Monday, July 28, 2014

'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1' Teaser

The first teaser for 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1', one of the most anticipated movies of the year, was released at comic-con and is now online for your viewing pleasure. It shows Julianne Moore as President Alma Coin and Philip Seymour Hoffman in one of his final roles. Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) briefly appears at the end, declaring that she will lead the fight against the Capitol. Some battle scenes are included, possibly upping the action to a new level from the first two films.

   

'Mockingjay Part 1' will be released on November 21, 2014. Unlike 'Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows' Parts 1 and 2, which were released a few months apart, fans will have to wait a year for 'The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2' to be released on November 20, 2015.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wonder Woman Revealed

The first picture of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman (see below) in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice has been released. The costume is in a similar gritty style to Ben Affleck's Batman costume that was recently revealed. They're putting an emphasis on the warrior aspect of the character, with the costume drawing comparisons to the costume of Xena. Its been well received so far on the Internet, seemingly getting more positive buzz than the reveal for Henry Cavill's Superman costume and the new Batman costume. I'm seeing the word "badass" tossed around the most, which has to make everyone involved in the film smile. The brown looking color is something new, as we're used to the red/blue/gold look. It works in this setting though. The sword is an awesome addition. Besides the sword, you can glimpse the traditional lasso that Lynda Carter typically used in the 70s TV Show on the side of her waist.

There have been some comments that Gadot should have bigger muscles, but you can see she has certainly been working hard and has packed on some muscle compared to when she was announced in the role. And let's be real...these are superheroes from other planets who are supposed to naturally be strong, with or without big muscles. We can suspend belief for a fictional movie where heroes can fly. So calm down, nerds.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice will be released on May 6, 2016 and serve as a launch for a Justice League movie. Aside from the introduction of Wonder Woman to the fold, Aquaman (Jason Momoa) & Cyborg (Ray Fisher) have also been announced, though in minor roles.
Gal Gadot

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Is Another Harry Potter Short Story on the Way?

J.K. Rowling made headlines when she wrote a short story in the style of a Rita Skeeter gossip column about Harry Potter and the rest of Dumbledore's Army on the Pottermore website early in July, following with more information courtesy of Skeeter at the Quidditch World Cup. These were released around the time that Diagon Alley opened to much fanfare (and 5 hour waits for the new ride) at Universal Studios Orlando. Skeeter mentions during the gossip column that she has a book called Dumbledore's Army: The Dark Side of the Demob coming out on July 31st at Flourish and Blotts. Does this mean Rowling could post more from Skeeter to the Pottermore website?

Some fans found the updates on Harry, Ron, Hermione and friends, the first since the Deathly Hallows book came out in 2007, too negative. The whole point of Rita Skeeter is to poke fun at tabloids and the embellished information contained in them, as half the stuff Skeeter says are lies anyway. It was meant to be fun, and came across that way just fine.

The live updates on the Quidditch World Cup final, with dueling posts from Ginny Weasley (now Potter, of course) and Skeeter, ended in comical fashion. Ginny got tired of Skeeter making up stories about Dumbledore's Army and put a jinx on her. Some nice tidbits about our favorite characters were included as well. Harry has a new scar on his face, possibly from a battle during his time as an auror. He also remains friends with Viktor Krum. Krum won the Quidditch World Cup with Bulgaria for the first time. Ron now co-runs the Weasley Wizard Wheezes joke shop. I for one hope we do get another Pottermore update from Rita Skeeter on July 31, and I'm sure many people will be logging onto the site to see if this will be an actual story. There is a Flourish and Blotts section of the site, which lends some hope for fans.

Monday, July 14, 2014

2014 World Cup Review

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is in the history books, with my pre-tournament pick Germany winning their fourth World Cup title. The final was okay, the extra time picked up after a disappointing second half. It was better than that awful Spain-Netherlands 2010 Final. However, the past few Women's World Cup finals have been much better than the past few Men's World Cup finals.

