Monday, July 28, 2014

Record Chasing: Steelers All-Time Stats Heading Into 2014

As the Steelers enter their first full week of training camp, I took a look through some of the All-Time Records to see if any were in danger of falling this season. While Hines Ward's career receiving marks and Franco Harris' rushing records are safe for the time being. Ben Roethlisberger already owns most of the quarterbacking records. Therefore, most of this post is not about a new career leader in the Steelers record books, but about three players moving up into the top 10 or top 5 in their respective stat categories. Since it would be nearly impossible to predict a single-season record being broken (though Antonio Brown came within 2 catches of tying Hines Ward's 112-catch season last year), I decided to restrict this to only the Career lists. Additionally, since most of the

Quarterback Record

Terry Bradshaw holds the record with 107 wins over 15 seasons. Ben Roethlisberger enters the season with 95 career wins in 10 seasons. Big Ben could surpass Bradshaw with 12 wins this season. As an interesting aside, a 12-4 season for Ben would give him a 107-51 career record, the same as Bradshaw. Bradshaw also holds the record for most losses by a quarterback (51) which Ben could surpass if the Steelers lose more than 4 games.

Rushing Touchdowns

Le'Veon Bell rushed for 8 touchdowns in his rookie campaign. If he repeats the feat in his sophomore season he will catapult into the top 20 on the Steelers all-time list in rushing touchdowns. Ben Roethlisberger enters the year with 15 rushing touchdwns and can move into the top 20 with just one touchdown, which he should get as he has averaged 1.5 per season in his career.

The List

Receiving Touchdowns

Heath Miller needs just 3 touchdowns to pass Buddy Dial for 4th on the Steelers all-time receiving touchdowns list. It is highly unlikely he will record the 11 he needs to catch Lynn Swann for third.

The List


Antonio Brown obviously has a long way to go to catch Hines Ward's 1000 career receptions. Brown enters the year with 261 catches and has the opportunity to make a gigantic leap in the standings. He needs just 4 catches to pass Plaxico Burress for 8th, 46 catches to pass Franco Harris for 7th, 69 catches to pass Elbe Nickel for 6th and 76 catches to pass Lynn Swann and break into the top 5. Last season Brown led the team with 110 receptions and came up just shy of Hines Ward's single-season record of 112. A 98-catch season (which would be the third best single season in Steelers history) would put Brown ahead of Louis Lipps for 4th on the Steelers all-time receptions list.

Heath Miller is currently third on the list with 466 receptions and is the all-time leader in all categories for tight ends. While unlikely, if he could repeat his 2012 season of 71 catches he would tie John Stallworth for second on the all-time receptions list.

The List

Receiving Yards

Antonio Brown enters the season 14th on the Steelers all-time list with 3561 yards. He has two 1000-yard seasons in his 4-year career. Brown needs just 359 yards to break into the Top 10 on the Steelers all-time list and could get as high as 7th on the all-time list with 1163 yards this season.

Heath Miller enters the season 5th on the all-time list with 5273 yards. He needs just 190 yards to pass Lynn Swann for 4th on the list. While it seems unlikely, a 745-yard season for Heath would catapult him ahead of Louis Lipps into third.

The List

Thursday, July 17, 2014

2014 Training Camp Primer

It seems like a long time since I've written about football. With a cursory glance through my blog archives since the 2013 season ended, I have published 20 World Cup articles, 18 Winter Olympics articles, 11 NCAA Tournament articles, 9 NFL Draft articles, 2 data analysis posts on the possible NFL Playoff Expansion, 1 post on NFL Free Agency, 1 post with the Steelers 2014 schedule and 1 post on WPIAL realignment. With that said, it's good to get back in the swing of the NFL Football season. Here we go.

The 2014 iteration of the Pittsburgh Steelers will hit Latrobe on July 25. The 90 men that will take the field at St Vincent College are almost entirely different from the team that lost Super Bowl XLV in Dallas in January 2011. From that team, only 7 offensive players (Roethlisberger, Brown, David Johnson, Miller, Spaeth, Foster and Pouncey), 7 defensive players (McLendon, Timmons, Worilds, Taylor, Gay, Polamalu and Will Allen) and Long Snapper Greg Warren enter this year's training camp. Pouncey, Worlids and Brown were rookies on that 2010 squad and now are established veterans and among the highest paid players on the team. After back-to-back 8-8 seasons, the Steelers roster rennovation is nearly complete. The team has shed their aging veterans and enters camp with just 12 of the 90 players on the roster over 30. By contrast, 31 players are under 24 years old.

