On Jurgen Klinsmann, his first roster, and the upcoming Mexico friendly

The last time I appeared at the EJSIC, I wrote a post about the firing of Bob Bradley and the potential candidates to take over. One of those candidates, the former German player and coach Jurgen Klinsmann, was hired. His signing marked the end of a roughly five year flirtation period with US Soccer.

Klinsmann has a pedigree on the international level. As a player, he led West Germany to the 1990 World Cup, won a few UEFA Champions League titles (the highest trophy in European club football), and was a prolific scorer with snake-like ability to slither between defenders to find the ball.

As a coach, he took over the German national team after a poor showing in the 2004 European Championships. He fearlessly left older players off the roster in favor of young, unproven talents. That gamble paid off with Germany’s third place finish in the 2006 World Cup, a tournament the country hosted.

New US Coach Jurgen Klinsmann

Now Klinsmann seeks to revamp a U.S. national team while simultaneously transforming the youth development system in this country. Just a guess here, but it’s probably one of the hardest jobs any soccer coach has ever undertaken.

The coaching at the national team level is not that hard part (though there will be challenges). It’s changing the development system so that the U.S. can perhaps finally achieve the potential its wealth and population supports which will prove difficult.

While those goals are long-term, let’s look to the near future. Next Wednesday (August 10), the U.S. will play Mexico in a friendly (exhibition) in Philadelphia. The only problem is that there is no such thing as a “friendly” against Mexico, a sentiment that U.S. midfielder Freddy Adu shared via Twitter yesterday.

U.S. Roster vs. Mexico

Yesterday, Klinsmann unveiled his first 22 man roster for his first game as coach of the Yanks.

Forwards: Freddy Adu, Juan Agudelo, DaMarcus Beasley, Edson Buddle, and Landon Donovan.

Midfielders: Kyle Beckerman, Michael Bradley, Ricardo Clark, Maurice Edu, Jermaine Jones, Brek Shea, and Jose Torres.

Defenders: Carlos Bocanegra, Edgar Castillo, Timothy Chandler, Steve Cherundolo, Clarence Goodson, Michael Orozco Fiscal, Heath Pearce, and Tim Ream.

Goal Keepers: Bill Hamid, and Tim Howard.

The roster includes some old and some new blood. Let’s go position by position looking at each player in some detail.

Forwards

1. Freddy Adu: the former prodigy’s international career looked ruined until two successful Gold Cup appearances with a sub in the semi-finals and a start in the finals. Klinsmann’s style of play can only help Adu even more.

2. Juan Agudelo: the future of the U.S. at striker, Agudelo has learned a lot at the club level from playing and practicing alongside French legend Theirry Henry. Now he’ll study under one of the greatest goal scorers of a previous generation.

3. DaMarcus Beasley: when I first saw Beasley’s name, I was shocked. At one time, Beasley was a better player than Landon Donovan. Once his prime passed, his usefulness did too. However, Beasley has had somewhat of a career resurrection while playing in Mexico’s top professional league. Intriguing pick who may still have something left to help.

4. Edson Buddle: Buddle was on the 2010 World Cup squad thanks to a hot hand (foot?) in the MLS that season. He’s since moved on to play in Germany’s second division. Honestly, I have no idea how well he has played there. One thing he’s always had is speed and judging by the rest of this lineup, Klinsmann likes speed.

Landon Donovan

5. Landon Donovan: the most interesting aspect of this pick is that Donovan is listed as a forward and not a midfielder. Under Bradley and at the club level, Donovan has commonly played the right midfield position though he has shown the ability to play up when needed (Gold Cup final against Mexico).

Midfielders

1. Kyle Beckerman: the dread-locked midfielder for Real Salt Lake has never really impressed wearing the national team colors, but Klinsmann should evaluate every possible player to better grasp his new team. Beckerman has some good attributes that he regularly displays in MLS. Perhaps a new coaching philosophy will benefit him as well.

2. Michael Bradley: the son of our former coach, Bradley’s future seems a little uncertain. He always started for his dad (something I defended in the previous post about Bob Bradley’s firing) which will probably not continue. Regardless, Michael has earned his role on this American squad and should continue to see lots of playing time.

