Wednesday, June 11, 2014

World Cup 2014 Part 4

This post was originally a transcript of a Soundcloud podcast. That content is being moved to YouTube.

The Boogeyman! Ronaldo! Bayern Munich! The Group of Death!
In the conclusion to the Top 20 Things to Know About the 2014 World Cup, Steven discusses:
16. The USA and the Group of Death.
17. Defending World Champions: Spain
18. The music of the World Cup
19. Best and worst World Cup jerseys
20. Isn’t soccer boring?
Listen in and become a soccer expert for those World Cup Watch Parties!

Welcome to the SteventheThorn Podcast! You’re listening to this podcast because I’m an authority on many things. Why am I an authority on many things? Because I have glasses and a beard.

In our last podcast, I highlighted five players to watch for the 2014 World Cup as part of my Top 20 Things to Know series:
1. Cristiano Ronaldo of Portgual
2. Lionel Messi of Argentina
3. Neymar of Brazil
4. Luis Suarez of Uruguay
5. Mario Balotelli of Italy
I told you that Ronaldo would have the tournament’s best hair, but that Neymar would be a solid runner-up. And I gave you fair warning that both Ronaldo and Balotelli will probably rip off their shirts if they score.

Today we wrap up the Top 20 Things to Know About the 2014 World Cup! Here are 16-20:

16. USA Group Matches
The United States must play the Boogeyman, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Bayern Munich. The Boogeyman is Ghana—who have eliminated us from the last two World Cups (Group Stage in 2006 and the Round of 16 in 2010).
Ronaldo, of course, is Portugal; he is the team.
And Germany is basically Bayern Munich without Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

Many people, myself included, felt like the United States had been eliminated from the World Cup as soon as the draw was announced. We have been placed in the Group of Death: Group G. Our group is undoubtedly the most difficult in the tournament. Every single team in our group—USA, Ghana, Portugal, and Germany—made it to the knockout rounds in the last World Cup. Germany made it to the semifinals, losing out to winners Spain.

Fortunately, the United States plays the Group of Death in a favorable schedule: Ghana comes first, Portugal second, and Germany third. Germany is the best team, and there’s a chance they might have locked up their place in the knockout stage by the time they play us. If the United States can get 3 points by beating Ghana, we have a shot at getting two draws against Portugal and Germany. And then maybe 5 points will be enough to get us out of the group. I think 5 points is a realistic goal for the United States, whether or not it gets us out of the group.

17. Defending World Champions: Spain
After losing 3-0 to Brazil in the Confederations Cup final, La Furia Roja is no longer the team to beat. However, neither is Brazil. There’s a power vacuum that will be filled on Sunday, July 13. But Spain has as likely a chance as anyone to be the one to fill that vacuum. They could very well repeat as World Champions, becoming the first team to win consecutive European championships and World championships. The loss in the Confederations Cup final may be the motivation to win in the World Cup final.
As always, the Spanish lineup is loaded. In goal is Iker Casillas, one of the greatest goalkeepers to ever stand between the sticks. Behind him are David de Gea of Manchester United and Pepe Reina of Napoli. Both De Gea and Reina could confidently hold their own if Casillas got injured.
Spain’s backline isn’t quite what it used to be, but it’s still great. Since the last World Cup, Spain' has lost Carlos Puyol, the ferocious lion-maned centerback from Barcelona. However, Spain’s backline still has Gerard Pique, Jordi Alba, Sergio Ramos, and the young Cesar Azpilicueta—who, along with the entire German national team—has one of the most fun names to say.
Spain also has the most formidable midfield in the world: Javi Martinez of Bayern Munich, Andres Iniesta of Barcelona, Xavi Hernandez of Barcelona, Cesc Fabregas of Barcelona, Sergio Busquets of Barcelona, Xabi Alonso of Real Madrid, Santi Cazorla of Arsenal, and David Silva of Manchester City. Juan Mata of Manchester United has been bumped up to forward for the purpose of this squad.
It’s just sick how loaded their midfield is. And Jesus Navas, one of Spain’s fastest midfielders, didn’t even make it to Brazil (which I think is a huge mistake).
Up top, Spain has a healthy David Villa, their all-time leading goalscorer. A healthy David Villa is a sure contender for the Golden Boot. Then they have Fernando Torres, Pedro, and Diego Costa. Again, it’s sickening how loaded Spain’s attack is. No one else can come close to Spain’s attacking power.

