Sports

Legendary Venues: Madison Square Garden

Next up in the Legendary Venues Series is another New York staple. This venue has been in existence since the 1800’s. It is also widely known as the world’s most famous arena and it is none other than Madison Square Garden.

The Garden, which sits between 7th and 8th Avenues from 31st to 33rd street in Midtown Manhattan, New York City, is actually the fourth structure to bear the name “Madison Square Garden”. The first two existed from 1879-1890 and 1890-1925, respectively. The third which stood from 1925-1968 is now the location for One Worldwide Plaza, which was built after the third Garden was demolished.

Since the current Madison Square Garden opened in 1968, it has held many epic concerts with the biggest names in music history. Up until recently Elton John held the record for most concerts at the Garden with 62 appearances. It was broken by Billy Joel. Since 2014, Joel, the Grammy winning recording artist, has maintained a residency at MSG and has played 44 consecutive shows since beginning his tenure (He will play his 45th on Saturday). Regardless of who holds the record, when a band or an artist can amass a crowd large enough to play at an arena, it’s always an honor to play at the legendary Madison Square Garden.

Besides being a large scale concert venue, Madison Square Garden has also held a multitude of sporting events since opening its doors. It is the home venue of the New York Rangers of the NHL and the New York Knicks of the NBA. It also hosted some of boxing’s biggest fights before Las Vegas boxing became a thing.

Despite all the notable names and greatest concerts to ever grace the stage at MSG, the one that stands out to me (with liking the bands that I like) was LCD Soundsystem’s “final” concert. I say “final” because the band ended up getting back together last year and just released an album at the beginning of the month, which I wrote about after it came out. In that moment in 2011 though, it was a 4 hour long final goodbye of the band’s entire discography. It was all captured and put into the documentary “Shut Up and Play the Hits”, which came out the following year. I began liking LCD Soundsystem shortly before the documentary was released so I had no idea about the incredible spectacle that happened, until the documentary came out. As a band from NYC, there was no greater venue to host LCD’s last show than the Garden.

This past February I worked my first show at Madison Square Garden. It was The Lumineers’ first night of their two night stand. Obviously at that point, I never worked a show there, but I had also never actually been in the Garden period. I decided to stay to see the rest of the performance that night after I finished my shift: 1. Because I actually like The Lumineers and 2. Because it was at Madison Square Garden. When I finally was able to find a way down to watch the show (long story), I couldn’t help but take in the fact that I was watching a show at the Garden. Besides watching the actual performance, I admired the familiar circular ceiling that on a regular basis houses a large scoreboard at the center for its sporting events. I looked around the venue, at the crowd, and up at the banners earned by the Knicks and the Rangers. The Lumineers concert was sold out that night and although it probably won’t go down as one of the greatest concerts in the arena’s history, it was definitely a highlight for me in my career of both watching and working music events.

It’s definitely worth a trip to New York City to catch an event at Madison Square Garden, but a concert would be the best event in my opinion (wink wink). Although it’s not the only famous venue in the city, it’s one of legendary status and one of the most well-known in the world. Its history and incredible past performances can attest to that.

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How to Watch Sports

If you frequent my blog on any level, you’d know that most of my posts focus on one concrete subject and involve facts surrounding that subject. The subjects are related to music, television or film entertainment, or women’s soccer because let’s be real, I don’t often write about other sports. What I want to write about this week is more subjective than usual, but it pertains to all sports and specifically watching sports.

There are two ways to watch sports: in-person or on live stream via a television or the internet. If you’ve ever been to a sporting event, you’d know the experience is much different than watching from your couch, bed, a bar, etc. Seeing a game or match play out right in front of you while taking in the sights and sounds is an experience like no other. If you’re at a team sporting event and you’re rooting for the home team, you’re probably not alone. There are most likely thousands of others cheering on the team with you. You can usually be as loud as you want. At some sporting events, they even encourage fans to scream or be loud. You might be able to do that from your home too, but it doesn’t have the same effect.

Another important difference is the view you have. On a live stream of the match you can only see what the camera sees. You might not be getting a view of all the players or the whole field. You don’t get to watch pregame warmups or post-game interactions either. That being said sometimes the camera has a great view and can offer close-ups of plays and athletes you wouldn’t be able to see from your spot in the stands. It might be why some people prefer to watch games or matches from home.

Another reason why some people might prefer to watch from home is weather. Weather conditions can have a huge impact on outdoor sports. It also impacts the spectators. It can be extremely hot or extremely cold. It can snow or rain. It can even cause delays. In outdoor sports, it’s not always a perfect day or night for a game. You have to prepare accordingly if you attend and some people just enjoy the comfort of their own home better.

There’s also the money factor, which rules a lot of things in our lives. It can be expensive to see a live sporting event, especially championships or major tournaments and that’s if you can even get tickets at face value. It can be a big factor in whether someone watches from home or not. Add in your personal schedule and then you’ve got another dilemma. Sometimes people don’t have a choice in how they watch sports.

I’ve been fortunate enough to see many live sporting events. I’ve been to football, basketball, baseball, and hockey games. I’ve attended soccer matches, a golf tournament, and a skateboarding competition. I have my fair share of preferences on the way to watch sports. Sometimes I like watching from home, but sometimes I’m caught up in a sport that I just want to experience live.

On Friday night, I attended my second NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) match. I decided to go because it was the first ever home playoff match for the team I’ve followed since the league’s inception in 2013, the Washington Spirit, and because I had available time in my schedule. I like the complex where the Spirit play. It’s a great venue to watch soccer (venue might be another reason people like to attend or not attend live sports too) and I wanted to make a trip there this season. Plus, it was a playoff match. As any sports fan knows, playoffs are the best and most exciting time of any season.

