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Wrestling Observer Rewind ★ Apr. 4, 1988

Going through old issues of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter and posting highlights in my own words, continuing in the footsteps of daprice82. For anyone interested, I highly recommend signing up for the actual site at f4wonline and checking out the full archives.
• PREVIOUS •
1987
FUTURE YEARS ARCHIVE:
The Complete Observer Rewind Archive by daprice82
1-4-1988 1-11-1988 1-18-1988 1-25-1988
2-1-1988 2-8-1988 2-15-1988 2-22-1988
2-29-1988 3-7-1988 3-14-1988 3-21-1988
3-28-1988 * * *
  • ”This is horrible, Gorilla.” These words open the issue this week, because Wrestlemania IV is in the books and, well, it was not pretty. Dave is flabbergasted by how bad a show it was, wondering if this was a dream or a nightmare that he hasn’t woken up from. Wrestlemania III was the best wrestling production of all time. It may not have had the best card, but it was entertaining all around and the fans loved it. It set Vince up as the king of wrestling, all-powerful over the business. He’s still the king, but he’s definitely not all-powerful, and Crockett absolutely kicked Vince’s ass on March 27. Financials will take time to come in, and of course McMahon will win that measure, but we can flash back to January 24 for an analogue: The Royal Rumble won even though the Bunkhouse Finals made more money.
  • Preliminary info Dave has gotten from phoning cable companies and hearing from fans at closed-circuit site is that Wrestlemania interest was down by nearly half of last year’s. The buyrate for ppv could be as low as 6 percent, half of WWF’s expected 12% and still way down from last year’s 10.3%. Even so, the PPV gross would be $10.8 million, of which WWF can expect no more than $3.5 million, plus an estimated $2.3 million from a minimum 175,000 (last year had 375,000) at closed-circuit and a live gate of about $ million and an undisclosed site fee from Donald Trump for putting on the show. The early (and I mean early, don’t get attached to these numbers) overall estimate is a total gross of $14 million, with WWF netting maybe $6.5 million, a far cry from the $18 million they were predicting their take would be. How much was because Crockett ran the Clash? How much was because WWF just has been less interesting? It’s hard to say, but Crockett hurt McMahon way more than anyone could have anticipated.
  • As for the shows themselves, just absolute night and day between them. Crockett’s Clash was a really solid show. It wasn’t as polished a production and only had 30 minutes of wrestling in the first 90 minutes of the show, though this was to allow Sting/Flair to work without commercial breaks so it was an overall benefit. The matches, minus the barbed wire one, were all good. The crowd was into it. Two excellent matches. Probably best to never let Steve Williams talk again, though. The Jim Cornette and Eddie Haskel bit was great and made Bob Uecker and Gene Okerlund look worse than they were. Meanwhile, Wrestlemania made Starrcade 1987 look like Starrcade 1985, and that’s too nice to say even. WWF’s guys, rather than working harder because it was Wrestlemania, opted to phone it in instead because Wrestlemania itself would carry the day. Even Jesse Ventura had no good lines and coasted while Gorilla was like soundbites of his Wrestling Challenge commentary.
  • Anyway, Dave breaks down the major problems for WWF, as he sees them. 1) Hogan - he’s too over, to the point he overshadows everything else and by booking him as just one of the guys in the field, they completely devalued their star attraction. And instead of putting Randy over at the end, which they need to do if they’re going to try and have him be even close to as over as Hulk has been, they put Liz and Hulk over. “It’s like Randy can’t even order a taxi cab unless Liz tells Hulk to flag down the cab.” 2) Hindsight is always 20/20, but Trump Plaza was a terrible venue for a Wrestlemania, and the crowd just wasn’t a wrestling crowd, so they were not invested at all. 3) Steroids. Dave supposes he’s probably the most hated person in the world among the heavy steroid users in the business because of all the nicknames he gives them, but in all seriousness it was embarrassing to watch so many guys get blown up in a minute or two to where they couldn’t even pace out a five minute match. Like, take out the health issues, take out any sense of blame on the guys, Dave says. The tournament was embarrassing. It wasn’t funny to see the guys fail like this. It was just sad. 4) The tournament as a concept flopped. It gave fans no specific issue to focus on because belts in modern wrestling just don’t mean anything to fans - the real draw is the big personalities, and WWF proved it with this show: the only matches anyone cared about were the ones with Hogan and, to a lesser extent, DiBiase and Savage. 5) Spoilers. Too many people knew the outcome, and giving Savage the title is almost a mistake after you’ve given so many spoilers of your own show. ABC News did a report the morning after, saying “Randy Savage was the winner at Wrestlemania, but of course everyone knew it since the WWF magazine had printed the result three weeks ago. The WWF claims the magazine report was simply a typographical error.” Anyway, Dave is sick of people blaming him for their wrestling promotions not being able to draw fans at live shows when they aren’t interesting enough. Newsletter subscribers are maybe 0.002% of the viewing audience - if all Dave’s subscribers quit watching nobody would notice in the viewing numbers. Meanwhile, the fans who read newsletters are probably the most dedicated and put more money into the business than the “marks” do and will be the ones stubbornly holding on to the end if the business somehow were to die. So don’t blame Dave if your show sucks and your creative is bad and you give away your finish weeks ahead of time and don’t even bother changing it.
  • Anyway, Wrestlemania preliminary numbers time. About 540,000 homes on PPV, plus 195,000 through closed-circuit, as far as the U.S. goes. They did just 95 closed-circuit sites in the U.S., 39 of which had less than 2,000 capacity. No word on Crockett’s ratings, but if they hit a 5 on TBS that’s about 2 million homes.
  • So all that said, time to look at the Wrestlemania card. Good production, particularly the opening graphics, but not as far ahead of Crockett as last year now that they’ve upped their game. Battle royal started hot and quickly became your standard boring battle royal. The Hart/Badnews angle at the end saves the match from a dud and gets it half a star. DiBiase vs. Duggan was real slow for a five minute match, and Duggan no longer resembles the worker he was in UWF/Mid-South just a couple years ago. Very little heat. 1.5 stars. Muraco vs. Bravo gets half a star, and both were blown up by the double clothesline like they’d wrestled a hard 20 minutes, but the whole match was under 5. Valentine vs. Steamboat saw Valentine look tired and old, and just not have his famed longevity anymore. Good finish, solid work even with the timing issues. Steamboat coming out with his son and being able to be lost in the moment of just being a proud father was “a tremendous sight” for Dave. 2.25 stars. Savage vs. Reed got a pop for the finish but nothing else, really. 1 star. One Man Gang vs. Bam Bam Bigelow wasn’t good. It was obvious how bad Bigelow’s knee was, and that takes away his agility, which is the thing that sets him apart. Dave says this is a -1.5 star match in a vacuum, but considering Bam Bam’s condition he’s not going to rate it that low and calls it a dud instead. Rick Rude vs. Jake Roberts was a 15 minute draw and Dave hated it. He hated Rude’s tights, the many long rest holds, the fact that there just weren’t any moves in there to pop the crowd, and the fact that the crowd chanted boring. Worst match of the year candidate. -2 stars. Ultimate Warrior blew up before he entered the ring for his match with Hercules and the match was bad. -1.5 stars, and Dave says it was worse than Rude vs. Roberts, but gets a better rating for knowing when to be done quick and not overstaying its welcome like the other match did.
Watch: Cleanse your palate with Hogan’s weird promo from Wrestlemania about faultlines and Donald Trump caring about his family
  • Wrestlemania continued, because holy shit that was a really long paragraph and we needed an intermission. Round two saw Hogan and Andre go to a double disqualification to start off. Andre could barely stand by two and a half minutes in. Lots of shenanigans, Virgil took a nasty suplex on the floor where Hulk didn’t protect him at all, but there’s a glimmer of a future face push for him at least. Maybe his father’s a plumber, Dave quips. Half a star if you ignore the posing at the end (dud if you count the posing). But really, the crowd came to see Hogan pose. DiBiase vs. Muraco had no heat but decent action for its short stay. 1.5 stars. Savage vs. Valentine was good, well-paced with good action. 2.5 stars. Beefer vs. Honkytonk Man amazed Dave since neither was over at all when both usually are decently over. Sherri Martel made more noise than the entire audience. Loads of shenanigans, Beefer’s new haircut makes him look like a Davey Boy Smith with less wrestling ability, dud. Islanders and Heenan vs. Koko and the Bulldogs had some decent comedy and started okay, but got boring quick. 1.25 stars. Savage vs. One Man Gang was watchable but the finish sucked. Half a star. Demolition vs. Santana and Martel was solid throughout, although the crowd seemed on Demolition’s side. If the crowd had been responsive this would have been a really good match rather than just pretty good at 2.5 stars. DiBiase vs. Savage saw the crowd missing “two top-flight guys trying to work a good match” because they were watching the entrance waiting for Hogan. Savage sends Liz to get Hogan, Hogan evens the odds, Savage wins, Hogan must pose. 2.25 stars. Once round two started, the show was pretty decent, Dave thinks, just the first half of the show wasn’t RestholdMania, but Rigor Mortis Mania.
  • Over in Crockett Country, it’s a whole different story. They drew 6,000 fans to the Greensboro Coliseum, and all six thousand were champing at the bit for the show, which created a great energy that the wrestlers fed on for their matches. Rotunda retained the TV Title against Jimmy Garvin in the amateur rules match with a one-count pin, pinning Garvin a minute into the second round. 2.5 stars. The Midnight Express beat the Fantastics by DQ to retain the U.S. Tag Titles in a classic Memphis style brawl that was so action packed the cameras missed a lot of it. Dave gives them 4.25 stars, saying the action earned it 4.5, but the overused finish with the over the top rope throw and the referee reversing the decision lost it half a star, but then the post-match action with Corette lashing Bobby Fulton’s back with a belt got it back a quarter star. Dusty and the Road Warriors (the Rhode Warriors, I almost typed) beat Warlord and Barbarian and Ivan Koloff in a real short barbed wire match, and Dave notes the resemblance between Dudty wearing facepaint and a black t-shirt and Dump Matsumoto (with the notable difference that Dump is prettier). Ivan was bleeding after 20 seconds and Dusty after 90. Dave hates these matches - everyone gets all cautious and careful and stays in the center of the ring, so nothing really happens. 1 star. Luger and Barry Windham beat Arn and Tully for the NWA Tag Titles. Good match all around, 3.5 stars. Flair and Sting had a 45 minute draw for the NWA Title in a match of the year candidate. Slow pace to start, but the heat kept up and they weren’t dull and Flair sold the hell out of every rest hold. Jim Ross and Tony Schiavone did fantastic work on this, particularly Ross who sold the intensity and importance of the match, which was critical for the first half (if only he were still able to do that today). There were supposed to be three judges, but there were five people at the table, only two of them didn’t vote, so no idea what the point there was. Anyway, Patty Mullen (Penthouse Pet of the year and who had been on Ric’s arm the night before on tv) picked Flair. Gary Juster, former NWA promoter, voted for Sting. Sandy Scott then ruled it a draw, and nothing came of the judging gimmick which made it utterly pointless. 4.75 stars
Watch: Clash of the Champions. I’ve set it to start with the Steve Williams promo because it needs to be heard to be believed
  • During Clash of the Champions, after the first match, there was an ad on TBS for the WWF 900 number advertising play-by-play for Wrestlemania. WWF managed to get an ad on TBS during Crockett’s big special, and that’s hilarious. They also ran the first ad for the new Four Horsemen vitamins, which was hilarious but unintentionally so, and Dave thinks they aren’t going to sell a lot of those vitamins.
  • Last week Dave teased a big story, and it’s that Crockett has been negotiating with Ken Mantell of World Class Dave didn’t give any details beyond the tease last week because he was hoping to get more before press time. He promises to never note a major story the way he did again without giving more details up front, because he expected more details to break before he had to print copy but it didn’t. Anyway, negotiations have been ongoing for ten days and there are conflicting reports. Crockett’s goal is taking over World Class the way they did Florida, getting the valuable channel 11 time slot on Saturday nights in Dallas. They’re going to need Fritz on board to complete the deal, though. If it does go through, Kerry and Kevin will have guaranteed work and a push in the NWA, but neither really seems to want the travel, so they’d likely get a deal for local stuff and maybe occasional work in St. Louis. The bottom line everyone needs to consider, though, is that Mantell and Michael Hayes may be the most creative bookers anywhere right now, but they aren’t turning WCCW’s business around and it just may not work out that they can. Dave doesn’t expect a deal done now, but he thinks Mantell and Hayes may give themselves until May to see if their hard work will pay off before considering any offers.
  • An example of that creative booking is the WCCW title change on March 25 in Dallas. Hayes was at ringside with Kerry while Black Bart and Buddy Roberts were for Parsons. Iceman King Parsons is one of the least likely champions in wrestling history, and the match wasn’t particularly good, but the finish saw the lights go out after Terry Gordy came down, at which point Bart and Roberts used flashlights to blind the fans in the front row so nobody could see what happened. When the lights came back on, Kerry was knocked out in the ring, Hayes was bleeding on the floor, nobody knew who hit whom, and Parsons pinned Kerry to win the belt. They even had Kerry carted out on a stretcher. Dave doesn’t think (and actively prays against) Parsons will hold it for long. Hayes looks like the best prospect (nope. It’s going back to Kerry in May at the Von Erich Memorial Parade of Champions). Also, I just learned that King Parsons is his real legal name. I always thought combining Iceman and King was a weird combo of gimmicks, so that solves a mystery for me.
Watch: Iceman King Parsons wins the WCWA World Title
  • Eddie Gilbert is leaving Memphis to book for Continental beginning April 10. Continental’s business is bottoming out and it’ll be interesting to see if Gilbert and Missy can get things going there again like they did in Memphis. This also puts Memphis in some dire straits, since the Gilberts were basically all their storylines and they were drawing triple what they had been by giving the Gilberts such big spotlight, so they’re in trouble.
  • Lanny Poffo, brother of WWF Champion Randy Savage, has a book coming out called Wrestling with Rhyme. It’s a book of poetry coming out in late April and will be available at Walden Books. Man, I remember when Walden went out of business. It was a sad day for me.
  • The only news Dave has from Japan right now is that Bruiser Brody beat Jumbo Tsuruta for the International Title at Budokan Hall on March 27. Tenryu also retained his PWF Title against Hansen.
  • Roddy Piper’s latest project is a new film going into production called They Live.
Watch: They Live trailer
  • A correction on the Bruno Sammartino stuff. WWF isn’t trying to ban Bruno from using his name. They’re trying to ban him from using the trademarked nickname “The Living Legend” in contexts outside WWF. There’s a lot of talk about his radio interview , and some excerpts in the mail section of this issue.
