Comparing Every World Cup Team to North American Sports Teams

The biggest sporting event in the world is finally upon us.  32 teams from 32 countries will compete for what’s probably the most prestigious international award in the world.

Some Americans are pumped for this year’s World Cup.  Some are indifferent.  Some despise soccer.  Others are curious, but don’t know what to do when/if the US national team gets eliminated.  As someone who is a big fan of American sports as well as soccer, I’m here to help you out with that by trying to find the most similar North American franchise or intercollegiate athletic program to each country.

Now I’ll admit that I’m not the first person to come up with this idea, as this post was inspired by a piece written four years ago, where someone “translated the World Cup into American.”  I figured that I would take a shot at it this time, although as I was working on this, he would post this year’s version as well.

The principles I used were similar to the ones that he did: I took a look at the history of the countries’ national teams as well as where they were currently and tried to find a North American franchise with a similar franchise history in terms of on-field success.  Sometimes I took a look at instances where there was a certain type of player that each had, or certain management style, or certain play style.  Sometimes I combined several of the aforementioned.

These weren’t perfect fits, of course.  In some places I had to take a few liberties and make my descriptions a little vaguer so that the descriptions would fit both teams.  After all, it’s kinda hard to compare football/basketball/baseball/hockey teams to soccer.  (And yes, I’m aware that I used the term “football” in the descriptions; I’m not one of those Americans that call it football, but I do use the term football when referring to countries that also use that term.)

I also tried my best not to use the same matches that were used in the other versions, but there were some that might have fit too well, so I had to piggyback.

With that said, here are each of the 32 teams that qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup and their North American equivalent, listed in order of the groups (A through H) and by the slots within the groups in which the teams were drawn.

 

GROUP A
BRAZIL
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Won in 1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002
Copa America – Won in 1919, 1922, 1949, 1989, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2007
Confederations Cup – Won in 1997, 2005, 2009, 2013

The hosts of this year’s World Cup are arguably the most successful footballing nation in the world, having won the most World Cups and Confederations Cups, and only three times in World Cup history have they ever failed to make it out of the first round, the last in 1966. Brazil has been a quadrennial favorite to win the World Cup, and this year is no different, especially considering the pressure they’ll be facing to win it in their home soil. Not only is the team successful, but they’ve had the best players and personalities to ever play the game.
Brazil = New York Yankees

CROATIA
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Third Place in 1998
European Championship – Quarterfinals in 1996, 2008

Croatia has a complicated footballing history before they gained independence. Despite not officially having its own team until very recently, they have had a few unofficial games in their country here and there, just like this team’s city has. After the breakup of Yugoslavia, Croatia started its footballing tenure as an independent nation with a bang, achieving third place in the first World Cup it was eligible for in the late ’90s. It’s rare for expansion teams in American pro sports to do so well this recently in their existence, but it has happened, and I found one that fit the bill the most accurately.
Croatia = Jacksonville Jaguars

MEXICO
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Quarterfinals in 1970, 1986
Confederations Cup – Won in 1999
Copa America – Runners-up in 1993, 2001
CONCACAF Championship/Gold Cup – Won in 1965, 1971, 1977, 1993, 1996, 1998, 2003, 2009, 2011

Within its region, El Tri has been the most dominant, winning Gold Cups and finishing at or near the top of World Cup qualifiers. However, when they get to the big stage, they almost always disappoint, leaving their fans wanting more. The regional dominance and ineptitude in major competitions reminds me of the Braves, but their green primary jerseys, use of a certain bird of prey on their team’s logo and country’s flag, and a home-field advantage matched by very few due in part to a rowdy fanbase that tends to get a bad rap outside of that country (whether fair or not) is pulling me to a different direction.
Mexico = Philadelphia Eagles

CAMEROON
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Quarterfinals in 1990
Confederations Cup – Runners-up in 2003
Africa Cup of Nations – Won in 1984, 1988, 2000, 2002

