Who are the 2015 Women's World Cup coaches in Group B?

The other day on Facebook my friend and Dear Dear Sports Fan Fan, Natty, asked me about the backgrounds of coaches in this year’s Women’s World Cup. I had no idea! So, I decided to do some research. Over the next few days, as the teams all play their second games in the Group Stage, we’ll be profiling their coaches. We’ve covered Group A so far, here’s Group B.

Germany – Silvia Neid

Silvia Neid is a living legend of German soccer. She is considered to be among the best German players ever (she appeared in 111 games for their national team and scored 48 goals) and is by far their winningest coach. After her playing career ended in 1996, she became an assistant coach. In 2005, she took over as the head coach, and has not looked back. She was at the helm (do teams have helms?) when the German team won the 2007 World Cup and also for a less successful run in 2011. All good things come to an end and the 51 year-old Neid has announced that she will be retiring in 2016.

Ivory Coast – Clémentine Touré

Clémentine Touré gave up a chance to coach in the 2007 World Cup when she resigned from a position on the Equatorial Guinea staff to take the position as head coach of her native Ivory Coast team. She was an accomplished professional, playing on club teams in Ghana and the Ivory Coast, as well as 22 times for her national team. As you can see for yourself in this CCTV video about her, Touré, who came from a family of coaches is confident in and proud of her position as a female coach.

Norway – Even Pellerud

Did I already use the phrase “living legend” in this post? Perhaps I should have saved it for Even Pellerud who is entering his fifth World Cup as a coach (there have only ever been six!) Pellerud was a solid but uninspiring as a player. He played for a few teams in the Norwegian professional league but never for his country’s national team. He has had much more success as a coach. He led Norway to medals during the first two women’s World Cups, silver in 1991 and gold in 1995. After that, he tried his hand at coaching men at club teams in Norway and Denmark but didn’t have much success. In 1999 he took over as head coach for the Canadian women’s national soccer team and led them to the 2003 and 2007 World Cups. Now, at 61, he’s back with team Norway, although it seems like eventually, he’d like to get back together with his adopted country of Canada, where his family still lives and he still has deep ties.

Thailand -Nuengruethai Sathongwien

Nuengruethai Sathongwien is the first female coach of the Thai women’s national soccer team and she took over just weeks before the 2014 Asian Cup which doubled as the qualification tournament for the World Cup. Believe it or not, that’s just about all I could find out about Sathongwien. As amazing as it sounds, the internet seems just not to know very much about her. She has no Wikipedia page, no twitter handle, no website. As much progress as the women’s game has made things like this are a reminder of how far we still have to go. It’s inconceivable that a World Cup qualifying men’s coach would be even one tenth as unknown as Sathongwien. It’s possible that she is overshadowed by the team’s manager, Nualphan Lamsam, a charismatic insurance company CEO and “well-known socialite” who has no previous experience with soccer.

How do overtime and shootouts work in soccer?

Dear Sports Fan,

How do overtime and shootouts work in soccer? Is it like hockey, where the first team to score a goal wins? Or is it like basketball, where the team that’s winning at the end of five minutes, wins the game? What is a shootout and when does that happen?

Thanks,
Joan


Dear Joan,

Over time, soccer overtimes have worked in an almost infinite variety of ways. Things have mostly settled down and it is now fairly standard. The first thing to know about soccer overtime is that, whenever possible, soccer doesn’t bother with it. In regular season professional games and group stage tournament games, ties are allowed. This is different from most major American sports like baseball, hockey, and football (okay, ties are allowed in football, but extremely rare). In soccer, a tie is a perfectly acceptable result, unless you need to eliminate a team for one reason or another. This is the case in World Cup knockout round games and in the second half of the two-game series confusingly called “ties” that are used in club soccer in Europe and throughout the world. When a team needs to be eliminated and the game is tied after the regular 90 minutes plus stoppage time, overtime comes into play.

Overtime in soccer consists of 30 minutes of additional playing time divided into two 15 minute halves. The halves are totally ceremonial, they provide a chance for the players to get a little rest and instruction from their coaches, but don’t have any affect on the game. Soccer has experimented with having the first team to score win the game immediately but has mostly discarded the idea. When they did use it, soccer called it “golden goal”, not the more common “sudden death”. Instead, the full 30 minutes are played and whichever team has scored more goals at the end of the over-time wins the game.

