CAT | Just Sports Talk
Just hours after You Can Play unveiled another video with eight NHL players—including Blue Jacket RJ Umberger—expressing their support of gay athletes (video below), Umberger scored the first goal just 3:41 into the Blue Jackets “Pride Night” game against the Southeast Division leading Florida Panthers. Umberger then closed the show with an empty netter with 48 seconds to go, giving the Blue Jackets the 4-1 victory.
(Also, fitting the theme, that last goal was assisted by fellow You Can Play supporter, Blue Jacket captain Rick Nash, furthering my theory that the sports gods appreciate sports allies, particularly on “pride night” events.)
The Blue Jackets have really embraced the opportunity to be “spoilers,” even after clinching 30th place (that is last place for the non-NHL fan) a while ago. In fact, in the past 27 games, the team is 13-13-1. Considering that the team’s overall record is 26-45-7, at least they are finishing on a somewhat stronger note.
The continued effort by the team is noticeable. Rick Nash, who I don’t think anyone would blame for giving a half-ass effort after all the trade drama and the current state of the team, is still going out every night and playing hard. Allen York—the Blue Jackets 3rd/4th goal tender who has had to step up after injuries to Mason and Sanford—is playing well and stopped 30 of 31 shots on the night.
That hustle by the team was most notable in killing 1:40 of a 5-on-3 Panthers power play in the 1st period. A friend of mine came up from Florida for the game (he is a Panthers fan), and he noted that the Panthers are generally a good power play scoring team. And of course the Blue Jackets aren’t the greatest penalty killing team. It was just another example of what was great effort and a great game and win for the home team.
As far as the other “pride night” festivities, I do not know how it went. As I noted in my previous post, the format of this pride night compared to last season was a bit underwhelming. The group was offered tickets in a variety of sections, so I doubt there was any cohesive gay cheering group. There was no post-game LGBT game on the ice. There was a happy hour pre-game, but I did not attend. (I will be on the lookout for any photos/reports that come out about it.) (EDIT: Stonewall Columbus posted a few photos from the happy hour on Facebook.) Oh, of course, since it was a group attending the game, the scoreboard did flash “Welcome Pride Night participants” during the 2nd intermission amongst the gaggle of other groups.
I did, however, have tremendous seats to the game (thanks to my previously mentioned friend from Florida who knew a guy, who knew a guy)! We were sitting just a few rows behind the penalty boxes, right at center ice. Did you know that those highfalutin sections have like a private little lounge that gives out free popcorn and ice cream?! The bathrooms were nicer than the regular concourse ones too, I must say. I was definitely not used to that sort of treatment. And from the perspective of viewing the game, while I sometimes appreciate seats higher up to be able to follow the puck better, there were times when being that close really gave a sense of what the goalies and players are seeing on shots.
Oh, oh, oh, and before I forget: apparently twitter follower Bryan Blaskie’s (straight) parents were on the kiss cam! So, kudos to their kisses!
[Editor’s Note: The MLS season kicks off in under 8 weeks and moves have been made by every team. As my knowledge of the Crew is severely lacking, I sought out someone who lives and breathes Crew soccer to give an update on all that has been happening with the team. Michael Thompson is the player/coach of my adult co-ed soccer team and is a season ticket holder with the Crew. And while this is his first season as a season ticket holder, I know he went to almost every home game last year, and he even flew out to Los Angeles to catch a game against the Galaxy! That’s dedication. The Crew should give him a medal or something. So here it is, Michael Thompson’s 2012 Crew Preview.]
At or around this time last year, the Columbus Crew had parted ways with what many fans considered to be the core of their team; Argentine legend Guillermo Barros Schelotto, his fellow countryman Gino Padula, fan favorite Kiwi Duncan Oughton, and former US National Team defender and Columbus captain Frankie Hejduk.
While the moves did clean house to make way for younger, more athletic players, it put a hurt on ticket sales for the club. Less familiar faces, and some nasty weather early on in the season plummeted the Black & Gold to the second lowest average attendance in all of Major League Soccer for the 2011 season. The only club that brought in less spectators on average was the San Jose Earthquakes, with 11,858 (their home stadium has a capacity of 10,300).
