, repeating the 8-0 mark, but this time outscoring their opponents by 'only' 258-147. Both teams were 'best of all time' good through the first half, and merely historically good in the second, but that added to 'best of all time' good through the regular seasons.

The small drop from best ever to one of the best did open up a few areas that, in retrospect, were warning signs. For the Warriors, it was a slight drop in play, such as more times they needed to overcome slow starts or make 4th-quarter comebacks. Their overall offense became more and more dependent on Steph Curry as the play of the deep bench slowed. Teams changed strategies. It barely made a dent in their overall record, but odd losses to Portland, Los Angeles, and shock defeats to Boston and Minnesota at home definitely showed the team was beatable.

For the Patriots, of course no one actually managed to beat them, but there were signs. Just like the Warriors, they started to get challenged more. Game #9 was a 10-point 4th Quarter Comeback against the Colts. Games #11-12 were back-to-back three point wins against the Eagles and Ravens, two teams starting backup QBs (AJ Feeley and Kyle Boller). Even Game #14 was a soft win, a 20-10 result over the Jets - the team that 'outed' them in Spygate. The Patriots were definitely not playing a different sport anymore.

The Primary Rival that Got Beat

Both teams had one key rival that was there all season long - and they were the perfect rivals. For the Patriots, it was their always perfect rival, Manning and the Colts. Indy entered the season as defending champions, and started the campaign 7-0, outscoring their opponents 224-102. They were the best defense in teh league to that point, an interesting change for a team that made their bones with a brilliant offense. The Colts lost their next two games, and were never really threatening for the #1 seed, but their presence as a dominant 13-3 team themselves set the footballing world in deep anticipation for an eventual AFC Championship Game. Their regular season game was the most hyped (and most watched) regular season game in the past decade, dubbed Super Bowl 41.5. Of course, there never was that AFC Championship Game.

We can draw a direct comparison from the 2007 Colts to the 2015-16 San Antonio Spurs. They too were natural rivals, longtime pole-bearers for the NBA. They too, had been known as the top offense in the league, or at least one of, in recent years, but their success this past season was due to the best defense in the league. The Spurs started 33-8 halfway through, and kept right there with the Warriors all season long. Maybe even more so than the Colts vs. Patriots AFC Title Game felt like an inevitability, a Warriors vs. Spurs Western Conference Finals was a lock. And what a series it would be, best offense vs. best defense. New-age Warriors vs. Old-School Spurs. Yet it didn't happen either.

The Playoff Warning Signs

Both teams ended their regular seasons squarely in 'best team of all-time' status. The Patriots were seen as something of a lock for that title, the first 16-0 team, and far more impressive in their 16 wins than the 1972 Dolphins were in their 14. The Warriors had detractors pushing for some of the other teams, but their record was fairly impeachable. Both also entered the playoffs as clear favorites, and even more than their relative lack of tough contests, those that gave them trouble weren't really the top teams. The Patriots played scores of good teams, and other than Super Bowl 41.5 and their Week 17 win over the Giants, none of those games were close. The Warriors, apart from one loss to the Spurs, were undefeated against the other Top-4 seeds.

Fast-forward to their respective Championship Rounds, the arguments that maybe these weren't the best teams of all time were a lot stronger. For the Warriors, it was their inability to shake off the Blazers (partially due to Curry's absence in Games 1-2) in five competitive games. The Blazers really were not even in their class so in the end they posed no real threat. For the Patriots, it was taking a full half to shake off the Jacksonville Jaguars, who drew them at 14-14 through the first 30 minutes.

For each, the scarier moment was their respective Conference Final. The Patriots didn't have to play the Colts, but struggled to put away a gimpy, injured, but extremely talented, Chargers team. The score read 21-12, but the fact that THIS Patriots team beat THAT Chargers team by only 9 spoke volumes, as did Randy Moss's 1 catch and Tom Brady's three interceptions. They did lead for nearly all the game, and closed it out in brilliant fashion on a drive that ran off the last nine minutes, but it was not pretty.

