Friday, 23 November 2012

MLS Cup 2012: Repetition

So... the MLS Cup is gonna be played on December 1st. It will feature the two best teams from each conference, which happen to be the Los Angeles Galaxy, and the Houston Dynamo. And the match will be played at The Home Depot Center in LA. You know what's funny though? The exact same final happened last year. And LA won it.

Don't get me wrong, those two teams are great and always bring something to the table, but with the two exact teams playing for the championship for two years in a row, this series of events can eventually be dangerous.

I have to admit that the regular season is my favourite part of the MLS. You can find great matches every weekend and it'll always be great to watch. Though it doesn't get as exciting in the playoffs, and that's what I'm sad about. For example, the NHL Playoffs have been splendid for the past couple of years, and always kept my interest. The MLS Playoffs don't reach the same kind of excitement for me.

A lot of fans will probably disagree with me, and I admit that this problem is not because of the MLS marketing people or communication professionals. This is because of me.

I just need to catch the fever. That's all.

Friday, 31 August 2012

UEFA Champions League - German teams challenged at Group stage

Hello! I'm back in full swing, since CreComm restarted, and my first post for the new semester is about one of the most prestige tournaments in all of soccer: The UEFA Champions League.

At around 11 am on Thursday morning, the draw for the Group stage of the Champions League begun, with the pots containing the names of great clubs from the biggest leagues in Europe, including Manchester United (England), Real Madrid (Spain), Juventus (Italy), and Germany's defending champion, Borussia Dortmund. The results are mixed for the German clubs entering this year.

Dortmund is having probably the most successful run in club history, claiming the Bundesliga crown two years in a row, with a German Cup this year to complete their first double ever. I don't know what head coach Juergen Klopp is doing to keep his team so motivated and strong, but it's really doing the trick, placing Bayern Munich on a two-year title drought.

But nothing comes easy, and certainly not in the CL. Dortmund will be experiencing that first hand in their Group D, which consists of Real Madrid, Manchester City, and Ajax Amsterdam. All three claimed the championships in their respective countries and will look to make a big impact. This draw puts the "black-and-yellows" in an underdog position, just like last year, when they finished last in their group with just 4 points in 6 games. But can they get their break through on the international stage this year? It would make for a great story.

The next German club I'm going to talk about is Schalke. Now, Schalke finished 3rd in the Bundesliga last season, thus they already have undertaken an underdog rule for this group stage. Their best run in the CL happened just two years ago, when they eliminated Italian powerhouse Inter Milan in the quarterfinals before falling to Man U in the semis. Considering that "Die Knappen" will be facing Arsenal, Olympiacos (Greece) and French champions Montpellier in their Group B, their chances are still good. But then again, easier said than done.

Last, but not least, Bayern Munich. Runner-ups in the Bundesliga, runner-ups in the German Cup, AND... (wait for it) losing to Chelsea in the 2012 CL Final on their own turf! Holy deja-vu, if you remember 2002 Bayer Leverkusen! Isn't that a tragedy? Though I think Bayer fans are still laughing their butts off over Bayern's hatrick of second-place finishes. "Now you know what it feels like." Am I right?

On a serious note, Bayern will probably have one of the easiest groups this year, facing Spanish side Valencia, Lille OSC of France, and Belarusian champs BATE Borisov in Group F, while keeping most of the core team players over the summer, and signing a few key additions, including Spanish star Javi Martinez. If Bayern keeps playing the way they did last year, and kick it up a notch with fresh new legs, a long run is possible once again.

Tough challenges ahead for all three German teams in the Champions League, but it will be exciting to see who will become the Kings of Europe this year.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Canadian women's team lifts national soccer pride

What can I say after what we witnessed today in Old Trafford in Manchester, England? I got nothing. Except this blog post. And pride.

With probably the best performance by captain Christine Sinclair, and important contributions by the team, including absolutely solid and sturdy defending by Winnipeg's own Desiree Scott, the Canadian women's soccer team gave the US team an incredibly tough time, but it just wasn't enough at the end, as the US won 4-3 in the very last minute of extra time to move on to the Olympic Gold medal match to take on Japan.

Let me say this though: Wow. Just WOW. I was so afraid that the US might just dominate the game and win by two goals or so, since they have been so dominant throughout the 2012 London Olympics. But did the Canadian ladies ever show heart and courage.

