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Antonio Brown was a headache for the Pittsburgh Steelers last year, which is why they traded him to the Oakland/Las Vegas Raiders below value. The Steelers took a third round and a fifth round pick in the next draft in return for, arguably, the best receiver in the league. When Brown got to the Raiders, they rewarded him with a big time contract extension. Why? Because they’re the Raiders and they’re apparently willing to deal with his baggage. Trouble began immediately.  Brown has stayed out of the Raiders’ training camp for almost all of preseason. He finally showed up amid issues over the NFL’s helmet policy. Brown wants to wear the old model of his helmet in spite of the NFL’s transition to a new, supposedly safer, model. The concussion issue looms large for the league. But like a child who doesn’t get his way, Brown has done this to the Raiders, who have zero control over NFL policies. They now have first hand experience with Brown’s baggage. After strong statements from GM Mike Mayock and Coach John Gruden, Brown made his way back onto the field and is “all in” according to his agent. However, Antonio isn’t done with the helmet thing. He has filed another grievance against the league in an effort to get his old helmet back. An arbitrator is going to hear his case this week. Coach Gruden had good things to say about Brown upon his return. “He’s shown great retention of what we’re doing. He (Brown) hadn’t missed the off season program. He’s been here, and out of here, in meetings. And it’s just good to have him back. He’s in great shape, running hard and running good routes.” While it appears Brown is back for now and ready to focus on football, it is hard to imagine this is the last time Brown’s baggage weighs down the Raiders during the life of his contract.
Somehow, the Josh Gordon saga continues. The New England Patriot’s wide receiver may have an opportunity to play in the NFL this season in spite of a career full of drug-related suspensions and mental health issues. The talented wideout was traded to the Patriots last year in a move that was viewed by many as his last chance in the NFL. The Patriot’s no nonsense approach was thought to be the only environment that could salvage his blemished career. While things were going well last year and he was clicking with future hall of famer Tom Brady on the field, another drug violation got him suspended for the final three games of the 2018 regular season and all of the playoffs – the umpteenth of his career. Returning to training camp over the weekend, fresh off his latest NFL suspension, the Patriots placed Gordon on the non-football injury list. He was seen on the practice field stretching and doing some light conditioning, but he declined all interview requests. Gordon burst onto the scene in 2013, catching 87 passes for a league high 1,646 yards, which put him in the Pro Bowl.  That happened even though he was suspended for the first two games of the season for a substance abuse violation. He was suspended next in 2015, ultimately missing the next two seasons while battling with mental health issues as well as drug problems. Barring a decision by the Patriots to release him, it seems Josh Gordon will have yet another go at life in the NFL this year. The Pats have supported Gordon throughout the process and his teammates are rooting for him to turn things around both on the field, and more importantly, off the field. Gordon could be a fantasy sleeper pick this year should he find his way back on the field. While his problems away from football have been significant, there is no denying his talent when he is suited up on Sundays.
Dallas Cowboys all-pro, running back Ezekiel ‘Zeke’ Elliot has been holding out all pre-season as he petitions for a new contract that will make him the highest paid running back in the league. Zeke has been one of the most productive backs in the NFL since he came into the league in 2016, though he’s had the advantage of playing behind Dallas’s star-studded offensive line. The Cowboys have made the playoffs in two of the last three seasons on the backs of that line, Zeke and quarterback Dak Prescott, who is also looking for a new deal. After the Cowboys second preseason game, owner Jerry Jones joked with the media, “Zeke Who,” in response to rookie running back Tony Pollard’s 42-yard performance, which was capped by a touchdown. The comment was an attempt at comedic relief relating to the tense contract negotiation that has been ongoing for the last month. Jones has no intention of letting Zeke go and views Pollard as a great backup option behind Zeke. Elliot has 2 years left on his rookie deal and is set to make a base salary this upcoming season of $3.9 million. Technically, he can be fined 40K per day for every day of training camp he has missed thus far, but that will go away when a deal is finally done. Reports were released that Zeke was not happy about Jones’s joke, although Jason Witten, who recently returned to the Cowboys after a year in the ESPN booth, denies that Zeke took any offense, saying, “I thought it was a beautiful comment. Like everybody, I hope this gets resolved and Zeke is in there sooner rather than later.”  He added, “No, [the joke] wouldn’t bother me. It didn’t bother Zeke either.  Trust me, there’s nobody who loves Ezekiel Elliott more than Jerry Jones does. I wouldn’t have taken it that way and I’m sure Zeke didn’t either.” There is no doubt signing Zeke to an extension is a priority for the Cowboys who are the wealthiest franchise in the NFL and have no shortage of cash. They also have made it a priority to extend current quarterback Dak Prescott who has progressed over his first three seasons in the NFL since winning offensive rookie-of-the-year over Zeke in 2016. When this will all get done, nobody outside of the Cowboys organization really knows, but one would think it’s inevitable given the level of importance Elliot has for the team. Fantasy owners and Cowboy fans alike have suffered some major headaches throughout August as this situation has unfolded, but we have little doubt Zeke will suit up against the Giants in Arlington, Texas when the Cowboys open their season on September 8th.
