Monday, January 30, 2012

Monday Mailbag, Vol. 3

Back with another issue of the Monday Mailbag where you guys, the readers, get to ask the questions. So without further ado:

With Clint Dempsey’s outstanding form as of late and the emergence of Brek Shea as a possible playmaker on the wing, do you see Jurgen Klinsmann maybe utilizing Dempsey in a striker role when World Cup Qualifying rolls around? Assuming of course that everything remains as it is. - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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A lot of Dempsey's role will be determined by what formation Klinsmann ends up using. So far we've seen him use a hybrid 4-3-3/4-5-1 setup with a lone central striker and the wing midfielders pushed heavily into the attack, as well as a more traditional 4-4-2. Dempsey's high work rate and ability to wreak havoc all over the field would seem to make him an ideal fit for one of the wings in a 4-3-3 opposite Landon Donovan while one of the more traditional strikers we have - Buddle, Altidore, Agudelo, Bunbury, Wondolowski, etc. - would be able to fill that high striker role. In a 4-4-2 however, I think Dempsey's a good fit for that second striker playing slightly behind whoever he's paired up with, almost as an attacking midfielder. Either way, we'll have him in an attacking position.

As for Brek Shea, there's no questioning his talent, but his biggest contribution to the National Team so far came as a substitute when he picked up an assist against Mexico. He's still only 21 with just 11 career appearances so he's got a lot of room to grow, but for right now his versatility and high energy would seem to make him a more ideal bench player for World Cup Qualifying in my opinion. A lot can change between now and then though so it's certainly something to keep an eye on. 

How important is it that Tim Ream get himself as much time as possible at Bolton to help shore up the problems the USMNT have on defense? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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Any time a player goes to Europe, it's always a gamble. We've seen guys go over there are really break out and make a name for themselves like Clint Dempsey and Ream's Bolton teammate Stuart Holden, and we've seen guys go over there and kind of disappear like Freddy Adu. So obviously, as a U.S. fan, you want to see Ream get playing time. But to impact the National Team, he's going to have to do more than just see the field, he's going to have to get a lot better. Ream did not play well against Spain during the lead-in match to last summer's Gold Cup, and his ensuing performance in that tournament got him benched after two games. While it's true the back line is probably one of our most glaring weakness (although you could also make a pretty good case that it's our front line that's the problem), Ream right now is probably behind guys like Geoff Cameron, Michael Parkhurst, Zak Whitbread, Clarence Goodson, Eric Lichaj... So before we start worrying about Ream solving the USA's defensive problems, what we should really be more concerned about is Ream getting his confidence back and getting better. And playing in the English Premier League is certainly a great opportunity for him to improve his game.

To say that the USWNT are on a roll in Olympic Qualifying would kinda be an understatement. Are they really that good? Or have the teams we’ve been playing that bad? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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I think you can make a strong case that it's been a combination of both our women playing in top form, and their opponents not being very good. The Dominican Republic was outscored 27-0 in the Olympic Qualifying tournament including a 6-0 loss to Guatemala, a team that lost to Mexico 5-0. Guatemala and the Dominican Republic are ranked 85th and 88th in the world respectively which is not good at all. Then you have Costa Rica who, while ranked 41st in the world, has never qualified for a World Cup. And finally Mexico and Canada both failed to win a match at the last World Cup combining for a record of 0-4-2 with neither side advancing out of the first round. So it's not like we're mopping up the Swedens and the Japans and the Germanys and the Brazils... Those are the real tests. While it's good to see the U.S. Women take care of business like they were supposed to, and a +38 goal differential over 5 games is ridiculously good, I don't think you can read into this performance too much. Other than being able to determine that the Dominican Republic is not very good right now. 

The USMNT are set to play Italy in a friendly here very soon. What would a good showing, and by good showing I mean at the least a tie, if not a win, say to the rest of the world about this team and its coach? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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Generally speaking when the international game is concerned, you want to draw on the road, and win when you're at home. But more important than the result in these friendly matches is how the team plays. If we go into Italy, get outshot 100-0 and win 1-0 thanks to an own goal, while it's a win, it doesn't really show progress, and it certainly doesn't show that we can hang with the top clubs in the world. The other factor that we'll have to consider when evaluating is who plays in the match. Beating Italy's 'B' side with our 'A' side isn't going to carry as much weight as if we were to go toe-to-toe with their first team. Ultimately, you can't ever put too much weight on a friendly match, but a strong showing should help our momentum as we get ready for World Cup Qualifying this summer.

