NBA First Week Insights & Surprises

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The Cover 4.com presents you with NBA First Week Insights & Surprises! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Aaaannnndddd they’re off! The 2013-14 NBA season has officially tipped off, which means it’s time to see which teams actually took advantage of its resources and built a team worthy of the right to hoist that beautiful championship banner on opening day next year. And my, oh my has this been a start few saw coming.

  1. Michael Carter-Williams is out here letting people know that he’s not to be taken lightly. I loved this kid’s game at Syracuse last year, but was afraid that his tall, lanky frame would not be properly utilized and possibly start warming the bench like Shaun Livingston. However, MCW has shown that his skills are transferable by nearly posting a remarkable quadruple-double against the defending champs (22 points, 12 assists, 7 rebounds, 9 steals, 1 turnover). Do not let the baby face fool you; this guy is the real deal like Holyfield. MCW is only the second rookie in NBA history to be awarded conference Player of the Week honors in the first week of the season (Shaq is the other). The only question is, will MCW have a Jeremy Lin effect and plateau before his prime? Or will he become a first-ballot Hall of Famer? Hmmmm…
  2. Russell Westbrook has found his way back into the lineup a month after surgery. Personally, as a man who has been through MANY knee surgeries in my playing career, I don’t think it’s a good look for Westbrook to return so soon. I love Westbrook, and I want to see him play at his highest level. But I know that his body and trainers unfortunately have a more impactful influence over him than I do. But for the sake of my 2k team, I pray that he doesn’t make it any worse.
  3. While we’re talking about injuries, D errick Rose is starting off slow. I guess it is to be expected after being MIA for an entire season, but the optimism still has the best of many of us and just know that his 10-game winning streak isn’t too far away.
  4. The Brooklyn Nets…well, I’m not going to say much on them because I didn’t really expect much out of them to start with. They have some of my favorite players from back in the day, however, their prime was also back in the day. I just don’t see it happening for this squad. They offered a lot of hope for the BX, but I guess we’ll just have to see how this pans out.
  5. The Suns have new jerseys! And that may be the reason why even though they are placed in last in the NBA 2k14 power rankings, they are starting off with a splash of hope. Gerald Green has finally found a system that loves him running alongside Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic. Miles Plumlee has been posting double-double averages. I’m not going to lie, I never really thought too highly of biggest brother Plumlee from the jump, but man is he giving me something to watch.
  6. Not a surprise, but the Wizards are poopsauce.
  7. Eg-Zah-Vi-Air Henry is putting on a little coming out show of his own in LA. It’s almost making me think that the Lakers have a shot at making the playoffs. Hahahaha, MAYBE! But one thing I will say, it’s time for the great Steve Nash to join the coaching staff. His game has noticeably slowed down, and he know where near as witty with the ball as he used to be. I don’t know, Tony, this one isn’t looking too good though.
  8. Toronto’s Very Own, Anthony Bennett has still yet to make a basket through four games. I thought No. 1 draft picks are supposed to show up and show out? Cleveland can’t take any more disappointments. Get it together, man!

Yes, I know it’s still early in the game, and there’s a whole lot of season left, but I am anticipating this being a GREAT year for the NBA, pending all these injuries slowing down. So, CHEERS to Mr. Carter-Williams on an amazing start to your NBA career, you have a bright future my friend. And the rest of you guys…get your shit together! PEACE!

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Boston Strong

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Boston Strong! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The last time the Boston Red Sox won the World Series at home was in 1918. Babe Ruth was pitching on that team. He was later traded, and created the Curse of the Bambino. This all changed after the 2013 World Series. Boston had many things to be happy about. When the World Series began, I believed that the Red Sox had the better players and the Cardinals had the better team. I was wrong. It wasn’t the prettiest World Series or the most exciting, but the storyline was poignant and fitting. After April’s Boston Marathon bombing, the Red Sox devoted the rest of the season to overcoming this disaster.  And the Red Sox overcame adversity in this World Series as well to come back and win three consecutive games to bring a championship title back to Boston.

Going into this matchup, the Red Sox were slight favorites to win it all, but everyone knew how capable the Cardinals team was. Both teams boasted clutch hitting and solid pitching all year, and this set up to be a pretty even and contested series. The pitchers were lined up, hitters rested and coaches prepared. The Cardinals and Red Sox had each won two World Series in the past  Decade. But Tony La Russa was not coaching against Terry Francona. A new generational rivalry was born with Mike Matheny and John Farrell as managers.

Game 1 ended shortly after it started. Adam Wainwright faced off against Jon Lester, a battle of aces.. This was supposed to be the tasty appetizer for an amazing entrée. However, the Cardinals came out flat and seemed scared. They committed two errors in the first two innings, including  botching a potential double play. This allowed the Red Sox to take a 5-0 lead after two innings and they cruised to a 8-1 victory. Mike Napoli had the big three-run double in the first and the tasty appetizer did not even make it around the table to serve everyone. It was a disappointing start from a competitive standpoint but a good omen for Boston supporters.

Game 2 featured Michael Wacha, Big Papi and some unusual plays. These three things would end up playing a huge role for the rest of the series.  Wacha was dealing like a used car salesman. Up 1-0 in the sixth, Big Papi David Ortiz belted a two-run homer to give the Sox the lead. However, the lead would evaporate in the next inning on a sacrifice fly. This bases loaded, one out sacrifice fly had the ball flying from right field, to the catcher and then into the stands past third base. Two runs scored on the play and one more came across when clutch Carlos Beltran singled in the next at-bat to make it 4-2 Cardinals. This was the final score.  An ugly series of events to give the Cardinals the game, but as they say, a win is a win is a win. The series all tied up like boy scout knot. Heading back to St. Louis for three games, the Cardinals seemed to have momentum.

The unusual plays did not stop there. In Game 3, the Cardinals jumped to a 2-0 lead against Jake Peavy in the first. The game was on cruise control until the fifth. The Red Sox tied the game with one run in the fifth and sixth. The see-saw battle continued when the Cardinals took a 4-2 lead on Matt Holliday’s double in the seventh..  However, the Red Sox quickly answered with clutch hitting by Xander Bogaerts to tie it at 4 in the eighth. Whew! I just felt my heart palpitate thinking about that game again. And I have not even got to the climax yet. Or the anticlimax.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals had runners on second and third with one out. Jon Jay hit a sharp grounder to second, but Dustin Pedroia alertly threw out Yadier Molina at home for the second out of the inning. This is where normal leaves the ballpark and drama dons a whole new wardrobe, or more appropriate, uniform. After Molina made the out, catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia tried to throw out Allen Craig who went from second to third on the play. And similar to Game 2, the throw went wide and into the outfield. Craig broke for home like Forrest Gump in Vietnam while Daniel Nava fielded the ball in the outfield. Nava threw a bullet and Craig was tagged out at home. Extra innings, right? Wrong. Umpire Jim Joyce ruled obstruction on third baseman Will Middlebrooks and Craig was awarded home and the game ended in one of the most bizarre endings in World Series history. Both teams stormed home plate. The Red Sox were yelling at the umpire crew. The Cardinals were reluctant to embrace victory. The crowd was confused. The television audience waited for an explanation. Utter chaos. All in all, the correct call was made by the letter of the law, and the Cardinals had a 2-1 edge in the Series.

After an unusual ending to Game 3, the Red Sox found themselves with their backs against the wall in a pretty much must-win situation. The Red Sox had grown out their beards the entire season and a bearded man came to the rescue for Game 4. Jonny Gomes blasted a three-run homer to break a 1-1 tie in the sixth and that was all she wrote. The Red Sox won 4-2 and another abnormal play occurred to end the game. Kolten Wong was pinch-running in the bottom of the ninth and Beltran was up representing the tying run with two outs. However before he could get a crack at a good pitch, Koji Uehara picked off Wong at first to end the game. Wong made his appearance one to forget, and the theme of errors, great pitching and bizarre plays continued.  World Series tied 2-2. The plot was thickening. Announcers John Buck and Tim McCarver had clever stories to tell.