Cameroon is a pioneer for its continent, being the first African team to get to the quarterfinals of the World Cup to go with its total of seven World Cup appearances, also an African first. They’ve gotten to the World Cup often, but they haven’t been able to replicate their success there since that one big run in the ’90s.
Cameroon = Gonzaga basketball

GROUP B
SPAIN
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Won in 2010
European Championship – Won in 1964, 2008, 2012
Confederations Cup – Runners-up in 2013

While La Furia Roja was at the very least decent throughout its history, only recently have they reached this level of unprecedented dominance, winning three consecutive World Cups and Euros with a team that some have considered the greatest of all-time. Understandably so, anything less than a second-straight World Cup will be a disappointment. They also happen to have a key player born in another part of the world that used to represent his homeland but chose to change his allegiance elsewhere, and some in said homeland have called him a traitor.
Spain = Miami Heat
(Of course, unlike someone like LeBron or even Ray Allen, Costa was only allowed to switch his FIFA nationality once (see here for details as to how that happens); there’s no going back for him. It’ll be interesting to see how he’s received when he comes back to Brazil this month if he’s able to play–he’s currently nursing a hamstring tear.)

NETHERLANDS
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Runners-up in 1974, 1978, 2010
European Championship – Won in 1988

Historically, this team has been one of the best in Europe, and while they won a Euro in 1988, it’s often been a case of “bridesmaids, not brides” on the global stage, despite some of the best players to ever play the game putting on the Oranje. When they finally did win that tournament, they did it while getting revenge on a few teams that had beaten them before in the competition, or in big matches of past tournaments. The current Dutch team can attack with some of the best and should be pretty fun to watch, but they’re in one of the tougher groups and will need to be on their best game to advance.
Netherlands = Denver Broncos

CHILE
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Third Place in 1962
Copa America – Runners-up in 1955, 1956, 1979, 1987

In what’s perhaps the most competitive pound-for-pound in the world confederations in the world, Chile has been a cut below the traditional South American powers. They’ve been a solid team for a long time, and while there were some down seasons, they could still put up a fight with the best of them. This time around, some see them as a dark horse to go deep into the tournament, drawing from the advantage of playing on its home continent this time around. After all, every World Cup hosted in the Americas has been won by a South American nation.
Chile = South Carolina football

AUSTRALIA
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Round of 16 in 2006
Confederations Cup – Runners-up in 1997
Asian Cup – Runners-up in 2011
OFC Nations Cup – Won in 1980, 1996, 2000, 2004

Because Australia was geographically isolated from most of the rest of the developed world before air travel was common, the Socceroos were largely irrelevant on the global stage. Within their hopelessly overmatched region of the world, Australia completely dominated teams in a fashion that guys like Bill Belichick circa 2007 and many a big-time college football coach could only dream of. As a result, they eventually moved up to a bigger confederation with better competition. They’re still among the best teams in this new region, but the competition is much better. They may not have a very good record against the bigger teams, but they can sure as hell make you pay if you take them too lightly.
Australia = Utah football
(I was debating between Utah and Boise State for this. Boise would have worked if the conference they moved to didn’t have virtually the same teams as that from which they left.)

GROUP C
COLOMBIA
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Round of 16 in 1990
Copa America – Won in 2001

Representing a country branded with the stereotypes of being full of poverty, violent crime, and run by the drug trade, Los Cafeteros are backed by a passionate fanbase full of local pride, and like Chile, will try to draw from the energy of playing the tournament on its home continent and take home their second major trophy in history. The other time they won it happened briefly after one of their key players’ names became associated with a murder case.
Colombia = Baltimore Ravens