  • There’s a film in the works about former Olympic and pro wrestler Chris Taylor. Taylor was a 450 lb wrestler from Iowa who won bronze in the 1972 Olympics and died in 1979. A book about him called “The Gentle Giant” is being adapted into a film, currently called “Lean On Me.” That does not wind up being the title, and I can’t find a movie based on him so this might have gotten scrapped. In other biopic news, no word from Hollywood on any upcoming Hulk Hogan movie.
  • WWF went up to the number 4 slot in the syndicated ratings for the week ending Feb. 28. They had a 10.6 rating, an increase on the previous week. Crockett’s network fell to number 9 with a 7.6.
  • Paul E. Dangerously firing Joe Pedicino, Gordon Solie, and Boni Blackstone on Pro Wrestling this Week aired this past weekend. It was fantastic stuff, and Paul has cemented himself as one of the top managers in the business. This is all part of a reformatting of the show to a 30 minute format with Pedicino and Patrick Schaeffer (who was the mastermind behind Global doing an IPO to build up a million dollars of operating capital) at the helm, with Schaeffer as the heel commentator.
  • Crockett had a big angle taped on March 21 that they aired this past Saturday, involving Magnum T.A. Magnum was doing an interview when Tully and J.J. came out, then Barry Windham came out and Tully popped Windham with a hit, then hit Magnum. J.J. was behind Magnum and helped Magnum gently go to ground, then Dusty barged in with a baseball bat and swung for the fences on Tully, then knocks out Jim Crockett without realizing who he’s swinging at when Jim and David Crockett and Rob Garner try to restore order. Jim Cornette did a tearful interview about his “good friend Jim Crockett” and Magnum even bladed, though that last didn’t make it to tv. Later on, Magnum came out and hit Tully with a bat in a match to cause a disqualification. Dave loved the concept here at first because you have to imagine Magnum hates being on the sidelines and wants to be involved to some extent and this gives him something to sink his teeth into. At the same time, “the idea of beating up a cripple, which unfortunately is the reality of the situation” is just kind of pathetic. That said, it’ll draw, and it’ll let Dusty (with Magnum in his corner) push himself as top star once again, and it may even be enough to put heat back on Dusty vs. Tully. Dusty will be suspended for 120 days come Saturday’s tv (taking us into July - will we see the Midnight Rider face Flair at the Bash, Dave wonders), Dusty will return as the Midnight Rider with Magnum at his side, and he’ll likely get the U.S. title in the tournament they’re going to hold in May.
Watch: Tully suckerpunches Magnum
  • The Oregon State Athletic Commission held a public hearing on March 18. Topics mostly stuck to safety concerns such as cleaning the mats, barriers at ringside, security, mats on the floor by ringside, etc. A lot of wrestlers were there, along with Billy Jack Haynes and Don and Barry Owen. Most of the wrestlers were negative about the Owens’ promotion, with only Tony Borne and Art Crews saying anything positive. Borne testified against the idea of using mats outside the ring, saying it’s not going to help as much as it hurts the visual effect of a spill to the floor. He also said the commission’s drug testing proposal went too far by including painkillers and marijuana on top of cocaine. The commission indicated they’ll be looking at action like the use of chairs in the future and potentially issuing fines. They also clarified their stance on blood: hardway is good, blading is bad. It’s pretty absurd to say that the more dangerous way of getting color is good but blading is bad, but this whole blood thing has become a thing for commissions around the country because blading sounds absolutely insane to people outside the industry, and even Dave has mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, blading is a minor safety issue at best, especially compared to rampant steroid and drug use and nasty bumps. On the other, Dave’s not sure fans are really drawn by excessive bleeding either, and probably actually turns off a large number of potential casual viewers. It doesn’t hurt if kept rare, but it doesn’t help if half the matches have it. And more dangerous to the wrestlers in a blood match than AIDS (they’re more likely to get that from outside activities) is scabies, which Owen’s wrestlers had an outbreak of not too far back. Rip Oliver said he’s gotten scabies four times since July and wound up giving it to his wife and kids on top of it. The outbreak led the Commission to pass a ruling against wrestlers working while they have communicable diseases and that they must notify promoters.
  • Eddie Gilbert vs. Jerry Lawler on March 21 drew 6,000 fans for Memphis. Gilbert won in what’s being hailed as a great match (and Dave’s heard their match the week before was even better). On tv on March 26 Gilbert acted like he was going to throw fire at Lance Russell, which got Lawler out from backstage in his first tv appearance in a month. They wound up brawling into the parking lot and Gilbert slammed Lawler on the hood of a car, shattering the windshield.
  • Scott Rechsteiner, using the ring name Scott Steiner, debuted as a babyface in Memphis recently. No mention of peaks or freaks yet.
  • Some random trivia about AWA Tag champ Paul Diamond. His real name is Tom Boric, and he was born in Winnipeg, you idiots, on May 11, 1961. He played soccer for the Tampa Bay Rowdies in the old North American Soccer League and was drafted sixth in the 1980 collegiate draft by the Calgary Boomers, before getting traded to Tampa in 1982. He stayed until the NASL folded, which is when he got into wrestling.
  • Anyway, Diamond and Tanaka won the belts because the Midnight Rockers wanted $500 a week guaranteed to stay and Verne doesn’t believe in guaranteed money. They don’t appear to have left yet.
  • [Continental] Looks like Eddie Gilbert is replacing Robert Fuller and going to be sole booker.
  • [USA] The other spinoff from the old Continental promotion ran its first big show in Knoxville, drawing a $10,000 gate. Previous sellouts there hit $27,000, to give an indication of relative value there. Not a lot to report about this. Moondog Spot is there as “The Dog.” He’s not a big dog. He’s not a little dog. He’s The Dog.
  • WCCW drew 1,700 on March 25 for their Dallas show, where Kerry dropped the title to Parsons. The other main event had Michael Hayes vs. Buddy Roberts, and Roberts kept trying to apologize for hitting Hayes, but Hayes wasn’t going to let it slide. Terry Gordy did a run in and broke things up, and told Hayes they sold Angel of Death’s contract so they can all be friends again. Hayes walked out on Gordy, though.
  • [WCCW] Fabulous Lance keeps getting booked for shows but hasn’t returned. His agent still doesn’t want him to be a heel because it’ll cut down his opportunities for tv and modeling work.
  • To illustrate how bad business is for World Class, here’s the biggest gate they drew out of three shows last week in Mississippi: $783.
  • A man named David Peschel of Washington, New Jersey is suing Randy Savage for a million dollars. He alleges that Savage punched and bodyslammed him when he got out of his car at a light to ask Savage for his autograph. He describes Savage as 6’4” and 280 lbs, prompting Dave to ask if this was maybe a different Randy Savage.
  • Rumor has it that Angelo Poffo put a $1 bet on the Wrestlemania tournament. Apparently, his bet was on Ted DiBiase.
  • According to a sumo journal in Japan, Futuhaguro is 99% certain he won’t go into pro wrestling. Koji Kitao will debut near the end of 1989 in the AWA, so I’ll put my dollar bet on the 1% chance.
  • Reader Mike Rodgers attended the Oregon commission hearing on March 18 and writes about his take. The commission is making big improvements to safety that he thinks are great, but thinks they’re overstepping by wanting to legitimately fine wrestlers who use foreign objects or chairs, and says they don’t understand “that promoters do what they can to fill up arenas.” Banning the blade but not blood is just going to increase the chance of legitimate injury, and it’s part of the proof that the commission really isn’t smart to what wrestling really is about.
  • We get a really long letter on Bruno’s radio interview. The writer taped the second hour and is hoping to get tape of the first hour. But before getting to the good stuff, he first wants to note that lying and silly gimmicks didn’t start in 1984 (was Gorilla Monsoon really from Manchuria? Didn’t Bruno employ gimmick wrestlers when he booked Pittsburgh? How about when he’d blade and claim to have spent the night hospitalized receiving transfusions) and that Bruno’s not really got a leg to stand on for “wrestling must be credible and it is an insult to the fans’ intelligence to lie to them.” Fans knew then just as they know now that it’s a work, but that doesn’t matter - you watch the show because it’s entertaining and you want to see the magician do their tricks. Also, the writer weighs in that the real story with the Main Event will be told by the demographic breakdown rather than the overall rating. In other words, is Hulk Hogan the Demo God? Anyway, after all this preamble, we finally get some quotes from the interview:
  • Bruno denies blading happened in his day but says “today, nothing would surprise me.”
  • Says he’ll never work for the NWA. “I wouldn’t touch it with a 50-foot pole.”
  • He breaks kayfabe on George Steele and says he’s been a teacher for years.
  • He thinks Bobby Heenan is a “dud and a disgrace” to wrestling.
  • He compliments Ric Flair as a guy who can give you an exciting 30 or 40 minute match, but the NWA “have an awful lot of bizarre nonsense in there that, to me, is no good.”
  • He says David wanted to be like him and he tried to warn David that these days they aren’t interested in “guys who just want to wrestle” but he’ll be going to Japan where they appreciate that better.
  • He didn’t like doing commentary. He just clocked in, did his job, and left as soon as he was done. He was very uncomfortable and unhappy doing it.
  • Bruno says WWF didn’t really have anything great to generate interest in the tournament for Wrestlemania.
  • A caller asks if his wrestling was all real, and Bruno says “Well, it was in my day, at least I thought it was.
  • We get a letter that feels so much like it could have been a post here on /SquaredCircle when Dave rated Omega/Okada 6 stars that I’m posting it in its entirety. Be warned, it is long, kind of racist, and absolutely bonkers, but that’s not unfamiliar around these parts. It gets the headline “Sick of praise for Japan.”
I get so sick of the way that people talk about Japanese wrestling. There’s no question it should be covered extensively in the Observer because it is a significant part of the wrestling world. However, when you start printing letters that criticize the American society and the jazz scene, then you are going way too far.
Anyone who thinks the Japanese never forsake quality for showmanship is full of it. The rock group KISS has enjoyed phenomenal success there because of their wild appearence [sic] and stage show. In fact, when they stopped wearing their makeup in the United States, they waited almost two years to do the same in Japan because they knew they wouldn’t be accepted there without it. And what about the movie industry? Do you think Godzilla movies are popular because of great acting?
As a student, I find teachers constantly comparing the American intelligence with that of the Japanese. I’m sure that the wrestlers love being compared to Japanese wrestlers as much as I love being compared to Japanese students. The Japanese do well at everything because they become obsessed with it. For them, it’s a matter of pride. If they screw up, it’s not only a mark on themselves but also on their entire family. You may think that’s great, but it puts a lot of pressure on everyone. They spend hours studying and I’m certain spend hours learning wrestling skills and have no time for themselves. Cut the North American wrestlers some slack. They’re just trying to make a living and preserve their bodies in the process. Look at what trying to wrestle like the Japanese did to Tommy Billington. Everyone would love matches filled with nothing but high spots, but working them is a great way to destroy yourself in a hurry. Now there is no excuse for total duds like Hulk Hogan and Andre the Giant either, but there are many non-Japanese who can hold their own without going crazy about it. I wonder how many Observer readers can honestly say that they work as hard at their own jobs as the Japanese in the same profession do. If they do, then I think they would quality [sic] as workaholics.
If there is anything wrong with our society, it’s the lack of national pride, which is so evident in the pages of the Observer. You seem to hate everything that wasn’t imported from the other side of the world. I have absolutely nothing against the country of Japan or Japanese wrestling, but I don’t think it’s up to a bunch of wrestling fans to dictate what’s wrong with our country just because they prefer the Oriental style of wrestling. I think the Observer is great, but I’d like to see you stick to writing about wrestling instead of how rotten our way of life is. I’m sure that’s what a Japanese journalist would do.
  • Anyway, Dave responds to that letter, giving the writer only 4 stars because it’s not in the literally-only-opened-a-couple-weeks-ago Tokyo Dome:
DM: Have I ever written about how rotten our quality of life is or done any cultural comparisons between the U.S. and Japan except to where it pertains to the wrestling business? If I lived in Japan and made a comparison of the quality of the football product and wrote the U.S. product was superior, I hope people wouldn’t take it as an indictment against an entire society.
  • Lastly, it’s about that time of year, I guess, because we have letters arguing about whether Dave should include GLOW coverage or not. Two letters this week on that theme, the first noting what the writer calls a progression in the letters calling for more coverage of women’s wrestling. First were the calls for more coverage of “conventional” women’s wrestling. Then the calls for GLOW coverage. Then POWW. Guess the next will be coverage of the apartment house wrestling scene, the writer supposes. The other writer claims to speak for 90% of subscribers and says Dave would offend that much of his readership if he covers GLOW and POWW and says that if you even consider GLOW to be pro wrestling, you’re incapable of understanding what makes a match good or not. This one asks if Dave’s going to be asked to cover mud wrestling next. There’s no misogyny problem in wrestling fandom. Move along. Nothing to see here.
  • Back to news, the Kentucky Athletic Commission has put up some new rules. There are to be guard rails around the ring now. Throwing an opponent over the top rope will result in a fine or suspension. Ditto for any referee who doesn’t immediately stop the match for it. The top rope rule is now state law, as insane as that sounds.
  • Dave should have national numbers next week, but in Atlanta Clash of the Champions drew an 11.7 rating, with the FlaiSting match hitting 14.5 National numbers will not be nearly that high, but hitting that 5 Dave mentioned earlier that would mean 2 million viewers doesn’t seem so far fetched anymore. Clash beat the NCAA tournament on the networks in Atlanta. TBS is reportedly looking to do another in prime time on a Wednesday early in the summer.
  • Stampede set up an angle where Johnny Smith (kayfabe Davey Boy’s cousin or brother or something) argued with Diana Hart Smith, which got Owen out to defend his sister. Davey Boy was supposed to come in after Wrestlemania to work with Johnny, but Vince put the kibosh on that. There were also considerations for some Stampede guys to participate in the Crockett Cup, but politics (Vince) made that a no-go. So it’s probably no coincidence that when Owen did the job for Hercules it was just outside Greensboro. Anyway, the real takeaway is that Owen is probably coming over to WWF by the end of the year.
NEXT WEEK: Clash vs. Wrestlemania poll results, Clash ratings and Wrestlemania buyrate, an assload of mini headlines because news is apparently thin next week, and more
submitted by SaintRidley to SquaredCircle [link] [comments]

