Tag Archives: Soccer

Promotion and Relegation in College Football

In my last column, we explored what realignment into 16-team power conferences might look like.  And, when I posted it on my Facebook page, some friends responded with their own ideas.

First, there was my cousin, Chris Creguer, who suggested blowing up the Big 12 and dispersing its teams into the four remaining Power 5 conferences.  That could work and I can see the NCAA falling in love with that system.

That’s too easy, though, too neat and tidy, too realistic.  So when a college buddy of mine, Ryan Schadewald, floated his idea of getting rid of the conferences altogether and going to promotion and relegation style, similar to that of the English football pyramid, I knew I’d found my next project.

Divisional Structure

From now until the end of football (which is probably much closer than any one of us is willing to admit), the college game will consist of multiple 15-team divisions playing a 14-game round robin regular season schedule over a 15-week period.

Opening Week 2016 is August 22-28.  Closing Week 2016 will be November 28 – December 3. Games are to be played on Saturdays only.  Each division will have one primetime game per week.

The top four finishers in the Division I standings will compete in the Division I Playoff.  First round games are the week following the conclusion of the regular season (December 10, 2016).  After a bye week, the winners of the first round meet in the Division I Championship Game (December 24, 2016).

The bottom four teams in the standings are relegated to Division II and replaced by four D-II teams for the following season.

In Division II and below, the top finisher in the standings earns automatic promotion into the next highest division.  The Playoffs in these divisions will determine the other three promotion spots with second place facing seventh place, third meeting sixth, and fourth playing fifth, in a single round, the week after the regular season.

Postseason Play

Once the regular season is over, schools which have not qualified for any playoffs may compete against each other, across the divisions.  In other words, if former rivals want to get together but one is in Division I and the other’s in Division IV, now’s the time for that to happen.

Call them friendlies, bowl games, whatever.  They’re essentially the same thing.  These contests are completely optional and must be mutually agreed upon.  They also may not be scheduled on Saturdays, which are reserved for the Playoffs.

When the Playoffs are completed, all teams are available for postseason play.  If the Division I champ wants to accept a challenge from the D-II regular season champ, I’m sure many would tune in.

January 1 is the new cutoff for the college football season.  Sitting around all day watching football is a New Year’s tradition.  It’d be a shame to cancel that, but after the first we need to move on.

Standings and Overtime

No college football game shall ever end in a tie.  Don’t worry.  The overtime structure is so nearly perfect the way it is.  The only change is that possessions will now begin from the 50-yard line, not the 25.  This will take away the comfort of knowing that you’ll still have a makeable field goal attempt even if you lose five yards.

Since there will be no single points earned through draws, as in soccer, it took some creativity to come up with a system for keeping standings.

  • 1 point in the standings for an overtime loss
  • 2 points for a win in overtime
  • 3 points for a win in regulation
  • 1 bonus point for winning a game by 36 points or more
  • 1 bonus point for scoring 50 points or more in a game
  • 1 bonus point for a shutout

Therefore, the “perfect game” would be a regulation shutout win by at least 50 points.  Such wins are awarded another extra point in the standings, for a total of seven (3 for win, 1 for 36-point win, 1 for scoring 50, 1 for the shutout, and 1 for the “perfect game”).

Scoring in such a way will lead to more dynamic movement than seven teams earning two points each for a win, and eight teams (including the team with a bye) earning no points.

Awarding bonus points for those achievements within the game works because this system lends itself to more parity than we see now when Power 5’ers host FCS squads.

Division Breakdown

Chances are you’re wondering where your team fits in all of this madness.  Many of you are going to be angry with me for putting your team where it belongs, but keep in mind the beauty of this system.

Each and every team in the entirety of college football has an opportunity to play its way up the ladder.  If you don’t like playing D-IV football, then earn promotion into D-III.

Keeping all that in mind, here’s the breakdown of the initial divisional splits:

Division I Division II Division III Division IV Division V
Alabama Georgia Washington State Arizona Navy
Ohio State LSU California Arizona State Indiana
Clemson Utah Arkansas Texas A&M Illinois
Oklahoma USC Auburn Mississippi State Louisiana Tech
Stanford UCLA BYU Boise State Central Michigan
Notre Dame Michigan State Nebraska Western Michigan Bowling Green
Florida State Wisconsin Penn State Northern Illinois Akron
Florida Oklahoma State Texas Tech Marshall Ohio
Ole Miss Texas Pittsburgh NC State Nevada
Oregon Louisville Duke Minnesota Air Force
Houston North Carolina Memphis Kansas State Colorado State
TCU Miami (FL) Western Kentucky South Florida Kentucky
Michigan Temple Arkansas State Cincinnati Southern Miss
Iowa West Virginia Toledo San Diego State Appalachian State
Tennessee Northwestern Washington Virginia Tech Baylor

Whine and complain all you want, but understand that placing the teams is the least important aspect of the plan.  In three years, the whole thing would look totally different.  Cool your jets.