The weather last weekend was terrible throughout the mid-atlantic region. Thursday through Sunday brought tons of rain. I hate rain when I have to be out in it for an extended period of time. I was bummed when I saw what I would have to deal with at the match. Add in that the Spirit had a disappointing final two weeks of the regular season and I was wondering if I made the right call to attend the match. I already committed though so I knew I had to brave through the elements and whatever outcome the match brought.

Friday night’s semifinal match between the Washington Spirit and the Chicago Red Stars was the best soccer match I’ve ever attended in my time of being a soccer fan. It misted the entire game, but it was cool enough that I was able to comfortably wear a hoodie with a light rain jacket the whole night and stay dry. The Spirit won in extra time when Franny Ordega scored a beautiful goal that resulted from a pure team effort in the 111th minute. Most importantly I saw my favorite soccer player score a goal in-person, in front of my own eyes.

Okay, I get it. You’re thinking it’s not a rare feat to see your favorite soccer player score a goal. It is when your favorite player is a defender though. Defenders just don’t score often. When they do, doves sing, according to Becky Sauerbrunn at least. It’s not a big secret by any means, but I don’t think I’ve ever said it on here before. My favorite soccer player is Ali Krieger. She’s a defender. More specifically, she’s a right outside back for the Spirit and for the USWNT. In her national team career, she’s scored 1 goal and a pretty important PK that lead to one of the biggest surges in women’s soccer since 1999 (I didn’t even see this one on livestream). Since her career with the Spirit began in 2013, she’s scored about 1 goal per season. That’s about 4 professional goals since I started paying attention to her. Out of those 4 goals, I’ve never seen any in-person. I missed 3 of them totally because I wasn’t able to watch those matches. On the goal I did see, I didn’t even realize she was the one who scored until the replay happened. Seeing her put one in the back of the net Friday night was everything. I wasn’t even sure how the sequence was started until I saw the replay later that night (I was both watching and chatting to a friend who also attended). It was beautiful header off a ball into the box by fellow defender and CANWNT player, Shelina Zadorsky, that started from a play beginning with a corner kick taken by Krieger herself. I just remember seeing the ball float in off a kick from about halfway between the goal and mid-field, meet Krieger’s head, and careen into the back netting.

It was one of my favorite live sports moments that I’ve seen in-person in a while. I’ve seen plenty of good ones over the years too like a game winning triple overtime goal and ones that clinched series’ victories. I’ve never seen a team win a championship in front of my eyes however. That’ll be for another time.  This one was special though. It was hard to come by given the situation and I won’t forget it. It made me realize how special it is to see a sporting event live. Standing in the mist or rain or whatever element was worth it, so was the travel distance, the price (it wasn’t too expensive), and the slight traffic. It all was. So I’m urging you. If you’re one of those people who like to watch from home, remember there are some irreplaceable moments in sports and seeing them in front of your own eyes every once in a while is what makes being a sports fan that more special. Put aside your preferences. Make time. Spend the money. It’s worth it to go to a game.

Right Side, Strong Side

When I became a U.S. Women’s National Team fan in 2011 and more so in 2012, it was because I fell in love with the personalities of the players on the team. As you may know, they got my attention after their dramatic 2011 Women’s World Cup Semifinal win against Brazil on penalties. I watched the rest of that World Cup and realized how amazing these women were at their craft. It was a year later when I got to know them as more than just athletes though. I watched videos, read articles, books, and interviews, followed twitter accounts, and in turn learned so much about these incredible role models. They had a strong core group of players lead by Abby Wambach and Christie Rampone. They had young rising talent in Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux. They also had several players in the middle of the pack who brought special elements to the team. Some were around for years, while others made their way into the lineup over the last cycle (the 4 years between World Cups). One of those players was Heather O’Reilly, who I quickly learned was known to the Women’s Soccer world as HAO (pronounced Hey-Oh) (O’Reilly’s initials which stand for Heather Ann O’Reilly).

The New Brunswick, New Jersey native made her USWNT debut in 2002 while still in high school. She played alongside 1999 Women’s World Cup heroes Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly, Julie Foudy, Brandi Chastain, and Brianna Scurry. Then she began her storied college career at women’s soccer powerhouse, the University of North Carolina under legendary head coach, Anson Dorrance. At UNC, she was a part of 3 National Championship winning teams and also made the USWNT roster for the 2004 Olympic Games, where she helped the team to Olympic Gold. After college, she continued with her USWNT career and played professionally once women’s leagues were again formed in the U.S. by joining Sky Blue FC in the WPS and the Boston Breakers and FC Kansas City in the NWSL. HAO currently plays for FC Kansas City. As a member of the USWNT, O’Reilly played in 230 matches, scored 46 goals, assisted on 54 goals, won 3 Olympic Gold Medals (2004, 2008, 2012) and 1 World Cup Championship (2015), out-performed everyone on the beep test multiple times, and displayed a limitless amount of game faces. HAO has been nothing short of incredible. Tonight she will play her final game as a member of the USWNT. She isn’t retiring from the game of soccer by any means, just from international play. Nonetheless she will be missed tremendously on the world’s stage.

With the additions of many new faces to the USWNT in the past year, HAO’s playing time dwindled. I’m guessing it may have played a role in her decision. Despite that and the fact that she was named an alternate for the 2016 Olympic Games, I didn’t see this one coming. It hurts a lot more than the rest. She’s only 31, which is on the older player range, but still not as old as some. HAO was also a part of the USWNT for so long. She was a part of that core group I began following when I became a fan and part of a special duo that most fans of the team know and love.