Game 5 was the most crucial game in the Series. Typically, the winner of this game takes it all and this trend did not disappoint. The aces were back on the mound and Lester continued where he left off. After Big Papi doubled in Pedroia in the first, Lester dominated on the mound. His only mistake was a mammoth of a home run surrendered to Matt Holliday in the fourth. He hit it so far that Bud Selig was able to grow a full beard before the ball landed. Knotted at one, the Sox had something brewing in the seventh. With Saltalamacchia’s throwing woes, veteran David Ross had gotten the nod as catcher in games four, five and six. And he and his beard delivered a game-winning double in the top of the seventh. The Sox tacked on one more on Jacoby Ellsbury’s single. With Lester and Uehara baffling the Cardinals’ bats, the Red Sox won 3-1 and the usually energetic St. Louis fans were dead silent. Those fans are baseball smart, and they knew that their Cardinal team had blown two huge opportunities to take control in the series.

Heading back to Boston, Wacha was due to take the mound in Game 6. Despite Wainwright being the team’s ace, it was Wacha who had been the Cardinals’ best pitcher in the playoffs. John Lackey was the starter for the Sox, the same Lackey that started and won Game 7 of the 2002 World Series for the Angels. The weather was cold and the Bostonians were anxious to win. The game creeped into the bottom of the third scoreless with 2 outs, when Shane Victorino came to bat with the bases loaded. The “Flying Hawaiian” proved Wacha’s mortality by lacing a double off the Green Monster in left to clear the bases. The Red Sox took a 3-0 lead and never looked back. They never had to. Stephen Drew smacked a home run and the Cardinals for the third consecutive game could not deliver the clutch hits. They continually set the table, but nobody wanted to eat. Lackey gave up only run and Uehara fittingly recorded the final out as the Red Sox won 6-1 and became the 2013 World Series champions. Babe Ruth somewhere smoked a cigar in tribute. Boston won in more ways than one.

The St. Louis Cardinals led the major leagues with a .330 batting average with runners in scoring position during the year but batted just a puny .214 during the World Series. Some would say it was because of great Boston pitching. Some would say the Cardinals bats picked a bad time to go into hibernation. Who knows  the real reason. Ortiz won the World Series MVP boasting a videogame-like .688 batting average. Given the events of the bombing during the Boston Marathon, this World Series had much more meaning than baseball for the city of Boston. Especially the way the Red Sox overcame a deficit, unprecedented events and an intimidating opposing ballpark. Just like their city during the crisis, the Red Sox were resilient, galvanized and determined.

This World Series might not be as celebrated as the one that broke the Curse of the Bambino in 2004, but its importance to the city is invaluable. The St. Louis Cardinals are young and will be back for many years to come. They ran into the beards of the Sox. Was it inopportune hitting? Great pitching? Or could it be fate?  Maybe it just was not in the Cards. I do know that this World Series was an amazing one to cap off one of the best baseball playoffs I can remember. The better teams won. In the end, the best team won. Congratulations Red Sox. Boston has a lot to be proud of.

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Pitching Reigns in October

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Pitching Reigns in October! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The World Series matchup is set. The Boston Red Sox and the St. Louis Cardinals. Two storied franchises competing against each other. The ratings will be high, well higher than usual.  It’s a rematch of the 2004 World Series where the Red Sox swept and broke the Curse of the Bambino. Truth be told, this World Series is a real treat, and on paper one of the best ones in recent memory. Both teams have big-time hitters, but it was the pitchers that dominated the League Championship Series. The adage, “good pitching beats good hitting,” came to fruition and showed who reigns supreme on a baseball diamond.

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We had two phenomenal matchups in the League Championship Series with the Dodgers-Cardinals and Red Sox-Tigers. At a glance, many experts agreed that the Dodgers had a better pitching staff than the Cards with Clayton Kershaw and Zach Greinke against Adam Wainwright and a bevy of young pitchers. Many experts picked the Tigers to win it all with Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez over veterans Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey and Jake Peavy. Well the experts were right that the better pitching staff won, but it just was not the ones they thought were better.

Game 1 in the Cardinals-Dodgers series shaped the tone for the entire series. Greinke faced rookie Joe Kelly in one of many pitchers duels in the LCS. The Dodgers and Cardinals each scored twice in the third inning. Zeroes hung on the scoreboard the rest of the way like Christmas tree ornaments. The Dodgers did what they did for many parts of the season. They got runners on, they got them over, but could not get them in. They even had a runner thrown out at home in the top of the 10th by Carlos Beltran, whose big two-run double tied the game at 2. And to seal the deal, Beltran roped a double down the line for the game-winning hit to win 3-2 and commence a great set of LCS games. The lead in the series was up for grabs and the Cardinals took it and never looked back.

In Game 2, the Dodgers put out their best pitcher, maybe the best pitcher in baseball, Clayton Kershaw, but it was another pitcher who made a name for himself. Michael Wacha, another rookie for the Cardinals, outpitched Kershaw in a 1-0 ballgame. This was not a soccer game, but it felt like it when the Cardinals scored their only goal, I mean run. The Cardinals had all the momentum heading to Los Angeles, but they got blanked by the rookie this time for Game 3. Hyun-Jin Ryu pitched beautifully and beat the Cardinals 3-0. Are you sensing a theme with these recaps yet?

Michael-Wacha

A big hit actually took place in Game 4 when Matt Holliday hit a mammoth two-run homer to help the Cardinals beat the Dodgers 4-2. A two-run lead felt like a blowout given the circumstances. The Cardinals’ World Series berth was put on hold when Greinke dealt and the Dodgers finally got some big hits, taking Game 5, 6-4. Going back to St. Louis with the Cardinals up 3-2, everyone felt Game 7 was inevitable with Kershaw on the mound again. However, people forgot about the real ace of this series, Wacha.

Yes, his last name sounds like a Russian’s favorite liquor, but the only thing strong about Wacha is his arm and his pitches. He continued to dominate the Dodger lineup while Kershaw had an inning to forget. The Cardinals batted around in the fourth, tallying four runs, and in essence, punching their ticket to the 2013 World Series. They won 9-0. In six games, the Dodgers scored 13 runs and pretty much half of them came in Game 5. Not even the antics and over-the-top emotions of Yasiel Puig could carry the Dodgers. His flaws were exposed by a gritty Cardinals team, and so were the rest of the Dodgers. Wacha, a pitcher, was named NLCS MVP, and we might just be seeing the tip of the iceberg with this young stud.

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The Dodgers made one of the most amazing turnarounds during the regular season and brought baseball excitement back to L.A. However, in the end, the Cardinals reminded us that baseball is a team sport and the team that spends the most money is not usually the one who wins. The Cardinals proved to have the best pitching, and consequently, they are now in great position to win the 2013 World Series.

In the ALCS, The Tigers and Red Sox boasted two of the most potent offenses in baseball. What a joke! The only crooked numbers seen in this series were strikeouts and number of beards, and there were many of them on both sides. There were two 1-0 games. This is mind boggling to a guy who has watched the Tigers and Red Sox score at will like an Oregon football team playing Arkansas State all year. But it still happened.  Good pitching happened. The Red Sox lost Game 1 1-0. Enough said. Those are the highlights. In all seriousness,  Sanchez pitched effectively wild and did not allow a hit in six innings pitched. In fact, the Red Sox got their first hit in the bottom of the 9th to break up the no hitter.

Game 2 will go down as one of the gems of this postseason. Down 5-0 in the bottom of the 6th, the Red Sox again got their first hit late in the ballgame  when Shane Victorino broke up Scherzer’s no hit bid. This led to their first run of the series. Trailing 5-1 in the bottom of the 8th, the Red Sox loaded the bases for David Ortiz. And the Red Sox version of Beltran did it again. On the first pitch, he cracked a line drive over the right field wall to dramatically tie the game with a grand slam. Torii Hunter missed the catch and flipped over the short wall like a gymnast. It was electric. Even Stephen King got scared in attendance with the eeriness in the air. Jarrod Saltalamacchia had the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 9th to win 6-5 and in hindsight, win the series for the Red Sox.

