Archive | December 2013

The Metrodome: A Look Back

By Nick Vespasiano

Since it opened in 1982, the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome has been home to the Minnesota Vikings, Twins, Timberwolves, Gophers football team, and of course Monster Jam (kids seats still just five bucks!). It has hosted an MLB All-Star Game, two World Series, a Super Bowl, and two NCAA Final Fours.

But since I can remember, The Dome has been known for (among other things) its lack of sunlight, awful concourses, sticky floors, troughs in the men’s bathroom, and overall just being the dump that it was. Despite the sentimental value of it being “our dump”, no one is really that sad to see it go.

It's been 31 years, but we finally can say goodbye to the Metrodome (via Vikings)

It’s been 31 years, but we finally can say goodbye to the Metrodome (via Vikings)

Yesterday’s Vikings 14-13 win over the Detroit Lions marks the last event held in the Metrodome, which will be torn down to make room for the Vikings’ new stadium set to open in 2016.

Here’s some of my favorite memories of the Metrodome:

The Vikings 1998 Season

A 15-1 season that ended in a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Atlanta Falcons after kicker Gary Anderson’s only missed field goal of the season. Rookie wide receiver Randy Moss formed an unlikely connection with quarterback Randall Cunningham, catching 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns. Veteran wideout Cris Carter also helped make this one of the best offenses in NFL history.

Adrian Peterson Runs for 296 Yards

In his rookie season in 2007, we knew we had a special player in Adrian Peterson. It was one of the best seasons ever for a rookie running back. The most notable game that year, and probably of his whole career, was a home game against the San Diego Chargers where he set the NFL record for rushing yards in a game with 296 yards on 30 carries.

Joe Mauer’s AL-MVP Season

All the cheesy “hometown hero” stuff aside, that 2009 season was pretty incredible. I went to several of Twins games that year, where it was not uncommon to see Joe go 4-4, 3-4, or 4-5. Finishing with a .400 batting average was not out of the question for a decent portion of the season. After spending the first month of the season out with injury, he finished batting .365 with 28 home runs and 96 RBIs en route to a division title. I will always remember being at the Dome to see his first game back from injury, where he homered to the opposite field on his first swing.

Favre’s Magical Year

I will never forget the aerial shot of Brett Favre’s black Range Rover arriving at the Viking’s practice facilities in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. It was like the president had just arrived. I knew we were in for a treat that season but it was far better than I could have hoped. They went 12-4, highlighted by Favre’s best statistical season at the ripe old age of 40. He completed 68 percent of his passes for 4,202 yards, 33 touchdowns and seven interceptions. The best moments in the Dome include Favre’s last second touchdown pass to beat San Francisco (its Greg Lewis!), stomping Green Bay, and a playoff route of the Dallas Cowboys.

The Roof Collapse

In my freshman year of college, walking home late from a party, the snow was up to our knees and was only getting worse. It snowed around 17 inches that night and I woke up Sunday morning to find out that blizzard killed the Metrodome. The Vikings and Giants had to play at Ford Field in Detroit instead.

AP’s MVP Season

28 makes his second appearance on this list. He spent last season chasing Eric Dickerson’s single season rushing record of 2,105, coming up just short with 2,097. It was enough to earn him MVP honors after tearing his ACL the season before. Averaging 6.0 yards per carry, game in game out he carried the team to an unlikely 10-6 record and a playoff birth. In the last home game of the season against Green Bay, he totaled 199 yards in a must win game to secure a wild card spot in the playoffs.

These are just a few memories that stand out to me. Destruction of the Metrodome begins in January and while it will always have a place in my heart, I can’t say I’ll miss it.

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Nick Vespasiano is a senior English major at St. Olaf College and aspiring sports writer. He was raised in Minnesota, favorite teams are the Vikings, Wild, and Twins. Favorite athletes are Randy Moss and Jaromír Jágr.