Barring any injuries, most of the starting lineups on both sides of the ball are set. There may be a few camp battles that develop should rookies out-perform expectations, but for the most part the starting lineups are set. Conversely, with the exception of Quarterback, Running Back and Strong Safety, all of the backup positions are up for grabs. This should make for an exciting camp and for preseason games that are incredibly meaningful in the construction of the final 53-man roster.

The Steelers were aggressive in free agency and despite their limited cap space, they were able to add 8 veteran players to the team. In the draft, the Steelers focused on size and speed, adding dynamic players like LB Ryan Shazier (who ran a 40 equivalent to Terrelle Pryor) and RB Dri Archer (who ran the fastest 40 at the combine). With these young players comes a certain degree of uncertainty - will Shazier be more like Kendrell Bell or more like Lawrence Timmons? Will Archer be more like Chris Rainey or Dexter McCluster? Will fourth round pick Martavis Bryant be more like Plaxico Burress or Limas Sweed? Not all of these questions will be answered in the first training camp, or even in the first season. However, the Steelers front office has made their bed with these players (in selecting Shazier over Mosley and Dennard and Tuitt over Nix) and we will have front row seats to see if they made the right decisions.

As the roster stands right now, there are 27 players who should be considered "Locks" to make the 53-man roster.

Roster Locks (27)
QB: Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski
RB: Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer
WR: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore
TE: Heath Miller
OT: Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams
OG: Ramon Foster, David DeCastro
C: Maurkice Pouncey

DE: Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt
NT: Steve McLendon
OLB: Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones
ILB: Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier
CB: Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen
SS: Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas
FS: Mike Mitchell

Additionally, there are 13 players who should make the roster, barring any injury, terrible play or getting into some kind of trouble with the law.

Should Make the Team (13)
QB: Landry Jones
WR: Martavis Bryant
TE: Matt Spaeth
OT: Wesley Johnson
OG: Guy Whimper
C: Cody Wallace

DE: Cam Thomas
OLB: Arthur Moats
ILB: Vince Williams
CB: William Gay
FS: Will Allen

K: Shaun Suisham
LS: Greg Warren

The 27 locks and the 13 players that should make the squad account for 40 roster positions. Additionally, the Steelers will carry a punter which will likely be decided by a camp battle between Adam Podlesh and Brad Wing. This leaves 12 roster positions that are open to be claimed in training camp.

Roster Battles

Fullback/H-Back: Will Johnson, Rob Blanchflower

The Steelers have used Will Johnson both as a true blocking fullback and as a 3rd tight end. Seventh-round pick Rob Blanchflower is a beastly blocker who the Steelers may decide to keep as a 3rd tight end. Both of these players could make the roster and would add some serious beef to the short-yardage ground game.

Tight End: Rob Blanchflower, Michael Palmer, David Paulson

Blanchflower, the 7th round pick out of UMass can be an absolutely devastating blocker but doesn't bring much in the passing game. Palmer is a veteran who was on the team last year primarily as a special teams player. Paulson was the forgotten tight end of last season after some absolutely brutal performances early in the season. Paulson showed some flashes as a rookie but can not block to save his life which will likely spell the end of his tenure with the Steelers. If Blanchflower proves capable of handling the speed of the NFL game, this is likely his spot to lose. The 3rd tight end spot has typically been a contributor on special teams so it will be important to see if Blanchflower can equal Palmer's production on special teams.

Wide Receiver: Darrius Heyward-Bey, Derek Moye, Justin Brown

The Steelers have traditionally kept 5 Wide Receivers on their 53-man roster. The first four are relatively set with Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, free agent signing Lance Moore and 4th round pick Martavis Bryant. This is a position that is somewhat lacking in depth and the Steelers could explore signing a veteran receiver during camp to bolster the unit. Currently, the in-house options consist of veteran Darrius Heyward-Bey who went from being the first receiver taken in the 2009 draft by Oakland to being relegated to Special Teams duties for the Colts last year. Heyward-Bey has the size and speed to be a factor in the NFL but his hands have never been consistent. Derek Moye was on the team last year and was the tallest receiver of the group but only saw a handful of snaps per game and was only thrown 6 passes the whole season. Justin Brown spent last year on the practice squad after the Steelers used a 6th round pick on him in the 2013 draft. All three of these players have good size (DHB is 6'2", Brown is 6'3" and Moye is 6'5"), making this a wide open race that has the potential to be altered by an additional veteran signing during camp.

