Saturday, May 28, 2016

Following FFF = Falkenbergs Fotbollförening and IFE = Idrottsföreningen Elfsborg

Swedish soccer's most famous product is Zlatan Ibrahimovic. He started in Malmo and was a once in a generation talent. As such he moved onto the big stage of European soccer and has played in many top clubs. He is rumored to be moving next to Manchester United.

LA soccer fans have a connection to Sweden though the LA Galaxy that is owned by AEG. AEG is owner of the Swedish soccer team Hammarby. Hammarby has had limited success competitively but a very large and loyal fan base.

I follow my in-law's home town clubs Elfsborg and Falkenberg. Both clubs have interesting story lines that make it fun to follow.

Elfsborg has a record of periodically being in the hunt in the Allsvenskan the top league of Sweden. They have won the championship six times and finished second six times. The big club in Malmo (21 championships) and the big club in Gothenburg (13 championships) are the traditional powerhouses. However, the league is mid-tier in the scope of European and World soccer so the differences between the big market and smaller market clubs isn't as large as in US professional sports. Thus, teams from smaller cities have had opportunities to claim the top spot. For instance, last year's champion Norrkoping (13th championship) is from a comparatively small city of under 100,000 people.

Allsvenskan is a place where young talent (Zlatan being the most famous example) often gets groomed for eventual transfer to more heavily funded leagues in other parts of Europe and the world. Because of AEG's Swedish/Scandinavian connections, the LA Galaxy has been the recent home of some older players from Scandinavia like Mika Vayrynen (Finland) and Stefan Ishizaki (Sweden). And this year, youngster Emmanuel Boateng came to the Galaxy by way of Sweden. Boateng is from Ghana originally but has played in the USA for a couple of years before being in Sweden for three years.

Falkenberg's story is a dream come true for a small town (20,000 people) type of story. They play in the smallest stadium (5000 seating) in this year's Allsvenskan. As would be expected for a small town club, they played in the lower divisions most of their history. But in 2003, they got to the Superettan the 2nd tier of the Swedish soccer pyramid and in 2014 they debut in the Allsvenskan. The avoided relegation in 2014 by finishing 13th. They survived the relegation playoff in 2015 (finished 14th).

Unfortunately, this season has been very rough for Falkenberg as they are in 16th place. The season is 30 matches and after 11 they have a mere 4 points. The current 16 team Allvenskan has been in place since 2008. During that time, the 15th place team (automatic relegation for 15th and 16th place) has gotten anywhere from 21 to 29 points for the season. At the current pace, Falkenberg is looking at only getting 12 points. Likewise Gefle is in 15th place sitting at 5 points. The two clubs could potentially set a record for fewest points. Hammarby (as mentioned before, owned by AEG the Galaxy owners) is in 14th place with 10 points. Falkenberg need to jump over both Gefle and Hammarby to get to 14th place to qualify for the relegation playoffs.

I can't read Swedish so I can see broad trends like wins and losses. But for specific news, I rely on Google translate and since I only translate a few soccer articles here and there I can only see a small window of what is going on.

It appears that one of the bright stars at Falkenberg is Gustaf Nilsson. He played in a number of matches in the 2015 campaign to good effect and was part of the U19 national team. However, he is scheduled for a summer transfer to Brondby in the Danish league and a bigger payday. FFF had hoped they could have him for 12 matches before the transfer but in game number 5 he was injured in a match against Norrkoping and has been out since.

Next up for Falkenberg is a home match against Kalmar. FFF needs points and Kalmar is the type of lower end of the table club that could be beat. Go FFF!


Falkenberg supporters in the West Coast of the USA!

UPDATE: Fans of the team by the sea "Liget Vid Havet" went home disappointed after taking a 1-0 lead, they gave up two and went down to defeat to Kalmar. See the video highlights from CMore in the link. 

Next up for Elfsborg is a road game against defending champions Norrkoping. Norrkoping is number two in the table while Elfsborg is seventh. Last week, Elfsborg let a 3-1 lead slip away. Hopefully, this week they can pull off the upset and move up the table. The Allsvenskan news page has articles that contain the CMore match highlights video along with text report in Swedish that I read using Google translate.

Update: Elfsborg fought Norrkoping to a 0-0 draw. See the video highlights from CMore in the link. Take a close look at the replay of the Elfsborg scoring opportunity at the 83' mark. It looks like the ball got into the goal in slow motion. Of course, the referee has to call the game at normal speed and allowed play to continue saying it was not a goal.