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Injuries Plague NFL Playoff Contenders

By Dan Lagnado

With week 16 now in the books, those teams that have clinched will gear up for their playoff run while several others prepare to attempt a “win and they’re in” game. However quite a few of these teams will be without important players.

The most notable of these teams is the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys may be playing for the NFC East championship without the quarterback. Of course Tony Romo has been heavily criticized by fans of the game for being unable to win important games in December. If the reports of his injuries are correct, Romo might not get the chance to prove them wrong next weekend. The report is that Romo has a herniated disc that will require surgery and so will not play against the Eagles, or beyond if the Cowboys win. Kyle Orton has been Romo’s backup all season but has not started a game since 2011. It is rumored that the team will look to sign another quarterback this week. Notable free agent quarterbacks include former college stars Vince Young, Matt Leinart, JaMarcus Russell and of course, Tim Tebow. There are also some proven veterans who are available such as David Carr, Byron Leftwich, Trent Edwards and Charlie Batch.

Tony Romo will be absent in week 17 (Via Hulkshare)

Tony Romo will be absent in week 17 (Via Hulkshare)

Another serious injury inflicted star pass rusher Von Miller of the AFC leading Broncos. Miller tore his ACL early in the game and will be out for the remainder of the season. Miller is one of the league’s most prolific, young, defensive stars and his absence will be felt by an inconsistent Denver defense. However, Denver performed well without Miller early in the season (Miller missed the first six games but Denver was 6-0), however it remains to be seen if the offense can make up for the loss against more talented teams in the playoffs.

The Carolina Panthers are fighting not only for a division title but for a possible first round bye. However, they will be doing so without their star wide receiver Steve Smith. Smith strained his PCL in Sunday’s victory over the Saints and has been declared doubtful for the season finale. It is unclear if Smith will miss any time beyond week 17. Smith is a vital part of the offense and a popular option for Cam Newton. If Smith is forced to miss any significant amount of time it could cause problems for the Panther offense.

The New Orleans Saints had one of the worst defenses in NFL history last season. Rob Ryan was brought in and managed to recreate the defense and it has helped the Saints to return to contention. However, young, talented safety Kenny Vaccaro broke his ankle in the loss to Carolina. Vaccaro had over 90 tackles, an interception, a forced fumble, and a sack. Vaccaro had performed at all aspects of the defense and a group that has started to struggle in recent weeks will feel his loss.

And there is the ongoing question of Aaron Rodgers and his collarbone. Rodgers has missed seven games and is still waiting to be cleared to play by the Packers’ medical staff. Rodgers has practiced and has stated that he feels that he could play but team doctors have not cleared him for full football. The Packers will face the Bears with a chance to win the NFC North and if Rodgers is held out again, Matt Flynn will once again be asked to lead the team against a good Bears team with Jay Cutler back in the lineup.

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Dan Lagnado is studying communications, law economics and government at American University. He’s a fan of both the Mets and Jets and has been writing about sports for four years. You can follow him on twitter at @dlag1995

Santa’s NHL Nice and Naughty Lists

By Mike Basile

    The Nice List

Alex Ovechkin- 30 goals 11 assists 41 points- This guy has been on fire of late and is on track for 72 goals this season which is unbelievable. It seems like every time you check the score sheet you will find his name on it.

Sidney Crosby- 20 Goals 34 assists 54 points- Undoubtedly the best on ice vision in the league and probably has eyes in the back of his head. Sid the kid is a monster and is rarely held off the score sheet. He has four multi point games in his last five games, and shows no sign of slowing down.

Ryan Getzlaf- 19 goals 24 assists 43 points- Getzlaf has been all the Ducks have asked for this season and more. Not only are his 43 points top five in the league but he also is a +18 which ranks eight in the league. With six game winning goals he is clutch as can be.

