Friday, November 17, 2017

Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs

Last night was the first hockey game I've gotten to this year and it was a blast. The Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs of the SPHL were hosting the Macon Mayhem in front of about 2,000 fans and it was game on from the second the first puck dropped.

In the first period both teams got three goals. Each was hotly contested, but it was a wee bit more scoring than you usually see in any period much less the first. In the second period the Rail Yard Dawgs got one goal, but the big story for them was the fact that their goalie imploded. Earlier in the period the goalie left the net to go off to the boards to his left only to have the puck take an unexpected bounce off the boards and end up right in front of the net where a Mayhem skater was waiting to put in the softest, most uncontested goal I've ever seen in hockey. Hockey fans being, well, hockey fans, instantly began to pour out every bit of hate they'd ever had at the goalie. It didn't help when later in the same period the goalie sat frozen on the ice as a Mayhem player shot through the gap between his legs and scored.

Finally, at about the time it looked like the goalie was going to need a police escort to get out of the building alive, the coach decided to switch him out and put Barone in. Barone turned out to be a brick wall and no further goals were scored by the Mayhem. Meanwhile, the Rail Yard Dawgs managed to pull even in the third period and forced the game into sudden death.

In sudden death, the Rail Yard Dawgs controlled the puck the majority of the very short time that the period lasted and pretty quickly blasted in a goal to end it all with a 6-5 victory.

1. The arena is nice and a $20 ticket had me on the glass near center ice.
2. Don't buy your $5 parking online because they will charge you a service fee and the parking was only $5 when I got there and there was plenty of it.
3. Both concessions and souvenirs were more than a little overpriced here. Eat supper before you go. Not sure what you can do to get jerseys etc. cheaper.
4. I'm a little upset that the jersey I bought (which is okay) was nowhere near as good as the one the Dawgs wore out onto the ice. They weren't even the same color scheme. Where do I trade in my blue, light blue, white, and yellow one for that cool red one?
5. The SPHL still does its best to keep fights from happening and the refs break up anything that starts immediately. So, if you're looking for a fight go find an ECHL game where they seem to have that one fight minimum per game guarantee.
6. It's time to start watching hockey folks. I'll see you at the ice!

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Louisville City FC v. Red Bull II

USL Eastern Conference Championship at Louisville last night between the Lou City Purple and Red Bull II.

And so it begins.
Ownby (of course) gets this ball, lets it bounce, spins, and back-kicks it past the player in front of him and under the goalie.
I'm famous!
Intercepted throw in.

Greg Ranjitsingh - the eventual hero of our saga.
1.  Game won on penalty kicks 1(4) - 1(3) by the Purple and Ranjitsingh deserves a medal (or a raise).
2.  That crowd went the most nuts I've ever seen anybody get at a soccer match.
3.  The refs are pretty lucky that Lou City won because otherwise they were going to need a National Guard escort back to their cars.
4.  The refs were generally allowing a pretty rough game to be played and that favored Red Bull II because they were playing much rougher than the Purple.
5.  I don't know that the Red Bull player shoving the Lou City guy down before he could shoot in the box was a penalty or the RB guy coming down on the Purple player's head with his cleats was, but shoving a guy head first into the wall is a major penalty in HOCKEY and the ref refused to call it.
6.  Over 10,000 people at the stadium and it was rockin'.
7.  The Oscar phenomenon: For the matches I've been coming up for, I've noticed that the people in my section absolutely love Oscar Jimenez. They root for the others, but they are obviously fond of Oscar. Today, I saw why. While all the other players were still celebrating people in my section flooded the rail and he came over and shook and slapped hands with fans back and forth across the section (including mine). And it wasn't just some fan service thing. It was plain to see that he was there to share the joy of it all.
8.  The Red Bull had a suspicious number of "cramps" at times the Purple started getting on a roll in the second half. At one point, when the ref wouldn't stop play for one guy down another went down and play got stopped. The crazy faithful were holding up red cards, but the ref never did.
9.  Holy cow, the Red Bull put in a man so big in the second half that the people across the aisle from me instantly started calling him Gigantor. He wasn't fast and he wasn't particularly skilled in ball handling, but he was a head taller than everyone else and bounced every single ball that was in the air back up field from his defensive position. It took Lou City a good portion of the second half to realize that nothing in the air was going to go their way and adapt its offense to go around him.
10.  For the last three Lou City matches in the playoffs I've driven 4+ hours to come up and watch the match. How do I get rewarded? The Championship game is going to be MONDAY, 13 November 2017 at 9:00 p.m. So, I guess next weekend's minor league money will be spent at the Knoxville Ice Bears or Roanoke Rail Yard Dawgs. Unfortunately, I doubt I'm the only person who will miss the game because of its date and time. The people walking out behind me were locals and they were not happy because, y'know what, THEY HAVE JOBS AND SCHOOL and didn't want to come to a match starting that late on a weekday.
11.  Up to this gaff, the USL has run a far better playoff than the MLS. Let's face it, the only reason people are watching the MLS playoffs, with their dumb two game setup and poor matches, is to see if the Crew and its fans can stick it to the Scumbag Owner who bought the team in bad faith and is trying to steal it from them. #SaveTheCrew  And if it can't be saved in the MLS save the name and the old, cool logo (the owner can have the doodle) and bring them to the USL (the better league anyway).