3. Ricardo Clark: I hate this player. I perhaps hate him more than Johnny Bornstein (who, thankfully, was left off the roster). Hopefully he doesn’t continually give the ball away in the midfield this time (I’m not holding my breath).

4. Maurice Edu: while included on the Gold Cup roster, Edu did not see the pitch at all. He’s not an attacking player so his role is a little unclear, but he’s still good enough to see playing time.

5. Jermaine Jones: the German-American citizen teamed up with Michael Bradley in the central midfield during the Gold Cup. Maybe Klinsmann can get him to stay in his freaking position.

Young Midfielder Brek Shea

6. Brek Shea: a promising young talent for the MLS’ FC Dallas, Shea had yet to see major action under Bradley. However, if Klinsmann goes with a youth movement like he did with Germany in 2004, expect to see Shea a lot in the future. Good player.

7. Jose Torres: a permanent resident of the Bob Bradley doghouse, Torres was called in by Klinsmann for his attacking prowess and Latin flair for the game. Klinsmann has repeatedly said he wants to include Latin players in the U.S. squad so here’s a good start. I can’t wait to see what Torres can offer under a more attacking-oriented approach.

Defenders

1. Carlos Bocanegra: the captain (will he retain that title?) still has some game left in him despite a poor showing in the Gold Cup final (along with the entire defensive line minus Cherundolo).

2. Edgar Castillo: another young Latin player, Castillo has made one prior appearance for the U.S. One aspect he brings to the team is his ability to pass out of the back, a key to maintaining possession of the ball.

Timmy Chandler

3. Timothy Chandler: Chandler is another German-American citizen who is a future cornerstone for the U.S. at right back. He can play on the flanks and possess the ball well.

4. Steve Cherundolo: the U.S.’s best defender as of late, Cherundolo is probably nearing the age of international retirement, but perhaps he can stick around long enough to help with qualifying and even possibly World Cup 2014. After all, he’s gotten better with age.

5. Clarence Goodson: Goodson has a unique aspect about him; he’s still young enough to have a solid future for the national team while having enough experience to be very valuable.

6. Michael Orozco Fiscal: see Edgar Castillo (honestly). Another young player with a Latin flair for the game.

7. Heath Pearce: a somewhat overlooked defender in the Bradley era (33 appearances), Pearce could potentially be a valuable sub / emergency starter.

8. Tim Ream: the future at CB for the U.S., Ream is the kind of player who will thrive under Klinsmann’s possession-based game. Ream is not afraid to have the ball at his feet with pressuring forwards nearby. He’s made some mistakes while playing for the Yanks, but there’s nothing to his game that experience can’t fix.

Goal Keepers

1. Bill Hamid: the future of the U.S. between the posts, Hamid should get some good experience in this game against a pretty good attacking team in Mexico.

2. Tim Howard: still the number one option for the U.S. as keeper. Nothing changes with a new coach.

Players left out

When the roster was first unveiled yesterday, a slight stir flowed through Twitter and other social media sites because of the noticeable absences of Jozy Altidore and Clint Dempsey. Nothing should be read into those absences.

Altidore is still recovering from the hamstring injury he suffered in the Gold Cup while also training for the start of a new club season with a new club in Holland. He’s still very much in the future of the U.S. team.

For Clint Dempsey, his absence is nothing more than a courtesy to Fulham, his club in England. Fulham are preparing for the start of the English Premier League season with a new coach while also trying to qualify for the Europa League (a Euro club tourney under the Champions League).

The Mexico Friendly

Klinsmann will take these 22 men into the Mexico game as his first opportunity to see many of these players and to better evaluate some veterans. The result of this game means absolutely nothing. Nada. Nil. Friendlies are nothing more than games for young players to gain valuable experience in semi-competitive settings.

And this friendly is even more. It’s a game for Klinsmann to begin the evaluation process in selecting his best squad for World Cup qualifying and World Cup 2014. His success or failure as a coach will not be decided by this game or any other exhibition in the rest of the calendar year or the early months of 2012.

That doesn’t mean both team don’t care about winning. Far from it, I imagine. Both teams would love to notch another victory over their biggest rival. It just means that a loss here is not the end of the world or an indictment of the actions of the past weeks (firing Bradley and hiring Klinsmann).