Problem with Persistent Smaller Bets

I just wanted to write to people to see if they had any advice for me about my gambling.
I’ve gambled for years, starting with online poker at around 18 (I wanted to be a pro for a bit!) and a bit of sports betting. After I graduated University, I got a real job and I stopped being able to handle the swings of poker, so I stopped, playing only occasionally for fun every couple of years. However, sports betting became more of an issue.
At this time, I became more heavily interested in sports betting for a “rush”. I’d happily gamble £100-200 per match, which was 1-2 days’ wages. But during that time, I loved it – not that that is a good thing! I couldn’t really afford to lose that amount, so every match was a rush. The highs of winning, or the epic lows of losing. I didn’t mind winning or losing too much, as I was living every moment of every match. I considered the excitement a hobby, so the gambling losses were just the price I paid for that hobby. I was usually broke, but never went into debt with it.
Although over 10 years ago, I still don't consider myself a full addict at that point, but that phase of my life I was closest to it. Problem gambler, yes, but not quite a full blown addict. My stakes, while excessive for my situation, were never escalating. I’d only gamble on a football match I wanted to watch, rather than looking for any event to bet on. During the off season, I wouldn’t gamble at all and had no issues. But every time the season starts, it would draw me back in.
These days I’m 33, and my situation has improved a lot. I gamble less, but I still dislike that I do it. I’ve got my stakes under control, preferring £40-50 longshot accumulators. I perhaps lose £150-£200 a month. However, my income has increased drastically to (no brag, just explaining my situation) £100,000+ a year since I started a business. In other words, those £200 losses per month are not causing me any loss of sleep at night and having no real impact on my finances. I’m quite prudent, and I’m sure lots of people waste a lot more than me on meaningless pursuits.
But still, it bothers me. I gamble yet I don’t know why anymore. I don’t even enjoy it anymore, I’m little more than indifferent between winning and losing. I had a £40 accumulator on a large number of the European Champion/Europa League games. I was on a hot streak and had two games left before I won £4,000. I lost on the Atletico v Leipzig game, but I didn’t even watch the match, I barely followed it. I glanced at the score, saw Leipzig scored late to cost me my bet, and my pulse didn’t even change. I’ve noticed this the last two seasons – indifference to winning/losing, and literally no emotion when my team scores/concedes. I don’t ever watch football anymore, though I do enjoy following the BBC live text feed. Ultimately, my business’ success will determine my financial situation going forward, and even a four-figure score doesn’t mean particularly much for me in the long-term (I usually place an accumulator with odds to win £1,000-2,000).
A big gambling win will not improve my situation by much, so I think that these days there are two main causes of my ongoing gambling.
The first: football (or soccer) no longer means much to me, and I used to love following it. With a bet on, football used to be about a 9/10 in the importance stakes. Now, it’s perhaps a 2/10. I don’t really follow a team, but have teams I like/dislike, and that on its own gives me around a 3/10 investment in the game – more than gambling! I’d rather the team I’ve bet on lose if I dislike that team, as it gives me more satisfaction. It makes no sense, but I long for the days where football meant something to me, and I find it hard to accept that it doesn’t really anymore. I know I will never get there again without gambling, but I don’t think I will even get there with gambling again!
And two: I’m very data driven, and I can guess odds pretty accurately by now. Even if I choose not to bet, I’m still sort of invested because I know what I would have bet on, I know what the odds would have been, and what my winnings could have been. Rather than betting and losing my £40 accumulator bet, I’m essentially following the games hoping that one of my would-be bets will mess up. So if I would’ve lost, I’ve effectively won £40, and if my accumulator comes in, I’ve lost thousands. It’s a messed up way of looking at it, for sure, but it is my thought process! The opportunity cost is real!
I know some people have it worse and I have certainly got this under control to a point where it doesn’t impact my daily life or my finances. My main worry is that I do keep it from my partner, who does well but has less money than me, and she would be very disappointed that I lost that amount of money each month. So it’s something of a dirty secret to me.
I think I’m actually pretty close to giving up the gambling for myself, as I had this realization after my match had lost last night. I could probably close my accounts and not look back, though I might be tempted during a World Cup/Euro as these are my absolute favorite time to bet, and I’d be very sad to let these events pass by with a whimper. They are actually the only reason I keep my accounts open, as I know I’d want to bet during those events!
I’m sort of ranting, but if anyone has experienced similar thoughts and motivations, or any advice, I’d love to hear from you.
submitted by acehightom to problemgambling [link] [comments]