Overtime in soccer is particularly brutal and exciting because of how limited substitutions are. Playing 90 minutes with only three permitted substitutes is already an exhausting game. Adding another 30 minutes on, with no additional substitutes, is excruciating. The added fatigue can lead to either very sloppy or very inspired play or sometimes both. With players not able to run as well as they could at the start of the game, attacking becomes even riskier. If one team commits too many player to an attack and doesn’t score, the other team will have a lot of open field for their counter-attack.

If the score is still tied at the end of the overtime period, the game will go into a shootout. A shootout is a penalty kick competition. Both teams select five players to take the penalty kicks and then the teams alternate until one team wins. A team wins a shootout by scoring more goals than its opponent. The shootout continues until this happens. If it happens before the full five shots (one team is mathematically eliminated because they can’t possible catch up to the number of goals the other team has scored) the shootout ends immediately. If the teams are even after five shots each, the shootout continues in rounds of one shot a piece. If both teams score or both teams don’t score, another round is needed. If one team scores and the other does not, the team that scored wins the game.

Soccer purists hate shootouts because they decide the game with a contest that has almost nothing to do with normal soccer skills. In the old days, shootouts were never used. Ties would simply result in another game being played in a few days or weeks time. Today, with the pressure of television and gambling money to get a result in a decent amount of time, that’s not possible. Shootouts are the entertaining compromise that soccer has made to modernity.

Thanks for your question,
Ezra Fischer

Meet the U.S. Women's Soccer Team: Alyssa Naeher

The 2015 soccer Women’s World Cup begins on Saturday, June 6 in Canada. The United States team is one of a handful of favorites to win the tournament and they’ve got a great story. Despite decades of excellent play, the team has not won a World Cup championship since 1999. That’s a whole generation of dreams denied and all the reason anyone should need to root for the team this year. To help prepare you to root for team and country, we’re going to run a short profile of every player on the 23-person roster. When female athletes take their turn in the spotlight, they often receive coverage that is slanted toward non-game aspects of their stories — marriage, children, sexual preference, perceived lack-of or bountiful sexiness, social media activity, etc. In the hope of balancing things out, just a tiny bit, these previews will strive to stay on the field, with only a little bit of non-gendered personal interest when possible.

Alyssa Naeher

Position: Goalkeeper

Number: 21

National team experience: 1 appearance and this will be her first World Cup.

What to expect from Alyssa Naeher: Naeher is the least likely player on the entire team to make it into a game. This isn’t a reflection on her, she’s a great goalie, but Hope Solo is a fixture in the net and Ashlyn Harris seems to be coach Jill Ellis’ second choice. Naeher’s path to playing would be a Hope Solo injury followed by a poor Harris performance. Seems unlikely. If called on Naeher could do the job. A tall goalie at 5’9″, Naeher is used to being called on in desperation. She won National Women’s Soccer League goalkeeper of the year in 2014 despite playing for the Boston Breakers, a team with a shaky defense that finished second to last in the league. After one extraordinary victory, she received the Tim Howard meme treatment for her extraordinary saves. Naeher also has experience with success in World Cups — in 2008 she led the U.S. under-20 team to a World Cup championship, playing in all but one of their games.

In case you’re wondering why the team would even bother carrying three goalies, it’s because if something were to happen to two goalies and you didn’t have a third, all the extra midfielders in the world couldn’t save you from losing.

Video: Here’s Naeher saving a penalty kick in what looks like an NWSL game.

Non-gendered personal interest item: 

Links: Read about Naeher in a New England Soccer Journal profile of her by Tim Bresnahan. Check her out on her US Soccer page and follow her on Twitter.

How does candlepin bowling work?

Dear Sports Fan,

How does candlepin bowling work? How is it different from regular bowling? How does the scoring work?

