Let’s talk about no respect for fitba…girl power on TSN’s World Cup coverage…Kaylyn Kyle blowing the whistle on refs…hair of the dog…Rafa and Big Red…and go Raptors

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…and if you don’t like reading about soccer, you’d be wise to move to another blog right about now…

The women’s World Cup is comfortably underway in France, and I sometimes wonder why we in North America have been so slow on the uptake in embracing the beautiful game known around the globe as football but soccer here at home.

True, fitba can be slow, tedious and boring. And, of course, there are the play-actors and their near-death experiences, a dodgy bit of business that is shame-worthy but never Oscar-worthy.

Neymar

Perhaps it’s the theatrics of the soccer elite—almost exclusive to the men’s side of the pitch—that keeps us at arm’s length. I mean, watching Neymar and other faux thespians flopping and twitching and gasping for their last breath, like so many trout out of water, provides comic relief but it’s also a total turnoff. If I want to see bad acting, I can turn on Mama’s Family any night on MeTV.

But, hey, even with fake injury time added to each half of a soccer match, it’s over in less than two hours.

Cripes, man, the halftime show at the Super Bowl lasts longer than that, especially if Janet Jackson has to put her clothes back on. And yet the National Football League and its Super Bowl is a colossus, even when halftime entertainers aren’t flashing flesh.

The NFL, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League are John, Paul, George and Ringo. Major League Soccer is George Martin or Brian Epstein or Billy Preston. You know, the so-called Fifth Beatle. Or worse—Yoko Ono.

Many myopic mainstream jock journalists are reluctant, or refuse, to acknowledge MLS as a major-league sport.

Steve Simmons in the Republic of Tranna, for example, recently posted this item to his Twitter feed:

Toronto big league championships in my lifetime (with apologies to Argos, Rock and TFC)
62 Leafs
63 Leafs
64 Leafs (have no memory of 62-63-64)
67 Leafs
92 Blue Jays
93 Blue Jays.

Toronto FC’s 2017 MLS title fails to register on the Steve-O-Meter.

Yet MLS qualifies on most measuring sticks as “big league.” Million-dollar player salaries? Check. Global reach? Check. Multi-million-dollar national TV contract? Check. Franchises worth mega-millions? Check. Healthy attendance? Check.

Atlanta United, in fact, has a better average head count (52,000-plus) than every team in Major League Baseball. Toronto FC outdraws the Blue Jays. Seattle Sounders outdraw the Mariners. Cripes, man, as of June 2, Portland Thorns FC of the National Women’s Soccer League had better attendance than nine MLB outfits. See for yourself:

I see a lot of “big league” head counts in there.

Meanwhile, here are a few other points of interest about MLS:

Atlanta United fans

* Forbes valued four franchises at more than $300 million last year (Atlanta United $330M, L.A. Galaxy $320M; Seattle Sounders $310M; LAFC $305M) and Toronto FC at $290M. Again, that spells “big league” to me.
* In 2018, 53 MLS players collected $1,000,000 or more at the pay window, while both Zoltan Stieber of DC United and Andreu Fontas of Sporting Kansas City came in at one dollar less. If those aren’t “big league” wages, Pele was a punk rocker.
* Among all global leagues, only Poland’s First Division has had a faster growth spurt in the past five years, and MLS average attendance between 2013 and 2018 was eighth in the world.

Atlanta packs ’em in.

* Atlanta United puts more people in the pews than Manchester United, Newcastle United, Liverpool, Benfica and Atletico Madrid, among many others, while Seattle Sounders have a larger per-game following than outfits like Chelsea and AC Milan.

Is MLS the premier fitba operation on the planet? Of course not. But it doesn’t have to be on par with the English Premier League, Serie A Italy, La Liga or the Bundesliga to make it a member in good standing of the Big Five—and not the Fifth Beatle—in North America.

No surprise, really, that Simmons would pooh-pooh the MLS as a hamlet-sized dot on our sports landscape. Here’s what he had to say about fitba on the Toronto Mike’d podcast during Toronto FC’s championship run: “I’m almost embarrassed to be at the soccer games, because my knowledge of the game and my interest in the game is so limited. I don’t know the ABCs. Honestly, I couldn’t tell you all the positions. I don’t know how many players are on the field. Honestly, I have no connection to this game at all. I didn’t grow up with it, I didn’t play it, I never watched it, I didn’t care about it.” That’s an astonishing confession from a sports columnist with a nation-wide platform. Let’s hope it means he’ll leave the writing on the women’s World Cup to scribes who actually know how many players are on the pitch.