Alex Smith... I think he proved that he can play and win and not turn the ball over and be pretty consistent (all good qualities of a QB), but when it comes down to it, if you had one chance to make an 80-yard drive at the end of the game to win, I wouldn't pick him if given the choice. Do you agree and if so, do you cut your losses or do you become a clone of the Ravens with a great defense and just enough offense to get stopped short in the conference championship? - Garrett M., Boston, MA
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I can only think of one scenario where Alex Smith isn't the starting quarterback in San Francisco next season, and that's if a HEALTHY (strong emphasis on healthy) Peyton Manning was available. Otherwise, let's look at the facts:

*During the regular season, only 8 quarterbacks posted a higher QB Rating than Alex Smith's 90.7.

*36 quarterbacks threw more interceptions than he did during the regular season.

*Smith threw 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in the 49ers two postseason games.

*If not for two fumbled punt returns, the 49ers would probably be 15-3 and in the Super Bowl right now.

So I think to answer your question, you continue to do what's working for you. Smith is serviceable and he's cheap compared to what some quarterbacks are going for these days. The 49er defense is sensational, they can run the ball well, and they have a Pro Bowl caliber tight end in Vernon Davis. If they can get upgrades over Delanie Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., and Josh Morgan at wide receiver that can only help. If you consider that Smith made it farther in the postseason than Matt Ryan, Ben Roethlisberger, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees, I don't think you have a need to change directions.

Can you weigh in on the breaking up of the big 3 here in Boston? Ray Allen would be an awesome 6th man and could definitely pull some trade value closer to the trade deadline. Garnett and Pierce are tougher pieces though... do you keep one or both? Does a young team like the pacers or trailblazers or T-wolves make sense? - Garrett M., Boston, MA
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Watching the Celtics this year, it seems pretty evident that their championship window is pretty much closed with the group of players they have now. And while trading them makes sense, it's not going to be easy to move those contracts. Garnett is owed $21.2M this season, Allen $10M and Pierce $15.3M. Pierce is under contract for another two years so I think he's the least likely to get moved. And barring some crazy ridiculous 9-team deal with all sorts of bad contracts involved, I think Garnett's stuck, so that leaves Allen as the only one who it seems might get moved, and even that's not going to be easy. You said it yourself, Allen would be an awesome 6th man. How much does an awesome sixth man fetch on the open market these days? Lamar Odom, for example, got traded for a non-lottery first round pick and a trade exception... We'll see what happens. There's already been a lot of injuries this season, and that could force a team to be a lot more willing to make a deal that Boston would be willing to pull the trigger on.

What happened to Phil Mickelson on Thursday?? - The Dude, Chesapeake, VA
I suppose it's a little strange when Mickelson shoots 15 shots worse than Kyle Stanley in a round of golf. The 77 was his worst round since shooting a 77 in the third round at last year's U.S. Open. I'd chalk it up to just having a bad day. Golf can be pretty unforgiving sometimes. He bounced back the second day on the tourney and shot a 4 under 68 so it doesn't seem like it's a permanent problem. 

What events belong on "sports" networks? I suppose everyone deserves their 15 minutes, but sometimes I find myself asking what is ESPN thinking? So...what is ESPN thinking? Here's my list:

American Kennel Club Dog Show
A marathon
Body building
Monster truck rallies
World's Strongest Man (awesome, but not a sport; give it to Spike or FX; it can precede UFC fights)
Spelling Bee
Cup stacking
Scrabble tournaments
Competitive eating, specifically hot dog contests (and how do I sign up?)
Car shows

To be fair, I considered the difference between a sport and activity, defining the above as activities. This sports fan considers a real sport to be a competition that takes both skill and athleticism, such as football, baseball, anything in the olympics, tennis, and golf. It's only a matter of time before they start broadcasting text message competitions,  bird watching, and fashion shows. - Ben K., Slidell, LA

That's quite a list. Ok, let's take them one at a time.

Bowling - Are there people that actually watch this instead of football on Sunday afternoons?