Patrick Kane- 21 goals 27 assists 48 points- Patrick Kane does it all and shows it on the ice game in and game out. It really is showing as he is second in the league in points only to Sidney Crosby. Kane has recorded a point in each of his last five games.

Duncan Keith- 3 goals 30 assists 33 points- Keith has been a rock solid defensemen this season. It doesn’t hurt that he has 33 points this season as well. Did I mention he was a +16? This man can do no wrong!

Marc Andre Fleury- 21-9-1 GAA- 2.12 SV pct .920- After a rough playoffs last season he was a big question mark coming in to this season. He has answered the bell though, as he leads the league in wins and is in the top ten in goals against. Fleury has finally shut up the haters.

The Naughy list
Dany Heatley- 7 goals 4 assists 11 points- It is no secret that after last season he has been on a decline with only 21 points in 38 games, but this year he has 11 in 39. Might I remind you he makes 7.5 million a year!

Alexander Semin- 4 goals 8 assists 12 points- In his defense he has missed a few games this season, but four goals in 25 games is not Semin like. He was a point per game player or better two of the last three seasons and that is what the Hurricanes except from him.

Josh Bailey- 4 goals 9 assists 13 points- You wait and wait for him to develop in to the player he is supposed to be and he never does. You can tell he has all the talent in the world but it just doesn’t show on the score sheet.

Dan Girardi- 2 goals 6 assists 8 points- For Dan Girardi the offensive stats are not the problem to me. The last three seasons he was a +19. This year he is a -5. This is a backbone to the Rangers defense and he just is not cutting it this year.

Ondrej Pavelec- 11- 16-4 2.94 GAA .902 Save Percentage- Pavelec really has never been better then just an average goalie to me, but I thought this may be his breakout year. With less than average stats he has been a huge disappointment for the Jets.
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Mike Basile is a sophomore at York College Of Pennsylvania. He is a huge sports fan, and when it comes to hockey maybe considered a little obsessive. Giving insight on the Islanders and all things hockey. You can follow him on twitter at @mikeybasile1

Pierre-Marc Bouchard Placed On Waivers- Ryan Strome On The Way

By Brett Malamud

This morning, The New York Islanders placed Pierre-Marc Bouchard on waivers. The move was made to open up a spot on the roster for top prospect Ryan Strome. After Bouchard clears waivers tomorrow, Strome will join the team in San Jose. The 19-year-old Strome had nine goals and 24 assists for a total of 33 points in only 23 games for the Islanders’ AHL affiliate Bridgeport Sound Tigers. In their last game, Strome had one goal and three assists for a total of four points. On the same night, the entire Islanders roster had zero points, as they were shut out by the Los Angeles Kings. It should be interesting to see where Ryan Strome is placed in regards to his line for tomorrow night’s game in San Jose against the Sharks.

Ryan Strome will finally make the trip up to the NHL level and join the Islanders tomorrow night

Ryan Strome will finally make the trip up to the NHL level and join the Islanders tomorrow night (Via Getty Images)

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Brett Malamud is a Computer Science Major at Binghamton University. He is the co-founder of dabuzzza.com. His favorite athletes are Derek Jeter and Todd Bertuzzi. You can follow him on twitter at @brettnyy

Are The Yankees Better?

By Christian Pierre-Louis

Let’s see if I have the events of the last two or three days correct…

On Thursday, Brian McCann was officially introduced and actually became the first member of the Yankee organization to acknowledge Jacoby Ellsbury was a Yankee now as well. Soon after, we wondered if the Yankees had made any progress with Robinson Cano, only to learn that he was on his way to Seattle. Thursday night Cano and Jay-Z met with the Mariners brass and a deal appeared close.

Friday morning, the deal was falling apart. Later Friday morning, it was back on. Before Friday morning was over, Cano was a Mariner for the next ten years. By Friday night, Carlos Beltran was a Yankee.

Somewhere in between, the Yankees had a deal to bring back Hiroki Kuroda.