The Warriors win was pretty in the end, but it took seven games where at no point other than Game 2 did they actually look like the better team. Maybe they were relieved that it wasn't the Spurs against them, but the Warriors sleep-walked through the end of Game 1 and allowed OKC to steal it. They then got ran off the court in Games 3-4 in embarrassing fashion. They won the last three with an unnervingly close win in Game 5, stealing the 6th game in OKC, and then overcoming a half-time deficit in Game 7.

Both teams escaped to the last round alive, but the playoffs showed some failings, and injury concerns (hard to remember, but Brady was in a walking boot early in the two-week break), but they were there. But the mystique of the "Greatest Team of All Time" had somewhat worn off. It was hard to make the case for either, as playoff performance should matter. The Greatest Team of All Time shouldn't be down 1-3 in any series, or shouldn't struggle to put away two 11-5 teams.

The Final Collapse

The similarities somewhat break down in the last stage. The similarity is they both lost close - the Warriors losing a tremendously well played Game 7 at home, and the Patriots losing a similarly well-played Super Bowl to the Giants. Both teams lost in low-scoring, defensive affairs that, for most of the game, featured the underrated parts of their teams (defense). They both lost making crucial mistakes by key players, like Steph Curry throwing a behind-the-back pass out of bounds, or not being able to take Kevin Love 1-v-1, or Asante Samuel dropping a pick, or Rodney Harrison not able to knock that ball off of David Tyree's helmet.

That said, the Warriors choke shouldn't be underestimated. Theirs was a true choke, losing despite taking a 2-0 lead (the most dominant first two games in NBA Finals history), despite taking a 3-1 lead, and despite having two of the last three at home. They were blown out twice in Cleveland (making it 4 times they lost by 15+ in the last two rounds). They had a top player suspended for a potential close-out game. The Patriots, to be fair, lost because they played a team uniquely built to beat them when they played well. They were lost against the Giants pass rush and an off-Brady didn't help. They actually were lucky to be leading at halftime, and when they had a chance to take the lead late they did - only to see it slip away.

Both teams entered their seasons with high hopes and ran through them, overcame a few challenges, only to see a season long dream fall apart at the very end.

The Ultimate Loser

In the end, which loss was worse is an interesting question. There are arguments to be made on both sides. The Patriots were probably 'better', as they were so incredibly good during the regular season. They hadn't actually 'lost' a game heading into that Super Bowl, and they weren't playing a team that had the best player in the series / game like the Warriors were.

Of course, the Patriots only had to play one game game. The Warriors had to play four; they had to play three in a row after taking a 3-1 lead. They had to lose Game 7 at home, when home teams were 15-2 in the history of the Finals in Game 7. It is harder to lose a series than a single game, and we have seen brilliant NFL teams lose the Super Bowl before but no team this good lost an NBA Finals (other than when losing to another great team).

In the end, I think the actual loss of the Finals is worse for the Warriors. They choked away the Finals in a manner that had literally never been done before - dropping three straight including the finale at home. They were so overconfident through the first two games, to see it all come crashing down was hard to watch.

However, in the context of the whole season, I can't see anything topping the Patriots loss. Both had a chance to make history and a claim for 'Best Team of All Time', but the Patriots had a chance to set a mark of 19-0 that would be impossible to beat unless the league went to a longer schedule. They were also so incredibly good in the start of the season, it seemed more unfathomable through midseason.

In the end, the two most attractive, enticing, brilliant and menacing regular season teams of my lifetime shared similar heights, similar (relative) lows, similar playoff scares and similar playoff triumphs, only to see their seasons end in similar infamy.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Appreciating LeBron

Maybe it has something to do with growing older. Maybe it has something to do with seeing the generation of players I grew up with are starting to retire. Maybe it is slightly growing tired of hating players. I have no idea why, but in my life as a sports fan, I've come around on greatness. For years, it was fun watching the little guy win, watching the beauty of competition. It takes a while to realize every now and then it is fun to watch greatness, in awe of these people who can perform spectacular acts. It happened for me with Roger Federer and Tiger Woods. It happened with Sidney Crosby. And now, for me, it is LeBron James.