If you tune in to World Cup coverage on TSN, you’ll see something as rare as a Monday morning without a Donald Trump tweet—an all-female natterbug panel. Instead of simply looking all gussied up and pretty, they’re letting Clare Rustad, Kaylyn Kyle and Diana Matheson analyze teams, break down plays and—oh…my…gawd—deliver opinion. You know, like they actually know what they’re talking about. Imagine that. Women with functioning brains on sports TV. What a concept.

Kaylyn Kyle

I really enjoyed the lively and spirited banter between Rustad, Kyle and Matheson at halftime of the England-Scotland skirmish. Kyle and Rustad disagreed sharply on what should and shouldn’t be a hand ball penalty, and host Kate Beirness knew enough to zip her lips and let the two former Canadian national team members have at it. Kyle was, to say the least, animated and agitated after the Video Assistant Referee awarded England a penalty kick due to an unintentional hand ball by the Scots. Kyle was emphatic: The game referee and VAR room should ignore one of the most fundamental rules of the game and let the women play on. Which, of course, is total nonsense. Do you know what we’d have if officials stopped calling games by the rule book? The Stanley Cup playoffs.

Fashion note: The aforementioned Kyle has the most magnificent head of hair on TV. I know several drag queens who would give their first-born to have that mane.

Speaking of hair, what are the chances that Brett Hull is looking for some hair of the dog this morning? If Hull wasn’t five sheets to the wind on Sunday night in St. Loo, he was off his meds because he looked and sounded totally wasted prior to puck drop for Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final between the St. Loo Blues and Boston Bruins. I’m guessing his head is exploding right about now.

Someone hurled a can of beer onto the ice surface late in the Game 6 skirmish. I’d point to Hull as the most likely suspect, except he didn’t appear to be in the mood to let a good can of beer go to waste.

Secretariat at the Belmont Stakes.

I never thought I’d see dominance in sports like Secretariat at the 1973 Belmont Stakes. Big Red romped to horse racing’s Triple Crown with a 31-length victory in a world-record time that stands unchallenged to this day, and watching film of that gallop still gives me a shiver and has me reaching for the Kleenex.

Rafa Nadal

Even after the passage of so much time, it seems so unreal. Like a fairytale about a wonder horse that us old folks like to tell our grandkids. But it happened, and so did a different kind of thoroughbred—Rafael Nadal. If anything comes close to Secretariat at the Belmont, it’s Rafa on the red clay of Roland Garros in Paris. In winning his 12th French Open title and 18th tennis Grand Slam on Sunday, Rafa is running neck-and-neck with Big Red on my personal scorecard of belief-challenging accomplishments. He’s 93-2 in France. That is not a typo. Do not adjust your screen. The King of Clay has lost twice—in 15 years! Against the absolute best players on the planet. That’s insane.

Number of different women winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 9. Naomi Osaka has been the only repeat champion. Number of men not named Nadal, Federer or Djokovic winning the past 10 tennis Grand Slam tournaments: 0.

Kawhi Leonard

Fun tweet from Gord Stellick of Sportsnet: “Taking attendance first day of JK at Toronto schools in 2024: Kawhi Smith, Kawhi Jones, Kawhi Murphy, Kawhi Watson…”

And, finally, it’s my understanding that they’ll be playing a rather significant basketball game tonight in the Republic of Tranna. Like the majority of Canadians, I won’t be watching, but I hope Kawhi Leonard and the Jurassics get the job done against the Golden State Juggernaut. I love it whenever we beat the Americans at our own game.

Let’s talk about Brad Marchand talking in tongues…sports in the key of F-bombs…Ab’s the man in St. Jimmy…ranking Ricky Ray…a fan boy in the press box…watching a train wreck…gay girl power in SI…a diamond is this girl’s best friend…and they’re at the post

Another Sunday smorgas-bored…and happy Mom’s Day to all the moms…

Read the following quotes, kids, then name the high-profile Boston athlete they target:

“(He) removed himself from the ranks of decent sportsmen. Yesterday he was a little man, and in his ungovernable rage, a dirty little man.”