Oh, and Curtis Granderson also signed with the Mets.

Pardon me while I take a moment, to collect myself.

Okay, so now the important question–are the Yankees better?

Well, a lot of people said and wrote before that the Yankee off-season could not be a success with Cano playing somewhere else, and some still believe that to a degree. They needed significant upgrades even with Cano, and now have to fill that void too.

Yes, they are somewhat better. They have improved at catcher and their outfield is better. The infield still has some questions, especially with the known returnees Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira coming off major injuries.

The pitching still has some holes, namely at least 1 quality starting pitcher with 30 start durability, and some extra bullpen arms after the losses of Joba Chamberlain, Boone Logan, and that other guy who used to wear 42.

The Yankees still have work to do. And to see how much money they’ve sunk into this already and all the holes they still have to fill kind of shows you what a smoke and mirrors trick it was to get 85 wins out of the 2013 team.

Robinson Cano bolted for Seattle and the Yankees responded by spending their money elsewhere (Via Brett Malamud)

Robinson Cano bolted for Seattle and the Yankees responded by spending their money elsewhere (Via Brett Malamud)

So…better than they were in 2013 right? Let’s put it this way:

Here was the Opening Day starting lineup, April 1 vs. Boston:

CF-Brett Gardner

SS-Eduardo Nunez

2B-Robinson Cano

1B-Kevin Youkilis

LF-Vernon Wells

DH-Ben Francisco

RF-Ichiro Suzuki

3B-Jayson Nix

C-Francisco Cervelli

And here was the lineup vs. Tampa Bay from September 25, the last day the Yankees were still in mathematical playoff contention:

3B-Eduardo Nunez

DH-Alex Rodriguez

2B-Robinson Cano

LF-Alfonso Soriano

RF-Vernon Wells

1B-Mark Reynolds

CF-Curtis Granderson

SS-Brendan Ryan

C-Chris Stewart

That’s 15 different players between those two lineups, and you can probably only guarantee that Alfonso Soriano and Brendan Ryan are on the roster next Opening Day, let alone the starting lineup. That’s an amazing amount of turnover. Is there a possibility the Yankees have nine completely different names for Opening Day in just one year?

The Yankees are in transition like we haven’t seen before, not even after 2008. With the core of this team either coming off injuries or suspensions/appeal hearings/other legal proceedings, it is an unbelievable revamp.

And, again, the Yankees aren’t done.

Let’s face it–this Yankees off-season is more exciting than the regular season. Too bad they can’t sell tickets to watch this stuff.

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Christian Pierre-Louis is a journalism major at Seton Hall University. He is a HUGE fan of the, LA Lakers, NY Giants, and NY Yankees. He is also an assistant sports producer at Seton Hall’s radio station WSOU 89.5 FM. You can follow him on twitter at @CPL_78.

New York Islanders Player Report Cards

By Mike Basile

Forwards:

 John Tavares- (29 GP, 11 G, 21 A, 32 Points, +/- -5) No question the best player on the team and keeps them in some games single handedly. Would like to see a few more big goals from the young kid, but can’t complain about Tavares.  Grade:  A-

John Tavares has been one of the few positive notes this season for the Islanders (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

John Tavares has been one of the few positive notes this season for the Islanders (Photo by Andy Marlin/Getty Images)

Kyle Okposo– (29 GP, 8 G, 18 A, 26 Points, +/- -1) After a great playoffs last season, fans wondered how Okposo would play this season. No doubt he is a streaky player, but for the most part he has been good this season helping out the captain on the top line. Grade B+

Frans Nielsen– (29 GP, 10 G, 13 A, 23 Points, +/- – 5) Frans got off to a hot start and has cooled down of late overall his play has been above average for him this season.  Playing with Josh Bailey and Michael Grabner has only hurt him. Grade B+