Norrkoping manager Jan Andersson will be in charge of Sweden's national team at the Euro 2016 in the month of June, hence the "Tack Janne, Grattis Svierge" (Thank you Janne, Congratulations Sweden) banner at the end of the clip. Thus, Allsvenskan action will go to break until July. A handful of the league's players are part of the Euro 2016 squad.


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Philemon - a small story of the big difference Jesus makes in life

What do Christians believe?

How do we see and describe how God is at work in the lives of human beings?

At one level, we can go to the theologically rich descriptions that can be found in St. Paul's writings in Romans and Galatians and other places. And there is definitely a place for that.

However, sometimes, it is just as powerful and perhaps even more so when we look at the "small" stories that reveal the big impact of what God means to people's lives.

In the New Testament, I think of the one chapter book of Philemon. It is the story of three men: Paul, Onesimus, and Philemon. These three me all want to follow Jesus. In 25 verses, we read their story in all its humanity and their wrestling with what it truly means to follow the Christ!

In the video below, noted Bible scholar NT Wright offers some of his reflections of the grandeur of what God was doing in Christ in the lives of these three believers. Their example of Jesus' reconciling work 21 centuries ago is just as relevant today.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Zlatan to MLS? Galaxy maybe?

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's contract with PSG is ending in the summer.

Where next?

The rumors have him looking at Premier League (big budget Man U is often mentioned), Chinese League (they have been raining money on players to build the league), and MLS with New York or Los Angeles as likely destinations.

LAT Baxter has the rumor mill round-up and what the possible path would be for a move to the MLS and in particular the LA Galaxy. It would require some creative juggling but the LA Galaxy brain trust is well known for finding ways to work within the MLS rules. The last two seasons of has had them navigate the system to land Gerrard, Dos Santos, De Jong, and Cole. Nonetheless, there are huge challenges.

Excerpt:
For starters there's the contract. Ibrahimovic will have to accept a massive pay cut to come to the U.S., even under the best of circumstances. MLS teams are allowed three designated-player exemptions, which allow them to pay salaries that go beyond the league's maximum yet count only partially against the payroll cap. The Galaxy's three DP spots are all taken, though, meaning all they could offer Ibrahimovic is a pro-rated $457,500, plus a few thousand more in so-called allocation money. Ibrahimovic made that much every five days last season.

Meanwhile, in this current season, the Galaxy are in the hunt for the playoffs. They are finding some team chemistry on offense with a league leading goal differential of 12 on 24 total goals. This Sunday, they face, at home, their California Clasico rival the San Jose Earthquake. It is a one of the historic and competitive rivalries in the MLS.

LAT Baxter also has a piece on Gerrard's adjustment to MLS and life in LA and the USA.

Excerpt:
This season, with the benefit of both a six-week preseason training camp and a better understanding of the L.A. freeways, Gerrard says he's far more comfortable, both on and off the field. And that, too, has shown in his performance: Gerrard has already equaled last year's total of two goals and three assists despite playing less than half as many minutes and taking fewer than half as many shots.

Go Galaxy!!

It's a final: 1-1.



Drat! Had the victory only to give up the equalizer late. But then again, one might say the go ahead goal by the Galaxy was a bit of a fluke and the game could have easily been 0-0. On the other hand, Boehm over at MLSsoccer.com thought the game could have been 3-3 with the open attacking play shown by both sides. So as the Brits often say in post-match commentary, "it was a 'fair' result."

Thursday, May 19, 2016

How am I going to (not?) vote? #NeverTrump

And I thought this year California would finally have a say in the outcome. Ugh.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Liverpool Klopp Episode 52 - You'll Never Walk Alone





When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk

You'll never walk
You'll never walk alone

Read more: Gerry And The Pacemakers - You´ll Never Walk Alone Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Liverpool vs. Sevilla. It is big. It is huge. LFC has a lot riding on this. Excerpt:
The downside is that defeat in games like this slows down progression. It shuts down possibilities. Losing at St. Jakob-Park would mean Liverpool have endured another season of underachievement. The back door to the Champions League would be shut. The first phase of Jurgen Klopp's swift, joyous revolution would be over and he would need to start planning for slower, more difficult forward motion. Lose and the long haul starts on Thursday morning.

As much as the Liverpool manager craves the glory of lifting the cup in Basel, he knows that the real prize on offer is a place in the Champions League next season. The eighth-place Premier League finish would no longer matter. Entry into Europe's most significant competition next season changes the landscape for Liverpool. It means Klopp can recruit a better level of player and the increased revenues from the Champions League allow greater flexibility on fees and wages. Players enjoy playing for managers like Klopp, but they find Champions League football even more attractive.
Here are stats from the Echo on the road to Basal.

