A Disgrace

The U.S. did not qualify for the World Cup for the first time since 1986. That in itself is a major headline, but the way they failed is absolutely breathtaking. Trinidad and Tobago has a population about 1/6th that of New York City and was the worst team in the hexagonal qualifying format that decides the 3 or 4 teams to qualify from CONCACAF for the World Cup.  How bad was this loss?  This article makes a compelling case that it was the worst ever by the U.S.

What happens now is the big question?  What makes this so frustrating is that youth soccer participation has almost tripled since the last time we missed the World Cup to over 3-million  To put that into perspective, that’s over twice the population of Trinidad and Tobago.  US Soccer needs to figure out why that isn’t translating into sustained excellence and who can put things back together.  This loss will sting for a long time, but even longer if the flaws it exposed aren’t corrected quickly.

 

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The End of Eli?

Let me make clear from the outset that Eli Manning is not the guy responsible for this disaster. While his play has not been elite, it has certainly been good enough to compete if the team around him was better. But, that doesn’t mean a change isn’t the right thing to do. If the Giants fall to 0-7 over the next two weeks (@Denver, Seattle) not a far-fetched idea, they would be irresponsible if they didn’t use that bye week to start grooming Davis Webb to play in actual games. Remember Eli took over at QB when the Giants were 5-4 in 2004. They still had a shot at competing but recognized that the future lay with Eli and they needed to let him play.

Davis Webb is not Eli Manning, but the Giants liked him enough to spend a third-round pick on him. Considering the fact that the Giants are probably picking in the top-five of the draft this spring, they need to know what they have in Webb.  If their judgement was right, and the only way to tell that is to play him, they can use that pick on someone to help rebuild this team at a position other than quarterback. But if their judgement was wrong, and that is how they got to this point, they probably need to draft their QB of the future and go from there.

That is the grim reality facing this team and if you don’t believe me, ask yourself this. Can you see the Giants contending for a Super Bowl next year? If you are being honest, the answer is of course not. Eli will be 37 in January. He is not going to be around for the next Super Bowl. It’s going to take some serious rebuilding to right this ship and it starts with evaluating the young talent they have. It’s not quite the time, but two more games and two more losses and they have to look to Davis Webb.

How Low Can You Go?

It was just four years ago that the Giants opened the season 0-6.  That team went 7-3 over their final ten games and actually could have made the playoffs, so it is silly to bury this team now. But, 0-4 feels like a deep hole that they will never escape from. Losing back-to-back games on last-second field goals makes things look much worse, but the Giants do have some pretty large problems.

First, the offensive line is the train wreck we thought it would be. The only reason Ereck Flowers is still starting is because the guy who drafted him didn’t think it was a good idea to admit his mistake. Bobby Hart has been hurt, forcing the Giants to move Pugh to right tackle, the position they originally moved him from because he wasn’t good enough to play it. Weston Richburg is regressing, and John Jerry might be their best lineman right now. They can’t run the ball because there is usually a defender in the backfield.

Second, the defense has really regressed. They can’t stop the run, can’t prevent the big play, and Vernon and JPP are doing nothing for a pass rush.

Lastly, they have a punting problem as Brad Wing appears to have a case of the yips. He shanked the big punt in Philly and shanked two more yesterday. Both of those punts led to scores.

The schedule gives them a good chance to break into the win column this week with the 0-4 Chargers coming to town, but after that they travel to Denver and play host to Seattle. Unless they figure out a way to fix some of the problems I mentioned above, a 1-6 record heading into their bye week seems very likely.

 

This Could Get Ugly

College recruiting is an ugly process and this morning there was evidence of how ugly it really is. Coaches at four schools, Arizona, Auburn, Oklahoma State, USC, and an executive at Addidas, were arrested.  It was part of a three-year investigation and the documents add that Louisville and Miami are also being investigated.

The feds caught everyone, including the NCAA, by surprise and the fallout from the could be massive  it’s naive to think that only six schools are involved and impossible to guess where this will all end.  What we do know is that two premier college programs are charged with bribery and wire fraud among other things. This won’t end well.

 

Melo is Traded

The Knicks have finally traded Carmelo Anthony!  He is headed to Oklahoma City for the equivalent of nothing- Kanter, McDermott, and a 2nd rounder. Kanter is actually a decent rotation player, but you get the point.

This really wasn’t about what they got back, it was about burying a mistake and moving on. Melo didn’t work out. Jackson compounded that mistake with a max contract and a no-trade clause. Revisiting it all again is pointless.

And now the Knicks launch their latest rebuilding attempt in earnest. It won’t be pretty and it won’t happen fast. But, they have Porzingas and Willy and that’s a start. If they drafted the right guy in Ntilikina, they will have a strong nucleus and if they are smart, they will lose a lot this year to get another lottery pick.

Playoffs?

A lot of smart football minds think the Giants will ride a suffocating defense deep into the postseason this year. I’m not convinced.