Worst Team: Cameroon. Not only did they finish as the worst team with 0 points and a -8 Goal Differential, players even fought with each other. How do you expect to win with no chemistry? The best team was obviously Germany.

Best Fans: Japan. They actually cleaned up their section in the stadium, despite some poor results from their team, who couldn't live up to expectations. The fans stayed positive and respectful. USA fans come in a close second for redefining American soccer fans, showing up in outstanding costumes and big numbers, becoming favorites of the Brazilians.

Unexpected Star: Miguel Herrera, Mexico. His goal celebrations became legend. He became the face of joy. As a US Soccer fan you're supposed to dislike everything about the Mexican team, but Herrera changed that. Just as Graham Zusi of the US will always hold a special place in Mexico fans' hearts. We built bridges!

Best Goalkeeper: The Great Wall of CONCACAF! Alright, I'll rank them.
1. Tim Howard, USA. - I wanted to put Navas 1st, but Howard had one of the greatest performances by a Goalkeeper ever seen in the World Cup against Belgium in the Round of 16. That 16 save performance had to elevate him to the top of the list.
2. Keylor Navas, Costa Rica. - Navas was one of Costa Rica's biggest assets in helping the island country to its best showing ever at a World Cup, losing to the Netherlands in a penalty shootout in the Quarterfinal.
3. Guillermo Ochoa, Mexico. - Ochoa's performance against Brazil was the best Goalkeeping performance until Howard's. CONCACAF proved to be tough in this tournament, and worthy of getting a 4th spot guaranteed at the next World Cup rather than having to go to playoff, which Africa should do. Outside of CONCACAF, Thibaut Courtois of Belgium and Manuel Neuer of Germany were both outstanding.

Most Disappointing Teams: 1. Japan - I know...Spain were poor and everyone expected more. But they've also won two straight Euro's & the 2010 World Cup. They were bound to crash eventually. Japan seemed to be on the upswing though to build on 2010, but they only came away with 1 point. And that point was against a 10-man Greece. They lacked creativity in the attack, the opposite of their Women's team who won the World Cup in 2011.
2. Spain - They followed in the footsteps of France in 2002 and Italy in 2010, defending champs who went out in the group stage. I was torn between them and the Netherlands when I made my picks. Sadly I went with Spain to get out of the group with Chile. The "experts" swayed me on it, even though I had a hunch. Never again!
3. Brazil - They were lucky to finish 4th, aided by the post against a superior Chile and gifted a Penalty Kick against Croatia. They seem very stagnant when they play. Maybe fans should show more support to the superior Women's team, who still manage that Brazilian flare the men lack, even as they get less than half of the support from the Brazilian Federation (as most South American teams do).

Tightest Jerseys: 1. Uruguay - They always win this award. It's as much of a tradition as Luis Suarez biting people. 2. Algeria - One of the more improved teams. 3. Ivory Coast - They failed to get out of the group again, but at least they get something.

Best Goals:
1. Tim Cahill, Australia. Cahill's volley into the net against Netherlands was incredibly difficult and it made for a beautiful and unexpected goal. It came on a long distance pass, with Cahill moving around a defender to send it in.
2. James Rodriguez, Colombia. James' goal against Uruguay, which came off his chest and then sent hard into the top of the net was the best looking goal of the tournament. The Colombian dancing to make Shakira proud after each goal only helped. His goals and celebrations helped make him a favorite of many fans.
3. Robin Van Persie, Netherlands. His flying header against Spain became the meme of the tournament, inspiring people to do what con only be described as a flying plank.
4. Jermaine Jones, USA. Jones curled his shot into the net with power and precision at the most crucial moment for the United States against Portugal. It was also pretty far away, expertly moving past a host of defenders.
5. Mario Goetze, Germany. Goetze's goal in extra time in the final against Argentina wasn't an easy shot. He sent it in from an angle after chesting down the cross, falling to the ground after the pinpoint goal.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

15th Anniversary of USA Winning the 1999 Women's World Cup

Brandi Chastain Celebrating The Win
It's hard to believe 15 years have gone by, but July 10, 2014 marks the 15th Anniversary of the 1999 FIFA Women's World Cup final between the United States and China, which the USA won on Penalty Kicks in front of over 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl. Brandi Chastain lined up to take the 5th kick, with a chance to win the World Cup for the United States after Briana Scurry had made a save of China's 3rd kick. It seemed like everyone in the country was glued to the final, including President Clinton who was practically falling out of his seat.