The Premier League is only two weeks into its 2019-2020 campaign and VAR is stealing all the headlines. After a wild opening weekend which saw a ton of VAR decisions come into question, Man City was once again at the forefront of VAR’s wrath and this time it may have cost them points. Man City vs Tottenham Spurs is quickly becoming appointment television ever since the teams squared off three times last April.  Two of those games were Champions League quarter final matchups, so the stakes were as high as they get. You may remember that in the second leg, VAR overturned a goal scored by Man City in stoppage time because of a narrow offside. The decision knocked Man City out of the competition and saw the Spurs through to the semi final. These world-class clubs faced off again over the weekend at the Etihad in another classic, one that saw Spurs earn a point in a 2-2 draw. City dominated, owning nearly 70% of the possession time while driving over twenty shots to the Spurs’ three. VAR should have given City a penalty in the opening few minutes, but it ruled play on. Despite City’s domination, the game was 2-2 in the dying minutes. A corner was swung in and took a few deflections in the box before landing at the feet of Brazilian forward Gabriel Jesus who buried the apparent winner with just seconds to play. Cue the evil empire music for VAR … After review, it was determined the ball had inadvertently hit off the hand of City defender Aymeric Laporte before arriving at the feet of Jesus, illegally aiding City’s goal and thus called a handball. Laporte knew nothing about it, but City players along with packed Etihad fans were furious to see the tie.  Spurs Coach Mauricio Pochettino joked after the game saying “I love VAR.” City manager Pep Guardiola was surprisingly calm about the whole thing. The problem with VAR thus far is that it’s still subject to human error in many cases, particularly now examining potential borderline incidents that were not reviewed previously. Additionally, there are different VAR rules in every competition, with the Premier League VAR having different review rules than the Champions League. We fear this will be a touchy subject throughout the Premier League campaign. After just two weeks, the story has been more about VAR issues than the actual performance of players and teams. For the sake of the game, that needs to change quickly.  Uniform VAR rules need to be established across leagues.
It’s release time for one of, if not THE most popular sports title for gaming consoles, Madden NFL 2020. EA Sports has loaded the new version with a ton of new features, upgrades, and graphic improvements – all needed after rolling out the same title with only roster updates from 2014 -2018. The 2020 version appears to be much richer, new generation of the perennial. The biggest addition is the Superstar X Factor/Zone Abilities, which can most easily be compared to player attributes in FIFA soccer console such as long range passer, or flair, or poacher. In Madden NFL 2020 a player can be defined as a Superstar or Superstar X Factor. If a player is a Superstar X Factor, abilities can be unlocked throughout the game giving him a significant advantage. Superstar X Factor traits vary based on the player and his rating. For example, if a quarterback has a Pro Reads X Factor and it’s unlocked, the first open receiver will be highlighted. This feature adds depth and can change throughout the course of the game. Speaking of player ratings, this year’s rating system feature is much more significant than in past versions. For example, if your starting offensive lineman goes down with an injury and he had a 78 overall rating, which for this Madden is pretty good, and his replacement has a rating in the 50’s, it will have an effect. The talent gap will change giving a bigger advantage to the star players, making it more difficult when you have injury replacements. We think this more realistically represents how the NFL actually functions. In addition to those notable changes, the graphics seem to be far improved; little player movements and unique characteristics are more closely defined, and there is a new hot count feature that enables a quarterback to switch a run play to a quick pass on the fly. Franchise mode is expected to be mostly the same, but there is a new mode called “Face of the Franchise”. In it, you are your own player going through all the trials and tribulations of becoming an NFL player, from the combine, to draft interviews, to the league. This is very similar to the My Player in MLB 2K or in FIFA. Ultimately, the Madden title brings back great memories year after year. The ability to compete against friends for bragging rights or take a franchise and turn it upside down into a perennial dynasty, Madden always arrives in time for people to waste away their August indoors, getting mentally prepared for the NFL season. Big question: Will Pat Mahomes suffer from the Madden jinx?