The Crew went into the late summer 2011 on top of the Eastern Conference, but ended up on a slippery slope, losing 5 out of 6 matches in the span of one month, and backing into a wild card playoff position. While it was a franchise tying fourth consecutive playoff appearance for The Crew, they were eliminated by the Colorado Rapids for the second year in a row. It was a less than dramatic end to what was many saw as a middle-of-the-road season. Forward Jeff Cunningham did break the MLS career goal scoring record wearing a Columbus jersey, but lack of offensive production hampered the club’s success. They were the only outfit that made it into the playoffs with a negative goal differential at the season’s end.
2012 OFFSEASON MOVES
2012 has brought more changes. With respect to the exit, the front office parted ways with designated player Andres Mendoza, who despite being the teams leading goal scorer in 2011, was seen as a heel to many fans due to his perceived lack of work ethic, and indifferent attitude towards club supporters. “El Condor” has moved on to Atlante FC of the Mexican First Division. Also departing ways is US National team midfielder Robbie Rogers, who lead the club in assists last season with 7, but was seen as largely ineffective for a player of his supposed caliber. He has joined Leeds United, of Britain’s Football League Championship. Left back and MLS journeyman Josh Gardner was taken by expansion side Montreal Impact, and internationals Dejan Rusmir and Santiago Prim had their contract options declined, along with afore mentioned scoring legend Jeff Cunningham. Cunningham has since joined the ranks of Guatemalan side Communicaciones. Nigerian midfielder Emmanuel Ekpo has also declined a new contract with The Crew, and while no official word has been given of his current status, it seems he has moved on to Europe as well.
This winter Columbus’ front office has acted quickly to fulfill the team‘s needs. Most notably is Milovan Mirosevic, an attacking midfielder and former captain of Chilean powerhouse Universidad Catolica. At 31 years of age, Mirosevic is an experienced player who can bring an added scoring threat to the final third of the pitch. Also on the offensive side is the acquisition of Costa Rican forward Olman Vargas, who tallied 19 goals in 53 appearances with CS Herediano. Acquired in the MLS re-entry draft this past December is former New York Red Bulls center back Carlos Mendes. Like Mirosevic, he is also 31 years of age & brings a more experienced option that could possibly be paired with team captain Chad Marshall in the middle of the defense. Several picks were also acquired in the MLS Superdraft and Supplemental Draft. Most notably is their first pick; Ethan Finlay of Creighton, who scored 43 career goals, and was a finalist for the Hermann Trophy (the Heisman of college soccer). Listed as a forward, Finlay is also reportedly stellar as a wing player. Other Superdraft picks include Aubrey Perry (RCB, South Florida), and Kevan George (MF, Central Florida). Supplement draft picks included Kirk Urso (MF, North Carolina), Jamie Finch (D, Washington), Darren Amoo (FW, Liberty), who is the career leading goal scorer for Liberty, and Andrew Bulls (MF/FW Maryland-Baltimore County).
[Editor's Edit: The Crew hosted this video to get to know Ethan Finlay. You can also follow him on Twitter: @EthanFinlay16]
Two players who have grown up in the ranks of Columbus’ youth development academy were also extended contracts. Ben Speas (FW, North Carolina), originally from Stow, Ohio, was MVP of the 2011 College Cup, and was also part of three youth national championships with Columbus; Matt Lampson (GK, Ohio State) was signed to a multi-year contract, after ranking second on the all-time shut out list at Ohio State. Lampson is a native of Hilliard, Ohio.
With preseason training already underway, and the arrivals of Mirosevic and Vargas reported to be in the coming days, the final & largest piece of the puzzle it yet to be affixed in lineup of the Black & Gold. There is still no report of a designated player (the designated player rule allows MLS teams to count only a portion of a player’s income against the team’s salary cap, and is usually reserved for ‘star‘ players). It has been reported by team GM Mark McCullers that there is a fifty percent chance they will have to begin the 2012 season without a designated player. No names have been dropped, but rumors have indicated that a “well known” player could be secured for an attacking central midfield or forward role.