Obviously, these are only the top 75 teams.  There are 128 teams currently in FBS, 125 in FCS, 171 in Division II, 248 in Division III, and 86 in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA).

From the big boys all the way down to University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, Kansas with an enrollment of 400, that’s a grand total of 758 teams in all of college football.  The list above represents just 10 percent of the participants under the new system.

Conclusion

There you have it, the system that would bring college football into a new era of equal opportunity for all.  I’m sure there are holes in my theory, but I’m so convinced that this would be the greatest thing in sports that I haven’t even fully thought it through, to be honest with you.

Promotion and relegation makes every week of the season fun for all teams in all divisions.  No matter where you are in the standings, you’ve always got something to play for.  That’s why I think this is the way to go forward.

Now, let’s hear your take.  I love having people explain to me why I’m an idiot.  Find me on Twitter @GreatGatzke, or e-mail [email protected]

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Cleveland State Will See an Old Foe in Loyola-Chicago

Right up until the end of the 2012-13 season, Cleveland State traveled to Chicago to face a pair of Horizon League foes: Illinois-Chicago and Loyola-Chicago. However, once the Ramblers accepted an invitation to the Missouri Valley Conference, they faded into conference lore. Loyola also represented the final founding member of the Midwestern City Conference to leave, as Detroit did not join what would eventually become the Horizon League until the following year.

From the perspective of Vikings fans, the Rambler faithful were, for several years, a shoulder to lean on, as Cleveland State’s fan base eroded into virtual nothingness during the Mike Garland era. In fact, Loyola’s fan site, Ramblermania, set up a separate CSU board that served as a respite from the long-maligned Cleveland.com College Sports forum.

And, of course, the Ramblers will always be the answer to the trivia question, “What was the last school that Cleveland State faced while Rollie Massimino was coach?”

So, it was with a bit of nostalgia and sadness to at least see Rambler fans part ways with not only the Vikings fandom, but fans the rest of the Horizon League schools as well. With a jump to the MVC, clearly Loyola had its sights set on making vast improvements from its last years in the Horizon League.

Then the Ramblers released their schedule for the 2015-16 season.

While Cleveland State has yet to finalize its entire schedule, Loyola-Chicago is definitely a confirmed contest. The Vikings will head out to the Joseph Gentile Center on December 16th, which will likely be the first game they traditionally play after Fall Semester finals.

However, before CSU fans get too terribly excited, they should be very aware that these are not the Ramblers of old. After spending years struggling to compete in the Horizon League, Loyola, under head coach Porter Moser, has made a surprisingly easy adjustment to its new conference. And that’s saying a great deal, seeing as how it has, in recent years, become Wichita State and everybody else.

This didn’t stop the Ramblers from posting a 24-13 record, its best mark in nearly three decades. And they competed in their first post-season tournament since the 1980s. Sure, it was the College Basketball Invitational, but Loyola did take the championship, sweeping Louisiana-Monroe, 2-0, in the best-of-three finals.

While Cleveland State may face an uphill battle with a much-improved Rambler squad, the Vikings may, oddly enough, still have a size advantage. That said, the experience Loyola has on its side, particularly with a healthy Milton Doyle, could expose the recent exodus of CSU’s top scorers.

Men’s Soccer Off to a Slow Start

The Cleveland State men’s soccer team, despite having second team All-Horizon League player Sergio Menesio and All-Newcomer team member Kevin Blackwood returning, were only picked to finished sixth in the conference. And the slow start in the onset of the season has hindered any potential to play above that prediction.

At the center of the Vikings early-season woes is their issue with opposing teams firing off goals at the beginning of matches. This has been true in each of CSU’s first three contests, all losses, and in each instance, the team was never able to recover.

As a result, Cleveland State has stared down the barrel of three multi-goal losses, including getting blanked, 3-0, at Bowling Green. The Vikings will now have to turn around its road woes by taking on winless Cornell and Duquesne this weekend at the Duquense Invitational.

Krecic Takes Turning Stone Crown to Pace Men’s Golf

The Cleveland State men’s golf team kicked off its fall schedule in defense of its Horizon League title by traveling to Verona, New York for the Turning Stone Tiger Intercollegiate. The Vikings were looking for a leader to replace the graduated Michael Balcar, and in this opening tournament, all eyes turned to Joey Krecic.

The sophomore from Columbia Station not only led all Cleveland State golfers, but also the entire field, firing a three-round total of 212, which was an impressive four strokes under par. Krecic’s first medal of his collegiate career also represents the first individual win by a Viking since Andrew Baily took the title at the 2014 Horizon League Championship.