American Kennel Club Dog Show - I choose to not comment on this one for fear of what my wife might do to me.

Cross-Fit - Kind of like World's Strongest Man. Amazing athletes, but not primetime television.

A marathon - Watching a marathon is like watching the Tour de France. It works in the Olympics because they can keep cutting away to other sports and then every 15 minutes or so, yep the fast guy from Kenya is still winning. But to sit and watch a whole marathon? Pass.

Poker - Not a sport. I don't care what you say.

Fishing - Outdoor Channel. 

Hunting - See Fishing.

Body building - Until these competitions culminate with one of these guys having to catch or throw or kick a ball of some sort, I'm not interested. Get as jacked as you want, but if you aren't coordinated, it's pretty much worthless.

Monster truck rallies - Is Grave Digger still around? Does anyone know?

World's Strongest Man (awesome, but not a sport; give it to Spike or FX; it can precede UFC fights) - See Cross-Fit. Do they have new episodes of this any more?

Spelling Bee - Maybe PBS. It is educational. Kind of.

Cup stacking - Is this related to plate spinning?

Billiards - I think if you can play it in a bar, it doesn't count as a sport. I wouldn't watch a beer pong tournament on ESPN either.

Scrabble tournaments - I saw a scrabble tournament on ESPN2 once. Those guys are all kinds of intense. Trash talking and everything.

Checkers - Really?

Chess - No.

Sailing - It's not really a spectator sport, is it?

Cheerleading - Gymnastics is a sport. Cheerleading is not a sport.

Dominos - See Checkers.

Dancing - We already have Dancing with the Stars on network television. We don't need it on ESPN.

Competitive eating, specifically hot dog contests (and how do I sign up?) - I'm ok with this being on once a year.

Car shows - I have trouble watching cars racing.

- Mountain top!
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The simple answer is we really need ESPN 8 - The Ocho to be a real thing. That way you have a network that handles all of the non-sport "sports". Look, I'm not saying that the stuff listed above doesn't take skill, but I don't want to watch the spelling bee or checkers or poker on ESPN. Anyhow, in summary:

This is why darts is not a sport:

This is how chess could become acceptable on ESPN:

This is taking the Spelling Bee way too seriously:

And this is a link to the website for the International Federation of Competitive Eating. Yeah, it's real.

What's up with boxing? Is it still around, or have the WWE and UFC round-house kicked it into a figure-four-leg-lock? I vaguely remember something about Pac-Man and Meriweather, but that didn't happen because one of them wants a blood test and the other has to chase a bunch of ghosts around a maze, right? - Ben K., Slidell, LA
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Didn't you watch Real Steel? The fight game has changed! It's all about robots fighting other robots now. Or will be soon. At least that's what Wolverine said... I don't really know what happened with boxing. It's probably a bad thing when I can name more fictional boxers from the Rocky series than I can name actual active real boxers. It's funny because they keep coming out with boxing movies, and they always seem to do pretty well - The Fighter, Cinderella Man, Million Dollar Baby etc. And maybe that's the problem. You watch Rocky and then you watch a real boxing match, and they just don't compare. You don't see guys take 200 punches to the head in a round and keep fighting back. But Hollywood has convinced us that you could. For boxing to truly make a comeback, they're either going to need someone that fans can really get behind, or they're going to need someone the fans can really root against. Kind of like the Miami Heat captivated the interest of casual basketball fans in the NBA (the Heat are the villain, not the team you get behind just so we're clear). Otherwise, people are just going to continue to not pay attention. 

Drew Brees was recently selected as the most powerful athlete in the world by a collection of marketing agencies. What year do you think he'll become President? - Ben K., Slidell, LA
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The guy's already been King of Bacchus. Why would he want to demean himself by taking a lower position like "President of the United States".

Special thanks to all those who wrote in this week. Got a question for the mailbag? Email us at

1 comment:

  1. For the record, the AKC dog show should not be on ESPN. I would agree it belongs somewhere else even if I could watch it all day (make a comment and it will be regretted)! I would say that I agree with my husband about the definition of a sport versus an activity but in the defense of some of the listed 'activities' they are significantly more challenging than I think people give them credit for. Sailing and dancing are two that I would argue strongly against people blowing off as easy.