Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sterling to request transfer from Liverpool

It is messy complicated. Coming upon the heels of the farewell to Gerrard who stayed with Liverpool even when presented with greener (in dollars and trophy opportunities) pastures, Sterling's demand for departure are fingernails to a chalkboard.

The issues are nicely covered in the ESPNFC piece.

Excerpt:
As for Sterling himself, he's been very disappointing, but it's harder to play well when you're no longer surrounded by great players. He could have demonstrated that he is more than just potential this year, and he fell short. But when he looks around the dressing room, is it any surprise he thinks he could do better elsewhere? On this season's form, how many members of the Liverpool team could play for Chelsea? Two, for sure. Sterling and Philippe Coutinho, though only one at a time. Jordan Henderson might make the bench. And that's it. That's not enough quality for a team who aspires to win major trophies.
..........
What FSG have to decide now is whether they want pull out their wallets and have another go, whether they want to run the club within its means and so decline, or if they want to hand over the enterprise to someone with more willingness to spend. That final option should not be easily dismissed. This a consortium formed to make money, not to chase romantic dreams of victory. .............
FSG took over a basket case of a football club that was on the brink of serious financial trouble. As disappointing as this season has been, they no longer have to worry about meeting the payments of ruinous loans. If UEFA do throttle back on FFP, there may be someone out there who wants to throw money at one of the most famous names in club football. Outside of the Champions League once again, Liverpool are drifting away from the top four. By the end of the week, they could be behind Tottenham Hotspur and Southampton as well. You can't blame Sterling for wanting to leave. What matters now is how FSG react.

*******

Will the Fenway Sports Group (FSG) open the wallet?

As owners of the Red Sox, they know the world of USA Major League Baseball (MLB) the best.

There is a "soft wage control" mechanism in the from of the "luxury tax." Most MLB spend below the amount needed to trigger the provisions. But with a relatively high luxury tax cut-off, there are salary disparities below the line such that big market high budget teams above/below but near the line will toss free agent dollars to lure stars developed/discovered by small market teams.

Yet, through good usage of stats and scouting, teams with more modest budgets can be very competitive in MLB.

One wonders if stat heavy analytics is as effective in soccer as it is in baseball?

From what I read, Liverpool spent the 5th most in salary in the EPL in 2014-2015 and they are, at the moment, in fifth place.

Will be interesting what the wage bill will be at the start of the 2015-16 campaign and what it was in the previous years under FSG?

Since FSG has taken over the club, Liverpool have finished the following:
2010-2011 6th place
2011-2012 8th place
2012-2013 7th place
2013-2014 2nd place
2014-2015 5th, 6th or 7th place depending on this weekend's matches.

Given their financial commitments thus far (generous but not at big 4 levels), finishing 5/6/7/8 has been the typical result. The fantastic run in 2013-2014 was the high water mark where they caught magic in a bottle. I suppose that is what saber metric money conscious MLB organizations do in the USA.

Is that FSG's model for Liverpool?

If so, how often will they catch the magic and break into the top 4 without spending on top 4 salaries?

Liverpool fans may eventually conclude this isn't enough for them but unless FSG sells to even deeper pocketed owners, this might be as good as it gets?

Monday, May 18, 2015

LA Galaxy off to a slow start, Part II

Time to panic yet?

The 4-0 mauling of the Galaxy at Orlando was not good.

Two analysis pieces over at MLSSoccer.com put the LA Galaxy troubles under the microscope and into perspective.

In this piece, it is a "show me the numbers" analysis that the problem off poor passing accuracy by the team overall and the midfielders specifically are a major source of concern. The drop off is most striking in the final third passing accuracy and creation of chances in open play.

In the other piece, the focus again was on the poor passing and lack of consistent activity in the final third. Additionally, there was the reality that the Galaxy fielded a make-shift line up with no designated players and some regular role players were out with injury.