2012 TV RIGHTS AND FIRST GAME
Another change for the 2012 season is how fans will be watching on TV. NBC announced in 2011 that they will be televising 3 regular season MLS matches, while the NBC Sports Network will televise 38, and the ESPN family of networks are also scheduled to air 31 matches. Regionally, The Crew have partnered with Fox Sports Ohio to carry non-nationally televised games, leaving behind ONN, The Crew’s previous regional broadcaster, and carrier of the weekly information & interview feature, “Crew Xtra“.
Columbus kicks off the 2012 season on Saturday, March 10, at 6:00pm EST, on the road, against the club that ended their last two seasons: the Colorado Rapids. After a two week break, the home opener will feature The Crew hosting MLS newcomers, the Montreal Impact on Saturday, March 24th, 4:00pm EST at Crew Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio, USA.
I set up a slew of fantasy football leagues again this year (a NFL pick’em, NFL survival, NCAA pick’em, and a NFL standard fantasy — all in Yahoo).
I need some new, tough challengers! I won the 3 pick’em/survival leagues last year and got 2nd in the standard fantasy league (#1 was John – JackAttack). Bring it!
The password for all of the leagues is: widerights
Group ID: 21383
Group ID: 8783
Group ID: 7248
If you have any questions about how fantasy sports or any of the leagues work, don’t hesitate to email me.
Even if this would be your first time, I encourage you to join and I can talk you through it!!
As a self-acknowledged NFL football addict and with the season kicking off tonight at 8:30pm EST, I feel inclined to share my playoff (and Super Bowl) picks. I am arrogant enough to consider my picks as good, or better, than plenty of national writers – I mean really, Peter King picked the Steelers to reach the Super Bowl this year – so mark these down:
- East: New York Jets – The secondary of this team, now that Revis signed, is unbelievably good. In the current pass-happy state of the NFL, good cornerbacks and safeties are a premium. Many people point to this team going as far as Mark Sanchez takes them; however, I think the big question is if the running game can be as solid this year with youngin’ Shonn Greene and aging veteran LaDainian Tomlinson.
- North: Baltimore Ravens – I love the way they have built this team. While the defense has taken a few steps back – Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are getting old (and Reed will spend the first 6 weeks of the season on the PUP list) – they have taken many more steps forward on offense. Picking up Anquan Boldin, a receiver who exemplifies the toughness this team is known for, and TJ Houshmanzadeh just this past week gives the team two excellent and proven possession type receivers. Throw Todd Heap and Ray Rice into the mix and I really like this offense.
- South: Indianapolis Colts – They still have Peyton Manning and a seemingly endless list of receivers to catch the ball. It’s going to be interesting this year to see how the depth chart shakes up with Gonzalez coming back from an injury to challenge Garcon and Collie for play time. It will be interesting, and certaintly is a good problem for the Colts to have. The defense is always a question mark but if Bob Sanders can stay healthy (this condition is made every year), the defense is good enough.
- West: San Diego Chargers – The Chargers are notorious for starting seasons off horribly only to rally late. I believe they’re 12-0 in December the last 3 years. Thankfully for this trend, they start off the season with the easiest schedule in the NFL by far. Chiefs, Jaguars, Seahawks, Cardinals, Raiders, and Rams. Uhh, why don’t we just throw in a few college teams for them to warm up on too? Anyway, the division is weak, Phillip Rivers is a good quarterback despite how annoying he is, and the entire football world is expecting a phenomenal season from rookie RB Ryan Mathews. Plus, who in the AFC West is really going to challenge the Chargers? Raiders will be better this year, but that isn’t saying much. Chiefs, no. Broncos, no.
- Wildcard: Cincinnati Bengals and Tennessee Titans – Like the Baltimore Ravens, I like the offense the Bengals have put together to supplement their phenomenal defense (and like the Jets, a defense anchored by its secondary). T.O. and Ochocinco will be crazy, sure, and there will be visible outbursts on the sideline from time to time. Both can still play the game of football at a high level and each will benefit from the other being lined up on the opposite side. The running game should still be solid, and again, the defense will keep them in every game. The Titans will win games, even if it’s ugly. One of the best offensive lines in the game, the best running back in the game (Chris Johnson), and Vince Young, who just wins games.