GREECE
Major Tournament History:
European Championship – Won in 2004

Greece has been a complete non-factor historically, having not made a major tournament until 1980. Two decades later, they came out of nowhere to pull off one of the biggest shockers in international sports: winning Euro 2004 against 150-to-1 odds. In that tournament, they only scored seven goals in six games, but they were carried by their defensive effort, only allowing four. Greek journalists gave this team the nickname Piratiko (pirate ship) at Euro ’04, and the nickname has since stuck. they’ve qualified for three of the next four World Cups/Euros, but haven’t made much of a dent since. Their defensive form is still solid, though. This should be easy.
Greece = Tampa Bay Buccaneers

COTE D’IVOIRE (IVORY COAST)
Major Tournament History:
Africa Cup of Nations – Won in 1992

Some believe that Les Elephants should have achieved more than what they have thus far with the talent they’ve had between 2006 and now. But in the two World Cups in that span, they were placed in difficult groups and couldn’t get out, and in the Africa Cup of Nations, their best finishes were second place in 2006 and 2012, losing in penalties each time. It may be now or never for some of these aging stars.
Cote D’Ivoire = Detroit Tigers

JAPAN
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Round of 16 in 2002, 2010
Confederations Cup – Runners-up in 2001
Asian Cup – Won in 1992, 2000, 2004, 2011

Japan grew from a nobody in its region to a solid force once they began serious efforts to grow the sport in an area where many locals’ first love is a different sport. They haven’t yet made too much noise on the big stage, this current team could make a deep run depending on how the rest of the tournament shakes out. There’s no real reason to hate them, and if they do make a run, their bandwagon would fill up mighty quickly.
Japan = Nashville Predators

GROUP D
URUGUAY
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Won in 1930, 1950
Copa America – Won in 1916, 1917, 1920, 1923, 1924, 1926, 1935, 1942, 1956, 1959, 1967, 1983, 1987, 1995, 2011

La Celeste has been winning the big ones since the beginning and has been a consistent force in its region, despite the small size and population. They’ve got one of the best offensive threats in the world who also tends to get the benefit of the doubt more often than not by the referee. His outstanding performance helped bring his country its most recent major trophy, but they struggled to qualify for the World Cup this time around, and now that guy’s got some injury concerns.
Uruguay = Green Bay Packers

COSTA RICA
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Round of 16 in 1990
CONCACAF Championship/Gold Cup – Won in 1963, 1969, 1989

After the Big Two in North America, these guys are right behind. Not expected to make noise this year, but at least you can avoid a few taxes by moving here.
Costa Rica = Miami Dolphins

ENGLAND
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Won in 1966
European Championship – Third Place in 1968

England is instrumental in the founding and development of football, as it was among the first countries to play it. Because of its place with regards to the sport’s origins, the team is always under immense local media pressure to perform well on the game’s biggest stages. Since their last major tournament victory in the ’60s, they’ve had heartbreaking defeats, disappointing performances, and turmoil off the field. Even if they make it out of the group, they would still face a tall task when they face the best of the best later in the tournament. The fans are not getting any more patient with the title drought stretching longer and longer.
England = Toronto Maple Leafs

ITALY
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Won in 1934, 1938, 1982, 2006
European Championship – Won in 1968

Consistent is probably the best adjective to describe Italy, as they’re always a threat to go deep in whatever tournament they participate in. They’ve also won recently, and their overall success and large fanbase (regardless of whether through heritage, local, or bandwagon) draw the ire of rival teams’ fans. The Azzuri is historically known for defensive style of play. Economic conditions in their homeland have caused many to emigrate from their native land, but they still have pride in their homeland and are not afraid to show it at sporting events.
Italy = Pittsburgh Steelers

GROUP E
SWITZERLAND
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Quarterfinals in 1934, 1938, 1954

You look at who they played in qualifying and you wonder what in the hell they did to deserve a ranking high enough to get a favorable draw. They haven’t done much historically, but they’re better than many will give them credit for, so they’ll likely get the “no respect” treatment from the media. Everyone who they haven’t already faced will want to face them, knowing their perception.
Switzerland = UCF football

ECUADOR
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Round of 16 in 2006
Copa America – Fourth Place in 1959, 1993

