Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, July 7, 2014

Monday Grab Bag: #TargetSale

Apologies for the lateness, but I'm a little distracted today.  The MLB All-Star rosters were announced over the weekend, which, in and of themselves, usually warrants little more than a yawn from yours truly.  This year, however, the AL has decided to wade into battle without their single greatest pitching asset: White Sox ace Chris Sale.

Yes, that Chris Sale.  He of the 8-1 record on a sub-.500 team, who just happens to lead the league in ERA+ (188) after posting a 96/16 K/BB ratio and a .87 WHIP over the first half. "Oh, but he missed a month on the DL!"  Who cares?  No one has been as dominant in the AL, even having missed five or so starts.  Chris Sale strikes FEAR into the hearts of AL hitters, in a way no one since Randy Johnson has. But, sure, let's make everyone vote to get him to Minneapolis.  *sigh*

This shit is so dumb.  The old line from pundits is always "well, who would you send home, then?" Anyone, everyone.  If Chris Sale is not a clear All-Star, then there is no longer a need to have an All-Star game.  The mere idea that this testament to all that is good with professional pitching is being forced to pander for votes is offensive.  The American League should be so lucky to have Chris Sale represent them. (Yes, I'm crafting the statue now.  It will be bronze, and no one will be able to get hits off of it, either).


Today in the bag, I'm talking the USMNT's loss to Belgium, the quarter final results from Brazil, and the possible end of an era in the NBA.

Click below for the bag...

The dream ends in Brazil -

I never allowed myself to get too delusional with America's chances at the 2014 World Cup.  I knew that there was no real possibility that the USMNT could actually win the damn thing.  Still, I had allowed my hopes to open up to the idea of the quarter finals, a dream that was painfully dashed last week in Salvador, Brazil.

Belgium was clearly the better team, boasting far more class and skill than the US could hope to muster at this point.  Yet, for 90 minutes, the Americans help back the Belgian onslaught, mostly through the heroics of the one, the only Tim Howard.  The Everton keeper and national soccer legend somehow managed to keep the board clean, despite far too little help from his teammates.  He was forced into making 16 saves - a modern-day World Cup record - just to send the game into extra time.
Howard was as on-point as a goalie can be.
Unfortunately, given the extra half hour, the inevitable happened, and the Belgian attacks finally bore fruit. Kevin De Bruyne struck fist, slipping past an overpursuing US defense for an open look on net that he couldn't help but convert. Howard's Evertonian teammate, Romelu Lukaku, was next, and caught the Americans on the break for a second, decisive goal. The deadlock now broken, the superhuman efforts of Howard weren't going to be enough to see the US through.

Even then, the USMNT wouldn't say die.  Coach Jurgen Klinsmann brought on heralded teenager Julian Green just seconds after Lukaku made it 2-0, and the Bayern Munich product immediately produced a goalazo off a feed from Michael Bradley.  That score made it 2-1, and set off a flurry of US attacks over the final 15 minutes of extra time.  It just wasn't to be, however, and Belgium held on for the win.
Green reinvigorated hopes, both for the present and the future.
I can't be too upset, however, as the USMNT far outpaced my expectations.  Not only did they escape from the 'Group of Death' without either Jozy Altidore or an in-form Michael Bradley, but they stoked the fires of soccer passion in this country.  No, the result isn't ideal, but the long view (remember, the long-view is important in this sport) has never been brighter for soccer in America.

Yet, the World Cup rolls on -

Germany vs France - 

I had such high hopes for this one.  The French had been decidedly un-French all tournament, leading me to believe they actually had a chance of pushing the mighty German Mannschaft.  Unfortunately, faced with their historical tormentors, the French reverted to their typical, negative selves, and barely put up a fight in the first quarterfinal referendum of the 2014 World Cup.
Germany didn't have to do too much to send the French packing
An early goal from Mats Hummels was all the Germans would need, dominating possession and smothering the game in the second half.  What had been a highly anticipated clash between old rivals turned into one of the more boring games of the entire tournament.  Shame, that.  Germany advances, 1-0.

Mexico vs Colombia - 

Hoping to wash the bitter taste of Germany/France out of my mouth, I turned to Friday's afternoon finale for respite.  While the fare was certainly sweeter, I still left the table searching for a palate cleanser.