What LeBron James has done in these last two games shouldn't mean that much. He's already a four-time MVP (should have been at least five - the Derrick Rose MVP is going to stick out awfully in 20 years), with two titles, and an array of statistical accomplishments across both offense and defense, scoring and passing and rebounding, that leaves him nearly unparalleled in the history of the NBA. Still, watching him do what he did has been absolutely beautiful.

Maybe it was the tangle with Draymond Green, and getting upset at this crazed lunatic that wears number 23 swiping at him and calling him a 'bitch' (or worse), but whatever it was it triggered something in LeBron. It was as if he just said 'Enough, I've had it with this team.' He's had with them, with people saying Steph is better, with people saying he is past his prime, with people saying he isn't clutch, that his impending 2-5 NBA Finals record is worse than going 2-0. Like Samuel Jackson's infamous line at the end of Snakes on a Plane, LeBron had had it with these mf-ing Warriors - and he unleashed Holy Hell.

LeBron was incredible in Game 5, dropping a 41-16-7 line. People still weren't too happy, noting he did it without Draymond in the lineup against him. So he dropped 41 again in Game 6, with another 11 assists - some perfectly timed touch passes to Tristan Thompson and JR Smith. LeBron seemed to want to show the viewing public not only wasn't he the best scorer in the league - he may be the best passer as well. There were no excuses or 'buts' you could attach to Game 6. Draymond played. The Warriors were whole. He was facing elimination. And he did that.

The only reason anyone has ever criticized LeBron James is because he is so good, so physically gifted, so ethereally talented, that we all expect him to play like he did in Game 5 or Game 6 every game. Expectations have never been higher, partially because no one has hit those highs as much as LeBron has since Jordan retired. It is telling that you can have an open discussion on what the best LeBron playoff performance has been and people can argue legitimatiely for 2-3 other games over the past two.

LeBron James is 31, and despite him seeing a perfectly inhuman ageless cobra, there are signs he is on the decline. His shot had dropped off this year. His effort on defense has been declining for years. He had picked up a few injuries - including missing 10 games last year to 'rest up.' He is conserving his energy to really explode in these perfect moments that need his brilliance the most.

The Warriors are favored for Game 7 and they should be, but it is just one game now. LeBron, if he does what he did in Game 5 and Game 6, can lead the Cavs to a title - it will be the crowning achievement for King James. Even if he doens't, the series will serve as a lasting reminder of who owned the NBA from 2005 until whenever he stops wanting to be The King.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Top-20 QBs: #10 - Fran Tarkenton

#10 - Fran Tarkenton

We like to put QBs in groups. Manning the neo-Marino. Brady the neo-Montana. This makes sense - it is always best to try to explain greatness by comparing it to other greatness. There are many great QBs today who run around throw the ball and 'play the game like a kid out there.' All of those players, whether Favre, or Roethlisberger, or even Tony Romo, are the neo-Tarkenton.

Fran Tarkenton was the bridge, in a way. The last QB to be famous purely for running around and throwing off-balance bombs. Football fans can see that mental image, that grainy black-and-white highlight of some Otto Graham or Norm Van Brocklin highlight of the player rolling around, evading lithe 200-lb 'defensive lineman', running backwards 30-yards to throw it 40-yards - netting just 10 yards, but taking 15 seconds and creating a memorable moment that could be scored to some nice orchestra NFL Films music. Fran Tarkenton was the last of these players. But he was also one of the first to throw more than he handed off, to run a dynamic, vertical offense that was the key to his teams offense. Tarkenton represents the NFL's stylistic turning point.

Tarkenton was also surrounded by a startling lack of offensive talent, both in New York and then in Minnesota - where he also had to compete with outdoor weather and frigid winters. There were real reasons his stats were slightly supressed. But talent wins out - talent that allowed Tarkenton to retire with the records for career yards and TDs.