For a great article on the U.S.-Mexico rivalry though (and an elaboration of the Adu Tweet linked earlier), Grantland.com has the goods.

Enjoy the article and until next time, Go Go USA!

MLS Loses Ball; Puts Season On Hold

NEW YORK – Major League Soccer play was temporarily suspended Monday when league officials announced an unfortunate mishap.

“We lost the ball,” Commissioner Don Garber stated in a solemn press conference.  ”We thought that Real Salt Lake had it. But, apparently, they were under the impression that it was still in Los Angeles.”

With the misplacement of the league’s only ball, Wednesday’s game in Salt Lake City is in danger of being postponed until either it – or a suitable replacement – can be found.  If it remains missing, other games this weekend could also be in jeopardy.

“It’s embarassing, really,” New York Red Bulls head coach Hans Backe said in a statement.  ”We’ve been so careful to make sure that the ball is transferred quickly and safely to the next game.  We really  haven’t had a problem at all over the years.  It is just a shame that it had to happen now.”

An unnamed official searches for the missing MLS ball

Garber was quick not to point fingers – citing an official investigation that is currently underway.  But, many are looking at Saturday’s Referee of the L.A. Galaxy/Portland Timbers match in Los Angeles, Ramón Hernández.  Hernández claims he followed procedure after the game by giving the ball to the Fourth Official.  The Fourth Official, who asked to remain annonymous, says he never received the ball from Hernández.

“We’re looking into it,” Garber said.  ”Someone knows where it is.  We just have to find it.”  He went on to say that the league is prepared to take drastic action if necessary. “We sent Ivan (Gazidis – Deputy Commissioner) down to Sports Authority with the debit card just in case.”

The Pacific Northwest is the Holy Grail of American Soccer

I’m a big soccer fan, as you’ve seen from my numerous posts about the sport on this blog. Admittedly, I’m not the biggest Major League Soccer fan. There are a few reasons why I don’t watch the MLS with the same intensity as the English Premier League and the UEFA Champion’s League, but mainly it is because I live in the traditional American South and there just isn’t a MLS team nearby.

I don’t hate the MLS. I watch the ESPN game of the week, I catch a few games on Fox Soccer, etc. I just don’t have that die-hard passion for one team that keeps me following a specific team and the league in general.

As an occasional viewer over the past few seasons, it’s become plainly apparent what the Pacific Northwest means to the growth of American soccer. Three teams, the Seattle Sounders; the Portland Timbers; and the Vancouver Whitecaps, boast the best fans and the best atmospheres.

The atmosphere at those games rivals even the biggest and most successful European clubs. The play on the field isn’t there yet, but the fans involvement is ever present.

It began in 2009 when Seattle Sounds FC began its inaugural season in the MLS. The 22,000 ticket allotment was filled before the first game, and the franchise continues to expand available seating at Qwest Field (currently 35,700). Seattle won the U.S. Open Cup (a side tournament different than the MLS season) in its first season and continues to enjoy success.

The MLS 2011 season marked the beginning of the Portland Timbers and the Vancouver Whitecaps. The Whitecaps opened their era with a home win over Canadian rival Toronto FC earlier this season. They’re currently hosting games in a 27,000 seat stadium while Vancouver native and NBA All-Star Steve Nash is a part owner.

Portland played their first home MLS game last night on ESPN2. They defeated the Chicago Fire 4-2. It was the atmosphere that again caught my attention. Caught on video below are the members of the Timbers support group, Timber’s Army, singing the national anthem before the game while the rain drizzles the pitch.

As an American soccer fan, that video gives me chills. It’s beautiful, it’s spontaneous, it’s everything that sports in general (and soccer specifically) brings to the table. I only hope I see such an atmosphere in my native South one day. Until that time, God bless the Pacific Northwest, the Holy Grail of American soccer.

P.S. Bob Ryan can suck it!

USMNT International Friendlies Primer

Whenever I get the opportunity, I like to bring soccer to the blog. Starting this weekend, the U.S. Men’s National Team will play two exhibition matches on U.S. soil as early preparation for this summer’s Gold Cup tournament. This will be a preview of the upcoming games written for both new fans and established ones.