Thanks,
Scott


Dear Scott,

Candlepin bowling is a fun game simultaneously more accessible to beginners than standard bowling and more difficult for experts to master. It was invented in 1880 in Worcester, Massachusetts by a man named Justin White. It remains the primary form of bowling in much of New England and parts of Canada. The basic architecture of candlepin bowling is the same as the standard form of bowling found in most of the United States, called ten-pin bowling. Players stand on one end of a long, narrow, lane and compete to see who can knock the most stuff over at the other end by rolling down it. The difference is largely in the details of how the game works, its terminology, and how it is scored.

What’s the difference between candlepin bowling and standard bowling?

There are two obvious categories of differences between standard bowling and candlepin bowling: the equipment used and how the game works. Candlepin gets its name from the wooden pins used, so let’s start there. Candlepins are much thinner than regular bowling pins and are virtually straight up-and-down cylinders. They do taper out a tiny bit at the middle (don’t we all), but at their thickest, they are less than three inches in diameter. The pins are the same at top and bottom and weigh only two pounds, eight ounces. The ball is similarly much smaller than a regular bowling ball. It is only four and a half inches in diameter and weighs slightly less than a single pin. As you might expect for a ball that easily fits in most people’s palms, there are no finger holes. In terms of gameplay, the two biggest differences are that each bowler gets three chances to throw the ball down the lane instead of two and that any pins that are knocked down during the first or second throw are left on the lane and are therefore live to use as obstacles or helpful projectiles/things to bounce off of during subsequent throws.

What are some candlepin bowling terms to know?

For games that are so similar, candlepin and standard bowling use surprisingly different terms:

  • Game : String — In candlepin bowling, a single game (sorry to use the term in its definition, but…) is called a string.
  • Frame : Box — An opportunity to amass points by using three (two in standard bowling) rolls of the ball to knock down a single set of ten pins.
  • Strike : Strike — When a bowler knocks all ten pins down on their first throw.
  • Spare : Spare — When a bowler knocks all ten pins down on their second throw.
  • N/A : Ten-box — When a candlepin bowler knocks all ten pins down on their third throw.
  • N/A : Wood — Fallen pins that remain on the lane after being knocked down.
  • N/A : Half Worcester — Candlepin bowling has lots of colorful terms (see the Wikipedia entry for more) for specific combinations of pins remaining after one or two throws. This one refers to the pins remaining after a ball hits the pin to the right or left of the head pin (the front-most one) and knocks only that one and the one behind it over.

How do you score candlepin bowling?

I once wrote a long post about how scoring in regular bowling works. Luckily for all of us, the scoring in candlepin bowling is much simpler! Oh, it may seem complicated, but actually it’s very easy.

The string is divided into ten boxes during which each bowler has to knock down the ten pins. Each pin a bowler knocks down is worth one point. However many pins a bowler knocks down in three chances, that’s how many points she gets. Easy, right? All the complexity comes into the game when a bowler knocks all ten pins down before she has used all three balls. Don’t panic though, here’s the important thing to remember — no matter what happens, each box gets the score of three throws. So, if a bowler knocks down all ten pins in two throws, she gets ten plus however many pins she knocks down on her next roll. If a bowler knocks down all the pins in one throw, he gets ten plus the number of pins he knocks down on his next two rolls. Instead of taking the time for those extra rolls on their own, we simply use the roll or rolls from the bowler’s next turn and those count for the previous and current box. The only exception to this is the tenth and last box. Since there is no next turn, the bowler takes their one or two extra rolls right after knocking down all the pins during their normal turn.

Which game is better?

Haha, good try — I’m not going to start a regional battle on this site. Both games are fun and I’d be happy spending an evening playing either of them. Candlepin bowling is more physically accessible for beginners because of the ball size and weight. The sheer weight of a standard bowling ball can turn a fun evening into a week of soreness for beginners (on the flip side, you get some exercise!) The fact that a stronger person who can comfortably throw a heavier ball faster has an advantage also creates an immediate imbalance in standard bowling that candlepin bowling does not have. On the other hand, candlepin bowling is much harder, even for experts. The thinner pins don’t help each other fall down in candlepin with nearly the predictability or consistency of standard bowling. As a result, beginners are going to have more trouble ramping up to intermediate status. After a few games of standard bowling, you can start attempting to be intentional about what you’re trying to do when you roll the ball. After a few games of candlepin bowling, you’re still basically just trying to roll it straight and hit something. Strikes and spares are easier to come by in standard bowling. In candlepin, even the experts don’t often get strikes.

