What to Watch: Fri. 3/11 – Sun. 3/13

All times are Pacific.

Friday March 11th

Baylor vs Kansas – 4pm ESPN2: The Big 12 tournament kicks into high gear.

Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning – 4:30pm NHL.TV: Flyers are agonizingly close to a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference while the Lightning are battling it out for one of the top seeds.

Miami Heat at Chicago Bulls – 5pm NBA.TV: The Heat lead the Southeastern division while the Bulls have fallen off a bit but are still a dangerous group.

DUCKS V BLUESAnaheim Ducks at St Louis Blues – 5pm NHL.TV: The Ducks have been come down to Earth after winning something like 10 in a row. Both are playoff bound. Expect some excellent hockey in this one.


Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars – 5:30pm NHLN:
These two are tied for the top spot in the Western Conference and on top of the Central. Both are two of the top teams in the entire league.

Oklahoma vs West Virginia – 6pm ESPN2: OU may have the Big 12 player of the year (Buddy Hield) and swept the season series but pay no mind to that. Bob Huggins will have his team ready to play and they are still a top 10 team mind you.

Arizona vs Oregon – 6pm PAC12: Oregon is trying to lock up a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament but Arizona needs a win to improve their seeding too.

Portland Trailblazers at Golden State Warriors – 7:30pm NBA League Pass: You want to watch this one just to see what Steph Curry and Damian Lillard are going to do to one up each other.

 

Saturday March 12th

NY Islanders at Boston Bruins – 10am NHL.TV: A little morning hockey with two playoff bound teams.

New England Revolution vs DC United – Noon MLS.TV: These two were at the top of the Eastern Conference standings last season. Good early season matchup.

Miami Heat at Toronto Raptors – 4pm NBA League Pass: Talk about tough back-to-back road games for the Heat. First Chicago and then up to the Great White North. That’s just mean.

Sporting KC vs Vancouver Whitecaps – 5:30pm MLS.TV: SKC looks to lay out the unwelcome mat for the Caps. Both should be a force in the Western Conference again.

Oklahoma City Thunder at San Antonio Spurs – 5:30pm ABC: Probably the only two teams who have a legit chance of knocking off the Warriors when it comes playoff time. Durant, Duncan, Westbrook, Parker and of course the media mogul Poppovich.

BLUES V STARS FIGHTSt Louis Blues at Dallas Stars – 6pm NHLN: Both are looking to unseat the Blackhawks in the Central and claim the top spot. They should both be pretty sick and tired of each other by this point of the season. Sprinkle in the back side of back-to-back games and it could get nasty out there.

Washington Capitals at San Jose Sharks – 7:30pm NHL.TV: The Caps look to close out the brutal west coast road trip with a win in the shark tank.

 

Sunday March 13th

LUNDQVISTPittsburgh Penguins at NY Rangers – 9:30am NBC: Sidney Crosby and the Pens look to give themselves some breathing room when it comes to the playoff race. The Rangers are strong and will be strong once Henrik Lundqvist and Rick Nash return.

Cleveland Cavaliers at LA Clippers – 12:30pm ABC: Enough talent on display to make you stop you Sunday yard work and camp out in front of the TV.

NYCFC vs Toronto FC – 2pm ESPN2: Lot of star power on display and hopefully that means goals a plenty.

NCAA Selection Show – 2:30pm CBS: Who is in and who is out. Let the second phase of March Madness begin!

Advertisements

What To Watch Fri. 7/3 – Sun. 7/5


All times are Pacific.

Friday July 3rd

SF Giants at Washington Nationals – 3pm ESPN: A rematch of last years NLCS. The Nationals Bryce Harper is having an MVP season and this is a chance to see him in action.

USMNT v Guatamala (Friendly) -4pm FS1: The final tuneup for both teams as they head into the Gold Cup.

Calgary Stampeders at Montreal Alouettes – 4:30pm ESPN2: Question in this game is the quarterback play. The Stamps Bo Levi Mitchell threw three INT’s last week in the Stamps come from behind win and the Al’s played three QB’s in week one.

Seattle Sounders vs DC United – 8pm UNIMAS: The Sounders look to get back on track against the top team in the Eastern Conference.

 

Saturday July 4th

Tour De France – 4am NBCSN: Cycling’s premier event gets underway in Utrecht, Netherlands of all places. GoPro Video.

Biking

Tampa Bay Rays at NY Yankees – 10am FS1: Toughest division in baseball. Good series to see who is really going to be there in September.

