Thursday, June 19, 2014

Americans Hamstrung in Brazil

After a thrilling win against Ghana in the opening match, the Americans got the news everybody feared most. Their best, and arguably only target up front, will not play against Portugal on Sunday. Assuming the final group stage game against Germany is a moon shot, the U.S. needs, at the very least, a draw against this talented Portugal club. So the question remains, where do they turn for a replacement?

The truth is, there's no great option waiting on the bench. There isn't another player in the country with the physical abilities of Jozy Altidore. Coach Klinsmann has a tough decision ahead of him. Let's quickly break down a few of his options up front:

Aron Johannsson: Johannson was the man coach Klinsmann went with to finish off the win against Ghana. The 23 year old forward plays for AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands. He scored 26 goals in 51 appearances this season, so there is promise. In addition, the boss may inclined to stick with the lineup that earned the Americans their first win. He's a favorite to land the starting spot.

Chris Wondolowski: Wondo is the only other true striker on the roster besides Altidore and Johannson. He's up there in age, but brings plenty of heart and hustle. Many say he's untested given that he's "only" an MLS for the San Jose Earthquakes. Although it's unlikely that Wondo gets the nod, die-hard U.S. Soccer fans will never forget his incredible Gold Cup performance, which probably earned him the World Cup roster-spot. Even if he doesn't start, don't be surprised to see him out there eventually.

Graham Zusi: This choice would involve some adjustments. Zusi is generally the first midfielder off the bench for the Americans. This would likely force Clint Dempsey to move up into an uncomfortable, lone striker role. That said, Zusi is probably the most talented player on the bench at this time. Is it worth sacrificing your super-sub, in addition to moving one of your most talented players out of his natural position? Pick your poison.

Realistically, that's where the list ends. 19-year-old Julian Green could see some field time, but it's likely that he was only put on the roster to gain experience. Mix Diskerud is a very creative midfielder who can bring some life to the American front-lines, but he probably ends up as a late sub, if anything. 

In any case, Altidore's injury is a crushing blow for the Americans. The only saving grace is that Altidore hasn't been ruled out for the entire tournament...yet. If they can pull off a draw against Portugal, anything can happen. 

Be sure to join us at 5:55pm EST on Sunday for the big game!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Will Buehrle's Changeup Fool Yankee Batters?

35 year old Mark Buehrle (10-3, 2.28 ERA) takes the hill for the Blue Jays in Yankee Stadium tonight, attempting to get his resurgent season back on track. Until Masahiro Tanaka beat Toronto last night, Buehrle was somehow the league leader in victories. That said, there was some cause for concern when the veteran was smacked around for 4 runs on 8 hits duiring last start in Baltimore. Could this be the wheels falling off, or just a bump in the road?

Well, it seems that the way Buehrle is throwing the ball these days, it's only a matter of time before his dominant numbers level off, regression to the mean, really. His average fastball velocity has plummeted to just 83.6 MPH in 2014. That's generally the equivalent to a middle-of-the-road high school starter. So how is he avoiding the bats? 

For one, the former White Sox star is great at changing speeds. He only throws his fastball 47.3% of the time. 22.5% of the time however, the batters' hands are sped up by his changeup, which comes in at 77.7 MPH on average. In theory, it's not about absolute velocity, as long as hitters stay off-balance. This is how the 4x All-Star can give up just 0.38 home runs per 9 innings, despite only striking out 5.23 batters per 9.

Watch for Buehrle to pound the low and outside corner to avoid the short porches in Yankee Stadium. These Bronx Bombers may be struggling with the bat, but they know that if there's an 83 MPH fastball in their wheelhouse, it will fly in a hurry. The outcome of this start could dictate how the rest of Buehrle's season goes.

Coverage starts at 7:00pm EST on SnapCall. Don't be late!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Ghana: Black Stars or Black Hole?

When the World Cup draw came out in December, and the United States found itself in the “Group of Death,” there was certainly a fair bit of doom and gloom among US soccer fans. After all, Germany and Portugal are world football powers, and Ghana knocked the U.S. out of the last two World Cups. Confidence waned near the end of May, when the 23-man squad was announced and America's all-time leading goalscorer, Landon Donovan, was left off the roster. With both sides needing all three points ahead of remaining matches with Germany and Portugal, how can the United States earn a favorable result v. Ghana?

Well, it starts in the midfield with Michael Bradley. If the pundits are correct, and Jurgen Klinsmann lines up his squad the way he's expected to, Bradley should play more of an offensive role. Without Donovan's creativity in the midfield, Bradley needs to push forward to set up Clint Dempsey and Jozy Altidore. Whether he is tracked by aging great Michael Essien, or Ghanaian manager James Appiah chooses the younger Mohammed Rabiu, Bradley will have the advantage in skill, form, and ability. If the Americans can win the ball in the midfield and quickly break with Bradley, he should be able to craft scoring chances for Dempsey and Altidore. It will be up to the American strike-force to have their finishing boots on.

Another important key to this match will be the untested American back-line. Four years ago in the Round of 16, both Asamoah Gyan and Kevin-Prince Boateng scored to bury American dreams of a quarterfinal appearance. Both attacking players are back in 2014, and are likely to start for Ghana on Monday evening. The likely USA back-4 (from left to right) of DaMarcus Beasley, Matt Besler, Geoff Cameron and Fabian Johnson have only played together in a few friendly matches, so chemistry and cohesion will be tested by the talented Ghanaian attack.

A loss would effectively end America's chances of advancing to the knockout stage, so expect a tight and tense affair in the early going as Klinsmann's men look for a positive result.

SnapCall's coverage of this massive match starts at 5:55pm ET. Don't be late to the action!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

LeBron Shines, Heat Freeze

The Larry O’Brien Trophy is on the line in San Antonio tonight, and no one will be surprised if the Spurs are champions when Father's Day comes to a close. The Heat have been outmatched, outgunned, and out-manned in every facet of the game during two consecutive brutal home losses. So why should we expect anything different tonight?

Well, don’t mention this to Skip Bayless, but LeBron is having one of his best Finals' performances ever. Of course, America will always judge its athletes on wins and losses, so if the Heat lose this series in five games, his numbers won’t amount to much. The point remains though, that LeBron is shooting a ridiculous 60% from the field through four games, including 11-for-17 from downtown. So much for deep shots being his "weakness." By comparison, King James didn’t shoot above 50% from the field in any of his first four Finals' appearances.

What makes his performance even more impressive is that he’s doing it without help from his teammates. That’s exactly what needs to change in Game 5 if the Heat want to go back to South Beach for a potential Game 6. Dwyane Wade looks like a tired, broken down shell of his former self, so barring an energy drink miracle for Wade, Chris Bosh is the guy who must step up.  After receiving just 12 total offensive touches in Game 3, Bosh came back to attempt 11 shots in Game 4. Even that number needs to rise at this point. Look for Miami to find the lanky big man early and often in the pick-and-pop game tonight. He's more than capable of a big night, so they’ll need some much needed assertiveness, and dare we say, toughness, if they want him to be the difference. 

SnapCall will start the festivities at 8:55pm ET. Don’t be late to the party!