1. What is the Gold Cup?

The newer soccer fan may not know what this tournament is, and don’t feel ashamed if you find yourself in that category because it does not receive a lot of media attention aside from the hardcore blogs.

Anyway, the Gold Cup is a tournament for CONCACAF teams, the FIFA body responsible for North, Central, and Caribbean America, in which the winner will earn a spot in the 2013 Confederations Cup. The 2013 Confederations Cup will be played in the summer before the 2014 Brazilian World Cup and will feature 5 teams representing the 5 World Cup qualifying FIFA regions (no Oceania) plus the defending World Cup champion (Spain)

You may remember that in the summer of 2009 the U.S. played in the Confederations Cup in which it placed second to Brazil after defeating Spain in the semifinals. It is a very important tournament for preparing for the World Cup against good competition, so the U.S. will be throwing out its A lineup this summer in hopes of qualifying.

I’ll have more on the actual Gold Cup itself as the tournament nears, but if you’re interested now you can explore the schedule and group draws here.

2. The upcoming friendlies

This coming Saturday, the U.S. will host South American powerhouse Argentina at New Meadowlands Stadium in New Jersey. On the following Tuesday, the U.S. will play Paraguay in Nashville. The Argentina game will be broadcast on ESPN2, and the Paraguay game will feature on Fox Soccer Channel.

These are the only two exhibitions scheduled before the actual Gold Cup so look for the U.S. to play its A team. The U.S. views it as imperative to play in the Confederations Cup in two summers.

3. The U.S. roster

U.S. players finished their club commitments this past weekend, and have traveled to Cary, North Carolina to train for the week. Coach Bob Bradley, fresh off his contract extension through the next World Cup cycle, named 24 players to the first team.

However, injuries have forced an updated roster. Stuart Holden, a dynamic midfielder, and two defenders, Steve Cherundolo and Zak Whitebread, have been withdrawn from the roster due to injuries. Cherundolo and Whitebread are out for minor, nagging injuries which they need to rest for their remaining club schedules. The U.S. defense will miss Cherundolo as he has established himself as a stalwart on the back line.

Stuart Holden

The more troubling injury is that of Stuart Holden. Holden became one of the best midfielders in the English Premier League this season while playing for Bolton Wanderers. Holden was tackled by Manchester United’s Johnny Evans this past weekend resulting in a gash needing 26 stitches and surgery today to repair an (at this time) undisclosed knee injury which will keep Holden out for six months.

Holden was the victim of a broken leg from Holland hit-man Nigel de Jong in an exhibition before last summer’s World Cup. The young midfielder can’t seem to catch a break when it comes to international play.

These three players were replaced by one, Eric Lichaj. Lichaj is a promising young defender who figured to eventually take over for Cherundolo, possibly as soon as the 2014 World Cup, but he is probably not quite ready to step into a starting role this summer. He has shown some promise in the EPL this season with Aston Villa (and now on loan with Leeds United), so maybe he turns a few heads this summer.

Agudelo after scoring in a U.S. friendly last year

The rest of the U.S. roster provides some familiar names as well as some new blood to keep an eye on. Two young names to watch are Juan Agudelo and Timothy Chandler.

Agudelo starred for MLS’ New York Red Bulls last season. The now 18 year old has made two appearances on the national team scoring one goal. He will push striker Jozy Altidore for playing time.

Chandler, 8 days shy of his 21st birthday, has dual citizenship in Germany, where he was born, and America. Thankfully, he has decided to play for the U.S., and he has lots of potential for the future. He starts in Germany’s highest league, the Bundesliga.

For more information about the ins and outs of the U.S. roster, check out the NY Times Goal soccer blog.

4. The Formation

Bob Bradley recently announced his intention to switch from his beloved 4-4-2 to a more offensive-minded 4-2-3-1. The injury to Holden, who would have starred as the center in the three line, may force Bradley’s hand, but let’s hope not. Bradley has some room to toy with this formation as well.

Tim Howard will be in goal. He’s the best the U.S. has, and there’s really no reason to leave him out. The back line is also pretty much set. Captain Carlos Bocanegra will start as a center-back. Oguchi Onyewu will likely be in the other CB. Jay DeMerit will likely set up as the right wing defender.