Josh Bailey (28 GP, 4 G, 6 A, 10 Points, +/- – 3) Josh Bailey has not scored a goal in over three weeks, and after starting the season off pretty well, many fans believed he was ready to break out.  It seems the beginning of the season was a fluke and Josh Bailey has returned to being invisible on the ice. Grade C

Pierre Marc-Bouchard (27 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 9 Points, +/- -8) One of Garth’s off-season moves that did not pan out to what he wanted. With just 9 points in 27 games and a –8, he has not done much to help this struggling team. Grade C-

Thomas Vanek (13 GP, 4 G, 5 A, 9 points, +/- +3) Thomas Vanek and John Tavares are starting to develop some chemistry, but his lackluster defensive play frustrates many fans and that +3 will quickly drop if that continues. Grade B-

Michael Grabner (26 GP, 2 G, 6 A, 8 Points, +/- -5) Michael Grabner has not scored since opening night, and continues to frustrate fans, as he gets at least one opportunity to score every night. He is normally good on the PK to make up for that, but I cannot even give him that this season. Grade D

Brock Nelson (19 GP, 3 G, 5 A, 8 points, +/- -6) One of the most consistent players on the Islanders and all he gets is a healthy scratch. The young kid showed he could play with Tavares and works hard every night. Grade B +

Casey Cizikas (29 GP, 3 G, 4 A, 7 Points, +/- – 3) Casey is a great 4th line center, he works hard every night and gets rewarded with the occasional goal and has great ice vision. Grade B-

Cal Clutterbuck (23 GP, 3 G, 2 A, 5 Points, +/- -4) Another player who is doing his job this year. I would definitely like to see him more on the score sheet, but he throws the body around and wins many physical battles. Grade C

Peter Regin (28 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 Points, +/- -4) Who is this guy? And why is he still on the team? He barely played in Ottawa for a reason. Grade D

Matt Martin (29 GP, 2 G, 2 A, 4 points, +/- -3) Matt Martin is an extremely smart hockey player and throws his body around for fun. He has taken some bad penalties this year that have surprised me and knowing that he is a smart player is unacceptable. Grade C+

Eric Boulton (6 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 Points, +/- +3) Never thought I would say this, but Eric Boulton has been good in the games he has played this season.  I love that he is a +3, which shows that good things happen when he is on the ice. It would be unfair for me to grade him on only 6 games though.

Colin McDonald (22 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 Points, +/- -10) Colin is an upbeat player and a big fan favorite, but he is just not an NHL player. – 10 is a stat that tells me that when he is on the ice I have to be scared at all times. Grade D

Defense:

Andrew MacDonald (29 GP, 3 G, 8 A, 11 Points, +/- – 6) Andrew Macdonald is not having the best year to be quite honest, but that is because Capuano is trying to make him things that he is not! He is not a quarterback on the power play, he is not a 1 or 2 defensemen and should not be playing 26 minutes a night. I may get some criticism for this, but MacDonald plays hard every night and is a big part of this team. Grade B

Travis Hamonic (29 GP, 1 G, 5 A, 6 points, +/- -6) Travis is also being too heavily relied on this season and the fatigue is showing. I believe Hamonic should be a + defensemen every season, but this year’s being overworked is hurting his game. Grade C+

Matt Donovan (22 GP, 1 G, 4 A, 5 points, +/- – 5) Matt Donovan has been exactly what I expected. Gets involved in the offensive rush and helps out offensively, but makes rookie mistakes on the defensive end all too often. Grade C

Thomas Hickey (29 GP, 1 G, 3 A, 4 Points, +/- – 3) Gives up his body for the team game in and game out and works very very hard. The mistakes he makes show to be costly and has to cut down on those with the defense slacking big time. Grade C

Matt Carkner (23 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 Points, +/- – 7) All the hate on Matt Carkner from the fans is totally understandable. He is paid to play defense and constantly gets caught pinching when he has no offensive ability and is a – 7. Grade D

Radek Martinek (10 GP, 0 G, 3 A, 3 Points, +/- -1) Radek is doing exactly what the Islanders needed him to. He plays sound defensively when they need him to. Sure he makes some mistakes, but with the defense they have, he has showed some solid veteran play. Grade B-

Lubomir Visnovsky (8 GP, 1 G, 2 A, 3 points, +/- +3) It is no secret that this team is hurting without their best all-around defenseman. Their power play was ranked in the top 5 when they had Visnovsky and now without him it is in the bottom 10 of the league. I will grade him by saying COME BACK!