Am figuring most fans and analysts anticipate the starting XI to be the same as the unit that won the semi-finals 3-0 against Villarreal at Anfield. The open question is who will be the substitutes and under what scenarios would they be utilized? Also, the other thing to keep in mind is the possibility of extra-time and penalty kick shootout.

Pre-game build up reading

Here is an item by Honigstein over at ESPNFC that mentions that Klopp led teams have struggled in final competitions. The video companion piece with the roundtable of commentators gave Sevilla the edge (only Ian Darke picked Liverpool) in what should be a pretty even match. They feel that Sevilla being the two-time defending Europa League champions have the experience advantage.

In this UK Guardian item, the records of the two managers in Final competitions are recapped.

Game on

Wasn't able to be near a TV or internet radio until now. Sadly, LFC is going down to a dreadful defeat after taking a first half lead 1-0. It would seem Spanish football is just too much and too good as 3 unanswered goals have sunk the Reds.

It's a final!

Excerpt:
Having taken the lead with a touch of brilliance, Liverpool gave it away carelessly 20 seconds after the restart. Moreno, the former Sevilla left-back and boyhood Sevilla fan, made a hash of clearing a crossfield ball and headed straight to Ferreira. The full-back burst through Moreno and Coutinho into the area and crossed low for Gameiro to score his eighth goal of the campaign from close range.[......]Sevilla were now the dominant, dangerous force and they went in front when Vitolo dissected Liverpool’s midfield with a series of passes followed by a twist inside Lovren. As the ball broke loose on the edge of the area Coke arrived first and swept an excellent finish around Mignolet into the bottom corner.[.....]Liverpool were struggling to stem Sevilla’s threat and their third arrived through Coke once again. The ball was deflected into the path of the captain, who appeared offside as he controlled before beating Mignolet with a close-range finish.

Sevilla are the champions of the Europa League competition. Congratulations to Sevilla, it was well earned. LFC couldn't keep up with them for the full 90 minutes. Another Spanish league team will lift up the Champions League Cup (Athletico Madrid or Real Madrid) later this month cementing the dominance of Spanish football in European competitions.

As for LFC, "Though your dreams be tossed and blown, walk on walk on with hope in your heart." It has been an exciting season and will see what kind of progress they can make for next season.

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
There's a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of the storm
Is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of the lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Though your dreams be tossed and blown

Walk on walk on with hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk

You'll never walk
You'll never walk alone

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Horns of Psalm 75

I write periodically over at Center for Chinese Church Studies. Here is a short item I posted over there recently about Psalm 75 and "horns."

Excerpt:
v. 10 All the horns of the wicked I will cut off,
but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up.

The Psalm is clearly about the reality that God is the Judge and that is explicitly stated in v. 7 but what are the horns all about? This is a case where we need a reference work to give us a window into the Ancient Near East usage of metaphors. I turned to Bible Background Commentary – Old Testament and on p. 541 it said, “See the comment on ‘horn’ in the sidebar on common metaphors in Psalms.” Thus, I turned to that item on p. 514 where there was a paragraph on how horns were used in the iconography of the Ancient Near East. For instance, deities were often portrayed as having horns emanating from their crowns. Thus, the bottom line is that horns are used as a symbol for power.

Liverpool Klopp Episode 51 - Hey Jude



And anytime you feel the pain, hey Jude, refrain
Don't carry the world upon your shoulders
For well you know that it's a fool who plays it cool
By making his world a little colder
Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah nah

Read more: Beatles - Hey Jude Lyrics | MetroLyrics

What a season it has been for EPL fans in general and LFC fans in particular! The final 10 matches are not without drama but the big dramas have been settled.

Who will win the EPL was settled a couple of matches ago when the Hotspurs wilted under the pressure and Leicester kept finding ways to get a result. Who will be relegated was answered mid-week with the Sunderland Black Cats squashed Everton and thus ended any chance for Norwich or Newcastle to snatch another year in the EPL.

What remains is jockeying for positions that could yield European football and bigger paydays. For a round up see this item in the Daily Mail. Liverpool's chances to qualify for Europa League via the EPL table is not great and in fact there is a scenario where they would have a playoff against West Ham after the season is over to determine who gets the last EPL Europa League slot.

West Brom vs. Liverpool, the final match of the EPL season for LFC. As for the line up against West Bromich Albion FC, it is likely to be an all "B-team" and "C-team" starting XI to rest the "A-team" for the Europa League finals coming up on Wednesday.

