World Cup 2018

Who is going to win?

Show me the numbers!

The stat heads over at 538 say Brazil, Spain, and Germany are the favorites.

The FIFA world rankings have Germany, Brazil, and Belgium as the top three.

If the Bovada odd's makers know anything, they have Brazil, Germany, and Spain listed 1-2-3.

If history is any guide:
2014 winner Germany (no one has defended a title since Brazil won 1958 and 1962)
2010 winner Spain (won 1 time so far)
2006 winner Italy (they didn't qualify this year)
2002 winner Brazil (won 5 times so far)
1998 winner France (won 1 time so far)

Looking further back into history, the only other nations to ever win a World Cup:
Argentina (1986, 1978)
England (1966)
Uruguay (1950, 1930)

From listening to sports people, Brazil, Spain, and Germany are the clear favorites. But in breaking news today, the manager of Spain has just been sacked.

Getting some mention are Belgium and France for having a collection of solid top level players.

Also mentioned are Portugal and Argentina since they respectively have a GOAT (greatest of all time) level player on their squads.

Am picking France, Brazil, Spain, and Germany in the final-four with Brazil winning the whole thing.

UPDATE: France won the whole thing! Germany didn't even get out of the group stage. Spain got booted on PK by Russia in the round of 16. Brazil lost to Belgium in the quarter finals.

Other quick observations:

  1. Could Uruguay have dealt with France in the quarterfinal if they didn't lose Cavani to injury Probably not but it would have been more interesting.
  2. Portugal and Argentina with one GOAT player each lost to teams with solid players across the starting XI. Yes, soccer is a team sport and a transcendent star needs some supporting cast members.
  3. Brazil's Neymar has become a bit of a joke with his flopping.
  4. Mexico's win over Germany was the highpoint but in the end they still couldn't get past the round of 16 and so the page will turn on their "golden generation" that carried their hopes of glory.
  5. Russia had a magic carpet ride as is often the case of the host country. They took down Spain in PK and took Croatia to PK but came up short in a match of high drama! Not the greatest soccer but certainly the most dramatic!
  6. Sweden showed what a group of modest talents can do when they play with a plan and play their game. If you had said they would get to the quarter finals before the competition started you would take it.
  7. Columbia with James Rodriguez might have beaten England.
  8. England to the semi-finals was a surprise. Unlike past England teams that wilted under the expectations and off-field/on-field controversy, this group went out there and had fun and played to their abilities. In the end, their youth and inexperience came up short against Croatia. Croatia had a few of those wily veterans who simply know how to win on their club that edged out the young lions of England.
  9. How far would team USA have gotten? Well, CONCACAF didn't do much in the tournament. Panama and Costa Rica went without a win. In qualifications the USA lost TWICE to Costa Rica and beat Panama once and drew once. So maybe NOT making the World Cup spared them an embarrassing showing?

California June 2018 Elections, part I: State Wide Elective Offices

In the California governor's race, it is shaping up to be a North vs. South race of the Democrats.

Newson, former SF mayor holds a slim lead in the polls over Villaraigosa, former LA mayor.

Not surprisingly, the SF Chronicle has endorsed Newson while the LA Times has endorsed Villaraigosa.

The two Republicans, Cox and Allen are behind in the Top Two primary system.

UPDATE (6/5): When I posted this originally (5/22), Cox and Allen were somewhat behind but Cox has picked up some ground and Villaraigosa has lost ground while Newson seems to be holding steady. 

UPDATE (6/8): Newsom (D) 34% Cox (R) 26% Villaraigosa (D) 13%

The respective state parties did not offer any endorsements for governor.

For Lt. Governor, SF Chronicle has backed Jeff Bleich. I didn't see an endorsement in the LA Times as of yet. The California Democratic party did not endorse while the Cal GOP endorsed Cole Harris.

UPDATE (6/8): Kounalakis (D) 24% Hernandez (D) 21% Harris (R) 18%

In the Secretary of State race, the Democratic party and the SF Chronicle backs the current SofS, Alex Padilla. The California Republicans back Mark Meuser.

UPDATE (6/8): Padilla (D) 52% Meuser (R) 32%

In the Controller contest, the Republicans are supporting Konstantinos Roditis. The SF Chronicle and the Cal Democrats are endorsing current controller Betty Yee.

UPDATE (6/8): Yee (D) 61% Roditis (R) 35%

For Treasurer, the SF Chronicle backs Fiona Ma as does the California Democratic Party. The Cal GOP did not endorse.

