A champion is crowned, a Folk Hero is born and a conspiracy in the NHL?
Although I say this all the time, June is the best time for sports fans. Out of the four major leagues in the US (NFL, NBA, NHL, MLB) two are playing their championship series, one is in full swing and the other is about to start their training camps. On top of that, the Women’s World Cup is happening. What a time to be alive. Here’s what I saw this week in sports.
Barcelona is crowned champions of Europe.
In my last post, I predicted that Barcelona would triumph over Juventus 4-1 in last Saturday’s Champions League final. I wasn’t far off. Barcelona, champions of La Liga and the Copa Del Rey, completed the treble by beating Juventus 3-1 in Berlin, Germany. Barcelona looked like the better team throughout the game, but Juventus played valiantly. Juventus hit a stroke of bad luck when Paul Pogba did not receive a penalty after Barcelona fullback Dani Alves pulled him down in the 18-yard box. That penalty would have tied the game at two goals apiece, and there’s no telling what could have happened from there. Instead, Neymar, Barcelona’s mercurial left winger, added a goal in the 90th minute to cement Barcelona’s historic season. Some pundits say that this Barcelona team could be the greatest in the club’s magnificent history, and although I am no FC Barcelona historian, this team is the best soccer team that I have seen. The attacking trio of Neymar, Suarez, and Messi might be the best attack the world has ever witnessed. The midfield is a combination of old and new: Ivan Rakitic is all over the field, filling in on the right flank whenever Messi drifts inside while still somehow maintaining a strong presence in the middle of the field. Andres Iniesta is a magician and won Man of the Match honors. Sergio Busquets is the best defensive midfielder in the world. Fullbacks Jordi Alba and Dani Alves somehow attack and defend at the same time, and Gerard Pique has rediscovered his form after a disastrous campaign last season. Luis Enrique brilliantly mixed the classic Barcelona tiki-taka style -- which is predicated on short, quick passing and dominating possession -- with a bundle of long balls over the top of the defense. He also moved the great Lionel Messi out to the right wing, which gives him more space to work his magic. Enrique deserves just as much credit as the players in my opinion. The 2014-15 campaign will go down as one of the best in Barcelona history.
2. Chris Heston threw the first no-hitter of the season.
The first no-hitter of the 2015 MLB season belongs to Chris Heston, a right handed pitcher on the San Francisco Giants, the defending World Series champions. Heston struck out 11 batters and did not give up a single walk in the Giants’ 5-0 victory over the New York Mets. The only thing that held him back from a no-hitter was the three batters that he hit, the most ever in a no-hitter. This was the 288th no-hitter in MLB history and the fourth-no hitter in four years for the San Francisco Giants. However, the no-hitter wasn’t just an achievement for Heston -- Giants catcher Buster Posey earned his third no-hitter as a catcher, placing him second in the record books behind Jason Varitek. The Giants have won three of the last five World Series, and strong pitching is the main reason for their sustained success.
3. What in the world is wrong with Ben Bishop?
Out of all of the storylines that the Stanley Cup final has produced, there is one that stands out to me: What is wrong with Tampa Bay Lightning goalie Ben Bishop? Bishop’s play in goal has been a bright spot for the Lightning throughout the playoffs, and he’s a key factor in the Lightning's success. However, Bishop ran into some problems during Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals, when he exited in the third period but then returned to the game. There is no clear answer as to why Bishop left Game 2. Bishop played the entirety of Game 3 and earned the win, making some spectacular saves along the way. However, Bishop did not suit up for Game 4, and the Blackhawks won. The series is now 2-2. The Lightning stated that Bishop did not play in Game 4 because he had an undisclosed injury, and the Lightning did not reveal any additional details. Nothing frustrates sports fans more than the term “undisclosed injury.” There has been a number of conspiracy theories that have floated around the internet, but fans can only speculate what is wrong with the Lightning goalkeeper. Let’s hope that he can get healthy for a pivotal Game 5 because he is an outstanding player, and the series would be better with him in net for Tampa Bay.
4. United States Soccer is on FIRE right now.
Between the men’s national team and the women’s national team, there is a lot to be excited about in the world of soccer. The women’s national team won its first game of the World Cup against a good Australian team 3-1. Megan Rapinoe looked phenomenal, scoring two goals and consistently getting up and down the left side of the field with ease. Goalkeeper Hope Solo was outstanding as well, making a couple of big saves early in the game to keep Australia from taking the lead. The next game for the United States women is against Sweden on Friday at 8 p.m. EST. Sweden is lead by Pia Sundhage, who coached the U.S. team in the previous World Cup.
The men’s national team made history again on Wednesday. For the first time in US soccer history, the U.S. men’s national team beat Germany on German soil, pulling off yet another comeback victory. Germany looked like it would dominate the game when Mario Gotze -- scorer of the winning goal in last summer’s World Cup -- put a volley past US goalkeeper Brad Guzan. But once again the USMNT heard the call of Uncle Sam and did what the United States does best -- overcome all odds. The U.S. equalized through a Mix Diskerud goal (watch it here) and then Bobby Wood, who scored the winner against the Dutch the previous week, struck again. After a beautiful dummy from Jordan Morris, Wood turned and unleashed a sensational strike that beat the keeper and the Germans. Although Germany played with a weaker team than usual, the U.S. was without most of their World Cup players. The future of U.S. men’s national team just got a lot brighter.
5. The Warriors have figured out the Cavaliers, who came back down to Earth last night.
The Golden State Warriors got back on track last night, dominating the Cleveland Cavaliers and winning Game 4 of the NBA finals 103-82 in Cleveland. The series is now tied 2-2, with the crucial fifth game back in Oakland. The Warriors, who lost the past two games, removed center Andrew Bogut from the starting lineup and added forward Andre Iguodala. This change made the Warriors line-up smaller and faster, neutralizing the size of Cleveland’s front line. In addition to going smaller, the Warriors also played David Lee, their highest paid player and a former all star who was moved out of the rotation due to the emergence of Draymond Green. Lebron’s play in the first three games of the series is some of the best basketball ever played, and he currently averages 41 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists a game. Last night, Golden State gave Lebron some different looks on defense, swarming the paint when he drove to the hoop and often double teamed him when he posted up. The Warriors now have all of the momentum headed back home, where they have only lost three games this season. It is a miracle that Lebron has his Cavalier team tied with the superior Warriors in this series, especially since Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving -- two all-stars -- are out with injury. Players like Matthew Dellavedova and Tristan Thompson have stepped up and played extremely well, and Dellavedova has become somewhat of a folk hero in Cleveland with his heroic play in Games 2 and 3. It seems as if the Warriors have figured out their game plan going into the most crucial games of the season. It will be interesting to see how the Cavaliers will respond.
Looking forward, don’t miss the U.S. women’s national team take the field this Friday against Sweden at 8 p.m. EST. At the same time, the puck drops for Blackhawks vs. Lightning Game 5. The Cavaliers and Warriors take the court again on Sunday, with tipoff at 8 p.m. EST as well.
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