Soccer is all the buzz in the US right now as the USMNT has made their presence felt at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.  Heading into the tournament not many people had given the US a chance to make it out of the group stage, as they had been placed in Group G which was dubbed ‘the group of death’ because of level of talent and the high improbability that the US would make it out.  Joining them in the group of death were two of the top four ranked teams in the world in Germany and Portugal, and also Ghana who had eliminated the US in the past two World Cup’s.  Before World Cup play began, the US was given just a 37% chance of advancing out of group play to the round of 16.

Obviously they defied those odds by going 1-1-1 in the opening round, which was enough to land them second place in their group and a spot at the table for the round of 16.  The US now looks ahead to Tuesday where they will face a Belgium team who has yet to lose in this World Cup.  This is the first time in USMNT history that the team has advanced out of the group stage in two consecutive World Cup’s.  The US has qualified for every World Cup since 1990, and before that they hadn’t played in a World Cup match since 1950.  Which begs the question, has soccer finally gained enough traction in the US to compete with the ‘top 4’ American sports?

With the United States vs. Portugal match drawing the highest television ratings in US history for a soccer game, there is no denying that people in the US are paying more attention to soccer than in the past.  With that being said, I still don’t think that soccer is even remotely close to challenging any of the ‘top 4’ sports in the United States when it comes to popularity.  I believe that this kind of attention towards soccer will be short lived and won’t be back again until 2018 when Russia plays host to the World Cup.  I think that this hype can be compared to the attention that some sports receive here in the United States when the olympics come around.  It is more a sense of nationalism rather than an actual interest in the sport itself.

However, the amount of soccer exposure Americans are getting certainly can’t hurt the growth of the sport here in the States.  I think that we may begin to see more Americans following teams overseas, such as teams in the English Premier League rather than the MLS simply because the product is far superior.  Especially because of the Premier League games being broadcasted on NBC Sports, which makes the games more readily available to the United States.  Thats not to say that the MLS doesn’t have a chance to grow in the United States, seeing as how they recently signed a television contract with ESPN, FOX, and Univision worth $720 million.  Soccer still has a ways to go before being categorized as a major American sport, but if the USMNT continues their trend and keeps improving, I don’t see how the popularity of soccer in the US has anywhere to go but up.

 

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After a very disappointing first round exit from this years playoffs by the hand of long time rival Montreal, Bruins fans were left wondering what happened to the dominant team they watched that took home the President’s Trophy for leading the NHL in regular season points.  A team that seemingly heading into the postseason with a full head of steam going a remarkable 15-2 in the month of March.

Clearly losing to Canadiens in game 7 on home ice was not the way the Bruins wanted to finish off their season, but there isn’t anything they can do about that now except take the bad taste that was left in their mouths after that came and go into next season with a chip on their shoulder.  In fact, I think that the Bruins will be even better next season, and that they should be the preseason favorite to win the cup.

First off, a majority of the core foundation from last years team is under contract through next season, most importantly 2014 Vezina Trophy Finalist Tuukka Rask.  The Bruins already have the main pieces that they need to be serious contenders for the cup and they don’t need to blow up their roster after this year’s premature departure.  I believe that with a few minor tweaks to the roster the B’s will have no problems being serious contenders come June next year.

One move that needs to get done this offseason is signing Reilly Smith to a long-term deal.  I think that this kid is the real deal and displayed glimpses of what he could be capable of for this organization in the future.  If Smith continues to develop along side center Patrice Bergeron, I believe that he can become an elite player in this league.

Moving to another key addition from the trade that sent center Tyler Seguin to Dallas, we have Loui Eriksson, who only played 61 games due to injuries.  A healthy Loui Eriksson in the lineup will make this Bruins team exponentially better.  If Eriksson can remain healthy next season, including playoffs, I believe that he can give the Bruins the depth that sets them apart from the rest of the league.

The Bruins arguably have the best third line in hockey right now.  Carl Soderberg is about the best third line center you will find in the league, and the Bruins have him under contract for a little over $1 million next season.  That is an absolute bargain for Soderberg, who was tied for third in points on the team in the second half of the season.

There have also been talks that Jerome Iginla and the Bruins have been trying to get a deal done before he hits the market on July 1st.  While it would be nice to have Iginla back in Boston wearing the spoked ‘B’, there is no need for the Bruins to overpay to get him back.  It would most likely be a similar 1-year deal similar to the $6 million dollar deal that he signed last year.  Anything much more than that would be too much to be paying a guy who is just about to turn 37.

