Check out my new blog, Markas' Michigan Sports, at this link:

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The *kinda* International Break
Soccer is the most popular sport in the world, with popularity in every continent. The World Cup is the second most watched international competition, only beat by the Olympics. Soccer is essentially year-round as their are domestic leagues running throughout the whole year. The European leagues generally run from August to May, while America's MLS runs March to December. Other leagues schedules vary.

FIFA, the international governing body of soccer, sets 4-5 international breaks in the year so the national teams can play their competitions and meet in friendlies. The problem is the MLS and some South American leagues choose to play on these weekends. The MLS loses many of their top players that leave to play in the international games. The LA Galaxy's Robbie Keane, reigning MLS MVP, left to join Ireland, and the Galaxy also without Americans Gyasi Zardes and Omar Gonzalez for their match versus DC United. Overall 58 of 560 MLS players were with their international teams instead of playing with their club teams.

Seattle Sounders M Clint Dempsey was among
several Americans on international duty this past
weekend. (World Soccer Talk)
Orlando City manager Adrian Heath appeared to be disappointed in the non-observance of the break, but pushed ahead with the team available. With injuries, Orlando was out 12 players. Heath said to, "It is the smallest squad I can ever remember having for a game. You don’t ever imagine being in this situation when you have 28 on your roster. We have brought everybody who is fit but we have been saying since Monday about thinking positive and just controlling the controllables.". The Orlando squad only had 5 players on the bench, relying on veteran Brazilian midfielder Kaka to carry the team. Kaka scored the late equalizer last Saturday for a 2-2 draw against Montreal. Most MLS managers and fans are keen to eliminate these overlapping games, as it causes the best of the league to miss 5-6 games a year.  MLS needs to fix their scheduling if they want higher ratings and attendance.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Topsy-Turvy Table of the Premier League

The English Premier League teams are just over three quarters of the way through the season, and the race for top places is heating up. Also, the relegation battle is one of the closest in years. As a reminder, the top 4 qualify for the Champions League, 5th place goes to the Champions League playoff, and the bottom three are relegated to the second-tier Championship. Liverpool and Swansea still play on Monday and Chelsea and Leicester have a make-up game on April 29th.

My predictions are in the bold text...

1st Place: Chelsea-- sits at the top of table and appears to be breaking through after back-to-back 3rd place finishes. The power of Diego Costa, Eden Hazzard, as well as manager Jose Mourinho and many others should be enough to win the title. Maybe they don't lose again this season? Arsenal meets them in late April in a possible title-decider.

2nd, 3rd, 4th: Arsenal, Man City, Man Utd: Man City appears to be free falling and although they have strikers Aguero, Dzeko, and newcomer Wilfred Bony, the team just hasn't been as good as their hot start to the season. Manchester United has been consistently 3rd or 4th the whole season, but the fans crave more. Louis Van Gaal has been trying to find the perfect formation and I believe they should stick to four defenders, because otherwise they constantly get beat on defense.  I do think if Van Gaal continues with a 4-3-3, they can finish 2nd or 3rd. Arsenal is in great form right now in the league and with a bevy of talented midfielders (Ozil, Cazorla, Walcott, Ramsey, Coquelin, Sanchez) on the roster they should finish 2nd and challenge for 1st. I didn't even mention Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who should be returning to full health in a few weeks.

Battle for 5th: Southampton, Liverpool, Tottenham: A surprise at 4th much of the year, Ronald Koeman's Southampton side has fell down a bit in the standings. A tough and tactically minded side with a strong defensive core and goalkeeper, the "Saints" don't make a big money signing and rather focus on developing young players. NBC did a great documentary on this a few months back, I highly recommend it:

The Premier League is like any competition, there always teams that come out of the woodwork to have a good, maybe even great season.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

How important is cup competition vs. the Premier League?

The FA Cup is considered the most important domestic cup in the world, but for teams chasing the title, players may be rested as the top places are consider more important. Chelsea and Manchester City bowed out early due to resting their players for the title race. Arsenal, Liverpool, and Manchester United have placed increased importance on winning the FA Cup due to the limited chance of winning the Premier League.

Less important is the Capital One Cup with Chelsea taking on the 7th placed Spurs today. Tottenham Hotspur should go all out to win today, being eliminated from the FA Cup and a longshot for the top 5. Winning any piece of silverware is important for the Spurs, as they just exited the Europa League as well.

The Europa League remains important for relegation-threatened Everton. Advancing to the round of 16 last week, I think Everton should play most of the first team there and in the most EPL games while giving players rest against lesser teams such as Burnley.

The UEFA Champions League is the most prestigious club competition in the world but Arsenal and Manchester City find themselves down going into the away league. It should be pretty tough to overcome AS Monaco and Barcelona at their home grounds.

Oxlade-Chamberlain's goal wasn't enough for Arsenal to salvage a draw last Wednesday against Monaco.