World Cup Bracketology and Prediction-ology!

TSG is happy to announce the official World Cup Bracket Challenge of bald eagles everywhere: The Shin Guardian’s Bald Eagles of Victory. Get stuck in.

How did USSF miss the domain grab for ... c;mon Fed, sleep at the wheel! Sleep at the wheel!

Any reason to use this picture is a good one.

Prizes to be announced soon. Unfortunately none of them will be as good as an eagle with Michael Bradley as its head. Literally nothing is that good. Nothing.

Something else to tickle your predictive skills abilities later today.

The Wide World of World Cup Wagers

March Madness is one of the greatest sporting spectacles this great land has to offer, and there is no finer place to take it in than Vegas. People are betting on everything. Winners, losers, halftime scores, overs and unders. It’s pretty ridiculous. I was in Vegas this year to donate my money to the casino, I mean watch basketball and bet on some games, and while I stood at the sports book wondering how I didn’t win a billion dollars from Warren Buffet (oh, Syracuse, that’s why!) and if Virginia could cover, I stumbled upon a betting sheet for the World Cup, that had precisely two options for betting.


The Golden Standard. Or The Platinum Blonde Standard?

The first was who would win it all, and the second was who would win each respective group. Seemed straightforward enough, but it made me think, what if I wanted to bet on the World Cup with but not on those two things? What if I could bet on more fitting things, like who would be the first US player to get a card or if Brek Shea would have the worst hair at the World Cup? Those are some things I want to bet on. It seems there should be a broader selection of things to wager my hard earned dollars on, so I thought of a few good ones, similar to prop bets. I’m sure there are other great ideas out there too.

I think the best thing to wager upon would be who has the best hairstyle, both as an individual and team, like the Olympic ski jumping where you are trying to win a medal in each. I think the gold standard here has to be Romania in 1998. Literally.

Certainly Mario Balotelli would be a favorite, as would Brek Shea, if he could have mohawked his hair right onto the roster. So many good options though, with Ronaldo, Neymar, and Reus. Will you take the fro of Fellaini or the braids of Sagna?

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Can “Fancy Stats” Predict the World Cup Group Stage?

Home team advantage?

Home team advantage?

- ALEX OLSHANSKY sets the World Cup odds stage.

Predicting the outcome of soccer matches, and World Cup matches in particular, with any confidence is an exercise for the foolhardy.  One fateful bounce, wonder strike, mistake, penalty, or offside call can change a nation’s entire trajectory.  But, what fun would this event be if we could not dissect and over-dissect all the matchups and possible outcomes?  We have rounded up some of the best regarded international soccer rating systems and played out W-L-D probabilities for every match of the group stage.  Let us meet our contenders:

Elo: Originally devised as a method to rank world chess players, it is one of the most robust international soccer rating systems.

SPI: Developed for ESPN by famed political prognosticator Nate Silver.  Get used to seeing their ratings thrown around a lot during ESPN’s World Cup coverage.

Oddsportal: An aggregator of 10+ online betting house odds.  Reflects the opinion of the betting public.


One way to decide it...

One way to decide it…


EA Sports FIFA Video Game: Ok, so using video game player ratings is not a statistically rigorous method, but this still seems a step up from Paul the Octopus.

The Predictions

(Note: all figures represent approximate expected points)

Ranking Biases

Group A

Group A

Group B

Group B

Group C

Group C

Group D

Group D

Group E

Group E

Group F

Group F

Group G

Group G

Group H

Group H

Each one of the four rankings (EA Sports, Elo, SPI, Oddsportal) have relative biases.

In many instances, these biases follow along geographic lines (see table below).

For example, many of the online betting houses are based in Europe, so there is a noticeable bias against lesser known international sides from North/Central America and Asia.