Tarkenton famously never won a Super Bowl, probably the first player to really have that criticism and label attached to him, weighing his legacy down. Years later, we can see the lack of talent that surrounded him, the three Super Bowls his Vikings did play in (losing each time to All-Time great teams in the 70's Dolphins, Steelers and Raiders). We see the unfortunate loss in 1975 to the Cowboys off of the 'Hail Mary'. We see him wasting his prime (by age) in New York. We understand now why Tarkenton did not win a playoff game - the only person hurt by this delay in Fran himself.

If you see an interview with Tarkenton, he comes across bitter, somewhat jaded, almost unloved - not that you can blame him as he was a player often criticized for what he wasn't rather than what he did. He had the unfortunate luck of being so much better than an Archie Manning he could drag dreadful talent around him to creating a good offense - but not a great one that could win a title. That land in the middle might be worse than being Archie Manning. It is, in a way, easier to mythologize the guy who ran backwards before throwing it when his team goes 5-11 ("What could have been?") than when they go 10-6 ("What should have been?"). Luckily for Tarkenton, enough people opened their eyes to see his extraordinary career - just I wish it was sooner for his sake.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

The Kid Gets His Cup

I don't know at what point I stopped disliking Sidney Crosby. I certainly never hated him. Despite playing for a divisional rival of my Devils, we never played the Crosby Pens in the playoffs - and actually generally had good success against them in the regular season. I didn't like Crosby for the reasons lots of hockey fans didn't like him: he was a little too entitled, a little too whiny, and a lot too good.

Over time, though, I grew to realize just how spectacularly talented he was, and also how that coupled with his teams failings in the playoffs (save for, you know, winning the Cup in 2009) made him quite similar to my favorite athlete ever: one Peyton Manning.

Yes, I know I try to shoehorn Peyton into every discussion (I will make no such apology when I shamelessly do this during the upcoming Peyton-less NFL season), but the comparison is apt. Crosby like Peyton was the most talented player of his era. Crosby, like Peyton, combined that talent with a peerless work ethic and general sacrifice and example setting that all sports fans should embrace. Crosby never got that embrace - and somehow despite winning a Stanley Cup early in his career (his 4th season) over the years become the face of the Penguins continued playoff failures.

We shouldn't feel bad for Sidney, a well compensated player who could always deflect the highest of criticisms because he did have that ring on his finger - but Peyton can easily show you just how much deflection a ring can bring: not as much as you would think. The Penguins had some spectacular flame-outs over the years, like their 2012 meltdown against Philadelphia (a series highlighted by an 8-3 game three loss where his teammates ran around headhunting), or in 2013 when they were swept aside by Boston - a series highlighted with the two captains getting into an argument that was capped with the great visual of Zdeno Chara literally bending down to meet Crosby face-to-face. The next year, the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead to the Rangers. At this point, Crosby had no real leeway left.

Much like Peyton, it was never really Crosby's fault. His brilliance carried lesser line-mates to great regular season success, but when teams could gameplan, and defenses got better, and referees started swallowing whistles, the lack of depth the Penguins routinely brought into series was exposed. It was never really Crosby's fault. It was never Manning's fault. In the end, they both got that second ring when no one expected.

Sidney Crosby is the best player of this generation, someone whom great expectations were placed on from the time he was a kid in Juniors. The NHL draft lottery was created literally because of Crosby's brilliance - his draft year was following the lockout, so the NHL instituted a draft that the Penguins 'won'. He was a franchise savior - and he truly was. By his second season, Crosby was the league's MVP, scoring 120 points in 79 games. The only thing keeping him away from adding more MVPs early in his career was injuries. In the 2010-11 season (66 points in 41 games), 2011-12 season (37 points in 22 games), Crosby was by far the league's best player but concussions kept him from playing 60% of those seasons. He finally got healthy, and his team got good again, and the rest is history.

Sidney Crosby's brilliance is, in a way, as inexplicable as Manning's from a physical standpoint. He is far from the best skater, or hardest shooter, but he is the best passer and sees the ice like no player since prime Jaromir Jagr. Crosby was a dominant force in these playoffs, and while it translated to less points than most would have expected, his ability to control the puck and lay waste to the opposing top lines he was routinely pitted against was a key factor to the Penguins defensive success.