So no time to panic yet, but the Galaxy braintrust will have to find a way to keep afloat and not fall too far behind as they await Keene's return and Gerrard's arrival.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Ingmar Bergman - The Seventh Seal

In the continuing effort to become more acquainted with Swedish culture, went to iTunes to rent the classic film The Seventh Seal by Ingmar Bergman. There are spoilers below!

Clearly, the film was a vehicle to touch upon the modern (yet timeless) angst felt by Bergman and many people in regards to the intersection of the harshness of life and (un)belief in God.

The Knight is a believer who is facing doubt and his squire side-kick has long since abandoned faith. The Knight meets Death and offers a game of chess as a "delaying tactic" that permits the rest of the story. Along the way, these two comment from their perspectives about the various people and situations they encounter. The film catalogs examples of the bad side of the Christian faith: the discussion about fear as a motivator in the artist's drawings in the church, the hypocritical seminary graduate, the bizarre pageant of the Cross and self-flagelation, and the burning of the girl.

The mostly bleak story set in the plague endemic Middle Ages has moments of humor and a beautiful small slice of life scene when the Knight enjoys a respite of milk and strawberries with Jof, Mia and their infant. Is it a "eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die" moment? Or is it the kind of joy and gratitude that comes from the simple faith that Jof and Mia appear to have and that for a brief moment the Knight reclaims?

Don't think it would be much of a spoiler to say that Death wins the chess match. The ending of the film is intriguing and open to interpretation. Death leads the band of travelers in a dance. But to where?

Each character in the film responds to the the intersection of the harshness of life and (un)belief in God in their own way. Beyond the Knight's overt struggle between faith and doubt and the squire's welcoming an abandonment of faith, there is the girl who says almost nothing in the film, the actor who does whatever he wants, the bickering married couple, and the stoic Knight's wife.

From what I have heard, Bergman did not have a positive outlook about the Christian faith. How much of that was from seeing bad examples and how much his own worldview? Sadly, it is easy to say bad things about the Christian faith by pointing to bad examples of the Christian faith.

My response would be to acknowledge the failings and point to good examples of the Christian faith - indeed, one can find them. And, of course, one must look at the central figure of the Christian faith - Jesus. A reading of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) shows Jesus facing the central struggle of humanity - the intersection of the harshness of life and belief in God. His righteousness, compassion, servanthood, and obedience through it all results in the injustice of death on the Cross and the vindication of resurrection!

The Knight, in his confession in the church to the shadowy figure whom he thought was a priest but was actually Death, says he wants God to reach out his hand, show his face, and speak to him.

To which again, one must look at the central figure of the Christian faith - Jesus. John 1:14, And the Word abecame flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Liverpool defeated by Crystal Palace in Gerrard's last home game

What can you say?

The soccer script writers have not been kind to Gerrard's final season.

It is remarkable how the same team that was pretty much beating everyone before now finds itself struggling to stay competitive.

I suppose one part of the problem is that the season is very long. Between Premier League matches, Champions League, Europa League, League Cup, and FA Cup competitions, this team's legs have logged lots of miles. If they are 100% they win today's game. But lately they are probably playing 94 to 97% and that means struggles and ugly defeats. The team just seemed to be slow in reacting on defense and only occasionally had bursts of speed in the offensive half.

Another problem appears to be explainable with the cliche that "the team doesn't know how to win the big game."

I've only been actively following the team since November 2014. During that time, when there were pressure situations, they haven't been able to get the win. Facing the end of their Champions League season, they could only manage a draw against Basel (Basal would be easily eliminated in the next round). In the elimination game in the League Cup, they lost 1-0 to Chelsea. In the second leg of the Europa Cup, they fell to Besiktas (Besiktas would be eliminated easily in the next round). Vying to be in the top four they lost back-to-back to Manchester United and Arsenal. In the FA Cup semi-final they were outclassed by the almost relegated Aston Villa.