I’m fully on board with the idea of a dominating defense and I also know what that means historically for this franchise. But I think that ignores two vital facts about this Giants squad.

First, Eli isn’t s kid anymore. He is on the downslope of his career. That’s not a knock, but it gets a lot harder to win the older you get.  And what makes me worry about his age is the second thing, the offensive line, specifically at left tackle.

Erick Flowers has been a disaster in his first two years and in the preseason he didn’t show that he was any better. Add in the questions at right guard and right tackle, and Eli could be running for his life. And don’t forget, the Giants were terrible at running the ball last year. Previous great Giant teams could always run the ball no matter what.

I never thought the 2015 Giants were as bad as their record showed and I don’t think the 2016 Giants were as good as their record showed  I expect this team to finish 8-8.  That could be a playoff squad and if they got on a roll, anything is possible.  But don’t expect a 12-4 campaign and a walk to the playoffs.

 

A Hometown Discount

We throw that phrase around a lot in sports thinking that players will take less to stay or come “home”. Most of the time, it’s a false concept. The player isn’t going to take a cent less than they can get elsewhere. Robinson Cano is a good example of that.

That’s what makes the signing of Kevin Shattenkirk by the Rangers so unusual,  Shattenkirk, from New Rochelle, NY, was the prize of the free agent class and probably could have gotten a contract similar to Keith Yandle’s seven-year, $44-million deal signed just last year.

But Shattenkirk is coming to the Rangers on only a four-year deal at $6.65-million a season. That’s a big discount, but Shattenkirk said he wanted to come home and play for the franchise he grew up loving.

That should be music to Rangers’ fans ears and I suspect Shattenkirk will be almost as popular as Henrik and McDonaugh next season. For a kid who grew up a short train ride from the Garden, can it get any better than that?

Knickfunction

The Knicks are reportedly firing Phil Jackson today. That’s not something I object to, his 80-166 record speaks for itself, but the timing of it shows how incredibly dysfunctional this franchise is.

What other franchise would allow the team President to run the NBA draft and then turn around and fire them three days before NBA free agency begins?  You either do this after the season ends in April, or you wait until after free agency and the summer leagues conclude. Doing it now cripples your ability to improve in free agency and calls into question why the Knicks drafted the guys they did just last week.

Again, firing Jackson is not a dumb idea. His record was atrocious, and his behavior even worse. He was the guy who gave Carmelo a max deal with a no-trade clause and a trade kicker. When he saw it wasn’t working he didn’t quietly try to get Carmelo to waive that and go elsewhere, he started trashing his own player in the press. For a smart guy, that is really stupid. Then he starts smacking the future face of the franchise around in the press and floats trade rumors about him. If you are a NBA free agent, why would you sign on the dotted line to play for this man?

But the sad reality is that this won’t make things better. A new president will come in, but Jim Dolan will remain. It was Dolan who created the culture of paranoia and dysfunction that surrounds this team. It was Dolan who forced Donnie Walsh to empty the cupboard for Carmelo when the Knicks could have waited three months and signed him as a free agent. It was Dolan who foisted Isiah Thomas on us, and may try and do so again. Phil Jackson deserves his pink slip, but until Dolan goes, Knickfunction will mean dysfunction.

A Ranger Reset

The Rangers pulled off a shocking trade today, Derek Stephan and Antti Raanta for the #7 pick in the draft and Anthony DeAngelo.

I won’t begin to suggest that a team that traded its top center and backup goalie for a rookie defenseman and a draft pick is better, but this is a move the Rangers had to make.

I loved Stepan, but he wasn’t an elite center and he was earning $6.5-million a year through 2021. Raanta was a great backup goalie, but he was headed out the door after this upcoming season.

The Rangers now have a bunch of cap room and a chance to do some things. They could sign Kevin Shattenkirk and make a big splash, or spread the money out more equitably. They probably go for the splash, but might be smarter to spread the money around. One thing is for sure, Jeff Gorton has a plan and he is willing to make bold moves to execute it.

Thank You, Dan

The majority of New York sports fans will always associate the name Girardi with Joe, the current manager. But, a passionate subset will also associate it with Dan, the Rangers forward who was bought out today after a stellar eleven years on Broadway.

Much like his namesake, Dan Girardi was an underrated player who did the little things. He was undrafted, yet became an integral part of a Stanley Cup contender. He was the epitome of the “black and blue” shirts and anchored the top line of the defense.

But all those games and all of those blocked shots took a toll on his body and the Girardi of today simply couldn’t keep up with the top lines of most NHL squads. His big salary made him untradeable and the savings from a buyout made it the only possible solution.

Thats a shame because much like another Ranger on the top-10 list of games played, Rom Greschner, Girardi should have ended his career in New York. I hope he catches on somewhere and earns a much-deserved Cup. Just not against the Rangers!