A study of the Penguins 2016 Stanley Cup Title would lend itself to a lot of subjects that played large roles aside from Crosby. The famed HBK line picked up the scoring slack when Crosby's line struggled against Washington. Rookie goaltender Matt Murray was great, undefeated after losses. The defense somehow kept strong despite losing Trevor Daley in the Conference Finals. The team committed staggeringly few penalties - neutering the Sharks key advantage. Coach Mike Sullivan pushed all the right buttons, and much mocked GM Jim Rutherford pulled the strings to supplement his stars with, for once, depth and young talent. It all blended together to create a scarily efficient team.

Much like with Manning, it took getting a great team around him to bring him back to glory, but that is present in hockey as much as it is in any sport. Even the 'goalie who stands on his head' rarely actually wins the Cup (see JS Giguere in 2003 losing to the Devils - a far deeper, better roster). One great player can only do so much, but that shouldn't take away from how much Crosby has done, did do and, hopefuly, will continue to do. Two days after the NHL lost one of its greatest players, this era's greatest got the one thing he needed most to be rightly compared to the legends of hockey: that second Cup.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Goodbye Mr. Hockey

Hockey has a way of being overshadowed. Obviously, the sport itself is overshadowed, the fourth largest game in what is becoming a three-sport country. But even its big moments are often swept aside. The great story this year is the San Jose Sharks, a team that inspires a range of emotions and thoughts from NHL fans, finally having their day in the sun... only to have their next-door neighbor in the Bay Area continue their historic rise as an NBA dynasty.

And now, on the day a true legend of the game, the man who connects the modern NHL (his last year was Gretzky's third) to its rough, isolated upbringing, dies it is the day of Muhammad Ali's funeral. There is no argument Ali was a more significant sporting icon, largely because his success, importance and influence extended so far beyond sports, but Gordie Howe deserved slightly more than his death being completely overshadowed - but when you look back at the career and the man himself, maybe that is what he would have wanted.

I am obviously too young to have watched Gordie Howe play, and the footage I have seen shows a great player but someone playing a very foreign game. Other than baseball, all sports seem so different when you watch old clips, but hockey it seems turned that corner from completely strange to what we have now far later than the rest. The NFL and NBA of the 70's resembles today's game, hockey doesnt'. But you can still watch and be amazed at the skills this giant but graceful man possessed. Gordie Howe, also, was the first true start of the sport to play in the US. Four of the Original Six teams were based South of the Border, but no player had made a true impact until Gordie came along.

When I think of Gordie Howe, my mind immediately connects him to Jean Beliveau, the Montreal Canadiens legend who passed away in early 2015, who's career mirrored Howe's (until Howe decided to play till 52, so it went another 10 years). Beliveau and Howe were similar players, larger, faster and more skilled than those around them. Beliveau continued a long line of masters in Montreal, but his true legacy was not the 7 Cups he won as captain, but the humanitarian and community hero he was in Montreal. Howe was the same, both in the hometown of Saskatoon, and in the Detroit area where he left a lasting legacy.

Gordie Howe's career accomplishments are easy enough, the 6 Hart Trophies as MVP, the 4 Stanley Cups, retiring with all the records. One by one, Gretzky took those records away, but Wayne himself will tell you he sees Gordie Howe as the greatest player in hockey history. Howe is the type of guy who would get mad at Wayne and say the reverse. Few players have ever been so effusive of praising the next generation and supporting the guy chasing their records as Howe was - being there for all of Wayne's record breaking moments.

The tributes from all media outlets, both American and Canadian have been glowing. Hockey media itself will work themselves into a frenzy with trying to best encapsulate a man who defined the sport. The fact that this is coming right in the middle of teh Stanley Cup Finals is poetic.