Sunday, October 29, 2017

USL Lou City v. Rochester Rhinos

This weekend was the second weekend of the USL Playoffs in Louisville. Last weekend was decent temperature and a weak opponent. This Saturday it was cold and a hard fought match which Lou City won when Brian Ownby (midfielder) got the goalie to come out and commit and then dinked it past him. Lou City 1 - Rochester Rhinos 0.

I might have been a little cold

Pregame Huddles

Didn't Quite Get There

Oscar After a Mugging

Oscar After Another Mugging
1.  I know 38 degrees ain't all that cold, but it's the first weekend of such temperatures and it felt like -20.
2.  There were over 6,000 people in the stadium last weekend. I don't think as many were there this Saturday, but it was a respectable crowd and every one of us was dressed like we were above the Arctic Circle.
 3.  Lou City runs its offense up the right side so poor Oscar Jimenenz, rarely got to kick the ball - about half the time he did he got mugged.
4. There were long periods of time where Lou City played ball control and just passed it around from midfielders and defenders.
5.  For about 10-15 minutes toward the end of the 1st half the Rhinos pressed hard and it looked like there was no way Lou City would keep them out of the goal.
6.  Ranjitsingh made a difference at goalie.
7.  Thank God for Brian Ownby. Until he scored, I thought this match would go to overtime and end with a shootout. And I was fairly certain I'd be a popsicle by then.
8.  Next week Lou City faces Red Bull II.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Centre Ladies' Soccer (Homecoming Weekend)

Gotta luv women's soccer - no penalty

Running through the defense - literally

1.  The more I watch women's soccer the more I enjoy it. Less penalty calls. Less flops. When they go down they get up unless they're actually hurt. In other words, they man up better than the men and it makes for better matches.
2.  Centre had control of this match pretty much from the moment the whistle blew.
3.  Of course, the whistle blew an hour after the match was supposed to start. Apparently, they had trouble getting refs for the match. In the end they got a ref and one linesman and everybody just had to live with the fact that they were one short.
4.  I was only able to stay for the first half because the match started so late.
4.  Centre won 5-0- over Sewanee.

USL Playoffs at Lou City

The USL soccer playoffs began yesterday. Out West, the number 8 seed, Sacramento Republic, took out the Real Monarchs in a shootout 1(3) - 1(1). Highlights here. Full match here. In the East, the Lou City Purples absolutely handled Bethlehem Steel 4 - 0. Highlights here. Full match here. As promised, I was at the Lou City match.

The *ahem* more interesting fans line up to march to their seats.

I think we might need to give the Lou City player on the left a cape.

Every goal - much more purple in person.

When you're trying to convince the ref that a red card should be issued because your player is mortally wounded you should at least pretend to be worried about him.
1. For some reason, my gps insisted on taking me to the wrong part of the city when I told it to take me to Louisville FC. When I changed and told it to take me to the baseball stadium it got me there.
2. Decent size crowd - about the size of a typical day when the baseball team is playing.
3.  Considering that this is a baseball stadium converted to a soccer pitch there are actually a fair number of good seats.
4. Louisville had control of the game from the beginning.
5. I'm pretty sure that Lou City imported hockey fans for the match. They were convinced the refs were letting Bethlehem get away with everything short of murder and gave the poor assistant ref near me sheer hell. One guy jumped out of his seats and ran down the stairs to the wall and started yelling at the linesman, "Three of you! Three of you and you missed that! Do your job!"
6. Next week Lou City will face the winner of the Rhinos-Independence match.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hockey's Insane Fan (Dis)Service

As long as I can remember, hockey has been one of the big four sports in America. However, over time hockey has clearly fallen behind the big two and probably basketball as well in the hearts and minds of everyone south of Canada. As well, as soccer rises in popularity hockey is in danger of losing even the fourth slot - although soccer's rise should be stunted by the fact that our national players and team sucked so badly that they lost to Trinidad & Tobago and therefore will not be in the next World Cup.