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Returning to Detroit, momentum was up in the air, but the Tigers felt confident throwing their ace Verlander out on the bump. The Red Sox countered with Lackey. Verlander was dominant, surrendering only one mistake to Mike Napoli in the 7th. a home run that barely cleared the fence in left. And that led to another 1-0 game. Lackey ousted the ace, like Wacha did. The Tigers could not deliver the clutch hits, like the Dodgers. The Tigers did tie up the series by roughing up Peavy in Game 4. They won 7-3, the only non-competitive game in the series, and it led to a pivotal Game 5. The Red Sox jumped to an early 4-0 lead and grinded out a 4-3 win. Closer Koji Uehara got five outs for the save and halted any chances of a Tiger comeback.

Down 3-2 in the series heading back to Boston, the Tigers still felt optimistic with Scherzer and Verlander lined up to pitch. Game 6 featured another grand performance from an unlikely hero. Pitching dominated again.  Through six innings, the Tigers led 2-1. In the bottom of the 7th, the Red Sox fans found the bases juiced with Victorino up to bat and then the unthinkable happened.  No he did not shave his beard before his at bat, but he smacked another Red Sox grand slam, this time over the Green Monster in left. Uehara closed the deal again for his third save in the series. Not to mention, he won the other game when the Red Sox walked off in Game 2. The Red Sox won in 6 games advancing to the World Series and Uehara, a closer, yet alone a pitcher, was named MVP of the ALCS.

Jon Lester

The Red Sox and the Cardinals batted poorly throughout the LCS, but they got the hits when they counted. It was their pitching that carried them to the World Series. Each team featured emerging stars winning MVPs. Wacha on the front end. He beat Kershaw and shutout the Dodgers twice.  Those two feats alone in one series are reason enough to retire. And Uehara impacted every single game the Red Sox won against the Tigers, winning one and saving three games. The entire country of Japan has new requested membership to Red Sox Nation.

It is usually the hitters that get the awards. Hitters get the highlights. The home runs and game-winning hits. Hitters are the ones that play every game and provide the most impact. However, the only thing the bats have been touching these playoffs are the racks after recording outs, and lots of them. The final four teams had the best pitchers in baseball. The Cardinals and Red Sox might not have better pitchers than the Tigers or Dodgers, but they pitched better in the LCS, when it mattered most. Their bullpens were better. Their closers were better. And now we, as fans, are better off with this fantastic matchup for this year’s World Series. Two respected and admirable teams facing off in late October.  What could be better than this? Seven games would be a nice early Christmas gift. Will the pitching dominance continue to trend or will the hitters get the last laugh? This baseball fan is eager to watch and see. Stay tuned.

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Paul Culley
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THE “NEW” QB CONTROVERSY (PART 1, ALEX)

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The Cover 4.com presents you with THE “NEW” QB CONTROVERSY (PART 1, ALEX)! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

An uneducated 49ers fan thinks that the team should have kept Alex Smith because they believe he’s a better quarterback and one that wins games. This same fan has the idea that Colin Kaepernick sucks and his success last year was a fluke.

An unrealistic 49ers fan thinks the opposite ─ although Kaepernick hasn’t looked all that great this year, Smith contributed nothing to the 49ers.

These two schools of though sum up what some 49ers fans believe about the current quarterback situation.  Both of these statements couldn’t be further from reality.

The 

Slow (and painful) Rise

Smith had not lived up to the expectations of being a No. 1 overall draft pick, at least not up until a couple years ago.  In 2011, he began to play more like a first-round pick.  He took the Niners to the 2011 NFC Championship. While San Francisco eventually lost to the Giants in the NFC Championship, the 49ers got to that game after a last-minute scoring drive against the Saints in the week before. That drive, and the ones before it in that crazy fourth quarter, was orchestrated by none other than Smith.  He did his best ‘Joe Cool” impression in that game and in many other games that season.  He was 50 percent  of the way to bound-to-be historic “The Catch 3.″

Jim Harbaugh turned Smith into the quarterback he is today, but Smith still had to become conformable in his role.  There is no arguing that he is a game manager.  This particular game manager led his team to multiple victories in the Harbaugh era.  He won a number of games for the Red and Gold.  He never gave up on the organization or the fanbase that gave him so much hatred at times.

To the Bench He Goes

In 2012, Smith looked primed to manage his team all the way to the Super Bowl.  The team started out great with him at the helm.  They were winning games and Smith was doing what he had to do to win.  Then injury struck Smith in the middle of the season and then Kaepernick made his mark.  The infamous “hot-hand” Harbaugh debacle began.

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Though Smith was healthy after a couple weeks, Kaepnerick obviously had the “hot-hand”.  Whether this was simply an opportunity for Harbaugh to make Kaepnerick the new starter or Harbaugh truly believed he was going to go back to Smith eventually, Kaepernick took over the starting spot.

Some fans that already disliked Smith, and many did, including me, (though I did start to like him a lot more during the 2011 season) were pumped that Kaepnerick was the new starter.  He possessed so much of the big play ability that the Niners have lacked in a quarterback since Jeff Garcia (Wow, did I just credit Garcia?)  Kaepnerick was more exciting than Smith, he seemed to have a better upside, and hell, he was a fresh face.

Because of the unwritten rule that no one should lose a starting position due to injury, you would think

that Smith would be extremely bitter and unresponsive to the coaches and players.  That was not the case at all.

Smith was one of the most helpful coaches that Kaepnerick had during his run to the Super Bowl.  If you look at old game film from last year, Smith was constantly talking with Kaepnerick.  He was pointing out coverages and shifts, helping him with plays and getting him to properly read the defense.  Smith was the reason Kaepnerick grew into the quarterback that he became.  Harbaugh knew it and acknowledged it, and so has Kaepnerick.

Many players would have turned a cold shoulder.  Smith kept preaching that winning is what matters, and Kaepnerick has the tools to add to the win column.

For this reason alone, I have to say that Smith showed so much class.  He helped the 49ers and Kaepernick get to the Super Bowl.  He showed a ton of respect for the organization and Harbaugh’s decision to place him on the bench.  We all know the rest of the story.  Smith is a Chief now, and Kaepnerick isn’t looking like a top-five quarterback this year.

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Final Note

Smith gave it 100 percent in his time with the 49ers.  He never gave up and he always tried to make the team better.  He took all the flak from the fans and still remained positive.  Then when his time was up, he respectfully and enthusiastically helped Kaepernick in his transition to become a starting NFL quarterback.

Now that he is gone, 49ers fans should have no true reason to hate Smith.  He always tried to make his team and himself better, even when he had no support.  He helped the 49ers win the games they won, period.

For that reason, the hate toward Smith is completely unwarranted now that he is the quarterback of the past for the Niners. I wish him good luck with the Chiefs, unless of course they make it to the Super Bowl against the Niners.

p.s. If the Chiefs win eight or more games, the Niners get a second round pick, so it is a good thing they are winning.

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USA Soccer: Reaction to final WCQs and Updated Roster Projection

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The Cover 4.com presents you with USA Soccer: Reaction to final WCQs and Updated Roster Projection! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The CONCACAF Hexagonal World Cup Qualifier has wrapped up, and wow did it go out with a bang. The United States won both of their games and several players saw action with an opportunity to help, hurt, or cement their place in the squad preparing for the World Cup.

If you’re late to the party that is the Hex, here’s how it went down: The US beat Jamaica to wrap up the top spot in the Hex going into their final game at Panama, and Mexico beat Panama to control their own destiny heading into their final game at second-place Costa Rica, where a win or draw would at least clinch a home-and-home playoff with New Zealand for a place at the World Cup. In other words, the US had nothing to play for and Mexico had everything to play for.

You wouldn’t have known it watching the US, who put on an incredible display of resilience that exemplified sportsmanship and fair play. Panama has never been to a World Cup, so even a shot at a playoff was huge and their stadium was ready to come unglued. With nothing to play for, it would have been easy for a group of fringe players from the US to mail in the game and let Panama have their party, but that’s not what they chose to do.