Krecic’s hot shooting also provided a spark for his teammates, as they took the final round by storm, scoring the lowest round of the day. That helped Cleveland State shoot up the team leaderboard to eventually finish second to champion Missouri, the only school to stay under par for the entire tourney.

Next up for the Vikings will be another road trip, this time to the Marshall Invitational on September 14th and 15th.

Athlon Picks Cleveland State to Finish Sixth (With Some Glaring Errors)

When you pick up a copy of one of the college basketball preview magazines, there’s really no illusion that the bulk of the coverage goes to the high major programs. Meanwhile, mid=major conferences without a hot school in them are usually relegated to the end of the magazine. Fans of mid-majors schools have pretty much accepted this as the norm.

That said, it would still be nice if the blurb they write about your school is, at the very least, factually correct.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case for CSU in Athlon’s annual preview. The Vikings were predicted to finish sixth, which is logical, given the exit of their top scorers.

However, two items stuck out as just plain wrong. First, Athlon stated that Kaza Keane still on the team. Of course, it’s widely known that Keane left Cleveland State to return home to Canada and play for Carleton University. This happened in July, which, theoretically, should have given Athlon enough time to correct its preview in time for publications.

But there was one additional surprise. Athlon, apparently, thinks that 5-8 point guard Damontrae Jefferson from Milwaukee is playing for the Vikings this season. If that’s the case, somebody should tell Cleveland State, who don’t have him listed on the men’s basketball roster, and Verbal Commits, who have him listed as playing for Texas Southern.

Cleveland State Class of 2019: Find Your Sports Teams. All of Them.

Dear incoming freshmen of Cleveland State (and perhaps some of you upperclassmen that happened to come upon this by accident):

By now, you have undoubtedly heard about the deal made by CSU and Quicken Loans Arena that will include five Viking men’s basketball games that will be played at the Q. As a student, you should be understandably excited that you will be able to get into these contests for free.

Of course, if this is the first time you’re hearing that you can get into all Cleveland State games for free, then, surprise, I guess.

As I had written last year to your older classmates, I had hoped that one student would rise above the rest and take the reins as the superfan on campus. You would have recognized them for being at all the games, cheering louder than everyone else and, most likely, been that guy on social media taking more about CSU than any regular person would.

Unfortunately, it would appear that this didn’t happen. Also, apparently, the one superfan Cleveland State allegedly had just announced that he’s not renewing his season tickets for the 2015-2016 season. I doubt that the announcement that five games at the Q would change his mind.

But since my open letter, I’ve come to realize something. The term superfan has really been overused lately. Mind you, I’ve spent my summer watching the reality show Big Brother, where that word has been so misused that it has no meaning to me anymore.

Finding the next Viking superfan is probably aiming too high. Plus, it’s not terribly fair to put that kind of pressure on one person, especially at an institution like CSU that has been working on finding its identity for, well, more than 50 years.

Besides, for there to be a superfan, there should be regular fans, too.

This is where you come in. You may not know this, but I wrote a piece a few weeks back that left me openly wondering if Cleveland State, despite its student, staff and alumni population, could be so terribly muted as a fan base. And then, I subsequently went on Twitter and kept hammering away at the subject. Naturally, this was the social media equivalent of screaming at the trees, but somebody had to say it.

Mind you, since you hadn’t started your time at Cleveland State, that entire screed didn’t necessarily apply to you. However, now that you’re officially students, it’s time to prove that entire rant wrong.

However, don’t think that I am using this as an opportunity to wax poetic about the men’s basketball team. Truth be told, they’re probably not going to be very good this year. That tends to happen when you lose your entire starting lineup. I will get into that preview into mediocrity at another time.

Instead, you should really start turning your attention to the other 15 Division I sports that CSU currently sponsors. Understandably, you’re probably sitting there say how little you care about these other sports. If that’s the case, I should point out that you are, in fact, paying for these sports, whether you care about them or not.

Let’s start with soccer, both men and women. The women’s team just beat up Chicago State, 7-0. They scored seven goals! That’s pretty impressive, no matter who your opponent is. And the men are coached by Cleveland State alum Ali Kazemaini.

You may have to ask your parents about Kazemaini, since the Cleveland Force indoor soccer team was from a long time ago, likely before you were born. But the Force was still pretty popular around the area, and Kazemaini was right there.

Plus, he’s a pretty good soccer coach, leading the Vikings to a Horizon League title in 2012 and a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1980.

You might have noticed all of the construction equipment where the tennis courts are. That’s where the new complex is going, which will be the permanent home for the men’s and women’s tennis teams. They’re led by Brian Etzkin, the winningest coach in school history.

The volleyball team, coached by Chuck Voss, has been to the NCAA Tournament twice in the last 10 years, and has been the top team in the Horizon League for years. The men’s and women’s golfers play in both the fall and the spring, and both of them have won conference titles, including the men who took the crown this past season.