18. The music of the World Cup
The rumor mill on the interwebs is unclear on whether U2 will provide music for this World Cup. U2, the greatest band in the world, and the band with the most lucrative tour in music history, did the music for the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. But ESPN used Sigur Rós’s song “Festival” for a promotion released last December, so some people think the Icelandic superstars are the band for this tournament. I would be fine with either one. They’re both world-class bands.

19. Best and Worst World Cup Jerseys
One of the great things about the World Cup is the jerseys. You see the most talented players in the world wearing these great uniforms, and then you go spend too much money buying the same jerseys—and they don’t even give you the same powers! But, every World Cup, hope springs eternal.
1. Brazil home (classy yellow, color of champions)
2. Spain home (defending champions with crest)
3. Argentina home (the legendary and always fashionable blue stripes on white)
1. Spain away (nuclear green highlighter on black)
2. Mexico away (Charlie brown stripe)
1. Croatia home. Their tablecloth jerseys always elicit a reaction. I’m never sure what it is.
2. Belgium’s home jersey is odd. They have some faded finger-print-and-freckle-shapes on the jersey. I’m confused

20. Isn’t Soccer Boring?
Many people who ask the question, or who say with authority, “Soccer is boring!” are also baseball fans. This, I think you’ll agree, eliminates all of their credibility.

Now, before you go labeling me as a baseball hater, you should know that I enjoy baseball. I’ve been to dozens of Texas Rangers games and watched minor league games in multiple states. I’ve been to Busch Stadium and Wrigley Field. I like baseball. But it’s a slow, boring, silly game if you don’t know what’s going on and you don’t understand the technique and the strategy.

Soccer haters are ignorant of the athleticism, strategy, and skill required to play the game.
Of course, it’s also easy to hate what you’re afraid of—soccer haters may be afraid of the sport, because it is a rising power in the United States. And the game in America will only be helped next summer when the United States hosts the Copa America, the premier South American tournament.

But that’s next summer. This summer is now, and the World Cup is less than 24 hours away.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

World Cup 2014 Part 3

This post was originally a transcript of a Soundcloud podcast. That content is being moved to YouTube.

Why watch the World Cup? Because Ronaldo has great hair and will take off his shirt when he scores. Who else should you watch? I’ll tell you!
In this podcast, Steven highlights 5 players to watch for the 2014 World Cup!
Listen in and become an expert for those World Cup Watch Parties!

Welcome to the SteventheThorn Podcast! You’re listening to this podcast because I’m an authority on many things. Why am I an authority on many things? Because I have glasses and a beard.

In our last podcast, I continued a four-episode series on the Top 20 Things to Know About the 2014 World Cup. I gave some definitive answers to some of soccer’s most difficult questions:
Why soccer it called “soccer”?
What is handball?
What is offsides?
What are red and yellow cards?
 What’s a group stage?

I’m going to give you 5 players to watch in this year’s tournament.

Player #1. Cristiano Ronaldo of Portugal. Ronaldo is currently the most talented human being hitting a soccer ball on this planet. If you asked Ronaldo who the top 3 players in the world are, he would say, “Ronaldo, Ronaldo, and Ronaldo.” No one else comes close.
He plays his club football for Real Madrid, one of the best clubs in world history, and the current champions of Europe. In the 2013-2014 season, Ronaldo was the highest goalscorer in Spain. He has twice won the FIFA Ballon D’Or for best footballer in the world. He has appeared in four Champions League finals and won two. The list of his achievements goes on and on. Watch some of his goals on YouTube.
Why should you watch Ronaldo? He’s the best soccer player in the world. He’s also, unfortunately, going to play the United States in their second group game. Portugal is nothing special without Ronaldo, but with Ronaldo they are a team that could reach the quarterfinals. Cristiano Ronaldo.
Ronaldo will be in the running for Best Hair of the 2014 World Cup. Girls love to watch him because he sometimes rips off his shirt when he scores. And he scores a lot, so the odds of him ripping off his shirt are pretty high.