The wiggle room for Bradley comes at left back. Lichaj is the natural predecessor to the position, and I’d bet he starts there against Argentina. However, Chandler could see some time there (or another defender position given his versatility). Chandler provides a better attacking option than Lichaj so it’s something to keep an eye on.

In the midfield, the two line will be two defensive midfielder. Bradley has three players for two spots: his son Michael Bradley, Maurice Edu, or Jermaine Jones. My guess is Bradley-Edu one game, and Bradley-Jones the other. All three are deserving.

The face of American soccer, Landon Donovan

In the upper midfield, Bradley will run three attacking midfielders. On the wings will be Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey. They can each play either side and will likely switch at points throughout games. The middle midfielder in the three is where the loss of Holden shows. He’s America’s best option there.

With his absence, Bradley has some choices. He could move his son up leaving Jones and Edu in the back midfield. Michael is a good player, but he’s not the attacking option that naturally fits there. Bradley could try Benny Feilhaber who’s proven capable, but inconsistent. He could try Dempsey there.

Or, Bradley has a bit of a dark-horse in Sacha Kljestan as argued by The Yanks Are Coming blog. I like the Kljestan theory, who fell out of favor after a poor performance in the last World Cup cycle, but has since regained form while playing in Belgium. Kljestan is the offense-creator that the position requires.

Up top, Jozy Altidore will most certainly start. He needs to start scoring more goals from that position, but he still has a lot of upside and could potentially shine in the system. Agudelo will almost certainly sub in the games for Altidore. Edson Buddle is the only other striker on the roster, and let’s just hope he doesn’t see too much action.

Then again, if Bradley reverts back to the 4-4-2 because of the Holden injury, all of this becomes irrelevant. I really hope he stays with the new formation though because the 4-4-2 isn’t nearly as effective without Charlie Davies and the strength of the U.S. is the midfield so we should use it to our advantage.

5. Argentina

Argentina will be the better team of the two the U.S. plays, but they certainly won’t be unbeatable. They’ll be good, but the U.S. has a chance.

The most dangerous man in futbol, Lio Messi

Argentina announced that the world’s best player, Lionel Messi, would be suiting up for the friendlies. However, they also announced Carlos Tevez, a powerful goal-scoring forward, would not be representing the national team. The U.S. caught a bit of a break there. Still, the Argentines possess a very good team.

Prediction: Tie 2-2 (a little hopeful, but it’s possible)

Paraguay

Paraguay doesn’t strike the fear in the heart of opponents as Argentina does, but they are still a solid team. Paraguay will play its game taking advantage of mistakes and often capitalizing. This game, in a sense, may be more important because Paraguay is closer to the level of teams the U.S. will play in the Gold Cup (there are no Argentinas in CONCACAF), specifically Mexico.

Prediction: U.S. 2-1

Bringing March Madness to Soccer?

Gus Johnson is widely regarded as one of the best announcers in television. And when he’s paired with the incomparable Bill Raftery, the NCAA men’s basketball tournament becomes a little more special.

Thanks to YouTube user pbombz24, we can now know how Johnson and Raftery would sound calling the beautiful game. For instance, if the U.S. needed a last minute goal to advance from the group stage…

I still get chill-bumps watching that goal. The sound of Johnson and Raftery just make it even better. U-S-A, U-S-A, U-S-A!

December Soccer Update

Admittedly, I’ve been absent when it comes to the beautiful game on EJSIC since the end of the World Cup in July. Well, I gotcha back on some of the recent issues surrounding the sport starting with Qatar’s 2022 upset, UEFA Champions League, etc.

1. 2022 World Cup

The U.S. deserves the tournament more than a country the size of Connecticut. I will never say otherwise. Qatar’s oil money won out, so I’ll just have to get over it.

And I could fill this blog with the previously hashed out arguments of the extreme heat, grumpy Europeans with no alcohol, security issues, etc. but I’ll spare you all. We lost, I’m over it (mostly), and Qatar has some great ideas / stadium designs so maybe they’ll succeed and peace will transcend throughout the Middle East (too far right?).

The above stadium is my favorite design I’ve seen so far, but you can view them all here. They look great, and I honestly do wish them the best of luck in hosting the tournament. I’m sure a lot of the countries around the world felt the same way the U.S. now does when we were awarded the tournament in the early 90s.

