UPDATE (July 1, 7:20 a.m.): Tuesday night, the U.S. women’s national team beat Germany 2-0, making this article’s headline even more prescient than usual. Below, Benjamin Morris looks at how America’s unique youth soccer culture has helped ensure the dominance of the USWNT. Even though the United States is a bit insecure about its place in the world’s most popular sport, the U.S. women’s national soccer team has been dominant on the world stage for nearly a quarter-century. Tonight it will face off in the semifinals of the Women’s World Cup against Germany, with nothing less than the title of “greatest of all time” at stake. Each team has two World Cup championships, and they’ve been the two top-ranked teams in the world since FIFA’s rankings began in 2003. The winner will take the lead in World Cup finals appearances and will have the inside track to finish atop 2015’s rankings.So how did we get here? Basically, it boils down to two things: 1) Women’s soccer has been on a great run for the past 30-plus years in the U.S., to the point where it’s poised to become our most popular women’s sport, and 2) the rest of the world has been relatively apathetic and/or hostile to the women’s game.U.S. women’s soccer truly seemed to arrive in the public’s attention after the 1999 World Cup. If you’re old enough to have experienced the excitement and drama of it, there’s no way you could ever forget:This success didn’t come from nowhere. Since almost immediately after the implementation of Title IX (which became law in 1972, with compliance required by 1978) U.S. women’s soccer has grown like crazy. Probably the cleanest and easiest venue to see how this has played out is at the high school level; the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) has high school athletics participation data going back to the ’70s:In the late ’70s, the number of high school women playing soccer was in the low five figures. By the time America won the World Cup in 1991, there were more than 120,000. By the time it won in 1999, there were more than 250,000. Now it is approaching 20 percent of all high school female athletes — about 375,000 — and has surpassed baseball/softball as the third-most-played team sport.Soccer has grown both by taking women from other sports and by capturing a disproportionate share of “new” female athletes as more young women began to play sports. Note that the percentage decline for basketball — by far the most mature women’s sport in the country — looks steep, but the change in total number of players is fairly small (there were more women playing high school basketball in 2013-14 than in 1976-77.) Soccer, though, has still been adding numbers to its ranks rapidly, despite a bit of a slowdown in its growth shortly after 1999:Soccer looks like it has a good chance of taking the top spot in the next 10-20 years. Yes, volleyball has been on a nice run of late, and looks likely to pass basketball as the most-played sport as early as this year. But volleyball is down from its peak (see chart above), and the upper limit for soccer is still unknown.For as much as the rest of the world loves soccer, it has been much slower to embrace the women’s game than the U.S. In England, women playing soccer was effectively banned (at least at venues that hosted men’s teams) from 1921 to 1971, and in Germany it was banned from 1955 to 1970. At around the time Title IX was heating up in the United States, women’s international soccer basically didn’t exist. According to FIFA, there were only three national teams and two international matches played in 1971.And while the women’s game is still growing worldwide, it has a long way to go. The latest comprehensive statistics from FIFA come from its “Big Count” in 2006. In it, women made up about 11 percent of registered soccer players worldwide, and just 13 percent of youths. While the Big Count hasn’t been updated, more recent studies haven’t suggested any major shifts, and FIFA still uses a figure of 12 percent in its literature.What’s worse, even those numbers are being skewed — by the United States. In that same report, the U.S. had more than 1.5 million registered female youth players — more than half of the world’s total. Take all U.S. youth out of the equation, and just 8 percent of the young soccer players in the rest of the world were female in 2006.Also, in the U.S., women’s soccer has more parity the higher up the ladder you go. Of all FIFA-registered youth in the U.S., 40 percent are female. In high