Goalkeeper: Bogdan
Defense: Skrtel, Llori, Smith, Flanagan
Midfield: Lucas, Stewart, Brannagan
Front: Teixeira, Ibe, Chirivella

The Echo writers have similar line-ups but think Benteke will start, utilize Lucas as a center-back and speculate that Ings will be ready to go. Indeed, if the medical staff have cleared him, he should get one half of play.

Game recap

1-1. Not much was expected since LFC was going to play an under-strength side in preparation for the Europa League. Additionally, West Brom has the 2nd lowest goal scoring side in the EPL. Highlights of the match, Ibe's equalizer goal, Ings and Henderson getting 25 minutes of playing time after being absent due to injury and 10 minute debut for Sergi Canos, a top young prospect.

Season recap

LFC finishes eighth this year in the English Premier League. Last year was my first campaign as a fan and the club had one terrific run in the middle of the season but at the end the team fell apart. This year Rodgers was on the hot seat from game one and it wasn't long before he was ousted. In the end, in terms of raw numbers, this year's team didn't quite match last year's team (62 vs. 60 points, 6th vs. 8th place). However, the mood is very different. The arrival of Klopp has shaken up things at Anfield with some dramatic victories along with some dud matches but overall its been an exciting time for the fans and things look hopeful!

Will be interesting to see if they can get silverware in the Europa League final and with it a spot in the Champion's league. After that, the fans will start tracking rumors regarding summer transfers of who is in and who is out.

But all in all things look positive and fans have some spectacular memories from this season.

Hey Jude, don't make it bad
Take a sad song and make it better
Remember to let her under your skin
Then you'll begin to make it
Better better better better better better, oh
Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude
Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude
Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah, hey Jude ..........



Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Liverpool Klopp Episode 50 - The Force Awakens



Liverpool vs. Chelsea. Am sure Klopp has a plan unlike these guys above. But of course, those guys managed to make things work out somehow!

Chelsea has had a tough year but they are still worthy of selecting the A-team and will need a professional performance to defeat.

It is near the end of the EPL season. Thought it would be interesting to go back to the first line up way back on September 8, 2015 in the road season opener at Stoke.

Mignolet was the starting goalkeeper then and still is now. Bogdan was the backup but was eventually supplanted by Ward. But Bogdan is back as number two with the injury to Ward.

The back four on that day was: Clyne, Lovren, Skrtel, and Gomez. Along the way there were injuries (Gomez had a season ending injury, Lovren and Skrtel have been out for various lengths of time) and a lot of shuffling. Currently, Clyne, Lovren, Toure, and Moreno are the "A-team" defensive line.

The midfielders/forwards at the start of the season were: Milner, Coutinho, Henderson, Lallana, Ibe, and Benteke. Unfortunately, Henderson has had an injury plagued season and the youngster Ibe has been too inconsistent to keep his starting spot. Ibe is utilized as a second half substitute and "B-team" starter. Between inconsistent performances and injuries, Benteke has been relegated to a second half substitute and a "B-team" starter. The current "A-team" middle/front six is Milner, Can, Coutinho, Lallana, Frimino, and Sturridge.

In a few weeks, the speculation will start as to who LFC will try to recruit over the summer and who they may release. But for now, all eyes are on beating Chelsea!

Pregame:

The Echo writers figure it is the A-team on the field today. Meanwhile, over at ESPNFC, there is a roundup of what were some of the issues in the big-budget clubs in EPL this year. LFC was discussed in this item as I suppose they had the fifth largest wage bill? ESPNFC also rounds up the scenarios for which EPL teams may make European football. LFC can only make Champions League by winning the Europa League. By standing in the EPL table they have a slim shot at Europa League play if they don't win the Europa League Cup.



Above is the video link to the NBCSN documentary Inside the Mind of Jurgen Klopp. The description: Roger Bennett sits down with Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp to uncover the secrets of his leadership strategies and go inside the mind of the transformative manager.

Here is the lineup for today's match ...



Game on
On internet radio at TalkSport and LiverpoolFC and televised in USA on NBCSN.
The difference is Hazard's wonder strike at 32 minutes.
At the half, 0-1.
60' is Chelsea going to park the bus to hold the 1-0 lead? They have brought in a fresh attacker so maybe they are looking to push a bit more. Will see if Klopp brings somebody in for some new energy.
90+2' Benteke! A header from an Ojo cross!
Don't think a draw utilizing second half subs (Benteke at 75' and Ojo at 88') scoring in stoppage time was Plan C or D or for that matter E but the KOP will take it! Perhaps it was a Jedi mind trick but Liverpool snatch a point from the Galactic Empire of Chelsea.
It is a final 1-1.

