At kickoff, the little man was not in the building. As his Argentina teammates lined up to battle Ecuador at MetLife Stadium on Friday night, Lionel Messi and his otherworldly talent were in Barcelona recovering from a hamstring tear that will sideline him for the rest of the calendar year. But the game must go on, especially when the game is part of the Gillette International Soccer Series, a number of friendlies between talented international squads like Brazil, Chile, and Honduras hoping to make a quick buck in the United States.
Even without their talisman, La Albiceleste brought a powerful side to New Jersey, featuring Messi's Barca teammate Javier Mascherano, Real Madrid's Angel Di Maria, and the Manchester City duo Pablo Zabaleta and Sergio Aguero, among others. It was the evening's second team, however, that was the focus of the fans. The New York City area boasts a high percentage of Ecuador expats — here's more than you could ever want to know about Little Ecuador in Corona — and their yellow jersey–clad fans made up the majority of the crowd in place at the beginning of the match. (MetLife's first sellout was a 2010 friendly between Ecuador and Mexico.) In defense of the rest of the world, it was 49 degrees at kickoff, the temperature was dropping, and, we'll state this again, Messi wasn't in the building.
Lionel Messi is going to miss up to two months after the Barcelona forward tore his hamstring in a game against Real Betis over the weekend. Messi has battled hamstring injuries throughout his career. In fact, his career is something of a medical miracle. As a child, he was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency. Barcelona signed a young Messi and paid for his medical treatment. Since then? Well, you know ...
I realize the snake eating its own tail that is a member of the media writing about the lack of positive attention given to Barcelona by the media, but it does feel like the Catalan club have not quite gotten the attention they deserve this season. Over the weekend, Barcelona beat Real Betis, 4-1, without Lionel Messi for much of the game. They are at the top of La Liga, three points clear of Atlético Madrid. Alongside Bayern Munich, Manchester City, and Atlético, they've clinched a berth in the UEFA Champions League Round of 16. Across all competitions Barcelona have opened their season undefeated through 19 matches. We should be talking more about them.
In case you were busy telling one of your employees to hit another one of your employees to settle an interpersonal workplace dispute, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
A fourth-quarter surge from the Pacers' reserves turned a close game between division rivals into a blowout, as Indiana ran away from the Bulls in a 97-80 win at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Chicago head coach Tom Thibodeau, whose team is now a disappointing 1-3, said after the game, "I'm panicking! Of course I'm panicking! We've played four games! Derrick Rose is not playing like an MVP! We're all panicking!" Thibodeau then added, "Fire! Fire! I don't know what to do! What am I supposed to say? 'Just play your game, and things will turn around?' No! No one will believe me! Must make everything clean! Must make everything clean!" Thibodeau then pulled out a canister of gasoline and poured it over the team's jersey hamper as the media ran from the locker room.
Philadelphia lost its second consecutive game after opening the season a surprising 3-0, falling to the Washington Wizards 116-102. "I think we've got this all straightened out," said 76ers GM Sam Hinkie after the game. "Me and the boys had to come to a bit of an arrangement, see. Turns out just bringing in bad apples ain't enough. You have to make them want to play bad, you hear? But the problem is, shooting baskets is real fun. Almost too fun." Hinkie then smiled and said, "But defense? No one likes playing defense. Dames don't go in for defense. So I say, no defense, and they can keep their precious offense. Pretty clever, eh?"
In case you were busy wishing you could just be a linebacker, and not the go-to name when someone gets tricked on the Internet, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Chris Davis's 12th-inning single gave the Orioles a 5-3 win over Boston, leaving the Red Sox's magic number for clinching the AL East at three. "Yeah it is. Oh, three, is a magic number," Red Sox manager John Farrell sang after the game before leading his team in a Schoolhouse Rock sing-along that both raised team morale and clarified for second baseman Dustin Pedroia exactly how a bill becomes a law.
Desmond Jennings's walk-off single was the final blow in the Tampa Bay Rays' back-and-forth extra-inning 4-3 win over the Texas Rangers. "Even if we have a lot of kids and other team's rejects, we have a great team spirit that I think is going to bring us into the postseason," said Rays manager Joe Maddon, who was dressed as Oscar the Grouch in a strange bit of morale-draining one-upmanship. "Because we here in Tampa love trash. We love it because it's trash."