Similarly, EA Sports player ratings are noticeably biased towards players and teams that feature in the major European leagues.  In SPI’s case there is a favorable bias to South American sides which is likely due to the heavy weight they placed on CONMEBOL World Cup Qualifying matches (as far as I am aware the raw SPI ratings I used do not take into account continental bias for the event taking place in Brazil, which might be a plausible explanation).

By Region...

By Region…

John Oliver On FIFA & The World Cup

USA v. Nigeria: Live Commentary

In 2006, Jurgen Klinsmann played 10 players in his final friendly tune-up who would start the first World Cup game days later.

Starting line-ups shortly.

Will Cameron contain Nigeria's front three?

Will Cameron contain Nigeria’s front three?


USA vs. Nigeria Preview: Fun With Lagos?

* A momentary pause for the school girls who were recently abducted in Nigeria. May they make a swift and safe return.*

Air Klinsmann One ... nearly on the tarmac.

Air Klinsmann One …  on the tarmac.

And Air Klinsmann One non-stop to Brazil is nearly on the tarmac.

The US followed up a 2-0 sleepwalk over Azerbaijan ten days ago with a sloppy 2-1 victory–but victory nonetheless–against the Crescent Moons of Turkey on Sunday. The States train now in a sweltering and humid Jacksonville and take on fellow World Cup-bound Nigeria Saturday in the last home tune-up before heading off to the Big Show.

There are no more observations left.

Save a closed Belgium scrimmage in Brazil, the next time the USMNT will be on display for the masses will be its most important match in a little less than a decade. For a fanbase that crumbled like Claudio under the weight of a Haminu Dramani tackle eight years ago and subsequently got run over, Bocanegra-style, by Asamoah Gyan four years ago, these are trying and nervous times.

That moment is right around the corner and Saturday is the last chance the States has to weigh themselves against the closest available comp to their Lex Luther in the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

It will–or should–be a test.

There was much to like about the Turkey evaluation for the Yanks, but many more lowlights to be concerned with.

World Cup efforts are often more about minimizing mistakes rather than audacious moments. All of it comes back to one thing:

Chance differential or the more standardized TSR (Total Shots Ratio).

It’s the ultimate team metric.

Most teams have to pull themselves out of shape–with an overload or by nature of fast vertical play–in order to create that chance. The good teams are the ones that can do it without losing shape or within a system that covers for the defensive deficiencies broached by going forward.

1st half shots differential as a loose proxy for chance creation.

USA in top graphic; Turkey in the bottom graphic. 1st half shots differential as a loose proxy for chance creation.

The US created multiple chances for themselves against Turkey, but when you break down the effort–specifically the first half effort as the more material one–that lone metric pings a warning signal.

The US controlled the possession for the first half, however that was expected against a team coming off two games in a little more than a week and one that prefers to and excels on the counter.

But–using TSR as a proxy for chance creation–the image to the right says it all.

Multiple opportunities within Zone 14 for Turkey; the States with a decidedly lower volume of those opportunities. (The USMNT is displayed as the top image.)

The States just had Tim Howard, some good old-fashioned “USA! USA!” emergency defending and on the other side of the field a Drew Brees-to-Jimmy Graham over the middle pitch-and-catch goal with Fabian Johnson taking it to the house that combatted their shot ratio probability.

Ghana, Portugal and Germany won’t miss the chances they get in Zone 14 as frequently and–although John Mensah (GHA) was auditioning for a role in The Americans in 2010–and all group opponents will be hard-pressed to give up that single chance that Turkey did to Michael Bradley’s right peg.

Without further Freddy Adu, we get to our customary preview.

As usual, it goes:

» About The Opponent: Nigeria

» TSG: What Are We Looking For

» 11 At The Whistle

John Obi Mikel & Nigeria lift the African Cup of ... Something We Got of eBay in February 2013.

John Obi Mikel & Nigeria lift the African Cup of … Something We Got of eBay in February 2013.