An additional factor for the team is whether the emotions of Gerrard's final home game played into the psyche of the team?

In any case, the final game of Gerrard's Liverpool career will be on the road at Stoke. Hopefully, the team can summon the strength and will to send him out a winner.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Should he stay or should he go? Manager Rodgers and the final two games

I had previously wrote:
"If Liverpool were to take 3 losses in this stretch, the ownership group may look to sack Rodgers. Clearly, unless the team falls to a rash of injuries, they should get 4 to 5 wins over the next 6. Failure to do so would represent a failure to motivate the team which would be a firing offense."

I had forgotten that draws were likely outcomes. But my view of 3 losses still stands.

How have they been doing?
Draw to West Ham
Loss to Hull
Win over QPR
Draw to Chelsea

Tomorrow, Liverpool play Crystal Palace at home with a Stevie G send off and the final game of the season is at Stoke.

Both opponents are in safety from relagation so they don't have to win except for pride. Don't know if their managers are going to use the final two games to test out younger players in which case getting a win or draw might be easier for Liverpool.

On the Liverpool side, their number 5 spot is relatively safe as Tottenham and Southampton who could catch them haven't been winning. I do wonder if those managers maybe testing out players planning for next season.

I wonder if Rodgers will plug in perhaps one of their youngsters in each of the last two games to test them out. He gave Sinclair ~ 20 minutes in the last match. Wonder who else might get a call up? Certainly, Gerrard, a fierce competitor wants to go out a winner at home and in his last EPL game so he and his Liverpool teammate should be quite motivated. Thus, I don't see Rodgers doing wholesale testing of younger players. So my guess for the starting XI will be pretty much the same as last week unless somebody is injured.

Forecast:
2-1 win over Crystal Palace
1-0 win over Stoke.

The other thing to watch is whether Rodgers will have Gerrard play all 90 minutes or have him subbed off to applause as in last week's Chelsea game. Barring injury, my guess is that Gerrard will get a full 90 unless Liverpool has a two or more goal lead.



Wednesday, May 13, 2015

LA Galaxy off to a slow start

No time to panic ..... yet.

The LA Galaxy aren't playing well. The experts at ESPNFC have them 11th in the MLS.

If you look at the MLSSoccer.com stats page, on many parameters the LA Galaxy is middling, very middling: 10th in goals scored, 9th in goals given up, 10th in shots-on-goal....

But no time to panic as they have been without their top player Robbie Keane who has missed 6 out of 10 games, Steven Gerrard doesn't arrive until August, and they definitely miss Landon Donovan.

Key will be the continued development of their younger players like Jamison, Villarreal, and Zardes, etc.

Also, will need to keep on eye on their 30+ year-old role players like Gordon, Vayrynen, Ishizaki, and Gargan. Want to get good effective minutes out of them in their respective roles without over-taxing them.

If all goes well, by the second half of the season Keane will be back at 100%, Gerrard will fit in doing what he can do from midfield, Zardes continues to improve, Gonzalez anchors the defensive backfield and the blend of 30-something/20-something role players will gel and give good minutes subbing in-and-out for each other.

Unlike European leagues, MLS has a playoff system. Thus, one can have a slow start but peak toward the end and make the playoffs and run-the-table. Twice the Galaxy took the MLS Cup by making it into the playoffs as 4th in the West.

Thus, fans don't need to panic. As long as the team gets healthy and keeps building without getting too far behind they should be able to peak and make the playoffs and give it a go. Expecting to win another MLS Cup might be much but certainly a good run in the playoffs would be a reasonable expectation.

On a side note, it has been interesting to see the difference the place soccer has here in Los Angeles in comparison to Liverpool. As a new follower of Liverpool, all I need to do is go to the Liverpool Echo online and there are at least several articles every day about some aspect of the team. The articles range from strong opinion pieces to news updates about injuries and prospects to personal stories about the players.