In case you were out feeling agnostic toward piña coladas, but still got caught in the rain, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
Kobe Bryant was en fuego, scoring 47 points as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Portland Trail Blazers, 113-106. Bryant's big night overshadowed a stellar performance from Rookie of the Year candidate Damian Lillard, who described going toe to toe as "really fun for a while, until things started to get, um, personal." When asked to explain, Lillard got very quiet. Bryant, when asked about Lillard's comments, said, "Kid's a kid, and when you're a kid, you're maybe not ready to see a grown man call another grown man who is wearing the same jersey he is some of the names I may have called some of the men who were wearing the same jersey I was. But if he didn't want to see that, then maybe those men who were wearing the same jersey that I was should maybe rebound, as they were expected to when some other men were traded for them this past offseason. The point is, we can stay quiet for the kids, but I say they gotta grow up sometime. Damian's a trouper. He'll be all right."
The Kansas City Royals completed a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins with a 3-0 win at Kauffman Stadium. The win keeps the Kansas City Royals atop the AL Central, and while the season is still young, it's never too early to prepare yourself for the consequences of a potential Royals playoff berth. In the event of a Royals playoff berth, you'll want to keep five gallons of purified water on hand for each member of your household. You'll also want to have cash on hand; remember, in the case of a Royals playoff berth, it's likely that the telecommunication systems we rely on in our day-to-day lives will fail, and you'll want to be prepared. While having a roll of duct tape handy in the case of a Royals playoff berth might help you build a makeshift shelter, you should not rely on it if a Royals playoff berth leads to unbreathable air conditions. Consider purchasing rated ventilation masks now. And when in doubt, an ounce of prevention can save a pound of heartache in the event of a Royals playoff berth.
In case you were busy learning how boring Nevada is outside of Las Vegas, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Texas's Yu Darvish was one out away from a perfect game, but he was forced to settle for a near shutout as Marwin Gonzalez singled late in the Rangers' 7-0 win over the Houston Astros. "He sure did mar my win tonight, didn't he?" Darvish asked rhetorically after the game, before adding, "see, you can make puns out of anyone's name. Not just mine, Yu guys."
Kobe Bryant got his 19th career triple-double as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks, 101-81, in a critical Western Conference showdown. The Lakers also retired star center Shaquille O'Neal's no. 34 at the game. Bryant showed great respect for his former teammate, saying, "He's the best player I've ever suited up next to. I mean, even Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal." Bryant's eyes narrowed, as a flood of memories came back to him before he added, "But, of course, Shaquille O'Neal is no Dwight Howard." Bryant's eyes narrowed yet further as he felt compelled to add, "But Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal," before Bryant's eyes became somehow even narrower as he said, "But Shaquille O'Neal is no Dwight Howard." Then Bryant, his eyes now impossibly narrow, added, "But, of course, Dwight Howard is no Shaquille O'Neal," before he closed his eyes completely, swallowed hard, and said, "and neither of those guys could hold Elden Campbell's jock."
The UEFA Champions League is home to the highest caliber of football in the world. This is not about that. Welcome to the worst blunders of the round in the UEFA Champions League. Presented to you with animated GIFs.
4. The Card
Let's start with the most controversial decision of the round, referee Cuneyt Cakir's red card to Manchester United winger Nani for his high boot to the side of Real Madrid's Alvaro Arbeloa. Most believe Nani was too harshly penalized for what looked like unintentional contact. Others have said it was an obvious red card because of the height of the contact, and that Nani shouldn't have given Cakir the chance to book him at such a pivotal moment in the match.
In case you were out learning that what you thought was Oscar Fever is actually just an untreated strep infection, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday.
In their first game since the death of longtime team owner Jerry Buss, the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics, 113-99, at Staples Center. Kobe Bryant, who led a ceremony in Buss's honor before the game, was somber afterward, saying, "He's not gone, man. You can't just get rid of a guy like him. He's still here, with us, in this locker room. In fact, he's in my locker right now, waiting to scare me, like I'm a fool. But I'm not a fool. He's the fool, and he's way out of line." Dwight Howard then emerged sheepishly from Bryant's locker holding a blonde wig and a Jerry Buss mask.