[OC] What if every world cup team had the same population? - Group C

Hello again all, trying to distract myself from the fact that it’s already May, I’ve put my matching Friday pants and socks set on to bring you another edition of the alternative World Cup. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the premise of this series why not indulge yourself in the last two groups.
Group A, Group B
Whilst yesterday featured a group with sprinkles of quality throughout, I’m afraid to say this gathering is a little one-sided. One African team dwarfs three squads of an Asian persuasion, so with more utopian island spots than full time pro’s on display, I’ll try my utmost not to drift into a Thomas Cook holiday blog, no promises though.
Group C
West Africa
Togo, Ghana, Côte d'Ivoire, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea, Guinnea Bissau, Senegal, The Gambia, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Western Sahara, Algeria, Morrocco
Population (millions): 240.19
When it comes to brainchildren it’s strongly advised not to have favourites, but between you and me this is the funnest squad of the lot.
Similarly to Eastern Europe, West Africa has often been a hive of sporting talent restrained by the labyrinth of borders within its confines. George Weah, Emmanuel Adebayor, Yaya Toure, Didier Drogba and Abedi Pele are some notable stars of the past, but the conveyor belt of sporadic world-class attacking talent over the last 30 years appears to have crescendoed into a full blown production line of stars in every outfield position.
Something that my hypothesis can’t fairly simulate is what affect an open plan Africa would have on the decision making of some of our games Euro-Africano elite. N’Golo Kante is of Malean descent whilst fellow Parisian Paul Pogba boasts his Guinean parentage. It would be a safe bet to assume at least some juggling would take place with the region's newfound affluence, but until I am able to read the minds of millionaire athletes I’m not going to touch the subject with a barge pole, besides I think I’d go for the sort codes well before I look at their national preference.
What we DO have however is a terrific squad on paper that will continue to improve as the years continue, with 17 year old Barcelona wunderkind Ansu Fati hailing from Guinea-Bissau, as long as he doesn’t succumb to a Spanish inquisition.
Goalkeepers Birthplace FM20 Value Age
Edouard Mendy SEN Rennes GK Montivilliers, France 65 €4.40 28
Yassine Bounou MAR Sevilla GK Montreal, Canada 68 €10.00 29
Defenders
Faouzi Ghoulam ALG Napoli LB Saint-Priest, France 72 €17.10 29
Dakonam Djene TOG Getafe CB Dapaong 74 €26.80 28
Kalidou Koulibaly SEN Napoli CB Saint-Die, France 84 €64.30 28
Achraf Hakimi MAR B. Dortmund RWB Madrid, Spain 72 €23.30 21
Eric Bailly CIV Man United CB Bingerville 72 €31.40 26
Salif Sane SEN Schalke 04 CB Lormont, France 69 €9.00 29
Serge Aurier CIV Tottenham RB Ouragahio 70 €19.90 27
Kwadwo Asamoah GHA Inter Milan LWB Accra 74 €21.10 31
Midfielders
Riyad Mahrez ALG Man City RW Sarcelles, France 77 €62.00 29
Hakim Ziyech MAR Ajax CAM Dronten, Netherlands 79 €42.80 27
Thomas Partey GHA Atleti CDM Krobo Odumase 76 €33.40 26
Naby Keita GUI Liverpool CM Conakry 78 €52.20 25
Ismaila Sarr SEN Watford RW Saint-Louis 67 €22.20 22
Pepe CIV Arsenal RW Mantes-la-Jolie, France 76 €45.60 24
Idrissa Gana Gueye SEN PSG CDM Dakar 75 €28.80 30
Amine Harit MOR Schalke CAM Pontoise, France 69 €10.07 22
Forwards
Sadio Mane SEN Liverpool LF Sedhiou 90 €92.40 28
Wilfried Zaha CIV Crystal Palace CF Abidjan 77 €59.60 27
Moussa Marega MLI Porto ST Les Ulis, France 70 €16.80 29
Islam Slimani ALG Monaco ST Algiers 68 €19.80 31
Average/Totals 74 €712.90 27.13636364
A difficult pick but I’ve settled on a squad that could play in numerous formations, Sadio Mané and Riyad Mahrez are two of the Premier Leagues most potent wide players whilst the midfield is a superfluity of athleticism and technique.
The likes of Feghouli, Kessie and Gervinho didn’t survive the longlist but the competition was stiff. I’m not overly happy with the inclusion of goal starved Islam Slimani but the area is surprisingly scarce of talented out and out forwards.
If this team fails to collect all nine points in this group it would be the worst thing to happen to West Africa since Di Caprio’s accent in Blood Diamond.
South India & Arabian Sea
6 Indian provinces (Karnataka, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Goa), Sri Lanka, Maldives
Population (millions):239.70
Another region that practises footballing atheism, this was one of the most difficult to research. But if any documentarians want to make this into a series then I’d be happy to take some time out to fly out and research the Maldives for a while.
The two island nations donate their services to an uninspiring mess of Indian nonentity. Including the world’s sixth highest scoring active player Ali Ashfaq, never heard of him? Nah me neither.
Goalkeepers Birthplace FM20 Value Age
Kamaljit Singh IND Hyderabad GK Goa 24 €0.02 24
Chathura Ekanayake SRI Eagles Malé GK Sri Lanka 22 €0.00 27
Defenders
Anas Edathodika IND ATK CB Kerala 33 €0.03 33
Adil Khan IND Hyderabad RB Goa 32 €0.02 31
Mandar Rao Dessal IND Mumbai City LB Goa 31 €0.02 28
Lenny Ridrigues IND Goa CDM Goa 24 €0.02 32
Mohamed Imtiyas SRI Renown CB Kotahena 25 €0.01 24
Akram Abdul Ghanee MDV Valencia (MDV) CB Maafaru 28 €0.01 33
Edwin Sydney IND Chennaiyin RWB Kerala 21 €0.01 27
Asikur Alawadeen SRI Pelicans CB Kurunegala 23 €0.01 26
Midfielders
Brandon Fernandes IND Goa CAM Goa 33 €0.03 25
Rowllin Borges IND Mumbai City CDM Goa 32 €0.02 27
Sahal Abdul Samad IND Kerala Blasters CM Kerala 34 €0.04 23
Michael Soosairaj IND ATK CM Tamil Nadu 32 €0.03 25
Nikhil Poojari IND Hyderabad CM Karnataka 29 €0.02 24
Ahmed Razeek SRI Berliner AK CDM Berlin 44 €0.06 26
Mohamed Umair MDV Maziya CM Malé 27 €0.01 20
Romeo Fernandes IND Odisha RM Goa 23 €0.02 27
Forwards
Ashique Kuruniyan IND Bengaluru CF Kerala 35 €0.04 22
Jobby Justin IND ATK ST Kerala 28 €0.02 26
CK Vineeth IND Jamshedpur ST Kerala 27 €0.02 31
Ali Ashfaq MDV Club Green Streets ST Malé 27 €0.01 34
Average/Totals 29 €0.47 27.04545455
Ali Ashfaq has officially netted 463 times in his now 19 year career. Haters will say most of that was in the Maldivian league but I think I’d only be able to score half that amount so fair play to him.
The most notable islander is German born Sri Lankan Ahmed Razeek, the Berliner came through the ranks at now-Bundesliga team Union Berlin, but finds himself playing fourth tier football at the time of writing. At 25, Razeek only dedicated his services to Golden Lion in 2019, a bit of European experience may help the nation who have commanded just four wins in the last five years.
India’s most promising contribution to the side is 22 year old Ashique Kuruniyan, the young forward lacks goals but is known as something of a playmaker, Kuruniyan to Ashfaq could be the new Ozil to Ronaldo, but realistically I think this team will be lucky to find the net at all if the ratings are anything to Goa on.
Oceania and Southeast Asia
Australia, American Samoa, Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tahiti, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu, Cambodia, Singapore, Phillipines, Malaysia, 11 Indonisian Provinces (Papua, West Papua, Maluku, North Maluku, Sulawesi Island, East Nusa Tenggara, West Nusa Tenggara)
Population: 231.57
I almost broke the comma button on my laptop writing out all those islands, and it still doesn’t quite reach 240m. The pacific islands are home to some of the worst national teams out there, none more infamous than American Samoa who hold the record for the biggest ever defeat in international football, a 31-0 loss to Australia. If anyone hasn’t seen the documentary that was inspired subsequently to the loss, ‘next goal wins’ is perhaps my favourite football film and couldn’t recommend it highly enough when trying to explain the humanity of playing football in this part of the world.
The antagonists of the Samoan’s defeat, Australia have since changed confederations from lack of challenge. Joining the Asian Football Confederation in early 2006, the Socceroo’s have since won the Asian Cup on home soil and qualified for each of the previous four iterations of the World Cup. In 2006 a ‘golden generation’ fronted by Harry Kewell and Tim Cahill narrow missed out on a quarter final berth being beaten by eventual champions Italy in the 95th minute thanks to a controversial penalty.
While the likes of Kewell, Cahill and Mark Schwarzer have long since retired, the Aussies produce a modest yet constant procession of pro’s. Along with fellow anglophone New Zealand, the select Oceanic islanders often choose a path of playing in England’s football pyramid, with a few Premier League stalwarts found within the squad below.
Southeast Asia has a curious footballing culture, a strong general interest in the European game with seemingly little rewards for their appropriation, no malaysians manage to sneak into the selection whilst the Phillipines’ most famous athlete behind Manny Pacquiao only makes back up keeper.
Goalkeepers Birthplace Football manager Value Age
Matthew Ryan AUS Brighton GK Plumpton 66 €15.80 28
Neil Etheridge PH Cardiff GK London, England 64 €11.00 30
Defenders
Winston Reid NZ West Ham CB Auckland 66 €14.50 31
Milos Degenek AUS Red Star CB Knin, Croatia 62 €1.30 26
Trent Sainsbury AUS Maccabi Haifa RB Thornlie 60 €0.88 28
Bailey Wright AUS Bristol City CB Melbourne 59 €3.30 27
Wesley Lautoa NCA Dijon CB Epernay, France 62 €2.20 32
Aziz Behich AUS Basaksehir LB Melbourne 60 €2.20 29
Brad Smith AUS Bournemouth LWB Penrith 63 €9.50 26
Stephan Schrock PHI Cares RB Schweinfurt, Germany 57 €0.77 33
Midfielders
Aaron Mooy AUS Brighton CM Sydney 70 €26.70 29
Tom Rogic AUS Celtic CAM Griffith 67 €11.90 27
Mathew Leckie AUS Hertha Berlin CM Melbourne 65 €4.80 29
Robbie Kruse AUS Mebourne Victory RM Brisbane 64 €1.30 31
Awer Mabil AUS Mitdtjylland RW Kakuma, Kenya 63 €1.50 24
Craig Goodwin AUS Al-Wehda LM Adelaide 58 €4.60 28
Ryan Thomas NZ PSV CDM Te Puke 65 €6.50 25
Massimo Luongo AUS Sheffield W CDM Sydney 62 €7.80 27
Forwards
Chris Wood NZ Burnley ST Auckland 67 €23.40 28
Adam Taggart AUS Suwon Bluewings ST Perth 62 €0.84 26
Aposrolos Giannou AUS AEK Larnaka ST Nousa, Greece 63 €1.30 30
Daniel Arzani AUS Celtic CF Khorramabad, Iran 60 €8.20 21
Average/Totals 63 €160.29 29.68181818
As you can see the team is dominated by Aussie and Kiwi men, but there is some polynesian persuasion in the way of Wesley Lautoa who takes restbite trying to defend the likes of Neymar, Mbappe and Depay by bullying semi-pro strikers playing for New Caledonia.
Daniel Arzani is the best bet for a future talisman, despite really struggling to make the grade in Europe he’s still only 21 and could yet fulfil his potential. The Celtic forward has impeccable technical ability and has an eye on one day becoming a regular at his parent club Man City.
Chris Wood has a Premier League goal record that any striker would be proud of and is the archetypal Sean Dyche forward, but I would suggest that his physical play style precedes his genuine international quality. New Zealand famously exited the 2010 World Cup as the only side to leave undefeated, and part of that was due to the defensive talents of Winston Reid, who at that time was a 21 year old padawan learner to Blackburn hero Ryan Nelson. Now 31, The former West Ham captain Reid leads this sides defensive line where he’ll do his best to make the younger lads do most of the legwork.
Neil Etheridge is unlucky not to be the standout number one in this team, the keeper come underwear model caught the eyes of English fans saving three penalties in the 2018-19 season, although when on loan to Bristol Rovers he caught a free-kick and stepped backwards into his own goal, don’t think we’ve forgotten Neil.
Western China
9 Chinese Provinces (Feng Jin, Gansu, Shaanxi, Sichaun, Tibet, Xinjiang Uygur, Ningxia, Qinghai)
Population (millions): 256.25
A little over the limit for this one but you wouldn’t notice from the squad. The west of China is the least densely populated region and the one with the least investment in the club game, so it is no surprise that there is correlation to the talent, or lack thereof.
Every metric I’ve used in research points to this being the Chinese team that will struggle the most, the bulk of the players hail from Sichuan, which since we’re on reddit may give most of you PTSD of Rick and Morty fans standing on McDonalds counters.
None of the following players featured in the most recent Chinese national squad. In a sporting wilderness that hasn’t been invited to the game of Monopoly out east, you can’t blame this side for underwhelming.
Goalkeepers Birthplace FM20 Value Age
Wang QI CHI Shaanxi Athletic GK Shaanxi 35 €0.60 27
Yerjet Yerzat CHI Chongqing Lifan GK Xinjiang Uygur 36 €0.72 27
Defenders
Yang Xiaotian CHI Jiangsu Suning LB Shaanxi 40 €1.40 30
Wang Erzhuo CHI Shaanxi Athletic CB Shaanxi 28 €0.24 33
Alishat CHI Xinjiang Sport Lottery CB Xinjiang 40 €0.43 25
Zhang Ao CHI Xinjiang Sport Lottery RB Shanxi 28 €0.37 29
Liu Yu CHI Shanghai Shenxin CB Sichuan 30 €0.44 25
Zhou Xuri CHI Dalian Yifang CB Sichuan 29 €0.30 21
Otkur Hesen CHI Sichaun Jiuniu LB Xinjiang 20 €0.00 27
Bari Mamatil CHI Qiangdao Huanghai RWB Xinjiang 39 €1.50 31
Midfielders
Peng Xinli CHI Shanghai Shenhua CM Shanxi 47 €2.60 29
Mirahmetjan Muzepper CHI Shanghai SIPG CAM Xinjiang 46 €3.30 29
Zhang Xiuwei CHI Guangzhou E CM Sichuan 46 €2.70 24
Luo Senwen CHI Hebei China Fortune CDM Sichuan 44 €2.10 27
Li Yuanyi CHI Shenzhen CM SIchuan 42 €1.30 26
Zhang Chiming CHI Tianjin RW SIchuan 38 €1.10 31
Shewket Yalqun CHI Guangzhou E LW Xinjiang 33 €0.94 27
Yehya CHI Xinjiang Tianshan CM Xinjiang 24 €0.24 32
Forwards
Yan Dinghao CHI Gondomar CF Sichuan 45 €2.40 22
Li Fang CHI Chongqing Lifan ST Sichuan 34 €1.30 27
Gan Yingbo CHI Sichaun Longfor CF Sichuan 24 €0.16 35
Abduhamit Abdugheni CHI Jiangsu Suning CF Shaanxi 35 €0.75 23
Average/Totals 36 €24.89 27.59090909
Finding a 22 was a real struggle and there is an imbalance of positions to show for it. The only true striker is Chongqing’s Li Fang, who is officially listed as a striker-come-right back which is an oddly specific duology of skills.
The squad is predominantly composed of players from the nations second tier CL1, which to enlight the general reader means they probably aren’t going to win the tournament.
Another day another group, tomorrow we finally see one of the long anticipated Western European megasquads, and play a game of spot the Uzbekistani. Thanks again for reading, let me know if you think I've missed anyone from the squads or made an error and try to have a stab at the starting XI’s for today's teams.
submitted by Mel0n_Collie to soccer [link] [comments]

Interview with world record playing card thrower Rick Smith Jr

Interview with world record playing card thrower Rick Smith Jr
Who is Rick Smith Jr?
When you're an entertainer, you need to find something that makes you stand out from the rest of the pack. This is also true for performers in the magic industry. With magic man Rick Smith Jr, it's easy to see that he has what it takes to stand out from your run-of-the-mill magician. To begin with, Rick has three Guiness World Records.
But it's not just that Rick Smith Jr is a world record holder that makes you sit up and take notice, but it's especially the kinds of records that he holds. Rick is an expert in throwing playing cards, and holds the record for the furthest distance ever thrown with an ordinary playing card. But that's just one of the ways he's made headlines with his card throwing skills. He's also developed an incredible accuracy with his card throwing, and his insane skills have seen him hit the big time in a "trick shots" collaboration with Dude Perfect, which features his card throwing. The video went viral, and at the time of writing it has around 150 million views! In the summer of 2020 he made a return visit to Dude Perfect, the result being this latest video with even more amazing stunts.
With his unique fusion of magic and card throwing, Rick Smith Jr is in high demand around the world. He's performed on television many times, for some of the biggest names in the business. Each year he does more than 600 shows for a steady stream of clients, who want to bring his exciting brand of magic and card throwing to their homes, businesses, and events. With a background in marketing, Rick is well placed to serve the needs of corporate customers, while entertaining them with an unforgettable performance at the same time.
Rick has been amazing audiences for around 20 years, and with his remarkable skills and talents, he knows how to use playing cards in a way that few others do. We're grateful that he was willing to do this interview with us, giving us the opportunity to get a unique insight look at his world, and get some helpful pointers for taking our playing cards to the next level - literally!

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THE INTERVIEW
GENERAL BACKGROUND
For those who don't know anything about you, what can you tell us about yourself and your background?
Well, I've been performing magic for over 30 years. I perform close to 600 magic shows a year right now, with my card-throwing being a niche of my act. So I'm not just a card thrower, but I am a professional entertainer. I was an NCAA pitcher in college, and I developed my strength of my card throwing by throwing a baseball 90-plus miles per hour.
What can you tell us about the Guinness World Records you have set?
I have three Guinness Book world records for throwing playing cards. My first world record was set in 2002, for throwing a playing card 72 yards at a speed of 92 miles per hour.
My other two world records were set in 2015 and 2017, one for throwing a card the most accurate, which was 46 out of 52 cards to a target in under a minute. The other world record was for throwing the highest, which was 70 feet and some odd inches straight up in the air.
What does a typical day or month in the life of Rick Smith Jr look like?
Typically, I have been a prize for a fundraising company for the past ten years. I would perform three school shows during the week, Monday through Friday. My weekends, I would travel. I would perform for different companies and corporations around the world, and the school tour thing lasted for ten years. There was 400 shows a year.
An average day: I'll try to come up with some new material, perform the shows, post on social media, and hang out with family and friends when I can. I work a lot.
What are some of your interests and hobbies outside of magic and throwing playing cards?
Going to sporting events. I was a baseball player, and we're from Cleveland, so we go to different Cleveland Indian games. I played baseball up until a couple years ago, after I had an elbow injury, where I had to have surgery, which was both baseball and card-throwing-related. So I gave up baseball.
Also four-wheeling, hanging out with family, cooking on the grill - those are my hobbies right now.
Aside from your world records, what would you consider to be your biggest accomplishments, and things you're most proud of?
I guess my girls. I have a three-year-old, Aubrey, and I have a five-year-old, Averie. Having kids now, it's changed my life. When I'm not performing, I'm going to dance recitals and taking them for swimming lessons and Little Gym and getting them into sports and baseball and soccer and basketball. So I'm spending a lot of my time with those two, and there's one more on the way in August. So it's going to change my life even more, coming up.

