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UPDATE: USA, Mexico and Canada Favorites to Win 2026 World Cup Joint Bid by Zeeni Sports

 on JUNE 5, 2017
While the United States narrowly missed out on the chance to host the 2022 World Cup they are now favorites to receive the 2026 Cup along with joint bidders Canada and Mexico. The three nations entered their joint bids earlier this year and are now serious favorites to get the nod from FIFA.
 
The FIFA Congress met May 11th, in Manama, Bahrain and was urged by the Concacaf sides to fast track their decision. The thought of fast tracking stems from the FIFA rules that since Russia will be hosting the 2018 World Cup and Qatar in 2022, European and Asian countries cannot put forth a bid for 2026. With the South American confederation likely to bid on 2030, they are in full support of the joint bid. The African Continent is the other possibility with Morocco the most likely to enter a bid. This leaves the North American sides as clear favorites.
 
Unfortunately, the FIFA Congress met and decided that it would be too early to give the Concacaf Federation the exclusivity over the bid.  U.S. Soccer Federation President Suni Gulati is still very optimistic saying, “we weren’t going to be awarded the World Cup on Thursday; it was going to be a process to meet a certain set of standards and we are going to meet and exceed those standards. Whether there are other bidders or not, we are going to have an irresistible bid for the FIFA Congress next summer.”
 
If you are curious about the proposed joint bid this is a breakdown: “the current understanding is that the United States would host 60 games in the 2026 event while Canada and Mexico would each host 10 games. All the games from the quarterfinals onward would be played in the United States including the final, as FIFA stages its first 48-team World Cup.”
 
We don’t want to get ahead of ourselves but there is a lot of optimism coming from the U.S. camp. If there are any updates in the near future we will keep you posted! 
joint bid

Is the United States Youth System Finally Paying Off? by Zeeni Sports

 on JUNE 2, 2017
In comparison to the world leaders in international soccer the United States youth system is exceptionally behind. Sides like FC Barcelona of Spain established their world-renowned academy, La Masia, in 1979. For decades, academies like La Masia have propelled European and South American sides to World Cup victories.
It wasn’t until 2007 that the U.S. Soccer Federation created the U.S. Soccer Developmental Academy. Struggling to compete against the elite sides of the world, the Academy finally provided a new game plan for U.S. Soccer.
 
It drew from the philosophies of the Europeans & South Americans where they focused heavily on developing a players technical skills. With more emphasis on training and less on the amount of games played, the Academy looked to sharpen and heighten on the field player IQ’s. 
Since its inception, the Academy system has done exactly what it set out to do; create a larger pool of top-level players from which U.S. Youth International coaches could choose from. This multi-leveled development has led to less players slipping through the cracks and has paved the way for former academy stars like Gyasi Zardes, DeAndre Yedlin and Jordan Morris to make their Men’s National Team debuts.  However, while the talent is there, the consistent results for U.S. Youth side has not been.
 
After failing to qualify for two consecutive Olympic games in 2012 and 2016 the future of U.S. Soccer looked rather grim. Fortunately, U.S. Soccer Federation remained un-wavered. They would regroup and reassess but never veered away from their game plan which was to not only to compete with the best sides but to defeat them.
 
It is now 2017 and the U-20 U.S. side has qualified for the World Cup taking place in Korea Republic, but they have now booked their place into the Quarter Finals of the tournament with a 6-0 defeat of New Zealand.
 
With standout players like 17 year-old Josh Sargent coming through the academy and making a difference for the U-20’s, it is a reminder that we must continue evolving our youth system. That is why in February of 2017 the USSDA added 17 new clubs for the upcoming season. This is the type of commitment it will take for U.S. Soccer to continue building on its promising future. 
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10 Years to the Day: 22 Year Old LeBron Scores 48 pts in Game 5 to Defeat the Pistons

Tomorrow night LeBron James will be making his eighth NBA Finals appearance in ten years. He is the first player since Bill Russell’s Celtics to start in seven consecutive finals and compete in eight. To celebrate this historic run, let’s take a look back at the performance that propelled him to his first ever Finals appearance in 2007.

To really grasp LeBron’s first finals run, let’s flashback to the mid ‘00’s for some context. From ’04-’08, the Pistons had established themselves as the kings of the East. They had defeated the Lakers in ’04 to claim the Championship and would go on to compete in five straight Eastern Conference Finals. On the other side of the spectrum were LeBron James and the Cavs. LeBron had struggled to make the playoffs in his first two seasons and when he finally made it for the first time in ’06, he would fall to the Pistons in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Using the loss as motivation, LeBron would lead his team to a 50-win season and book their place in the Conference Finals where they would once again face the Detroit Pistons.