Also, CSU has a cross country team. To be honest, I pretty much know nothing about them, but that shouldn’t stop you from looking into what they’re all about.

The men’s and women’s swim teams probably have the most active group of alumni I have seen. You will probably notice that from the changes that have been made around the Robert Busbey Natatorium. They’ve also had some fast swimmers in the pool over the years, and this season should be no different.

Last week, I wrote about women’s basketball coach Kate Peterson Abiad getting a contract extension. That tends to happen when you’ve made two NCAA tournament appearances and have done better than the men as a whole. Also, they, too, will be making an appearance at Quicken Loans Arena as part of a men’s and women’s doubleheader.

You likely read about the wrestling team last spring, when Cleveland State inexplicably announced they’d lose their funding. Well, that decision was reversed, and the squad that sent two wrestlers to the NCAA Tournament will be back this year, and they’ll probably have a chip on their shoulders. And by no means is this a bad thing.

Recently, former CSU fencer James Fazekas was announced as coach of the men’s and women’s team. That should help the teams, which have had a long history of NCAA tournament and still sport Cleveland State’s only national champion, Carlo Songini.

Finally, there’s the softball team, which is coming off a trip to Australia this summer. Typically, when a CSU team travels abroad in the off-season, it bodes well for the upcoming season. I’d expect the same to be true here.

Whether these teams will be successful this year or not is, of course, up for debate. But they, like you, Cleveland State Class of 2019, represent your school. And you’ve already put your money in to fund these sports, it would be silly not to at least take a peek to see what they can do.

2014 Cleveland State Men's Soccer Preview

The turnover on the CSU men’s soccer roster does not seem to deter many from considering the squad to be one of the better teams in the Horizon League this year.

Despite a roster that contains nine freshmen and five transfers, the Vikings have been picked to finish third in the conference this season. It’s likely a testament to the fact that Cleveland State, which started slow last season, finished 5-3 to close the year out.

For the Vikings, the upcoming season will feature not only new faces, but also a schedule that will prove to be one of the more challenging in the Horizon League.

The Roster

Conventional wisdom would dictate that losing three First Team All-Horizon League players would create a huge gap that would be seemingly impossible to fill. However, it would appear that Cleveland State men’s soccer coach Ali Kazemaini was undaunted by those prospects.

Gone from last years’ squad are, among others, Admir Suljevic and Aslinn Rodas, the first-team all-conference players who were part of a front line that accounted for 14 goals and 10 assists in 2013. To fill the gaps, Kazemaini turned the transfer ranks.

What he found was Thomas Beck, who, during his three seasons with Mount Union, lit up the nets, scoring 31 goals. Kazemaini also brought in Alvaro Pichardo, who played for the University of Mobile for two seasons, including a 2012 campaign in which he scored 12 goals and led the team to an NAIA Championship.

Rounding out the transfers at forward is Frenchman Wallis Debouru, who played for two seasons at St. Francis (Pa.). The trio will join Dan Koniarczyk Mike Matlock and Alex Obbey, who will likely see more looks at goal this year.

At midfield, Cleveland State is anchored by Sergio Menesio, who, as part of freshman year in which he was named to the All-Newcomer team, started 19 of the Vikings’ 20 games and scored five goals, along with two assists.

In the backfield, CSU will have to replace Horizon League first-teamer Zach Ellis-Hayden. Looking to take over is sophomore James Milli, with some added depth to be provided by incoming freshmen Michael Dichlian, Jake Lagania and Kevin Blackwood, as well as Valparaiso transfer Nick Kane.

Last season, Kazemaini played three goalkeepers, eventually settling on Nick Ciraldo. This year, the sophomore, who started 10 matches in 2013, will look to improve on his 1.2 goals against average as the everyday starter between the pipes.

The Schedule

Cleveland State’s schedule will test the team’s resolve on the road. After CSU hosts Salem International University on August 29th, they travel to Marshall, and don’t come back to the confines of Krenzler Field again for nearly a month and a half.

That’s correct. Through some clear quirks in schedule, the Vikings will spend the entire month of September on the road, with some of the toughest competition they could ever hope for, playing Wake Forest and California, both NCAA tournament participants, as well as North Carolina State, and Cincinnati during that stretch. They’ll also face their first conference opponent in Milwaukee, who has been picked as the favorite to win the conference.

Also on the road slate, and closing out Cleveland State’s non-conference opponents, is the University of Akron, which has catapulted into the national ranks in recent years and will likely be in that position this season as well. In all, of the 17 games the Vikings will play outside of the Horizon League tournament, only six will be at home, with only one non-conference tilt against Bowling Green on October 7th.