So as this years Stanley Cup comes to an end, with the Bruins watching from their couches at home, it is not too far off to predict that they will be the ones raising Lord Stanley’s beloved cup above their heads this time next year.

NFL: New England Patriots

Patriots fans were left with a sour taste in their mouths after last years AFC Conference title game when the Pats found themselves on the short end of the highly anticipated Brady vs. Manning showdown.  Of course things got somewhat better two weeks later when Manning and the Broncos got absolutely steamrolled by the ‘Legion of Boom’ 43-8, with Manning throwing for 280 yds. , 2 INTs, and a 73.5 passer rating.  While it was great for Brady fan boys to watch Manning choke in the spotlight, it has become an expectation in New England that the duckboats will be carrying the Lombardi trophy down Boylston street every February.  With that being said here are some key notes on the 2014 New England Patriots who are looking to win the fourth Super Bowl title in franchise history:

 

Offseason Gains and Loses: 

-We’ll start with a positive, which happens to be one of the biggest names that was in the free agent market: Darrell Revis.  Revis is arguably the most talented CB in the NFL, which comes to no surprise to Patriots fans who are familiar with Revis from his tenure with the Jets from 2007-12.  This is an excellent addition to the roster that fielded a mediocre at best pass defense last season.

-Another great addition to the Patriots secondary is former Seattle Seahawks CB Brandon Browner.  Browner was a key piece to the puzzle for the Super Bowl Champion Seahawks team, and should be a great compliment to the newly acquired Revis.

-The Patriots have seemed to lean towards stacking up their defense this offseason, especially with the recent additions of LBs James Anderson and former first-round pick Will Smith.  Anderson led the Bears last season with 102 tackles while Smith watched from the sidelines in New Orleans with a torn ACL.

-The main reasons why the Patriots were so focused on signing defensive players was because of the various departures of members of the 2013 Patriots defense.  The most notable loss was CB Aqib Talib, who had 5 INTs and 60 tackles in 19 games with the team.  Two other significant losses to the Patriots defense include LBs Dane Fletcher and Brandon Spikes.

-Although the Patriots have had a heavy focus on loading up on defensive weapons, they didn’t forget about the other side of the ball and giving future Hall-of-Famer Tom Brady weapons to throw to.  The biggest signing for the offense is a familiar face in Julian Edelman, who led the Patriots in Receptions, Yards, and Touchdowns last season.  Edelman was clearly Brady’s No. 1 guy last year, and it is good to get him back on the team.  Another solid pickup for the Patriots is Brandon LaFell, who was Newton’s No. 2 receiver last season behind Steve Smith.

 

Other Keys to a Championship Season:

-Although the Patriots brought in Edelman and LaFell from free agency, and still have Amendola and Gronkowski on the roster, I think it is necessary for them to search the market for a big name guy for Brady to throw to.  A specific name that I have in mind is Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans.  There are have already been talks floating around the rumor mill that the Patriots are interested in the WR and he has expressed his interest in leaving the Texans for a new team.  The thought of having Andre Johnson and a healthy Rob Gronkowski on the same field has Patriots fans having flashbacks to the storied 2007 season, except this team will have an elite defense to put on the field.

-Which brings me to my final point, staying off the injury report.  Injuries absolutely crippled the Patriots last season on both sides of the ball.  I know injuries are bound to happen, but the Patriots just couldn’t catch a break.  Regardless of if the team decides to seek a big name WR, Gronkowski needs to stay healthy if this team wants a shot at the Super Bowl.  It would also be nice if Amendola were available for Brady to have as another option in the passing game.  If the Patriots roster as they are now can remain relatively healthy for the entire season, I think that they could be the team to beat in the AFC.

Image  —  Posted: June 9, 2014 in Boston Sports, New England Patriots
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Although New England fans hate to hear it, the seemingly immortal Tom Brady is clearly on the back nine of his prestigious career in the NFL.  This inconvenient truth was made quite evident to Patriots fans on draft day this year when they selected Jimmy Garoppolo out of Eastern Illinois in the second round.  As soon as Willie McGinest uttered the words on the stage at Radio City Music Hall Patriot Nation went into a frenzy.  Some excited, some confused, and many in between.  As a Patriots fan myself, nothing from the team on draft day surprises me anymore.  I don’t even bother to begin to guess what the organization has up their sleeve because there is no way of telling what they will do next.  However, after thinking about the pick and letting it marinate for a while, I decided that I officially like the decision and I’ll tell you why.