schools, young women make up 47 percent of all soccer players. In the NCAA, 53 percent of soccer players are female, including 61 percent of those in Division I.Given that we pretty much started out on a similar playing field and have devoted more interest to women playing soccer in this country, I’m actually led to wonder why it is that we’re not even more dominant.For example, Germany has probably the most robust network of young women playing soccer outside of the U.S. Per capita its network is about the same as America’s: The U.S. has about five times as many registered youth women’s players as Germany (based on the data in the FIFA country-by-country factbook), fitting well with a population difference of about 5x for 15-24-year-old females (judging by here and here).If all else were equal, the U.S. should be smoking Germany: Both countries have similar youth participation rates, and we have five times more youths to draw on.This isn’t the type of sports mystery that can be easily solved, but the best answer is probably something along the lines of “they take soccer more seriously.” And there are some pretty good hints of that in FIFA’s data: For example, 94 percent of all the FIFA-registered players in the U.S. are youths, compared with only 31 percent in Germany. In raw numbers, that means we have a little more than 100,000 relatively serious adult female players compared with Germany’s 650,000 plus. While I generally think youth or high school participation is a great proxy for potential talent pools, in this case I think the adult participation disparity tells you quite a bit about each country’s soccer culture. We may have the numbers advantage, but we don’t treat soccer as a national passion project.At least not yet. Give us a couple more wins in Canada and we’ll see.CLARIFICATION (July 1, 10:30 a.m.): The “rise of soccer” chart has been labeled to reflect that hockey includes both ice and field variants.
Dwayne Wade says there’s Michael Jordan and then everybody else.For now anyway.The Miami Heat star weighed his words carefully on Thursday when asked if teammate LeBron James warranted consideration in Air Jordan’s lofty stratosphere.“I don’t know if [James] has the ability to surpass [Jordan] or not,” Wade told ESPNChicago.com. “That’s yet to be seen. My version as LeBron being on par with Michael is this: They’re both on the golf course. Michael’s on the 18th hole; LeBron is somewhere on like the fourth hole. He’s got a long way to go, but he’s on par to get to the 18th hole.”An eight-time NBA All-Star in his own right, Wade went on to laud the tremendous blend of speed, size and overall athleticism that has made James the unquestioned best player in the world today.But added that there was just one MJ.“Michael Jordan is the greatest player of all time, so that’s who everyone shoots for,” he said. “So it’s going to be hard to surpass that.”Wade’s measured comments contrasted from those of a week ago, when he committed heresy in the eyes of some by saying that James, the three-time NBA MVP, had reached the same rarified air in which Jordan is held.An eight-time NBA All-Star and former league scoring champion in 2008, the 27-year-old James capped an amazing year earlier this month by leading Team USA to the gold medal at the London Olympic Games. The achievement came on the heels of third MVP award, his first NBA championship and an NBA Finals MVP award.Jordan was also 27 when he won the first of his six NBA championships.The two players are the ones to ever claim league MVP trophies, NBA team championships and Olympic gold medals in the same year.James averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game for the Heat last season.
Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather made his media rounds in the Big Apple on Wednesday, stopping by “The Colbert Report” to discuss the chess problem in San Francisco.Stephen Colbert, started out talking about a famous street corner in San Francisco, where a large number of people hang out and play chess on a daily basis. Police are reportedly trying to shut down the popular hangout due to alleged illegal gambling, drug use, and violence.Colbert introduced Mayweather who commented on the issue:“Stephen, there are always going to be some bad apples on the chess board,” a rehearsed Mayweather said. “But you’ve got to understand, for kids in a tough neighborhood, chess is the only way out.”It’s a funny skit that is worth watching. Check it out in the video player above.