2. FIFA President Sepp Blatter

The FIFA president who oversaw Qatar’s victory has since caused more controversy. While in South Africa officially closing out the 2010 World Cup (because it’s apparently a year-long event), Blatter warned homosexual fans who attend the 2022 event to not do anything sexually that is illegal there. He later apologized.

I guess it means this ref (video below) probably won’t be chosen to officiate the events.

3. UEFA Champions League – Round of 16

One can make a very strong argument that Europe’s most prized club competition features the best played soccer in the world (even better than the World Cup). Legendary Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson has commented so numerous times. I tend to agree with the arguments.

The UCL provides teams with better chemistry since they play together for 8 months out of the year rather than the ~8 weeks of an international team in the World Cup. Still, there is something to be said for playing for a nation’s flag. But if you want to watch good soccer, check out the UCL when it picks back up in February.

The following are the Round of 16 match-ups with a rough preview:

AC Milan (Italy) v. Tottenham (Eng) – Milan seems to be improving from their results of the past few seasons, but the Spurs possess the ever-dangerous Gareth Bale

Valencia (Spain) v. Schalke 04 (Germ) – Two under-the-radar teams who are overshadowed by giant clubs in their home country should play an interesting 2 games

AS Roma (Italy) v. Shakhtar Donetsk (Ukraine) – Shakhtar won its group over English juggernaut Arsenal and now look to take down an Italian powerhouse

Arsenal (Eng) v. Barcelona (Spain) – Barcelona are the favorites in the tournament, but Arsenal poses a tough test in the first knockout round

Copenhagen (Denmark) v. Chelsea (Eng) – The defending English champions have struggled lately, but with two months to heal and find their form, Chelsea should be able to defeat Copenhagen

Lyon (France) v. Real Madrid (Spain) – Real is Europe’s most successful club, and they look to recapture past glory against a scrappy but slightly under-manned Lyon

Marseille (France) v. Manchester United (Eng) – United looked dead earlier in the English season, but now find themselves at the top of the standings. Marseille, like Lyon, are too under-manned to be the favorites in this match-up

Internazionale (Italy) v. Bayern (Germ) – In last year’s finale, Inter defeated Bayern 2-0 to capture European glory. Their manager left for Real, but the players remain. Bayern will be looking for revenge

Michael Street’s Musings

I’ve been dying to write an entry here at EJSIC for a few weeks now, but learning how to file frivolous lawsuits law school is extremely time-consuming. Anyway, here are some things floating around in my subconscious.

1. MLB Instant Replay – I’ve been against instant replay for a while now. I defended the “human element” in the summer when Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga lost a perfect game thanks to umpire error (I now feel like an idiot for that). The playoffs have only shown us more problems, unfortunately. The Division Series in each league was dominated by questionable and costly umpire calls.

The LCS has not fared much better. Hell, the Yankees can basically determine when they are hit by a pitch and when they are not. It’s not going away, so it’s time for MLB to do what it does best: correct the problem after it has become a problem.

I still do not believe instant replay needs to be involved with every close play. Umpires have been making calls on bang-bang plays for nearly 150 years. There’s no need to review every single call.

How many umps does it take to screw up a call?

Instead, MLB should implement a rule stating: on every play which involves a significant scoring opportunity, instant replay is a viable option for determining the correct call.

I know what you’re thinking: “What the hell does ‘significant opportunity’ mean?” And that’s a great question. It means: a play in which a run may score (depending on the call), a run does score, or the potential to score runs is set up.

And all of those possibilities make it seem like a lot, but it would also be limited. There should never be an opportunity to replay a stolen base attempt (Buster Posey in the NLDS), a check swing or called / uncalled strike (Michael Young ALDS), or any play that is considered “routine” in the umpire’s job.

This rule leaves the ump’s with some discretion. If they need help, then they should be free to consult the technology.

If I haven’t converted you yet (which is a fair stance), I’ll be discussing this topic in a later (perhaps as long as a month from now) entry. It’s time to move on, though.

2. The NFL’s crackdown on head-hunting – It’s about time, honestly. It’s also important to point out that ESPN’s Mark Schlereth correctly called the NFL hypocritical this week on SportsCenter when he blasted the organization for promoting the violence of the game for years until now.