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THROWING PLAYING CARDS
Throwing playing cards looks amazing, but why should we learn how to do it?
You don't have to learn how to do it. It's just something fun to do. Being able to be at a party and being able to take a playing card and be like, "Hey, let me slice that celery in half" - that's something that I do that no one in the world has ever commonly done. It made me unique as a performer.
I used my baseball background to be able to throw the cards so far, and the accuracy just came with practice. People kept asking me to do different types of challenges, and I kept on testing my abilities. Sooner or later, I was slicing olives being thrown up in the air or taking a cup off of somebody's head or slicing a vegetable in half.
So if you want to learn it, it's just a cool skill to have. It's not going to make you any money, unless you devote your life to it and add it to something that you love to do. Since I loved to be a magician, I wasn't going to make a living off just throwing cards. It was more of a hobby, and wasn't something that I was like, "Oh, this is going to be my job. I'm going to be a card thrower." It just became something that I can showcase in my magic acts, which made my magic acts more popular, which made me more money.
How difficult is it to learn how to throw playing cards for the average person?
The average person can learn how to throw a playing card fairly quickly, with the right technique, the right hold, the right flick of the wrist. Anyone can throw a playing card, just like anyone can throw an object.
Everyone can play a piano and can play Mary Had a Little Lamb, but not everyone can play Beethoven. So if you want to get good with it and confident with it, you're just going to have to keep practicing it. Doing it well is not something that you're just going to be able to do instantly. It's going to take years of throwing and figuring out what the cards can do and what they can't do. Once you realize what they can do, then you can create the trick shots that you want to create.
What else can you tell us about the process involved in setting your first Guinness World Record for card throwing?
The story with the first world record, the distance world record, comes down to the baseball locker room. In the locker room, before practices, we would goof around. I would perform magic for some of the guys in the locker room. But we would also roll up our socks and throw them across the room and try to hit people. One day, I got hit with a sock, and I didn't have a sock to throw back, so I grabbed out my deck of cards and took out one playing card, threw it, and gave one of my buddies the worst paper cut of his life. I thought they were going to be mad, but they thought it was the coolest thing that they've ever seen. So we practiced throwing a couple cards in the locker room, and that was it for that day.
The next day, one of the other teammates brings in a Guinness Book of World Records. He goes, "Hey, there's actually a Guinness world record for throwing playing cards, 201 feet, and it's held by this magician guy named Jim Carroll. I bet you can beat it." So we called up Guinness World Records. We called up every local news station, every newspaper, everything that you could do. In the year 2002, there was no social media, no YouTube, or anything of that caliber. So if you wanted to get it out there, you went to Associated Press. We went to the Plain Dealer, the News Herald. Basically, we told everybody we were going to break this world record for throwing a playing card, and we had no idea if people were going to show up or not.
What response did you get to your world record attempt and afterwards?
Guinness showed up. Every single news station showed up. Every newspaper showed up. It took about 30 throws because of the air flow in the room, but after I broke the world record, I made the front page of the Plain Dealer. It went to Associated Press and it went viral before viral was a thing. Every news station, newspaper, radio station in the world was contacting me and asking me, "What did you do?" This wasn't even a stunt, and it wasn't even "Can you slice something in half?" This was just throwing a playing card 72 yards! It had nothing to do with anything other than throwing a card a long distance.
But the following day, I was in class in college all day after this stuff got published, not knowing what was going on. And all of the voicemails were like, "Hi, this is the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Please give us a call back." "Hey, this is so-and-so from Ripley's Believe It or Not. Give us a call back." "Hey, this is the Steve Harvey Show. We're doing a TV show called Steve Harvey's Big Time. We'd love for you to be a part of it. Please give us a call back." "Hi, this is the Wayne Brady Show, blah blah blah." I had voicemails from London, BBC, radio, so many different places. I was doing interviews like crazy.
That's how I got into the card-throwing. It was all a mistake. It was all from throwing a sock, to throwing a playing card, to giving the kid the worst cut of his life, to finding out there was a world record, to breaking the world record, and then getting contacted by media all around the world. It's crazy.
How did your other two Guinness World Records for card throwing come about?
For the other record, I went on this local station in Cleveland - FOX 8 - and I said, "Hey, I'd like to break a world record." They were like, "Hey, why don't you break it on our show?" So it was just a morning segment. It wasn't anything crazy, and I broke the world record on the segment. I didn't get any press out of it, other than FOX 8 in the morning. I broke the world record, and sent it to Guinness. They approved it, and I got my plaque.
I broke the record for the height on Pi Day, and we ended up getting thousands of people to show up at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland, Ohio. We decided to do a magic show, as breaking the Guinness Book world record. I stood at the bottom floor of the science center and hit the ceiling of the science center, and we had people from different news stations there, as well as Plain Dealer, again. It didn't go viral or anything, and no one seemed to care, other than, "Hey, it's just the new world record." But it was an accomplishment. It was right after another surgery that I had on a piece of bone that was in my elbow that I broke that world record.
Do you have your eye on any other records, or do you have any plans to beat the ones you currently hold?
I was supposed to. In April, I was supposed to go to Italy to break a world record for the most cards thrown around a human in under a minute. That's on hold due to the world situation right now.
What can you tell us about your baseball background, and how has this impacted your ability in throwing playing cards?
My training and ability to pitch is the only reason I could throw cards so well. If you want to break the world record, it's possible, and I could teach you how to throw a playing card. But the only way that someone's going to be able to break my world record is they can throw a baseball 90 miles an hour plus. You could flick a card as hard as you want, but if you don't have that arm speed and that power from your legs and your body to be able to throw a baseball 92 miles an hour, there's no way in the world that you're going to get enough power behind your playing card.
I broke the world record in my peak of NCAA baseball. So if I teach a Major League Baseball pitcher how to do it, I can see that they would have a fair chance. But no one's going to break the record unless they're an NCAA athlete or higher. I just don't see it happening. Not to be cocky about it - I'm just saying it's going to be hard. That day I was warming up by throwing a ball, and then I broke the world record.
The world record has to be set indoors. It has to be set with no wind flow. We had to shut all the air conditioners off. We had to shut all the doors. There was no air flow, and it was weird, because when I first did go break the world record, I kept on throwing 200 feet, 199 feet. It kept on stopping, and then we ended up switching sides, because there was still an air flow, like some kind of vent. We switched sides, and I broke the world record the second or third throw after that. It hit the bleachers and bounced back 15 feet. So maybe I could've thrown it a little further, but Guinness took the world record from where the card landed, not where it hit.
Are there particularly memorable experiences you've had with your card throwing for TV shows?
America's Got Talent, the Tonight Show, and Shark Tank were probably my favorite TV shows to appear on. On Shark Tank I was able to perform magic as well as my card-throwing stunts, and it was on a major TV network at a prime time. So they got my magic and my card-throwing out in one episode.
America's Got Talent was one of the bigger stages that I got to perform on. I never got X'ed, and a lot of people watch that show, so that was another fun one to get recognized from. There were other shows that were fun to be on, like the Tonight Show. They all just have different audiences, and have different reasons for being the best show at the time. With the Ellen DeGeneres show, I got to throw cards with Ellen, and it was a timeframe and different audience that I'd never reached before. The Tonight Show is just a late night show audience, college kids, and was also another group that I'd never reached.
I have a lot of favorite TV shows. Even on Ripley's Believe It or Not, the first show I ever performed on, I was treated like gold. They flew me to Vegas to film in front of thousands of people, and I got to do stunts for the very first time, ever. I did thinks that I'd never done before for the very first time on TV, and that was so memorable.
Of the many videos online in which you appear, which is your favourite one, and why?
With YouTube channels I've been able to work with some of the best YouTubers in the world. When I did the first Card Throwing Trick Shots video with Dude Perfect, the video went viral. It trended in the number one spot on YouTube for an entire day. It had over 20 million views in the first week, and we're over 137 million views now. They got card-throwing out to the biggest audience in the fastest amount of time, and made me the most recognizable around the world for the age group of kids. Kids would recognize me anywhere I'd go, non-magic-related, just because they're huge Dude Perfect fans.
But Dude Perfect led into other big collaborations with Mark Rober, the mechanical engineer from NASA; with David Dobrik, going to his house and performing trick shots with all of his friends, and with Florian "Venom" Kohler, the pool trick shot artist from Las Vegas. And there's a whole bunch of others: Carter Sharer, Juggling Josh, Logan Broadbent, the Slow Mo Guys, the Modern Rogue, and Scam Nation. All of these other YouTube channels have just totally launched my YouTube career; I thought that I would have reached 300 million people in such a short amount of time.
What impact did these viral videos have on your career?
I have been able to charge higher fees and I have been more in demand. I've got some of the biggest shows of my life since then. I've been able to travel to other countries and do my card-throwing and magic in places that I never thought possible. I've had a few agents ask to hire me for different events. I've done just card-throwing shows, even if they were only ten minutes long. At times I been paid more to do a ten-minute card-throwing show than for my Las Vegas-style magic show!
So yes, it has gotten me out there, and the demand right after that video was so great that I couldn't handle all the shows. I started working with other magicians and people in my area, and we developed a really good entertainment agency ourselves called the Cleveland Entertainers, where we book different entertainers. When leads come in and I can't fulfill them personally, we say: "Rick's not available, but we have so-and-so that would be a good fit for your party." It is another way to make some extra money, but it also gives a lot of friends in my network some extra shows that they didn't have coming.
How many takes does it typically take you to accomplish the kinds of feats we see you do in viral videos like your first video with Dude Perfect and others?
Dude Perfect took place in one and a half days. The first day, we started at 11 and ended at 5. The second day we started at 11 and ended at 1:30 or 2:30, because I had to fly back. Most of the trick shots were fast, and didn't take a long time at all. The only thing that took time in between each trick shot was setting up the cameras. The trick shots that you would think would be the hardest to take place, like the olive slicer where Cody would throw the olive up in the air and I would slice it in half? A lot of people say "That had to take you all day," but I can honestly do that one out of every six throws. I probably cut that olive six or seven times, just to get the right and perfect camera angle that we needed for that shot.
Making a basket from a full court? Some people say, "Oh that probably took you all day." Believe it or not, that was my second throw. It happened, and we were done with it. We had set aside 20 minutes to do that shot, but I did it within the first minute.
No one would believe what was the hardest shot of that whole video. It would be the balloon that was hanging on the second level, and I was standing below, and had to throw the card upwards and pop the balloon hanging about 50 feet away. That was the hardest shot of the whole video, because I had to throw upwards at an angle, and I had to hit the balloon, and I had to pop it. So that one probably took the longest - I think we worked on it for 20 minutes. Then we went to lunch, and we came back. Right after lunch, we were about to give up, and then I got it. So 20 or 25 minutes was the longest we spent on any trick shot in that video. But a lot of them were first or second try.
What instructional videos have you produced that we should know about?
If you want to learn some magic and some card-throwing, I have a free tutorial and some more tutorials on my YouTube channel. I also have some behind the scenes of the card-throwing and some in-depth training on a DVD called Velocity, which is available on my website.
What's the worst injury you've experienced as a result of throwing playing cards?
I would say it was the elbow. I tore the UCL in the elbow, and I had to have that replaced. The first time was with a cadaver and that broke. Then the second time, they took my hamstring from my left leg, and they built it into my right arm. They did a figure eight twice to strengthen that ligament strong enough so when I threw a card or ball or whatever I was throwing, I wouldn't tear that ligament again. But that puts you out six months. I still could do magic and card throwing, but I did it with my other arm.
What do you think the worst damage a playing card could do if you threw it at someone?
It can definitely give you a paper cut, that's for sure. I think that's the worst thing you could do. I don't think you're going to kill somebody with a playing card, but you can definitely make somebody bleed. You can definitely stick a card into somebody, if you throw it hard enough. But it'll give you the worst paper cut of your life, so I recommend you don't throw at people, even though I've done it to friends of mine.
If you're going to have your card battle, you're going to want to have glasses or a welder's mask. I have a gauntlet glove. I give people Styrofoam targets to put on, the UFC gloves with targets put onto them. So if I'm doing this in a live show, people are 100% protected, and nothing is going to happen to them.
What advice would you give to someone who is interested in learning how to do card throwing for fun?
If you want to learn how to throw cards for fun, I would just say hop onto my YouTube channel. Check out the different tutorials. Grab some Styrofoam targets, some playing cards, and practice throwing them.
What can you tell us about the card-throwing competition at your shows?
I have a card-throwing competition now that is live for anybody that wants to come to one of my shows, offering $1,000 if they can hit a target three times in a row and stick their cards into the target. People come up, and whoever throws a playing card the farthest gets to throw three cards into the target. I demonstrate that it's possible right in front of them, and then I give them the same three cards, or three new cards, depending on what they want, and let them try to throw the cards as well.
If they do it, they win the money. If not, they get other prizes. They can win a deck of cards, they can win $100, or they can win the grand prize of $1,000. It's usually done live, in front of hundreds of thousands of people. No one's won yet, but I've given a couple hundred dollars away, and I've given probably 15 decks of cards away for people that have stuck one card into the target. I've had a couple good kids out there that are ready to take my money.