Jürgen Klinsmann has instilled in this squad that they are out to win every game, and that’s exactly what happened. With the traditional “never say die” attitude that has been a trademark of American soccer, the US scored twice in stoppage time to completely crush Panama’s dreams and keep Mexico’s hope alive. After the game several US players including Terrence Boyd and Aron Jóhannsson stayed on the field to console some of Panama’s players who were visibly emotional after they failed to hold the lead (more on that later).

Though it is true that the US had nothing to play for in the standings, many of the players who took the field had a spot on the roster to Brazil to play for. Several are considered to be fringe players heading into next summer, and they needed to prove to Klinsmann that they blend well with the team and are capable of making an impact if given the chance on the World’s biggest stage. Midfielder Kyle Beckerman stated after the game that he was going to play hard the whole game regardless of what was on the line for Panama, an attitude that was prevalent throughout the squad that night as well in a hard fought 2-0 victory against Jamaica.

Before analyzing individual performances from the final two games, here is the updated squad projection for next summer’s World Cup:

 

Goalkeepers (3): Brad Guzan (Aston Villa/England), Tim Howard (Everton/England), Nick Rimando (Real Salt Lake/MLS)

Outside Defenders (4): DaMarcus Beasley (Puebla/Mexico), Edgar Castillo (Club Tijuana/Mexico), Steve Cherundolo (Hannover 96/Germany), Brad Evans (Seattle Sounders FC/MLS)

Center Defenders (5): Matt Besler (Sporting Kansas City/MLS), John Brooks (Hertha Berlin/Germany), Geoff Cameron (Stoke City/England), Omar González (Los Angeles Galaxy/MLS), Clarence Goodson (San Jose Earthquakes/MLS)

Outside Midfielders (3): Alejandro Bedoya (Nantes/France), Fabian Johnson (Hoffenheim/Germany), Graham Zusi (Sporting Kansas City/MLS)

Center Midfielders (4): Michael Bradley (AS Roma/Italy), Mix Diskerud (Rosenborg/Norway), Jermaine Jones (Schalke/Germany), Sacha Kljestan (Anderlecht/Belgium)

Forwards (4): Jozy Altidore (Sunderland/England), Clint Dempsey (Seattle Sounders FC/MLS), Landon Donovan (Los Angeles Galaxy/MLS), Aron Jóhannsson (AZ Alkmaar/Netherlands)

The only change in the squad from the last projection is Mix Diskerud taking Beckerman’s place as a center midfielder. This was a tough decision, especially since Beckerman played well in his start against Panama. However, Diskerud started both games and played a variety of roles, some he thrived in and some he did not, but the fact Klinsmann started him in both shows confidence in what Diskerud brings in his ball-handling skills and playmaking.

The decision ultimately came down to Beckerman or Sacha Kljestan. Though Kljestan was less than impressive as a starter for most of the Panama game, he was very solid as a substitute against Jamaica when he nearly scored right after he was brought on. The deciding factor was that Kljestan plays for a better club team, Anderlecht, which is playing in the Champions League, allowing Kljestan an opportunity to be tested and grow since he is a regular starter. In addition to this, he has been scoring goals and consistently turning in good performances. His experience will be valuable in the World Cup as the speed of play increases against the top teams, something I feel Beckerman might struggle with.

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Player Evaluations

Goalkeeper: Tim Howard started against Jamaica and Brad Guzan started against Panama. Both played well individually, taking goals allowed out of the equation since Guzan had an entirely different center-back pairing and a road environment to deal with, though he should have done better with the rebound he spilled leading to Panama’s second goal. Guzan is certainly the keeper of the future and the US has a lot to be excited about with him, but it is Howard’s net for now.

Outside Defenders: DaMarcus Beasley put in a solid stint against Jamaica which included a great run forward and a shot that barely missed the target in the first half before being subbed out in the second half. He’s not as fast as he used to be, but he still picks his spots well and is a threat in attack on overlapping runs. Edgar Castillo came on for him against Jamaica and went the distance against Panama. Castillo adds more speed and playmaking down the wing, but he leaves A LOT to be desired on the defensive side. I am ignoring Alejandro Bedoya’s cameo at right back in the Panama game, all I will say is don’t expect to see him there again. Brad Evans got exposed in these qualifiers on the right. He was repeatedly beaten by quicker wings for the opponent. Though he recovered well and bailed himself out a few times, he is not what is needed from a starting right back at the World Cup. If Panama made him look that vulnerable, imagine how much Cristiano Ronaldo, Franck Ribery, or even Theo Walcott would feast on him. Steve Cherundolo began his rehab last week, and the job is definitely his when he is healthy.

Center Defenders: Matt Besler and Geoff Cameron both played great in the clean sheet against Jamaica. Cameron can and probably will overtake Omar Gonzalez as the regular starter there at some point. He was very steady, consistent, and worked well with Besler, who was his usual calm and collected self, playing in front of his hometown fans in Kansas City. Clarence Goodson against Panama was the fixture he usually is; nothing flashy but no glaring mistakes either. Michael Orozco is another story. Yes, he scored the first goal of the night to tie it at 1 off of a corner kick, but he was often caught out of position and is just too inconsistent to be considered for the final 23 at this point.

Outside Midfielders: Landon Donovan was clearly not 100% when he took the field against Jamaica. He had a quiet first half by his standards and was subbed out at the break. He has been battling an injury, and his performance should not hurt his place in the starting lineup long-term given his track record. With Fabian Johnson injured and remaining in Germany, the aforementioned Bedoya started both games on the right flank and had his ups and downs. He created space well but failed to provide quality service on his short passes and crosses. His place in the squad is safe but don’t expect him to start with the full team healthy. Graham Zusi cemented his place in the squad going forward, scoring as a substitute against Jamaica and the late equalizer against Panama. Houston Dynamo veteran Brad Davis showed well as a sub against Panama providing stellar crosses, including the assist to Zusi’s header. But at a position of depth for the US he is a long-shot at best to go to Brazil.

Center Midfield: Center midfield had the most action in these two games. Jermaine Jones started against Jamaica and went the full 90, doing his duty as a part-time bruiser in front of the back 4 and part-time distributor bridging the gap from defense to attack. He remains the easy choice to partner with Michael Bradley when he comes back from injury. As mentioned before, Diskerud made a decent showing for himself, more so as he was freed to push forward and play underneath a forward. His pairing with Jones was not the best and he lends better to the role Clint Dempsey usually occupies, which he played against Panama. Beckerman did nothing to hurt his chances, with some decent passes from his holding role. Kljestan was an interesting case. He showed very well in his time against Jamaica pushing forward and holding up play, which created more offensive chances. Against Panama as a starter, it took him a while to get going. He worked much better with Jones than with Beckerman for some reason and looked much more comfortable perhaps because he knew Jones wanted to sit back so he was free to push forward, whereas Beckerman tends to do both. Once Diskerud was subbed out, he pushed up field more and looked much better in the final half hour of that game. I expect Klinsmann to call him in for the November friendlies for another look.

Forwards: Jozy Altidore played well both matches, captaining the Panama game, and scoring an easy tap-in near the end of the Jamaica match. He continues to distribute well with his back to the goal, though he tends to get passive when he isn’t getting consistent service or support. In the Jamaica game he tended to drift back into the midfield and allowed Jóhannsson to stay up top, which does not suit his game well. All things considered, he remains the top choice for the Americans as he is a menace for opposing defenses to deal with. Jóhannsson got his first start for the US against Jamaica in a 4-4-2 formation. He created, and subsequently wasted, many chances in that game while paired with Altidore, but he did show flashes of what he is capable of. When he came on as a substitute for Diskerud against Panama, he dropped behind Altidore and showed the two should have switched roles against Jamaica as he is more than capable of being a supporting forward. His best role for this team may be as offensive spark off the bench giving the US a two-striker attack with the ability to still keep possession of the ball and dictate the pace of play. Not to mention, he is a poacher from outside the box as he demonstrated on the winning goal (follow the link to see it, courtesy US Soccer/beIn Sport) to completely crush Panama’s spirits.