He’s right, but the NFL’s right, too. The NFL sold this violence for years. And now they want to stop the players from pursuing the most-violent hits. Their stance fits the very definition of a hypocrite. Yet, the NFL is 100% correct on the issue.

Get used to this image about 15 times a game now.

And the reason they’re correct is that they are being proactive, something my beloved baseball knows nothing about. It’s my opinion that a player will die on the field in an NFL game sometime in the future. The game is too violent, at times, for it to not happen.

But when that moment does occur, the NFL will be ready. They’re laying the groundwork for the arguments now. By fining and suspending players for vicious hits, they’ll be able to say one day, “Dear Congressional committee, we did everything in our power to limit the violence of the game. We fined players thousands of dollars for performing the hits we told them not to, and then suspended them without pay.”

That’s exactly what the NFL will be saying in front of a Congressional committee in X years. And, again, they’ll be correct. Then the Congress members and the NFL’s executives will all share a laugh about it at a dinner later that night. But whatever happens behind the scenes, the NFL will protect itself.

3. Marijuana soda, a liquid high – Dixie Elixirs (based in Colorado, the long last sister of the Confederacy) manufactures a soda from medical marijuana that gives the user a high while drinking. And better yet, it comes seven great flavors: lemonade, sweet tea, pink lemonade, strawberry, orange, grape, and root beer.

It doesn’t sound too appeasing to me, but if you want to try some, hit up their website.

4. The Wayne Rooney weirdness – English footballer Wayne Rooney has had a tough time as of late. He stunk it up in South Africa this past summer, he’s played horribly for Manchester United this season, his injured ankle has yet to fully heal, and the British media busted him for soliciting a prostitute (something he’s done before, but vowed to have stopped). Oh yeah, his wife’s prego with their child which factored into the media and public backlash.

How many prostitutes can 350,000 GBP a week buy?

And in the midst of all that, his club, Man U, is battling bankruptcy problems which prompted the 24 year old England star to publicly declare that he would be leaving the club at the expiration of his contract (end of 2012 season). Media members immediately speculated that he could be out of Manchester during the January transfer period with the possible destinations being cross-town rivals Manchester City, London dwellers Chelsea, or Spanish giants Real Madrid.

All of that speculation went to waste when Rooney, out of nowhere, signed a new 5 year deal with United Friday morning. So he’s good and recommitted to the club, according to club officials. With his new deal, I bet he can find a few higher end prostitutes to keep him satisfied while his wife deals with that whole pregnancy thing.

Q: When does a fan-made sign become racist?

A: It never does in Russia.

FIFA officials are in the process of visiting the countries currently bidding for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups. The heavy-hitters are the United States, England, Russia, a Belgium-Holland joint bid, and a Portugal-Spain joint bid.

Russia and England appear to be the favorites for the 2018 edition when the announcement is made in December of this year. FIFA officials recently spent some time in the Motherland examining the facilities, infrastructure, etc. FIFA expressed concerns over racism in Russia’s highest football league, the Russian Premier League.

And like a good commie, the Russian representative denied any problems. And when FIFA referenced a specific sign displayed by the fans of Lokomotiv Moscow, the denials became interesting.

Stay classy, Russia

The sign (above) is thanking English club West Brom for for acquiring Lokomotiv’s Peter Odemwingie. The problem, of course, is that Odemwingie is from Nigeria and his skin color is not the same as the shirtless commies in that pic. Thus, the banana came to signify racial tensions.

A Russian official explained to FIFA reps that the sign was not racist: “Apparently fans were not happy with the fact that he plays better for Nigeria and worse for the club. That’s why they have shown their satisfaction after he left. And there is nothing racial in it.”

The official went on to say: “In Russia ‘to get a banana’ means ‘to fail a test somewhere’.”

Oh, just a simple misunderstanding, right? The foreign player didn’t really know the origin of the banana in Russia. Well there’s more.

According to this BBC article, the banana did mean that at one time in the Motherland, but that time is no more.

So, it really is racist? I’m confused. The nice little tour guide of greater Russia said it wasn’t racist?

All of this can only mean one thing: England congratulations on securing the 2018 World Cup.