Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gunners are done firing blanks

Jumping to conclusions far too soon, based on one game, or one moment, is just one of the proud traditions of the sports writer. David Beckham was solely responsible for England’s exit from the 1998 World Cup and wasn’t fit to wear the jersey, the Miami Heat would waltz into the finals after signing Lebron and Bosh, then they were totally unsuited to each other and would only win if they traded one of their superstars, you can’t win anything with kids…

So after watching Arsenal beat Chelsea handily on Monday, there was no doubt that the pundits would be quick to declare Chelsea in crisis and Arsenal as genuine title contenders. And as much as I would love to be the voice of reason, urging composure with a knowing smile, I have no choice but to agree. Chelsea’s poor form is more than just a blip; the Gunners have come of age and are a genuine threat to claim silverware for the first time since the demise of the Invincibles.

The match itself was unsurprisingly one sided. The surprise was that it was Arsenal who were that side. This fixture has run like clockwork for the last couple of seasons. Chelsea dominate, Drogba scores, Arsenal folds like a house of cards and we all talk about Arsene Wenger’s delusions that this group of Arsenal players will ever be for real.

This will have been such a satisfying victory for Wenger and the perfect response to his critics. The manner of the Arsenal victory is what was so impressive regardless of the score-line. Each game has its own unique character and leaves the viewer with a certain impression of what has just happened. Every match has a ‘feel’ to it. There are games where one team comes flying out of the traps. Before you know it, they’re up a goal or two and the whole complexion of the game is tilted in their favour. Think of some of Liverpool’s performances against Manchester United, a superior team, in recent times. There’s the smash-and-grab, where one side somehow pulls a result out of nowhere, despite being second best for much of the game; the kind of win that shows character and fortitude, if not quality.

What I saw on Monday was a third kind of win, the most satisfying kind for a supporter and I’m sure a coach and player as well. That’s the game where one side steadily and methodically puts its collective foot on the throat of the opposition and pushes down until it’s over. There was no luck, no element of surprise. Arsenal was just better. They took advantage of their opportunities and no one could argue that justice wasn’t done.

That Arsenal won a game like that against Chelsea, even a Chelsea in turmoil, is so impressive and an indication that this team of very talented boys has become a team of very talented men. The difference is noticeable and its importance cannot be overstated. There’s a snap in the Arsenal challenges that used to be absent. The pretty passing patterns that were always there for the Gunners have real cut and thrust to them, real danger, real pressure for the opposition. There are still some questions with the centre of defence and the goalkeeper, but the Arsenal midfield and attack is top class, Samir Nasri has become a top-5 player in the Premier League. This Arsenal side has finally come of age and the rest of the Premiership has been put on notice.

As good as Arsenal was, Chelsea were equally poor. They never really created anything of note, only scoring from a set-piece already down 3-0. The can’t have been lacking in motivation, playing a London rival after having not won a Premier League game since November 10, a run which saw them slide to 5th. Needing no extra motivation, the question becomes: Are this Chelsea side lacking in ability? I think when you take a good look at the squad it becomes apparent that they are.

We have gotten used to Chelsea buying top class talent at every opportunity, stacking the bench with internationals; this is no longer the case. A couple of quieter summers has left Chelsea’s cupboard relatively bare. They are now just one or two key injuries away from becoming quite ordinary and that is exactly what has happened. Frank Lampard’s injury has coincided with Chelsea’s poor run. With Lampard out there is no attacking element in the midfield. Michael Essien is a fantastic player, but he has never been the focal point of a Chelsea midfield. In years past Lampard would have been replaced with a Ballack and the Blue machine would rumble on. This season they can only turn to Ramires, who has yet to settle into the Premier League.