As a midfielder, HAO played along the right side of the field. Somewhere along the way, which I believe began around the 2011 Women’s World Cup, she formed an in-game connection with right outside back Ali Krieger and the phrase “right side, strong side” began. I’m not sure who coined the phrase. It might have been an announcer, a fan, or even the pair themselves, but it became known among the USWNT community that #9 and #11 in the game equals right side, strong side. They might have coined the phrase themselves because they use it too. Hopefully HAO and Kriegs take the field tonight and play one last time dominating the right side of the pitch. Either way it will surely be an emotional night for HAO’s family, friends, teammates, coaches, and fans who watched her perform for the red, white, and blue. She’s the true definition of world class and represented U.S. Soccer in the best way possible. Thanks HAO for all you’ve done both on and off the field. Right side, strong side forever!

Three Strikes, You’re Out

Baseball, or America’s pastime, has been part of United States culture for a long time. Its origin dates back to the mid-18th century. By the late 1800’s and 1900’s baseball was widely recognized as the national sport of America and has grown to be a summer time favorite of sports fans throughout the nation.

If you played baseball growing up, chances are you might have played Little League, an organization that was founded in 1939 by Carl E. Stotz. Little League is one of the most popular and most recognized youth baseball leagues in the world. Every year since 1947 Little League honors the best Little League teams in the world by hosting a tournament called the Little League World Series in the town where it was founded, Williamsport, Pennsylvania.

It’s not an easy road to Williamsport. First, All-Star teams are selected from each Little League to compete in district, sectional (in some states/countries), divisional, and regional tournaments. Currently, the Little League World Series features 16 teams (8 American and 8 International) of players ages 11-13 from various regions across the globe. The U.S. regions are comprised of New England (made up of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts), Mid-Atlantic (made up of New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Washington, DC), Great Lakes (made up of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois, Kentucky, and Wisconsin), Southeast (made up of Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, and Tennessee), Midwest (made up of North/South Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, and Missouri), Southwest (made up of Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas East and West), Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, and Alaska), and West (made up of Northern and Southern California, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and Hawaii). Japan, Australia, Canada, Mexico, Caribbean, Europe and Africa, Asia-Pacific and Middle East, and Latin America are the international regions. With the long road to the Little League World Series making it to South Williamsport is an accomplishment for any team.

Once in Williamsport, the teams stay in dorms on the Little League complex. The players and coaches compound known as “The Grove” has been described as a little leaguer’s dream. It has a game room, pool, and all the food any kid would want. No one other than the players and coaches can go there either. The Little League complex in South Williamsport features more than just player dorms. There are two Little League stadiums, Volunteer Stadium, which opened in 2001 when the World Series expanded to include 16 teams instead of just 8, and the legendary Howard J. Lamade Stadium, which opened in 1959. Through the years Lamade has expanded and grown along with Little League Baseball. It went under an expansion in 1971, added lights in 1992 so night games could be played, and in 2006 the fences were moved back 20 ft to allow for more doubles and triples. The complex also features numerous practice fields and a museum dedicated to the past and present of Little League Baseball and Softball. During the week and half long tournament at the end of August, the players are treated like star athletes. They sign autographs and take photos with fans and receive media coverage from ESPN.

Since 1963 the ABC network (which is now in association with ESPN) has covered the Little League World Series. Until the late 80’s only the championship game was televised. Then slowly more games received coverage by ABC and ESPN. By 2007, all but one game was to air live on the networks. Now even the regional tournaments are getting major coverage. As of 2014, all regional tournament games can be streamed live online via ESPN3 with the exception of the Southeast and New England regional which are aired in full on regional networks affiliated with ESPN. The semifinals and final regional games are shown on the well-known sports network.

For those attending the Little League World Series, it never comes at a price. Parking and admission are free. The only time tickets are issued are for bigger games, like the championships or games where large crowds are expected (i.e. if a team within close driving distance like one from Pennsylvania makes it to Williamsport), but even then, the tickets are still free. They’re either distributed on a first come, first serve basis or in a random drawing.

I’ve attended the Little League World Series many times. Since it’s only an hour and a half drive from my home town, I attended annually from 2005-2012 and then once more in 2014. Typically my seat of choice came from bringing a soccer chair and setting it up on the first of the two hills that overlook Lamade Stadium. It’s standard practice for Little League fans to watch the game from either the hill or in the Stadium. The second hill only fills up for major games because it’s usually reserved for sliding down on cardboard, which is kind of a right of passage at the Little League World Series. During my first few trips to the Little League World Series I spent some serious time sliding on that hill. Before my first trip to South Williamsport, I watched the Little League World Series on TV so I knew what to expect when I saw that hill. Needless to say I was pumped to take my first slide on the short but steep slope. In addition to the hill, there’s a ton of other fun activities for guests like pin trading, merch shopping, sponsorship tents, and plenty of delicious and reasonably priced food. With all the activities as well as the games, the Little League World Series was something I looked forward to every summer after I attended for the first time.

This year’s Little League World Series will come to a close this Sunday, when two teams, one from the United States and one from an international region, meet for the championship. The championship game will air at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC. First a United States Champion and International Champion need to be crowned. Those games take place tomorrow and will both be aired on ABC as well. The International Championship will feature the East Seoul Little League from Seoul, South Korea and the Aguadulce Cabezera Little League from Aguadulce, Panama, which represent the Asia-Pacific and Latin America regions, respectively. The game takes place at 12:30 p.m. ET at Howard J. Lamade Stadium. The United States Championship will go to either the Maine-Endwell Little League from Endwell, NY or the Goodlettsville Baseball Little League from Goodlettsville, Tennessee. The U.S. Championship starts at 3:30 p.m. ET and also takes place in Lamade Stadium.