Toronto Blue Jays at Detroit Tigers – 10am MLB.TV: Two teams fighting for relevancy in their respective divisions. It’s also a battle of pitchers from middle Tennessee as R.A. Dickey (Nashville) takes on David Price (Murfreesboro).

Copa America Final – 1pm BeIN: Yes it’s the 4th of July but it’s Argentina vs Chilie.

NY Mets at LA Dodgers – 4:15pm Fox: The Mets send over hyped Matt Harvey to the mound against Zack Greinke. Not bad for a Saturday.

LA Galaxy vs Toronto FC – 4:30pm MLS LIVE: While some stars will be missing such as Michael Bradley, LA’s newest signing, Steven Gerrard,  will make an appearance.

 

Sunday July 5th

Tour De France – 4am NBCSN: Stage two gets underway.

Toronto Argonauts at Saskatchewan Roughriders – 12:30pm ESPN3: The Riders lost starting QB Darian Durant for the year after only a half of football last week. The Argos on their backup too. It’s should be a good one in Riderville.

FIFA Women’s World Cup Final – 2pm FOX: USA meets Japan in a rematch of the 2011 World Cup Final.

NASCAR Coke Zero 400 – 4:45pm NBC: NBC has Nascar now….probably why we have to wait until almost 8pm EST to watch a race on a Sunday night at the end of a Holiday weekend. #Fail.

SF Giants at Washington Nationals – 5pm ESPN: Not a bad way to cap off a long Holiday weekend.

What to Watch Sat. 4/12 -Sun. 4/13

It’s the Masters. Even if you do not like golf you should watch this over the weekend just to see how a course can destroy a professional and of course for the drama that is sure to ensue.

Also, the NBA and NHL playoffs start next week so this is your last chance to watch everything else.

Saturday April 12th

The Masters – Noon CBS: Like we said, it’s The Masters.

Boston Red Sox @ New York Yankees – 10am FS1:  Yes it’s early in the baseball season but it’s one of the best rivalries in all of sports.

Seattle Sounders @ FC Dallas – 5:30pm MLS Live: Two of the top teams in the league. Should be interesting.

Sunday April 13th

Liverpool vs Manchester City – 5:40am NBCSN: Liverpool is in the drivers seat as far as a Premier League title goes. That being said, it’s not locked up yet and they still need three points against a very good Man City team.

The Masters – 11am CBS: Like we said, it’s The Masters.

Boston Red Sox @ New York Yankees – 5pm ESPN:  Yes it’s early in the baseball season but it’s one of the best rivalries in all of sports.

MLS 2014 Preview

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

The 19th season of MLS kicks off this weekend. Sporting KC will attempt to defend their title against a serious pack of challengers. From perennial favorites like LA, Houston and Salt Lake to the upstarts in Portland and the dark horse in Toronto.

MLS 2014 KICK OFF

Can SKC Do It Again?

Sporting KC may have the most dynamic roster in all of MLS. From Graham Zusi and Benny Feilhaber in the middle, Matt Besler and Aurelien Colin in the back and multiple attacking options up top. Most of the team remains intact minus Keeper Jimmy Nielsen. It’s up to manager Peter Vermes to keep this team motivated. They way he screams, it shouldn’t be a problem.

NYRB 4 REAL?

The New York Red Bulls finally won a trophy of some kind last season when they walked away with the Supporters Shield. With that monkey off their back it’s time for them to take home and MLS Cup or a US Open Cup.

Like usual, there have been front office and player changes this off season. However, Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill still anchor the Red Bull attack and that means that Jonny Steele and Jamison Olave should get plenty of chances like they did last season.

New York finally found a goalkeeper they can rely on in Luis Robles. If he has a season similar to last year then he could be looking at an All-Star spot.

One interesting addition is Bobby Convey. He can do everything when on and healthy. If he can find a role then his service could lead to even more goals.

Sigi’s Last Stand?

Sigi Schmidt is in the last year of his contract. They previous times this has happened to him he has won an MLS Cup. First in LA then in Columbus. Seattle needs more playoff success but what they really need is an MLS Cup Final appearance.

Seattle cleaned house to an extent but they still have Clint Dempsey, Osvaldo Alonso, and Brad Evans. The added Chad Barrett and Kenny Cooper up top and brought in Chad Marshall to provide leadership and stability in the back. The have all the ingredients to win the cup now they just have to prove it.

The New and Improved TFC

If you’re an MLS fan you may have noticed that Toronto FC made some big money moves this offseason. Enter US National Team Captain Michael Bradley, England National Team striker Jermain DaFoe, Brazilian striker Gilberto and multi-MLS MVP Dewayne De Rosario.