1936Chuck KleinPhilliesOF5333.252147+328.4 Includes career stats through the end of the season (or, for 2017, through June 6) in which the player hit 4 home runs in a game.Source: FanGraphs YEARPLAYERTEAMPOSPAISOWRC+BATTING RUNS 1948Pat SeereyWhite SoxOF2087.188108+20.4 1976Mike SchmidtPhillies3B2548.248139+113.5 1986Bob HornerBraves1B3966.229128+123.9 1954Joe AdcockBraves1B2426.166106+18.2 Before this week, Ryan “Scooter” Gennett was best known for being the first MLB player nicknamed after a “Muppet Babies” character. But that all changed Tuesday night, when the Cincinnati second baseman became just the 17th player in MLB history (and the 15th of the modern era) to crush four home runs in a game. If you were to draw up a list of players most likely to hit four homers last night, Gennett would have been near the bottom — probably somewhere between Cameron Rupp and Cory Spangenberg.Before his huge game, Gennett’s career was pretty nondescript. The second baseman had 38 career home runs to his name, and his lifetime weighted runs created plus (wRC+ estimates how many runs a player generates per plate appearance compared with the league average) is still just 99, slightly below league average.1wRC+ is scaled so that 100 is average each season. There was little to suggest he was about to become the first player in MLB history to record 5 hits, 4 HR and 10 RBI in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information Group.Remarkably, Scooter is not the first lightweight to slug four homers in a game. Although the four-homer club contains such all-time greats as Willie Mays and Lou Gehrig, it also includes the likes of Mark Whiten and Pat Seerey. So where does Scooter rank among the club’s most unexpected members? Here are some pertinent career stats for each player through the end of the season that contained their big game: 1959Rocky ColavitoIndiansRF2175.262143+111.1 1950Gil HodgesDodgers1B1944.172106+15.7 2017Scooter GennettReds2B1759.15099-1.5 1993Mark WhitenCardinalsRF1756.13996-8.9 2002Mike CameronMarinersCF3497.185105+20.6 2012Josh HamiltonRangersCF3151.246135+132.0 1932Lou GehrigYankees1B5470.297176+568.4 2003Carlos DelgadoBlue Jays1B5467.275140+283.7 2002Shawn GreenDodgersRF4866.236124+154.3 Scooter joins (mostly) elite company CAREER STATS THROUGH SEASON 1961Willie MaysGiantsCF5957.269155+407.9 By practically all measures, Whiten, the former St. Louis Cardinal, had the most unimpressive track record of any player at the time of his four-homer game. But Gennett isn’t too far off — he has the second-fewest batting runs above average, the second-lowest isolated power and second-worst wRC+. By contrast, most of the four-HR club’s members were either superstars squarely in their primes (Gehrig, Mays), up-and-comers who already had great rate stats (Mike Schmidt, Rocky Colavito) or at least solid veterans (Carlos Delgado, Chuck Klein).Gennett is the baseball equivalent of Devin Booker scoring 70 points in an NBA game, or Nick Foles tossing seven touchdown passes in the NFL. Part of why we watch sports is that in any given game there’s the chance that a mediocre middle infielder might explode for one of the best offensive performances ever.And in a 2017 season that’s tracking for the most home runs ever, perhaps more of these types of games are to come.
Welcome to the latest episode of Hot Takedown, FiveThirtyEight’s sports podcast. On this week’s episode (Aug. 8, 2017), we’re joined by Mike Goodman of The Double Pivot podcast for an all-soccer show. First, we discuss the $260 million, record-breaking transfer of Neymar from Barcelona to Paris Saint-Germain. Can that fee possibly be worth it for PSG? Next, we preview the English Premier League as the start of the season looms. Is reigning champion Chelsea in a bad spot? Can Manchester United win its first title since 2013? Plus, a significant digit on Major League Soccer’s expansion.Here are links to what we discussed on this week’s show:If you can’t get enough soccer, be sure to check out more of Mike Goodman on The Double Pivot podcast and on Twitter.The Neymar deal was eye-popping, but was it smart? Michael Caley investigates for FiveThirtyEight.SF Gate’s Sam Johnston identifies five teams to watch out for in the EPL.Significant Digit: 22, the number of MLS teams in the league. That’s up from 10 teams in 2004. This rapid expansion had Deadspin’s Neil deMause asking: Is the MLS a Ponzi scheme? More: Apple Podcasts | ESPN App | RSS | Embed FiveThirtyEight Embed Code