Finally, Terrence Boyd came on for Altidore for the final 15 minutes against Panama and provided the assist on Jóhannsson’s goal. Though he has been in good form for Rapid Vienna, this position is just too crowded right now to see him breaking through for a World Cup spot barring an injury or severe drop in form from someone ahead of him. He has a bright future for the National team and it was good to see him get some productive time on the field paired with Jóhannsson. His greatest moment from the match, without a doubt, was after the final whistle where he was photographed consoling a Panama player (follow hyperlink for photo) who was overcome with emotion, what many are calling a true demonstration of sportsmanship. In a moment where it would be easy to just walk away and go celebrate, Boyd and Jóhannsson represented the United States with class and honor by doing the right thing and acknowledging that in their victory there was a dream crushed on the other side. That moment combined with their on-field play should have all American soccer fans excited about what the future holds for these two.

Check back soon as the United States prepares for November friendlies on the road against Scotland and Austria, theCover4 will have full analysis of the squad leading up to those matches and all things US Men’s National Team as the 2014 World Cup inches closer.

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Dominique Wilkins: The Human Highlight Film

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Dominique Wilkins: The Human Highlight Film! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

A lot of people hear the name Dominique Wilkins and only remember how he was the most forceful, powerful and flashy dunker the game will probably not see again for quite some time. But what many fans seem to forget is that you can’t score 26,668 some odd points off of dunks in a 17-year career (12 of which were with Atlanta Hawks). For those of you like myself who need a picture drawn…that’s 13,334 tomahawks and windmills in total which equals NINE dunks a game for 17 years straight. He’s strong, but nobody’s THAT strong.

Now, for a little history lesson. Did you know Wilkins was born in France? After his family moved back to the States, he then moved to North Carolina despite his mother’s objection so that he could help support his family. He was discovered playing at the Bridge Street Recreational Center by then-Washington (N.C.) High School coach Dave Smith who offered Wilkins a place to stay under the conditions that he’d come play for his team  the following season. I know you’re thinking, “that’s definitely NOT legal,” but that goes to show how the off-the-court game has changed so much in the last 30-plus years. But that’s a story for another article (stay tuned 😉 ). The two years he spent at Washington led to back-to-back state titles while DW put up 29 points and 16 rebounds a game. Say WHAT?!

It was at this time that Wilkins became known as the nation’s most valuable natural talent, and colleges were ready to put up a serious fight for him. The University of Georgia proved to be victorious in this fight, which had been considered a long shot or a no shot. Some of the Washington town-folk responded by breaking windows in his mother’s house and spilling paint on the car they claimed had been purchased for her by Georgia officials. Dominique’s mother, Mrs. Gertrude Baker (she had remarried), said she had bought the car from a Washington automobile dealer, and had gotten it cheaply because of her son’s fame.

While at Georgia, Wilkins became known as the most exciting athlete in college sports averaging 21.6 points a game over his three-year collegiate career (Note that I said ATHLETE, not dunker). Wilkins gained notoriety for having a hunger for the ball. Not just hustle plays such as diving for loose balls, but also having a remarkable awareness for where the ball is going to drop after a shot. You have this guy who stands approximately 6 foot 8I as one of the hardest workers in the game. The highlight film wasn’t only made in the front-court, but bringing a vicious “MUST WIN” loose ball mentality every time down the court is not only intimidating but also arguably the most valuable tool in having a strong playoff contender. With that, I now must mention the 54 points he dropped in ‘86 against Larry Bird, Danny Ainge and the Boston Celtics. Once again, 27 dunks on that team is pretty close to impossible (please refer to video).

(1986) 54 Points against the Boston Celtics

SEC Player of the Year. Nine-time NBA All-Star. Four-time All-NBA Second Team. Two-time All-NBA Third Team. NBA First Teamer. NBA Scoring Champ. NBA All-Rookie Team. Two-time NBA Slam Dunk Contest Champ. Euroleague Champ. Euroleague MVP. Greek Cup Champ. Greek Cup MVP.

Yeah, this man was way more than a dunker.  Wilkins is a great candidate for being considered one of the best natural talent contenders of all-time. The man, the multi-faceted killer, the muscle, the HOF great, the legendary Human Highlight Film.

Cheers to Dominique Wilkins!!!

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Figuring out the Final Four

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The Cover 4.com presents you with Figuring out the Final Four! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Well, it looks like Major League Baseball is in for a treat. For the longest time in a while, baseball has a final four that is box office gold. The Dodgers, Cardinals, Tigers and Red Sox. West Coast to East Coast, we have four storied franchises that are filled with superstars. Maybe MLB thought they would give Bud Selig a nice going away present, since he’s retiring following the 2014 season.  If that’s the case, I am super excited about next season. Let me curb my enthusiasm about the two championship series and take a look at how we got there. The Braves, Pirates, Rays and A’s all fell in the Division Series. Can anybody sense a theme? All squads are small to mid-market teams, lacking big names, with very little postseason experience.

Matt-Kemp-NL-West-ChampsCould this just be a coincidence? It might be. Maybe the other teams were just better. Three out of the four teams with home field advantage won out, with the Tigers being the only team that outlasted this disadvantage. No real shocker there. So maybe we can just chalk it up to the best teams are left, which is the way it should be. Let’s break down the series.

The Dodgers’ return to the postseason matched them up against the Braves and Clayton Kershaw reminded us why he is the best pitcher in baseball. He dealt in Game 1 in Atlanta and the Dodgers got timely hitting from the usual suspects in Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig to cruise to a victory. The Braves responded in Game 2 by getting some clutch two-out hitting from Andrelton Simmons and Chris Johnson to squeak out a 4-3 victory over Zack Greinke. Heading back to Los Angeles, the series still seemed up in the air.

​The Dodgers quickly reminded us that this team can not just pitch, but they are capable of putting on an offensive display. In a matchup of two international rookie starting pitchers, the slugfest finished with a football score as Juan Uribe struck the big two-run homer in the fourth inning. The game was out of reach after that. The Braves scored a late safety to make the final score 13-6. Game 4 was the best game in he series. The Dodgers opted to move Kerhsaw up a day to pitch against Freddy Garcia. Yes I said Sweaty Freddy Garcia. How can the Braves be serious about winning by doing this? I laughed when I saw this matchup. And the Braves almost had the last laugh.

After trailing 2-0, the Braves answered by taking a 3-2 lead going into the bottom of the 8th. Puig led off the inning with a double and shortly thereafter, Uribe did it again. Just like he did for the Giants when he was the unsung hero of the 2010 playoffs, Uribe belted another two-run homer to give the Dodgers the lead and the series. Sorry Braves, another great regular season and division title were all for not. For the Dodgers, there are a lot of things to be excited about moving forward. Hearing Vin Scully announce on the road brought tears to my eyes.

a916f1fa16b6fc213e0f6a706700a437The other matchup in the National League showcased the new NL Central rivals in the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. Playing in the playoffs for their first time since 1992, the Buccos definitely held their own. They forced the full five game series. After getting shelled in Game 1, the Bucs returned the favor in Game 2 to winning convincingly behind rookie sensation Gerrit Cole. They split the two close games back in Pittsburgh. In a predictable sudden death Game 5, the Cardinals, behind ace Adam Wainwright, glided to a 6-1 victory over Cole and the proud Pirates.

You have to give the city of Pittsburgh credit; their fans are electric. The crowd reminded me of the 12th man that the Seahawks have in Seattle. Waving those black flags, the Pirates and their fans have a lot to be excited about in the future. Pedro Alvarez set a record by recording an RBI in his first six career playoff games. Andrew McCutchen is a viable MVP candidate every year and a model citizen on and off the field. In the end, they were facing the Cardinals. Enough said. All they do is advance in the playoffs. They moved on to their eighth league championship series in 14 years. Simply remarkable. No Albert Pujols. No Tony La Russa. No problem. The Cards are the best run franchise in baseball, filled with a great blend of young talent and skilled veterans. They will play the Dodgers as truly he best two teams in the National League. I can’t complain.

th (1)In the American League, there were two solid matchups. The Red Sox were back in the postseason and even without Pedro Martinez and Manny Ramirez, they are still a heck of a team to watch. “Fear the beard?” Yes I do.  The Red Sox sported many beards on their squad making them fun and cool to admire this hard-nosed team. The first two games at Fenway Park had two great pitching matchups, on paper. However, this is why games are played not on paper, but on the field. Matt Moore got crushed in Game 1 and David Price was clobbered and the Red Sox won both games easily. The only series that went 2-0, it did not look bright for the Rays.