“No grown man in full possession of his faculties would make the vile gestures that he made on one occasion.”

Gotta be that rotten, little scoundrel Bad Brad Marchand, right?

Ted Williams

Wrong. Try Boston Red Sox legendary hitter-of-baseballs Ted Williams, who harbored an extreme dislike for most people holding a pen and notepad and more than once spat at the hometown fans, calling them “buffoons.”

So I suppose we can say Marchand is in lofty company.

Bad Brad was at his petulant worst last week, and I’m not sure which sent up a greater plume of outrage, him licking an opponent’s face in spring 2018 or him having sport with news snoops in the current Stanley Cup runoff.

Either way, if Bad Brad didn’t have a tongue, opinionists would be lost for words.

Think about it.

A year ago this month, the Boston Bruins’ adolescent-like forward used an opponent’s face for a lollipop, and what ensued was an outpouring of scorn the likes of which is normally reserved for those on the sex offender registry. More latterly, this cringe-worthy fellow again has been the target of a verbal tomato tossing, this time for biting the very tongue he used to lick foes.

If you missed it, here’s how the most-recent tempest took grip:

  • Kyle Bukauskas of Sportsnet engaged Marchand in a rinkside natter scant moments before Game 6 of the Boston-Columbus Blue Jackets playoff skirmish last week. Asked a cheeky question about the sharpness of his skates, an offended Bad Brad dashed away.

  • Once the Bs had taken their measure of the Jackets, winning 3-nada, Bukauskas and Bad Brad again were rinkside. Three questions were delivered…three one- or two-word answers were provided.

  • Once inside the Bruins changing room, a media mob surrounded Marchand, offering 19 questions for his consideration. He countered with 19 answers—total word count 39.

Elliotte Friedman

“It’s almost like he’s making fun of us,” gasped an aggrieved Elliotte Friedman.

Imagine that. Marchand had the bad manners to take a poke at news snoops. Oh, the humanity!

“He goes into the scrum and it goes from being ticked off to actually getting enjoyment out of it, like it was a game to him or it was for his own amusement. That’s where it got really stupid and goofy,” offered Nick Kypreos.

Imagine that. A former National Hockey League meathead—who puts bread on his table by saying really stupid and goofy things—thinks someone else is being stupid and goofy.

Kelly Hrudey

“He’s just so immature and, you know, he’s not that clever. He’s gonna be 31 in a month. At what age do you sort of grow up a little bit?” chimed in Kelly Hrudey.

Imagine that. Three talking heads, three pairs of knickers in a twist.

The hand-wringing wasn’t restricted to the Sportsnet panel, though. Many others weighed in. Examples:

Darren Dreger, TSN: “This was him sucking his thumb over something. Disrespectful.”

Steve Whyno, Associated Press: “Just plain rude.”

Stu Cowan, Postmedia Montreal: “Marchand went into full-jerk mode.”

All that because Bad Brad was frugal with his words. Boo flipping hoo.

Bugsy Watson

Look, I agree, Marchand is a rat. He’s not the original rat, understand, because both Bugsy Watson and Ken Linseman beat him to it. Bad Brad has, however, surely cranked it up a notch on the creep-o-metre with his rather unconventional methods.

But here’s the deal, kids: No athlete, Brad Marchand included, owes news snoops quality sound bites. Nor are they governed by a word count.

You know what I’d do if I were Marchand? Next time they come looking for bon mots, I’d talk to them in tongues.

While listening to the fallout of this latest L’affaire Marchand, a couple of things occurred to me: 1) It truly exposed news snoops’ egg-shell egos; 2) where was this great hue and cry when Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler told Paul Friesen of the Winnipeg Sun to “fuck off” in a post-match scrum? I also wondered if Wheeler received a tsk-tsking or a pat on the back from les Jets ownership/management.

