How Will The US Line Up Vs. Portugal?

Although the USMNT won their dramatic opener vs. Ghana, it wasn’t without consequence for the Yanks. They lost their line-leading forward, Jozy Altitore. The US failed to make much of an impact going forward without Altidore and had to be bailed out with a header from substitute centerback John Brooks.  The US doesn’t have a replacement player that can match Altidore’s role, so they will have to adapt their formation and players. Let’s dive in to the potential options that Jurgen might roll out vs. Portugal.

Donovan Regrets?

Before we breakdown the options that Jurgen Klinnsman will have at his disposal, let’s talk about the question that everyone has been asking. Could Landon Donovan have helped fill the void left by Jozy’s absence? Should he have been brought for just such emergencies? The short answer is a resounding NO. Donovan would not have helped to replace Jozy up front as they play completely different roles. Donovan is a replacement for Zusi/Bedoya/etc. who have both played vital roles thus far. A bigger argument could be made for why Klinnsman didn’t include a more similar player to Altidore like Terrence Boyd or Eddie Johnson. Unfortunately, we’ll have to continue on with the players selected.

Note: These are just my personal opinions and thoughts. I obviously have no inside information and could be way off on every one of these. Take these with a grain of salt and don’t go betting your life away based on these opinions! That being said, enjoy. 

Option #1: Jozy Substitute (4-4-2 Diamond)

The first choice  is the most simple of the bunch, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will be chosen. His replacement would fill his role up top with Dempsey. Although it is listed as a 4-4-2, it will likely look somewhat more like a 4-4-1-1, with Dempsey playing just behind the fill-in striker. So who will take Jozy’s place, Johannson or Wondolowski? Wondo makes a better choice for hold-up play given his larger frame. Johannson plays better with another forward joining him up front as his link-up play is excellent. Ultimately, I think Johannson gets the nod if this is the formation of choice.

Advantages:

  • No positional changes are required other than Altidore’s replacement.
  • Two forwards puts more pressure on the centerback pairing and doesn’t allow them to focus on one man.

Disadvantages:

  • Wondolowsi or Johannson will be on the pitch, neither of whom strike fear into opponents.
  • Puts pressure on Beckerman to play well as he is the only true holding midfielder in front of the back four.

Note: Zusi could also replace Bedoya after his strong showing off the bench.

Option #2: “False 9” (4-2-3-1)

This option is often called a “False 9” because it doesn’t deploy a traditional striker on the field. The “9” comes from the Number 9 that is usually associated with the primary striker, whose primarily objective is to score goals. Other teams like Spain and Germany have deployed this to great success, but it requires a talented group of attacking midfielders. If the US goes this route, Zusi would likely be the only change, coming in for the injured Altidore. He should play on the right side, likely moving Bedoya to the left. Dempsey will play the “False 9” role and will be the focal point in attack. This formation will generally change shape slightly in attack and defense, but offers plenty of options for the US team. It can easily look like the 4-5-1 option as shown in Option #3 and the primary differences are outlined there.

Advantages:

  • Allows an experienced playmaker (Zusi) to get on the pitch.
  • Could allow for some nice link-up play between Dempsey and Bradley, who excel is such situations

Disadvantages:

  • Dempsey is not used to being the lone forward and doesn’t do well with hold-up play
  • The midfield of Beckerman, Jones, and Bradley could be outnumbered when Zusi and Bedoya get forward
bestplayoffs

Who Has the Best Playoffs in Professional Sports?

The NHL Stanley Cup Final and NBA Finals are both underway, making this one of the best seasons for avid sports fans. The playoffs for these two sports are often compared because they are running simultaneously, but where do they stack up against the other US professional sports? For the purposes of this article, I am only including professional sports (sorry March Madness fans) and ones in the US (sorry global soccer fans).  Rather than just approach it from which ones are my favorites and least favorites, I tried to approach it systematically and rank them by category. Each sport will be ranked 1-4 in the categories of format, parity, intensity, viewing experience, and x-factors. The playoffs with the lowest average score will be crowned the winner.

Format

The format category consists of how the teams make the playoffs and how they are formatted once they make it. This could include the percentage of teams that make the playoffs, the number of games in each round, or things like seeding or home field/court/ice advantage.

MLB: Baseball has recently tinkered with its playoff format, changing the wildcard team to a play-in game. I view this change as a negative. While the wildcard team was previously awarded an automatic playoff bid, now two teams have to play a winner-take-all game to determine who gets in. This definitely adds to the drama, but can rob a team of a playoff birth that was superior for 162 games. I like that a limited number of teams make the playoffs in baseball as it adds to the intensity of the regular season. My biggest issue with the baseball playoffs? The All-Star game. The fact that this game determines home-field advantage might be the most ridiculous thing in all of sports.