About The Opponent: Nigeria

First of all, how in the world did the US select the name “Yanks” when Nigeria gets the “Super Eagles.” … If you’re picking winners to come out of brackets–like my mom does with March Madness or Sepp Blatter does with the World Cup–aren’t you picking the “Super Eagles” on name alone?

Maybe the US should’ve went with the “Bald Eagles” at least for this World Cup–Bradley, Howard, et all.

How did USSF miss the domain grab for ... c;mon Fed, sleep at the wheel! Sleep at the wheel!

How did USSF miss the domain grab for … c’mon Fed, asleep at the wheel! Asleep at the wheel!

Outside of Egypt, perhaps no African team has experienced as volatile a World Cup run-in as Nigeria–its past two years of competition and national current events oscillating to extreme highs and lows.

Nigeria, of course, was the Africa Cup of Nations champ in early 2013, taking down Burkino Faso in the final. Just days later, Super Eagles manager and country icon Stephen Keshi would attempt to tender his resignation. Didn’t stick.

That CAF title led the Super Eagles to the Confederation’s Cup in Brazil where the …. well they almost didn’t get there. A dispute over wages had the players threatening a boycott from a Namibian hotel until the eleventh hour.

Crisis averted, the Nigerians opened up in the Brazil warm-up tourney against a Tahitian punching bag, but then summarily got knocked out with a 1-2 combination from Uruguay and full-on 3-0 haymaker from Spain.

2014 is no less eventful.

The team hurdles into Brazil without long time stalwart Victor Obinna–a TSG  fave who was dropped this past Monday–and the cacophony of political unrest over 2015 elections along amid the tragic saga of women–nay children–abducted within their country.

Perhaps Brazil can be the tonic for a number of things.


Philly Union centerback Amobi Okugo

Let’s bring in MLS defender-of-the-year candidate and–don’t let an address at fool you–a soccer tactical expert, Amobi Okugo:

“Most American fans don’t know that this might be Nigeria’s best team since the 1996 golden Eagles which the current head coach, Stephen Keshi, was part of. He has a hungry group and although they aren’t as experienced as most teams they will be a team to look out for and show better than Confederations Cup.”

For the States, Nigeria–arguably more in defense–serves as the comp for kryptonic Ghana.

(Amobi) “Personally, I feel like the USMNT should have scheduled more friendlies against West African teams similar to Ghana just because of what has happened the last two World Cups (knock on wood).”

“Although Nigeria plays a little different in terms of formation and philosophy, these two nations are similar when it comes to the type of players and the 1v1 ability.”

Nigeria’s squad rollout shows a team–like Ghana–strong through the front six, but questionable on its backline.

The biggest disconnect between the two styles is Nigeria’s swashbuckling “wide” attack.

Whereas Ghana deploys two inter-working forwards that play off each other and two wingers who tuck in expanding to the most classic of 4-4-2’s, Nigeria plays with a single central striker and two active, off-the-corner wingers backed by three in the midfield completing their 4-3-3.

Forming the spear of the Nigeria attack is Fenerbahçe’s Emmanuel Emnike who’s best comp is probably in the Romelu Lukaku (BEL) -to-Hulk (BRA) range. Emnike is just as happy to body up his defender as he is to blow by him. He poses a primordial challenge for the US defense–collapse on him and he’ll dish to a winger, leave him alone and his odds on going through to goal appreciate.

He’ll be flanked by CSKA Moscos burner Ahmed Musa*on the left and Liverpool winger Victor Moses on the right.

(Amobi) “Victor Moses is better than Jordan Ayew (his comp)  for Ghana in my opinion. I feel like he has a bigger impact for the team and when Victor Moses is on, Nigeria is usually doing well.”

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Evolution: The American Soccer Snob Cometh

The Soccer Snob is the sports-fan version of that person who corrects others grammar on Twitter.




The influx of American “Soccer Snobs,” while at times detrimental to our sports image and obtusely obnoxious is a positive indicator of the ascent in popularity of our beautiful game at home–represented by MLS.