 

-As much as it pains me to say it, all good stories must come to an end, and Tom Brady as a New England Patriot is one of them.  Everyone knows that the day has to come eventually, but it seems nobody wants to admit that it is coming sooner rather than later.  The Patriots are an extremely intelligent franchise, and are always thinking about the future of the program.  Taking Garoppolo in the second round proves that the Patriots realize that Brady’s tenure as a Patriot is coming to an end and they are preparing the team for it.

-An argument against the pick would be that the Patriots already had a capable replacement for Brady in Ryan Mallett.  That is exactly what I thought when the Patriots made this move, and I initially thought the pick was unnecessary.  Mallett has been in the organization since 2011 and has had valuable back up experience behind Brady already.  There are two reasons why I think having both Mallett and Garoppolo is a good idea for the Patriots.  First, drafting Garoppolo sends a message to Mallett that he isn’t going to just be handed the starting position once Brady leaves, and that he must work hard and prove that he truly deserves to be the heir of Brady.  Second is that once Brady is gone either Mallett or Garoppolo will need a solid back up as a form of insurance for the starter.  The Pats have been known to have above average back up quarterbacks to step up if the starter is to go down.  It seems not too long ago Patriot Nation was holding their breath when Bledsoe was knocked out of the game on that infamous hit against the Jets and the future of the franchise trotted out onto the field off the bench.  Again in 2008 when Brady went down with a torn ACL and Matt Cassel stepped in to throw for nearly 3,700 yds. and 21 TDs, while leading the team to an 11-5 regular season record.  It is safe to say that the Patriots have put a primary focus on keeping the team in tact if Tom Terrific ever goes down.

-Despite all the buzz about Tom Brady’s career coming to an end, I still think the future Hall-of-Famer still has another solid 3-5 years left in him.  Just last season Brady threw for nearly 5,000 yds. and 25 TDs, not to mention he led the team to its 8th AFC Championship Game since he took over in 2001.  I don’t think that it is too crazy to think that Brady can lead the Patriots to at least one more Super Bowl before he hangs em’ up.  Besides any unforeseeable injuries, I personally think that Brady can continue his elite performance for another 3-5 years.  Clearly no Patriots fan wants to think about a Brady-less team, but the day that it happens unfortunately seems as if it is coming fairly soon.

Preview

The UMass Minutemen will look to rebound this season after a disappointing first round exit from last years NIT tournament.  The team will be led by Senior captain Chaz Williams, who is writing his last chapter in his already impressive collegiate career.  Williams decided against leaving UMass for his senior season with hopes of catching the attention of coaches at the next level.  Although Atlantic 10 runner up Butler has left for the Big East, UMass will still see many quality opponents this upcoming season.  If things go the way that the Minutemen hope, they will be dancing in March for the first time in 15 years.

Key Game

The biggest game for the Minutemen this season will come on February 24th when they host the #14VCU Rams at the Mullins Center.  Not only is this game important because it is an A-10 match up, but VCU is arguably the best team on UMass’ schedule.  One of the main reasons why UMass was found empty handed on selection Sunday was because of their lack of key wins.  Winning this crucial game could prove to committee members that UMass deserves a seat at the big dance in March.

Key Player

While it might seem obvious that the key player for UMass this year is Chaz Williams, I do not think this is the case.  It has come to be expected that Williams will show up to big games and deliver for his team in his final season.  Instead I believe that Cady Lalanne will emerge as one of the elite big men in the A-10.  Showing glimpses of what he has to offer towards the end of last season, Lalanne can truly be the key player to bring this team to the next level.  As long as he can manage to stay out of foul trouble, Lalanne should have no problem averaging 15 points and 8 rebounds a game.

Player to Watch

The player to watch this year for the Minutemen will be Western Kentucky transfer Derrick Gordon.  After sitting last year out due to NCAA transfer regulations, Gordon will look to show UMass fans that the wait was worth it.  Averaging 11.8 PPG and 6.7 RPG during his freshman year as a Hilltopper, coach Derrick Kellogg has enough confidence in Gordon to name him as one of his five starters to start the season.  Gordon’s ability to drive to the hoop accompanied by his strong play in the defensive end can prove to be what brings UMass to the top of the A-10.

Predictions

Regular Season 22-7

The Minutemen will roll through the A-10 in Chaz Williams’ hometown until they run into the buzz saw that is VCU in the A-10 finals.  Despite falling short of an A-10 championship, the Minutemen will have done enough to get themselves invited to go dancing for the first time since ’98.