NBA: If you need to see why the NBA playoffs format needs a makeover, look no further than this years playoffs. The West was loaded while the East had a team make the playoffs that was 6 games under .500. Too many bad teams make the playoffs and there are almost never any significant upsets. It is almost a lock that the 1 seed will beat the 8 seed every year, which takes away some of the suspense.

NFL: Only 12 teams out of 32 make the playoffs, which is about 38%. That number feels high enough to not exclude too many teams, but also doesn’t mean that the regular season means nothing. My biggest complaint is that the division winners are automatically the first four seeds, regardless of record compared to the wild card teams. I agree that each division winner should receive a birth, but seeding should be determined by the best record. Other than that, I think that the NFL’s format is well-balanced and an excellent representation of the league. The suddenness of just one game per round adds to the importance/impact and creates the ultimate do-or-die scenario every week.

NHL: Like MLB, the NHL has recently tweaked its playoff system, moving towards a system that rewards the top 3 teams in each division as well as 4 wild card berths. Like basketball, hockey has a total of 16 teams that make the playoffs. While this makes it interesting in that more than 50% of teams will earn the chance to win a Stanley Cup, it feels like too many. Also like basketball, the NHL also struggles with the length of their playoffs, which seem to go on for a long time.

Winner: NFL. The NFL’s format takes the cake here due to its limited number of playoff teams and immediacy due to one-game rounds. Rewarding the best teams with a bye also seems fair and distinguishes them from the others.

Parity

Parity refers to the distribution of winners in that particular sport. Does the low seed ever have a chance of upsetting the favorite? Can it be assured that only a few teams will be in the running for a championship? These are the factors that parity addresses.

MLB: Baseball is known for the major powerhouses winning the majority of the championships and the data supports this to a certain extent. There have only been 9 unique champs in the last 15 years, with the Red Sox and Yankees both collecting 3 each and the Giants and Cardinals capturing two. The absence of a salary cap is largely to blame for the lack of parity.

NBA: Basketball is thought to be the sport of dynasties, but does the data support the notion that only a handful of teams ever win titles? The short answer is yes. The data is even more overwhelming than I would have though. Only 6 different teams have won an NBA title in the last 15 years. We are guaranteed that the eventual champ this year will not champ that too.

NFL: The NFL has has 10 different champions in the last 15 years. The Patriots, Giants, Ravens, and Steelers have all won multiple times, with only the Patriots winning 3 championships. Low seeds like the wild-card teams have also had plenty of success, which makes every game must-see due to the possibility of an upset.

NHL: The NHL has had an impressive 11 different champs in the last 15 years. This is remarkable, especially when you consider the reputation of the dominant markets like Chicago, Detroit, Boston, and others. The Blackhawks and Devils have won twice and the Red Wings have taken home Lord Stanley’s Cup 3 times. Success by lower seeds and first-round upsets happen every year, which makes all rounds of the playoffs important.

Winner: NHL. Recent small market champions like the Hurricanes and Lightning highlight the parity in the NHL. Only one team has won 3 in the last 15, and they were all several years apart. Upsets can and do happen frequently, which means even the favorites must bring their A-game each round.

Intensity

Not much explanation is needed here, but intensity refers to…how intense the games are. Are you on the edge of your seat for large portions of the game? Do you find yourself sweating during the most heated moments?

MLB: Baseball has some intense moments in late-game situations in October. Unfortunately, these moments are the exception and not the rule. During a 3-hour baseball game, there will likely be 5-10 minutes worth of intense moments when the bases are loaded with 2 outs. There are plenty of ho-hum 1-2-3 innings that can seem to be lacking intensity, even if the players are going it their all. Baseball suffers from the lack of physical contact between opposing sides. Pitcher vs. batter duels are intriguing, but aren’t as excited as two people physically going after one another.

NBA: People give the NBA a hard time about no one playing defense, and for the regular season, that is probably the case. During the playoffs, however, the intensity is ratcheted up on both ends of the floor. It is a treat to watch some of the greatest athletes in the world go at it with 100% effort. The late game moments and last second shots are some of the most intense in all of sports. Hockey fans will point out the injuries that sideline NBA players pale in comparison to hockey, but it is hard to doubt the effort level of these warriors.

NFL: The NFL might be the most violent sport during the regular season, and the playoffs bring a new level of intensity. The fact that every game means elimination adds an additional element of immediacy. One play could mean the end of the season. Even the kickers get in on the action, as last second field goals can be some of the most dramatic in all of sports.

NHL: Even hockey haters have a hard time knocking the intensity of the NHL playoffs. Stories of players playing through absurd injuries are commonplace, with new players becoming legends each passing year. The most recent heroics involve Patrice Bergeron playing with a broken rib, torn cartilage, and a separated shoulder in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final. True sudden-death overtime (and no shootouts) is must-see TV as the game could end on any shot. These guys give it their all every night and deserve to be rewarded for it.