- Close, but not quite: New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins, and Houston Texans – The Patriots have the best chance to make the playoffs from this bunch, either by winning the AFC East or as a wildcard team. But I really want to pick against them. I’ll justify it by pointing to their young and suspect defense. I know Belichick thinks he can win with anyone, but you cannot trade away all your talent and expect to win. I love the pickup of Brandon Marshall for the Dolphins, and I love the way Chad Henne plays (and Chad Pennington’s leadership and veteran presence even as a backup), but they will fall short in that tough division. The Texans face a similar problem: can they win enough games to put themselves above the Colts or the Titans? It won’t surprise me; I just don’t expect it to happen.
- East: Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys looked horrible in preseason. Like, so, so bad that you wanted to discard the “well, it’s the preseason” remark. Based on pure talent, the Cowboys scare people. Ware is freaky. The three-headed running back crew is remarkable. Romo has so many weapons in the passing game. The NFC East is, again, ridiculous (any of the teams could legitimately win the division), but the Cowboy talent will get them to the post season.
- North: Green Bay Packers – While the Cowboys looked pathetic in preseason, the Packers’ #1s looked incredible. The timing of their offense was in midseason form. Aaron Rodgers’s accuracy on his passing was impeccable. The biggest questions marks on this team are on defense and they certainly will give p some points. But the offense, if it stays healthy (that’s a condition on all these picks, really), the team is going to do amazing this year: 12+ wins.
- South: New Orleans Saints – The Saints offense is explosive and the defense causes turnovers. The Saints will not have another magical season and repeat, but they will make the playoffs. Aside from all that Brees brought to this team, Darren Sharper was the most important piece to the puzzle. He completely changed the intensity of that defense. Sharper starts the season on the PUP list, so they will have to weather the first half of the season until he returns to the lineup.
- West: San Francisco 49ers – Ah, finally I can have a season thinking my 49ers will actually make the playoffs. The strength of the 49ers is undoubtedly the defense, led by Patrick Willis. Somehow, he’ll be the guy blowing up a run in the backfield on one play and then be downfield 25 yards breaking up a pass on the next. The development on offense will be the main factor to get this team to the playoffs (aside from the blowing up of the Cardinals roster and the Seahawks and Rams being in the rebuilding stage). Alex Smith finally gets to play in the same offense in consecutive seasons, and the progress in his decision making is noticeable. He also has legitimate weapons: Michael Crabtree, Vernon Davis, and Frank Gore.
- Wildcard: Washington Redskins and Atlanta Falcons – I feel obligated to pick a second NFC East team to make the playoffs due to the competitive level of that division. I think it will be the Redskins. The Eagles are going to regret letting go of McNabb (at least in the short run) and the Redskins will be reaping the benefits. The Falcons are a bit suspect on defense, but they have all the right pieces on offense to make the playoffs: Matt Ryan, Michael Turner, Tony Gonzales, and Roddy White
- Close, but not quite: Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants – The Vikings could end up making the playoffs. As I write this, I am second guessing not putting them above both the Redskins and Falcons. Maybe it’s a bit of favoritism again: I really do not want them to win. Diva Brett Favre annoys me. I doubt he can replicate the year he had last year. If he does, they will be amazing again. The Eagles and Giants will each win at least 6 games and would probably make the playoffs if they played in other divisions, but they don’t. I think Kolb is going to have a great season at QB, but he will also make some decisions that will cost the Eagles games that McNabb would have won.
Baltimore Ravens over Green Bay Packers
As I wrote above, I really like how both teams look right now. The Ravens made the moves on offense to make their team much more formidable overall (despite the drop-offs on defense). The Packers are going to thrive on their offense this year. I think the Ravens have the more balanced offense and their defensive pride will carry them through.
(Writing this post has me so pumped up for the season to start, you all have no idea.)
The first standard fantasy football league has filled up, so I created a second.
Enter League ID: 430430
Also, as a reminder, I have set up leagues for other styles of fantasy play (these allow up to 50 players): survival, pro pick’em, and college pick’em.
PRO SURVIVAL - Group ID: 6453 Password: widerights
PRO PICK’EM - Group ID: 15180 Password: widerights
COLLEGE PICK’EM - Group ID: 6172 Password: widerights
Additional settings/info on these leagues can be found here.