The first half was dominated by the Americans, but after a solid set-up, Sinclair pushed through the defence and shocked us by putting Canada up front 1-0 at the half. At that point, I thought we were really going to beat them. Hopes were raised.

The second half was more balanced, as the Canadians became more brave and made some great plays, but the Americans would equalize after a direct corner kick that unluckily bounced off several players guarding the 5-yard crease. But that didn't stop Canada. Sinclair put Canada back on top after a wonderful cross, putting the ball just off the post and in. The Americans would tie the game again with an unstoppable strike off the post and in.

Canada answered with another brilliant Sinclair header into the left side of the goal after a greatly taken corner, making me jump off the couch for joy. How Canada found an answer to every equalizer was beyond me.

But then came the minutes that would've made every Canadian soccer fan kick a Norwegian referee. Canadian goalie Erin McLeod was called by Norwegian referee  for holding the ball too long in her hands. Indirect free kick in the penalty zone. A call that made the Canadian team furious. Rightly so. McLeod was winding up for the kick as the whistle blew. A completely unnecessary call.

The free kick was block by several bodies, but the ref saw something differently and awarded the US a penalty shot after having seen a hand ball by Canadian defender Marie-Eve Naul. If you have seen the replay, you should see that the shot was blocked with self-defence, NOT using the arm to block the shot intentionally. Another unnecessary call by the referee, the Canadian players thought, rightfully stating their case again.

The US would tie the game on the penalty shot and send the game to extra time. It felt like the whole country was at the edge of their seat. I was. No Canadian Olympic performance so far could not match what was happening that day.

Extra time would not solve anything. At least that's what a lot of us thought, as the last minute of stoppage time in the second extra time half was over. The ref kept the game on, and Alex Morgan would shatter Canadian gold medal dreams with a header that McLeod could not stop, sending the US to the Gold medal match. Again.

We could all be blaming this game on the referee, who just giggled at Sinclair after she asked about the calls she made (See National Post), and I would not blame anyone who does, but we should not forget what our Canadian team has accomplished this year.

They had an excellent run this year, that was highlighted by a brilliant new coach in John Herdman and excellent performances by proven veterans, including Sinclair. Not to mention beating the host Great Britain 2-0 on their very own turf!

Canadian soccer has something to be madly proud of. The determination, the guts, the heart that these ladies showed on the pitch against the Number 1 team in the world is something that we should remember for a very long time. They made the giant force to be their best in order to get that gold medal. And did they ever make them work for it.

Canadian women's soccer team of the 2012 Summer Olympic Games: Your country salutes you.

Allez les Rouges!

PS: Winnipeg, be super proud of Desiree Scott! She defended like a warrior, and got right back on the field after getting hit in the leg on a challenge. What a tough woman! What a player!

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Death in soccer - another victim

Piermario Morosini was on loan from Udinese (Serie A), when he stepped onto the pitch for his temporary club Livorno, as they faced Pescara in a Serie B (Italian second division) match. He was confident that his team would win.

Little did he know that half an hour later, he would not see the end of the match. Or the season. Or ever.

Morosini collapsed 31 minutes into the game from a cardiac arrest. The medics tried to revive him, and the ambulance got to the stadium late, but every effort to try to get Morosini breathing again, was no use. Morosini was 25, just like his jersey number.

Morosini was another player falling to the most common cause of death for soccer players: cardiac arrest or heart failure. He leaves behind his sister, the last of his family, who is moving in with an Udinese player.

It's very tragic to witness such events. No matter what the circumstances are, you can't deny the fact that there are hundreds, not thousands of people looking to the same spot on the pitch, watching in agony, when a player suddenly collapses, and doesn't get up.

Soccer players put their bodies under high demand every day during practices and matches. It's almost crazy what the human body can do to develop and how much it can do. Chasing the ball for 45 minutes straight is a lot on the player and his body, but they can pull it off no problem. Science at an amazing level.

But let's not forget that not every player is safe from heart failures. It can happen to anyone. Awareness needs to be kept high. We can't completely eliminate cardiac arrests overnight, but we can at least work to prevent them from happening more often.

Rest in Peace, Morosini, and this also goes to everyone else in heaven, who have died playing the (still) beautiful game.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Off-topic - Dionysus in Stony Mountain - A review

This past Wednesday night, I went to watch Dionysus in Stony Mountain with my classmates.