Winner: NHL. Not much explanation is needed here. These guys are nuts and have an unmatched passion for the game.

Viewing Experience

How enjoyable is the viewing experience for those taking in the game at home? Is the broadcast quality top-notch or does it leave something to be desired? Do replays, statistical overlays, and other on-screen affects add to the experience? Does the game translate well to the big screen or is it far better in person?

MLB: Baseball on TV is a mixed bag. The problem with baseball is that every ball in play features a dramatic shift in direction, which requires a jarring switch in camera angles. The initial camera is from behind the pitcher and is shifted to an overhead view of the infield or outfield when the ball is put in play. Baseball fans are used to this by now, but it is definitely a different viewing experience. The game’s slow pace is often unbearable at home, where there are plenty of other distractions to go around.  The strikezone on-screen display is helpful at times, but can also be inaccurate or distracting.

NBA: Basketball has always translated well to viewing from home. The tangible sight of the ball going through the hoop is eye candy that can easily be captured on TV. Advanced slow-motion technology has helped with video replays as well as cameras from every angle (including at the rim). The commentators are generally knowledgeable and lighthearted, trying to captivate all audiences ranging from casual viewers to the most passionate basketball fans.

NFL: The NFL is a cash-cow and has dumped plenty of money into making sure that the viewing experience from home is top-notch. This has paid dividends as NFL broadcasts in the playoffs always have a top-notch production quality about them. The line of scrimmage and first down lines that are digitally imposed on the field help immensely and the replays are generally excellent, offering views from every angle imaginable. The speed of the game also translates well on TV, especially when bone-shattering hits take place.

NHL: High definition has saved hockey’s view experience. Before HD, it was unbearable to watch hockey on TV because it was nearly impossible to follow the puck. It is now easier to follow the puck, but the game doesn’t quite capture the full extent of the game of hockey. The drive of the players, the speed of the game, and the passion of the fans don’t always translate well to viewing the game from home.

Winner: NFL. Money talks here. The most viewers unsurprisingly means the best experience for those viewers.

X-Factors

These are some of the factors that can’t really be captured elsewhere. I’ll admit that there is a significant amount of subjectivity here, but I did my best to capture the most relevant factors.

MLB: Nostalgia. Baseball is known as America’s pastime for a reason. The game has been around for a long time and has developed a great deal of history. Some people view this as a positive, while others see this as a sign that the game is old and outdated.

NBA: Star power and global impact. No other sport has the name recognition that basketball carries with it. Love them or hate them, you know who Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Kobe Brant are. Due to this star power and the presence of international players, the NBA has become a global game. During my honeymoon in Antigua, all the staff there wanted to talk about was the NBA playoffs. This is a huge deal for the NBA’s growth.

NFL: Lack of fantasy football and weather. My primary x-factor for the NFL is unfortunate because they are a victim of their own success. So many people care about the regular season for fantasy football. During the actual playoffs, fantasy football season is over. The NFL loses millions of casual viewers who care more about their virtual team than any real-life ones. The weather is another unpredictable element that can wreak havoc on games. Although both teams obviously play on the same field, adverse conditions can drastically impact one team’s performance more than the other depending on their strengths and weaknesses.

NHL: Beards, handshakes, and the Stanley Cup. NHL playoff beards are awesome. Other sports have attempted to emulate them, but no one pulls them off like hockey players. The post-series handshakes after each side has beaten the others’ brains out is always a must-see. The other sport has such an iconic trophy. I’m not sure if it’s the size of the trophy, the fact that the playoffs is named after it, or something else, but this trophy trumps all others.

Winner: NBA. The NHL is a close second with their combination of beards, handshakes and Stanley Cup, but can’t quite overcome the pure firepower that the NBA’s stars provide.

Overall Winner

NHL Playoffs. In a tightly contested race, the NHL playoffs squeaked by the NBA and NFL playoffs, who tied for second. Parity and intensity were the categories that swung the balance for the NHL, offsetting its poor performance for TV experience. Although the world might not be as receptive to the NHL playoffs (just look at the TV ratings), they have the best playoffs in all of sports. The NBA and NFL tied for second and could have been first on a different day. They will be just fine and have the TV and attendance numbers to back them up. Baseball finished last by scoring no better than third in any particular category. This is an indication that the game might need  to make a few changes to inject some life into a seemingly outdated game. Enjoy your victory skate NHL, you deserve it.

 MLBNBANFLNHL
Format3212
Parity3421
Intensity4231
Viewing Experience3214
X-Factors3142
Average3.22.22.22