UPDATE (6/8): Ma (D) 43% Conlon (R) 22% Guerrero (R) 20%

The Attorney General election includes the current office holder Xavier Becerra and is endorsed by the SF Chronicle. Interestingly, the Democratic state party did not make an endorsement. The Cal GOP supports Steven Bailey.

UPDATE (6/8): Becerra (D) 45% Bailey (R) 25%

Previous Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner received the endorsement of the SF Chronicle. The California Democrats back Ricardo Lara.

UPDATE (6/8): Poizner (NPP) 41% Lara (D) 40%

In the State School Superintendent race, the Cal Democrats are backing Tony Thurmond who has also received the endorsement of the LA Times. The SF Chronicle is supporting Marshall Tuck. Suffice to say this is a "non-partisan" race but there candidates are clearly marked and labeled in terms of who is backing them as described in this Sacramento Bee op-ed. Excerpt:
Marshall Tuck, supported by the school reform crowd with such familiar names as Eli Broad among them, nonetheless says he’d put a sharp eye on charter schools and press to close those that aren’t performing. Assemblyman Tony Thurmond, the CTA’s candidate, says he would prohibit school districts from using the funding that’s specifically targeted for at-risk students on across-the-board teacher raises. Those aren’t the usual stances for those parties. 
UPDATE (6/8): Tuck 37% Thurmond 34%

Finally, in the Senate race, current Senator Feinstein is leading in the polls. However, in a shocker, the California Democratic party made no endorsement revealing the strength of the faction growing dissatisfied with the establishment part of the party. The LA Times and the SF Chronicle have backed Feinstein.

UPDATE (6/8): Feinstein (D) 44% De Leon (D) 11%

California June 2018 Elections, part II: Ballot Measures

Relatively sparse on the ballot measures this election.

Here is a chart of the positions taken by the two major parties (Republican and Democratic) and two of the better known minor parties (Greens and Libertarian) and two newspapers (Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle).

For a quick summary of the propositions see this item from Southern California Public Radio.

If you are curious, the latest party registration details can be found here.

In brief:
Democrats 44.58%
Republicans 25.27%
No Party Preference 25.11%
Libertarian 0.74%
Green 0.48%

It should be noted that "independents" or "no party preference" in this survey do lean Democratic (43%) compared to Republican (29%) while 28% claim no leaning either way.

UPDATE (6/8)
Prop 68 passing with 56%
Prop 69 passing with 80%
Prop 70 trailing with 36%
Prop 71 passing with 77%
Prop 72 passing with 83%

California Elections June 2018, part III: local judges

Voting on the judges in the county is an unusual exercise in that there is relatively little advertising and news coverage compared to other positions. Unless you know people in the legal profession, it is hard to get any input on who to vote for.

One can go to the internet to find some sources and here are some I have checked: the Los Angeles Times (LAT), the LA County Bar Association (Bar), LA County Democratic Party (Dem), and Judge Voter Guide (VG). Suffice to say, each entity has its own approach so take it for whatever you will.

UPDATE (6/8): County Judge elections posted at LA County Registrar web page scroll down to find results.

Office No. 4:
Alfred A. Coletta (LAT, VG3star, Bar-Qualified) 42%
Veronica Sauceda (Dem, Bar-Well Qualified) 46%
Matthew Schondrun (Bar-Qualified) 12%

Office No. 16:
Sydne Jane Michel (LAT, VG4star, Bar-Qualified) 38%
Patricia “Patti” Hunter (Dem, Bar-Qualified) 39%
Hubert Yun (VG5star, Bar-Qualified) 23%

Office No. 20:
Wendy Segall (LAT, Dem, VG2star, Bar-Qualified) 53%
Mary Ann Escalante (VG4star, Bar-Well Qualified) 47%

Office No. 60:
Holly L. Hancock (LAT, Bar-Qualified) 37%
Tony J. Cho (Dem, VG2star, Bar-Qualified) 46%
Ben Colella (Bar-Not Qualified) 17%

Office No. 63:
Malcolm H. Mackey (LAT, Bar-Exceptionally Well Qualified) 77%
Anthony Lewis (Bar-Not Qualified) 23%

Office No. 67:
Maria L. Armendariz (LAT, Dem, Bar-Well Qualified) 59%
Dennis Vincent (VG2star, Bar-Qualified) 21%
Onica Valle Cole (Bar-Not Qualifed) 19%