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PLAYING CARDS
Should we use old playing cards for practicing our card throwing?
I'm pretty much a diva when it comes to playing cards, and I've used Bicycle playing cards my entire life. I'll probably use them forever for practice. But once I throw a playing card and it gets bent, I can't throw it again. The accuracy and precision comes with a perfectly non-touched playing card. Once oil is on our hands or once the card gets crinkled or once it gets bent or the heat hits it and it starts warping a little bit, I can't throw those cards accurately. So I would say you can practice throwing or get the technique down with old playing cards. But if you're going to try a trick shot, to have the accuracy and precision that they're looking for, you're going to have to go buy a brand-new deck, never touched by a human.
What type of playing cards did you first use when you started card throwing and magic?
I typically use Bicycle playing cards. I've been a Bicycle fan since I broke the world record in 2002.
For magic I always thought Bicycle playing cards were cards that didn't look like trick cards. They look like the standard deck that everybody has, so when performing magic with them, people didn't think it wasn't a trick deck.
What playing cards do you use for card throwing today?
I still throw Bicycle playing cards, but I had special cards when I worked with De'Vo. When he created the Chrome Kings, I thought those would be a really good card to use because of how they looked in slow motion. I started collaborating with De'Vo as much as I could, because the cards that he created were always different than anything else that I saw on the market. He put a lot of work into it, and I used a lot of his different decks on different TV shows when doing card-throwing appearances. People would see those cards, and they got a lot of interest, and they would say things like "Oh, those are really sick-looking cards" or "They look really cool in slow motion." So I ended up collecting every single deck that De'Vo has created, and I have them hanging in my office on a nice plaque.
We've been friends for years, and he finally said, maybe two years ago, "Let's create a deck of cards just for you." So we created the Falcons, and that's what I have now. That's what I've been selling and giving away and promoting for the last year now.
What playing cards have you personally been involved with producing?
I developed the whistle for the Banshee throwing playing cards. Banshees were created by Murphy's Magic, while the whistle was created by me. So Banshees and Banshees Advanced are playing cards that you can throw that have a measuring system. I used the Chrome Kings that De'Vo developed for most of the first video for Dude Perfect. In my second collaboration video, I used my new Falcons, which have a gold and silver edition. We just released a cool Kickstarter for the Falcon Razor deck.
Do you need a special deck of cards like the Banshees or Chrome Kings for card throwing?
A brand new Bicycle-quality card is fine. I use all the different cards for different reasons. The Chrome Kings looked amazing in slow motion, and I liked the way that they looked. When we used 10,000 frames per second, it looked like a blade was coming right at the vegetable that I was throwing at. The Banshees were heavier, so when I did the long distance bottle-breaker on Dude Perfect, the Banshee card was the thickest card I had at the time that was strong enough to be able to break the sugar glass. The Falcon throwing cards which De'Vo and I created last year are a little bit thicker, the thickest stock that USPC has ever printed on. So my Falcon deck is the only deck that is printed on that stock, which gives it an edge over other cards, because they are a little bit heavier than your typical Bicycle playing card.
Bicycle cards are perfect to practice with. I've used them to break my Guinness Book world record. I feel that if someone wanted to break a world record for distance, that they would need to use a card like the Bicycle playing cards and not a Falcon playing card, because a Falcon would almost be considered cheating, because it's definitely a heavier card, and the heavier card will definitely throw farther than your typical card.
What are some of the other qualities we should know about your personal Falcon Throwing Cards?
There's a marking system on them, not for magic, but for card-throwing. There's a star measuring system for how far you would throw a card into a target.
There are gimmicks that are built with the silver Falcons and the gold foil of the gold Falcons. There's a double backer in the silver Falcons. There's two Jokers with a gimmick card, where you can force a card in the falcon's talons for the regular deck. Then there's a new reveal card in the new silver edition.
Other than that, it looks almost like a blade when you're throwing them in slow motion, so they look pretty cool when you hit them with the high-speed camera.
What playing cards do you use for performing magic?
My magic deck is still Bicycle. I still prefer them over any other deck that I've used for performing magic, unless I'm at a really high-end event and I want to have a fancy deck of cards. I will browse my collection and grab one of De'Vo's earlier decks. I'm not against other companies though, and I have decks from David Blaine, Art of Play, and Theory 11. I probably have thousands different decks of cards, if not more. Some decks of cards, other magicians give to me. Some decks of cards, I've received as gifts. So I like playing cards all around.
Are you a playing card collector at all yourself, and if so, what can you share about your personal collection?
I have a lot of decks of cards, but I don't have all the rare decks. I have never got into collecting like some of my friends who are professional card collectors. I do have some rare decks, like some decks from World War I and II. And I have lots of the different Bicycle brand decks. But my biggest collection is De'Vo's collection. That was the one series of cards that I wanted to make sure that I had every deck. So I do.

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CONCLUSION
There's no doubt that Rick Smith Jr is a unique individual with a remarkable set of talents. He has shaped himself into an entertainer like no other. His path to the record-setting top has been shaped by a few key events, especially his baseball background, his first world record, and his Dude Perfect collaboration video. But he's also not afraid of hard work, as his busy schedule of 600+ shows a year makes clear. He's honed and polished his craft, enabling him to do things with playing cards that nobody else in the world can do.
But even if we're not about to contest Rick Smith Jr for his world records, that doesn't mean we can't have fun with playing cards in unusual ways. So why not grab a deck of playing cards and give card throwing a shot yourself!
Where to learn more? Check out Rick Smith Jr's resources here: - Rick Smith Jr: Official site, Magic Store, Magic Gives Back - Social media: Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram, Youtube - Videos: Promo video, Card Throwing Highlights - Dude Perfect videos: Card Throwing Trick Shots, Card Throwing Trick Shots 2 - Tutorials: Free Card Throwing Tutorial, Velocity DVD - Custom decks: Falcon Razor, Falcon Throwing Cards, Chrome Kings, De'vo Cardistry decks

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Author's note: I first published this article at PlayingCardDecks here.
submitted by EndersGame_Reviewer to playingcards [link] [comments]