After a road trip consisting of a playoff clinching series in Toronto, a Wild Card play-in game in Texas, a Wild Card playoff game in Cleveland, and the first two ALDS games in Boston, the Rays finally were back home in their illustrious Tropicana Field. And they actually had some fans attend Game 3 and 4. Trailing 3-0, a sweep seemed inevitable until Evan Longoria tied it up with a three run knock. After wild closer Fernando Rodney blew a save in the ninth, new hero Jose Lobatob cranked a walkoff home run to give the Rays their only win in the series. Game 4 consisted of very few runs. Joe Maddon used every pitcher in his bullpen, but it was not enough as the Red Sox scratched two runs in the 7th and one in the 9th to win 3-1 and the series. The Rays once again fell short in the playoffs, but still did not disappoint since making the playoffs for a team with this payroll is a victory in itself. The Red Sox continue to grow their beards and look as if they are the hottest team going right now.

The Tigers-A’s series closes out our bracket and this one did not disappoint. Games 1 and 2 were both one run games. In Game 1, Max Scherzer was given a 3-0 lead early and made it stand all the way home. Just barely.Yoenis Cespedes rocked a majestic homer in the 7th to make it 3-2, but this ended up being the final score.  Rookie Sonny Gray took on Tigers superstar ace Justin Verlander in a pitchers duel in Game 2.  A walkoff single by Stephen Vogt capped off a very exciting 1-0 win for the Atheletics. Moving to Detroit, the series was also a toss up.

thAnibal Sanchez has quietly been the MVP of the pitching staff for the Tigers this year, but got roughed up as the A’s came out swinging. The A’s came out victorious 6-3, but the highlight of the game took place in the 9th inning when A’s closer Grant Balfour and Tigers slugger Victor Martinez got in a screaming match. Martinez fouled off a Balfour pitch and the two proceeded to stare at each other, use bleeped verbiage, causing both benches to clear. A mere shouting match. Nothing really came out of this except that some athletes take themselves way too seriously. The Tigers rallied in Game 4 behind home runs from Jhonny Peralta and Martinez to win 8-6. Scherzer came in out of the bullpen highlighting one of my favorite elements of postseason baseball in do-or-die situations.

In a rematch of Game 2, Verlander showed everyone he can be the most dominant pitcher in baseball. He had everything working and Miguel Cabrera hit a two-run homer, giving him all the run support he needed. The Tigers advanced to the ALCS against the Red Sox, leaving the A’s and Billy Beane still one win away from their Moneyball dream. It is hard not to be optimistic about the A’s future, but one can not question if this style of baseball will ever carry them over the top. For the Tigers, they are definitely not playing their best, but they still have the best hitter in baseball in Cabrera and a pitching staff full of studs. Just like the NLCS, the Red Sox and Tigers are indeed the best two teams in the American League. The Tigers look to get back to the World Series and they don’t care who stands in their way. The Red Sox will be ready.

mlb-champsOverall, baseball had four competitive and compelling division series. All four series had some great games and great heroics. The best teams won and coincidently, the four teams left have the most superstar power and should draw the best ratings. In a time where sports fans choose football and basketball over baseball, this is just what the doctor ordered. Baseball is now in position to recapture the hearts of its fans. They have the most stars, pitching and hitting, and geographically, the entire country is represented with these four teams. The Dodgers look to establish themselves as the new mainstay in the National League and how fitting to do it against the classic and respected Cardinals. The Red Sox are back and better than ever. They take on the Tigers who are looking for some revenge after getting swept in the World Series last year. This sports fan is very pleased and excited for the rest of these playoffs. Baseball should be too. These next couple of weeks  could be crucial for the revival of baseball and its fandom. Ratings will be up, and hopefully up for a long time to come.

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Paul Culley
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NHL Week One:The Good,Bad, & Ugly

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The Cover 4.com presents you with NHL Week One:The Good,Bad, & Ugly! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

NHL Week One:The Good,Bad, & Ugly

Hello hockey fans, and welcome back. The NHL season is FINALLY underway, and there are a bunch of storylines taking place right now. How has the New York-Vancouver coaching swap worked out for both teams? Can the Blackhawks repeat? Can the Sharks get over the hump? Can the Penguins recover from an embarrassing playoff ouster? How will Tim Thomas fare in his comeback? We are about a week and a half into this new season, and we have seen some great hockey so far. Each week this season, The Cover 4 crew will give you a quick rundown of the weeks happenings in “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” Buckle up for the first installment.

The Good

-Alex Ovechkin has come out with guns blazing in this young season. Through three games, Ovi has 4 goals and 2 assists, and has looked like the MVP Ovechkin from the second half of last season. His release is still the most lethal in the game (sorry Steven Stamkos) and he is still finding acres of open ice on the power play. If he can keep up the pace, look for him to be in the mix again for MVP.

-The Colorado Avalanche are off to a 3-0 start this season.  They have a top-10 offense, guiding them to their third win over a previously unbeaten Maple Leafs team. Rookie forward and 2013 No. 1 overall pick Nathan MacKinnon  has been very impressive thus far, and new head coach Patrick Roy has brought a new fire to the team.

-Without a doubt, the biggest story of the early season is young Czech Tomas Hertl of the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks are off to a 3-0 start as well, and Hertl has been a big part of that. In his three career games, Hertl has two multi-goal games, the most recent of which, a 4-goal game against the Rangers, capped by a must-see stick-between-the-legs move. Just sensational.  Despite the flash, the kid is showing he knows where to go to score goals, potting a few from the low slot, high crease area, which is right where you want to go if you want to have a long and productive NHL career.

 

The Bad

-Cory Schneider opened the season in net for the Devils when they visited Pittsburgh last Thursday, leaving Martin Brodeur to ride the pine on opening night for the first time in two decades. While Schneider is deserving of that honor, and the Devils opened with a back-to-back (so Brodeur could start at home), it is just yet another sign that one of the best goalies of all time is on his way out. My guess would be that this is Brodeur’s last season in the league, and with the Devils’ roster, it could be a long one.

-Despite the hot start from captain Alex Ovechkin (6 points through 3 games) the Caps have been less than intimidating. Already, they are the third worst team in the league in goals against, and they have played the horrible Calgary Flames, the mediocre-at-best Dallas Stars, and the defending Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. Through those first three games, the Caps managed just one win, and that was a comeback game against the Flames. The Caps still look to be a one-man show, despite Mikhail Grabovski putting up some numbers early. Luckily for Caps fans, it is still only three games into this young, 82-game season.

-The Philadelphia Flyers have stumbled out of the gates to say the least. Their newly appointed captain Claude Giroux was set back over the offseason by a freak golfing accident (something you thought a Philadelphia Flyer would have mastered by now), but he was ready for the season opener. After a less than impressive preseason and starting 0-3, the Flyers fired head coach Peter Laviolette, making him the first coaching casualty of the season, and promoted assistant coach Craig Berube to head coach. Berube got the Flyers’ their first win of the season to move them to 1-3 on the year, but if the Flyers don’t solve their goaltending issue (change the record on that one), they may be in for another long year in the competitive Metropolitan Division.

 

The Ugly

-Well it didn’t take Patrick Roy long to re-endear himself to the Avalanche faithful. At the end of his first game as bench boss in Colorado, tempers flared as Anaheim Ducks defenseman Ben Lovejoy appeared to hit Avs rookie Nathan MacKinnon knee-on-knee. MacKinnon was ok, but a fiery Roy got into a verbal altercation with Ducks agitator-extraordinaire Corey Perry, which led to Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau and Roy screaming at each other from the benches. Roy wound up shoving the dividing partition of glass between the benches, breaking it, and nearly pancaking Boudreau with it. “It going to be a long first year for Patrick if that is how he reacts to everything,” Boudreau said after the game.