Fast-forward to May 31st, 2007; Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. LeBron would scored 48 points and have the Cavs’ final 25 pts through the 4th quarter and both overtime periods.

Watch the Highlights:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sx4z_pCA_6k

At only 22 years old, his performance in Game 5 is considered one of the greatest in NBA playoff history. Just like Michael Jordan had a tough time with the Detroit Pistons in the ’80’s, so did LeBron; and just like Jordan overcame the ‘Big Brother’ of the East, so did LeBron. The 2017 Finals are yet to be settled, but whatever transpires we must appreciate the greatness of LeBron James while we still can.


The Mamba League: Kobe Bryant’s Next Chapter

 on MAY 30, 2017

Kobe Bryant is a five time NBA Champion and a surefire first ballot Hall of Famer. After a twenty-year career in the NBA you would think that would warrant an uninterrupted hiatus, however, Kobe is far from done with the game. While Bryant may be retired, his influence on the game’s future is just getting started.

This past year Kobe teamed up with Nike and the L.A. Boys & Girls Club to create the Mamba League. The league is an 8-week program for kids ages 8-10 that focuses on teaching the fundamentals of the game while removing the added pressures that come with youth sports. The league is different from others in many ways but one noticeable difference is that it offers new rules and court dimensions to help ease kids into the game.

At a young age, Kobe moved to Italy where his father played for three different teams in an eight-year span. That meant that Kobe was exposed to the European style of play where technique and fundamentals were at the forefront of the game. The Mamba League’s school of thought shares a similar approach. As Kobe says, “right now, I think we’re putting too much pressure on these kids too early, and they’re not learning proper technique of how to shoot the ball, or proper technique of spacing… It winds up eating away at their confidence. As teachers, we need to have patience to teach things piece by piece by piece. Over time, they’ll develop as basketball players, but you can’t just rush it all at once.”

In any sport your physical attributes can only take you so far. It is important to compliment those traits with a solid fundamental base. The Mamba League will play an important role in the way our youth learn the game. Let’s hope that other professional players follow suit and continue building on its mission.

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Josh Sargent: 17 Year Old U.S. Striker is already Breaking Records

 on MAY 25, 2017

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The hype surrounding U-20 U.S. National Team star, Josh Sargent is real. Sargent is currently in the Korea Republic representing the U.S. at the U-20 World Cup and boy is he representing. After just 2 games in the tournament he has already scored 3 goals as the U.S. have taken 4 points out of a possible 6 and are currently sitting atop of their group with one game to play. Sargent is doing what so many young stars in the past have done at major tournaments; he is introducing himself to the world. While this may be his coming out party, Sargent has been doing this at the U-17 level for some time now.

The Saint Louis, Missouri product burst onto the scene during the 2016 Nike International Friendlies where he scored 4 goals and added 2 assists in just four games for the U-17’s. He continued his fine form through this spring’s regional World Cup Qualifying tournament scoring five goals and notching two assists in five games. His performance earned the U.S. a berth in the U-17 World Cup in India this October. Shortly after qualifying, Sargent received a call up from U-20 Head Coach, Tab Ramos. Ramos and his coaching staff had been watching Sargent closely and knew they needed a match-winner in Korea.

Sargent on the moment he got the call up:

“I found out right after we had qualified for the U-17 World Cup with our win against Cuba…Coach [John] Hackworth pulled me aside and told me I had made the U-20 roster. I was obviously very excited; I had a big smile on my face…I don’t even know how to explain it now. It was just an amazing feeling.”

Source: https://www.ussoccer.com/us-under20-mens-national-team

If you’re keeping score at home you’re probably asking if Sargent will represent the U.S. in both the U-17 & U-20 World Cups.  The answer is yes. If he does pull double duty, he will be one of only two players to ever to do both in the same calendar year. At just 17 years and 91 days old he is already breaking records. He is now the youngest player in U.S. history to score and record a multi-goal game at a U-20 World Cup. Should he elect to join the MLS, Sporting Kansas City owns his rights. However, with one breakout performance after the next it will be exciting to see what sort of offers he receives from teams abroad. Until then, we can all marvel at the rising star that is Josh Sargent.