First, getting to the theatre was no problem, as it was a short walk from campus. I stayed, because i didn't want to commute all the way back to my place in River Heights just to change. So staying was convenient. The theatre itself, called the Rachel Browne Theatre, located on Bannatyne Avenue, felt like a small, yet simple and classy establishment. Coming to a smaller-than-average theatre, I felt like my huge backpack was a bit of a hazard to the people around me, so I tried to make myself as small as possible.

That's just how I am. I don't expect a lot from the people around me, so I stay humble.

The seating was good, but not fantastic. The comfort was there, the space not so much. Thankfully, no one sat on my left side, so I was able to put my backpack beside me to leave me with some leg room.

The play itself made me find myself in a mix of a history class and a soap opera. But in a good way.

Heidi Prober, played by Sarah Constible, was at her job at the Stony Mountain Institution, talking to her patient James Hiebert, played by Ross McMillan, who refused to take his medication, and has become obsessed with the works of Friedrich Nietzsche. James was in prison for the murder of his wife and is a much different person when he's off the meds. A lot of the first act was focused on James, as he would move around the stage, talking straight from a Nietzsche book, sort of engaging the audience, as if they were his students.

I don't think many plays do that, so this was definitely refreshing to experience this sort of communication, when the audience is indirectly involved, making the audience members actually feel like they're part of the play.

Heidi tries to snap James out of this philosophical dilemma that he is in, but James keeps on going how society has changed regarding its view on criminals, that instead of punishing them with hard labour and putting a strict eye on them, criminals nowadays get special treatment, actually producing more crimes instead of reducing them. Heidi confronts James about his refusal to take his medication, but James keeps asking why she comes to Stony Mountain, and how she feels about her job. Turns out, she hates it, and so she promises James that she'll quit her job after she gets James out of prison by guiding him through his parole hearing. The act ends with Heidi giving James his medication, and the two leave the room together.

The first act left me wondering what would happen next, but I had a hunch that Heidi would actually quit her job.

And she did. The second act started with Heidi's letter to her parents, roughly explaining why she quit her job. There was some humour in there, and it also seemed to have somewhat gone off her rails of sanity to get the audience to laugh. Works for me.

We then move to Heidi's new home, where she's doing insulation work. She gets a surprise visit from her Uncle Eric, played by McMillan as well, who came from sunny Florida to see her. From the rather harsh welcome from Heidi, we get somewhat of a clue for why Heidi has been so hyped up recently. After a lot of back and forth between herself and her uncle, we get to see Heidi come clean. James, her last patient, took his own life in her very basement. She was very shaken by that. Uncle Eric tries to comfort her and ease her mind. The play ends with them working on the insulation, stuffing the padding into the wall between the wooden planks. Light fade to black, audience clapping.

It was a well-deserved applause. Dionysus in Stony Mountain was a great experience, being a small-budget production. The acting kept me paying attention throughout the play, and while Nietzsche's words were hard to understand, James thankfully made it clear in his own words. A lot of the play was targeted towards our minds and encouraged us to think about society and criminals, and how much the world has changed.

Engaging the mind is healthy, just like warming the heart. Except it leaves you thinking critically. Heidi and James did just that, and it's worth experiencing it yourself.

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

UEFA Champions League - Bayern bears hope for Germany

It's been almost 11 years since the biggest prize in European soccer went to the country of beer, chocolate and sausages. But Bayern Munich is set to put these worries aside and is ready to win the UEFA Champions League trophy for a fifth time in the club's history, since 2001. Bayern also happens to be the last German team to win the Champions League.

With a promising roster, with stars like Arjen Robben, Mario Gomez and Franck Ribery, Bayern surely made themselves present, when they dismantled Switzerland's FC Basel by a 7-1 aggregate in the Round of 16. Before that, they finished the group stage in first place in Group A, which included Napoli (Italy), Manchester City (England) and Villarreal (Spain). And just this past Tuesday, they beat Olympique Marseille (France) 2-0 to win the quarterfinal round by a 4-0 aggregate, after they beat Marseille by the same score in southern France.