For the players, parents, coaches, volunteers and spectators at the Little League World Series, it’s more than just baseball. Memories are made and stories unfold. For the players, the memories last a lifetime, as well as some of the relationships made between teammates or with other kids from all over the world. It’s an experience like no other. The rest who attend make their memories in other ways like sliding down the hill on a piece of cardboard, catching a foul ball, creating an environment for the players to have the best week ever, spending the day with their kid(s) or even watching their own kid hit a home run. It’s easy to see why the Little League World Series is a special place and a place that anyone who’s ever worn the Little League patch should visit.

Rio 2016: Medal Round

I was looking forward to watching the USWNT take on Brazil in the semi-finals of the Olympic games today at 12 p.m. ET, but sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. On Saturday, the team lost to Sweden on penalties. I was working at a music festival and was unable to watch. I tried my best to follow along on twitter when I wasn’t busy. It was still upsetting regardless of the fact that I wasn’t totally enamored with the game on a TV in front of me.

Saturday’s loss was the earliest Olympic exit for the USWNT since they began competing in the games in 1996. The U.S. won gold at the previous 3 Olympic tournaments. The game was scoreless through the first half. Mid-way through the second frame in the 61st minute Sweden’s Stina Blackstenius put her team up 1-0. The U.S. tied it up 15 minutes later on a goal from Alex Morgan. Neither team was able to score through 90 minutes plus stoppage time. In the 30 minutes of added extra time again neither team was able to find the back of the net so the match went to penalties.

Alex Morgan took the first shot for the U.S. It was saved by Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl. Lotta Schelin (SWE), Lindsey Horan (USA), Kosovare Asllani (SWE), and Carli Lloyd (USA) all scored on their PK’s. Linda Sembrant stepped up next for Sweden but was denied by Solo, igniting a surge for the U.S. At that point the score was 2-2 after 3 rounds. Then Morgan Brian put the U.S. up 3-2, but Sweden countered quickly with a goal by Caroline Seger. Christen Press was the final kicker for the USWNT (unless of course the score still remained tied) but her shot sailed over the cross bar leaving it to Lisa Dahlkvist to seal the deal for Sweden, which she did. The U.S. fell 4-3 ending their chances to medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

No matter what the situation it’s always a surprise when the USWNT loses, especially at this point in the competition. They’ve set the standard for so long in the women’s soccer world that it’s expected for them to compete in every final in every major tournament. This time that wasn’t the case. For the first time ever the U.S. failed to medal in a major tournament, but a part of me believes this was coming. Since winning the World Cup last summer the USWNT went through some major changes. The lineup changed drastically with retirements, pregnancies, and injuries, but also with healthy players. Heather O’Reilly, a 14 year USWNT veteran wasn’t part of the active roster. Her status on the USWNT seemed to drop off last year playing in only a handful of matches including once in the World Cup for no visible purpose. She was named as an alternate on the Olympic squad. Ali Krieger, the States’ most consistent and reliable right outside back, began riding the bench some time during Olympic qualifiers for no explicit reason as well. She was a major part of the back line that almost broke the record for scoreless minutes in last year’s World Cup.

When it came to retirements, veterans Abby Wambach, Shannon Boxx, Lauren Holiday, and Lori Chalupny hung up their boots. Forwards Sydney Leroux and Amy Rodriguez were left off the roster because both were pregnant. Megan Rapinoe tore her ACL back in December and worked her way back into the lineup and Olympic roster but still wasn’t 100 percent ready to go. Injuries to Morgan Brian and Tobin Heath right before the Olympics and Julie Johnston and Mallory Pugh during the first match of the games happened too. It seems that the USWNT didn’t have the right lineup and game plan formula for winning which puts Coach Jill Ellis to blame and rightfully so.

At one point in the match on Saturday she had midfielder, Tobin Heath at right back, a move that made most shake their heads. Her philosophy of having a more offensive team backfired. The U.S. barely outscored opponents during the tournament, never scoring more than 2 goals in any match. Relying heavily on rookies and injured players to perform against some of the best teams in the world was another blunder. Good rookies are important to have on any roster but there needs to be a core group of healthy veterans involved as well. In my opinion, Ellis wasted a roster spot on Megan Rapinoe. She wasn’t ready. She may have been healthy enough to play, but she wasn’t in her element at all. Without playing since December, it’s tough to come back strong and perform at your best in a major tournament. It seems to me that their were more politics at play than anything in this tournament, which caused for the early exit.

Now it’ll be another 2 years until the USWNT begins preparing for the 2019 Women’s World Cup. It’ll be time to focus on the NWSL and growing the women’s game in that regard. It was around this time 4 years ago that my love of women’s soccer grew and inspired me. It inspired me in so many ways. I don’t think I’d be where I am today without the game and incredible players/humans that are a part of the U.S. women’s soccer team. Missing the game Saturday was slightly disappointing, but I missed it for great reason as I continue to follow my own dreams. I wouldn’t be doing that without “the Gals” and for that I’m grateful. Win or lose I’ll always be proud of the USWNT players and the way they compete. They’re incredible both on the field and off, and I’m glad to support them. I believe that we will win, but another day and time from now.