The Conference

The Panthers, who finished second in the regular season and won the tournament to make the NCAAs in 2013, received six votes to take the crown this season. Milwaukee’s success last year, coupled with a very strong returning squad, has also garnered the notice of the national media, with the Panthers receiving votes in the preseason NCSAA/Continental Tire college rankings.

Milwaukee has good reason to be confident of their potential place atop the conference standings. The Panthers are led not only by second team all-league selection Luke Goodnetter (Who probably has the best name for a soccer player ever), they return All-American Laurie Bell, who will be in the running for the MAC Hermann Trophy, college soccer’s top award.

While Milwaukee is undoubtedly the favorite, Illinois-Chicago will likely be right behind them. Finishing second in the pre-season poll, the Flames return first-teamer Jesus Torres and net-minding ace Andrew Putna, who took home an armful of trophies last season, including Freshman of the Year and Goalkeeper of the Year.

For their part, the Vikings shared third place with Oakland, who posted a 4-2-1 conference record in 2013 and will look to improve upon it. Valpo was tabbed to finish fifth, while Wright State was picked to capture sixth place.

The biggest news in the off-season for the Horizon League was the announcement that Belmont would be joining the conference to compete in soccer. For their inaugural campaign, the Bruins have been slated to finish seventh, sharing that distinction with Detroit. Rounding out the conference is Green Bay, which has been selected to finish last.

Outlook

With a non-conference schedule that takes it out of state for an entire month and facing opponents that have a track record of success on the national stage, the Cleveland State soccer team may find itself in a similar situation as it did last season. But the road experience could give the Vikings a foundation to build upon as they hit the conference. The key factor will be the play of their transfers, some of which with reputations as scorers. Whether they bring their offense with them to Cleveland State will be essential if the team wants to compete in the upper half of the Horizon League.

Is Adding New York FC a Good Move for the MLS?

It had been known that after the MLS added the Montreal Impact last season that they would be bringing on another New York team to make an even twenty teams in the league. And on Tuesday, New York City Futbol Club was announced as the next franchise in the MLS. In my first post for More Than A Fan (two years ago; Wow time flies) I wrote about how soccer was growing in the United States, but the MLS was growing a little too fast. Basically the talent pool has not gotten significantly stronger but they are adding more franchises which could hurt the league as a whole.

So adding yet another team should strengthen my argument, right? I would love to say yes, but I want to examine this a little closer.

Yes, I still that the talent is not strong enough to accommodate another club, but the MLS seems to be gaining respect across the world and big market teams have found ways to land foreign players from Mexico and Europe. So it is improving. The fact that New York is adding another club seems like it could dilute the city’s fan base between multiple teams and with a sport that is trying to attract fans to their home team could make it more difficult to do so. All of this seems to point toward another team hurting the league’s success. However, I tend to disagree with my first post.

I intentionally omitted some information about the addition of NYCFC to the MLS (a lot of acronyms there). The intriguing parts of the expansion are the owners of the club, the New York Yankees and one of England’s top soccer clubs Manchester City. Two of the world’s most valuable franchises just teamed up to buy a franchise. It is no wonder that the MLS had no hesitation with them as owners. The investment is rumored to be around $100 million and could really boost MLS popularity not only in the United States but across the globe.

The reason I like this move by the MLS is not soccer-related–it is all business. New York City is probably the top market in the States. And which team is the biggest team in the city? The New York Yankees. So their understanding of the NYC market is unmatched of any other franchise in the city limits. Combine that wit Manchester City, a club that understands how to market the game of soccer, and you have a recipe for great success. The only duo that could compare is if Manchester United or Barcelona teamed with the Yankees to buy a club. NYCFC is going to be a great spot for any European players looking to play in the United States.

So although the talent level may not be where it needs to be right now. If better players funnel into New York and make their way around the MLS we could see a much better product on the field in only a couple years. It may be a good idea to give the squad the nickname of the ‘Ellis Islanders’ to honor all of the Europeans who came over looking for freedom. This could be a metaphor for all of the Europeans players coming to the US looking for a new beginning.

So I hate to retract my view from two years ago, but times change and so do my opinions. This expansion is a great sign for the MLS.

Is this a good move for the MLS? Should Cleveland get an MLS team? Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @Believelander.

Also, don’t forget to like More Than A Fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @MTAFSports.

Keep your eyes peeled and ears open for the MTAF Podcast too. It’s on iTunes!

English Premier League Final Day Drama

Each and every season in the Barclays English Premier League there is plenty of drama on the final day of the season. Teams are fighting to get in the top four or win the league title. Others are clawing to stay out of the relegation zone. Some players are playing their last game with a club. Coaches are coaching their last match for their club. This season was no different.