By Omar Zeeni

Sargent’s Highlights:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_pSeVlAWCg8


Is a 16 Year Old Worth $48 Million? Real Madrid seem to think so.

 on MAY 24, 2017

It was just confirmed yesterday that Spanish giants, Real Madrid, have sign 16-year-old Brazilian star Vinícius Júnior for $48M. 48 million is a big investment into any player, not-to-mention a 16 year-old. So, like I presume the rest of the soccer world did after learning about this bombshell; I wanted to do some research of my own.

 After doing my due diligence, I was still left with a ton of questions. The youngster, only as recent as 10 days ago, came on as a substitute in the 82nd minute to make his debut appearance for his club side Flamengo. So, at the club level, there doesn’t seem to be enough of a sample size for me to be convinced that he is worth that price tag. But, let’s dig a little deeper. In March of this year, Junior led the Brazilian U-17’s to Gold in the South American Championships; scoring 7 goals and being named the tournaments’ best player. Now we’re starting to get some answers. But based on the numbers I still wasn’t sold. It wasn’t until I actually watched some of his highlights that I finally had that ‘uh-huh’ moment. (Vinicius Junior highlight video). The kid is something special. He not only offers that elusive style of play, but like many Brazilians before him, his soccer IQ is off the charts.

At the moment, Junior’s play is drawing heavy comparisons with another Brazilian born superstar, Neymar. Junior’s record Brazilian League signing of €39.6m is second only to Neymar’s €86m. At age 17, Neymar made 48 appearances for his club side Santos, and notched 14 goals. Whether he likes it or not, his numbers moving forward will constantly be compared to Neymar’s. That being said, I am looking for at least a 15-goal season from him next year. That will justify this signing.

So, the question still remains, is the sample size big enough for Real Madrid? In all honesty, I don’t think the money really matters to them. A part of me believes that Madrid is still ruing from the bidding war they lost 5 years ago at the hands of Barcelona for then ‘can’t miss’ Brazilian talent, Neymar. It looks like this time around they were determined to one up any other competitors. Junior is set to join Real Madrid in 2019, when his 18 years old. Only time will tell if this move will be seen as a well-calculated decision, or a gamble gone wrong.

 

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Is Isaiah Thomas Expendable?

After news that their star PG, Isaiah Thomas, would be out for the remainder of the playoffs, no one gave the Celtics a puncher’s chance. However, a combination of LeBron having one of the worst games of his playoff career and Celtics players like Marcus Smart and Jonas Jerebko coming up BIG, they were able to steal a game away from home. The supporting cast for the Celtics were at the forefront of a game that shocked just about everyone who had made plans at halftime of game 3. It may be foolish to think that a team would be better off without their star player; a player who only a few games ago dropped 53 points on the Washington Wizards in the Eastern Conference Semis, but, I may have to go there.

What we saw from Boston was a team that continued to share the ball. Everyone seemed to be getting their touches in. Unfortunately, with Thomas on the floor, that is not always the case. Thomas is a ball dominant point guard who often uses 10-15 seconds of the shot clock to find his shot. As a result, his teammates don’t get nearly as many touches and in turn can’t get into a rhythm. Aside from being ball dominant, he is a liability on defense. His 5’9 stature is often exposed when he gets switched out to a big on pick n’ rolls. This has caused mismatches and concerns for the Celtics moving forward.

So, this begs the question, are the Celtics better with or without Isaiah?

The short answer is maybe. That depends on what talent is available. Teams like the Philadelphia 76’ers know that they are in the LeBron era and know they are not going to win as long as he is in the league. So, what does a team like that do? Well, much to the chagrin of their fans, they don’t just throw games; they throw seasons in hopes of finding their next superstar in the Draft. While there are teams like the 76’ers, there are also teams like the Celtics. The Celtics want to win NOW.

If you look back at their 2013 trade with the Brooklyn Nets, you can see the groundwork being formed. The Celtics made the trade of a lifetime, and one that would put them in the position that they’re in now:

“The Brooklyn Nets have acquired Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Jason Terry and D.J. White from the Boston Celtics in exchange for Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries, MarShon Brooks, Kris Joseph, Keith Bogans and three first round draft picks (2014, 2016 and 2018), as well as the right to swap first round picks in 2017…”

Source: https://goo.gl/6xXp5J

In hindsight, trading for aging superstars was not the best decision by the Nets, but that is neither here nor there. Fast forward to 2017, the Boston Celtics are once again in a tough predicament. Do they sign their superstar guard Isaiah Thomas to a max extension, or do they use their #1 overall pick on a player like Markelle Fultz and sign a high profile free agent this summer? That is the question on every Celtic fans’ mind.