Offensive Line: Chris Hubbard, David Snow

This "roster battle" basically becomes a discussion if the Steelers decide to carry 9 or 10 offensive linemen on their roster. The first 9 are fairly set in stone, but if Hubbard or Snow impress in camp the Steelers could protect them from waivers by keeping them on the roster. Hubbard spent last year on the practice squad. David Snow was signed late last year for interior line depth after Pouncey and Velasco were injured. It is very possible that the Steelers keep only 9 offensive linemen on the roster and neither make the team.

Defensive End: Brian Arnfelt, Nick Williams

Ziggy Hood and Al Woods left in free agency. Brett Keisel's contract expired and the Steelers did not re-sign him. This created a void at the defensive end position, which was already strapped for depth. Cam Heyward, Cam Thomas and 2nd-round pick Stephon Tuitt will be the top three in the rotation, but the Steelers will keep a 4th player in the event of injury. The current favorite appears to be Brian Arnfelt who spent much of last season on the practice squad before being promoted to the active roster in December. Arnfelt was an undrafted free agent signing last year and will compete with 2013 7th round pick Nick Williams, who spent last season on the IR after suffering a knee injury in training camp. There wasn't any news about Williams out of OTAs this spring so his recovery timeline is unknown. If Williams isn't healthy, this will essentially be Arnfelt's job to lose unless the Steelers sign another veteran during camp to add depth. The depth here is razor-thin and signing Brett Keisel to a 1-year deal would seem to make all the sense in the world, if he's willing to play for the veteran minimum.

Nose Tackle: Daniel McCullers, Hebron Fangupo

The Steelers opted to keep Fangupo coming out of training camp last year instead of 2012 4th round pick Alameda Ta'amu. To no one's surprise, the Cardinals signed Ta'amu and he played 226 snaps. Fangupo only saw the field for 14 snaps last season as the Steelers used Al Woods as both a defensive end and nose tackle (similar to the role Cam Thomas will play this year). McCullers was the biggest player in the draft at 6'8" 350 lbs. The 6th round pick out of Tennessee will have to learn how to play low to match the pad level of offensive linemen. The Steelers will keep 2 nose tackles on the final roster and McCullers is a candidate for the practice squad if he fails to surpass Fangupo.

Linebacker: Chris Carter, Terrence Garvin, Jordan Zumwalt, Vic So'oto, Howard Jones, Sean Spence

I was going to break this down into Outside Linebackers and Inside Linebackers, but special teams play is far more important for reserve linebackers than where they line up on defense. Chris Carter enters his fourth year with the team as a reserve outside linebacker, but has yet to record a sack. He has been a contributor on special teams, but isn't exactly a trustworthy player to have as the top reserve outside linebacker. Terrence Garvin was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2013 and had an impressive preseason playing both inside and outside linebacker. Garvin started the season on the practice squad but was elevated to the active roster and laid a jaw-breaking block on the Bengals punter to spring Antonio Brown for a punt return touchdown in December. Garvin is the top candidate to replace Carter as the top reserve outside linebacker and could win the spot with special teams play. Zumwalt was the Steelers 6th round pick and has a ferociousness that makes him an asset on special teams and could land him on the 53-man roster. He can play both inside and outside but a lack of practice reps due to UCLA's bizarre graduation rules could ultimately land him on the practice squad. So'oto has been a bit of a practice squad journeyman in the league and will have to play his way onto the team if he is to make the 53-man roster. Howard Jones is everyone's favorite dark horse to make the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Shepherd. Jones was a Division II all-star and is the early favorite for "Camp Phenom." Sean Spence is the most intriguing player of the group. A 3rd round pick in 2012, he suffered a devastating knee injury in the preseason that kept him out each of the last two seasons. All reports from OTAs say that he is back to being healthy and he could provide a tremendous upgrade at inside linebacker if he makes the team. Kion Wilson made the team last year and shared time as a starter with Vince Williams after Larry Foote was injured but was cut on the eve of training camp, which could be a sign that Sean Spence has returned to full health. At the end of the day, the Steelers will likely keep 9 or 10 linebackers and the players that stand out on special teams will be the ones that earn the last few spots on the roster.