Ecuador has risen from a perennial also-ran to a battle-tested middle-of-the-road team in its region that’s fully capable of taking down some of the best teams in the world at home. Aside from that, they’re clearly a cut below the elite, and even below the very good, of their region, despite being in an area known for talent in its sport.
Ecuador = Texas Tech football

FRANCE
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Won in 1998
European Championship – Won in 1984, 2000
Confederations Cup – Won in 2001, 2003

After subpar performances and internal turmoil in the years following a strong-yet-disappointing finish, Les Bleus are looking to start afresh with younger talent that could make some noise in world football for at least the next few years, as the window of opportunity has officially closed with the old guard. And they also have had a roster full of players from various ethnic backgrounds.
France = Houston Rockets

HONDURAS
Major Tournament History:
CONCACAF Championship/Gold Cup – Won in 1981
Copa America – Third Place in 2001

They’ve been bad for almost forever, but they’ve at least gotten to the big dance a few times recently, right?…Right?
Honduras = Wofford basketball

GROUP F
ARGENTINA
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Won in 1978, 1986
Copa America – Won in 1921, 1925, 1927, 1929, 1937, 1941, 1945, 1946, 1947, 1955, 1957, 1959, 1991, 1993
Confederations Cup – Won in 1992

Another one of the major powers where it’s located, Argentina also has high expectations heading into this year’s World Cup. Its current squad currently has one of the most individually talented players in the world who has been able to overcome long odds just to even get to this stage, let alone achieve at it the way he has. But they haven’t been able to meet the incredibly lofty standard that was met at least 20 years ago, when they were regularly winning and contending for major titles. They have the players and the resources. Now they just have to put it all together.
Argentina = Los Angeles Dodgers

BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – None (first appearance in 2014)

Like Croatia, Bosnia’s footballing history is also intertwined with the former Yugoslavia. Understandably so, this will be their maiden voyage on the big stage after a brief existence. It took them a little bit to make it, but here they are. Not a lot is expected from them, but they can surprise if not taken seriously, just like their Balkan neighbors.
Bosnia and Herzegovina = Houston Texans

IRAN
Major Tournament History:
Asian Cup – Won in 1968, 1972, 1976

Team Melli has been pretty good within its meh confederation for most of its existence, but it hasn’t translated to anything on the global stage. But you can’t help but wonder what this team’s potential really is if not for the distractions and interference from perceived incompetent people not directly involved with the product on the playing field.
Iran = Cincinnati Bengals

NIGERIA
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Round of 16 in 1994, 1998
Africa Cup of Nations – Won in 1980, 1994, 2013

The Super Eagles are among the best in their region, finishing at or near the top of their continental competitions. Not unlike others from its continent, they’ve also been able to churn out several notable individual players who have proven to contribute positively in larger, more lucrative environments. But it’s that aspect–a lack of ability to compete economically with richer, more established organizations (which, sadly, may be reflective of an exploitative trend within the bigger construct in which they operate)–that might be keeping them back. Oh, and there’s the whole green thing.
Nigeria = Oakland Athletics

GROUP G
GERMANY
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Won in 1954, 1974, 1990
European Championship – Won in 1972, 1980, 1996

They might not have the most trophies in their confederation, but they’re not too far behind. Efficient, tactical, and have more than a few players with versatile skill sets. They’ve also got a good mix of veterans and youngsters, and are usually seen as one of the favorites to win any competition that they find themselves in. They’ve had their glorious moments a few decades ago, and they are primed to get back to the zenith of world football.
Germany = San Francisco 49ers

PORTUGAL
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Third Place in 1966
European Championship – Runners-up in 2004

Another team whose fortunes all fall on the immense expectations of a few players. But the window for this current generation isn’t as big as it was before after coming close but falling short on a few occasions, and the pressure is mounting on these guys to bring home a trophy for the first time ever. Unsurprisingly, this team’s antics have drawn detractors despite their skills.
Portugal = Vancouver Canucks