Aaron Ness (12 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 Points, +/- – 7) The young kid has come in and to be honest, has not done much for this team. He is just too small and every game gets bullied around in front of the net. Grade C-

Brian Strait (9 GP, 0 G, 1 A, 1 Point, +/- – 2) With the defense playing like they are, I would love for Strait to come back just for some hope that maybe he can help us out.

Calvin De Haan (3 GP, 0 G, 0 A, 0 Points, +/- -1) Not much to say only playing 3 games so far this season, but overall, I do like what I see from the young man who has been injury plagued.

Goaltending:

Evgeni Nabakov (14 GP, 5-5-3, 3.30 GAA, save % .892) Since the playoffs last season, Nabby has lost all trust from Islander fans and after a recent groin injury fans are not to optimistic about him coming back and being the Nabby that led this team to the playoffs. Grade D

Kevin Poulin (13 GP, 3-10-0, 3.24 GAA, save % .887) I can’t blame Kevin Poulin for having bad statistics with the defense they have, but he has let up some soft goals in big situations that make me question our goalie of the future. Grade C

Anders Nillson (4 GP, 0-1-2, 3.26 GAA, save % .883) Anders played very well against two of the best offenses in the NHL (Penguins and Capitals). I will try to be optimistic about the giant goaltender who I think has some talent.

Overall Team Grade (29 GP, 8-16-5, 21 points) After making the playoffs last season there were high expectations for this hockey club, but with some injuries and lack luster play, this team has found itself in the basement to begin this season. The only good sign is that they do have time to bounce back with an 82 game season this year! Grade C-

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Mike Basile is a sophomore at York College Of Pennsylvania. He is a huge sports fan, and when it comes to hockey maybe considered a little obsessive. Giving insight on the Islanders and all things hockey. You can follow him on twitter at @mikeybasile1

United States Draws “Group of Death” for 2014 World Cup

By Dan Lagnado

Over the last three years, soccer clubs around the world have been going through a series of World Cup qualifying matches. Yesterday, the 32 teams that qualified learned their group for the first round of play, the group stage. The United States National Team cruised through qualifiers with a record of 7-2-1 and easily garnered the points and placement needed to go to Brazil. However, the yesterday’s news indicates that their stay could be short-lived. The US has been placed in what is known as “the group of death”. Every World Cup features this group. Typically it is characterized by having three or four of the best teams in the world. As a result of the organization of the tournament only two teams will move on to the knockout stage from each group. And so, therefore, one of the best teams will be bumped from the tournament in the first round.

This year’s group of death is Group G. This group contains the United States, Ghana, Germany, and Portugal. All four of these teams are rated to be in the top 25 teams in the world and three of them are in the top 15 (Ghana is ranked 24).  These matchups could provide serious issues for the US.

Germany is considered one of the best teams in the world (ranked 2nd overall) and is the favorite to win the group. They are led by star midfielder Mesut Ozil, who just recently was transferred to Arsenal for a club record transfer fee of £42.2 million. He is known to have fantastic footskills as well as vision and a powerful shot. Though Germany also has star players such as Mario Gotze, and Miroslav Klose, Ozil is considered to be Germany’s version of Ronaldo or Messi.