Time to get out there and try it yourself! Let me know how it goes,
Ezra Fischer

Meet the U.S. Women's Soccer Team: Whitney Engen

The 2015 soccer Women’s World Cup begins on Saturday, June 6 in Canada. The United States team is one of a handful of favorites to win the tournament and they’ve got a great story. Despite decades of excellent play, the team has not won a World Cup championship since 1999. That’s a whole generation of dreams denied and all the reason anyone should need to root for the team this year. To help prepare you to root for team and country, we’re going to run a short profile of every player on the 23-person roster. When female athletes take their turn in the spotlight, they often receive coverage that is slanted toward non-game aspects of their stories — marriage, children, sexual preference, perceived lack-of or bountiful sexiness, social media activity, etc. In the hope of balancing things out, just a tiny bit, these previews will strive to stay on the field, with only a little bit of non-gendered personal interest when possible.

Whitney Engen

Position: Defender

Number: 6

National team experience: 24 appearances, this will be her first World Cup, and she has scored three international goals

What to expect from Whitney Engen: We probably won’t see Engen play in this World Cup unless the team has cliched their spot in the group stage before the last game and they decide to start a team of backups. Engen has not played in any game since the start of the Algarve Cup in March. There’s no shame in this — after all, in what context can you say that you’re somewhere between the 18th and 23rd best in the entire country? If the team does call on Engen, she will provide a stout, physical presence at central defender. Having started her first two seasons of college at North Carolina (the historically dominant women’s soccer school) as a striker, she’s still got a good scoring touch, even if she generally only gets to exercise it as a target for corner kicks and set pieces.

Video: You can learn everything you need to know about Engen’s game from the clear respect her teammates have for her in general and the teasing disrespect they show for the technical goal-scoring ability that she exhibited in this clip.

Non-gendered personal interest item: According to her Wikipedia page, during her senior season in college, Engen played 1,211 minutes (or about 13.5 games) straight without ever being subbed. That’s quite an iron-woman record!

Links: Read about Whitney in an American Soccer Now article by John D. Halloran. Check out her US Soccer page and follow her on Twitter.

Need to Know Sports: May 6, 2015

I’m introducing a new thing this week. It’s called Need to Know Sports and its a daily email that answers the question, “What do I need to know about sports today?” Whether you’re someone who needs to know everything about sports to feel alive or someone who views sports as being strictly on a need to know basis, this is a good way to start your day.

Sign up to receive Need to Know Sports

 

Here’s a preview of today’s edition.

Subject: Need to know sports: May 6, 2015

Dear Sports Fan,
What do I need to know about sports today?

Today’s Top Stories

 

There’s really no giant headline today beyond yesterday’s games and today’s too. There is this, but it’s not a giant, blockbuster story:

ISIAH THOMAS BACK IN MADISON SQUARE GARDEN: Isaiah Thomas was an all-star NBA player before he was a terrible, terrible coach and general manager for the New York Knicks. He was fired in 2008 amid reports of his sexual harassment of women who worked for him that were later confirmed when he was found guilty in a lawsuit. Yesterday news broke that James Dolan, the owner of the Knicks and their WNBA counterpart, the New York Liberty, wants to hire Thomas back, this time as President of the Liberty. This seems almost spit-takingly insane to me, as it does to many people. Forget that he was a disaster working for the Knicks before, he also seems uniquely unqualified to run the operations for a women’s sports team given his well-established history as someone who has sexually harassed female employees. Kate Fagan and Jane McManus wrote a point-counter-point article on ESPN that will tell you more about this story.

Yesterday’s Games, Today’s Conversations

National Basketball Association – The Washington Wizards played Game Two of their series against the Atlanta Hawks without their point guard and best player, John Wall. It showed. The Hawks beat the Wizards 106-90 to tie the series at one game apiece. The number one overall seed in the NBA playoffs, the Golden State Warriors finally lost a game, 97-90 to the Memphis Grizzlies. At times it’s seemed like the Warriors path to the title was becoming more and more frictionless, but last night was a bump in the path. How big remains to be seen.