One of the bigger additions might very well be defender Justin Morrow. He’s young but with a lot of MLS experience. Look for him to shut down any counterattacks that come his way.

Let’s face facts, TFC has to get into the playoffs…and win. Missing the playoffs would be a disaster. Getting in and not winning a game would hurt but it’s a foundation to build on.

Porter-ball Round 2

The Portland Timbers last season were something that their avid fan support could be proud off. The won the western conference and went deep into the MLS Cup playoffs knocking off arch rival Seattle in the process.

Now they have to do better.

Portland is loaded with attacking options but everything hinges on Diego Valeri and WIll Johnson. If Valeri can stay on the pitch then watch out. If he can’t and Johnson does not repeat the MVP caliber performance that he had last year then it could be a long season in the Rose City.

Portland has proven that they can withstand key injuries but with manager Caleb Porter’s style of play, injuries are always a concern.

The Heat Is On

DC United had, with all due respect, a horrendous year last year. Manager Ben Olsen is back for another go round and has been given a great tool to succeed with in US National Team forward Eddie Johnson.

Johnson needs to be a rock start. DC has hedged their bets though with the addition of striker Fabian Espindola. Add these two with new addition Davy Arnaud and Sean Franklin and they should make a nice nucleus when you add in existing players Chris Pontius and Nick DeLeon.

Now all that’s left is a winning season and a soccer specific stadium to get DC back amongst the elite teams in MLS.

There are a lot of interesting questions to be answered over the next several months and that’s if there are no big player movements. So let’s get this started already!

Big Day in the North

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

Leiweke, Dafoe, Bradley, Nelson, Bezbatchenko
Leiweke, Dafoe, Bradley, Nelson, Bezbatchenko

To say it was a big day for Toronto FC would be an understatement. In one press conference they showed off two of the biggest designated player signings in franchise history in Jermaine Dafoe and Michael Bradley.

What makes these two signings so great?

Leiweke, Dafoe & Bradley

Defoe still has legs. He’s 31, wants to win trophies and knows that he’ll be judged on his production. Bradley is the bigger fish here though. He’s only 26, a main stay of the US National team and has experience in Germany, Italy and England.

The reason Bradley’s signing is more important. Not only for Toronto but also for MLS.  He’s played in the league before and he’s only 26. His signing shows the ongoing shift in the perception of MLS. Once seen as a league to kind of walk off into the sunset in while making a lot of money, Bradley is signing shows that this is a league is competitive enough for players in their prime to play in.

Not to say that Dafoe is out of his prime but if all goes well TFC fans could expect Bradley to be the cornerstone of their team for the next decade while they may only get four or five years max out of Dafoe.

Yes, it is a good day for Toronto FC and MLS.

See the presser highlights here.

Get full coverage from Neil Davidson here

The Pros & Cons of New York City FC

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Tuesday saw the addition of New York City FC to Major League Soccer (MLS). The majority of owners will be Machester City FC of the English Premier League and a minority, but active owner, will be the New York Yankees of Major League Baseball (MLB). This looks great on paper and MLS is trying hard to sell it to the media and the public so let’s look at the pro’s and con’s of this.

The PROS.                                                                                                                   –Based in NYC. The team will be based in New York City, the world’s financial and advertising center. The NFL doesn’t have a team with a stadium in New York City.

4 teams in the top 2. This gives MLS a 2nd team in the New York TV market and 4 teams in the top 2 TV markets in the US (Los Angeles has 2 teams and is the 2nd largest TV market).

Balance. A 20th team in MLS allowing for a balanced schedule. It also means a natural rival for Red Bull New York.

$500 Million. A partnership with the Abu Dhabi government (owners of Man City) and the New York Yankees and a $500 million dollar investment in MLS. The last MLS expansion club, the Montreal Impact, only paid a $40 million expansion fee.

New York City FC

Now for The CONS.

No stadium deal. In the recent expansion history of the MLS teams were required to have a soccer specific stadium either in the works or ready to go in order to get a franchise. They certainly had a place to play unlike NYCFC.

There is still no team in the Southeastern US. Major markets like Atlanta, Charlotte, Miami, Tampa, Orlando, and Nashville are without an MLS club. By comparison the NFL has 8 franchises in this region, the NBA and MLB have 5, and the NHL has 4. This region also has 16 of the top 50 US TV markets.

MLS Empty South

Chivas Effect. Last time an ownership group that owned another prominent international football club expanded into MLS it was called Chivas USA. They had the lowest attendance in MLS last season, currently have no regional TV deal, and have been constantly pointed to as one of the worst run clubs in MLS. When they originally came into the league they wanted to use Chivas USA as a farm team for Chivas Guadalajara. Now they are rumored to be on the selling block.