Office No. 71:
David A. Berger (LAT, VG5star, Bar-Not Qualified) 47%
Danielle Gibbons (Bar-Well Qualified) 53%

Office No. 113:
Michael P. Ribons (LAT, Bar-Qualified) 33%
Javier Perez (Dem, Bar-Well Qualified) 41%
Steven Schreiner (VG4star, Bar-Well Qualified) 25%

Office No. 118:
David D. Diamond (LAT, Dem, Bar-Qualified) 41%
Troy David (VG2star, Bar-Qualified) 59%

Office No. 126:
Rene Caldwell Gilbertson (LAT, Dem, Bar-Qualified) 56%
Ken Fuller (VG3star, Bar-Qualified) 34%
Shlomo Frieman (Bar-Not Qualified) 10%

Office No. 146:
Emily T. Spear (LAT, VG2star, Bar-Qualified) 62%
Armando Duron (Dem, Bar-Qualified) 38%

LA Galaxy: How the mighty have fallen

Call me spoiled.

Started following the LA Galaxy in earnest after the 2010 World Cup when Donovan scored that last last gasp goal for team USA to advance past the group stage. So it was easy enough to follow him and the LA Galaxy when the World Cup ended and the MLS season continued to its conclusion.

2010: Lost in Conference Finals
2011: Won MLS Cup
2012: Won MLS Cup
2013: Lost in Conference Semi-Finals
2014: Won MLS Cup

Thus, in the first 5 years of my following the team regularly, they won THREE MLS Cups!

Under GM and Coach Bruce Arena, LA Galaxy were the mighty ones astride the MLS landscape.

However, with MLS salary rules and improvements across many clubs in the league, the final two years of Bruce Arena were more modest. Nonetheless, they made the playoffs.

2015: Lost in knockout round
2016: Lost in Conference Semi-Finals

The USMNT collapsed and Klinsmann was fired and Arena was hired to rescue the World Cup qualification campaign and thus, left the LA Galaxy. Ultimately, team USA, in a perfect storm, lost their last qualifier and two other CONCACAF teams won their matches leaving the US out of the World Cup.

With Arena away in the 2017 season, the LA Galaxy front office was juggled with existing people taking on bigger responsibilities, given a mandate to work in the younger players, and told to spend less money. Combine these three changes with the injuries that decimated the team, the result was LA finishing with the worst record in MLS.

2017: 11th in the West (last) and 22nd overall (last).

2018 started off with some optimism. Sigi Schmid and the front office released a large number of players and brought in new ones. On paper, it looked like the team should be competitive, perhaps not MLS Cup contenders, but at least able to make the playoffs.

A report card at this point: D.

An outright F would be given if they were last in the West and near the bottom overall. Currently, they are 8 out of 12 in the West and 15 of 23 in the Supporters Shield. I would give them a C if they were considered to have a shot at the playoffs (6 or 7th in the West) and showing some potential. They would get a B if they were solidly in playoff contention (4 or 5th place in the West) and an A if they were in the top three of the Western Conference.

Report cards on the new players brought in:

Goalkeeper Bingham: C+
Some of the goals given up are his errors but most of the time it is the defense in front of him that has left him with no chance.

D-Midfielder Kitchen: B-
He knows he should be defense first and he does that; however, he doesn't seem very good at helping move the ball forward in the transition from defense to offense.

Forward Ibrahimovic: incomplete
On one hand the guy has 5 goals and can single-handedly change the game (see 4-3 win over LAFC). On the other hand he maybe a disruptive presence in the locker room and causes the on-field Galaxy formation to be twisted into a pretzel.

Forward Kamara: A-
He also has 5 goals and has been a good soldier about being played out of position on the left wing in many games. There are no reports of him being a disruptive presence in the locker room.

D-Midfielder Carrasco: B
He was not brought in to be a game changer but a serviceable guy to fulfill a role and he has done that. Kitchen is more skilled overall and as such has gotten the lions share of the minutes. In fact, he may have played every minute so far? But in the expectations game, Kitchen has been a disappointment relative to expectations while I don't think that is the case with Carrasco.

Central defender Skjelvik: C+
Has shown moments of what was hoped for but at other times has looked lost. The grade would be higher if it weren't for the fact of the expectations that come with paying someone $900K! MLS thinking is more speed on the attack and Skjelvik when out of position isn't fast enough to recover.

