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Archive for Omnibus

Feb. 23, 2017 — From the penthouse to the outhouse in fewer than 10 months

It was the first weekend of May 2016 when Leicester City F.C., a middle-sized soccer team with middle-sized support and located, fittingly, in the Midlands of the British Isles, clinched the 2015-16 Premier League championship.

In an era of enormous money being poured into professional soccer, creating a class system, Leicester were the rank outsiders, coming into last season at 5,000-to-1 odds to win the league.

The Foxes, playing an all-for-one, one-for-all style of team football, became the darlings of not only soccer, but in all of sport because they played a simple game, set simple team goals, and came together as a fist to defeat some of the richest sports entities on the planet.

This evening the architect of the miracle season, Claudio Ranieri, was fired. The current Foxes side has many of the same players as it did a year ago except for back Ngolo Kante (more on him in a minute). But the team currently lies in 17th place in the league, and is in danger of losing its membership in the Premier League and may have to move down a level to play smaller-market teams such as Norwich and Brentford next season.

How did this utter collapse occur?

Some of it is the trappings of being the champions of England. Leicester, reluctantly, had a cameo role in the Guinness International Champions’ Cup, managing a penalty-shootout win and two defeats in three matches scattered between Europe and North America. Too, the Foxes were obligated to take part in three tournaments over the course of the season: the League Cup, the F.A. Cup, and the UEFA Champions’ League.

As Leicester had never won anything in the course of its 133-year history, there was nobody to advise the players or coaches how to deal with the overnight success. Or how to deal with big-money transfers. The big loss in the transfer market was when Ngolo Kante left the team in the offseason to join with Chelsea F.C. in London for a reported 32 million pounds.

Kante, the rock of Leicester’s defense, was gone. And the club would miss him more than you can imagine, despite playing a better team game than anyone else in England last year.

The attack has also suffered. Jamie Vardy has just five goals this season, and Riyadh Mahrez has just five points this season (3 g, 2 a).

The road ahead is clear for Leicester, however. By Monday night, the Foxes will know where they will have to play from; depending on results from the weekend, they could be anywhere from 17th to 20th in the league. And in a couple of weeks, Leicester City will host Sevilla in the second of a two-game, total-goal series in the Champions League.

But pro soccer is one of those sports where it is difficult for a team to turn around solely on the personality and disposition of the head coach. Swansea City turned to former U.S. boss Bob Bradley for help, but he was sacked after winning just two times in 11 fixtures.

For interim manager Steve Shakespeare, it’s all about winning now and winning decisively. The players are in place, but it’s all a matter of self-believe now. Let’s see if they have another “great escape” in them.

Feb. 17, 2017 — When a World Player of the Year changes addresses

This past week, Carli Lloyd, the megastar of the U.S. women’s national soccer team and two-time FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, became the fourth — fourth! — national-team player to sign with a major European club instead of playing with the National Women’s Soccer League.

Lloyd will play half a season with Manchester City, which is about the same deal as Alex Morgan has with Paris St. Germain. In addition to them, Crystal Dunn is playing a full season with Chelsea, and Heather O’Reilly is playing the 2017 season for Arsenal.

The Lloyd signing should, frankly, scare fans and sponsors in America to death. This should not be happening at the inception of the fifth season of the primary USSF-sanctioned Division I women’s soccer league.

You see, not so long ago in Europe, women’s football clubs were little more than an afterthought, an auxiliary way to market the name of the club without spending any money. But an influx of Middle Eastern oil money has changed all that.Note that Lloyd’s Manchester City side is sponsored by Etihad Airways. For Arsenal and PSG, it’s Emirates Airways. Chelsea is owned by Russian oil oligarch Roman Abramovich.

Lloyd’s is the capstone signing, showing that the economic balance in women’s soccer has tilted away from the NWSL. And it shows me that the U.S. clubs and the national federation need to step up the sponsorship game radically.

Feb. 14, 2017 — An even darker shadow in Lansing

Remember this?

Today, this happened.