Although Manchester United had wrapped up the league title weeks ago and Manchester City followed suit in the number two spot, there was still a lot up for grabs. Chelsea had already clinched a spot in the Champions League but needed a win to ensure they stayed in the number three spot. Arsenal had a one point advantage over the Tottenham Hotspurs and needed a victory to clinch the final spot. Tottenham had to win and hope that Newcastle could upset visiting Arsenal. There were plenty of other storylines going on throughout the day as well.

Manchester United v West Bromwich Albion

Sir Alex Ferguson probably had no doubts that he would end his coaching career on a high note against West Brom, but don’t tell that to West Brom and their fans. Coming into the The Hawthorns, Fergie and his squad got out to 3-0 lead only one-third of the way into the match. The route was on, right? Wrong. West Brom got one back before half time and quickly cut it to a one goal deficit shortly in to the second half. But Man U got back out to the three goal advantage just over two-thirds of the way into the match. Now Man U could send Ferguson off right with a win, right? Wrong again. West Brom came barreling back in the final ten minutes scoring three times to even the score and the ten-goal thriller was quite a storybook ending for Sir Alex. Man U nearly lost the game after West Brom squandered a golden opportunity. Nonetheless, at the end of stoppage time the official blew the final whistle on Ferguson’s illustrious career. On top of such a historic day, there was the looming elephant in the club with Wayne Rooney wanting to leave United. Ferguson initially said that Rooney would not be leaving, but has since said that he is not his problem anymore. And with Rooney missing the last couple of matches (though one was for the birth of his child) it does not seem like he will be suiting back up for Manchester United.

Arsenal v Newcastle/Tottenham v Sunderland

Aside from the off the field drama with United, there was still the final spot in the Champions Leauge up for grabs. Arsenal traveled to Newcastle to clinch their spot in the UCL, while Tottenham hoped to hop over Arsenal with a home victory over Sunderland. Both matches were being played at virtually the same time. It wasn’t until the fifty-third minute in the Arsenal/Newcastle match that any of the four teams found the back of the net. Laurent Koscielny found space in Newcastle’s penalty box during a set piece to volley home the go-ahead goal and put Arsenal into the top four tentatively. While that score remained 1-0, much action ensued in the Tottenham/Sunderland match. In the seventy-third minute, the Spurs swapped Clint Dempsey for Jermain Defoe for another striker on the field. Two minutes later Sunderland’s David Vaughan got his second yellow card of the match giving Tottenham a one-man advantage for the remainder of the game. And they would need it. Tottenham kept threatening with shots off the post, and questionable no calls in the penalty area, but could not notch a tally until the eighty-ninth minute when the league’s player of the year, Gareth Bale buried yet another goal in the Premiership, none bigger than this one. I am sure Arsenal heard the news the minute he scored, putting them into a defensive mode and all Hotspur fans were now rooting for Newcastle to tie the match. In the end, both games ended 1-0 and Arsenal had capped off an amazing comeback in the past couple of months. On March 3rd, Arsenal lost to Tottenham and was seven points out of the fourth spot–all hope was lost. But that did not stop Arsene Wenger and his club from going 8-0-2 in the final ten league matches to claim the final spot in the UEFA Champions League.

So, another season is in the books and yet another Manchester United title. Next year could be a season that is up for grabs. United will be under new management. Rooney will likely be on the move. Tottenham, Everton, and even Liverpool are looking to get back into the top four. And all seven will be looking for the league title. In the words of Bart Scott, I “can’t wait.”

Where will Rooney end up? Will Bale stay with Tottenham? Who will win next year? Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @Believelander.

Also, don’t forget to like More Than A Fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @MTAFSports.

Keep your eyes peeled and ears open for the MTAF Podcast too. It’s on iTunes!

Is Germany the New King of Futbol?

The UEFA Champions League Final is set. Most readers probably do not follow professional soccer, but those of you that do you can ignore this question. Who do you think is in the Champions League final? Manchester United? Real Madrid? Chelsea? Barcelona? All are great guesses. The soccer fans can now chime in. The final includes German powerhouse Bayern Munich, who is in its third final in four years. They will be pitted against their Bundesliga rival, another German squad, Borussia Dortmund. Dortmund pulled off an amazing victory against the Spanish club Real Madrid in the semifinals. Dortmund shocked Madrid in the first leg winning 4-1. They were then able to advance by holding on with a 2-0 defeat (4-3 on aggregate). Bayern, on the other hand, showed a great deal of dominance–almost a shift in power–against one of the best teams in the nation, Barcelona. The Germans beat a squad consisting of mainly Spanish national players 7-0 on aggregate to advance. Though Barcelona did not have Lionel Messi at 100% and even sat him in the second leg, that score even Messi could not overcome. So, now that we have a German Champions League final, has Spain been dethroned as the best soccer country in the world?