With the January sales more clearance sale than quality product, Chelsea are looking at more than just their first trophy-less season since 2008. In that year they finished runners-up in the Premiership and lost the Champions League after a John Terry penalty miss to win it. If this set of players can’t find something extra, Chelsea will be facing their first truly unsuccessful season since the pre-Mourinho era. This was not a flash in the pan. A glance at the Chelsea results shows that they have only one win against a truly good side. Before the loss to Arsenal they had beaten West Brom, Wigan, Stoke, West Ham, Blackpool, Wolves, Blackburn and Fulham; a who’s who…of bottom half clubs. Their best result? A 2-0 home win against, yes, Arsenal.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

December Football

If you're a football fan, you're coming up on the best part of the year. College bowl season is upon us and for once there's little argument about who should be in the national title game. In Auburn and Oregon we have two undefeated teams from legit conferences, two explosive offenses and the prospect of a classic. Of course, you can't talk about bowl season without bringing up the possibility of a college playoff.

Mark Cuban to the rescue. Cuban recently revealed that he is interested in venturing into the business of college football. It's interesting that he's putting college playoffs into a business context first and foremost. I think it helps his cause. At the end of the day, the NCAA is a very very profitable business. They make pro money, but don't pay it, what a racket.

Playoffs would go a long way to giving college football more credibility and attention outside of its core audience. When you look at the difference between NCAA basketball and football, March Madness really gives basketball an added sheen of legitimacy that football just doesn't have. Yes the National Championship, Sugar Bowl, Rose Bowl, Orange Bowl and a few others feel like the real deal. Those big bowls get a little tarnished, though, when you put them alongside the Meineke Car Care Bowl, the Bowl, the Chik-fil-A Bowl, and the other 2-hour commercials. Anytime you're playing in a bowl that has a .com in its name, you can't feel too good about where you're at.

It seems like most of the country is behind a playoff system and I think there are two main hurdles that Cuban has to overcome to make this happen. The first is this: you don't want to lose the tradition and history that comes with some of those bowls. There's something about the names and the histories of those big-time bowl games which make them special occasions on the calender no matter who's playing. If you're about to see, say, North Carolina vs. Notre Dame in the Tostitos Bowl, I'm changing the channel. Put those same teams in the Rose Bowl and I'm excited to see what those programs can in the Rose Bowl, the occasion has that significance in and of itself.

To keep that history you could take the four quarterfinals and two semifinals and just have those games take on the mantle of whatever six bowls you want and that way it's still a big game and you can do all the pageantry that America does best.

The second hurdle is the formidable one and the one that, I think, ultimately keeps this from happening; the NCAA is a business and the 35 bowl games scheduled in the next month or so will bring in millions of dollars in advertising, TV rights and the rest. If the NCAA changes to a 12 or 16 team playoff, that's 15 separate games at most. I'm not sure the NCAA will be all that receptive to cutting its opportunity for revenue in half, but I'm not the genius businessman; it's up to you Mark Cuban...Godspeed.

Speaking of bowls vs. playoffs, as much as I hate the bowl system in college, I wouldn't mind seeing them give it a try in the NFL. You could get some nice match-ups, I think. The Bengals vs. the Cowboys in the Enron Bowl of Broken Dreams, the In-n-Out LA Sweepstakes Bowl featuring the Jaguars vs. Vikings, the possibilities are endless.

For now NFL fans are stuck with playoffs and for fans in some cities, they've basically started already. There are must win games across the country, starting on Thursday night (right now) with the Chargers and 49ers. Yes it's already 7-0 for the Chargers, but I picked them in this game before that, I swear. I think the Chargers do squeak into the playoffs. They just have more experience winning games at this time of the season than Kansas City does, and when in doubt, bet on the better quarterback and there aren't many better than Philip Rivers. Rivers has his favorite target from last season, Vincent Jackson, back in uniform. Jackson just caught a touchdown pass a couple of minutes ago against San Fran...good omen.

The Chargers have to win out and they couldn't ask for a better schedule to end the season: 49ers, @Bengals, @Broncos. That's as good as it gets, especially now that the Broncos don't have a head coach to get them riled up to finish on a good note. They'll still be fired up for a home division game and they'll want to finish on a high, but I think not having a consistent voice from the coaching staff could take away some of the edge they might have.