And Ozil will have to be because his first matchup will be against Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo, the player many people say he emulates. Portugal is ranked as the fifth best team in the world and is favored to be the runner-up of the group just barely over the US. Of course Ronaldo is the leader of this squad, and is the second best, if not the best, player in the world. He won 2008 FIFA player of the year and has the speed and footwork to take on defenders, provides crosses for his teammates and can deliver some of the best free kicks in the world. However, many of the other star players are aging stars such as Bruno Alves and so if Ronaldo can be limited other teams can pull an upset.

The US will have to take down Portugal, led by Christiano Ronaldo, if they want to get out of group play. (Via Yasour)

The US will have to take down Portugal, led by Christiano Ronaldo, if they want to get out of group play. (Via Yasour)

Hoping to pull this upset is the United States. A team that has had mixed results in their history at the World Cup, hopes to shock the world in their first appearance with Jurgen Klinsmann at the helm. This club is led by several solid players at every level, though none considered to be the best in the world. Tim Howard is the anchor of the defense, has been the US keeper for years and has been able to perform at a high level even at age 34. Clint Dempsey is the captain of the squad and provides a spark from an attacking midfield position. Jozy Altidore has performed well lately as he has four goals in five international appearances since the qualifiers though he has been unable to transfer his skill into World Cup success. The most recognizable face of this squad however is Landon Donovan. Best known for his last minute goal against Algeria in 2010 that clinched a second round appearance, Donovan has the shown the ability to perform on the international stage and put the ball in the back of the net.

 

Ghana has been the thorn in the side of the American national team for 8 years. Despite being the underdog in the group of death (once again 25th ranked in the world and given the worst chances of advancing) Ghana is not a squad to be taken lightly. They have eliminated the United States in both the 2006 and 2010 World Cups. This squad is led by Michael Essien and Kevin-Prince Boateng. Essien was nominated for the 2006 Player of the Year award and has a powerful shot as well as the power to work through opposing defenders. Ghana also has a new manager in Kwesi Appiah who took over in 2012. He hopes to help his team compete against the other three powers in this group.

Other Notable World Cup Drawings

Host country Brazil is in Group A along with a slumping Mexico, Croatia and the Samuel Eto’o led Cameroon and is the most favored country to move on given a 99.6% chance of advancing to the knockout stage. Mexico, despite its disappointing qualifying tournament, is the favorite to come in second in the group and also advance. Eto’o has led Cameroon to some World Cup successes though the odds are stacked against him this year. Luka Modric and Croatia look to take advantage of Mexico’s recent slump and sneak into the second round.

Group B features reigning World Camp champion Spain as well as Chile, the Netherlands and Australia. Spain seems to be in a good position to move on and attempt to repeat as champs. The Netherlands will get a chance at revenge for their loss in the 2010 final against Spain and Robin van Persie will attempt to lead his team to a revenge victory. Chile came in third place in South American qualifiers and behind the ability of Arturo Vidal, has a decent chance of advancing. Australia unfortunately seems to be the underdog of the tournament and is given a 98% chance of being eliminated. Australia was the last team to qualify from a week conference and so have fairly low expectations. However don’t tell that to Tim Cahill as he will keep spirits up and maybe try to play spoiler for another team in this group.

In Group C we will see Colombia, Greece, Japan and the Ivory Coast. Colombia finished only behind Argentina in qualifiers. Striker Radamel Falcao is a prolific scorer as he now holds the Europa League scoring record and is the main weapon of a strong Colombian squad. Greece was tied for first in their qualifying tournament and is hoping Kostas Mitroglou can lead them past Ivory Coast and into the knockout stage. Ivory Coast boasts the talents of Didier Drogba as well as Yaya Toure. This squad is favored to be the runner-up and has the talent to cause some teams trouble. The Japanese squad hopes to build on the victory by their women’s team in 2012. However, Shinji Kagawa will face some heavy lifting if he hopes to advance his mates into the second round.