Jurgen Klopp

It was F-bombs away in the wide, wide world of sports last week. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp launched the lewd language on live U.S. TV, then Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr parroted Klopp and, finally, Tranna Blue Jays skipper Charlie Montoyo provided the backup vocals in the key of F. Of the three, Klopp’s WTF moment on the heels of Liverpool’s 4-nada win over Barcelona in Champions League play was my favorite:

Klopp: “You can look at this game in different ways. You can look at it as a manager and say, ‘Okay, we could have done this or that better,’ or you can look at it as a fan and say, ‘What the fuck was that?’”

Interviewer: “We apologize for the language there.”

Klopp: “I thought in America it’s okay.”

Here’s a boffo idea: Let’s say we name the shinny freeze at the St. James Civic Centre Complex in honor of Ab McDonald, first to wear the ‘C’ with les Jets. Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame president Don Kuryk, Teddy Foreman and city councillor Scott Gillingham are leading the push to do that very thing, and if old friend Teddy F. is behind it I say the mucky-mucks who make those decisions ought to be on board as well. Ab was a salt-of-the-earth guy, and the Ab McDonald Memorial Arena sounds spot-on.

Ricky Ray

Not spot-on is Matt Dunigan. In terms of quality quarterbacking in Canadian Football League history, the former gunslinger and present-day TSN gab guy insists that now-retired Toronto Argonauts QB Ricky Ray belongs “at the top” of the all-time greatest list. Matty knows quarterbacks, but I’m afraid he’s off the mark. You start with Warren Moon and Doug Flutie, then fit Ray in somewhere after that. And, just for the record, I’ve been watching CFL QBs since Jim Van Pelt and Ken Ploen were playing catch with Ernie Pitts and Farrell Funston. In other words, before Dunigan ran a bootleg out of his mama’s womb.

This is rich. Columnist Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun harrumphs in a tweet: “A Hall of Famer like Ricky Ray shouldn’t be announcing his retirement on a conference call. He deserves to go out with more pageantry for all he’s accomplished and meant to people.” So where did Simmons’ own paper play the Ray retirement story? They buried it on Pages 18-19 of the sports section, behind everything but the cricket scores and monster truck standings. Pot, meet kettle.

Apparently, Simmons possesses a very rare skill: He can type, wave pom-poms, and grovel at the same time. We know this because Simmons has penned a “heartfelt” fan boy letter to Kawhi Leonard, begging him to lock in longterm with the Toronto Raptors: “I’m writing this with the hope you’ll consider remaining with the Raptors after this season, making Toronto your basketball home—for you, for the city, for the basketball team, for Canada.” Oh my. Yo! Steve-o! Is there a Kawhi poster on your bedroom wall? You wear Raptors jammies to bed? I mean, I can’t recall ever reading such insipid, fan-boy tripe from a lead columnist at a major daily.

The Ice Garden website tells us there’s good news for women’s hockey: Online interest in distaff shinny has never been higher. Alas, there’s also bad news: It seems people just like looking at train wrecks. That is to say, folks and mainstream media are paying attention only due to the collapse of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League and a proposed boycott of the 2019-20 National Women’s Hockey League season. If not for the product going completely off the rails, interest would still be meh with gusts up to completely ignored.

Here’s a woman Sports Illustrated couldn’t ignore—Megan Rapinoe, longtime member of the U.S. National women’s soccer side. You can debate the merits of the SI Swimsuit Edition all you like, but Megan’s inclusion in this year’s scantily clad issue is a landmark moment for the LGBT collective. She’s the first out lesbian to be featured, so I guess we can say gay female athletes finally have some skin in the game.

On the subject of busting down barriers, bravo and a tip of the bonnet to Brittney Langlais, the first female to play with the boys in the Manitoba Junior Baseball League. The MJBL has been around for 43 years, so you know that Brittney is some kind of special lady, and Jason Bell has the skinny on the Interlake Blue Jays hurler in the Drab Slab.

If you’re looking to put some giddyup in your life, you can’t go wrong with Assiniboia Downs. The ponies start running on the western flank of River City this very day, and it brings back memories of some very enjoyable summer afternoons and evenings thanks to people like Sharon Gulyas and Darren Dunn. Both Sharon and Darren are Downs lifers—she started in 1978, him in ’82—and it’s nice to know they’re still around to make a day at the racetrack a pleasant experience.

And, finally, I saw a promo for The X-Files the other day, and it occurred to me that after all these years I still don’t know which one is Scully and which one is Mulder.