Meanwhile, in the Los Angeles Times, one might get several articles a week about the LA Galaxy. Most of the articles are brief factual reporting on an upcoming/just concluded match.

Of course, one must understand the massive difference in the fan base. Liverpool has 25 million Facebook followers! LA Galaxy has 1.1 million Facebook followers.

In case you are curious, Manchester United has 64 million Facebook followers and Barcelona has 82 million!




Monday, May 11, 2015

It is Soccer Night in Sweden - What you need to know in 59 seconds

The top soccer league in Sweden is the Allsvenskan.

The strongest team historically and recently is Malmo having won the league crown 21 times since the founding in 1924. If one looks at recent history (since 2008), Malmo has won 3 of the last 7 titles and are currently vying to win their third in a row.

Tonight, Elfsborg, the last team other than Malmo to win Allsvenskan (in 2012), has a showdown with Malmo.

UPDATE: It is a final, 2-2! Sadly, the high profile game was marred by disruptive fans late in the second half. Elfsborg fell behind 1-0 but leveled before the half. Malmo got a 2-1 lead late (76 min) in the second half. Unfortunately, some Malmo fans set off fireworks in the stands and the game was halted while officials decided how to proceed. After a lengthy stoppage, the game was resumed and 20 minutes of extra-time was added. Elfsborg got the equalizer at 90+16 minutes.

Sadly, fan misbehavior remains an occasional issue in Swedish soccer. I do hope someday to see a match in Sweden but would probably not attend a contest in a large city arena where drunken fan violence and misbehavior tends to be more common.

Thursday, May 07, 2015

More on Association and Separation within the Church Community

Am continuing to think about this issue more intently ever since I started to put some initial thoughts onto my blog space with this previous post.

Within the church community, there have been two major historic separations. There was the break between the Western Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox Church in The Schism of 1054. And then there was the Reformation that began in 1517 when Protestants and Catholics divided. Since then there have been many smaller breaks over various issues.

Today, churches in the USA divide over a wide variety of issues. Here is a list off the top of my head that are the source of conversations, debates, potential and actual division:
Adult or infant baptism
Continuation or cessation of certain spiritual gifts
Role of women in church leadership
Calvinist or Arminian understanding of salvation
Specific details in one's understanding of Jesus as the Christ
Details of the End Times
Young or old earth
Forms of church government
Role of Scripture for doctrine and practice
Approachs on music use in corporate worship
Degrees of support or non-support of Israel
Propriety of same-sex marriage in the church
Frequency of and who could partake in the Lord's Supper
Views on and degree of activity in matters of politics.

If you faced a division of opinion in your church community over any of these or other issues, how do you decide whether to separate over that issue?

I think 1 Corinthians 8 is one portion of Paul's teaching that can be helpful. However, this teaching seems to be limited to issues where there is personal history with an issue but ultimately is not a theological/ethical barrier. Nonetheless, every effort should be made to avoid wounding others who believe in Christ but might differ on that particular matter.

James 4 offers quick hitting advice on a variety of issues in life and ends with verse 17: Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.

Thus, there are several layers of consideration. One step is determining whether the issue falls into a theological/ethical category in which case, one should try one's best to decide (1) what is one's view on it, (2) how important it is to get right, (3) how certain you think you are about your position, and then finally (4) proceed to a decision of association or separation.

If the item falls outside of a theological/ethical category and how important it is to get right, then one's view on the matter needs to take into account how one's actions regarding that issue impacts on others who disagree.

Wednesday, May 06, 2015

How good is the MLS?

I've watched MLS games over the last few years but not European league play since I didn't have any team to follow and our cable package didn't have the channels that carry them on a regular basis. Have also watched World Cup and it is good to see that some MLS players are on National Teams competing for the World Cup. Of course, it is pretty clear that many of the players in the teams advancing far in the World Cup competition are from European leagues.