That firing, McDaniels in Denver, really came as a surprise, especially the timing of it. Your team's season is essentially over already, why fire the coach now? This was not like the situations in Minnesota and Dallas, where the firings probably came too late. Both those teams have the talent to be in the playoffs, and they also both kinda stopped playing for a little bit in the middle there. The Cowboys and Vikings could have maybe maybe salvaged their seasons if they'd pulled the trigger earlier and it was pretty clear in both cases that the men in charge couldn't go on, but I don't see what the Broncos gained from firing McDaniel's. They were never going to the playoffs and I think he actually had them going in some kind of a direction with what he had to work with. McDaniels is an offensive guy and that offense was not playing all that badly. Moreno's starting to show why he was drafted so highly and Orton was having a really good year until recently. Maybe his record wasn't good enough, but he was taking over a team that hasn't made the playoffs since 2005 and hasn't won a playoff game since they won the Super Bowl in '99. If you're going to hire a young, first-time coach onto a rebuilding team you have to give him more than two seasons.

I think the Spygate II thing probably played a big part in the early switch. It does stink a little bit and that's not the kind of thing you want your franchise involved in. The fact that McDaniel's was there in New England when it happened is kind of a red flag against him, but if I was an owner in need of a coach, he'd be pretty near the top of the list. He's young, he won't break the bank and he clearly has some talent. He was the offensive co-ordinator when Tom Brady and the Patriots offense was out-of-control-crazy-good and he's done well with Kyle Orton in Denver. If I'm the Panthers, who will probably move on from John Fox after this season, I'm thinking about either drafting Andrew Luck out of Stanford, or moving on with Clausen. Either way, Mcdaniels would be the perfect guy to develop a young quarterback and mold a lost organization into his image.

McDaniels has also taken a lot of heat for some of his personnel moves in Denver, but in hindsight they're not as terrible as some would have you think. The one that stands out as being really bad is the Peyton Hillis trade and you can't really defend it so I won't try to. I think with Moreno being a high pick and the money and expectation that goes along with, it's indefensible...But anyway, Brandon Marshall was a constant headache in Denver and he's not exactly tearing it up in Miami, while Jay Cutler is a good player and he's still getting better, but is he going to be an all-world franchise quarterback? I'm not so sure. Obviously I don't know him, but every time I see him interviewed he comes across as really arrogant and not at all in a good way, but in the blind-to-the-truth-and-not-gracious-at-all way that has him talking stuff about DeAngelo Hall after throwing four picks to him. It didn't come off as funny or confident, just bitter and immature.He could have taken responsibility for the turnovers and moved on, but he chose to take the chance to try and belittle Hall. Not a good look Jay. Either way, the Broncos got good compensation for Cutler.

There could just be something in the water in Denver...McDaniels wasted no time in challenging and ultimately alienating his two biggest name players. Sound familiar? Mike Shanahan, fresh out of Denver, wasted no time at all in, well, challenging and ultimately alienating his two biggest name players.

Quarterbacks I would take for a must-win game tomorrow ahead of Jay Cutler: Mike Vick, Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Drew Brees, Josh Freeman, Tom Brady, Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, David Garrard, Peyton Manning, Matt Schaub and Vince Young...almost half the league. I'm not hatin', I'm just sayin'.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

5 Points on the World Cup

We’re almost a week into the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and it’s been…well it’s been just OK really, hasn’t it? The competition hasn’t got into second gear just yet, but there’s been plenty to talk about. So what have we learned?

1. Four years is a long time in football. Just ask fans of Italy and France. The two finalists from 2006 have both struggled early on, and have serious questions they have yet to answer. There are rumours of discontent in the French camp, and their performance against Uruguay will be even more worrying to their supporters. In the second half of that match, Franck Ribery gave the ball away countless times…the occasions of genuine threat from the French were all too easy to count. Meanwhile, the Italians looked short of pace, talent, and ideas in their match against a tough Paraguay side. The Italians are in better shape than the French, and it’s an old clichĂ© that Italian sides don’t have to play well to win, but the Azzuri must be better if they are to achieve what is expected of a nation with such a rich history of success.