Player #2. Lionel Messi of Argentina. The other most talented human being hitting a soccer ball on the planet. If Messi hadn’t been injured for much of last season, Ronaldo might not have won the Ballon D’Or. Messi won the European and FIFA World Player of the Year award in 2009, and he won the FIFA Ballon D’Or for three years in a row in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Guess who came in second almost every year during that period? That’s right, Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi and Ronaldo have been battling multiple times each year since Manchester United and Barcelona played in the Champions League semifinals of the 2007-2008 season, when Ronaldo and Manchester United were victorious. Messi had the upperhand a year later in the 2008-2009 final, when Barcelona beat Manchester United in the Champions League final. Then Ronaldo moved to Real Madrid, and the two best players in the world have been contending for La Liga titles,
Copa Del Rey finals, Champions League semifinals, top goalscorer honors, and Ballon D’Or awards.
Messi doesn’t have the glamorous media appeal that Ronaldo has, but the Argentine doesn’t need it. He’s a humble little man with the speed, ball-handling skills, and shooting ability to put him among some of the very best men to have ever played the game. Messi seems to average 2 goals each game, whether he’s coming off the bench or not. The actual statistics are slightly less, but the impression conveys his importance to his team and the intimidation factor he carries against opponents. Many of the players he faces in the World Cup will be honored just to step on the same field as Messi, and some of them should probably ask for his autograph after the game. Messi is a legend. This may be his year—and what a victory that would be: for Argentina to win the World Cup on Brazilian soil.

Player #3. Neymar of Brazil. Neymar is Messi’s 22-year-old teammate on Barcelona. Neymar is Ronaldo’s top contender for Best Haircut of the 2014 World Cup. Neymar is carrying the weight of the greatest footballing nation on his shoulders: the hosts, Brazil. There’s a lot of hype surrounding this young hotshot, and all of the hype is legitimate. Neymar is the real deal. Last summer, he took the Confederations Cup by force. The Confederations Cup takes place the year before the World Cup. It includes the World Cup host nation and the champions of the continental tournaments. Neymar’s young Brazilian team knocked off the two-time European and World-champion Spanish teams in the Confederations Cup final. While this legendary Spain team, one of the greatest national teams of all time, is getting older, no one expected Brazil to dismantle Spain 3-0.
Neymar should carry Brazil deep into the tournament, probably to the semifinals, possibly to the final.
And Neymar should, one day, be winning the same honors that Ronaldo and Messi have been winning: the Ballon D’Or, the footballer of the year. He’s already a superstar, and this summer will be the biggest spotlight of his life.

Player #4: Luis Suarez of Uruguay. He’s currently the most dangerous player in the English Premier League, the world’s best and most competitive soccer league. Suarez scored 31 goals in 35 games, and he’s not even Liverpool’s penalty kick taker. Ronaldo and Messi both take penalties for their teams, but Suarez was scoring heaps of goals from open play. Suarez also had 12 assists in the EPL. Unfortunately, Suarez has a controversial reputation—and deservedly so. He has twice bitten an opponent—that’s right, bitten anopponent—during a match. Biting people? That’s just disturbing. Really.
Suarez’s controversy is more than just the biting. The country of Ghana will always be mad at Suarez for blocking that shot in the last World Cup. But I think any patriot would take a red card to help their team. The referee gave him a red card, he accepted it, and that was it. It wasn’t his fault Gyan missed the penalty kick.
But the biting. That’s weird.
Nevertheless, Suarez is one of the best players in the world—and after his performance with EPL runners-up Liverpool, some would call him the most dangerous player in the world, even over Cristiano Ronaldo.
This World Cup, Liverpool fans will be wishing that Suarez wasn’t as good as he is, because Uruguay is in the same group as England. I am sorry, England. And Joe Hart.

Player #5: Mario Balotelli of Italy. At 23 years-old, Balotelli is Italy’s most explosive and inconsistent player. This man is as likely to score a hat-trick against world-class competition as he is to talk himself into a second yellow card and get sent off. His penalty-kick skills, long-range shots, danger in the air, and sheer athleticism are astounding. But he’s unstable. If he can keep his cool, the Italians will play him often and he can drive them into the semifinals with his attacking power. But he gets flustered easily. Defenders, the Sergio Ramoses of the world, will try to get under his skin and get his head out of the game.
But if this Super Mario is on, he’s on. Just watch the highlights from the Germany-Italy game in the EURO 2012. Frightening.
Balotelli is another player to watch for the shirt-ripping-off. And he’ll strike a pose too.

Monday, June 9, 2014

World Cup 2014 Part 2

This post was originally a transcript of a Soundcloud podcast. That content is being moved to YouTube.

Why is “soccer” called soccer? Steven answers this question—and more!—in his second podcast about the 2014 FIFA World Cup. See him cast wisdom on the following questions:
7. What is handball?
8. What is offsides?
9. What are red and yellow cards?
10. What’s a group stage?
Listen in and become a soccer expert for those World Cup Watch Parties!

Welcome to the SteventheThorn Podcast! You’re listening to this podcast because I’m an authority on many things. Why am I an authority on many things? Because I have glasses and a beard.