-It happens to every goalie in their careers, and this week it happened to Jonathan Quick. A disastrous gaffe in the Kings game against the Rangers will keep Quick on hockey blooper reels for some time. After winning a defensive zone faceoff while killing a penalty, the Rangers’ Ryan McDonagh cleared the puck off the glass and down the rink. As the puck headed towards the no-play trapezoid, Quick came out to stop the puck, and then move it back up to his teammates on the power play, a very routine move in the game. About two strides out from his net as he was bending down to get the thick part of his stick on the ice, Quick lost control of his stick right before the puck got to him, and the puck bounced right off of his blocker and went into his net. The shock and disbelief immediately befell Quick as reality set it. Luckily for Quick, he’s arguably the game’s best netminder, and this gaffe will quickly be forgotten.

-On opening night, an incident happened between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens that reignited the fighting debate. During their second fight of the game, Montreal’s George Parros and Toronto’s Colton Orr were squaring off, and being that they are both enforcers for their respective teams, they are no strangers to each other. At one point, Orr lost his balance, and as he was falling, pulled Parros down with him, who ultimately hit his face on the ice, knocking him unconscious and forcing him to be taken off of the ice on a stretcher. With both players involved having limited talent and one clear role on their teams (to be the fighters), the debate was kicked off again as to whether it is time to ban fighting in the game. We won’t have an answer to that question for a while, but it is moments like this that spark the debate.

 

Thank you for joining us for our first installment of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. Stop back next week for more.

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The Bad Kid’s My Best Friend: Being a Seahawks Fan in the Age of Richard Sherman

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The Cover 4.com presents you with The Bad Kid’s My Best Friend: Being a Seahawks Fan in the Age of Richard Sherman! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

Growing up I had one sports idol, Edgar Martinez. I learned early on to pick sports heroes that you actually had the physical abilities to dream about being. Edgar was short, kinda fat and hit doubles. I wasn’t short, but I was fat and I hit lots of doubles. Done and done.

GPmid4813But the first player I wanted to be like in every other aspect of life was Gary Payton. I went to a game circa 1994 with my dad and could not take my eyes off The Glove. Sure he was an amazing player with incredible body control, the quickest hands I’ve ever seen and (eventually) a nice jump shot, but it was more than that. Payton was never just about his basketball skills. Payton mentally owned whichever player he was on the court with.

The shit talking, the chest bumping, the way he always seemed to be talking out of the side if his mouth. GP didn’t beat guys, he owned them. Being a Sonics fan at the time was like being best friends with the bad kid in school. Sure, he never stopped talking, was always challenging authority and sometimes got you sent to detention with him. But that detention was a whole hell of a lot more fun than eating lunch at the quiet table.

After the Sonics traded GP in 2003, Seattle fans went a while with no bad kids in our circle of friends. Shaun Alexander couldn’t stop smiling. Ray Allen was awesome, but ultra-focused and was a bit of a recluse off the court. Matt Hasselbeck won our hearts, but in the “I’d want my sister to marry him” kind of way. If you call Felix Hernandez anything that involved the word bad, the King’s Court will try to fight you. Those guys all worked great in different ways. Seattleites pride themselves on their polite, because they’re not dicks, reputation, so those heroes worked.

With the 154th pick in the 2011 draft, the Seahawks selected a converted wide receiver out of Stanford. And with that move, Seattle had its bad friend back.

Richard Sherman is a package made for Seattle fans. He always believes he’s the smartest guy in the room (or the best at life depending on the audience). He has never held back in saying whatever he wants. He has a sense of humor that led to him hiring the ref that called Golden Tate’s touchdown against Green Bay as the ump for his celebrity softball fundraiser. He writes articles for Sports Illustrated. He’s the loudest, most charismatic, biggest troublemaker in school. And we love being friends with him.

743352_f520Seattleites embracing the bad kid seems like a bit of a contradiction. Seattle is full of the quieter, rebellious within-the-lines kind of people (you may call them hipsters). But when it comes to football, the city’s inner party animal comes out. And when the animal is loose, it wants to run with Sherman.

Being friends with the bad kid means you have to put up with defending your friend to a lot of people who do not share your view of that friend. He talks too much, he got burned in the Atlanta game at times, he’s not all he’s cracked up to be. But when the bad kid backs up all the ish he talks, oh man is it fun. Sherman tells teams he’s going to beat them. Then he beats them. Then he reminds them that he said he was going to beat them and then beat them. And we as fans get to ride at his side, cackling the whole time.

It’s been a long time since Seattle had the baddest kid in school as its friend. But we’ve been waiting for him to come back. And now that he has, we can’t stop egging him on and rejoicing in his success. Winning is always going to be the key that holds it together. But winning in detention will always be more fun than treading water at the quiet table.

 

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NHL Season Preview Part 1:Atlantic Division

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The Cover 4.com presents you with the NHL Season Preview Part 1:Atlantic Division! Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter at @thecover4 or facebook at theCo VerFour

The 2013-14 NHL season is going to look a little different, in terms of teams, divisions and players, all of which have undergone major change. For the upcoming season, the realignment of the NHL is in full effect and there are new divisional names and a new playoff system.  The biggest change in the realignment is the shift of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings to the Eastern Conference. There will be new rivalries that were never able to exist in the past. The playoffs will take 16 teams, eight from each conference, and seed them. Under the new alignment, Eastern Conference teams, now consisting of the Metropolitan and Atlantic divisions, will have 30 games against their division opponents and 24 games against conference opponents outside of their division as well as 28 interconference games. To start our season preview, lets take a look at the Atlantic Division.

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BOSTON BRUINS

The Bruins skated their way last year into the Stanley Cup Final facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks, but lost in six games. The Bruins had a bit of a wild offseason in terms of players coming and going. The Bruins traded young forward and former No. 2 overall pick Tyler Seguin to the Dallas Stars after a disappointing year on and off-the-ice. His return netted the Bruins a natural goal scorer in Loui Eriksson, who will likely be paired on a line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Eriksson has been a reliable source of offense, producing three consecutive 70-plus point seasons before a subpar shortened season last year. Gone are Jaromir Jagr and Nathan Horton, but Boston went out signed 36-year-old Jarome Iginla in place of Jagr. Iginla is on the downside of his career, but he should fit in nicely with Boston’s style of play. The Bruins also lost defenseman Andrew Ference to Edmonton, which is their only notable loss on defense. Zdeno Chara will continue to lead the Bruins blue line as veterans Johnny Boychuk and Dennis Seidenberg are dependable. Dougie Hamilton had an outstanding promising rookie year and could become a top pairing defenseman soon. Also in the mix are Torey Krug , who made a name for himself in the playoffs, Matt Bartkowski, Adam McQuaid  and Joe Morrow, who also came over in the Seguin trade. In goal Tuukka Rask looks to build off a career year and strong playoff appearance as he is now the long-term solution in net for the next eight years. If Rask goes down, Boston will be in trouble as backups Chad Johnson and Niklas Svedberg have little, to no NHL experience.  Boston should be the favorite for this division.

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BUFFALO SABRES

Buffalo is basically in a rebuilding mode as it has a very weak team and little depth on its roster. Thomas Vanek is the veteran and big name who is looking to lead and carry the team after having his most productive season last year. The forwards for Buffalo are less than ideal and more promise and future hope than what can you do for me now.  Cody Hodgson and Tyler Ennis are two of Buffalo’s most optimistic players as the youngsters combined for 65 points in 2013 and should be looking for a breakout year in a full season. Mikhail Grigorenko, who was looked at as a promising hope of offensive production last year as a rookie, struggled to find his game and managed just one goal in 25 games. He does have the size and skill to be productive if given a full season to play.  Other forwards include Ville Leino, who signed a $26 million contract two years ago, who needs to stay healthy and produce as he has been nothing but a bust thus far. Buffalo will also have the likes of Steve Ott, who is used to create space and open play for guys like Drew Stafford who had the one of the worst seasons of his career last year.  Once promising youngster Tyler Myers, a 6-foot-8 defenseman, saw his minutes drop as he became nothing but a problem every time he was on the ice. The Sabers need improved play from him moving forward to have any chance of success this year. In net, Ryan Miller who many thought would be dealt last year, is back. Miller has been in steady decline since 2010 and his backup, Jhonas Enroth, didn’t look very promising either last year. It looks like it is going to be along year for Buffalo and fans can expect trades to happen and wins hard to come by.