Have only become a Liverpool FC supporter in the later part of last year. Conveniently, recently, our condo association was able to upgrade the cable plan to include NBC Sports Network with Extra Time that current carry English Premier League matches. Perfect timing for me as a new fan!

Having watched some Liverpool contests and LA Galaxy matches in close proximity of time, it is pretty clear there are differences between the two leagues. With Liverpool, it has been amazing to watch Philip Coutinho and Raheem Sterling move so fast with and without the ball! Watching the Galaxy, it is a generally slower game.

The other obvious difference is passing skills. It is amazing how Jordan Henderson can pass the ball long and short right on target quite often. Even the backline players of Liverpool, occasionally known to make a hash of handling the ball, are by comparison, quite accurate in passing the ball.

Watching a few LA Galaxy games recently, in the just started season, there are more than a few passes that land in a patch of field with no one of either team or fly out-of-bounds from both the Galaxy and their opponents.

Nonetheless, there are some individual talents on MLS teams that could probably play in Europe and as the league grows the quality of play is going to continue to improve. But for now, the salary structure of the MLS supports three designated players per team outside the salary cap. These are either Americans who could play in Europe or European league players winding down their careers.
As MLS keeps growing they will have more revenue for salary thus improving its attractiveness to skillful players beyond the designated players.

But, at this time, "objectively" how does MLS compare to other leagues?

One approach is to look at the various national teams competitive for the World Cup, rank those teams and then assign the contribution of the various leagues to players on these national teams.

Using such a model, not surprisingly, Premier League (UK), Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy), and La Liga (Spain) were one through four. MLS came in 12th.

Another way is to look at the salaries of the players in the various leagues. Again the one-through-four is the same: Premier League (UK), Bundesliga (Germany), Serie A (Italy), and La Liga (Spain). MLS ranked 22nd by this scaling.

Since I'm now married into a Swedish family, I track teams (Elfsborg and Falkenberg) in the Allsvenskan. Based on salary that league is 27th. The LA Galaxy recruited Stefan Ishizaki from Elfsborg in 2014.

Ross Douthat - Interview with a Christian

Saw this interesting item over at the New York Times.

The premise of the essay is what would happen if Ross Douthat were interviewed by a typical reporter in regards to religious freedom.

He tackles the question of whether discrimination is ever permissible.

Excerpt:
Seriously? Shouldn’t businesses have to serve all comers? 

I think they should be able to decline service for various reasons, religious scruples included. A liberal printer shouldn’t be forced to print tracts for a right-wing cause. A Jewish deli shouldn’t be required to cater events for the Nation of Islam.
He goes on to address most criticisms raised in the same-sex marriage vs. religious freedom debate.

Read the whole thing.

On a related note, I heard that the Oregon bakery that refused to provide services for a same-sex wedding has been fined $150,000 essentially putting that baker nearly out-of-business.

My gut feeling is (1) is the discrimination in this particular case truly illegal and (2) if so, does the punishment fit the crime?

For instance, suppose someone declines to provide services on a clear cases of discrimination: the customer is of racial group X. How much should they be fined?

In this Oregon bakery case, the discrimination is not against a person but a refusal to participate in an event involving that person. Thus, one can't cite animus against a person if one will provide services for that person when that person is purchasing services as an individual.

Other examples where one can ask is this illegal discrimination or not?

A pro-environmentalist caterer is asked to provide food for a trade association meeting of oil drilling equipment manufacturers. Can they legally refuse to provide this service without being charged with illegal discrimination?

A pro-Palastine photographer is asked to photograph the red-carpet guests at a pro-Israel film. Can they legally refuse to provide this service without being charged with illegal discrimination?

A pro-abortion videographer is asked to produce a 2 minute commercial for a pro-life non-profit organization. Can they legally refuse to provide this service without being charged with illegal discrimination?

A Jewish artist is asked to produce posters for a movie that promotes the Blood Libel. Can they legally refuse to provide this service without being charged with illegal discrimination?