The U.S. Women’s national team advanced to the semifinals of the 2019 Women’s World Cup on Friday, with a 2-1 win over host nation France. Both sides entered the fixture as the number one and number two favorite to win the tournament, with many thinking that the winner of this game would go on to win the whole thing. That now remains to be seen, but the USA advance onward to a semifinal matchup vs England on Tuesday.

Megan Rapinoe got the stars and stripes off to a dream start with a free kick goal in the 5th minute of the game. She drilled the kick from the left side of the goal low and hard into a mix of French and American players. Somehow, through all the clutter, the ball squeaked through, and with the goalkeeper unable to see what was in front of her, it found the back of the net. Rapinoe then added on to her stellar game, knocking home a cross at the back post from Tobin Heath to put the U.S. up 2-0 in the 65th minute. From that point, the US went to a 5 player defensive system, a sign of “buttoning down the hatches” to try and close out the game.

In the 81st minute, France got one back off a free kick which found the head of the tallest player on the field in Renard. She powered the header past Naeher who had no chance to make the save, and France had life. The USA did well to hold off France for the final 10+ minutes, and send the host nation home much earlier than they would have liked.

France dominated possession having the ball for over 60% of the game, as well as having 20 shots to the USA’s 10. Despite having more of the ball, USA had more shots on target (8) and had the more dangerous chances of the game. With Rapinoe’s two goals, she now has five for the tournament, and is tied with teammate Alex Morgan and England forward Ellen White for the Golden Boot race.

“That was the most intense match I have ever been a part of” coach Jill Ellis said. “A win is a win in the World Cup”.

Julie Ertz added “We had to defend a lot. That’s what the game gave us. We take a lot of pride of having a lot of tools in our toolbox”. Ertz played a crucial role in midfield for the USA before dropping back into defense when the U.S. switched to a back five.

The USA has not trailed for a single minute of the 2019 World Cup, however, the margins of their victories have gotten smaller and smaller as each game has gone on. Going to a back 5, something rarely done by the USA who are known to constantly attack, shows just how nervy things got. Maybe that is a good thing though. The group heads into the semifinals vs England battle tested, knowing that they can grind out tight games. The Americans are now just two wins away from repeating as back to back World Cup champions, a feat only accomplished by Germany in 2003 and 2007.

Group play in the Copa America wrapped up Monday evening in Brazil as Group C concluded with Uruguay defeating Chile to win the group, and Chile finishing as runners up. Japan and Ecuador played to a 1-1 draw and both sides were eliminated as a result. Here is how the knockout stage has been set: Quarterfinals
  • Brazil vs. Paraguay (June 27) – Porto Alegre
  • Venezuela vs. Argentina (June 28) – Salvador
  • Colombia vs. Chile (June 28) – Sao Paulo
  • Uruguay vs. Peru (June 29) – Recife
Semi Finals
  • Winner QF 1 vs Winner QF2 (July 2) – Belo Horizonte
  • Winner QF3 vs Winner QF4 (July 3) Porto Alegre
Consolation and Finals
  • Loser SF1 vs Loser SF2 (July 6th) – Sao Paulo
  • Winner SF1 vs Winner SF2 (July 7th) – Rio de Janeiro
Brazil, hosts, and pre tournament favorites, draw Paraguay in their first knockout round game. It is a very favorable matchup as Paraguay managed to earn one of the two wild card spots into the knockout stages having only two points in group play. The winner of that game will meet the winner of Venezuela vs Argentina. Argentina have struggled in form, while Venezuela has been playing above their heads. It sets up an intriguing matchup with upset possibility written all over it. Should Argentina get through, a classic Argentina vs Brazil matchup would be impending, one that rarely disappoints. On the other side of the bracket, Colombia who were the top team across all groups with 9 points out of 9, will take on Chile. A bit of a tough draw for the Colombians who off the bat will face a capable squad in Chile, despite the fact they (Colombia) were the top team in group play. The winner of that game will face the winner of Uruguay and Peru. Uruguay went undefeated in group play with two wins and a draw, while Peru got off to a good start on four points in two games, only to be demolished by Brazil in the final game of their group, thus earning the other wild card spot in the knockout stages. Brazil is the clear favorite to come out of the top half of the group and into the final in Rio, where down below, all four teams are capable of getting on a roll and making a run at the Copa America. A Colombia vs Uruguay matchup would be an intriguing battle. Predictions for Quarterfinals Brazil 3 – Paraguay 0 Venezuela 1 – Argentina 1 (Venezuela adv on PK’s) Colombia 2 – Chile 1 Uruguay 2 – Peru 0 Let us know your thoughts on how the knockout stages will progress, and who you like to lift the trophy on July 7th in Rio!