Living on Earth - Part 3

Part 1
Part 2
Gebluck was walking through the remains of a city; all around him were dead bodies, most burned beyond recognition. As he moved through the rubble he could hear moans and cries for help, the wailing of mothers who had lost their children, the wails of children who had lost their mothers. Fires burned in every direction, and beings that were unrecognizable as any race seemed to crawl from the rubble. They reached out to him for help as their skin was dripping off in great blobs as though it was candle wax. Just then he approached a wall, there on the wall, were the outlines of bodies, bodies that had been vaporized by heat so intense that it had melted the very stone ground on which the bodies that cast the ghostly shadows had stood. Looking up into the sky, he could see a great silver bird, gliding as though it was some great bird of prey. Suddenly, while still in flight, the bird dropped an egg from its underside. Gebluck watched as the yellow-colored egg fell from the sky and suddenly the egg became a sun, releasing the very power of a star into the elements. He screamed in agony as the light burned his eyes from their sockets and the heat seared his skin from his bones.
Suddenly there was a pounding sound, Gebluck sat straight up in his bed and looked around the room in terror. For long moments he wondered if he was in the afterlife, then, as his mind cleared he remembered the events of the previous day. “Thank the maker, it was a dream,” he said as his body trembled in response to the power of his dream. Looking across the room, he could see that the TV was still on, displaying images of someone preparing a meal.
“Just a moment,” he said as he searched for the remote that his host had so graciously shown him how to use. Looking to learn more about Earth, he had searched for a broadcast about history, finally stopping on a broadcast called Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It was while watching this that exhaustion had taken over and he had fallen asleep. “Never again, do I watch human TV in bed,” he said under his breath as he clicked the monstrosity off.
Opening the door he saw Susan standing in the hallway on the other side. “Hey,” she said, “breakfast is on the table, come on down and have some before it gets cold.”
“I’ll be down in a few moments,” replied Gebluck, his voice still shaking from the nightmare he had just experienced.
Noticing his distress, “Is everything ok?” added his female host.
“Yes, yes,” Gebluck stammered, “just getting used to the new environment.”
His host turned and walked away as he shut the door. “What am I doing on this godforsaken planet?” he mumbled to himself as he pulled a change of clothes from his bag.
As he descended the stairs he could smell the aroma of fresh cooked food. At the bottom of the stairs, he turned toward the kitchen area. “Ah, there you are,” said his host as she poured a yellowish-orange liquid from a larger container into a serving cup. “Other than the pot-roast and fish, you seemed to stick to mostly vegetables last night. So I decided to give you a choice." She turned and sat the cup on the table. Pointing at a tray on the table, “Here is some bacon, and here is some sausage,” she added, pointing to another, “over here,” she continued, “we have some scrambled eggs; I added cheese, as you seemed to like it on your broccoli last night. Then I have cooked you some pancakes with maple syrup, and over here,” she added, “are some biscuits, smothered in old fashioned sawmill gravy. Sorry, but the biscuits are from a can, nobody has time to make them the old fashioned way anymore. And finally, I just poured you some orange juice, previously frozen, but hey, we aren’t in Florida. And if orange juice is not to your taste, we have water, coffee, milk, and soft drinks for you to wash it all down with.”
Gebluck was stunned, never in his life had he seen such a spread of food prepared for the morning meal. He paused and surveyed the table before him before pulling out a chair and sitting down. As he had seen the Smith family do the night before, he waited for the other family members. Noticing his pause, “Go ahead and dig in,” added Susan.
“I thought it was customary to wait for the rest of the family.”
“For dinner, yes, but Jim and Tommy have already gone, Tommy has soccer practice today.”
Tommy, that is the child’s name thought Gebluck, thankfully; Now he wouldn’t have to be embarrassed to ask it. “You cooked all this just for me?”
“Oh no,” Susan laughed, “I fixed most of this earlier before the boys left. Other than the pancakes, I just kept it warm for you. That’s why I came up when I did; nobody likes cold pancakes. But if it makes you more comfortable, I will sit with you while you eat.”
“It would.”
The human female pulled out a chair and sat down. In her hand, she held a cup of liquid that seemed to be steaming hot. Not knowing what to do next, Gebluck finally added, “Do we need to say a prayer before I start?”
“What, oh, no, no, that’s up to you; you saw us pray last night and thought it was mandatory.”
“There was very little about religion in my orientation.”
“Well, when we eat together as a family we like to say a prayer, but alone… well, that is up to the individual.”
“I see, and it will not offend you if I do not pray?”
“Of course not, we have plenty of friends who are not religious.”
Making a mental note to learn more about human religion, Gebluck reached out and took the cup full of the yellowish liquid. Prepared this time for anything, he took a sip; it had a fruity sweet flavor, yet with a slightly bitter aftertaste. Cautiously, he took a fork and cut a small bite from the pancakes and lifted it to his mouth. The flavor was exquisite, it was clearly some form of bread but sweet with a fluffy consistency, the syrup added a flavor and texture that he did not have words to describe. “Very good,” he said, before taking a second larger bite.
“Gebluck,” said Susan as Gebluck sampled at least some of every item on the table, “I don’t mean to offend, but aren’t those the same clothes you had on yesterday?”
Gebluck attempted to clear his mouth, “Err, no, I brought several changes of clothes with me.”
“But those look exactly like the ones you had on when we picked you up.”
“Well, it is the color and type that suits me.”
Almost spitting out a sip of her coffee, “You mean all your clothes are exactly the same?”
“Well… mostly, there are some minor color differences.”
“Does everyone on your planet wear the exact same clothes?”
Gebluck looked at his host quizzically, “Well, no, of course not. But I must admit that I have noticed that humans do seem to wear much broader styles and colors of clothing than is common on Kyrianous.”
Their chatting continued until Gebluck finished his meal and dabbed his mouth clean. Susan took a sip of her now cool coffee, “Gebluck,” she began, “stand up and let me have a look at you.”
Gebluck looked at his host, “I don’t understand.”
“Stand up so I can get a good look at you.”
Out of confusion, he paused a moment before pushing his stair back and standing.
“Turn around,” said his host.
Not knowing what was going on, the confused alien followed her instructions.
“And again,” she added.
Once again Gebluck turned, this time back to face his host.
“I think we can make this work,” she said.
“Make what work?” replied the confused alien.
“We are going shopping today,” replied Susan, with a huge grin on her face.
“Shopping?” replied Gebluck, “I’m afraid I don’t quite understand that term.”
“We are going to get you some new clothes!”
Looking down, Gebluck held out his arms and then lifted a leg and studied it for a moment. “New clothes? I don’t understand, is there something wrong with the ones I brought?”
“Well, no, there’s nothing wrong with them, but…” Susan paused, “they are drab, and it’s going to get a little boring, seeing you wear the same thing every day.”
“I don’t understand, is this a human thing?”
Susan laughed, “No this is a Susan thing, and I think you need a little sprucing up is all.”
Gebluck looked back down at his body, “are you sure that we can find clothes that will fit me?”
“Well, you are proportioned a little different than humans, and that fur… well, we will just have to work with that. But this is Nashville, not that many beach-perfect bodies around this town anyway; I bet we will be able to find something to help you fit in.”
“Fit in?” said Gebluck as he self-consciously looked down at his arms, this was the first time since his arrival that anyone had even seemed to notice that they were covered with a very short brown fur that laid flat against the skin underneath. “Is there something wrong with my fur?”
“Oh no, no, not at all, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to offend you,” stammered Susan, “I just meant that… well… I’m so sorry, if I offended you, I...”
“No, no,” interrupted Gebluck, “you did not offend me. That was just the first time you have even seemed to take notice of the fact that Kyrianians have fur and humans do not.”
“Well, my parents always taught me not to judge someone by how they look.”
Gebluck considered Susan’s words for a moment before speaking; “That is a very enlightened attitude. You would be surprised by how many species in the galaxy, even advanced space-faring races put on appearance.”
“Oh, don’t get me wrong;” replied Susan, “humans on Earth judge people by appearance all the time, but there are some of us who believe it is wrong to do so. Even then… well, we just can’t help ourselves, we notice people who are different. But, if I understand the reason you are here, it is to live like us and learn how we live.”
“Well that is the reason for the exchange,” replied Gebluck.
“So to fit in and live as we do, don’t you need to dress as we do?”
Gebluck thought for a moment, “I see your point.”
Susan seemed extremely pleased with his response, “Listen, you go on up to your room and get ready. It’ll just take me a few minutes to clear this table and we will be on our way.”
Gebluck stood looking in the mirror over the clothes storage chest, his own familiar face stared back at him. Kyrianians were roughly built like humans, as were many sapient species in the galaxy. It seemed as though nature had found the perfect form for intelligence; upright, bipedal, with bilateral symmetry, and usually with a single head and two eyes for depth perception. Philosophers and scientists across the galaxy had, for ages, argued whether these similarities were just a quirk of nature or had some greater philosophical meaning. As Gebluck studied his own face, he realized that within these confines there could still be great variation. Though human faces bore little resemblance to his own, they were still recognizable as faces. Humans had two eyes, two ears, a single nose, and a single mouth, Just as Kyrianians did. But it was there where the similarities ended. His eyes were much larger than a human’s, as well setting so close together, as to nearly meet over the nose. His ears were much larger and sat significantly higher on his head than human ears, and though most of his body was covered with a very fine brown fur, his face and ears were completely hairless. “Fit in,” Susan had said… twice; how was the face in that mirror ever going to fit in on this planet? Thought Gebleck, suddenly feeling very alone.
"Gebluck, are you ready?" came Susan's voice from the bottom of the stairs.
"Be right down," Responded Gebluck, as he turned and walked toward the door.
As he reached the bottom of the stairs he was surprised to see a second human female in the room. "Gebluck," said his female host, this is Karen, from next door; she called and I just couldn't help myself, I asked her if she wanted to go shopping with us. I hope you don't mind."
"No, of course, I do not mind," Replied Gebluck.
"Oh, my God, a real alien," said the second female as she rushed in Gebluck's direction. "Susan told me that she and Jim had been selected to host one of you guys, but here you are... Right in their house, a real honest to gosh person from another planet! It's an honor to meet you Mr. Gebluck."
Shocked by her outburst and sudden movement, Gebluck actually took a step backward as the human female rushed in his direction. Regaining his composure, he extended his hand and took her extended right hand in his and moved it up and down as he had been instructed in orientation. "Just Gebluck," he replied, "It is nice to meet you, Karen."
"Let's go you guys. Daylight's burning," said Susan as she turned in the direction of the garage door.
It took three trips for Gebluck to carry the day’s purchases to his room at the top of the stairs. As he sat the last bag on his bed, he stepped back and surveyed the mass of bags and packages, and then looked around the room. It was at that moment, abundantly clear why human houses have so much storage space.
Deciding to relax for a while before putting away the day’s purchases, Gebluck walked to the desk, clicked on his journal, took up the stylus and began to write.
Gebluck Yessig, journal entry day two.
This has been such a fervent day; it began this morning when Susan awakened me to a prepared breakfast that would have satisfied any king. I now know why human body shapes and sizes are so varied; if all humans eat as these do, it is a wonder any of them can walk. I must watch my food intake if I do not want to be so large as to not fit in the transport couch in a year when I return home.
It was during breakfast that Susan announced that my clothes were too drab, whatever that means, and insisted that we go shopping for more. Shopping is a term that I had not heard before, but apparently, it means to ride from marketplace to marketplace while engaged in protracted conversation about random topics. We were accompanied on our shopping trip by a friend of my host by the name of Karen. And as such, the conversation was so intense, that at times I feared for my life, considering that Susan was operating the ground vehicle at the time; much of the time she seemed to be paying far more attention to the conversation, than the safe operation of the vehicle. On at least three occasions I was convinced that we were going to collide with another vehicle.
But conversation and travel are not the only elements to shopping; much of our day was spent with me trying on different pieces of Earth clothing and being forced to demonstrate the clothing for Susan and Karen, as well as any bystanders that were curious to see an alien. I would dress in a small room that merchants provide for just this exercise, and then exit the room in order for my hosts to give their approval or disapproval to the item I was wearing. Often this consisted of walking back and forth, turning several times and then standing in different positions; Susan called it modeling the clothing; I call it humiliating, although, based on their reactions, I think the humiliation was unintentional as this seems to be a common practice among humans.
The mid-day meal, lunch, as humans call it, consisted of visiting another type of restaurant that Susan referred to as a fast-food-joint. It was at this restaurant where Susan insisted that I try something called a hamburger, fries and a chocolate shake. Susan made it a point to tell me that even though it is called a hamburger it contains no ham, whatever that is. When I received my meal, which I must agree was very quickly, I found it to be a piece of meat formed into a round shape and placed between two pieces of bread; additionally, it contained several different sliced vegetables and something they refer to as a secret sauce. Admittedly it was quite tasty. However, I am surprised how well I have adapted to eating meat, which is good, considering that humans seem to include meat in every meal. The fries, Susan informed me, is a vegetable that grows underground, harvested and sliced into long skinny pieces before being fried in copious amounts of food-grade oil. It seems to be customary for humans to dip these small pieces of cooked vegetable into a red substance called ketchup before eating; I found the taste not disagreeable.
The highlight of the meal was the chocolate shake; I have never seen or tasted anything like it. A chocolate shake is a frozen concoction based on the mammary excretions of a large ground animal that is flavored with a sweet substance called sugar and the extract of a plant called the coco plant as well as other flavorings. Despite the Kyrianian intolerance for cold, I found the taste exquisite. It was while consuming this chocolate shake that I also learned something about my own physiology that I did not know. Apparently consuming substances that are below the freezing point of water too fast causes a reaction and a sensation I have never experienced before; a sudden massive stabbing headache feels like broken glass cutting through your brain. The sensation lasts for only a few moments but is excruciating. Since Kyrianians do not normally consume frozen substances, it is not something I have experienced before. However, when my hosts saw my reaction to this new sensation, they giggled and laughed and, in unison, screamed “Brain-Freeze!” apparently humans are also susceptible to this condition, and seem to take great joy in it. I still do not understand why they find such a painful sensation funny, though they both assured me that they have both experienced it on many occasions and it has no long term effects. Despite the risk of a repeat brain-freeze, I continued consuming the chocolate shake, although at a much slower rate.
After our mid-day meal, the day continued as before, with visits to various shops around town, many that sold much more than clothing. Our final stop of the day was at something called a Wall-Mart; I struggle to find words to describe this place. A Wall-Mart is like a giant market-place under a single roof. In this place, you can buy everything from ground vehicle parts to food and of course everything in between. According to Susan the reason for our stop was to pick up some food, to resupply the Smith family supplies. While there, I was extremely surprised to find that this place also sold weapons and ammunition. When I inquired of my host about this fact she seemed completely nonplussed. Apparently many humans carry weapons for self-protection. I was extremely shocked to learn that Susan herself carries a weapon in the bag she keeps with her at all times, though I have not seen it. Perhaps that is why she seems so protective of it.
Learning that humans routinely carry deadly weapons with them at all times has left me feeling a little shaken. Considering what I have seen of this society in the last two days, I have many questions, as the humans, I have met appear to be neither dangerous nor violent. However before official contact with humans, Alliance observers categorized them as one of the most dangerous species in the galaxy. This seemed to be confirmed the broadcast I viewed after my journal entry last night. The broadcast related the events of some years ago, when, during a major war, nuclear weapons were used on at least two human cities. The images presented on the view-screen were so terrifyingly horrific that they caused me to have nightmares last night as I attempted to sleep.
This is where my questions come in, I have been on this planet for just over a day and a half, and the humans I have met have been some of the nicest, most pleasant if somewhat odd sapient beings I have ever met; yet, at the same time, they are routinely and covertly armed to the teeth with deadly weapons. I am really beginning to understand the reason for the extension of the exchange program, for as it stands, I do not believe I would fully understand humans if I spent a thousand years with them.
For our final meal of the day, we had something called pizza. Apparently, on this world you can have your pre-cooked meal delivered right to your door, hot and ready to eat. This could be the humans' greatest custom to bring to the rest of the galaxy. The very concept of a full ready-to-eat meal placed directly on your table with no labor involved; what could be better?
The day ended as did my first day here, watching the evening news broadcast that related significant events of the day that occurred in the local area, as well as a forecast of the next few day’s weather conditions. The broadcast itself ended with coverage of various sporting events. Watching the daily broadcast seems to a routine in the Smith household; I do not know if it is mandatory or simply a voluntary action by the Smith father, as Susan seems to pay little interest in it.
Before retiring for the night, Susan informed me that since tomorrow was a Sunday, it would be a down day for us, and we might go to the park. This also has me confused, as humans refer to the area where they leave their vehicles when away from their home as a parking-lot. Why we would want to go to a park seems to make no sense. I suppose I will have to wait and find out tomorrow what this all means.
Final note: I do not believe I will watch TV before going to sleep tonight, as I do not want a repeat of last night’s nightmares.
Part 4
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Countdown to Kickoff 2020: Portland Timbers

Countdown to Kickoff 2020: Portland Timbers

Basic Info:

Club Name: Portland Timbers
Location: Portland, Oregon
Stadium: Providence Park. Beautiful timelapse of the recent renovations.
Head Coach: Giovanni Savarese (3rd year)
Captain: Diego Valeri
CEO/Majority Owner: Merritt Paulson
USL Affiliate: Timbers 2
Kits:

2019 in Review

Final Standings: 14-13-7 (W-L-D), 49 pts, +3 GD, 6th in the West
In one word, the 2019 Portland Timbers season was draining. It was an endurance test for the players. It was an endurance test for even the most ardent supporters. And it was certainly an endurance test for a Front Office that invested serious capital into organizational infrastructure. Bookended by snowy affairs in the Rocky Mountains, a year filled with tantalizing potential melted away, leaving a passionate (some might say capricious) fanbase searching for explanations. So, what went wrong?
Well, it was always going to be an uphill battle from the opening kick. Starting with the coldest game in MLS history in Colorado, the Timbers faced a daunting 12-match road trip to accommodate the impressive renovations to Providence Park’s East stand. After accumulating 1 pt from the first six matches, including blow out losses to both FC Cincinnati (!) and then-winless San Jose, the fanbase collectively smashed the panic button entering a match against ex-coach Caleb Porter and his Columbus Crew. However, for the next few months, we witnessed a different team and a different mentality. Three consecutive quality victories against Columbus, Toronto, and RSL brought the team back from the abyss. And a subsequent win against upstart Philadelphia saw Portland finish its road marathon at a respectable 14 points.
Suddenly, the narrative flipped. Pundits consistently listed the Timbers at the top of their power rankings, and with 17 of the final 22 matches at one of the best home-field advantages in MLS, it seemed the positive momentum would prevail indefinitely. More importantly though, the Timbers had found their final piece to the puzzle: an elite, ruthless, and fiery DP striker in Brian Fernandez. Fresh off an impressive campaign with Necaxa in Liga MX, the Argentine became the first player in history to score in five consecutive regular-season games to open an MLS career. His clinicality and intensity raised the level of the squad, leading Steve Clark to don the classic Michael Myers mask from Halloween, declaring Providence Park as a “House of Horrors” for the opponent.
But as it turned out, the team never truly reacclimated to the friendly confines of its home pitch. After four months (incl. preseason) away from home, the squad’s lethal counter-attacking style was far more suited for road matches which provided no impetus to play attractive soccer. Away victories at elite opponents including NYCFC, Seattle, and LAFC provided a stark contrast to disheartening home performances against the likes of Colorado, Orlando, and 10-man Chicago. And soon, the atmosphere off-the-field began to match the team’s sudden struggles on the pitch.
Political viewpoints aside, the Iron Front protests and Diego Valeri’s contract impasse ignited an already contentious relationship between the Timbers Army and FO. Meanwhile, as the squad racked up disappointing home results due to uninspired offensive play, home attendance began to waver more so than years past. While the home sell-out streak remains to this day, the increased number of empty seats in Providence Park was a pretty blunt indication of increased apathy towards the organization.
And then, there was the cherry on top. After missing consecutive matches due to a reported “stomach bug,” it became pretty clear Brian Fernandez was not the same player he was in the early summer. With a complicated and somber family history, Fernandez had struggled with substance abuse issues in the past but seemed to be on the path to full recovery during recent years. However, in October, Fernandez entered the league’s Substance Abuse and Behavioral Health Program, and just as his story arc in green-and-gold faded to black, the Timbers season finished with a whimper. Jefferson Savarino’s 87th-minute goal in snowy Utah knocked the Timbers out of Cup contention. Eleven months following an exciting run to MLS Cup, Portland entered the 2020 offseason weary, drained, and searching for a new beginning.