Red Bull New York doesn’t sellout. Red Bull arena, a 25,000 seat soccer specific stadium, in New Jersey that features stars like Thierry Henry and Tim Cahill doesn’t sellout. In fact their attendance was down in 2012 from 2011. They averaged about 73% of capacity. Why would another club, with no history in New York and no stadium do better in the denses sports market in the US?

UNANSWERED QUESTIONS

This appears on paper to be a great deal for Machester City and in part for MLS. Man City gets a foothold in New York and how can that not be good for the bottom line? They hired former City player and US National Team Captain Claudio Reyna as the Director of Football and claim that NYCFC will play the same style of football as Man City. But how? MLS is not the BPL. Chivas said a lot of the same things and they went through two head coaches in their first season.

There is a lot of talk about the resources that Man City has as far as scouting is concerned and how they are going to help NYCFC. When has that worked? Dedicated resources are always better than shared resources. Economically sharing resources makes sense from a business perspective but in sports it doesn’t work. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment (MLSE) which owns Toronto FC, the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and the NHL’s Maple Leafs isn’t exactly knocking at the trophy winning door. They probably claim to have great synergies as well but that hasn’t led to hardware.

MLS and Commissioner Don Garber have tried for years to get another club into New York. The only ones who seem to understand it is them. The league would be better served in the long run by expanding into the Southeastern US instead of New York with a passionate, dedicated owner whose sole sports focus is on one club, not two. In the end New York City FC will eventually compete in MLS. How it takes them to get their is up for debate.

5 Things To Watch For This MLS Season

 

 

MLS 2013

 

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

A new MLS season is kicking off in North America. With any new season in any sport there are a lot of question marks. Below are our Top 5 things to look out for during this 18th MLS season.

5. New Coaches: There are 5 new head coaches roaming the sidelines in MLS this season and that now makes 12 former MLS players now managing clubs. Two of the biggest debuts square off in week one. Mike Petke of the New York Red Bulls and Caleb Porter for the Portland Timbers. Both teams have high expectations, a rabid fan base and a longing for MLS post season glory.                                                                                                  

4. The Donovan Odyssey: US Soccer poster boy Landon Donovan has taken a leave of absence from soccer but is returning to the the 2-time defending MLS Cup Champions LA Galaxy at the end of March. Will he be the same player on and off the field? Can he lead, along with Robbie Keane, the Galaxy to a 3rd straight MLS Cup?

3. Can Toronto FC Make The Playoffs?: Only the Red Bulls have gone through more coaching changes than TFC. However, the Red Bulls have been in MLS for all 18 years (formerly known as the MetroStars) while TFC kicks off it’s 7th MLS season on Saturday. They have never made the playoffs and after another off season of sweeping changes it is left to 1st time coach Ryan Nelsen to get this team into the MLS playoffs for the 1st time.

2. Running With The Red Bulls: The New York Red Bulls have arguably the most dangerous player in MLS in Thierry Henry. They’ve shaken up the coaching staff and the team but is it enough to get them their 1st MLS Cup? Maybe. If new signee Juninho  can be half of what he was and the back-line and pull together then they may just be the team the beat. It’s a lot of ‘if’s’ but in the sports saturated New York market the Red Bulls have to win. Not just for the team but for the league.

1. No Beckham? No Problem: The loss of one of the world’s sports and entertainment icons shouldn’t slow down MLS or the LA Galaxy. The Galaxy will get Donovan back after a few games and they still have the man who lead them all the way to the MLS Cup glory in Robbie Keane. The league on the other hand is entering it’s 18th season and is bringing in more and more top talent from around the world. There is only one David Beckham but the level of play, energy and popularity of the sport are growing and with all due respect to Becks, he probably couldn’t have taken the league any further.

MLS SuperDraft and How It Can Get Better

MLS held the 14th edition of their Superdraft on Thursday January 17th. It was broadcast at times in the US on ESPN and on some outlets in Canada. The entire thing was streamed live on their YouTube channel and from the what we can tell peaked with around 10,400 concurrent views. That means that 10,400 people were watching at the same time. That’s pretty good.

MLS SuperDraft

In fact the entire thing was pretty great with a few exceptions. The first being Commissioner Don Garber’s speech at the start of the draft. While probably important to the MLS brass it was in all reality a waste of time. A short welcome is OK but a 5 to 10 minute thank you-fest is really unnecessary. Fans are watching. The ones who buy tickets, jersey’s and the MLS Direct Kick package. Gain more of them by starting the draft and the sponsors will be happy later. Thanking the sponsors and the NCAA for 10 minutes on a live broadcast is not a way keep the fans happy.