Few athletes from Howe's era remain in any sport, and it is always tough when one of the titans of our games passes away. For Howe, he died after living a long life full of incredible memories but incredible achievements. He was a person we all should emulate and bring ourselves to live like. Hockey has a lot of those types of players (all sports do). Jean Beliveau was the same way. Wayne Gretzky was the same way - and I hope when he passes (hopefully a long, long, long time from now) people remember that as much as the alien nature of his statistical accomplishments. Gordie Howe was everything, he truly was Mr. Hockey.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

8 Years of Soccer

I watched the opening game of The Copa America Centenario yesterday in a New York bar, packed to the brim with USMNT fans - the bar a delightful mix of reds, whites and blues. The game itself was something of a disaster, a desultory 0-2 loss, with few real chances. But forget about the game. I'm here to talk about the atmosphere. Here we are, in the throes of the NBA Finals, and the MLB season, and it being a Friday Night - the first one post-Memorial Day - and the bar was packed.

The bar was enlivened with song after song, chant after chant, over the two hours. The chants were not complex, a tad crude, but it was an amazing sight. Here we are in America, and we are add huddled shoulder-to-shoulder, singing and chanting our lungs out. The whole crowd was aged 18-30, all people that grew up in a country increasingly embracing the USMNT, embracing the sport.

Next weekend, UEFA Euro 2016 is starting in France. Other than the World Cup, this is the biggest tournament in international football, a celebration of soccer that is more consolidated with talent than even the World Cup - there are no minnows in this tournament. While the exposure of Euro 2016 may not be as large in the US this time around due to the parallel Copa America, but we can draw a line directly back to the experience that was Euro 2008 - a tournament that grew my interest as much as the outcome drew our countries interest. A lot has changed in eight years.

Eight years ago, the thought of me watching the USMNT play in a bar packed with screaming, delirious home-grown fans would have been absurd - and only partially because I was just 17 at the time. I was something of a soccer fan but Euro 2008 was my awakening. A mix of coincidences left me alone at home for most of that tournament, with few things else to do than watch the two games a day. Euro 2008 was also the awakening for Spain, for tiki-taka.

Spain was the best team from the start, and they won the tournament with ease, finally setting aside all the labels of chokers and talented wastes that had been such a part of their history. They played with a style of possession, short intricate passing, and brilliant finishing. They called it tiki-taka. That fall, Pep Guardiola would take over in Barcelona, with a lot of the same players that just won for Spain, adding in a 21-year old Lionel Messi, and they would take over the world.

Both Spain and Barcelona's simultaneous dynasties became old and tired by 2012-13 or so, but in that period, they combined to help lift the sports profile in the US. The fresh, intricate, exciting brand of play captivated the US like nothing else in soccer before. Liking the Blaugrana became trendy, became new. As much as anything the USMNT did themselves, the dual rise of tiki-taka at the international and club level helped rise the interest level in the US.

;We can see this in the way the sport was covered. In the 2006 World Cup in Germany, most of the ESPN coverage was hosted from the US - moving to Germany for only the semifinals and final. Same with Euro 2008 in Poland. By 2010, in the World Cup in South Africa, ESPN's coverage had moved right to Johannesburg. Interest raised so quickly, so sharply, after that water-shed tournament.

It is hard to remember now a world before soccer was this big in the US. During the 2014 World Cup, there were crowd shots of viewing parties lining the streets of places like Kansas City and Columbus and Denver. The sports rise through the various channels culminated in that tournament, where the US lost in the Round of 16 - but for the first time we looked at that as a disappointment.

It is hard to say if interest has peaked, or if it will just continue to rise. Certainly, the interest in the USMNT is still on an upward path, and the viewing numbers for the large tournaments will remain strong, but there is still a feeling that the MLS, or even larger club soccer is more a niche interest. As someone who liked to think I liked soccer before most, I'm fine with this, but then again it is really fun to see through an entire bar wrapped up in the ecstasy of international soccer, to be chanting and hollering and shouting. If that's where peak interest will be, I'll certainly take it.

About Me

I am a man who will go by the moniker dmstorm22, or StormyD, but not really StormyD. I'll talk about sports, mainly football, sometimes TV, sometimes other random things, sometimes even bring out some lists (a lot, lot, lot of lists). Enjoy.