Anyway, hockey should be looking to grow its fan base. The positive for hockey in this attempt is the fact that it has an established minor league system which can be used to draw people nearby into local arenas at lower prices and build their loyalty to the NHL teams the minor league teams are affiliated with.

The negative is that since hockey requires an ice rink or an arena where you can freeze the floor for games (and presumptively for practice), it's not as easy for a hockey arena to pop up as a baseball field or a soccer pitch. Hence, they aren't quite as common and traveling to a hockey arena can be a bit of a trip. Personally, I've got an SPHL team (Knoxville Ice Bears) about 90 minutes out and there are teams at a four to six hour distance in the SPHL, FHL, ECHL, AHL, and NHL. As you might imagine, I have to set aside a good portion of a day to go see the Ice Bears and unless its a day game a trip to see the others involves an overnight stay (with the hotel room canceling out any savings from going to a minor league game and making an NHL game even more expensive).

What's the solution to this? Well, I looked for the same solution baseball has come to: multi-media live streaming of MLB ($125 for all teams), the affiliated minors ($50 for all AAA, all AA, and the majority of A+ & A), and unaffiliated baseball (mostly free). Heck, soccer has bettered this with streaming of the MLS going for $80 and the USL streaming its games free of charge on YouTube. So, when I looked to when I looked to hockey's multimedia live streams I had a pretty good idea of what a rational price meant to bolster and grow the fan base looks like.

At $140, the NHL's price for all its games is fine, but Hockey's minor leagues are clinically insane:
AHL (AAA) - - - - - $299
ECHL (AA) - - - - - $199
SPHL (Indy/A) - - -$199
FHL (Indy/A) - - - - Not Yet Posted
Keep in mind as you look at those prices that these are being advertised as their "early-bird specials." At first I thought maybe they were all referencing some sort of giant package like the one MiLB sells for all its AAA, all its AA, and a lot of other teams. However, nothing indicates that in any of their sales pages and the differences in the price for the AHL would tend to disprove it. Also, the discount offered by the AHL is $50, the ECHL is $30, and the SPHL is $20 indicating that when the "specials" go away they will all have different prices.

There's no way that I'm going to pay those prices. Let's compare again: almost all of minor league baseball: $50. The remaining soccer minor league: FREE. Hockey (if all the currently available minor league packages purchased): $500

Yeah, I'm not doing that. And you shouldn't either. If minor league hockey is that dumb about leaving money on the floor and the NHL isn't smart enough to step in and stop a price point that discourages people from becoming engaged at all levels (following players as they rise, following local affiliated teams and thus being drawn into the top team), I can take a hint. Hockey isn't interested in me or my dollars. There are other places I can spend them.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Announcing the Greeneville Reds

The World Series hasn't even come and gone yet and teams are already making off season moves. Multiple reports indicate that the Astros have dropped the Greeneville team in the Appalachian League and the Reds have picked it up. It's an interesting move for the Reds because they technically already have a team in another advanced rookie league. In fact, their affiliation deal with the Billings Mustangs out of the Pioneer League is one of the oldest in baseball. However, if you look closely you realize that the Pioneer League is really more like a short season A league than a rookie league so fitting a team in between the low rookie complex leagues and the Pioneer League and not having a short season A team (the Reds don't) should work. It's just a shame the Reds didn't push the Mets out of Kingsport or the Pirates out of Bristol because I live closer to both (ten minutes to the Mets / 30 to Bristol / 60 to Greeneville).

Anyway, the Appalachian League is the last (outside of the complex leagues) which doesn't have teams with independent names. They all adopt the names of their major league affiliate. Therefore, the Greeneville team will now be the Greeneville Reds. This leads to a logo problem. The teams in the Appalachian League do have their own logos which are variations on the major league logo. Thus you see the Elizabethton Twins with a big E behind the Twins logo and the Danville Braves with a D next to a tomahawk.

As an Astros affiliate Greeneville's logo took care of itself. They took the Astro's star and replaced the H with a G. However, there's nothing quite that simple as a Reds affiliate. The Red's primary logo is a distinctive C, which obviously stands for Cincinnati. A Greenville version of that might be:

It's not exactly the world's most stunning logo. The Red's secondary logo almost always has something to do with Mr. Redlegs and maybe something could be done with that. The problem there is that it might require the Greeneville management to change mascots and I'm not sure they have either the money or the initiative to do that.