2. Argentina are the early favourites this time around. There were questions before the tournament about Argentina’s manager, the relatively inexperienced, and often volatile, Diego Maradona. Two impressive performances later, and the doubters have been quieted. The Argentineans followed a clean sheet against Nigeria with a very impressive performance in a dominating 4-1 win against the South Koreans. Argentina has quality all over the pitch and depth on the bench, not to mention the best player in the world, Lionel Messi. There is a confidence and togetherness about the team that bodes well for the later stages, and for this, credit must go to Maradona; could El Diego’s legend become even greater in his native Argentina?

3. The Adidas Jabulani ball is a factor. There were some complaints from the players about the new ball before the tournament, while England manager Fabio Capello called it, “the worst ball that I have seen in my life.” Six days into the tournament and there is definitely something strange going on. It could be the high altitude, or the new ball, or a combination of both, but the number of over-hit crosses, long balls, and through passes has been quite astonishing. Getting comfortable with the new, lighter ball will go a long way to assuring success for any given nation.

4. The vuvuzela is a part of African football. The popular horns are blown non-stop through every match, turning every stadium into a buzzing nest of people. There have been calls for the horns to be banned, which is absolutely ridiculous. Accusations that the vuvuzela ruins the atmosphere could not be more off point. The vuvuzela is part of what makes the atmosphere in South Africa. Is that atmosphere the same as those found in Barcelona and Madrid, Milan and Manchester? No, of course not. That’s part of what the World Cup is all about. The coming together of cultures and nations. Embrace the vuvuzela…you have no choice anyway.

5. The best is yet to come. So far there have been only a handful of notable games. England’s slip-up against the USA, who are a good side, but should have been beaten on the day, Germany’s destruction of a weak Australia team without its best player, Ivory Coast’s damp squib of a game against Portugal was maybe the most disappointing so far, and of course the massive upset that was Switzerland over Spain, which may have been the best match so far. There have been some surprises, and some great performances, but we have yet to see a game to really savour. A real clash of two great teams playing great football. Fear not, we can always count on the knockout stages to make the heart race, and the group stage still has some tasty encounters to serve up. France plays Mexico tonight in what is a massive game for both teams, with the loser on the outside of qualification looking in, while both the Ivory Coast and Portugal will test themselves against the always formidable Brazilians to decide who will come out of the Group of Death. This World Cup has started slowly, but it will undoubtedly find an extra gear in the coming weeks. Enjoy!

Monday, June 14, 2010

World Cup Blog: Day 1

It's finally here. At times it was all I could think about all day, and sometimes I almost forgot it was coming. I've stayed up all night to make sure I don't miss anything at the beginning. It's like a girlfriend, the World Cup, in the beginning you can't look away, then your attention might start to wonder, before, at the end of it, she takes over the whole world again, for better or worse. When I was little, the only things worth staying up all night for were Easter, birthdays, and Christmas...basically any day where there was a chance of presents, hidden or otherwise. Then, when I was about 8, there was football. Now, at 23, I can go to sleep for birthdays and the rest of it, but the World Cup? No chance. Up all night waiting.

So for the next month I'm living in a dreamworld. Top class football every single day...more than one game a day even. It does not get any better for the millions of football fans worldwide, and to try and savor it as much as possible, I'll be keeping track of every day of the tournament; the matches I watch, the players that have caught the eye, and any and everything else.