National Hockey League – Oh, Minnesota Wild. I want you to be good, so badly. You’re the closest thing the United States has to a Canadian style, hockey means everything state and yet your NHL team just cannot beat the Chicago Blackhawks. Last night, the Hawks beat the Wild 1-0 to take a virtually impenetrable 3-0 lead in the series. The Calgary Flames beat the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in overtime to keep their dream and the dream of having a Canadian Stanley Cup winner alive. The series is now 2-1 in favor of the Ducks but that’s a lot better than 3-0.

MLB Baseball – 41 year-old Bartolo Colon remains amazing for the New York Mets. He pitched 7 and 2/3 innings last night and only allowed a single run. The Mets were able to score three and only let in one more after Colon left the game. That’s all the ingredients necessary for a 3-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles.

Champions League Soccer – I wrote in yesterday’s post that Real Madrid was probably feeling lucky having drawn Juventus as their semifinal opponent instead of Barcelona or Bayern Munich. Well, I guess ‘be careful what you wish for’ is the lesson to be learned after Juventus beat Real Madrid 2-1.

Today’s Sports Forecast

NHL Hockey

Montreal Canadiens at Tampa Bay Lightning, 7 p.m. ET on USA: Down 2-0 in the series, having lost both of the first two games in Montreal, the Canadiens and the whole province of Quebec will be in mourning if their team cannot find a way to win this game.

New York Rangers at Washington Capitals, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: The Rangers have played eight games in the playoffs so far and every single one of them has been decided by a single goal. That’s a hard way to win and it’s starting to show. They’re down two games to one against the Capitals.

NBA Basketball

Chicago Bulls at Cleveland Cavaliers, 7 p.m. ET on TNT: The Bulls sauntered into Cleveland and won the first game of the series. The Cavaliers may be in trouble, but they’ve got basketball’s best trump card, LeBron James. I’d be surprised if LeBron didn’t score over 35 points tonight. The question is — will it be enough?

Los Angeles Clippers at Houston Rockets, 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT: The Clippers are another road team that won the first game of their playoff series. Winning the first game on the road pretty much turns the second game into as close to a nice-to-have as you can get in the playoffs.

MLB Baseball

New York Yankees at Toronto Blue Jays, 7 p.m. ET on regional cable: Baseball believes it has a speed problem — it’s games are too slow. If you agree, this would be a good game for you to watch. The Blue Jays pitcher who’s pitching in this game, Mark Buehrle is amazingly quick. He pitches, gets the ball back from the catcher, and pitches again. It’s great.

Champions League Soccer

Bayern Munich at Barcelona, 2:45 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1: This is a massive soccer game. The game involves two of the most scintillatingly beautiful and talent laden soccer teams in the world. The plot revolves around Bayern Munich manager, Pep Guardiola. Guardiola was a long-time Barcelona player and later an extremely successful Barcelona manager. He’s a winner wherever he goes but the question is, which team has more Pep in them? His old team or his new team?

Verisimilitude (or How to Sound Like a Sports Native)

Talk about a busman’s holiday, retired baseball player Kyle Farnsworth has resurfaced playing on the defensive line of semi-pro football team in Orlando, Florida. If you’ve got half an hour on a train, bus, or plane, read this moving and deeply confusing ESPN article by Wright Thompson about legendary baseball player, Ted Williams’ daughter, Claudia Williams, and the difficult emotional and physical legacy she lives with. From Sarah Lyall comes the New York Times tale of a 1965 high school football game that continued on despite a school building burning to the ground just a few dozen yards from the field and the photo that made it famous. Ken Dryden, a great former NHL goalie and contemporary author, writes an article about Carey Price, the man who currently plays goalie for the Montreal Canadiens, Dryden’s old position.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Photo by Eduardo Davad.

Need to Know Sports: April 30, 2015

I’m introducing a new thing this week. It’s called Need to Know Sports and its a daily email that answers the question, “What do I need to know about sports today?” Whether you’re someone who needs to know everything about sports to feel alive or someone who views sports as being strictly on a need to know basis, this is a good way to start your day.

Sign up to receive Need to Know Sports

 

Here’s a preview of today’s edition.