We'll see. Maybe since they actually play in Tusculum the name could be changed to the Tusculum Reds. Then at least there'd be a C somewhere in their name which would give them an excuse to use it in their logo.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

National Champions!!!! (AAA)

The Durham Bulls are your national champion for AAA ball. The Memphis Red Birds played them tough and it was a good game, but the grand slam by Kean Wong (2d baseman) put it out of reach.

It was a well played game rewarding two teams for slogging through entire seasons in the Pacific Coast and International Leagues, played in Scranton Wilkes-Barre.

Wait, you ask, why was a game featuring teams that are affiliated with Tampa Bay (the Bulls) and St. Louis (the Red Birds - duh) played on a field that is the home field for the Scranton Wiles-Barre RailRiders (a Yankees affiliate)? And you'd be right to ask. The crowd was light and it wasn't exactly into the game.

The AAA leagues are the only ones outside the MLB that play an interleague championship.. They only play one game and I think it is played at the park of the team which won the year before (but I wouldn't bet money on it). Anyway, unless the same team plays for the championship again - an unlikely event in the ever changing rosters of the minor leagues - the crowd that shows for the game is probably going to be there because they enjoy baseball generally (me), not people rooting for the teams playing.

It's actually kind of sad and anti-climactic for the two teams. It could also be solved fairly easily with some sort of alternating three game playoff with one game at each team's stadium and the third alternating between the International and Pacific Coast League stadium each year. The only reason that I suspect they don't do this is the expense. If the Pacific Coast team is in Sacramento and the International League is in Pawtucket that could be pretty darn expensive for the owner of each team as they fly across the country and have to live in hotels for at least a couple days. On the other hand, it also has the potential to draw more crowds and make more money for the owners at their own stadium. Of course, the owners and the management of the leagues know the numbers better than me. I'd just like to see a real playoff that rewarded local fans.

Monday, September 18, 2017

And now for something a little different: Your Centre College Praying Colonels

Went by my Alma Mater and watched my one 'Muricn Football game of the year:
Your Centre College Praying Colonels praying - Although it was a football prayer so it was kinda more about crushing your enemy than loving your fellow man.

1.  Centre started the game by running the kickoff back for a touchdown.
2.  Centre ran a blocked extra point all the way back for two.
3.  Centre fumbled the ball on the one yard line and then sacked the opposing quarterback in the end zone for a safety.
4.  Nobody bothered to tell Hendrix that when you are down 42-13 at the half the game is over and Hendrix came out playing hard in the second half making it a really good game.
5.  Centre's final field goal - the one which put the game out of reach - arched up and came down squarely on the bar, then bounced over for three points.
6.  Apparently John Perry has hung up his economic professordom in order to be a coach? I expect Centre to start playing like Notre Dame High School any moment now. Sabermetrics comes to college ball!
7. Great Game!

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Rocking at the Florence Freedom

I'm the one on the right.

This guy looked like he was going to fall over every time he threw the ball, but he was effective for about four innings.

1. The stands were packed and they were rocking!
2. Funnest game of the year!
3. First time I've ever seen two infield fly rule outs in a row.
4. There was some dubious umping in this game. 
     a.  The crowd started getting upset when, in the 6th inning, the Freedom's short stop forewent what looked like a probable double play to end the inning and instead threw home to get the guy charging from third. After a collision at the plate, the ball came out of the catcher's mitt, but it did so very late and left the crowd convinced the ump got it wrong. 
     b.  The home plate ump's strike zone migrated upward during the game. At the beginning of the game if the thread on the upper part of the ball nicked the bottom part of the knee it was a strike and the top of the zone was the bottom of the letters. By the end of the game the bottom of the zone was somewhere around the top of the knee and the top was the top of the letters. Personally, I think the Schaumburg pitchers worked him to get that change and you have to admire that in them, but not the ump.
     c.  The second base ump at least once allowed the "I swept my foot somewhere near second" out which used to be the norm in the first part of double plays. The fans caught him at it and were not happy.
     d.  Look, I know a checked swing is basically whatever an ump decides it is, but WOW. Those didn't look anything like swings to me or anyone else in the stands. To be fair, the umps were calling this against both sides even though the crowd was really only giving them hell for doing it against the Freedom.
5.  There was some dubious coaching during the game.
     a.  Really? REALLY!! A bunt with a man on first and no outs? Have you never read a stat in your friggin' life? How'd that work out for you coaches? (both sides did this)
     b.  OH FOR CRYING OUT LOUD! Telling your batter to bunt when he's got two strikes?!? How'd that work out for you coach? (only the Freedom's coach did this)
     c.  In the bottom of the 11th, the Schaumburg Boomer's coach left in a pitcher who walked four straight batters to tie the game. He was bouncing two-thirds of his pitches off the plate, for goodness sake. Now, the Boomers may have been out of pitchers (from about the 5th each side was bringing in one per inning), but it was obvious this guy wasn't going to get it by the second batter. Somebody else on that team has to have been a pitcher once upon a time.
6.  The game ended on a bases loaded single to the Schaumburg second baseman. He fielded the ball cleanly while charging the plate, double clutched the ball, and didn't even try to make the throw. The second baseman may have lost his grip on the ball for a moment, but the guy charging from third wasn't exactly greased lightning. It would have been close.
7.  In the end, the good guys won. The crowd went nuts. It was a great day at the park.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Should the USL Absorb the NASL?