The 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup round of 16 concluded on Tuesday and the quarterfinal match-ups have been set. Europe has been dominate so far in this World Cup. Seven of the eight teams remaining are European and the lone outcast is the United States. Here’s how the next round of fixtures will look and a preview of each.

Germany vs Sweden

We start with Germany and Sweden who will face off this Saturday. The Germans were flawless in group play winning all three of their games, and have still yet to concede a goal this tournament. They are looking like a true contender to bring the cup home in typical German soccer fashion. Germany defeated Nigeria 3-0 en route to a quarterfinal matchup against Sweden. Sweden who finished second in their group to the USA is always a threat in the women’s international game. The Swedes narrowly edged out Canada 1-0 in their round of 16 game, a game in which Canada missed a PK to tie the game. This should be one of the better quarterfinal match-ups among the four, played very tightly and tactically.

Prediction – Germany concedes it’s first goal of the tournament, but defeats Sweden 2-1.

Italy vs Netherlands

Next up is Italy who take on the Netherlands on Saturday. Italy were a surprise winner of their group which features the likes of Brazil and Australia. All three teams finished with 6 points but it was Italy who advanced in first place on goal differential, defeating Jamaica and Australia and losing to Brazil. Meanwhile the Netherlands dominated group play with three wins including an impressive victory over Canada. Italy beat China 2-0 in the round of 16 while Netherlands outlasted Japan thanks to a 90th minute penalty kick giving the Dutch a 2-1 victory. Italy typically has the reputation for being very defensive, while the Dutch, very technical, and fluid in possession. If Italy are to win this one, we expect it to be done potentially in extra time or in penalties, but advantage Netherlands heading into this quarterfinal game.

Prediction – Italy defend well and frustrate the Dutch, but it is not enough as the Netherlands narrowly escape with a 1-0 victory.

England vs Norway

On the other side of the bracket, Norway match up with England in the first of the quarterfinal games this Thursday. Norway finished as runners up in their group to hosts France and squeaked by a strong Australia side in penalties after the game finished 1-1. England have had a resurgence in the last couple international cycles and carried that momentum through an undefeated group stage, which included a win over Japan. This game should be another tightly contested match with both teams looking to stay organized and attack off the others mistakes.

Prediction – 1-1 after 120 minutes and England lose on penalties in classic England fashion. Norway goes two for two in penalty shootouts and onto the semi finals.

United States vs France

That leaves us with the matchup everyone has their eyes on, powerhouses USA take on host nation France, kicking off this Friday. This game very well could be the best game of the entire World Cup, and could just as easily produce our eventual champion. The USA enters the match as the favorite to win the World Cup, ever so slightly over France. Both sides won their groups with relative ease, and both played below their potential in their round of 16 matchups vs Spain and Brazil respectively. The result of this finals like matchup in the quarterfinal round will depend on two factors.

First, will France try and play off the defensive like Spain did, and frustrate the Americans in their efforts to attack. This would be the sensible decision, but France, a strong team of its own, and the host nation, may choose to go toe to toe with the Americans, which could be a big mistake. The second key is the goalkeeping for team USA. Alyssa Naeher has had a good year for club and has gotten off to a good start internationally. However, this is her first ever World Cup, and she hasn’t looked like the confident rock we’ve grown accustomed to in goal for the USA like Hope Solo or Brianna Scurry of years past. We expect Naeher to be tested, how she answers the bell will be a huge factor in who wins and who loses this all star matchup.

Prediction – No bias here! USA defeats France 3-1 as the depth and drive of the Americans rises to the occasion and knocks the host nation out of the World Cup!

The semi finals are set to take place on July 2nd and 3rd, and the consolation game and final on June 6th and 7th respectively.