I stayed up because the opening ceremonies started early, and I wanted to see them. Then I turned on the TV and remembered that I can't stand opening or closing ceremonies in anything, and unfortunately the World Cup is no different! After sitting around wishing I had had a good nights sleep, the ceremonies ended (thank God) and the tournament began in earnest, with host nation South Africa kicking off against Mexico. Not a bad match, although I got the feeling I was watching a very small fish gamely hold off another, slightly bigger, but still quite small, fish. South Africa was predictably full of spirit, buoyed by their fantastic fans. I fear for the Africans though, they didn't really look that threatening, except on the counter. That said, they have the home support behind them, and they showed that they have the ability to grind out a result. Mexico will be so disappointed not to take 3 points against a side clearly inferior to themselves. The Mexicans rely on a very young strike-force, with Carlos Vela supported by Gio Dos Santos. This lack of nous and experience in attack was personified by Dos Santos. He is undoubtedly supremely talented, and was very dangerous in the opening stages. As the game wore on, however, Dos Santos was increasingly predictable and almost exclusively left footed, and he's no Arjen Robben yet. Perhaps to bring up the average age of their strikers, the Mexicans have brought their talisman, 37 year old Cuauhtémoc Blanco. It's an amazing achievement to be playing at a World Cup at his age, but on what evidence we were given, Blanco is well past his sell-by date. He reminds me of the old guy at every pick-up game in the world, you can guess he might have been good once, but he isn't that useful now. Blanco chugged around for a spell at the end of the match, sweat streaming down his slightly chubby looking face, but couldn't break the deadlock, and the opener ended in a 1-1 draw.

This is where my all-nighter came back to haunt me, making me fall asleep and miss the first half of the France-Uruguay game. By all accounts, I didn't miss much, and I must say, the second half was very disappointing on many accounts. France looked really average. What is worse is that this was no surprise. The French are maybe the most dysfunctional team in the world, with reports of unrest throughout the camp for any number of reasons, all equally ridiculous. The only bright spot was the play of Jeremy Toulalan, who was immense in the centre of midfield. Toulalan was committed and oozed effort, someone that many of his teammates should try to emulate in their attitude. I don't know if it was attitude, or what, but I have never seen so poor a half from Franck Ribery as the one I saw against Uruguay. Again and again he gave the ball away, and never really created anything of note. It's so early in the tournament, but I can't see this French team getting past the first knockout round, and they'll only qualify from the group at all because it is such a weak one.

The underachievers on this day were not all French, however. Much has been made of Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, after a great season with Ajax. Linked with the likes of Manchester United, Suarez posed very little threat, and struggled to involve himself in the match at all. But this was only the first game, and both the French and the Uruguayans have time to make ammends.

That's all for day 1 of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Fantastic month ahead!

Monday, May 17, 2010

English Premier League: Big Summer Ahead

Chelsea have been crowned champions of England, holding off Manchester United in the final weeks to claim a deserved title.  What is to come is one of the most anticipated, and important, transfer windows in recent memory.  Manchester United will look back on a trophyless season for the first time since 2004 because no, the Carling Cup doesn't count.  Meanwhile, Arsenal struggled with injuries and defensive frailties once again.  Arsenal can no longer count on potential and need to come back stronger next season to challenge the top two for the title.  What makes this transfer window so interesting is the transitional nature of the balance of power in and around the top 4.  Liverpool have regressed horribly since their second place finish two years ago to fall out of the top 4.  Waiting in the wings to overtake Liverpool are Tottenham and Manchester City.  Tottenham's talented squad was able to qualify for Champions League football next season, and the Spurs will be looking to push on next season and establish themselves as a perennial power.  On the blue side of Manchester, City's billions give the the Citizens unparalleled spending power, money which will surely be spent this summer to continue City's assault on the top of the Premier League.  Apologies to Everton and Aston Villa, but this is the top 6 in England.  How they perform in July and August could go a long way to deciding how they shake out this time next year.


Chelsea had the deepest, most talented, and most experienced squad in the league this past year, and they were rewarded with a League title, the FA Cup, and were only ousted from Europe by an excellent Inter Milan team led by Chelsea legend Jose Mourinho.  There have very few needs, and will expect to challenge for every trophy again next season.  However there has been little indication of the resigning of Joe Cole, and there is a feeling that the popular Englishman may be heading out of Stamford Bridge.  The Blues may look to restock their options in attack, and there would be few better options than Franck Ribery of Bayern Munich.  The French star has long been rumoured to be leaving Germany, and Roman Abromavich would surely jump at the chance to remind Chelsea fans how valuable he is.  There is also very little quality backup for the aging duo of Drogba and Anelka, this could be the summer that long rumoured target Pato is approached to try to add some youth to the Chelsea attack.  Ancelotti will know all about the talents of the young Brazilian, who may see Chelsea as being more equipped to win trophies than his current club, AC Milan