Subject: Need to know sports: April 30, 2015

Dear Sports Fan,
What do I need to know about sports today?

Today’s Top Stories

NATIONAL FOOTBALL LEAGUE DRAFT TONIGHT: The National Football League’s premiere offseason event, the NFL draft begins tonight at 8 p.m. ET. The 32 NFL teams in the league take turns choosing players roughly in the reverse order of last year’s standings. Only the first round of the draft takes place tonight, so just the first 32 picks. This year’s draft is marred by the fact that the person who almost definitely will be picked first is almost definitely a rapist. I wrote in great length about this yesterday and the post was quite popular. I wouldn’t say it went viral, but it had a slight sniffle.

BASEBALL GAME IN BALTIMORE PLAYED IN EMPTY STADIUM: Due to the continuing protests in Baltimore, Major League Baseball made the strange decision to go ahead with the game between the Chicago White Sox and Baltimore Orioles but not to invite any fans. This was the first time in the 145 year history of the league that a game had been played with no fans. Whatever MLB’s thought process was in choosing to deal with the situation this way, the spectacle of a game in an empty stadium received a lot of attention. Peter Schmuck of the Baltimore Sun suggested that the game served as notice that things have not returned to normal in the city yet but that life must go on. Fortune.com and Breitbart.com disagreed about the financial implications of the game, with Fortune suggesting that the Orioles “don’t stand to lose much money” and Breitbart arguing that the “surreal ghost town game” was a harbinger of bad economic times to come for businesses in the city. Finally, there were those like Ann Killion of SFGate that suggested the game was “a symptom of damaged society.”

Yesterday’s Games, Today’s Conversations

National Basketball Association – The Atlanta Hawks won 107-97 over the Brooklyn Nets. This continues the pattern of the home team in this series winning every game. The Hawks jumped out to an early lead in the first quarter and the Nets were never able to actually catch up, despite many surges that saw them tantalizingly close. The next game, Game Six of the series, will be in Brooklyn on Friday night. The Memphis Grizzlies eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers from the playoffs last night by beating them 99-93. The Trail Blazers season has seemed doomed for the past couple months, ever since an important player on their team blew his Achilles heel. The Grizzlies will now get a few days to rest up and heal their own wounds before the next round.

National Hockey League – The Tampa Bay Lightning eliminated the Detroit Red Wings in a 2-0 game. This result is not surprising. Really only a giant blow-out would have been surprising in a series between such evenly matched teams. With this game, the first round of the NHL playoffs has ended. No rest for the wicked (or the hockey fan) though, the second round starts tonight for teams that won their first round series. The Red Wings enter an offseason of uncertainty, with the possible loss of their long-time coach, Mike Babcock.

Major League Baseball – Boston sports fans do nothing better than freak out, which is why this Red Sox season has been right in their wheel-house. Nothing for them to freak out about today though, after their team handled the Toronto Blue Jays easily, 4-1. 

Today’s Sports Forecast

NHL Hockey

Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 7:30 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: The second round of the playoffs begins tonight with this game. The Capitals are coming off a breakthrough Game Seven victory over the New York Islanders. The Rangers have been waiting around a few days since beating the Pittsburgh Penguins to see who they would play. The Capitals best player is Alexander Ovechkin, the game’s best pure scorer. The Rangers best player is Henrik Lundquist, one of hockey’s best goalies. So, this is set up to be an exciting series.

Calgary Flames at Anaheim Ducks, 10 p.m. ET on NBC Sports Network: The Western Conference gets its first second round game with this matchup. It’s hard to imagine a larger contrast between these two franchises. There’s the obvious things, like Canada vs. the United States, cold weather vs. hot weather, but the teams themselves are also quite oppositional. The Flames are an attractive bunch to casual fans. They’re young, largely unknown, and overachieving. The Ducks have been very, very good for a long time but rarely win. That’s a recipe for casual fan boredom. Let’s pull for the Flames, shall we?

NBA Basketball

Chicago Bulls at Milwaukee Bucks, 7 p.m. ET on TNT: The Bucks were down 3-0 in this series but have won the last two games to push the Bulls into an uncomfortable Game Six. If the Bulls lose this one, they’ll be stepping into an extremely high pressure situation in Game Seven. No NBA team has ever lost a series once they claimed a 3-0 game lead.