Give us your thoughts on the Women’s World Cup thus far, and how you think it will play out going forward.

When a player is regarded by only one name; Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Pele, Maradona, it usually means they’re good, really good.

Marta, also falls into that same category, she is really good, and everyone knows her by one name, Marta. In fact, she is more than really good, many think she is the best women’s player to ever play the game. It would be hard to argue with that claim. She has the most goals ever for any male or female player in World Cup history, she is a 6 time FIFA Player of the Year, has scored in 5 world cups, and has more World Cup Goals than any Brazilian player ever. Yes that includes Ronaldo, and Pele.

Marta is however missing one major piece on her resume, a World Cup Trophy, and at age 33 this year was thought to be the last opportunity for her to earn one. Brazil struggled through group play and qualified for the knockout stages as a third place team. Unfortunately that meant they had to meet the host nation France in the round of 16, who were among the top 3 favorites to win the tournament at the start.

When Brazil and France meet in a World Cup, there is always drama, and it rarely disappoints. Sunday’s match was no different. France had a first half goal taken off the board thanks to VAR, but managed to open the scoring in the second half, and grab the first lead of the game. Brazil answered just 10 minutes later with a goal that stood up against VAR to tie the game. It would remain that way through 90 minutes and extra time would be required. Despite an excellent opportunity for Brazil to take the lead in overtime, it was France who scored first in the 106th minute with a goal from Amandine Henry … no not Thierry. The result would hold and it was France who would move on ending the journey for Marta’s Brazil.

Naturally the Brazilian side including Marta was very emotional after the game. Many of their star players are aging, and the window with their “golden generation” is all but closed. Through all the tears and emotions that flooded the pitch, Marta delivered maybe one of the most powerful post game interviews ever, across any sport male or female, to her nation and the female footballers within it.

Staring down the lens of the camera, into the eyes of millions across the globe watching, here is what Marta had to say (translated from Portuguese to English) to her nation.

“It’s wanting more, it’s training more, it’s taking care of yourself more. It’s being ready to play 90 minutes plus 30. This is what I ask of the girls. There is not going to be a Formiga forever, there is not going to be a Marta forever, there is not going to be a Cristiane. The women’s game depends on you to survive. Think about that. Value it more. Cry in the beginning so you can smile in the end.”

If Marta is not the greatest women’s footballer of all time, she is certainly one of them. And if this is her last time in a Brazil kit on the World Cup stage, she certainly closed this chapter of her career with a powerful message that speaks to way more than just the game of soccer.

It wasn’t too long ago when the U.S. Men’s national team was walking off the pitch in disbelief and embarrassment, after losing 2-1 to Trinidad and Tobago, and failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup for the first time in decades.

In truth, it has been a turbulent journey for the USMNT over the last two plus years since the departure of Coach Jurgen Klinsmann. They’ve fallen under serious criticism by a nation that was just starting to gain serious momentum in the soccer world. They’ve had three coaches since 2016 when Jurgen parted ways with the United States Soccer Federation; Bruce Arena, Dave Sarachan, and now Greg Berhalter. And above all else, they’ve lacked a real identity in playing style for quite some time.

Despite a rough start to the Berhalter era, the USMNT managed to fight off some demons from their not too distant past when taking on Trinidad and Tobago over the weekend in game two the 2019 Gold Cup’s group stages. Although many players said revenge wasn’t on their minds, you could see from the demeanor of the players throughout the game, that this game meant a little extra. Often physical and chippy throughout the match, the USMNT clearly played with an edge, and managed to break open the scoring just four minutes before half time to take a 1-0 lead.

Scoring a goal before halftime can be a major momentum shifting moment, and on this day, it was certainly the case. The Americans would pour on an onslaught of goals in the second half, five to be exact, including one by international star Christian Pulisic. The game would end 6-0 in favor of the USMNT.

“Every time we step on the field we want to make a statement,” said U.S. forward Gyasi Zardes, who scored twice and barely missed a third. “We’re trying to change the way the world views American soccer.”

Overall there is still a lot to be done with in the men’s national soccer program to reach the levels of success and consistency so many believe this country is capable of reaching. There is still a lot to be done this summer in their quest for another Gold Cup trophy. However, maybe, just maybe, a big win, over the team that knocked the USA out of the World Cup a little over a year ago, is the first positive step forward for this new tenure in it’s journey to establish themselves as a formidable soccer nation.