GHANA
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Quarterfinals in 2010
Africa Cup of Nations – Won in 1963, 1965, 1978, 1982

In recent years, the Black Stars have been the most successful African nation in World Cup play. The current group they’re in makes their job difficult this time around, but they are no less dangerous; they’ve been known to give even the best of opponents fits, and they can throw everyone’s predictions out of whack.
Ghana = Arizona Cardinals

UNITED STATES
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Third Place in 1930
Confederations Cup – Runners-up in 2009
CONCACAF Championship/Gold Cup – Won in 1991, 2002, 2005, 2007, 2013

Nobody knows what to make of this team. Is their glass half-full or half-empty? This team represents a strong political and economic area. The U.S. can and has made the occasional splash on the world stage, and this year is no different. But the recent change in leadership has polarized fans. On the one hand, some think that the new coach’s style of play is a breath of fresh air with potential for the future. Others have been turned off by some of the things he has said and decisions he has made (including getting rid of an accomplished player named Donovan) that have proven to be unpopular among those fans.
United States = Washington Redskins (particularly the Shanahan era)

GROUP H
BELGIUM
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Fourth Place in 1986
European Championship – Runners-up in 1980

The Red Devils are getting a lot of buzz heading into this tournament. It just seems that everyone–EVERYONE–is riding this team’s jock as if they’ve already accomplished something. Sure, the talent is finally there after a bit of dormancy. Sure, they’ll be challenging for trophies for years to come. But they’re incredibly young, and we really don’t know what to expect when they’re in the global spotlight. After all, when you continually call a team underrated for long enough, they start to become overrated. Still doesn’t hurt to root for them.
Belgium = Kansas City Chiefs

ALGERIA
Major Tournament History:
Africa Cup of Nations – Won in 1990

The Desert Foxes haven’t been very good historically, outside of a few big moments here and there. That’s plain to see. But to a lot of people, they’re best remembered as being the victims of some of the most iconic (and perhaps infamous, in the case of 1982 for Algeria) moments for the celebrants of these.
Algeria = Cleveland Browns

RUSSIA
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Group Stage in 1994, 2002 (Fourth Place in 1966 as USSR)
European Championship – Third Place in 2008 (Won in 1960 as USSR)

This team, under its current incarnation, has not had much to celebrate in an area known more for its winter exploits in sports than anything else. The last moments of glory for these fans came under another banner, and they were pretty good, yet a cut below the regional powers.
Russia = Winnipeg Jets

SOUTH KOREA
Major Tournament History:
World Cup – Fourth Place in 2002
Asian Cup – Won in 1956 and 1960

This is a relatively young team that’s been decent recently, and is now under the tutelage of one of their more popular former players. While not incredibly successful in the grand scheme of things, I’m sure their neighbors to the north wished they had what little success that these guys have been able to bask in.
South Korea = Chicago White Sox

 

So that’s what we have in terms of comparisons to American franchises. Yeah, I did stretch some of these for some of them to fit, but I did what I could. Got any issues with any of them? Comment away!

Thanks for sticking around, and let’s enjoy the games, whether our favorite nations win or lose.


Previewing the 2011 Season for the Redskins

At last, pro football is back.

After a long, tumultuous offseason during which there was uncertainty about whether the season would start on time, the 2011 NFL season is set to begin tonight as the New Orleans Saints take on the Green Bay Packers on national television.

Three days later, the Washington Redskins will be among several other teams as their 2011 campaign commences.  In his second year as head man in DC, Mike Shanahan and his team have their work cut out for them after a disappointing 6-10 season.