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DETROIT RED WINGS

The Original Six team joins the Eastern Conference this year and enters as an already formidable opponent. Detroit has wanted this switch for years and it finally has it now, as it has a time schedule that is much more suitable for the team.  Detroit will have a much easier conference than years past, but still play top division teams like Pittsburgh, Boston and Montreal. Detroit was expected to have a down year last year, but went beyond expectations. Detroit has an abundance of forwards but is $2.5 million over the cap, which it will need to get down to before October 2. They added long time Ottawa  Senator, Daniel Alfredsson, as their top free agent signing as well as Stephen Weiss who will be replacing Valtteri Filppula. Alfredsson should be motivated to win a Cup as Detroit is a legitimate contender and practically quit on Ottawa last year after going down in its series to Pittsburgh. Weiss escapes a bad Florida team and can finally just be the play maker he is, and not the go-to guy he was expected to be.  Having Pavel Datysuk and Henrik Zetterberg should help him finally be himself on the ice and see his creativity go to work. Darren Helm will start the season on the IR and has had trouble staying healthy. Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson and Mikael Samuelsson can all be depended upon and know what their roles are on the team. Their defense was a question mark heading into last season but this year, it should be a sound defensive unit. The defense is young, a change from years past and features Danny DeKeyser and Alexei Marchenko as players to watch. Ericsson, Kyle Quincey and Kronwall are the veteran leaders on defense.  Jimmy Howard has a chance to be a top goaltender in this league and his playoff success from last year shows he can carry them deep into the playoffs. Detroit will be fighting with the Bruins at the top of the Atlantic this year.

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FLORIDA PANTHERS

There is not much to say about this team other than they are going to need a miracle to even sniff the playoffs this year. They have lots of high ceiling guys, but all offered minimal production. In 2012 they were the best team in their division, but are nothing more than basement dwellers now. They have the 2013 Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau, who is their top young forward trying to lead Florida back into hockey relevancy. They signed veteran Scott Gomez, who is nothing more than a wasted paycheck anymore, during the offseason and have invited goaltender Tim Thomas to camp for a tryout. Thomas took all of last year off and even if he does make the team, he is nothing more than a backup and mentor.  Florida is led by forwards Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg on the first line. As I said before, hope is bleak in the SunshineState. A few other notable forwards will be Sean Bergenheim, Scottie Upshall and Marcel Goc as bottom-tier players.  Jacob Markstrom is expected to be the team’s go-to goalie and Florida needs him to be its future goalie. It’s going to be a long year in Florida, not that many will notice, as the Panthers have one of the lowest attendance figures in the league. Count on them to finish last.

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MONTREAL CANADIENS

The Habs didn’t really do much in the offseason in terms of getting better, as they only signed Danny Briere, George Parros and Douglas Murray. None of those three are expected to be game changers for this team. Montreal is banking off its late season surge last year, and feels it already has the necessary pieces in place to compete. Its division gets a little tougher this year but it has the skill and speed to keep up. It needs size and toughness which is what Murray and Parros are for. David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty and Rene Bourque are expected to be the point producers while the bottom two lines expect to wear you down. Lars Eller, Brian Gionta and Brandon Prust are very tough bottom-six names who can give you problems and chip in on the score sheet.  Montreal has a lot of depth on its team and remains solid overall. PK Subban will be his usual self on defense scoring goals and creating problems for other teams, as he is one of the best agitators in the league. Alexei Emelin will also be a name to look for as a key on Montreal’s blue line. Carry Price is signed for another five years and he has become a reliable goalie after showing signs early in his career that he couldn’t handle pressure. Expect Montreal to be a top 3-4 contender in this division.

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OTTAWA SENATORS

Daniel Alfredsson shocked a lot of people in the NHL by leaving Ottawa. It was a true blow to the fans to see the sides only $1 million off and not get a deal done. Maybe he didn’t really want to come back? Either way, it can be argued the Senators made the biggest offseason trade, going out and getting high-scoring winger Bobby Ryan from Anaheim for Jakob Silfverberg and Stefan Noesen. Ryan had been dealing with trade rumors the past few years and he can finally just relax and know it is over.  Ryan will be playing top-three minutes every night and has play-making ability to open space and make his linemates better. Ottawa fans should be excited about this trade because Ryan brings a wealth of talent to an already highly-skilled team.  He should be on a line with (who I assume to be the new captain) Jason Spezza. Spezza is a great passer and there should be a lot of chemistry between the two. Rounding out that line will be Milan Michalek. Kyle Turris will play with newly signed Clarke MacArthur and possibly Cory Conacher or Mika Zibanejad. Erik Karlsson is looking for another nomination for the Norris Trophy this year after being injured for most the year on a play by Matt Cooke last year. The Sens also went out and signed Joe Corvo to play with guys like Eric Gryba and Chris Phillips on the backend. If Craig Anderson can stay healthy, he is a Vezina-type goalie who should be able to backstop this team into a playoff spot. Look for them to be fighting for one of the last playoff spots in the division.

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TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

Longtime face of the franchise Vincent Lecavalier is gone. His offensive production won’t be missed, but his leadership will. This team is looking to rebound from being one of the worse teams in the league last year, something no one in the NHL saw coming. Valtteri Filppula was their notable free agent signing and was given a lot of money after a disappointing season in Detroit. General Manager Steve Yzerman believes he will have a bounceback year centering the second line with either Teddy Purcell, Alexander Killorn, 2013 No. 2 overall pick Jonathan Drouin or veteran power forward Ryan Malone. My guess would have to be Drouin because he seems more like a natural fit for that line, However, if Drouin struggles early, could he be returned to junior after nine games? I could see Killorn on the top line after he was one of Tampa’s most productive scorers in the AHL. Head coach John Cooper, who took over late last year, should have had more time to establish a system that uses a combination of speed and skill. It could lead to a tougher time for the defense, but their strength is going to be on offense.  Tampa needs to be more consistent this year, after starting last year hot and then resembling a team that forgot how to play. It could score goals, but it could not hold onto leads. In goal, the completion between Ben Bishop and Anders Lindback provides no clear cut favorite for now. Both are big goalies and have the skill set to be number ones, but Tampa is usually a revolving door of goalies. I expect Tampa to struggle this year defensively, and be a brink playoff team thanks to its offense.

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TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

The Leafs have what might be their best team in more than 10 years, and they are deep with talent. Their top two lines will be Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk as line one and Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri and newly-signed David Clarkson on the second. I love the addition of Clarkson to this team because he gives them another big body on the top two lines and has proven he knows how to use his size around the net. Kessel is playing for a new contract and as the old adage goes, guys in contract years are motivated and should produce. The bottom six brings new addition Dave Bolland, fresh off a Stanley Cup with Chicago, and talented Russian Nikolai Kulemin. Dion Phaneuf is the team’s best defenseman and had an up and down year last year, but was still a reason for Toronto making the playoffs. He was top 10 defenseman scoring and was often paired against teams’ best players. He may not be a true shutdown defenseman, but he knows how create problems for setting up plays. Jake Gardiner is also a defenseman who will be the Leafs go-to offensive defenseman. Toronto’s biggest concern is its overall defense, as it are often facing a barrage of shots each game. Shots lead to scoring chances and this is something it needs to improve upon. In net, James Reimer is the starter while Jonathan Bernier will push for starting duties. Bernier was the Leafs trade acquisition from the Kings in June and is considered a future No. 1 if Reimer is not capable of fulfilling his duties. I expect Toronto to be a playoff tean this team year, somewhere in the 5-7 seed range.

The Atlantic Division will see the return of some of the sport’s best rivalries with Detroit joining the division again, and it will be a fun division to watch. We are only getting started here at the Cover 4 with our NHL season preview, and tomorrow we shift our focus out West to the Central Division. Today, we will leave you with our three choices to secure the divisional playoff bids:

Boston

Detroit

Montreal

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