If Group G is the group of death, Group D is the group of death junior. Made up of historical soccer powerhouses Uruguay, England, Italy as well as Costa Rica. Uruguay emerged in 2010 as a team to be reckoned with as they ousted Ghana in the WC quarterfinals. Luis Suarez, despite his occasional negative public appearance (he bit an opponent in 2010) is one of the best strikers in the world and is capable of making things happen with the ball at his feet. Costa Rica finished behind only the US in qualifying as they turned in an impressive tournament. Captain Bryan Ruiz has his team ready to make a run for the second round and has them believing that they can get past more storied European squads England and Italy. England, earned their place in Brazil with an undefeated qualifying round. England has been known as a powerful soccer team for years now. Forward Wayne Rooney and Keeper Joe Hart hope their cautious optimism enables them to channel their best play and help them advance. Italy were the champions of the 2006 World Cup. However much has changed since then. 2010 was very disappointing for this squad and they feel that a bounce back tournament is in the cards. Andrea Pirlo provides veteran leadership and “Super” Mario Balotelli hopes to provide offensive fireworks.

Group E contains Ecuador, Switzerland, France and Honduras. Switzerland does have the weapons to be powerful team in this tournament and in a weaker group it is possible this team can squeak into the next round on the feet of Xherdan Shaqiri. Ecuador finished tied with Uruguay in qualifiers indicating that they have the ability to win a few games and get to the second round. Antonio Valencia and Cristian Benitez provide leadership and offensive ability for a dangerous squad. France is coming back from a disappointing 2010. Look for them to live up to their potential this time around and take control of their group. Patrice Evra, Frank Ribery and Karim Benzema provide both skill and leadership at all three levels of the formation. Honduras finished behind the US and Costa Rico in qualifiers but that does not mean that they are not capable of making things happen in this group. Emilio Izaguirre hopes to lead his team to a surprising finish in this somewhat not as strong group.

There may only be one reason to watch Group F. This group is made up of Argentina, Nigeria, Bosnia & Herezgovina and Iran. But the reason to pay attention to what goes on here goes by the name of Lionel Messi. Argentina boasts the best player in the world (as well as pretty good odds to handily win this group). Of course the team has many more weapons such as Gonzalo Higuain and Angel di Maria, but Messi is certainly the face and name that everyone recognizes. The four-time Player of the Year Award winner and owner of the record for most goals in a calendar year should lead his squad easily into the second round. The battle in this group will be for second-place. The SPI gives the edge to Bosnia-Herzegovina and Edin Dzeko. Despite tying Greece for the top spot in their qualifying division, B-H had an absurd goal differential of +24. This shows their ability both offensively and defensively. The Iranian squad is led by veteran midfielder Javad Nekounam, who hopes to lead a few upset victories. Meanwhile the Nigerian squad is led by Victor Moses and are in a similar situation as Iran, many doubters but a chance to surprise people.

Finally there is Group H containing Belgium, Russia, Algeria and South Korea. Belgium also had an undefeated qualifying tournament and look to continue that success led by Vincent Kompany and Eden Hazard and are given a strong chance to advance. Kompany is a defensive back who has shown the ability to score the occasional goal as well as provide veteran knowledge. Algeria seems to be the significant underdog of the group. Madjid Bougherra hopes to change these opinions and get a few wins. Russia has the ability to challenge Belgium for the top spot of the group. Goalkeeper Igor Akinfeev has emerged as one of the best in the world and Alexander Kerzhakov has emerged as an impressive offensive present. South Korea hopes to make waves in the soccer world. A new coach and a hot young striker in Son Heung-min, hope to pull an upset or two and surprise everyone.

In 187 days, the world will be glued to their TV sets to see how everything shapes up. The first US game is on June 16, 2014 against Ghana.

*All predictions and odds are provided by the Soccer Power Index (SPI)

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Dan Lagnado is studying communications, law economics and government at American University. He’s a fan of both the Mets and Jets and has been writing about sports for four years. You can follow him on twitter at @dlag1995