Chastain had missed a PK against China earlier in the year that saw China beat the US at the Algarve Cup. She had also been cut from the team for the 1995 Women's World Cup and had to work her way back for the Atlanta 1996 Olympics. The player who had been cut a few years earlier, now had the fate of the US resting on her foot. She nailed the kick and fell to the ground after ripping her jersey off, her sports bra celebration becoming the defining moment in US Soccer history. The hugely successful tournament that filled football stadiums and got millions of TV viewers redefined soccer in America, becoming the talk of the summer of 1999. Since that time, soccer has continued to grab headlines in America for big tournaments.
It was of course a big moment for Women's team sports as well, which until this event were mostly looked over. Female athletes only got attention in individual sports such as tennis, gymnastics, swimming, track & field and figure skating. Then players like Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastian became household names, and did it in a sport that had been looked over in the United States even when it came to men. We've never looked back, as soccer remains a force in the United States.

Also of note, the USA Women in 1999 are the last home team to win a World Cup with the Brazil men now failing to do so in 2014. France is the last men's team to do so, in 1998 and along with the US Women are just the only two to do it after Argentina in 1978.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

The Growth of Soccer in America

The US Men's National Team were eliminated in overtime by Belgium, but became the biggest story of the summer. Tim Howard had one of the greatest games ever, his 16 saves the most since the 1966 World Cup. The huge TV ratings in the United States for the 2014 World Cup aren't a shock to me, as they have been building for some time. People packed bars, watch parties, and stadiums to watch the matches just like they do in other countries. This wasn't some overnight sensation. Soccer is here to stay, so get used to it Ann Coulter. And it all began in the 1990s.

The first World Cup was held in 1930 in Uruguay. The USA finished top of their group but lost in the semi-finals (there were 13 teams, so the 4 group winners advanced) to Argentina, finishing in 3rd place. It is still the best finish by a non-European or South American team. In 1950 they defeated England in one of the biggest upsets of all time. After that...nothing, as the US didn't qualify for another 40 years. Then came the 1990's, which helped launch Soccer in the US as we know it today.

In November of 1989, Paul Caligiuri scored a game winning goal that saw the US defeat Trinidad & Tobago 1-0, which caused the United States to qualify for the 1990 FIFA World Cup, their first since 1950. USA finished last in the group in 1990, but the future was set. FIFA also held the first ever Women's World Cup in China in 1991, and the US Women's Team won it all after beating Norway 2-1, which became the first time the United States had won an international FIFA Soccer competition. Huge crowds turned out in China to watch the matches, but when the US team returned home people didn't pay attention.

Cut to 1994...the men's World Cup was held in the United States for the first time, and the US made it out of the group stage after their surprising win over Colombia, but lost a close match to Brazil in the Round of 16. TV ratings went up, and the US set a World Cup attendance record that still stands to this day, even though the tournament was expanded to 32 teams in 1998. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, the Women's team captured the gold medal in front of sold out stadiums, while Mia Hamm started to become the first well known American soccer player.

Also in 1996 we saw the creation of MLS (Major League Soccer). Though it started slow as any new sports league does, it has grown significantly. Currently there are 19 teams, but two more will be added in 2015 (New York City FC and Orlando City SC) and another in 2017 (Atlanta). Miami, owned by David Beckham, will also join the league at some point. Multiple teams now turn a profit. The Seattle Sounders (who began MLS play in 2009), average over 40,000 fans per game and are now worth $175 Million. The Portland Timbers have a waiting list for season tickets.