Cornerback: Brice McCain, Sheldon Richardson, Antwon Blake, Isaiah Green

The Steelers signed Brice McCain as a free agent this offseason to add depth to the cornerback position. In 5 seasons with Houston, McCain had 124 tackles and 5 interceptions. McCain will likely battle Antwon Blake for the 5th cornerback position. Blake spent last season with the Steelers and played primarily on Special Teams where he was second on the team in tackles. Sheldon Richardson was the Steelers 5th round pick out of Arizona and has experience with secondary coach Carnell Lake. Richardson will likely make the team since the Steelers used a draft pick on him and is a practice squad candidate at worst. Isaiah Green seemed to always be the 53rd man on the Steelers roster last year and pinballed back and forth between the active roster and the practice squad. The Steelers will likely keep 5 cornerbacks, which means there are two jobs to be won between these four players.

Safety: Robert Golden, Ross Ventrone

The Steelers top four safety positions are set in stone. If the Steelers decide to keep a fifth, the battle will be between Golden and Ventrone. However, if either of these players falter on special teams, the Steelers could opt to keep a 6th cornerback rather than a 5th safety. Golden was an undrafted free agent who made the team out of camp in 2012. He is a player that seems to shine on the practice field but hasn't been able to translate that into games yet. The fact that the Steelers went out and signed Mike Mitchell is very much a referendum on Golden's abilities to be an every-down safety. Ventrone spent last season on the practice squad and could challenge Golden for the last position. Ultimately, as is the case with most of the battles for the last few roster positions, special teams play will decide who gets a job and who does not.

Punter: Adam Podlesh, Brad Wing

After last year's experiment of Zoltan Mesko and Mat McBriar failed miserably, the Steelers went out in free agency and signed the only punter who was worse than the Mesko/McBriar combo: Adam Podlesh. I wish I was joking about that, but look at the breakdown between the Steelers punters and Podlesh from 2013:

In addition to Podlesh, the Steelers also added former LSU punter Brad Wing who did not sign with an NFL team out of college. This has all the makings of being a wide open camp battle after Podlesh was dead last in the league in punting last season. 

Roster Projection

As things stand right now, entering camp, here is my projected 53-man roster for the Steelers:

QB (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Bruce Gradkowski, Landry Jones
RB (3): Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount, Dri Archer
FB (1): Will Johnson
WR (5): Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey
TE (3): Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Rob Blanchflower
OT (4): Kelvin Beachum, Marcus Gilbert, Mike Adams, Wesley Johnson
OG (3): Ramon Foster, David DeCastro, Guy Whimper
C (2): Maurkice Pouncey, Cody Wallace

DE (4): Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Cam Thomas, Brian Arnfelt
NT (2): Steve McLendon, Hebron Fangupo
OLB (5): Jason Worlids, Jarvis Jones, Arthur Moats, Terrence Garvin, Jordan Zumwalt
ILB (5): Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams. Sean Spence, Howard Jones
CB (5): Ike Taylor, Cortez Allen, William Gay, Sheldon Richardson, Brice McCain
SS (2): Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas
FS (3): Mike Mitchell, Will Allen, Robert Golden

K (1): Shaun Suisham
P (1): Adam Podlesh
LS (1): Greg Warren

Just Missed:
Antwon Blake
Derek Moye
Justin Brown
Kion Wilson
Daniel McCullers
Chris Carter
Isaiah Green
Michael Palmer
Nick Williams
Chris Hubbard

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

What's Next for the USMNT?

After some early bad publicity to their World Cup (primarily because Landon Donovan was left off the roster), the United States put together an incredibly exciting run to the Round of 16 where they were an airball from Chris Wondolowski away from advancing to the quarterfinals. Unfortunately for fans of the international game, the World Cup only comes around once every four years. Personally, I love international competition but don't follow club soccer very closely. For others like me that still haven't picked a club team to support, there is plenty to look forward to over the next four years on the international level.

2015 U-20 World Cup
Qualification January 2015
Tournament June 2015

The Under-20 World Cup will be held in New Zealand in 2015. The United States has secured a spot in qualification. Four teams from CONCACAF (which covers North America, Central America and the Caribbean) will qualify. Given Jurgen Klinsmann's emphasis on youth in the 2014 World Cup squad, it is entirely possible that some of these players will find their way onto the American squad in the 2018 World Cup qualification cycle. Also, the U-20 World Cup is a good measure for which teams will be competitive in the 2016 Summer Olympics (which is primarily an under-23 tournament).

2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup
July 2015

The CONCACAF Championships will take place in July 2015. The United States has already qualified as the defending champions. If the United States wins the 2015 Gold Cup, they will receive an automatic berth into the 2017 Confederations Cup (which is a tournament between the champions of each regional federation). The US won the 2013 Gold Cup last year, so if the US does not win the 2015 Gold Cup, they will face the winner in a play-off to determine CONCACAF's representative in the Confederations Cup.