Identifying the “Snob” type can be tough because they are a sub-group within that hardcore crowd and go relatively unnoticed, walking around right under our noses like ghosts only that weird kid could see.

They are generally characterized as having regal and overly entitled dispositions, as if they come from the same bloodline as Ebenezer Cobb Morley (look it up). You normally hear them before you see them: waxing poetic on the pros and cons of a 4-3-3 vs. a 4-2-3-1.

But don’t be fooled by this alone.



It is only when this behavior is combined with contempt for Major League Soccer and new fans to the game that these Soccer Snobs truly reveal themselves.

Look closely among the blogs or keep one ear open at the bar and you will hear them deriding MLS:

“Its only good attribute is athleticism– other than that it’s a joke,” ridicules an anonymous Soccer Snob in the comments section of an MLS website.

“This phony probably still has the tag on that Arsenal jersey” was a comment that I overheard myself at Ye Ole Kings Head in Santa Monica towards a “green” fan with subpar soccer vernacular and a mint Wilshere jersey.

They even love to insult ex-pros who have moved on to commentating, helpfully inquiring “Why are you saying ‘Err Zil’ when its ‘Oh Zeel’ you moron, how do you have a job!”

That just another gem offered, to me, during Premier League Weekend by an anonymous Soccer Snob on Twitter.

The Soccer Snob is the sports-fan version of that person who corrects others grammar on Twitter. You know the one, unnecessarily patrolling the world to discipline those who they deem broke the rules no one cares about. Its as if they have a pathological urge to insult or belittle what they deem to be inferior, whether it be MLS or another sports fan. Energy and education misplaced.

 The fascinating part is not that this type of fan exists, or even that its group is growing, but that this group–the American snob–is now targeting its own people.
Back in the day, “You just don’t understand, and therefore can’t appreciate our game” was the verbal reflex of many hardcore Soccer Fans in their decades long battle with the Non-Soccer Fans–those who mocked a game they perceived to be flawed and imported.

Screen Shot 2014-06-04 at 9.41.30 PM

While those battles are still fought, that mustering on either side of the “legitimate” border is becoming more and more rare. The inevitability of “The World’s Game” infiltrating the American culture’s sports market is arriving right now.

The outward derision is becoming obsolete, but a new one has begun.

The condescension hasn’t regressed; it’s just redirected.

It used to be a defense mechanism, triggered by purely ignorant views on soccer by those who never cared to understand or appreciate the game. Now, however, these defensive insults and patronization are strategic offensives directed at other fans of the game.

It has become a civil war in which these elitist look to discredit other fans’ rights to join in on the fun and have graduated from merely accosting the close-minded.

I was always a little embarrassed by the “You just can’t understand our game” argument against soccer haters. I’ve always felt it wasn’t that they couldn’t understand, just that they chose not to. Those individuals could start liking soccer, they just didn’t want to. So when the soccer community would get offended by others’ lack of interest and make that condescending argument, it felt to me like the famous playground “I know you are but what am I” comeback.

But this new form of Soccer Snobbery really saddens me.

I hate the attitude that being a fan of the game or a team is a badge you must earn.

It reminds me of those Green Day fans taking shots like “I bet that fraud’s first album was Dookie!” at fans who got on the train after the Indie stage. I, along with many of my soccer peers, feel that we have no more right to this game than someone watching for the first time.

There is no hierarchy when it comes to being a fan.

It’s binary, you either are or aren’t.

Such vapid snobbery feels like an attempt to try and validate one’s self worth by belittling others, which doesn’t make you a fan….

….it makes you a bully.

Soccer Snobs aren’t using their high soccer IQ’s or passion to grow the game by embracing fans of all types. Instead they choose to spread vitriol aimed at scaring the casual fan away. They could be the lighthouse helping guide sports-fans through the treacherous American sports waters onto soccer’s sandy shores, but instead these snobs tend to be more like the interrogation lamp making them feel uncomfortable and unwanted.

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