Then came the Summer of 1999, and Soccer in America was about to reach a whole new level. The FIFA Women's World Cup took place in the United States, and they were having it in big gridiron football stadiums. The idea and hard work paid off. The tournament began on June 19, 1999 the United States beat Denmark 3-0 in front of a sold out Giants Stadium. People tailgated in the parking lot, painted their bodies, and soccer had taken off. They made it to the final, playing China in front of over 90,000 fans at the Rose Bowl. 18 Million people watched, and an estimated 40 million when factoring in bars/watch parties. USA won with the infamous Brandi Chastain penalty kick where she pulled her jersey off showing her sports bra following the euphoric victory on home soil. The women had become household names, and were on the cover of every magazine and newspaper from Newsweek to Sports Illustrated. The 1999 Women's World Cup wasn't just big for women's sports, it was a pivotal moment for the popularity of soccer in the United States, and we've never looked back.

The Men's team became the big story of the 2002 World Cup, making it to the Quarterfinals defeating Portugal and Mexico along the way. They played Germany tough, but lost 1-0. A German handball at the goal line went unnoticed, otherwise they may have made it to the semifinals. Landon Donovan became the first really well known American male soccer player. The 2010 World Cup saw the ratings build upon 2006, and some nail biter games turned them into water cooler talk. The US Women's team again made headlines in 2011 after the dramatic last second Abby Wambach header against Brazil to tie the game, which they won in Penalty Kicks. They lost the final to Japan as ESPN got its most watched non-NFL/NCAA football game, topping the World Series. At the 2012 London Olympics their 4-3 win over Canada became the talk of the Games, rare for a team sport during the Olympics. The final, a rematch against Japan, equalled the viewers of the Men's Dream Team final. The NWSL (National Women's Soccer League) was created, and the Portland Thorns turned a profit in their first year, while approaching 10,000 season ticket holders. The men's team has earned the respect of other nations at the 2014 World Cup, and the American fans became some of the most popular and well liked in Brazil. Soccer is a big sport in the US, and the interest will continue to stay strong as it has since the summer of '99.

Part of the reason people may think the US doesn't care about soccer is because its simply not the only sport we care about. We have a large population with a variety of tastes and it shows. Professional leagues (MLS, NWSL) still need to grow, but that will take longer. Americans also pay attention to foreign leagues, as the English Premier League does well in the ratings on NBC.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

USA Makes The Knockout Round Again

The USA Men's National Team have qualified for their second straight knockout round for the first time in history. So many "experts" picked against them, some even saying they wouldn't score a goal, though they made short work of the Group of Death by being better than both Ghana and Portugal. They fought hard but lost to Germany 1-0, though thanks to Portugal beating Ghana the US is in and will (most likely) be facing Belgium on Tuesday. Ronaldo scored Portugal's winning goal which sealed the deal. CONCACAF has three teams in the Round of 16. Asia has 0, Africa has 1 (Though Algeria can make it 2). Yet both have more spots in the World Cup...time for a change.

Belgium will be tough, as shown in the last meeting between the two sides where Belgium dominated. We've seen this US team work so hard in this World Cup though, and the game should be a close one. USA will need to do better on the attack than they did against Germany. They did have moments though, particularly in the first half and late in the game with Clint Dempsey almost knocking a header into the net. There is a chance that Jozy Altidore could be back which would help in that department.

A wild fact: USA have finished above England & Italy at two straight World Cups. USA also finished above Italy in 2002 when they made the Quarterfinals. This is some great progress, and nobody can say both the Men's and Women's team doesn't give us a ton of excitement. And in this world cup: Spain, England, Italy, Portugal are all out at the group stage while USA is moving on.

As a side note, the torrential rains in Recife have opened our eyes to the poor drainage and infrastructure in Brazil. Kind of sad they spend so much money on stadiums with so many problems. They should have used fewer stadiums, I'm not quite sure why they needed to use more stadiums than previous hosts have.