The second unfortunate thing about the draft is the unfimiliarity with the players. Contrast the SuperDraft with the NBA or NFL drafts where the average fan knows who some of the players are who are being drafted. The fact is that college soccer isn’t commanding major time slots on broadcast and cable television outlets. So when Toronto FC walks away with 2 first round picks and makes several trades in the process the average fan has no idea if this good or bad. It’s not MLS’s fault but it’s not the airlines fault either when your flight is delayed due to weather but they take the anyway.

The final thing that MLS must address in future SuperDrafts is the timing. While a Thursday afternoon in January usually seems like a great time to have the sports stage it’s still a Thursday afternoon in January. They’d have been better served to do the draft this upcoming Saturday when their only competition is college basketball and hockey (the opening day for the NHL this season but that only happens once every 10 years or so). If they did Saturday vs Thursday one could argue that the 10,400 concurrent views may have been 12-13 thousand.

You cannot control other sports and lord knows that the MLS had no control over the other sports stories grabbing headlines this week. From the Lance Armstrong doping admission to Oprah, to the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax to the NFL playoffs and various NFL head coaching positions being filled. They still do control the day and Thursday is not a good day.

The MLS wants to grow and by having a SuperDraft look and sound as good as it did today is another great step. The stream worked (which is always key) the commentary by Alexi Lalas and Taylor Twellman was top notch and the interactivity was second to none. If you were on twitter you noticed that the picks came in about 10-20 seconds before they were announced (that’s your encoding delay from satellite to the Internet). MLS is making this an event and you can only hope that in future drafts there is more hype and build up and with that comes more interest. With more fan interest comes more success for the MLS and in turn soccer in the professional sports landscape.

Trouble up North

Major League Soccer has been able to do something that several other major North American sports leagues have not been able to do with any success and that is break into the Canadian market. It doesn’t sound sexy and probably should be much simpler than it is however the MLS has been able to place franchises in three of the major Canadian markets (Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal). These clubs have been successful in just about all aspects of the business except for the most visibile one which is success on the pitch.

One of the reasons for the lack of success on the pitch is the amount of coaching changes these clubs have had. Toronto FC was the first Canadian club in MLS. Since coming into the league in 2007 they have had seven head coaches. Vancouver Whitecaps FC were the second club to break into the MLS. They came into the league last year and are already on their third coach and the Montreal Impact just finished their inaugural season and have already parted ways with the fairly successful rookie head coach Jesse Marsch.

That’s a total of eleven head coaches in six MLS seasons and a grand total of one playoff appearance between the three clubs.

Why can’t these clubs find a way to win? There have been several notable players to come through their ranks including Dwayne DeRosario, Maurice Edu, and Jay Demerit. All three are in great cities and all play in new facilites with great fan support.

This would lead to a look at ownership. Toronto FC is run by the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment group (MLSE) which also runs the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Neither of these franchises made the playoffs since the Raptors did it in 2008. Toronto FC has yet to make a playoff appearance in 6 seasons. While management has come out said anything short of a playoff appearance is a failure they have yet to show the leadership to get the club there.

Vancouver has an ownership consisting of NBA All Star Steve Nash. They have made the lone playoff appearance for the Canadian clubs. While they did change head coaches they did take a chance and bring their head coach, Teitur Thordarson from their USL and USSF days over to try is hand in the MLS. He failed. They have now brought in Martin Rennie who is considered to be one of the best young coaches in all of MLS.

Montreal has been run by Saputo family which brought the team over from the USL and USSF where they had a lot of success. They have parted ways with their head coach Jesse Marsch after just one season. Apparently Marsch and management could not agree on a plan forward for the club.

If any club wants to be successful in MLS they have to look at the clubs at the top. There is a certain level of stability. Three of the four remaining playoff teams have a head coach who has been there for four years or more.  The one exclusion is DC United whose head man is Ben Olsen. He played his entire MLS career with DC and has been the man in charge for about a season and a half. All of the head coaches have either won MLS Cup as a coach or as a player.

There is also confidence with these clubs. They know what it takes to win and more importantly expect to win. The Canadian clubs don’t have that confidence. For as much  support as they get and for how successful they are off the pitch, they have yet to understand what it takes to win in MLS. They need a vision, stability and faith. Once they get these three things lined up they will be able to have success on the pitch.