Rio 2016: Group Stage

The 2016 Olympic Summer Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil kicked off on Friday night. Before the opening ceremonies, the United States Women’s National Team began their tournament Wednesday in Belo Horizonte, Brazil against New Zealand. “The Gals” then squared off against number three ranked France Saturday afternoon again in Belo Horizonte and Colombia last evening in Manaus. Through three games the USA women’s soccer team had a record of 2-0-1 earning them 7 points and the top spot in their group, Group G. The first place seed sets them up for a quarterfinals match-up with former Coach Pia Sundhage and Sweden on Friday.

In the first match against New Zealand the U.S. came away with a 2-0 win. The goals came from the feet of Carli Lloyd in the 9th minute and Alex Morgan in the 46th minute. The U.S. wasn’t tested much against New Zealand, but that changed quickly when the team played France in their second Olympic Group Stage match.

The U.S. squeaked away from France with a 1-0 win. The game could have gone either way, but France failed to capitalize on multiple scoring opportunities. It also could have ended in a tie, if not for 2015 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd. Lloyd scored off a rebound of a Tobin Heath shot that was saved and hit off the post. France exposed the USWNT back line several times during the match, but U.S. Goalkeeper, Hope Solo, stepped up when needed.

In their third and final group stage match against Colombia last evening, the U.S. succeeded in winning the group but not in the way they would have liked. The game finished in a 2-2 tie with the game tying goal coming from Colombia in the 90th minute. The U.S. fell behind early in the match in the 26th minute when Colombia’s Catalina Usme sent in a free kick that slipped through the five hole of Hope Solo. The U.S. equalized in the 41st minute when Crystal Dunn cleaned up the rebound of a Carli Lloyd shot that was saved and hit off the crossbar. Then shortly into the second half Mallory Pugh beat out several Colombia defenders and kicked the ball through the Colombia defense to the back netting. Her goal came in the 60th minute and put the U.S. up 2-1. Then right before the game went to stoppage time, Catalina Usme again sent in a beautiful free kick from the right side that beat Hope Solo far post. The USWNT failed to hold on for the win and Usme’s brace gave Colombia their first tie against the U.S. after losing their previous 5 meetings. The goals for Dunn and Pugh marked their first ever major tournament goals for the senior national team since both are making their Olympic debuts this summer.

In my opinion, the USWNT is not playing their best soccer. They’re not taking advantage of their scoring chances and their defense doesn’t seem as strong as it was last summer in Canada at the World Cup. Fortunately being as good as they are, they were able to pull out of the group stage with a number one seed. The medal round will be a whole different animal though. If they make it past Sweden on Friday and Brazil beats Australia, the stage will be set for a semi-final between the top ranked team in the world and the host nation. The culture behind the USWNT is a winning mentality. The ladies in the red, white, and blue are going to give it their all to try to win gold for their country. They just need to start peaking to make it a little easier on themselves.

Of note from the group stage, Julie Johnston’s been out with a slight groin injury. Whitney Engen filled in at center back the past two matches. Pugh also took a knock in the first match that kept her out of the France contest. Morgan Brian has seen limited action due to a prior injury. She only played some of the first three matches. Lastly and finally, Megan Rapinoe made her return from being out due to an ACL tear that happened in December. As you can tell, the U.S. has some injury concerns to be aware of going forward too. Hopefully they’ll be able to manage, improve, and secure their third straight Olympic gold.

The Kid

Since January, I’ve been planning to write this blog post at this exact time in July. I’ve actually had a somewhat tough time trying to figure out what to write up until this point (at least from when Coachella ended until now). In the middle of January, I found out my favorite baseball player of all time was going to be inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame and of course I figured it was necessary to write about him around the time of his induction. I know it seems like for a passionate hockey fan turned women’s soccer fan that baseball shouldn’t really matter. Truth be told, baseball was my favorite sport during my childhood. In fact, from around Kindergarten through 2nd grade, my dream was to be the first female in the MLB (Major League Baseball). Part of the reasoning for that had to do with “The Kid”, better known to the world as Ken Griffey Jr.

Ken Griffey Jr. was an All-Star center fielder for the Seattle Mariners. He was a clutch hitter with home run power, who routinely hit third in the lineup, and a defensive master in the middle of the outfield, who made insane diving catches and robbed opposing teams of home runs. It wasn’t until around 1995 or 1996 that I really started following him and the Mariners (my favorite team by default). For a few years before that, my favorite baseball player (according to my tee ball cards) was Cal Ripkin Jr., but only because he was my cousin Chris’s favorite baseball player. It wasn’t until I noticed Griffey that I had a true favorite. He was the first athlete that I idolized. I even wrote about him in 2nd grade. We had to write a report on our hero. I chose Ken Griffey Jr. He was that cool in my eyes. I guess I’ll try to channel my 2nd grade report to tell you about him.

George Kenneth Griffey Jr. was born on November 21, 1969 in Donora, PA (he later moved to Cincinnati, Ohio). His baseball influence came from his father, Ken Griffey Sr., a three time MLB All-Star and two time World Series Champion who played for the Cincinnati Reds. Griffey was selected first overall in the 1987 amateur draft by the Seattle Mariners. He began his career at the age of 19 for the Mariners on April 3, 1989 doubling on his first major league at bat. He played with the Mariners throughout the 90’s until getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds in 2000. He spent 8 1/2 seasons with the Reds until he was traded to the Chicago White Sox at the MLB trade deadline in 2008. He was able to retire as a Mariner after being signed by the team as a free agent in 2009. His last MLB appearance was on May 31, 2010.