I wrote in the last blog that the Celtics would be remised if they didn’t at least entertain the idea of moving forward without Isaiah Thomas. After last nights result, I would say that those thoughts have become actual discussions within the front office. The future is bright for the Boston Celtics; they just need to make the right moves to reach their full potential.

 

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What Happened to LeBron James? Anomaly or Cause for Concern?

It is no secret that LeBron did not have his best game last night. His stat line read: 11 points (4-13 fg), 6 rbs, 6 ast, and 6 TO’s. Some are chalking it up as his second worst playoff performance behind his game 4 showing in the 2011 NBA Finals vs. the Mavs, where he went for 8 points (3-11 fg), 9 rbs, 7 asts, and 4 TO’s. In both games, it seemed as though LeBron was lost. It reminded of a scene from the movie, Space Jam, where the Nerdlucks begin stealing NBA players’ talents and they become shells of themselves.

Okay, maybe James was not that off, but from what we are accustomed to seeing from him, the analogy is fitting. While everyone has been quick to point out his shortcomings, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. Before last night’s game, he was one game away from tying MJ’s run of 9 straight playoff games with 30+ points.

The only thing that worries me about LeBron is that, like his poor performance in 2011, he gets in his own head. It was so apparent last night that LeBron did not have his usual swagger. Countless times throughout these playoffs, I have found myself awing at my television set. LeBron hasn’t just been imposing his physical will and taking it to the hole, he has been knocking down his step back threes. His game has come full circle; rendering him nearly un-guardable. But for some reason, when he’s not in rhythm, his body language changes for the worse. One of the aspects that make ‘The Greats’ great is the psychological advantage they have on their opponents. People fear their greatness. However, that element escaped him and he was unable to find it. Fortunately for the Celtics, they noticed and capitalized.

While there is no doubt in my mind that LeBron will come out next game and fill up the stat sheet, I still feel that he needs to find a tactic or way to combat/overcome his occasional in-game struggles. Whether he defers to Kyrie or goes to the rim (gets fouled and finds his rhythm at the free throw line), whatever it is, he needs to find it before the Finals. There is no room for error against the Golden State Warriors. He, along with his team, need to be firing on all cylinders to match the firepower of their big 4.

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What do the Lakers do with their pick?

After Tuesday nights NBA Draft Lottery, where the Lakers kept their top 3 protected pick, there seems to finally be some buzz brewing in the Los Angeles area. This buzz stems from 2 words, Lonzo Ball. Lonzo, a Chino Hills native and a UCLA standout, has been regarded as a once in a generation type talent and someone that loves to share the ball. The Lakers seem to be the obvious landing spot for him, however, there’s one problem, the Celtics hold the #1 overall pick.

That’s where it gets tricky. The Celtics had a great season this year; finishing as the #1 seed in the East and making it to the Eastern Conference Finals (where it looks like they will be outmatched by LeBron and the Cavs). That was due in large part to the play of their 5’9 player maker, Isiah Thomas. Isiah is 29 years old and is currently being paid a measly $7 Million (bargain of the century). With his career year, the Celtics are in a bit of a predicament; do they bet on Thomas and pay him the max extension OR do they draft their PG of the future and wait until LeBron and the Cavs’ run ends? That question seems to be key as it involves the Lakers’ future.

My guess is that they will sign Thomas to the max extension and draft University of Washington standout, Markelle Fultz. Fultz is regarded as the best talent in the draft and someone that can step right in and give you 17 points a night. This will give them another ball handler besides Thomas and can make the pair one of the best backcourts in the NBA. So, in this hypothetical, that means that Lonzo will fall to the Lakers. That is where things can get even trickier.

The Lakers already have a primary ball handler, De ‘Angelo Russell. Towards the end of the season though, head coach Luke Walton played Russell at the 2. Analysts and fans alike all took notice of the move and that is where the ‘Lonzo Ball to the Lakers’ hype began. In Russell’s case, it has been said that he is not a born leader and isn’t someone that can rally the troops. However, Balls’ teammates have raved about the 19 year old because of his humility and love for sharing the ball. It seems as though whatever Russell isn’t, Ball is. While the debate will be which one is better suited as the Lakers’ point guard, I believe that if the two can coexist, the upside could mean winning again in Los Angeles.

At the end of the day, I believe that they can be the backcourt of the future. With Jordan Clarkson coming off the bench, the combinations are endless. Now it is up to President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson to decide whether he wants to keep the two together OR ship Russell to another team as a part of a trade for a current superstar. We will find out soon enough! The NBA Draft is June 22nd.

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