Bayern has always set their eyes on the bigger prize, probably hence their dominant performances year after year in the Bundesliga. And with superstars from around the world on their roster, they have developed well over the years, and have no intention of stopping. Good for them, I have to say. They're thirsty and show determination to reclaim Europe's throne.

Bayern is going to face Real Madrid in the semis, and that will be one giant soccer festival. It's one of the biggest rivalries in international soccer, and it always lives up to its expectations. Watch out, Ronaldo, Oezil and all the other "Whites". Bayern is ready. So is Germany.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Off-topic: Journey for Justice - A review

As part of our Journalism class in Creative Communications, the program I'm attending at Red River College, we dug into a book called Journey for Justice: How "Project Angel" Cracked The Candace Derksen Case. It tells a great story about the events of the disappearance and murder of Candace Derksen, and the aftermath, describing the trial of Mark Grant, the murderer of Candace, and the struggles the Derksen family had to overcome, having lost a family member.

It's time to look at the book itself.

Mike McIntyre re-wrote this remarkable story, shifting between two different styles of writing throughout the book, so it seemed. The first part of the book consisted of retelling the Derksens's experience of Candace's disappearance in a novelistic and very attention-grabbing way. I felt like I couldn't put the book down. It was as if I was right there with the family, traveling back in time. It was a feeling that kept me gripped to the book until the end. At least I thought so.

The second part of the book pulled me back into reality and it started to feel more like I was reading a copy of the Free Press, from front to back, just about Candace Derksen. Not that it was bad or anything, but I felt the appeal of the book fading away, once I went deeper into the second part. More quotes were used as dialogue for the story, and made the story just seem more like a long article.

The third part with the Mark Grant trial wasn't really any better, I have to admit. While I could easily picture the events in the courtroom and everything else in between, I still felt somewhat distant from the action, as if I was still reading this newspaper in front of me. It was great of McIntyre to include reactions of the occurrences, especially from Wilma Derksen, Candace's mother, as she wrote about her feelings on her blog. It also was great to include the recruiting efforts for the jury, because I don't think many people know how the law system works, and including that in Journey for Justice is a great way to show what exactly happened in the courtroom.

The last part was a slow, yet good afterburner, involving the events after the conviction, and the memorial and dinner event, held in honour of Candace. Hearing testimonies from the people close to Candace was shaking me a bit on the inside, even if I didn't know any of the people going to the podium that night. Closing the book with some final words from Wilma Derksen was the icing on the cake to me. Final words should always leave a good impression on the book, and I believe Mrs. Derksen's words have done justice for that.


Now, a more technical analysis.

I believe the book would have worked better, if McIntyre had kept the story in a novel-like fashion, and tell the whole story that way. But this could be, because he is used to writing newspaper articles and he used these skills to write the book. The second and third part could have worked better if they were written like a novel, like it was in the first part, and I wouldn't have put the book down after starting to read the book. Otherwise, the journalistic writing style did not feel like it was working well with the book, because it just didn't feel like it fitted. The sudden shift in style made the book less appealing.

Journalists can learn quite a few things from this book, including keeping the writing style consistent and how to make the details work in favour of the book. For example, McIntyre kept the course of the events in order of occurrence, going chronologically up, starting with the day Candace disappeared to the still ongoing trials of Mark Grant. Some stories work with going back and forth, using flashbacks and such, but I don't think it would have worked for this book.

I think many journalists would love to speak up against the convicted and trash them in the main media stream, so I also believe many could learn how to keep the story in a neutral position. I believe it was really challenging for the author to write about the family coping with the loss, and not go into a rage against the one who did the wrongful thing. In a professional environment, it is important to stay calm and write neutrally. You won't get in trouble for that.

This book was probably McIntyre's most challenging work. Compared to his work he does for the Free Press, it somewhat felt like the writing he had to do was a bit out of his element. He has a blog called "Mike on Crime" and his writing there is great and enjoyable. But I'm not here to make any judgements on his writing style. I just think that his switch between styles in the book didn't work as they should. Journey for Justice is a book, and in my honest opinion, McIntyre should have stayed with one writing style from beginning to end, to keep it consistent, just like he keeps up in the Free Press and his blog.

Overall, I would have to say the book was definitely a great insight to the Candace Derksen case. It had lots of details included and told the story in as many perspectives as possible,  and it kept the family element at a high importance, which made me find this book touching and outreaching

It's worth a read. Check it out.