Throughout his career Griffey acquired 630 home runs (6th all-time in MLB), 2,781 hits, and 1,836 RBIs playing in 2,671 games. He was a 13 time MLB All-Star, a 10 time Gold Glove Award winner, and a 7 time Silver Slugger Award winner. He even won the AL MVP Award in 1997 and 3 Home Run Derbys. In 1998, Griffey was a part of the home run chase of Roger Maris’s 61 home run record. He dropped off towards the end of the race when eventual record breakers Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa pulled ahead. He finished that season with 56 home runs, the same as his 1997 total and (tied) the most of his career in a single season.

On January 6, 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame by a record breaking 99.32% of the vote. Griffey will be inducted into the Hall of Fame this weekend along with former Mets catcher, Mike Piazza. The ceremony takes place on Sunday and will be broadcast on MLB Network.

Ken Griffey Jr. was always a super star baseball player and an all around good guy, but he was also a cultural icon in the 90’s. He was endorsed by Nike and had his own signature sneaker line. He was the face of Nintendo’s baseball video games. He appeared on Wheaties boxes, in movies, and on TV shows. He was one of, if not the most, notable players in Major League Baseball and I totally bought into it. I, of course, had plenty of Griffey merchandise. I had t-shirts, caps, cards, figurines, posters, and even my baseball glove had a Griffey signature in gold on the palm. I still have most, if not all, of that memorabilia including my glove which I still use any time I play catch because it’s broken in and fits despite having a smaller pocket than what I need. I also still have a lot of the Griffey merch on display in my room making him a subtle part of my life since my childhood.

I stopped following “The Kid” shortly after he was traded to the Reds in 2000. In general, I stopped following baseball. At that point I was in 5th grade and became more interested in basketball than America’s pastime. I heard about Griffey here and there in the following years until his retirement in 2010. I heard when he was traded to the White Sox and when he signed with the Mariners again. I heard when he retired too, but it was already after he stopped playing. His retirement wasn’t a big happy going away party because of team controversies involving poor play surrounding him. He left the team to drive home one night in the middle of a 4 game home series with the Minnesota Twins and released a statement through the Mariners the following day. He chose to retire to avoid being a distraction to the team. However, on a more positive note, his former Seattle team plans to retire his jersey number, # 24, this year.

Fortunately, I was able to see Ken Griffey Jr. play baseball once. It was in 1998 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards with my cousins who live outside of Baltimore. In fact, the day of his Hall of Fame induction will be 18 years to the date that I saw him play (I checked my old ticket for verification and yes I still have it). He didn’t make much of an impact that July afternoon (no homers or anything), but it was so cool to be able to see my idol out on the field. Now, years later, on the wake of Griffey’s Hall of Fame induction, it’s just as cool to be able to think back to when I idolized and followed him and to realize that he will be a National Baseball Hall of Famer alongside the greatest players in the game. It goes to show that no matter how old you get, your childhood idols will always have a place in your heart and you’ll still be happy for their accomplishments just as much as when you were young. Congrats to “The Kid” and thanks for always being my favorite!

 

Road to Rio: Roster Release

I told you the next time I’d blog about the USWNT it would be after the Olympic roster was released. Well the release happened around noon today. With months since qualifiers and a tournament and friendlies in between, there were no surprises, just a few disappointments.

The 2016 U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team Olympic Roster is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Hope Solo and Alyssa Naeher

Defenders: Meghan Klingenberg, Whitney Engen, Ali Krieger, Becky Sauerbrunn, Kelley O’Hara, Julie Johnston

Midfielders: Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Carli Lloyd, Morgan Brian, Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe

Forwards: Crystal Dunn, Alex Morgan, Christen Press, Mallory Pugh

I think the only question anyone had about this roster as time went forward was whether or not Megan Rapinoe would be healthy for the Olympics. She tore her ACL back in December, had surgery, and rehabbed post-op. She made it back though, just in time. My only concern is that she probably won’t be at 100 percent, despite what sources say. She hasn’t played in a match since October (she was injured prior to the U.S. Victory Tour matches in December). It’s almost like Alex Morgan at the World Cup last year. Morgan was injured twice for extended time periods over the past 2 years prior to the World Cup. At the World Cup, her performance suffered. She wasn’t at her peak. I feel like that might be the case for Rapinoe come August.

Two of the biggest disappointments of this roster are the exclusion of long-time USWNT veteran Heather O’Reilly (HAO) and 2015 Women’s World Cup back-up goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. O’Reilly’s playing time began to drop when Jill Ellis took over the reigns of the national team in the spring of 2014. She only played in one match last summer at the Women’s World Cup coming in as a sub in the quarterfinals against China PR. Harris on the other hand was named back-up goalkeeper in the months prior to the Women’s World Cup. After the World Cup, somewhere along the way during the Victory Tour, Harris’s status dropped. It became noticeable following the Victory Tour match in Orlando, FL, a city only about an hour away from Harris’s hometown of Satellite Beach. Harris didn’t receive any playing time, which isn’t common when a friendly gets played in or near a player’s hometown. It was disappointing and rather odd, raising a red flag for anyone who paid attention to the team. Coach Ellis also stated prior to the three December matches that each goalkeeper would receive playing time. Unfortunately the Hawaii match was cancelled because the field was deemed unplayable. In the other two matches Naeher and Solo played. Harris again didn’t receive any minutes, which was another red flag. Maybe she was supposed to play in Hawaii, but we may never know. Since the Victory Tour, Harris hasn’t played in any matches and has repeatedly not dressed for games, which was a sure indication of her third keeper status. Harris and O’Reilly will serve as alternates for the team along with Emily Sonnett and Samantha Mewis. Both are world class players who would undoubtedly be starters on any other national team in the world. What caused their status to drop on the USWNT is unknown and therefore a disappointment for this year’s Olympic Tournament.