The investigation of Larry Nassar, the former doctor for Michigan State University and the U.S. Gymnastics Federation, is threatening to become the kind of scandal which could result in not only the severest forms of punishment to the accused, but has already affected at least one ancillary figure who, according to one attorney quoted in The Detroit News, enabled the continuation of the abuse over a two-decades-long period by downplaying the accusations.

“Had a proper investigation been done in the 1990s … all of this could have been prevented,” Okemos, Mich. attorney Mick Grewal tells the News. “All the other victims might not have been assaulted by Dr. Nassar. {Klages} failed to protect these young women. She should be investigated for her conduct for failing to protect these girls.”

Thus far, this widening gyre of a scandal has now expanded to include 55 women in seven different sports, plus it also has ensnared the disciplinary process at Michigan State University, which, according to this investigative story, has made it very difficult for sexual assault and rape victims within the MSU community to receive anything close to justice.

What is troubling is that Kathie Klages’ departure might not be the only domino to fall. There are already allegations that Nassar had full run of the Karolyi Ranch, the gymnastics school in Texas that Bela and Martha Karolyi ran while coaching the U.S. national and Olympic teams.

Question is, what did the Karolyis know, and when did they know it? And you can replace that name with the name of most any head or assistant coach who was in place at Michigan State whose athletes were under Dr. Nassar’s care.

Given what we already know about Don Peters’ transgressions while at the helm of USA Gymnastics, this could get really messy, really quick.

Feb. 13, 2017 — 100+

The last five years of University of Connecticut women’s basketball are a statistician’s dream. How do you, for example, recover from losing a senior class that constituted the top three seniors in the 2016 WNBA Draft?

Or, for that matter, two more in the first rounds of the 2014 and 2015 Drafts?

All of that excellence, past and present, came together this evening in the Gampel Pavilion for UConn’s 66-55 win over a good South Carolina side. A cavalcade of superstars — Sue Bird, Breanna Stewart, Maya Moore, Tina Charles, and even soccer star Megan Rapinoe made the game.

Connecticut fell adrift by two in the second quarter, but had one of their patented bursts near the halftime interval, scoring the last seven of the second quarter, then kept on rolling aggressively with quick ball movement, rebounding, and defense.

This year’s team, however, has been The Team Of No Stars. Sure, there’s likely to be a player or two why may play their way into being a lottery pick for the next WNBA draft, but the plain fact is that the program is awaiting its next crop of freshmen which includes Megan Walker, Andra Espinoza-Hunter, Lexi Gordon and Mikayla Coombs.

Some during this evening’s broadcast prophesied that the UConn streak may hit 200 if the current group could run the table.

The scary thing is that it just might happen.

Feb. 6, 2017 — Against the unsightly backdrop

Yesterday’s Super Bowl might have showcased some of the best football you could ever imagine, in terms of execution, tactics, and gumption.

And yet, culturally, does it even matter anymore?

The game of football is being played in a climate which is very unfriendly for its very existence as a past time in two to three decades. Youth participation in many places is so low that leagues and teams have had to merge, and there are places in this country where competition surfaces which used to have gridiron on them now have soccer goals on either end.

I keep telling people that football is on its way out as a major spectator sport in this country. Then, I have to re-remind them that track cycling was the major indoor sport in the United States for most of the first two decades of the 20th Century.

Tastes do change. Think about how many people know who the heavyweight champion of the world is in boxing, vs. the heavyweight championship in mixed martial arts.

Tells you something, doesn’t it?

Jan. 21, 2017 — One woman’s story

Today in our nation’s capitol, there’s a new President and a new administration.

But there’s a new energy amongst many who feel they will be marginalized during the next administration, including women.

Joanna Lohman, a professional soccer player, gives her reasons for joining today’s march.

Jan. 20, 2017 — Another trailblazer has left us

The arc of Sister Maria Pares is a unique one.

She was a science teacher in West Virginia, who went onto holding concurrent collegiate and scholastic coaching positions in the 1980s. And later in life, she was hired by a male who respected the body of her work to be an associate coach.

Please read this story in the Buffalo News, a wonderful tribute to Pares, who died from cancer today.