Manchester United looked to be heading towards another good season before a terrible week where they lost to Bayern Munich in the Champions League and drew twice in the league, letting slip the opportunity to win either trophy.  United did manage to challenge for the major honours, but there was something lacking from their play for most of the season.  To be honest, it was quite an achievement to be where they were in May considering how badly they played at times this season.  Sir Alex Ferguson has already brought Chris Smalling and Chicharito into the fold, but has hinted that there might be more activity at Old Trafford this summer.  United were solid in defense, but will have been worried by a lack of goals from someone other than Rooney and Own Goal.  Dimitar Berbatov has stuttered at United, and while I believe he will stay on in Manchester, Ferguson will be looking to improve his attack.  A striker could be drafted in to ease the load on Rooney.  While United do have a lot of depth at striker, with Berbatov, Owen, Macheda, Diouf, and Chicharito behind Rooney, much of it is unproven or unreliable.  If a top quality striker was available, Ferguson could pounce.  Valencia's rumoured financial difficulties could see David Villa, one of the best forwards in the world, become available for the right price.  Ferguson has stated his unwillingness to spend big on older players, and Villa is already 27, he is also of a different class, and Ferguson could be tempted.  Other options could include Karim Benzema, of whom Ferguson is a long-time admirer, and who has not settled well in Madrid, most of his opportunities coming off the bench.  Pato could be another possibility, although United could be priced out by Chelsea.   Ferguson may also look at his midfield as a weakness.  Darren Fletcher has been the most consistent central midfielder in the squad, with Carrick having an up and mostly down season, Anderson nowhere to be seen, and Hargreaves injured.  Paul Scholes can still play, but isn't getting any younger, and young, creative central midfielder would help United's play immensely.  United have been linked with Modric, of Tottenham, but the Croatian is likely to stay with the London side, with the possibility to achieve something special.  Silva, of Valencia, can play on either wing or down the middle, and could be available due to Valencia's financial situation.


Arsene Wenger has a big summer ahead of him after yet another year without a trophy.  His young Arsenal side has too easily been brushed aside yet again in the title race.  Injuries, especially to Robin van Persie have not helped the cause, however, it is in defence where Arsenal are vulnerable.  The lack of cover at striker has also been exposed this season.  Expect Arsenal to target a goalkeeper to give a sense of security at the back.  If Man City choose to part with either Joe Hart or Shay Given, Monsieur Wenger should be at the front of the line.  Other possibilities in goal include the French duo of Hugo Lloris and Steve Mandana.  There is also the possibility of a bit of a splash, Gigi Buffon has said he is open to a move away from Juventus, and Arsenal do have the money to get him.  The centre of the defense, both at centre back and in the midfield has been soft in recent seasons, and both areas could be attended to this summer.  Wenger tends to lean towards younger player who are not yet well known in football.  If he follows his history, Wenger could look to the young and talented defender Mamadou Sakho, currently of PSG.  Some midfield steel would go a long way in North London, and Jeremy Toulalan of Lyon could fit the bill.  Ultimately it is pretty difficult to predict Wenger's movement, but it's a good bet to trend towards young and/or French when looking at possible signings.


Tottenham Hotspur will want to push on from what has been a terrific season for them, having broken into the top 4.  However, they already have a fine squad, with plenty of quality and depth.  Manager Harry Redknapp has already stated that he will only be looking for players with something special to improve the squad.  Spurs have flexed some financial muscle in the past, although not on the level of Chelsea or the Manchester clubs.  Look for Spurs to sign a player from just below the top tier.  Sergio Aguero, Angel di Maria, and Joe Cole are all possibilities.  A good World Cup could be enough to secure someone a move to White Hart Lane.