World Cup Qualifying Third Round

CONCACAF has not announced the structure for World Cup qualification for the 2018 World Cup yet, but if they follow a procedure similar to 2014 qualification, the top 6 teams in the federation (which the US will be one of) get a bye to the third round of qualification. This means the United States likely won't begin their campaign to qualify for the 2018 World Cup until 2016. The Third Round of qualification features 3 groups of 4 teams where the top 2 from each group advance to the Fourth Round Hexagonal.

Copa America Centenario
June 2016

The United States will host the 2016 Copa America Centario, a 16-team tournament between the 10 South American teams and 6 teams from CONCACAF. Should FIFA strip Qatar of their hosting duties for the 2022 World Cup, this could be seen as a dress rehearsal for US venues vying to be included as sites for the 2022 World Cup. The 10 South American teams (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela) along with the United States and Mexico have already qualified. The last four spots in the tournament will be decided by the 2014 Copa Centroamericana, 2014 Caribbean Cup and 2015 Gold Cup. This will be a highly publicized tournament and it will be going head-to-head with the UEFA European Championship.

Summer Olympics
August 2016

Back to Brazil? Soccer will be an event at the 2016 Summer Olympic Games in Rio. However, the Olympic tournament only permits 3 players per team to be over the age of 23. This basically makes the Olympics a glorified Under-23 tournament and therefore it is not counted as a "major" international competition in Men's Soccer. There is a qualifying tournament as well that will take place in 2016. The US failed to qualify for the soccer tournament in the 2012 games, but since DeAndre Yedlin (who saw time in all 4 World Cup games) and Julian Green (who scored against Belgium) will both be under 23 at the time of this tournament, the US will have a chance to qualify.

World Cup Qualifying Hexagonal

If the United States advances through the Third Round of CONCACAF's World Cup qualifying, they will enter the 6-team Hexagonal qualification stage. In the last cycle, the top 3 teams in The Hex advanced to the World Cup and the 4th place team was entered into a Intercontinental play-off against the champions from the OFC.

2017 Confederations Cup

The summer before each World Cup, the Confederations Cup is held in the host nation of the World Cup. The Confederations Cup is a short tournament often seen as a "World Cup Warm-Up" between the champions from each Confederation. The US can qualify automatically by winning the 2015 Gold Cup or by winning a playoff against the 2015 Gold Cup winner.

2017 CONCACAF Gold Cup

The Gold Cup is a biannual tournament, so there will be two competitions between now and the next World Cup. The 2017 and 2019 Gold Cup winners will determine CONCACAF's representative in the 2021 Confederations Cup, which could be held in the United States if the 2022 World Cup is taken away from Qatar and given to the US.

Also, don't forget about...

Women's World Cup
June 2015

The United States Women's National Team has had an incredible run of success and is one of the most accomplished teams on the planet. The CONCACAF Women's Championship will take place in October 2014 which will determine the 3 teams that automatically qualify for the 2015 Women's World Cup. The fourth place team will face third place team from CONMEBOL in an intercontinental playoff to a spot in the 2015 Women's World Cup, which will be held in Canada.

Summer Olympics -Women's Soccer
August 2016

Unlike the men's tournament, the women's tournament permits "senior" rosters to be used in the Summer Olympics. This basically means that the same teams from the previous summer's Women's World Cup face off again with Olympic Gold on the line.

These are just the international tournaments that will take place between now and the 2018 World Cup. The United States is always very aggressive in scheduling friendlies against some of the best competition in the world. Therefore, even if you are like me and don't have a club soccer team that you follow closely, there is certainly enough competition on the international front over the next three summers to maintain an interest in the National Team until the next World Cup.

Monday, June 30, 2014

5 Reasons to Hate: Belgium

The US made it through the group stage in consecutive World Cups for the first time ever. They disposed of their arch-nemesis Ghana, got a point against Portugal and held the efficient Germans to just one goal. Thanks to a Portugal victory over Ghana (I never would've guessed I would have celebrated a Christiano Ronaldo goal that much), the US is moving on. In isolation, being able to advance out of a group that featured Germany, Portugal and Ghana is an accomplishment in and of itself. Doing so without striker Jozy Altidore for the majority of the time is incredible. Now it's on to the knockout stage against Belgium who has gotten off to slow starts in each of their three group games. The Belgians have yet to score a goal in the first 70 minutes of a game. After conceding an early penalty kick to Algeria, Belgium trailed for 45 minutes before equalizing in the 70th minute and taking the lead in the 80th minute. Against Russia, it took until the 88th minute for Belgium to score and they managed a goal in the 78th minute while playing with 10 men against South Korea. As we have seen so far in the knockout stage, games are never over until the final whistle, as Mexico and Costa Rica have both conceded goals in stoppage time. The Belgians are late finishers so the US will need to play a complete game. But let's be honest, you didn't come here to read about what the US needs to do.