The host Brazilians played a masterful game against a feisty Colombian side.  They scored in the opening ten minutes, and continued to press for separation throughout the affair.  Thanks to a wonder strike from star David Luiz that knuckled into the upper right corner of the goal from 35-yards out, Brazil got just that, and held on for a 2-1 win.
Yes, Brazil wins, but at what cost?
The Brazilian win, however, seems Pyrrhic when you consider the cost.  Captain Thiago Silva picked up his second yellow card of the Cup, meaning that he will miss this week's semi final date with Germany, and - far, far worse than even that - talismanic wunderkind Neymar was kneed in the back, costing him a cracked vertebrae, and an early exit from the tournament.  Mighty Brazil now goes forward without their two brightest stars, and it's anyone's guess how they will react.

Argentina vs Belgium - 

Saturday's opener marked the match that would've been the USMNT's had they prevailed last week.  It's almost a blessing in disguise that they weren't tasked with the Argentinians, as their quality would've had the US at a major disadvantage, but I digress.

La Albiceleste were in fine form early, as Gonzalo Higuain volleyed home a miss-directed ball from just inside the box only seven minutes in.  Much like the first two quarterfinals, this early goal was enough to tilt the playing field for good, and, valiant attempts from Belgium aside, Argentina were the clear winners, 1-0.
Messi continues to dominate Argentina's action.
Argentina still seems far to Messi-centric for my tastes, however.  They've only been surviving thanks to moments of magic from the world's best player, and such was the case here.  Messi would, repeatedly, take on the entirety of the Belgian defense, and, while he didn't score, proved more than enough to keep Belgium on their heels.  The first goal was partially a product of his keep-away skills, and Belgium were kept out of all-out attack mode by his wizardry in the second half.  What happens when a team is able to zone him out, though?

Netherlands vs Costa Rica- 

The Dutch will be the next team tasked with figuring out the mysteries of Messi, having survived penalty kicks against the lone remaining CONCACAF squad, Costa Rica.
Who saw that coming?
The biggest talking point coming out of this one was the unorthodox tactical move from Dutch coach Louis van Gaal, who, in preparation for the shootout, pulled starting goalie Jasper Cillessen in the waning seconds of extra time. The thought around the Dutch coaching staff was that replacement Tim Krul would be better suited for stopping kicks from the spot.  While that sounds logical, it also meant that van Gaal had to sit through the entirety of the second half and extra time with his third and final substitution stashed in his back pocket, potentially hampering his team's chances of holding through. Luckily for him, the gamble paid off, as the Dutch got to PK's, and Krul stopped two shots from the Ticos.  Had things gone differently, the Dutch media would've had a field day ripping van Gaal apart.

Chauncey Billups says farewell to the Detroit Pistons -

In an unsurprising move, the Detroit Pistons have declined to pick up their $2.5 million option on CU legend Chauncey Billups, putting the 17-year NBA veteran back into the free agency pool, and leaving his future uncertain. After nearly two decades of carrying the Colorado banner in the Association, the end of the road may have finally arrived for the greatest player in CU history.

I completely understand the move from Detroit's end.  Mr Big Shot has been battling knee problems for the past few years, and only appeared in 19 games in '13-'14.  This was just the latest in a number of muted campaigns from the former NBA Finals MVP, and a team like the Pistons, on an obvious rebuild, need to be looking young.
What's next for Chauncey?
The final chapter hasn't yet been written, however.  In talking to Basketball Insiders' Alex Kennedy, Billups said he's as healthy as he's been for years.  The knee issues have cleared up, and seasons spent riding the pine have left the five-time All-Star with the impression that he still has some miles in the tank.  Still, it would take a pretty big opportunity to stave off retirement for Billups - like a team on the verge of an NBA title deciding they need veteran leadership on their bench.  Barring that, it's the front-office or the broadcaster's booth. Sounds like a plan to me, since I can't imagine the sport of basketball without Chauncey's presence.

Wherever Chauncey ends up next, I hope he keeps CU in mind.  While I don't see him on Coach Boyle's bench with his brother any time soon, just his presence around the CEC would be an important nod to the program's past as we dive into its future.

Happy Monday!

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