At six of the last 10 Grand Slam tournaments, a woman has reached her first major singles final. All six first-time finalists lost the match, four of them in straight sets while winning no more than six games. Five then lost their first match at the next tournament. None has reached another major final since. Four of them failed to reach the quarterfinals at the next major they played. Three have fallen out of the Top 10 in the rankings.Breakthrough performances have been followed by letdowns.The most promising of the six players is Simona Halep. She came the closest to winning her major final debut, taking 15 games off Maria Sharapova at the French Open in June. Halep followed that by reaching the semifinal at Wimbledon the next month. And she enters the U.S. Open — which began this week — ranked No. 2 in the world. Yet she doesn’t look likely to reach the final in Flushing, New York. She won just two matches at warm-up tournaments, and Halep dropped the first set to unranked Danielle Rose Collins (the U.S. college singles champ) before coming back to win her opening match Monday.“Every day we have to work to reach the top and to stay there, because it’s more difficult to stay there than to reach it,” Halep said at a news conference after her win.It’s a bit early to declare the most recent first-time finalist a letdown; Eugenie Bouchard hasn’t gotten a chance to play another major since reaching the Wimbledon final this summer. On Tuesday, she begins her U.S. Open against Olga Govortsova. Early returns for Bouchard aren’t good, though: She’s won just one match in three tournaments since getting routed by Petra Kvitova in the Wimbledon final.Like the current group of young contenders, Kvitova didn’t immediately back up her breakthrough performance. She won Wimbledon in 2011, at age 21, in her first major final. Then she lost three of her next five matches, including her first-round match at the U.S. Open. But she won two tournaments and the Fed Cup later that summer, and Wimbledon this summer. She has been a regular in the Top 10 since reaching her first major final.Victoria Azarenka followed shortly after Kvitova and was more consistently successful. She reached her first major final at the Australian Open in 2012, at age 22, and won it — routing Maria Sharapova, as Kvitova had done the previous summer at Wimbledon. Then Azarenka won the next two tournaments she played and held the No. 1 ranking for much of the next year, including during her successful defense of her Australian Open title the next year.It’s natural that an athlete who is playing her first major final against a player who has been there before would be an underdog. And it’d be unfair to expect the player to repeat her performance at the next major, rather than regressing a bit to the mean. Plus, the women who have broken through recently are young and have time to return to the sport’s most prominent matches.Among the six most recent first-time major finalists, Sara Errani was the oldest at the time of her breakthrough. She had just turned 25 when she reached the 2012 French Open final, relatively young in the aging sport of tennis. Four of the others were younger than 24 when they reached their first Grand Slam final. But only Bouchard was younger at her first breakthrough than Kvitova and Azarenka were.
2014Kings1 2015Blackhawks1 Corsi is event-, score- and venue-adjusted.Source: Puckon.net, Hockey-Reference.com When the Pittsburgh Penguins won the Stanley Cup on Sunday night, it lifted Sidney Crosby’s standing among the game’s all-time greats and completed the redemption-story arc for once-maligned winger Phil Kessel. But it also provided some measure of atonement for hockey’s advanced statistics, which had been suffering through one of their worst seasons since hitting the scene in the mid- to late 2000s.For instance, “Corsi” — the proportion of total shot attempts (including misses and blocks) that a team amasses in its games — is a stathead favorite because it tracks well with possession time, making it a good long-term predictor of a team’s success. But Corsi also did a relatively poor job of telling us where a team would finish in the standings this season: 2009Penguins13 Stanley Cup winners have great Corsi ranks 2011Bruins6 2016Penguins2 2008Red Wings1 2012Kings6 2007Ducks8 And despite Corsi’s track record in the playoffs, the numbers were dealt a few early blows when the Los Angeles Kings (who ranked No. 1 in regular-season Corsi by some distance), the Anaheim Ducks (No. 5) and the Chicago Blackhawks (No. 9 this year but No. 1 last season) all bowed out in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.But things got a little better for the stats as the postseason grinded along. The Eastern Conference finals pitted the Penguins (No. 2) and the Lightning (No. 3) in an elite Corsi-off, while the sixth-ranked Blues made it to within two wins of the cup final in the West. At No. 11, the Western Conference champion San Jose Sharks weren’t anyone’s idea of a possession powerhouse — they would have been the lowest-ranked champ since the Penguins, of all teams, won in 2009 — but Pittsburgh’s victory ultimately contributed to a stat that still stands out as surprising (and impressive) for a sport that, at times, seems so random: 55 percent of Cup winners since the lockout have finished either first or second in Corsi. 2013Blackhawks1 2006Hurricanes15 SEASONCUP WINNERCORSI RANK 2010Blackhawks1 The fact that Pittsburgh did it in such possession-heavy style — the Penguins outshot the Sharks 353 to 267 in the final — was just an added bit of vindication for the numbers. Hockey’s advanced analytics movement still has a long way to go in its evolution, but even in a down year for the metrics, the cup winner ended up being a team with proven statistical bona fides.