If you want legitimate previews of the US side, you should be reading:
When you think about Belgium, the first thing you probably think of is Belgian Waffles, which do not suck. Waffles aside, there are plenty of reasons that Belgium does suck. Here are five.

5. Brussel Sprouts

Literally the worst food ever came from Belgium and is named after the Capital of Belgium. Isn't that enough?

4. The Big Bang Theory

Monsignor Georges Lemaitre was a Belgian Catholic priest who applied Einstein's theory of relativity to Cosmology. Of course, from talking with most people who "F***ing Love Science" you'd never know that the Theory of Expansion of the Universe and the Big Bang Theory were developed by a Catholic priest.

The saddest part of all of this isn't the fact that people don't know where The Big Bang Theory came from, but that people now more readily associate the term with a TV show instead of the actual scientific concept.

Basically what it boils down to is that through the transitive property, Belgium is responsible for this:

3. Disproportionate Flag

Congratulations, you are a sovereign nation. Unless you are Nepal, your flag is a square. Nepal gets a pass because their flag needs to be more aerodynamic in order to withstand the winds of the Himalayas. Switzerland and Vatican City have perfectly square flags. Most countries in the world have rectangular flags that are either at a 2:3 proportion or 1:2 proportion. Belgium just couldn't make up their mind. Their official flag proportions are 13:15 which is not quite a perfect square but also barely a rectangle. Their civil, state and naval flags are all 2:3 but they just had to go and be ridiculous with their national flag.
National Flag Proportions:

Civil Flag Proportions:

2. The Horror, The Horror

Is that actually what Colonel Kurtz said? We may never know. What we do know is that Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness, which pretty much everyone read in high school, was set in the Belgian Congo. Belgium's rulership over the Congo started under King Leopold II. Leopold turned the Belgian Congo (which is now primarily the Democratic Republic of the Congo) into his personal fiefdom, because being King of Belgium obviously wasn't enough. The indigenous peoples were put to work as slaves in mining copper and on rubber plantations. By some estimates, the native population of the Congo was halved because of Belgian rule.
Conrad's book gave a glimpse of some of the conditions deep within central Africa under Belgian rule, which Conrad had experienced personally as part of a Belgian trading company traversing the Congo River in 1890. According to the United Nations' Human Development Index, the Democratic Republic of the Congo ranks last in the world. Belgium is pretty much the reason that things in Central Africa suck so bad.
Michael Crichton's Congo was also set in the former Belgian Congo, and things sucked pretty bad there too. "Belgians in the Congo" is also featured in one of the worst songs of all time:

1. Beer Monopoly

I know what you're thinking. "But Belgian beer is pretty good!" For the most part, you're right. But did you know that a Belgian company is actually responsible for a lot of the crap that is brewed as well? Actually, it's even worse than a Belgian company. It's a Belgian company that bought out an American company. In 1987, the two largest breweries in Belgium merged for form Interbrew. Interbrew merged with AmBev (which was formed from the merger of two large Brazilian brewers) in 2004 to form InBev. Finally, in 2008, InBev acquired (or "merged with" depending on the terminology you want to use) Anheuser-Busch.
That means that every time you drink the Official Beer of the World Cup, you're actually supporting a Belgian company. The Anheuser-Busch/InBev corporation accounts for the Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois, Beck's, Hoegaarden, Michelob, Rolling Rock, Labatt, Natural Ice, and many other brands of beer across the globe. They also own distribution rights to Bacardi and Monster Energy drinks. So in conclusion, even though it's the official beer of the World Cup, you should probably boycott Budweiser, Bacardi, Labatt, and Natty Ice during Tuesday's game. Unless you want to support Belgium.
For Pittsburghers, this hits especially close to home because it was Anheuser-Busch that ceased production of Rolling Rock beer in Latrobe after acquiring the brand in 2006. This was before Anheuser-Busch's merger with InBev, but it should not be overlooked that drinking Bud or Rolling Rock is supporting the company that stopped brewing beer in Latrobe and supporting Belgium. Basically, if you drink one of these beers during the game, you hate America.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

5 Reasons to Hate: Germany

Coming into the World Cup, I had said that anything more than 3 points in the group stage would be a rousing success for the United States. But a last-second goal by Portugal that forced a draw left a bad taste in everyone's mouth. Objectively, there is nothing to complain about if you can earn a draw against the #3 ranked team in the world. However, to be seconds away from advancing out of the Group of Death has left something to be desired. The Americans clearly belong at this stage and can actually win the group with a victory over Germany or advance with a draw. If the US loses, there are a variety of scenarios in play.