Bayern has been heralded as one of the top clubs in the world for years now, but now the second best squad in the Bundesliga (Germany’s top league) has become a noteworthy name. Borussia Dortmund defeated one of the best and wealthiest clubs in the world. If that does not put you on the map I don’t know what will. Germany has been on the coattails of Spain in the world rankings since the last World Cup. And the latest rankings have Spain only 110 points ahead of Germany with the next ratings being released in a week. Though there have not been many international games played since April 11, the date the latest rankings were releaed, I expect Germany to take a big step toward Spain based on the showing in the Champions League put on by the Germans, beating two Spanish clubs–two of the best I might add. Sure professional clubs can have players from other nations on their squad but they consist of mostly players from their respective countries. Spanish players mainly play in Spain, and Germans in Germany.

The World Cup is just around the corner (in my opinion) and the key Spanish players like Xavi, Pique, and Fernando Torres keep aging while the Germans seem to be getting stronger. It will be no surprise that these two clubs will be the two favorites in the next World Cup. And I am going with Germany to win it all. Yes, I am making a prediction on a tournament that is more than a year out. It is safe to say, for this soccer fan, that Germany has dethroned Spain as the world’s best soccer country except for one small detail–Spain is the reigning Euro Cup and World Cup champion. As long as that is the case they deserve the top spot. As for the Champions League final it will be tough to decide a victor in the match up at Wembley stadium at the end of the month. They are two squads from the same league, so they are obviously familiar with each other. And we all know how unforgiving the game of soccer can be, it does not matter who won the previous meeting this season. What matters is who finds a way to get past a bitter rival in one of the biggest soccer tournaments in Europe.

Who will in the Champions League Final? Who is the best country for soccer in the world? Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @Believelander.

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Team of the Year Announced in the EPL

Last week I wrote about Luis Suarez biting an opponent–for the second time. This week he is on the English Premier League’s Team of the Year. Those don’t exactly go hand in hand, do they? Especially since Suarez accepted the award only days after accepting his ten-game suspension for the chomp heard around the world.

To the voters’ defense, the voting took place before Suarez’s on-field incident and he is having one of his best seasons in his career. Joining Suarez as one of the top strikers in the league is the man who had one of the best goals of all time last week. Robin van Persie of Manchester United seemed to have found another level after leaving his longtime club Arsenal to join Alex Ferguson and United. And it has paid dividends for the club.

Other members of the TOTY were Man U’s goalkeeper, David de Gea and at defense were Pablo Zabaleta from Manchester City, Jon Vertonghen of Tottenham, Rio Ferdinand of United, and Leighton Baines from Everton.

In the midfield were a pair of Chelsea teammates Juan Mata and Eden Hazard along with another United member Michael Carrick and the Premier League’s Pro Footballer of the Year Gareth Bale from Tottenham. This is Bale’s second time winning the award and he is very deserving of the honor. The Welshman has scored nineteen goals in the league this season and twenty-four overall for his club. The twenty-three year old winger also won the award for England’s top young footballer. The last player to do that was Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007 when he was apart of the Manchester United club.

Of the eleven players on the team four were from Manchester United, two were from Chelsea, and two were from Tottenham. United, the league’s champion already deservedly had the most players receive the honor for the simple fact that they are the best team so they obviously have the best group of players. But in this year they did not have THE best player of the campaign.

The question is, however, does Suarez still keep his award after all of this negative publicity? Yes, I understand he had one of the top seasons of any striker in the Premiership, but he is a repeat offender and is constantly in the news for negative reasons. When is enough enough? I think that a ten-game suspension was very light. If you are going to give him the award, at least come down harder on the punishment. His first suspension was only a couple games less. Instead of just upping the suspension two or three games, double it, or better yet suspend him without pay.

Whoa, went off on a tangent there. I do not want to take away from some of the amazing seasons these players have had by overshadowing it with Suarez’s bad publicity. Congratulations to the Team of the Year and I hope all of you tune in as the Champions League nears the end of its campaign as well.

Did the voters get the team right? Should Suarez be on the team? Is Bale the best player in the league? Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @Believelander.

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Liverpool's Luis Suarez is Biting Opponents

Usually when someone is describing another person and uses the phrase, “he/she bites,” that person is saying that he/she is not good at a certain function. For example, it would be accurate to say that I ‘bite’ at doing laundry. I am implying that I am not good at the function of laundry. Well, if someone were to say that Liverpool forward Luis Suarez ‘bites’ it would not be describing his ability to play soccer. In fact, he is one of the best strikers in the world right now with twenty-three goals in the English Premier League this season and thirty in all matches.

