In case you were murdered on the steps of some forum or another Friday, here's what you missed in sports this weekend:
The NCAA tournament field is set with Kansas, Indiana, Louisville, and Gonzaga your four top seeds for March Madness. Expect upsets this year, as Louisville, despite being named the top overall seed, was drawn into the presumptive "group of death," featuring such dangerous teams as Duke, St. Louis, and Michigan State. Also, Gonzaga faces a potentially tough early round game against Pittsburgh oh, god, I'm talking myself into it who, based on advanced statistics, could actually be a slight favorite over the Zags DON'T DO IT; DON'T PICK PITTSBURGH making Pittsburgh my upset special of the tournament NOOOOOOOOOOOOO.
Surprisingly omitted from the top line of the NCAA Tournament were the Miami Heat, who won their 22nd consecutive game Sunday, beating the Toronto Raptors, 108-91. "Who needs this NCAA crap," Miami forward LeBron James said after the game, before teammate Shane Battier handed him an economic study on the long-term earning effects of college educations that he had co-authored during the offseason with Duke economics professor Arnaud Maurel.
“It was tough out there on the wing — that side of the field is really hard. I think they use it for cricket ... ”
I’m talking to a young hopeful at the MLS Combine, the selection trials for the SuperDraft, after he has dragged himself off the field to talk to the few reporters gathered here at the Central Broward Regional Park stadium. I look out in the general area of where he is pointing, and see that there is indeed a dry, hard square of dirt at the far side of the field, large enough to accommodate a particularly unforgiving wicket, if not being quite so accommodating to a sprinting soccer player’s cleats. The player looks irritated — the state of the field out there has compounded his frustration at being played on the wing instead of his normal forward position, and he feels he hasn’t done himself justice on the biggest stage of his footballing life so far. As he slopes off to the locker room, he gives another last grimace at the dusty patch of ground. It’s doubtful that he’ll be consoled when he returns for his next game two days later to find the dirt has been painted green. Welcome to the lowest rung of MLS.
On August 26, 14,121 spectators watched the Portland Timbers fall 3-1 to the San Jose Earthquakes. In itself, that figure is unremarkable. Average attendance at Major League Soccer games this season is nearly 19,000 per game, more than the NBA and the NHL. But this wasn't a regular fixture. Thirty-two-year-old Turkish forward Sercan Guvenisik — hardly a household name, even for the most die-hard American soccer fan — scored three goals for the Quakes. Nine players who participated weren't signed to either MLS team. In fact, the game between the two teams that counted in the MLS standings took place the previous evening when Portland defeated the Vancouver Whitecaps, 2-1. The match on the 26th was barely more than a formal practice. It was a Reserve League game. Think preseason American football where the scrubs and the young guys fighting for spots get looks. And yet, more people turned out than arrive to watch full-team matches at New England and Chivas USA. Welcome to soccer-crazy Rose City.
Owing to my current age, when I do my Wayne Rooney visualization exercises these days, I no longer envision scoring goals, or lifting cups, as if I were the grizzled veteran captain, but instead I imagine telling journalists that “the player in question has played his last game for the club,” invent doggerel to bellow from the sidelines (“IS THERE JELLING? FINITE, ANDY! FINITE!”), perfect the motion of hiding file folders labeled with the phrase “Strictly internal club disciplinary matter,” and practice keeping a deadpan expression while slumped on the bench, for when the very thing my job is actually supposed to achieve happens to occur.
In other words, my dimly active fantasy life has made the transition from world’s greatest player to promising young manager. At least it had till last week, when the 37-year-old Caleb Porter was announced as the next coach of the Portland Timbers. Overnight, my fantasy doppelgänger was underachieving.