Manchester City are the wildcard of the bunch.  Losing out on Champions League football will hurt them, as it would have made the club more attractive to the kind of player they want.  Nevertheless, everyone can see that there is big ambition to match the big cheques at Eastlands, and City will be going after the cream of the crop.  Expect a number of bids for the likes of Steven Gerrard, Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Valencia duo Villa and Silva, James Milner, Ashley Young, Angel di Maria, and anyone and everyone else.


Liverpool are in a bad position.  They have holes throughout the squad, and Stevie G can't cover them all up like he used to.  The situation on Merseyside is pretty murky, the owners are rumoured to be trying to sell putting the club on uncertain ground.  What is for sure is that Liverpool are in danger of losing their part of the monopoly of the 'Big Four' to Tottenham or Manchester City.  Add to this that hated rivals Manchester United are 1 title away from surpassing Liverpool in that respect, and Liverpool fans will be hoping for some reinforcements this summer.  It is unclear what kind of spending power Liverpool have, but some funds could be raised from the sale of players, very few of whom have cemented their importance to the club.  Albert Riera is almost certain to leave following his negative comments about the club, and he could be joined by Ryan Babel.  Liverpool have already signed Jonjo Shelvey, a promising midfielder similar to Gerrard, for a small fee, and I expect them to continue like this.  They will have to build a stronger squad with some shrewd business and I don't expect too many big moves from them.  With that said, new ownership could change everything at a club with a reputation like Liverpool's.

Until then, enjoy the World Cup.  You might see your club's next superstar on show.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Home Sweet Home?

"We are all Canucks." This was the motto which was supposed to get the city of Vancouver behind its hockey team. Judging by the playoffs, it didn't work.  It was in the stands, not on the ice, where the "Canucks" were the most underwhelming
The wounds of a second straight playoff loss to the Chicago Blackhawks are still fresh, so what better time to point the finger of blame? That finger is usually reserved for the coach, or the star player, but this year it can only land on the fans of GM Place. The writing was on the wall in the first round series with LA. The difference in atmosphere was astounding. The Staples Center was rocking...GM Place? Put to shame by the fans from LA, whose hockey team isn't even the biggest draw in the city.
The trend continued into the second round. The home crowd is supposed to put pressure on the away team and support the good guys.  You do this by making as much noise as possible, spurring on the home team to make the plays which will make the crowd more raucous, which spurs the players on further, and on and on; it is a vicious cycle for those on the visitors bench. Make no mistake, that cycle has to start with the fans.
The fans at GM Place took anothert approach. Vancouver fans aren't a mob, they're a flock of sheep. They cheer when the Canucks score, they 'ooh' and 'aah' when there's a chance, they yell Luuu when Luongo makes a save, they boo penalties against the Canucks, and they repeat what the scoreboard tells them to do.  But that's all they do. All the noise a crowd is supposed to make in between these big plays, the noise that puts the visitors on their heels, was missing in Vancouver. In it's place, a buzz of nervous expectation which put the Canucks under pressure.
Up until Game 6 of the Chicago series, the Vancouver fans performance merely hinted at lack of commitment and belief; their performance in Game 6 confirmed it.
It took a goal from public enemy number 1, Dustin Byfuglien, halfway through the 3rd period to end the series and wake the fans at GM Place up.  With the series over, the fans found their voice to jeer their captain Roberto Luongo, and boo their own team.  It was a pathetic end to Vancouver's participation in the playoffs, and Canucks fans around the world should be ashamed.
The sheep in Vancouver should look to the east and see what a mob of fans can do, a la Montreal.  A city that is 100% behind its team, and shows it, has propelled an 8 seed into the conference finals.  You take the Bell Centre crowd and transport it to Vancouver, there's no way the Canucks lose all 3 games at home against the Blackhawks.
The experts will point to an injury-riddled defense corps, or underperforming stars, but this is a team that took 2 of 3 in Chicago, and deserved more from its fans.  Based on these playoffs, one can only assume that the people who buy tickets for Canucks games aren't real fans, aren't knowledgeable about hockey, have no faith, no commitment, and no class.  They have a lot to prove next season, namely that they aren't among the worst fans in the NHL.