OSU sophomore linebacker Raekwon McMillan (5) celebrates during a game against Minnesota on Nov. 7 at Ohio Stadium. OSU won 28-14. Credit: Samantha Hollingshead | Photo EditorThe undefeated Ohio State Buckeyes are stocked with talent. Household names such as redshirt senior H-back Braxton Miller and junior running back Ezekiel Elliott immediately come to mind whenever the Buckeyes are mentioned.Yet, there’s one player deserving of such notoriety that has flown under the radar for quite some time now.Through the first nine games of the season, sophomore linebacker Raekwon McMillan has quietly led the Buckeyes in total tackles with 83, good for third most in the Big Ten. McMillan has not only capably anchored the middle of OSU’s stout defense, but he’s become the heart and soul of a unit that has been the single most consistent entity on the team. His conservative temperament on the field explains the lack of buzz coming from the national media. He leaves the boisterous celebrations to the likes of other notable names on the defense, like junior defensive end Joey Bosa and his signature shrug.In spite of the shuttered spotlight, McMillan has outshined his fellow starting linebackers, senior Joshua Perry and redshirt sophomore Darron Lee. Overall, though, he’s been as good and as consistent as any linebacker in the country.Averaging roughly nine tackles per game, few teams have been able to successfully move the rock against the McMillan-led front seven of the Buckeyes. His sophomore campaign is going so well, in fact, that he’s been named as one of 10 semifinalists for the Butkus Award, which is given annually to the best linebacker in college football.With Curtis Grant currently pursuing a career in the NFL, McMillan has stepped up big time in what is his first season as a full-time starter. He attributes much of his success to newfound confidence, saying as much on Monday. “I wouldn’t say comfortable, but I would say confident,” McMillan said. “I’m out there making calls on the field; calling things out as I see it. Last year, I was more tentative on the field. But this year, I’m more confident in what I’m saying and I’m saying it loud.”That confidence is something that has helped the Buckeyes to a top-15 ranking in total defense. Despite that high level of play, McMillan is still yearning for more.“We’re steadily getting better every week,” he said. “That was one of our things at the beginning of the season: to progress every week and to be playing your best football at the end of the season. And I think we’re working toward playing our best football at the end of the season.”With only three more games left on the Buckeyes’ regular-season schedule, McMillan will look to continue what has been nothing short of tremendous play at the middle linebacker position. Guys like Bosa, Lee and Perry may make all of the headlines, but it’s No. 5 who quietly serves as the integral leader of the defense. All things considered, McMillan may just be the best kept secret in all of college football, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.