As always, recommended reading for actual legitimate previews of this game:
If you want to know what to watch for in the match, read those articles. If you want some good reasons to hate Germany (if you don't already) here we go...

5. Nazis

My #5 reason in the Reasons to Hate Ghana and Reasons to Hate Portugal were both about local political history. But in breaking from tradition, that's not what I'm talking about here. Yes, what the National Socialist Party did during their stay of power in Germany was atrocious. That is without doubt.

What also sucks is the linguistic jargon that is now associated with the word "Nazi" or "Hitler." Someone doesn't agree with you're point of view? They're probably Hitler.
Obviously, this doesn't compare with the atrocities of what the actual Nazis did. But it's still a gigantic headache to have to listen to anyone and everyone being called a Nazi about something or other.

4. The Internet

3. Vowels, or Lack Thereof

Have you ever tried to actually read German words? It's nearly impossible. This is a civilization that never heard of vowels. There are words that have 7 or 8 consonants in a row. What even. Then there is their totally absurd way of naming everything.
Just taking some of their absurd animal names, we have the word for "slug" which features 7 consecutive consonants (cktschn) and the word for "turtle" which features the ridiculous sequence of "ldkr" which are letters that should never appear consecutively. If this is how they name animals in their language, how ridiculous are the names of their soccer players?

2. Martin Luther
Selective interpretation? Check. Selective Translation? Check. Ongoing misinformation campaign against the Catholic Church? Check check check.

Stop me if you've heard this one before. "The Church used to teach that the earth revolved around the sun." or "The Church used to think that the Earth was flat."

Well, as it turns out Martin Luther himself once said:
"There is talk of a new astrologer who wants to prove that the earth moves and goes around instead of the sky, the sun, the moon, just as if somebody were moving in a carriage or ship might hold that he was sitting still and at rest while the earth and the trees walked and moved. But that is how things are nowadays: when a man wishes to be clever he must needs invent something special, and the way he does it must needs be the best! The fool wants to turn the whole art of astronomy upside-down. However, as Holy Scripture tells us, so did Joshua bid the sun to stand still and not the earth." (Source)
And a simple Wikipedia search pretty much blows the Flat Earth myth out of the water.

Basically, rooting for Germany is rooting for inaccurate, revisionist history. If that's your cup of tea, well, why are you drinking tea in the first place? I'll go with the team that actually did things in history as opposed to just making them up.

1. Nazis

The actual ones. The ones whose faces melted in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Also the ones who were responsible for the Holocaust.
Plenty of reason to hate Germany.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Comparing World Cup Sides to NFL Teams

A few days ago, Jesse Spector over at The Sporting News published this hilarious piece comparing World Cup teams to MLB teams. The only problem is there are only 30 MLB teams so he was forced to exclude two World Cup teams from his comparison. He chose to exclude the US and Brazil. Fortunately, there are 32 NFL teams so I'll be able to cover all 32 World Cup entrants.

Have won the World Cup more than any other nation and their fans will never let you forget it. There is only one rational comparison here. 

There is something to be said for consistency. Advancing to the knockout stage in multiple consecutive tournaments is something. Not being able to get past the first round of the knockout stage in any of them is also something.

Have the playmakers to be explosive and a threat to anyone. Have some of the wildest uniforms in the competition. Unfortunately, they are maddeningly inconsistent and can't get out of their own way.

Play undisciplined and take ridiculous penalties that cost them any chance of winning. They've been around quite a while but have not been good at this level for a long time.

They wear Orange. They lost in the last Championship Game. They have a ridiculous offense but didn't play up to their potential and in their normal style in the last Championship Game. I think you know where this is going.

All offense, no defense. Can run with almost anyone in the world on the offensive end but are a defensive liability.

The defending champions that flamed out before even getting to the knockout stage. In the end, their players and style of play were drastically over-hyped and they just didn't show up.