On a happier note, the final cut from last year’s World Cup roster, Crystal Dunn, has finally made the USWNT for a major tournament. Dunn’s response to being left off the World Cup roster last summer was nothing short of inspirational. She lead the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) with 15 goals and received the 2015 Player of the Year Award. She’s also scored 13 goals and had 7 assists since rejoining the national team during the Victory Tour. She’s been on fire and was a guarantee going into the Olympics. Her comeback was incredible and if you want to read more about that from Crystal, herself, check out this article in the Players’ Tribune.

Another happy note from the roster is the 31 year old, USWNT veteran, first time Olympian, Ali Krieger. In 2012 during Olympic qualifying, Krieger tore her right ACL and MCL and didn’t make it back in time to be on the Olympic roster, despite efforts of surgery and rehab. At the time, she was an integral part of the USWNT as the only player who played every minute in the 2011 Women’s World Cup and scored the winning penalty kick against Brazil in the legendary quarterfinal match that put the USWNT in the headlines.Her exclusion on the 2012 roster was expected but also a disappointment. Since then, she has stated numerous times that being an Olympic athlete was always a dream of hers. Now that dream is finally coming true. As a world class defender/right outside back, there’s no doubt that Krieger will be an impact if this team is to win gold, despite her playing time in the last few months being much less than normal (another questionable decision to say the least).

Lastly three other players (in addition to Dunn) on this Olympic roster were not part of the World Cup Champion team last summer. The youngest of those three is Mallory Pugh. She received her first call to the national team during January camp and has been lights out since receiving her first cap. The catch is that she just turned 18. She’s about to start college at UCLA in the fall. She’s also scored 2 goals and added 7 assists since her debut for the senior national team. Her 7 assists actually lead the team this year. She’ll be a quality play-maker for the USWNT going forward.

Lindsey Horan is another of the other three who wasn’t part of the World Cup last summer. Horan is the only player on the national team to pass on college and go straight to the pros. She played 4 seasons for Paris Saint-Germain in France before joining the Portland Thorns of the NWSL this year. Since coming in this year Horan has played as a holding center mid, occupying the spot most previously held by recent retiree Lauren Holiday (Cheney). There were questions of who would take on that role after Holiday retired, but Horan has fit into the spot well, even if she played forward all her life. Allie Long, the last of the other three players not a part of the World Cup, has also been competing for that spot with Horan. Long has been in and out of the national team for years. She could never quite secure a spot until now making her roster spot a “long” awaited accomplishment.

The rest of the roster contains players who won gold in Canada last summer including 2015 FIFA World Player of the Year Carli Lloyd, 2015 Women’s World Cup Golden Glove Winner Hope Solo, and the face of the USWNT since 2011, Alex Morgan. Hopefully these 18 players will be able to bring back gold in the Olympics. If the USWNT wins gold, they will be the first team to ever win World Cup gold and Olympic gold back to back. They’ll face plenty of tough tasks along the way, including France, who beat the U.S. back in February 2015. Host country Brazil will also be a tough task if they meet at some point as well as Germany and the 2012 Olympic bronze medal winning team, Canada.

Only time will tell what happens this summer to the reigning world champion USWNT, but it will surely be entertaining no matter what. I’ll probably update a couple times during the Olympics, but I doubt it will be as much as when I covered the World Cup last summer. Look for updates nonetheless. See you in Rio!

Champions Again

I rarely write about sports on this blog anymore unless it involves women’s soccer. I mostly cover music. It’s what I’m most passionate about. Last night though, something that doesn’t happen very often occurred in the sports world giving me an opportunity to write about another sport for a change. My favorite NHL team, the Pittsburgh Penguins, won the Stanley Cup, the NHL’s Championship trophy.

Whether you know or not, I’m a Pittsburgh Penguins fan. I became a Pittsburgh Penguins fan by default. I grew up watching their AHL (minor league hockey) affiliate play in my hometown. I had season tickets to watch the team for many years and attended games regularly throughout middle school, high school, college, and even a few years after. I watched players develop and make it to the NHL. Then, I cheered them on as they played in the Burgh. In the fall of 2008, I made it out to Pittsburgh to see my first NHL game and returned yearly for games each fall through 2012 (I was even out there twice within a few months one year for two different hockey events). I explored Pittsburgh more and more each visit, falling in love with the Steel City. Since 2012, I returned to Pittsburgh three more times, once for a mini summer vacation trip and twice to see the Penguins play. The most recent visit was a mere three weeks ago to watch the Penguins play Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was the first Stanley Cup Playoff game I had ever seen. I was pumped to attend, but probably not as excited as I would have been a few years ago when I was much more emotionally invested in the Penguins and hockey in general. I’m still so glad it occurred during this Championship run. Enough about me though. Let’s focus on the Penguins for a second. They’re the real champs right now.

Last evening at the SAP Center (aka The Shark Tank) in San Jose, CA, the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the San Jose Sharks 3-1 in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final to win the best of seven series 4-2 and hoist the Stanley Cup for the 4th time in franchise history (1991, 1992, 2009 were the other three championship years). Pittsburgh’s goals were scored by Brian Dumolin (power play goal, assists by Justin Schultz and Chris Kunitz, 1st period at 8:16), Kris Letang (game-winner, assists by Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary, 2nd period at 7:46), and Patric Hornqvist (empty net goal, assist by Sidney Crosby, 3rd period at 18:58). Logan Couture had the lone tally for San Jose when he tied the game at 1 apiece in the second period. Couture’s goal came 79 seconds before the eventual game-winner by Letang.