However, when someone tells you that Suarez bites, they literally mean that he bites–with his mouth. Yesterday during Liverpool’s match with league foe Chelsea, Suarez was making an attempt to get around Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic and failed. So as any normal person would react Suarez decided to nibble on Ivanovic’s arm. The officials missed the act but many video cameras caught Suarez’s bite. But with soccer there is no replay during the game to see if there was a malicious act worthy of an ejection. The game continued on and Suarez ended up tying the game in stoppage time to earn Liverpool a quality draw against Chelsea.

As I mentioned above, Suarez is one of the most skilled forwards in the game of soccer right now. Unfortunately for him, he makes the headlines more often for senseless acts of stupidity instead of acts of in-game heroics. This was not even the Uruguayan’s first time biting an opponent. In 2010, he earned the nickname, ‘Cannibal of Ajax,’ in a Dutch League for chomping on his opposition. The incident earned him a seven-game suspension. Then in 2011 he was suspended for eight games for racist comments directed toward Manchester United’s Patrice Evra. So the repeat offender can expect a stronger suspension this time around and I would hope the league hands down a hefty fine as well. I always felt that FIFA was very fair with their suspensions and fines fitting the offense, but I think it is now time to be a bit excessive with Suarez. FIFA should hand down a ban from all league tournament play, a ten game suspension, and a fine equal to his salary for those ten games.

After all of these incidents, at what time does it become embarrassing for Liverpool to hold keep Suarez on the roster? I understand that Suarez changes the game every time he is on the field, but after all of the bad press he has brought to the club should they cut ties with him sooner rather than later? As a fan, I want my team to perform at the highest possible level so maybe they view Luis Suarez as an imperative asset whose off-the-field actions do not have an effect in the locker room or on the field. If that is the case then I don’t feel that they need to release him. Wins are what bring in the money for the franchise. And money is what drives the business of sport.

All I know is that with his reputation defenders may hang back from him in fear that he could bite them at any moment. So maybe that is his motive.

What is your opinion of Luis Suarez? What punishment should he face? Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @Believelander.

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USA Crosses the Border with a Coveted Point

There are very few times that a tie in any sport is acceptable. No, not in football. No, not in the MLB All-Star game. And no, not in a race. But when the United States Men’s National Soccer Team travels to Mexico for a World Cup qualifying match a draw is nearly as good as a win. That is exactly what happened Tuesday night. The tie gave the United States a point to add to their tally in World Cup qualifying giving them four overall–good enough for third place. If the Cup were next week, the US would qualify. The single point was only the second point ever that our country has stolen at Azteca stadium for qualifying purposes. So suffice it to say, the squad was happy with a draw.

“We wanted to win, but we are pleased with the result,” coach Jurgen Klinsmann reiterated.

The US is now in a much better position looking ahead, but there are still seven more matches that they need to perform well and get necessary results before they can be satisfied. They travel to Jamaica on June 7 and after that four of their last six matches are on US soil. Right now, they are tied with Costa Rica but trail on goal differential and only one point behind Panama. Honduras is also tied with the US and Costa Rica and Mexico only trails the trio by one point. So this table is far from settled. Four days after playing Jamaica, Panama comes to town and the Red, White, and Blue will have a chance to climb in the standings with a win. There is no doubt that there is still plenty of time to win the table, but that also means there is plenty of time to fall out of contention.

One thing that the Mexicans pointed out in the qualifier (and they always do) was that we have some work to do on defense. It is hard to say a clean sheet means that the defense did not play well, but when you examine closer at possession and quality chances the US was extremely lucky to escape with a goalless draw. Mexico had an exuberant amount of corner kicks and set pieces. The US escaped a penalty call that the referee did not award to Mexico. And if it wasn’t for an amazing save by Brad Guzan (filling in for injured Tim Howard) from the foot of Angel Reyna in the final minutes we would be talking about panic meters for the United States. Aside from the numerous chances given up the one-on-one defense was rather suspect. DeMarcus Beasley was exploited at left back all game long in my opinion. I understand that he will not be there all the time and that he is mainly there for an offensive threat, but if he can’t play a lick of defense he should probably not see the field. His offensive skills alone are not good enough to get him on the pitch. Though, it was not all bad for the US’s defense. Like I mentioned, they did not give a up goal to Mexico which is a victory in itself. Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler showed that though they are young they are more than capable to organize and lead a defense at the national level. Promising young talent is imperative to build the defense. Now if only they could find a legitimate scoring threat.

Mexico’s coach Jose Manuel de la Torre summed it up for the whole group, “There are 21 points left. The leader has five; we have three. It’s tight.” So Klinsmann, Clint Dempsey, Michael Bradley, and the rest of the squad need to take care of business on the home turf and I believe we will be able to root for our nation’s soccer team in 2014.

Let me know in the comment section or on Twitter @Believelander.

Also, don’t forget to like More Than A Fan on Facebook and follow us on Twitter @MTAFSports.

Keep your eyes peeled and ears open for the MTAF Podcast too. It’s on iTunes!