They came. They saw. They went home. Had the potential to give a few teams a run, but ultimately lived up to their expectations of coming in last in the group. Made a few games exciting with offensive outbursts.

Up-and-coming young team that had a knee injury to one of their key offensive players before the tournament started. Have played incredibly stingy defense and gotten contributions from some young exciting  talent on offense and still managed to top their group. A serious threat to make a deep run and a team that a lot of people are jumping on their bandwagon.

Have one offensive star that has pretty much carried the team along with a strong defensive line. Their weakness is in the middle and in being able to turn defense into offense. Have never had a ton of success and it would be a huge accomplishment to just make it to the knockout stage. They wear blue and are from an economically disparaged area that has received a huge government bailout.

"Golden Generation" of players raised them out of anonymity and made them relevant on the biggest stage. However, they never fulfilled their expectations and now have to regroup with a new set of players.

Have one extremely good world-class player and 10 other guys on the field with him. Their top player is capable of single-handedly taking over games, but the supporting cast really isn't good enough to get anything significant done.

The biggest surprise of the tournament so far. Have a lot of people shaking their heads and asking how they topped what is arguably the hardest group in the tournament. A team without much history or tradition that is riding a wave of emotion but will probably flame out early in the knockout stage.

They have had some success in the past and have young, gifted offensive playmakers. Have been a polarizing team in previous tournaments thanks to the attitude of their star player.

Their nickname is in reference to their Blue jerseys. They have had great success in the past and have won multiple Championships. Most of their championship game wins were considered upsets but they have a rich tradition (even if it does involve whining).

 Without a doubt the most over-hyped team with the most over-hyped players that never live up to their expectations. Supposedly the "standard" of the sport but have been gigantic disappointments lately. Their star player is a gigantic choke artist.

One of the most difficult teams to predict year-to-year. At their best, have ridden a shut-down defense to a Championship. At their worst, are hounded by in-fighting and team discord. Capable of playing with the best but also capable of choking at key moments.

The team you have no idea what to make of. Are they actually any good? They are like world-beaters at home and have scored some huge victories there recently. However, outside of their friendly confines they are absolutely awful. It's still impossibly to predict how this team will perform.

They wear red. They are boring offensively. They play defense and feature just enough offense to get it done.

Have never done anything of significance at this level. Perennial losers. You know where this is going.

A potentially explosive offense with one of the best players in the world at his position. There are questions on the defensive end and with the cast around their star player, but he is capable of carrying this team on a deep run.

Who says you need to score to win? Ride your defense and hold on to any lead you get to somehow sneak forward in the tournament. They wear green. Have had success in the past and pulled one of the biggest upsets in soccer championship game history, albeit in slightly different arena.

Looked like a very good outfit on paper, but laid an egg and was one of the first teams eliminated. A lot of people thought they could advance deep into the knockout rounds but ultimately there was more hype than substance. Uniforms routinely listed as some of the worst in the competition.

Not very offensively gifted. Have had some success in the past but never much past the group stage. Play decent defense but don't have the scoring capacity on offense to compete at this level.

Perennial powerhouse that is always in contention. They are loaded with offensive talent but don't always play the prettiest game. They are not afraid to do whatever it takes to win, but at their best are absolutely lethal.

Incredibly hyped team with loads of young talent that is growing in popularity but hasn't actually won anything yet. Went through a stage of "this will be the year" but seemed to have finally turned the corner after they put a guy with a German name in charge. Coach is fiery and feisty. Not afraid to jettison some of their aging players in favor of young, unproven talent.

Nemesis to the United States. Have some talented players but haven't quite been able to put everything together. Have been successful recently thanks to one World-Class player and a mediocre supporting cast. Would have done better if the other teams in their group weren't as good.

Have arguably the best player in the world who also happens to be a gigantic douchebag. Best player makes a big deal out of his haircut. Everyone hates them because of one or two players, who are good enough to carry them on deep runs into the tournament.

Trendy pick to make a deep run. On paper are loaded with offensive talent but it hasn't been on display yet. May be too young and the stage may be too big for them to live up to their expectations.

One of the biggest surprises of the tournament has been their offensive explosion so far. In a relatively weak group, they are making waves. Have been a feisty, challenging team in the past but look poised to enter the knockout stage this year. They wear green jerseys.

An easy team to hate given their tradition. Organization is under flak right now for a variety of reasons. Growing unpopularity across America. You probably can't name more than 2 people on their team anyways.

There are no real superstars on the team but they play a good team game with strong fundamentals. They will hang around but aren't going to blow anyone out of the water.