Midfielder/Forward Pontius: B
Just like Carrasco, he was brought in as a role player and has given what would be expected.

Central defender Hilliard-Arce: B
Is he ready to start on a regular basis? No. But he was selected as a young player with a high ceiling and he has shown some ability. Expectations on THA aren't going to be (and shouldn't be) as high as for Skjelvik. If the Galaxy goes to three in the back going forward, I think THA might get the nod over Steres or Romney.

Right back defender Klimenta: B
Is he ready to start on a regular basis? No. But he was selected from USL who could help with squad rotation and injury fill in. Expectations on Emrah aren't going to be (and shouldn't be) as high as for Feltscher. With Feltscher out Klimenta should divide time with Romney at the RB position. Certainly, Steres should not be let anywhere near the RB position any more!

Right back defender Feltscher: B
After a slow start, he appeared to be shaping up to be a good addition at right back. Unfortunately, the LA Galaxy curse of injuries to right backs struck again as he got hurt in a freak fall in training. Will be hoping that when he returns from injury he will be able to contribute to the club. Speed however is a concern as with the entire defensive line.

Central defender Ciani: C+
He was brought in late last year in desperation to patch up the back line. This year he started with a fresh slate and full preseason workup. Has shown moments of what was hoped for but at other times has looked lost. The grade would be higher if it weren't for the fact of the expectations that come with paying someone $600K! At the moment, the Skjelvik-Ciani pairing is the best the Galaxy have. They should be playing the bulk of the minutes. As a fan, if they were getting paid half of what they are getting paid, the grade might rise to "B." We just expected more when you are paying well over a million dollars for these two guys.

In the end, this is a cautionary tale of the challenges of scouting in Europe. Skjelvik was a solid defender in a team that dominated in the Norwegian top league. How does that translate in comparison to the MLS? Ciani was at one time a solid defender in a mid-table team in the top French league. He aged out and lost his starting job. Where does that fit in the talent scale in moving to the MLS? Feltscher was a fringe first team player in an English Championship squad. How does that rate comparison to the MLS?

Returning player grades:

Midfielder Alessandrini: B-
I think the arrow is pointing upward but the grade would be for the season as a whole up to this point. Clearly, the hamstring injury hampered his play. When, he finally got back on the field he didn't have the stamina and speed and just seemed out of sorts. He seems to be getting back into form and hopefully he will reach the levels he got to last year.

Midfielder Boateng: B
He has settled into the role of a substitute after last year getting many minutes due to injury to other players. His speed is his asset giving LA some energy on offense and making defenders nervous. However, his crossing isn't consistent and his dribbling into traffic is a problem.

Defender Cole: B-
It is hard to be too critical of arguably the best left back ever to play the game. He has the heart of a fierce competitor and street smarts honed over many years at the top of his game. However, at age 37, can we dare say that he is a defensive liability sometimes? Will we see more 3-5-2 formations with Cole as a wingback?

Midfielder Jonathan dos Santos: C-
Hasn't been very impressive considering his resume. He is getting DP money but isn't making the kind of difference you would hope for. When I was at Stub Hub watching the match against San Jose, JDS lost the ball in midfield more than a few times.

Midfielder Giovani dos Santos: D
GDS is also getting DP money and at a higher amount than JDS! Thus, you want to see GDS making a very big difference and that simply hasn't been the case. Very disappointing.

Midfielder Lletget: B-
Good to see him back on the field after the terrible injury from last season. However, one wonders if the injury has left him a bit short of his previous heights? Don't know how much of it is simply getting more minutes on the field and regaining his touch and instinctive movement on and off the ball. Hope he can regain and surpass the promise he showed prior to his injury.

Defender Romney: C+
He wants to play center back but the reality is that on this current roster he is going to be plugged in at right or left back. One wonders how high his ceiling could be if he got more consistent minutes on the backline.

Defender Steres: C
For some reason, the coach has put him in at right back on a few occasions. Round peg into a square hole doesn't yield good results. In terms of center back per dollar spent probably a better value than Skjelvik-Ciani. However, in terms of raw capability, probably not ready to be a full-time starting center back in the MLS.

As you can see the grades for the individual players are not all bad. This appears to be a case where the whole is worse than the sum of the parts.

Heading into the October international break

LA Galaxy have dropped two in a row and in both cases their defense was the culprit. As a result, they go into the MLS playoffs in fifth pla...