#NeverTrump - Gerson's view

Count me in the #NeverTrump camp.

Gerson in this piece thinks there are three broad category of Republican voters: those who support Trump energetically, those who support Trump reluctantly and may actually hope he loses so this sorry chapter of the GOP is quickly put into the dustbin of history, and those who oppose Trump.

Excerpts:

This is the main reason that some of us cannot simply lump it and reluctantly lend our support to Trump. The Republican Party is not engaged in a policy argument; it is debating the purpose of politics. For some Trump opponents, the justice of a political system is determined by its treatment of the vulnerable and weak. In the Catholic tradition, this is called "solidarity." Whatever you call it, this commitment is inconsistent with a type of politics that beats up on the vulnerable and weak -- say, undocumented workers, or Muslims -- for political gain. Those who accuse Trump opponents of elitism are engaged in a particularly mendacious slur. Trump is attempting to place nativism at the center of American politics. [......] Some are trying their best to act as though all this were normal. But we are seeing, in the words of G.K. Chesterton, "lunacy dancing in high places." None of this requires a vote for Hillary Clinton. But it forbids a vote for Donald Trump.

GOP Post-mortem - Prager's view and Levinson's view #NeverTrump

I didn't think Trump would win. I figured at some point he would self-destruct. But it seemed with each "out there" comment, he gained more popularity. Meanwhile, his opponents got picked off one-by-one and were voted off the nomination island Survivor style.

Prayer offered these thoughts as to what happened.

Excerpt:

There are many reasons Donald Trump is the presumptive Republican presidential nominee. The four most often cited reasons are the frustrations of white working-class Americans, a widespread revulsion against political correctness, disenchantment with the Republican “establishment,” and the unprecedented and unrivaled amount of time the media afforded Trump. They are all valid. But the biggest reason is this: The majority of Republicans are not conservative. [.........] Only America was founded on the idea of small government. But the Left is based on big government. America was founded on the principle that human rights come from the Creator. For the Left, rights come from the state. America was founded on the belief that in order to maintain a small government, a God-fearing people is necessary. The Left opposes God-based religions, particularly Judeo-Christian religions. Secularism is at the core of Leftism every bit as much as egalitarianism is. It took generations, but the Left has succeeded in substituting its values for America’s. [....] Those who do are called “conservatives” because they wish to conserve the unique American idea. But conservatives now constitute not only a minority of Americans, but a minority of Republicans. That is the primary reason Donald Trump -- a nationalist but not a conservative -- is the presumptive Republican nominee.

Am part of the #NeverTrump voter group and have nowhere to go so maybe not voting on the President or doing a protest vote. We shall see.

Here is some more post-mortem from Levinson.

Excerpt:

Some people involved in what came to be called the #NeverTrump movement lamented that their efforts to bloody the front-runner wouldn’t have been necessary if any of the other candidates had been willing to attack him themselves. Many laid the blame on Ted Cruz, calling him an unacceptable alternative to Trump. Cruz’s camp blamed John Kasich, saying the race would have unfolded differently if he’d dropped out and let Cruz go head to head with Trump. Others blamed the strategy of anti-Trump groups, saying it’s no help telling voters who to be against if you can’t tell them who they should be for. Several said the Republican National Committee should have stepped in and effectively excommunicated Trump from the party. And still others wondered whether Trump had ever been stoppable in the first place. [...........] The most consistent knock on the anti-Trump outside groups is that their efforts did not start early enough. [.....] The non-Trump contenders were all damaged by spending onslaughts, even as their chief antagonist largely proved impervious to outside spending on negative ads. Attacks from the super PAC backing Rubio damaged Chris Christie’s chances in New Hampshire. Spending by Right to Rise, the Super PAC backing Jeb Bush, kept Rubio’s poll numbers low leading up to the Iowa caucuses. But Right to Rise was a cautionary tale of the limited impact of paid attacks this cycle — the group spent over $100 million to help Bush, who dropped out after the South Carolina primary, having never placed higher than fourth place. And the attacks that truly damaged Rubio’s campaign were not backed by Right to Rise’s millions, but rather leveled at him in person: Christie’s attack on him as a robot at the New Hampshire debate, and Trump’s unflattering “Little Marco” moniker. [.......] Anti-Trump Republicans argued from the beginning that even if Trump was leading the polls, the fact that he was below 50 percent meant there were always more people against him than for him. But when the race began there were 16 people splitting that anti-Trump vote.