While the Redskins got off to a 4-3 start during which they beat three eventual playoff teams, the wheels had quickly fallen off amidst open questioning of Donovan McNabb‘s conditioning (as well as a quarterback controversy in general) and the re-emergence of the $100 million malcontent on the defensive line known as Albert Haynesworth.  Coming into this season, both McNabb and Haynesworth have been traded, and Shanahan finally has the pieces he wants in place to develop.  Rex Grossman, despite his flaws as a quarterback, has a grasp on the Shanahans’ offense.  John Beck, while already 30 years of age, is still relatively young in football years, as he has not taken a meaningful snap since 2007.  Barry Cofield is actually willing to play the ever-important nose tackle position in the 3-4 defense.  Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan have the potential to be a formidable pair of bookend outside linebackers.  With Tim Hightower, Roy Helu and Ryan Torain, the Redskins have a stable of tough running backs not afraid of contact.

But despite all these positives, the Redskins are still expected to finish last in the NFC East, a division among the toughest in football.  While the Giants have been bitten by the injury bug this preseason, they still pose a threat.  The Cowboys are expected to bounce back from a disappointing season during which Tony Romo went down with an injury.  And of course, little needs to be said about what the Eagles have done this offseason.  While their schedule has each team from the paltry NFC West, as well as last-place teams Minnesota and Carolina from last year, they also have to face two of the toughest teams in the AFC in New England and the New York Jets.

The prediction? The Redskins have another 6-10 or a 7-9 season and finish last in the NFC East.  Despite where they are expected to finish, every team they play better take them seriously, because they have the potential to sneak up on a few teams.  The pieces the Redskins have in place may be raw, but there is definitely room for growth, and Shanahan and his staff will do everything in their power to help this team fulfill its potential.


Recapping the Draft of the Washington Wizards

Due to the impending labor situation arising in the NBA, Thursday’s draft may have lost some of its luster, with several high-profile college players such as Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes and Perry Jones staying in school for at least another year.

Despite the lack of can’t-miss talent and the uncertainties surrounding next season, many teams still had room for improvement and needed to take advantage of this opportunity.

And on Thursday night, the Washington Wizards did just that.

Last year, Washington finished near the bottom of the league in several categories, including field goal percentage for and against, points allowed per game, three-point field goal percentage against, offensive rating, defensive rating, and effective field goal percentage.  The players the Wizards drafted last night will certainly help them improve on the defensive side of the ball.

Several mock drafts projected the Czech forward Jan Vesely to be taken sixth overall, and many blogs speculated that he was Washington’s guy all along, so it only stood to reason that they would take him when he fell to sixth overall.  At 6’11” and 240, Vesely’s length, athleticism and toughness projects him to be a small forward who could fill in at power forward if needed, similar to the Jazz’ Andrei Kirilenko. They also liked that he already was a key contributor to his Serbian club team (which former Maryland Terrapin James Gist happens to play for).  The problem is that Vesely is a raw talent with poor touch on his jumper, though that aspect of his game is well-publicized, looking at his 54 percent free throw shooting.

Aside from that, Vesely has shown the attitude and swagger off the court that this team has needed since Gilbert Arenas (before he started twiddling with his guns in the locker room), calling Blake Griffin “the American Jan Vesely” when asked in the interview at the draft, which is certainly better than comparing yourself to Chris Bosh in the worst possible way.  And how often do you see a player already score just seconds after being drafted?  This is going to be fun.

Washington selecting forward Chris Singleton 18th overall was the better value pick, however.  The reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year will bring that very mentality to the team, as well as his length and athleticism.  At Florida State, Singleton averaged slightly less than 1.5 blocks per game, even at 6’9″.  Like Vesely, however, his offensive abilities at the NBA level will be a point of concern, but because Singleton will not be expected to shoulder the load offensively, the Wizards will put him in the best situations for him to succeed at that end.

In the second round, the Wizards chose guard Shelvin Mack, who led the Butler Bulldogs to back-to-back National Championship appearances.  Mack can serve as the backup point guard to John Wall and has the ability to knock down the open shot in a key situation.  The fact that he helped will the Bulldogs to two National Championship appearances shows his winning mentality and leadership ability that this team needs more of.