On an overcast afternoon at Huntington Park, the Columbus Clippers were able to win their second-straight game over the Syracuse Chiefs on Sunday, 6-3.Following a 13-2 win on Saturday night, the Columbus offense came out firing on all cylinders early in Sunday’s contest.After Columbus starting pitcher Yohan Pino made quick work of the Chiefs’ top order, the Clippers’ offense picked up where it left off Saturday night plating two quick runs in the first inning and three more in the second.Despite a Michael Brantley groundout to start the bottom of the first, RBI singles from Shelley Duncan and Brian Buscher resulted in an early 2-0 Clippers lead.In the top of the second, Pino struggled to find the command he started the game with, but a strong throw to home plate from left fielder Brantley after a Chief’s double curbed the Chiefs’ offensive push at one run.In the home half of the second, the Chiefs’ Collin Balester once again had trouble finding the strike zone and after two walks, Jason Donald made him pay with a two out, two RBI triples that pushed the Clippers lead to 4-1.“We took advantage of the guy falling behind in counts,” Donald said. “Once he started falling behind in counts he gave us some good pitches and we started driving them.”Catcher Carlos Santana got in on the second inning fun as well, doubling off the wall in right center to score Donald before Duncan’s fly out to left ended the offensive surge at 5-1.Pino responded to the offensive help received from his teammates, shaking off his second-inning struggles and settling in on the mound.Over six innings of work, Pino held the chiefs to three runs on seven hits to push his undefeated record this season to 4-0.“He did a good job of not backing down and going after hitters,” Donald said. “He did a great job today just pounding the zone and continuing to throw strikes.”After adding an insurance run on a Jose Constanza RBI blooper to centerfield in the sixth, Pino was pulled in favor of reliever Frank Hermann, who continued Columbus’ strong performance from the mound.Pitching two innings of no-hit baseball in the seventh and eighth, Hermann gave way to closer Jess Todd in the ninth, who sealed the victory for the Clippers with his second save of the year.Clippers Manager Mike Sarbaugh said overall he was pleased with his team’s performance.“We scored some runs to separate ourselves for the lead and we were able to hold it,” Sarbaugh said. “The bullpen, especially Frank Hermann, threw the ball well today.”The Clippers will return to Huntington Park on Monday with a chance to lock up the series win in the third game of their four-game stand with the Chiefs.“I think our goal going in is always to try and win a series, but we just have to take it one game at a time,” Sarbaugh said. “Each day is a new day and we just have to go out and play hard and hope good things happen.”With Sunday’s win Columbus now sits three games ahead of the Toledo Mud Hens for the International League’s Western Division at 16-9.
The 2011-12 Ohio State men’s basketball schedule was released Tuesday and a 31-game schedule awaits players, students and alumni alike. OSU begins its 2011 campaign with a seven-game home stand at the Schottenstein Center. After a Nov. 6 exhibition game against Walsh, the Buckeyes will open regular season play on Nov. 11 against Wright State. Four days later, the Buckeyes will get the first of several early-season tests when they host Florida, which claimed back-to-back NCAA national titles in 2006 and 2007. The four-time national champion Duke Blue Devils, along with coach Mike Krzyzewski, will then visit the Schott on Nov. 29 as part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. The Buckeyes’ first road game will come on Dec. 10 when they visit the University of Kansas’ famed Allen Fieldhouse, named for the late, former Jayhawks’ coach, Dr. F.C. “Phog” Allen. That matchup with the Jayhawks is one of 16 OSU games scheduled to be televised nationally by CBS, ESPN or ESPN2. The Buckeyes will close out the home portion of their schedule on either Feb. 25 or 26 against Wisconsin. OSU finishes the regular season with road games on Feb. 29 and March 4, 2012, at Northwestern and Michigan, respectively. The Big Ten conference tournament will take place from March 8-11. OSU finished its 2010-11 campaign with a 34-3 record, which included an undefeated, 20-0 record at the Schott. The Buckeyes were eliminated in the third round of the NCAA tournament on a last-second shot by Kentucky’s then-freshman guard Brandon Knight, who gave the Wildcats a 62-60 win. The Buckeyes lost David Lighty, Dallas Lauderdale and Jon Diebler to graduation, but return freshmen forwards Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas and guard Aaron Craft, as well as guard William Buford, the team’s lone senior.