James Harden had a career night against his former team, scoring 46 points as the Houston Rockets edged the Oklahoma City Thunder, 122-119. After the game, Kevin Durant was distraught in the locker room, telling coach Scott Brooks, "He was my best friend. Now he moves away, and he acts like he doesn't even know me. This is your fault! We never should've let him move! It's not fair!" Brooks nodded gently, before saying, "Do I feel guilty, Kevin? A little. Honestly, I do. I didn't want you two to have to be apart. But sometimes decisions are made, and while they hurt, they're right decisions in the long run. Plus, you like hanging out with Kevin [Martin], don't you?" Durant shook his head, fighting back the tears. "I hate Kevin! I hate everyone!" Brooks scowled at his forward, "You don't mean that, Kevin. Tell Kevin you're sorry." Durant looked at his teammate, as his lower lip started to quiver. "I'm sorry, Kevin. I like you. It's another Kevin that I don't like right now: me." Martin patted his teammate on the back, "I get it, man. The trade wasn't easy for me either. And, hey, [Thunder Assistant Coach] Mo Cheeks is gonna take me out for ice cream later. You wanna come?" Durant couldn't help but let himself smile. "Ice cream with Mo? Yeah, man. I'll be there."
There were two travesties in Zurich on Monday night. Three if you count Lionel Messi's suit. Although as adjectives become increasingly useless in describing his play, few things could say "Yes, I'm that good" like wearing a polka dot suit to your sport's Oscar night.
On the one hand, it's comforting to know that the rest of the world is as bad as we are at voting Derek Jeter into the All-Star Game, or a reasonable analogy thereof. On the other hand, the FIFA World XI makes a strong argument that Sepp Blatter's ineptness permeates every facet of the organization he runs, right down to a mail room that refuses to recognizes any international boundaries outside of Iberia.
In case you were out waiting for your turn to sing “Manic Monday” at your local karaoke bar, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
Alabama hammered Notre Dame, 42-14, in the BCS championship to secure their third college football championship in the past four years. It was reported that the amount of self-satisfied nodding by middle-aged men wearing crimson polo shirts tucked into khaki shorts skyrocketed to dangerous levels by the end of the first quarter. Observers feared that Alabama's exploits could lead to a superstorm of smugness in SEC country, but, fortunately, the thrashing Alabama delivered was so severe, the insufferable nodding quickly gave way to stoic close-lipped grinning, and potential disaster was averted as the Tide cruised to victory.
Despite their BCS Championship loss, Notre Dame fans had something to cheer about, as their men's basketball team topped Cincinnati, 66-60. "We're all just so happy to get a huge Big East win," said smiling Notre Dame sophomore Alison Whitner as her facial muscles started to twitch. "Sure, that football game wasn't the best, but my classmates and I are all totally satisfied getting one out of two. Football? Basketball? All the same to us here at Notre Dame. All the same to us All All " Whitner then fell deathly silent as a trickle of blood rolled down from her right nostril.
The Boston Celtics, led by a vintage performance from Paul Pierce, won a hard-fought battle with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 102-96. After the game, All-Star forward Carmelo Anthony, who committed a technical foul in the fourth quarter in an altercation with Kevin Garnett, reportedly continued harassing Garnett in the bowels of the arena. Garnett, for his part, denied the altercation occurred, as he was embarrassed that he fell for the oldest trick in the book: the misdirection. See, while Anthony had Garnett distracted outside the locker room, former Celtic Rasheed Wallace, cannily disguised in his old uniform, snuck into the Boston locker room and stole Garnett's prized stuffed elephant, Trunky. Expect the situation to escalate the next time these two teams meet.
Here's a video of Lionel Messi scoring 86 goals in the year of our Maradona, 2012, breaking Gerd Muller's record of 85 goals for club and country in a calendar year.
It's hard to pick just one. There was the cheeky chip against Valencia, a shooting-star free kick against Atletico Madrid, the time he froze the Bayer Leverkusen backline in carbonite like a bunch of German Han Solos, and when he invented the geometry of the future against Granada. I liked when he backed a pickup truck into a compact parking spot on the roof of Zaragoza's keeper's garage, and when he made Philippe Senderos look like Lennie from Of Mice and Men against Switzerland. I loved the free kicks against Uruguay and Real Madrid, and the snapshot against Deportivo La Coruña. Nobody's better at their chosen sport than Lionel Messi is at football, right now. Watching him score 86 goals, either during the games, or in YouTube compilations, for Barcelona or for Argentina, was one of the greatest gifts we received this year. He'll be justly rewarded for these accomplishments with trophies and silverware, but I just wanted to give him my thanks. Watching him play is one of the best things I did with my time this year. — Chris Ryan
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports over the weekend.
The Redskins rallied to beat the Ravens, 31-28, in overtime, and dodged a bullet when Robert Griffin III's knee injury was diagnosed a sprain, and not an ACL tear. They dodged another bullet when they discovered it wasn't a sprained knee at all, just a swollen fat face, and dodged a final bullet when they realized they were actually looking at a large photo of team owner Dan Snyder.