While the Washington Wizards did not land any of the few so-called “can’t-miss” prospects, the front office did well enough this year to help build around one of the league’s budding superstars.


Gus Johnson’s Move to Fox is CBS’ Loss

If you’re a hardcore college basketball fan, you’ve probably heard of him. You may have already heard some of his calls, whether live or on one of the several videos on YouTube. Hell, you might have heard his shouts from outside your window even if you WEREN’T watching his game.

The meteoric rise to fame of play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson is characterized by the excitable, dramatic nature of his calls, particularly in critical game situations.

And there are very few other sports events that epitomize excitement and drama more than the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the event that Johnson has been associated with since 1996.

Earlier this month, it had been reported that Johnson had left CBS after not being able to agree on a new contract.  The following week, he reached an agreement to call college sports and select NFL games with Fox Sports Media Group.

And because CBS and Turner Sports still hold the rights to the NCAA Tournament until 2024, this announcement means that the de facto voice of March Madness will no longer announce tournament games on TV in the foreseeable future.

That’s right, we will not hear any of the classic “The slipper still fits!” or “HEARTBREAK CITY!” or descriptions of someone hitting a shot from the parking lot during next year’s tournament.

And the fact that CBS bigwigs weren’t pleased with Johnson’s ascent as the “de facto voice of March Madness” shows just how highly they think of Jim Nantz as the main sports voice at the network, especially given that he is only 52 years old and has been employed at CBS for half of his life.

That said, Johnson’s act has been polarizing to many fans.

While many enjoy his act, there are just as many who are glad that he is no longer employed by CBS.

Until he suffered a stroke late 2008, Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated would always rank the NFL commentators after each season, and he would place Johnson’s broadcasting team near the bottom of the rankings for the same reasons that some might like his broadcasting style, along with his tendency to get certain facts wrong and/or omit other facts.  One would presume that Dr. Z would be glad that Johnson is no longer announcing NFL games on a regular basis.

In fact, in the aforementioned UCLA-Gonzaga clip, he failed to mention that UCLA had forced a held-ball situation in which the possession arrow favored UCLA when he was caught up in the moment, uncontrollably screaming.

Despite his popularity, the CBS executives would still place Johnson on their fifth or sixth tier on NFL telecasts, and for a brief time, was removed from coverage of the NCAA regionals, so it was quite evident that CBS had no plans to give Johnson any higher profile than he did, aside from announcing the occasional MMA event either on CBS or Showtime.

On the other hand, the Big Ten Network, the channel Johnson had been with since 2008, began utilizing him more in 2010.  Already assigned to certain basketball games and the nighttime broadcasts of the Big Ten men’s basketball tournament that were not aired by the ESPN networks or CBS, Johnson was featured in a promo for the Big Ten Network alluding to his increased workload with the channel.   There was even a Gus Johnson sound-alike contest held by the Big Ten Network’s website back in February and March.

With Fox Sports Media Group, Johnson will now serve as the top announcer for Pac-12, Conference USA and Big 12 football games on FX, and he will do play-by-play for one of the conference championship games, the Cotton Bowl, and NFL games after the college football regular season ends, all on Fox.  He will also call a few football games on Big Ten Network, which Fox has a minority stake in, while remaining the network’s main college basketball announcer.  In 2013, he will announce games from the Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament.

As one can probably tell, Fox is making good use of one of the most enthusiastic announcers in the business; one who is truly passionate about the work he does, unlike other lead announcers.  When the 2012 NCAA Tournament comes around, and Gus Johnson is not announcing the games on the CBS/Turner Sports joint venture, CBS will eventually realize that they let a good one get away.


Déjà vu feeling for Caps fans?

It’s that time of year again.  The Stanley Cup playoffs are upon us.

With the hard-hitting, the late-game drama and unpredictability relative to its counterparts in other leagues, some say the Stanley Cup playoffs is the most exciting playoff tournament in North America.