In our last podcast, I talked about the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil. We learned:
1. The FIFA World Cup is an international soccer tournament which started following the success of EA Sports’ FIFA 98 videogame.
2. FIFA, the governing body of soccer, was named after the videogame.
3. The 2014 World Cup is in Brazil, which is one of four countries in South America on the Risk world map.
4. The United States might win the World Cup if Lebron James played soccer.
5. Landon Donovan is the United States’ and MLS’ all-time leading scorer, and he should have been on the USA World Cup roster.

Now we continue our series on the Top 20 Things to Know About the 2014 World Cup. Today we discuss 6-10.

6. Why is it called soccer?
To answer this question, I must first answer why football is called football. Long, long ago, in a mythical land known as Europe, rich people owned horses and land. They played games on horseback whilst riding around their land. These games include such memorable sports as polo, racing, fox-hunting, and Mount & Blade.
The commoners could not afford horses. Therefore, they played on foot. Technically, you could say that the rich people were playing on foot too, but not their own feet. They were playing on the horse’s feet. The commoners had to play on their own feet, and they devised many games on their feet. They called these games “football” to distinguish them from the games of the rich folk.
Football has always been the working man’s game. You just need a ball, a flat space, and some French people to drag their feet on instituting goal-line technology.
Many different kinds of football arose, such as rugby football (rugby league and rugby union) and association football. Association football is our modern-day soccer. Football. Calcio. Fussball.

And, of course, American football follows in this tradition. It has nothing to do with the amount of times you hit the ball with your foot, but rather it’s all about the fact that the sport is played on foot.

Legend has it that someone abbreviated association football into “soccer” by taking the “soc” from the word “association.” Then, through some obscure etymological means, the word “soccer” stuck in Canada and the US of A, but football replaced “association football” in Mother England.

So basically, when the English whine about Yanks calling soccer “soccer” and American football “football,” they have only themselves to blame.

7. What is handball?
Oh dear. So you’ve heard about that, have you?  It is more appropriately called “handling the ball.” Allow me a brief read from the FIFA Laws of the game:

The point of the law is to prevent people from playing the ball with their hands. It’s a difference between hand-to-ball and ball-to-hand. If your hand is in an unnatural position and you hit the ball, that’s a penalty. If your hand is pressed flat against your chest or your leg and the ball just happens to hit it, that should not be a penalty.
Unfortunately, not all referees understand the rule, and most other people don’t understand it either. But a few people do.
No one understands the handling rule better than Luis Suarez and the country of Ghana.
Just search Luiz Suarez handball vs Ghana onYouTube. You’ll see what I mean.

8. What is offsides?
I will try to explain offsides in the most confusing way possible. The spirit of the law is to prevent what is called “poaching,” which is what the villain in The Rescuers Down Under was trying to do to the golden eagle. The idea is that we don’t want an attacking player of Team A to spend all of his time next to Team B’s goal, chatting up the goalkeeper and distracting him until he grabs a loose ball and buries it into the back of the old onion bag.

Three conditions must be met for a player to be in offsides position:
a) The attacking player must be in the opposing half of the field.
2) The attacking player must be in front of the ball.
d) There must be fewer than two opposing players between the attacker and the goal.

Therefore, in order for a player to remain onside (which is the place you want to be), there must be two defenders between the attacker and the goal at the time a ball is passed to the attacker.

I’ll try to demonstrate it with my fingers here. See? Here’s the goal, here’s the goalkeeper, here’s the defender, and here’s the attacker level with the defender. The ball is passed to the attacker, he’s onside. But if he’s over here, between the defender and the goalkeeper when the ball is passed, he’s offside, got it?
I hope my visuals have been helpful.

9. What are red cards and yellow cards?
A yellow card is a caution. That means that the referee has had enough of fouls and offensives from a certain player, so he’s writing the player’s number down in a little book. If the player commits another foul and receives a second yellow, the referee will then show a red card. A red card is an ejection. The player must leave the game and will be suspended for the next game.
Two yellow cards equals a red card.
If a player receives a straight red, say for knocking down a Ghanian shot on goal with his hands, then he will be suspended for the next two games. More serious offenses receive longer suspensions.

I would personally love to carry around red and yellow cards for everyday life, so I could caution people and eject them as needed.

10. What’s a group stage?
That’s a great question, citizen. As I mentioned in the last podcast, the 32 teams are divided into 8 groups of 4. Each team will play 3 games in group play, meaning that they play each of their group opponents one time. The top two teams from each group will advance to the Round of 16, where it’s one game elimination from then on. After the Round of 16 is the Quarterfinals, then the Semifinals, and then the Third Place game and the Final.