Los Angeles Clippers at San Antonio Spurs, 9:30 p.m. ET on TNT: For the first time, this series, which has been the best series in the first round, could come to an end based on the outcome of a single game. The Clippers travel to San Antonio down 3-2, knowing that a loss will send them packing for the summer. Some teams might be complacent in Game Six, knowing they could lose the game and still win the series, but the Spurs are too wise and well coached to fall into that trap. Expect them to come out firing on all cylinders.

MLB Baseball

Washington Nationals at New York Mets, 7 p.m. ET on regional cable: This is a true through-the-looking-glass game. The Washington Nationals came into the season with championship hopes (or even expectations) while the Mets fans were hoping their team would just be half-decent. Both teams have defied their expectations. The Nationals have been mediocre at times and terrible at times, while the Mets’ success is the story of the year. Even the pitchers are polar opposites. The Nationals pitcher, Stephen Strasburg was drafted number one overall while the Mets Jacob DeGrom was a ninth round selection.

Verisimilitude (or How to Sound Like a Sports Native)

GoDaddy, the shameless advertising machine that also sells internet domains and related services announced that it would no longer be sponsoring NASCAR. This could mean bad things for the sport or just business as usual. Hard to say. The day after an unfortunate tweet reminiscent of The Godfather’s famous horse’s head scene, the social media manager of the Houston Rockets has been fired. 75% of sports fans will think this is a ridiculously outsized punishment for a minor infringement. If you’re looking for footbally things to say about the NFL draft in addition to the major cultural story covered in our top stories section, I like NJ.com’s idea that the success of the Philadelphia Eagles draft as orchestrated by coach and GM Chip Kelly will be a referendum on combining those two positions. There’s also an excellent article on MMQB by a potential draftee’s mother about what it’s like to be a football mom. To end with a chuckle, read either of these two sports related xkcd comics.

Thanks for reading,
Ezra Fischer

Photo by Sponchia.

How does the away goals tie-breaker work in soccer?

Dear Sports Fan,

How does the away goals tie-breaker work in soccer? I’ve been loving the Champions League this year but I’m confused by away goals and why they are so important.

Thanks,
Random Name That’s Totally Not Me Asking Myself Questions I Want To Answer


Dear Rand,

How fortuitous of you to ask this question today! There’s a perfect example that I can use to explain how the away goals tie-breaker works in soccer in the two UEFA Champions League games this afternoon!

Many soccer tournaments, particularly in European club soccer, are organized into series of two games. In American sports that have series, like baseball, basketball, and hockey, the series are always an odd number of games. They are either best-two-out-of-three series, best-three-out-of-five series, or most commonly, best-four-out-of-seven series. The odd number allows for one team to always end the three, five, or seven games with a conclusive advantage in terms of how many games each team won. So, how does a two game series work? It works on goals, not winning or losing. In fact, in a two game series, also called a tie, winning or losing each of the two games is meaningless to the result of the series. In these series, you don’t, as NFL coach Herm Edwards once said, “play to win the game,” you play to score more overall or aggregate goals over the course of the two games than your opponent. A team that loses 2-0 in the first game of the series can win the series by winning the second game 3-0 or 8-4.

As you might expect with such a low scoring game like soccer, after only two games, it’s pretty regular for teams to have scored the same number of goals. This is called being tied on aggregate goals. In this case, something else needs to be done to determine the winner of the series. That something else varies from competition to competition. Many tournaments have the teams play an overtime period. Some of them use a penalty kicks to settle the winner. Lots of tournaments though, the Champions League among them, use away goals as the first way to break ties. Away goals are simple to comprehend but a little tricky in practice to understand. An away goal is scored by a team playing in the other team’s stadium. Since there are two games in these series, one is played at each team’s home stadium. Being at home has its advantages, so it’s generally thought that scoring away from home is more difficult and therefore more impressive. At the end of the two games, the team with more goals scored away from home has won the away goals tie-breaker.

The tricky part is running through all the scenarios that come up for the second game of the series. Here it’s helpful to use examples. Luckily, we have two this afternoon that provide perfect examples to study the away goals tie-breaker. Here’s the situation.

Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Game 1 in Paris — Barcelona 3, Paris Saint-Germain 1
Game 2 in Barcelona is today.

Bayern Munich vs. FC Porto

Game 1 in Porto — FC Porto 3, Bayern Munich 1
Game 2 in Munich is today.

At first glance, these series look the same. In both series, one team is ahead 3-1 after the first game of the two game tie. The difference is that the team with three goals in one series played the first game at home while the other played the first game away. While the aggregate goal tally is the same, 3-1 in each series, the away goals tally is very different. Barcelona, the team leading in the first series has 3 away goals while Porto, the team leading in the second series has none because they haven’t played on the road yet. Despite losing 3-1 in the first game, Bayern Munich is actually leading in away goals, 1-0. This may seem like a small difference but it matters enormously to the possible outcomes today. Assume that each team that is down 3-1 wins their game today 2-0. Here’s what the results would be if that happened.

Barcelona vs. Paris Saint-Germain

Game 1 in Paris — Barcelona 3, Paris Saint-Germain 1
Game 2 in Barcelona — Barcelona 0, Paris Saint-Germain 2

Bayern Munich vs. FC Porto

Game 1 in Porto — FC Porto 3, Bayern Munich 1
Game 2 in Munich — FC Porto 0, Bayern Munich 2

Both series would be 3-3 in terms of aggregate goals but look at the tally in away goals. In the first series, Barcelona would have 3 away goals and Paris Saint-Germain only two. Barcelona would advance. In the second series, Bayern would still have one away goal and Porto, which lost 2-0 when it was on the road, would have zero. Bayern Munich would advance.

The away goals tie-breaker makes it much more difficult for Paris Saint-Germain to advance today than Bayern Munich, despite their both losing 3-1 in the first games of the series.

Thanks for reading and please tell me if this still doesn’t make sense,
Ezra Fischer

Sports Forecast for Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sports is no fun if you don’t know what’s going on. Here’s what’s going on: In today’s segment, I covered:

  • European Champions League Soccer – Real Madrid at Atletico Madrid, 2:45 p.m. ET on Fox Sports 1.
  • NBA Basketball – Washington Wizards at Indiana Pacers, 8 p.m. ET on TNT.
  • And more!

For email subscribers, click here to get the audio.


 

You can subscribe to all Dear Sports Fan podcasts by following this link. Music by Jesse Fischer.

March Madness Previews, March 29, 2015

We’re down to these four teams fighting for two spots in next Saturday’s Final Four games. Last night, Kentucky and Wisconsin, two 1 seeds, won their games and qualified to play each other in the Final Four. Today we’ll see which two teams will play each other next Saturday for the right to play either Kentucky or Wisconsin in the championship game.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #7 Michigan State Spartans vs. #4 Louisville Cardinals, 2:20 p.m. ET on CBS.

Hey! This is our one chance — actually our one certainty — to get a team into the Final Four that wasn’t a 1 seed and therefore expected to make the Final Four. Usually, the team that unexpectedly makes it into the last four is the delight of the tournament but this is… a little different. It’s hard to think of either Michigan State or Louisville as a surprise underdog considering they’ve combined to make 11 Final Fours since 2000. That’s a sustained record of excellence unsurpassed by many programs. So, while it’s novel to see a 7 and a 4 seed play in the Elite Eight, it’s perfectly conventional to see these two teams.

NCAA Men’s Basketball – #2 Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. #1 Duke Blue Devils, 5:05 p.m. ET on CBS.

You can view this game as a battle of old vs. new, traditional vs. modern. Duke is the traditional team — they’ve been a basketball powerhouse in one of the toughest conferences in the country for well over thirty years now. They’re built a little like an old-school team. Their star player is a big man, Jahlil Okafor, who plays close to the basket. Gonzaga is the future of basketball. They’re a “mid-major” team which means they’re the best team in a conference that has not traditionally produced NCAA Champions. Their best player is Kyle Wiltjer, a 6’10” forward who uses his hight primarily to shoot over people from distance as opposed to banging bodies down low like Okafor. In this battle of past vs. future, we’ll see who owns the present.