But to Washington Capitals fans, the “unpredictability” of the playoffs is the very aspect they dread.

Since their return to the playoffs in 2008 in Bruce Boudreau’s first season as coach, the Capitals and their fans have known nothing but playoff disappointment.  Despite earning seeds of 3, 2, and 1 in 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively, the Caps have only advanced from the first round once, in 2009.  That series, just like the other three, went seven games.

And it was that series where the Caps faced the New York Rangers, who will once again oppose the Capitals as the 8-seed  in the playoff series starting tonight.

For many Caps fans, this was the matchup that they feared the most.  The makeup of this Rangers team resembles everything that has led to playoff failure year after year.  Stout defensive play.  World-class goaltending from Henrik Lundqvist.  Takes few penalties.

These were the factors that have done the Capitals in last year against the Montreal Canadiens last year, facing a goalie in Jaroslav Halak who, after being pulled from Game 3, suddenly caught fire.  He held the high-powered offense of the Caps to just one goal per game in the last three games of the series, all of which were won by Montreal.

And during a season in which the Caps had seemingly struggled offensively for a good chunk of the year, a matchup with a team like the Rangers would certainly have Caps fans worried, especially after the Rangers won 6 out of a possible 8 points from the Capitals in the regular season, including thrashings of 7-0 and 6-0.

After all, this city hasn’t but dealt with constant disappointment in recent years, from the fallout between Redskins’ quarterback Donovan McNabb and Mike Shanahan, to the end of the Gilbert Arenas era for the Wizards, to the perennial cellar-dwelling of the Nationals, only compounded by the loss of Stephen Strasburg for most, if not all, of the 2011 season.  It has become Pavlovian for D.C. sports fans to expect the worst, even when it comes to the city’s best major pro sports team today.

But despite the struggles in scoring, the eight-game losing streak (which included the 7-0 beating), career-low in points from Alex Ovechkin, and calls from fans for Boudreau’s job during the rough times, the Caps were convinced that this season would be different, and for the better come playoff time.  The team had focused on strengthening the blue line depth, as well as an overall emphasis on defense.  Out went Tomas Fleischmann and David Steckel.  In came Scott Hannan and Dennis Wideman as reinforcements to injury-riddled Mike Green and Tom Poti, and the emergence of brightly-shining youngsters Karl Alzner and John Carlson.  The addition of Jason Arnott provided the team with more depth at the center position, as well as valuable playoff experience.  As these moves were made during the season, it was clear that this team was definitely being built to win in the playoffs, regardless of the bumps in the road along the way.

According to GM George McPhee, focusing on better defensive play had been in the works since last season’s early playoff exit.  Says McPhee:

“Playing better defensively was something that we had addressed at the end of last season. We continued to talk about it, and wondered if it was time to make that shift but we had been successful playing the way we were playing. But when we got into that losing streak, we thought then that it was time to try this.  It’s a dangerous thing to do, because players get confused when you change systems. Sometimes they’ll lose faith in the coaching staff. It doesn’t work very often, but our coaching staff did a terrific job of making it work. We’re a better team today as a result. I’m glad they pulled it off, because it’s making us a more formidable club.”

And this has certainly showed.  The team that had constantly finished in the bottom half of the league in goals allowed and penalty kill percent in the previous three years has finished 4th and 2nd in those respective categories.  By the end of the 7-0 defeat, the Caps had surrendered 91 goals in its first 32 games, nearly three goals per game.  In the 50 games afterward, they allowed just 101 goals, good for roughly two goals per game.

Yes, the Caps are facing Lundqvist again.  Yes, the Rangers have tended to be the Caps’ kryptonite in recent years.  No, the team isn’t scoring goals at the rate they had been in past years.

But after the trials and adversity the team faced, there is good reason for fans to feel more optimistic heading into this year’s playoffs.  Déjà vu?  Not likely this year.

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