World Cup 2014 Part I

This post was originally a transcript of a Soundcloud podcast. That content is being moved to YouTube.

Welcome to the SteventheThorn Podcast—2014 World Cup Edition! Steven is an authority on the World Cup because he has glasses and a beard!
Steven starts a four-episode-series about the Top 20 Things to Know About the 2014 World Cup. In this episode, he answers the following questions:
1. What is the FIFA World Cup?
2. What does FIFA mean?
3. Where is the World Cup?
4. Has the United States ever won the World Cup?
5. Who (and where) is Landon Donovan?
Listen in and become a soccer expert for those World Cup Watch Parties!

Welcome to the SteventheThorn Podcast! You’re listening to this podcast because I’m an authority on many things. Why am I an authority on many things? Because I have glasses and a beard.

In our last podcast, I talked about unrealistic standards of male beauty. I apologized for being the most attractive man in the world, and I thanked all of the girls who keep me humble by keeping me in the friendzone.

Today we’re going to talk about the 2014 World Cup. La Copa Mundial de dos mil catorce. There’s a lot of things I could say about the World Cup, but these next four podcasts are dedicated to those American listeners who will be watching soccer for the first time this summer. I want to give you some World Cup history and answer some frequently asked questions about soccer.
Why? Because I’m looking out for you. If you or someone who love is planning to host a World Cup Watch Party on a weekend, or on a night without the NBA Finals, I want you to hold up in conversations with soccer experts…such as myself. And trust me, if you pay attention to what I’m telling you, you will be a most entertaining conversation partner at any World Cup Watch Party.

Following is the Top 20 Things to Know About the 2014 World Cup. Today we got over 1-5.

1. What is the FIFA World Cup?
The FIFA World Cup is an international soccer tournament for the 32 countries in the world. The Americans started the World Cup after the success of EA Sports’ FIFA 98 soccer game in 1998. The game was so successful that American soccer player David Beckham thought, “Hey, we should have a real tournament like this.” So the Americans asked South Korea to host the World Cup in 2002. After the success of the 2002 World Cup, EA Sports decided to have the tournament again every four years.
Germany hosted the World Cup in 2006, South Africa hosted the World Cup in 2010, and Brazil is hosting the World Cup this year in 2014.

Some people will tell you that the 2014 World Cup is actually the 20th World Cup in history, and that David Beckham is a English soccer player. But then again, some people think that Africa is one country, and that there’s such a thing as a British accent.

2. What does FIFA mean?
FIFA is a word that EA Sports invented because calling a soccer game 98 sounded less interesting than FIFA 98. Since that time, some French people got together, borrowed the name, and ordained themselves the governing body of soccer.

Some people will tell you that FIFA stands for Federation Internationale de Football Association, or International Federation of Association Football, and that FIFA predated the EA Sports game.
But as Abraham Lincoln once said, “You can’t believe everything you read on the internet.”

3. Where is the World Cup?
Brazil is hosting the 2014 World Cup. Where is Brazil? Well, if you take the look at a Risk world map, you’ll see that Brazil is one of four countries on the continent of South America. Brazil is on the east coast, and it has a direct route to North Africa in Africa. The other countries in South America are Argentina, Peru, and Venezuela.

4. Has the United States ever won the World Cup?
Unfortunately not. Many people think that the United States could have won the last World Cup if Lebron James had played. If Lebron decides to take his talents to Brazil, the United States’ would certainly have a better chance of getting out of the group stage. Unfortunately for the United States, Lebron is busy playing for the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Unfortunately for Lebron and the Miami Heat—but fortunately for the rest of America—the San Antonio Spurs are currently winning the NBA Finals.

5. Who (and where) is Landon Donovan?
Landon Donovan is one of the oldest active soccer players on the United States national team. He is the United States’ all-time leading scorer. He is currently the all-time leading scorer in Major League Soccer (which is the top professional soccer league in the United States, in case you didn’t know that we had a league).
You will probably hear the announcers talk about Landon Donovan during the USA games. But he won’t be playing because USA head coach Jurgen Klinsmann (who is from Germany) left Donovan off the 23-man USA squad.
Why? Well, naturally, as a 32-year-old and the United States’ all-time leading scorer and the MLS all-time leading scorer, Donovan is too old to play for the United States. You gotta leave the World Cup to the young guys. Where would your team be if you lead old people play? Imagine where the Spurs would be if they let Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili, and Tony Parker play? In fact, how are the Spurs doing?
Oh, wait. They’re in the finals. And they beat the Heat last night.
Forget what I just said. Leaving Donovan off the roster was a stupid idea.