To win the Stanley Cup the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the New York Rangers in the first round in 5 games, the President’s Trophy (given to the NHL team with the best record in the regular season) winning Washington Capitals in the second round in 6 games, and the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Final in 7 games before winning the series against the Sharks last night. The last time the Penguins won the Stanley Cup was exactly 7 years earlier on June 12, 2009 against the Detroit Red Wings. Only 7 members of the current Penguins roster were part of the 2009 squad who hoisted the cup after Game 7 in Detroit. Several members of the Pittsburgh Penguins roster, including playoff regulars, Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Matt Murray, began the season with team’s AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The rookies played an integral part in Pittsburgh’s championship run making it an organizational victory from top to bottom. Of the 20 players who suited up for Pittsburgh during last night’s cup clinching game, 17 spent significant time in the AHL (significant being defined as 10 or more games). 8 of the 17 spent significant time with Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate.

I watched all 8 of those 17 players develop at some point making it pretty amazing to watch them lift the cup last night, especially the rookies who are only in their early 20’s (Murray just turned 22, unreal!). When the Pen’s won the cup in 2009, I had a much different feeling watching them win. I watched many of them grow in the AHL as well, but at the time I was younger and they were older. I looked up to those guys. Plus I never saw my favorite hockey team win a championship before (the AHL team never wins championships). This time felt more like a proud mom moment. All the guys I watched develop last year and the year before are a few years younger than me. I don’t see them in the same way as I did with the guys in 2009 and I already knew what it felt like to win a championship. My celebration wasn’t as wild. I didn’t run around the house screaming. I wasn’t out of breath. Part of the reason is also because I don’t watch hockey the same way. For years, hockey took up so much of my time. Within the last few years, I wanted to move on from hockey and focus on my life and achieve my goals. Hockey was just a form of entertainment for me. I became a more casual fan and stopped attending games regularly. It’s more fun that way now. I just enjoy watching the sport. It’s a pretty exciting sport too and great to watch when working out. Overall, I’m just free to focus on me, which is my priority anyway.

No matter what though, the Pittsburgh Penguins will always be my favorite hockey team. I grew up as Penguins fan and I have no doubt my allegiance will stick with me no matter where I go or what I do. When the Pens go on a playoff run, I’ll always support them just as I did this spring and last night. Since they actually won the cup during this run, it’s time to celebrate the championship. Way to go Pittsburgh! Let’s Go Pens! Party hard!

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Breaking Records

The title of this post can be taken 2 different ways if you think about it. It could literally mean smashing vinyl records or it could mean surpassing a high achievement. With the whole theme of this blog though, you never know. For today, interpret it the second way.

Since Coachella 2016 has finally passed, it’s time to get back to the normal blog posts instead of just Coachella Band Previews (although I know how much everyone (me included) loves them). Over the weekend there was an epic achievement made by a new team in the women’s pro soccer league in this country, the NWSL (for more on the league check out my blog post from last year). This past year the NWSL announced the addition of a 10th team in the league, the Orlando Pride. The Pride, who are run by the same management as Orlando City SC of the MLS, had their inaugural home opener on Saturday night. The match attracted 23,403 fans to the Citrus Bowl in Orlando, FL, which broke the prior NWSL attendance record of 21,144 set by the Portland Thorns in 2015.The former record was set during a post-World Cup “welcome back” match for the 2015 World Cup Champion USWNT players. The only significance of the match in Orlando was that it was the first home match in the club’s history. Nonetheless numbers like that are incredible. I mean think about it, 23,000+ fans for a non-international women’s pro soccer match. Most NHL arenas hold less fans than that. It’s proof that soccer is growing in America, and not only soccer, but women’s soccer.

Two weeks ago I had a thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool if one day a women’s sport was more popular than a man’s?” (I, of course, meant a sport of the same nature i.e. women’s soccer vs. men’s soccer, not field hockey vs. football.) I even tweeted it. Wouldn’t it though? It would be an incredible feat for women. Since the dawn of time, women were always considered less than men, and that notion, although much more improved, is still a factor in many aspects of today’s society. It’s why the USWNT is currently in a legal battle with U.S. Soccer. It’s why many players in the NWSL have to live with host families or have second jobs. It’s why many businesses, corporations, etc. are managed by men. It’s why in the film industry many directors are men. It’s why women are objectified. It’s why in other cultures women are mistreated or abused, and none of it is fair or just. Sex or gender shouldn’t dictate a person being seen as less or making less money. It’s something we have no control over. Neither should sexual orientation or skin color because again we have no control over those things either, but I digress.

The point is even with the amount of progress made over time, inequality still exists, which means we, as a society, still need to grow. Growth is happening though. It’s happening slowly, but it’s happening. This is why we need to continue to support equality and growth. Remarkable things can happen. I truly believe that one day a women’s sport will be more popular than the same man’s sport. Hopefully by then women will be making the same amount of money too. Equal pay for equal play, ya feel me? At some point, seeing 23,000+ fans of all ages and genders attend a women’s pro soccer match will be the norm. It won’t have to be incredible because it already will be. Do you get what I’m saying? Until then, support the NWSL and women’s soccer any way you can. Get out to a game. Sponsor a team. Spread the word. Impact the conversation. Because each small action makes a difference in the much bigger picture. More growth will happen. More equality will exist and more records will be broken.