For those of you who haven't heard, US Soccer has put the final dagger in the tier 2 existence of the North American Soccer League. It's not surprising as the NASL has been in trouble for a while. It doesn't have the mandated twelve teams and it is barely a national league. It has also caused problems by pushing for promotion/relegation and pointing out the very cozy relationship between the MLS and US Soccer in a world where everyone knows soccer is the most corrupt major sport in the world.

As well, the United Soccer League has been booming. I'm not sure what the entry requirements are for the USL, but it has about a million teams. Last year it announced an agreement with MLS to become its minor league and the second teams for the MLS are now playing in the USL. It was also elevated to the second tier this season and announced that next year it will have both a second tier and third tier league.

So let's look at the teams from the two leagues and see where they should end up next year.

First of all, should any team from the NASL or the USL go to the MLS? To put that question in perspective, let's talk about average attendance in the MLS. The MLS has about five tiers. Two teams have above 40,000 per game (Atlanta & Seattle). Two are in the 25,000+ range (Toronto & Orlando City). Nine fit in the 20,000+ range (Sporting KC by rounding up). Nine are in the 15,000+ range (Columbus by rounding up).

Only one team in either the USL or the NASL fits into the MLS mold by pure attendance numbers: FC Cincinnati out of the USL. If the MLS doesn't pull it in soon its management is failing it. It's already eclipsing its northern neighbor (The Crew). However, were the MLS management to show some real cunning it would also grab some of the teams in the same area such as Lou City (USL) and the Indianapolis Eleven (NASL)  to continue and develop rivalries that could actually get people interested in more than just their local team (a massive problem the MLS is having). However, that would take a level of smarts beyond what the MLS has shown itself capable of.  They may pick up FC Cincinnati reluctantly, but they'd rather dangle possibilities out to far separated teams who don't have any natural local rivals (except in NY where they've now got two in what looks like it might be an attempt to kill the Cosmos).

Who should the USL take into its tier 2 league? Let's assume that the USL only puts 15 teams in its tier 2 league and that any team the USL were to pick up for tier 2 has to have the numbers to be in that 15. The USL should really be panting at the prospect of picking up the top four NASL teams and adding them to its tier 2 league: The Indianapolis Eleven average 8,000+ per game which would put them above all but three USL clubs. Miami FC averages 5,800+, putting it above all but six of the USL teams. The Cosmos are averaging 4,800+, above all but nine of the USL clubs, and they carry the Cosmos name and logo which are prizes unto themselves. North Carolina averages 4,200+, above all but eleven in the USL, and it's the only team in its area so it has a lot of room to grow. They would and should be prizes that the USL picks up from the ashes of the NASL.

Who should the USL take into its tier 3 league from the NASL? Hopefully, everybody else. Definitely FC Edmonton and Puerto Rico FC. Jacksonville may need to be looked at first as I have a vague understanding that they've had some problems. San Fran would probably do well enough if there are enough tier 3 teams out West.

In the end, the USL would be strengthened if it could absorb the NASL whole, but there seems to be an undertone in discussions I see of this indicating it is not willing to do so. I don't know why except for some sort of lingering acrimony for a competing league. I hope this is wrong and the USL shows the kind of business acumen it has in the past and pulls as many of these teams in as it can in order to strengthen and grow this sport.

Appalachian League Championship

Tonight 7pm at Elizabethton and then Friday and Saturday in Pulaski.