The Coach

Giovanni Savarese
I expected 2019 to provide more clarity on Giovanni Savarese’s coaching aptitude, but as I sit here one year later, I’m still left with more questions than answers. Gio’s passion and fervor was a refreshing juxtaposition to Caleb Porter’s often smug demeanor, but his far more conservative style still ruffles the feathers of fans who yearn for the days of “Porterball.” While Savarese implemented a high-pressing, dynamic, and open style during his time at the Cosmos, he has yet to find similar success doing so in the Rose City. The past two seasons have exhibited nearly the same progression: start the season trying to play pressing-style soccer, get beat badly, and then resort to a conservative, counter-attacking approach.
The truth of the matter is the conservative style fits the Portland Timbers. When the defense is solid, Diego Valeri and Sebastian Blanco are talented enough to win the game on the counter by themselves. However, this tactical inflexibility is essentially the sole on-field contributor for why the team struggled so mightily down the stretch. When teams packed it in and eliminated the possibility of counter-attacks, Portland could not break down the opposition, resorted to launching an MLS record number of crosses, and got scorched on counters going the other way. A taste of their own medicine if you will.
In 2020, Savarese has no excuse. There’s no road trip to start the season, he has a loaded arsenal of complimentary attacking weapons, and now it’s abundantly clear the Timbers must learn how to control games from the front foot. An identity is useful, but flexibility is a requirement to be great. The club wants to (has to) win now, and they’ve invested significantly into personnel and infrastructure to do so. Now, it’s up to Savarese to lead the team to silverware.

Departures

Brian Fernandez (ST): This one hurts. There are no two ways about it. Fernandez truly convinced GM Gavin Wilkinson and TD Ned Grabavoy that he was past his struggles, but unfortunately, it didn’t turn out to be the case. As Wilkinson stated in The Athletic, “if we could go back and do it again, we wouldn’t have done it,” adding “what I will say is the word fraud exists for a reason.” Rumors suggest Necaxa covered up a failed drug test, and MLS is currently launching a lawsuit to help the club recoup the transfer fee. While Wilkinson suggests Fernandez was a bust, the truth is he scored 15 goals in ~25 games in all comps, showing a ruthlessness in front of goal that rivaled the Martinez’s and Ruidiaz’s of the league. As people who have met him can attest, he’s a vibrant and kind individual regardless of the fact he continues to face difficult obstacles off the field. It's just such a disappointment that it didn’t all come together, and I pray for his health and safety.
Zarek Valentin (RB): This one hurts too. Zarek was a staple of the community, someone who embraced Portland as his home, and was as approachable as any professional athlete. With initiatives like wearing a rainbow ribbon in his hair to fundraise for homeless LGBT+ youth, Zarek was an ideal steward for the club and community. With our lack of fullback depth, leaving him unprotected in the expansion draft was far from a popular decision - one that strained an already frayed relationship between the Front Office and some fans. That said, as amazing as Zarek is, his lack of athleticism was starting to catch up to him. He even admitted some struggles down the stretch, and as more talented/athletic wingers enter the league, his minutes might soon reflect it. Zarek’s versatility, eccentricity, and civic involvement will certainly be missed though. Houston, you’ve got a great dude.
Claude Dielna (CB): The most puzzling move of 2019, it didn’t take an acute observer to recognize that Dielna struggled in MLS. Wilkinson and Grabavoy took a one-year flier on Dielna to be the 4th-stringer, and the outcome was fairly predictable. He possesses a silky left foot which allows him to pick sharp passes out of the back, but he can’t run, can’t jump, and can’t defend 1v1. All of those attributes are pretty essential requirements for playing CB in any league, so it’s no surprise to see the organization not renew his contract. In the end, I wouldn’t suggest Dielna self-immolated like many horrific Timbers CBs of yesteryear (see McKenzie, Raushawn), but I highly doubt anyone will be pining for his return.
Foster Langsdorf (ST): Langsdorf may be used as an example of a Homegrown the Timbers failed to move through the ranks, but letting him go makes sense (unfortunately.) In a 2019 season essential for his development, he failed to make any significant impact at the USL level, and at 24, he would’ve entered the 2020 campaign in the exact spot he did the previous two seasons. Despite some clever finishes in the 2018 USL season, he’s not a legitimate option for the first team in this day in age - especially when similarly-aged strikers Felipe Mora, Jaroslaw Niezgoda, and Jeremy Ebobisse boast far more developed skillsets.
Modou Jadama (CB/RB): Jadama made two total appearances for the first team over two seasons, including one start at RB at Montreal in 2019. To be frank, he didn’t particularly shine as an MLS-caliber player during that time, so his opportunity to cement himself in the organization’s plans came and went. Now at Atlanta United 2, I think he’ll be a good fit for a full-time USL position, although we probably could have used CB depth with Bill Tuiloma’s injury.
Kendall McIntosh (GK): McIntosh was an undersized goalkeeper whose frame and athleticism is reminiscent of the likes of Nick Rimando. For the most part, he was a career T2 netminder that was far too raw in some areas to mount a challenge against experienced keepers like Jeff Attinella and Steve Clark. Now a member of the Red Bulls via the Re-Entry Draft, I doubt McIntosh finds many more minutes outside of the USL, but he seemed like a good dude and we all wish him the best.

2020 Outlook:

So, where does that leave us for the 2020 season? Well, pretty close to the same spot we found ourselves last year. In the preceding two seasons, it was clear the Timbers possessed enough talent to capture silverware, yet surpassing the final hurdle proved to be too much. As a result, continuity in terms of roster management remains among the league’s most stable. Ultimately, Portland took the field March 3 in Colorado with 10 of the 11 starters from MLS Cup the previous December, and this season, the only departure considered a surefire starter was Brian Fernandez.
However, the main difference in 2020 comes down to the acquisitions. The Timbers FO utilized the abnormally long break to load up with an arsenal of talent, providing a stark divergence from the quiet transfer window in 2019. As much as I want to compliment the FO for its hard work this offseason, acquiring fresh blood was essential. Key pieces of the core including Larrys Mabiala, Diego Chara, Sebastian Blanco, and Diego Valeri are all exiting their prime window, and the Timbers must capitalize before that window slams shut. Consequently, four of the five names you’ll see listed in the acquisitions section below were brought in to have an immediate impact and elevate an already talented squad.
As a result, in terms of pure on-paper talent, this is a Top 5 caliber MLS team. Whether Savarese can coalesce that talent into a functioning, dynamic, and successful unit is an entirely different story however. It honestly feels like a boom-or-bust type season, and I’m worried about how they’ll navigate the natural roller-coaster swings that MLS’s parity generates. So, I’ll leave you with this: if the Timbers figure out how to maintain defensive structure without resorting to a conservative shell, they’ll be one of the best teams in the league. If not, all bets are off.

Acquisitions:

Jarosław Niezgoda (ST): The Polish DP doesn’t have to single-handedly replace Brian Fernandez’s goal contributions, but make no mistake about it, the Timbers brought Niezgoda in to make an immediate and profound impact on the scoresheet. At only 24, Jarek arrives with a high pedigree having notched double-digit goals in multiple seasons for one of Poland’s powerhouses in Legia Warsaw. Ultimately, it makes sense European clubs like Bordeaux and Torino were sniffing around the striker, as he’s quite mobile for his size, can finish well with both feet, and is clever with his movements inside the box. And say what you will about the Ekstraklasa, it has a strange knack for producing efficient goalscorers, including Niezgoda’s Legia predecessor Nemanja Nikolic.
However, there is a massive catch: Niezgoda has struggled with injuries throughout his career. In a league famous for physical play, and on a team that has experienced its fair share of injury-riddled seasons, Jarek’s fitness is a legitimate concern. While his congenital heart issues seem to be held in check, Legia fans are quick to mention “he's made of glass, and it's hard to keep him in shape for the whole season.” The Timbers’ physio staff will have their work cut out for them to keep Niezgoda on the pitch and scoring goals.
Note: Niezgoda has yet to feature in preseason due to the recovery timeline from a heart ablation procedure during his medical. We likely won’t see him in the XI for the first few weeks of 2020.
Felipe Mora (ST): Niezgoda’s injury-checkered past is an important factor for why Mora’s arrival is such a critical addition. The 26-year-old Chilean seemingly fell into the Timbers lap in a series of fortuitous circumstances, as they acquired him on a TAM loan deal from Pumas in Liga MX. Normally, Mora would be a DP caliber acquisition, and in fact, he was considered a serious target for the final DP slot last year before the club opted for Fernandez. However, after falling out of favor, Pumas were willing to let him go in a manner that accommodated Portland’s limited remaining budget space. Mora provides a divergent style from Niezgoda’s channel-running and Ebobisse’s hold-up ability. He operates on a true poacher’s instinct, and his industrious approach will provide a complementary presence to any of the other strikers.
Dario Župarić (CB): If there’s one offseason acquisition that is more critical to the team's success than the others, Dario Župarić is that guy. Throughout the Timbers MLS history, CB has easily been their most troublesome spot, and they’ve yet to replace Liam Ridgewell’s contributions since his departure last year. Say what you will about Liam’s off-the-field persona: his magnetism, leadership, organizational skills, and distribution were undoubtedly influential to the club’s performance.
Župarić, for lack of a better statement, is essentially the true Ridgewell replacement. At 27-years-old, the Croatian arrives with 90+ matches under his belt at Pescara in Italy and Rijeka in Croatia, a club that has already produced productive MLS players like Héber and Damir Kreilach. Early reports in training regard him as “smooth and confident,” and even if that confidence has gotten the better of him occasionally, those characteristics exemplify why Gio had never received “more messages from friends saying you’ve brought in a very good player.” In the end though, the pressure is on Dario to perform on the pitch. MLS athleticism poses a unique challenge, and there’s little flexibility to compensate for any struggles. His adjustment to MLS must be quick.
Yimmi Chara (RM): Recognize the last name? In a courtship that has lasted as long as the Timbers MLS era itself, Wilkinson finally brought the youngest Chara brother to the Rose City. Acquired as a DP from Atletico Mineiro, there is concern about whether Yimmi’s G+A output will justify the reported $6 million transfer fee. Throughout his career, he’s never been the type of player to light up the scoresheet, but it’s difficult to dispossess him and he provides lightning-quick pace that this roster lacks. With multiple attacking options, I honestly don’t anticipate much pressure to fill the stat sheet, and his familial connection to the organization should facilitate a more seamless transition. Plus, it’s difficult enough for the opposition to face one Chara - it’ll certainly be a pain in the ass to confront two.
Blake Bodily (LM): The HG left-footer is a fairly highly-regarded prospect coming out of the Pac-12, and he showed flashes of quality during his time at T2 a few years ago. With the depth on the wings, I can’t imagine he’ll see much of any first-team minutes. I could be wrong, especially if things go south for any reason, but let’s revisit this signing a year or two from now.

A word on everyone else:

Goalkeepers:
Steve Clark (GK): Without a doubt, Clark was the surprise player of 2019. Boasting the highest save percentage and second-lowest GAA in the league, Clark made numerous highlight-reel saves after taking over for Jeff Attinella in late April. While the occasional mental lapse defined much of his career up to this point, the 33-year-old was nearly flawless in all phases of play last season. However, there’s legitimate concern that this outstanding form is not replicable throughout the next campaign. After Attinella’s regression to the mean following a career year, one can understand why the Front Office might have been apprehensive to give him a sizable pay raise - even if his performances warranted it. That said, Clark’s got the new deal in his pocket and will certainly be the starter opening day vs Minnesota.
Jeff Attinella (GK): As highlighted above, few Timbers had a more ill-fated 2019 campaign than Jeff Attinella. After a torrid 2018 season, Attinella’s performances were marred by poor decision after poor decision until his year concluded with season-ending shoulder surgery. You have to feel for the guy too, as for the first time in his career, he entered an MLS regular season as the unquestioned starter. We’ll see how he recovers from the shoulder injury, but if Clark’s consistency remains and Aljaž Ivačič shows promise, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Timbers move him while he still has some value.
Aljaž Ivačič (GK): If there’s a Timber who had a more disastrous 2019 than Jeff Attinella though, it’s probably Aljaž Ivačič. The 26-year-old Slovenian was acquired last offseason to be the goalkeeper of the future, but a significant leg surgery last February took him out of team activities for most of the year. When he did return with T2 in late summer, things did not look great to say the least. It is undoubtedly difficult to adapt to a new country, but Ivačič’s struggles were worryingly apparent. Most of his goals conceded for T2 looked similar to this, where he was either in the wrong position, extremely hesitant to come off his line, or strikingly late to react to the opponent. These are fundamental issues that can hopefully be chalked up to rust and then addressed with a full preseason. If not, Aljaž might go down as one of the worst signings in club history.
Defenders:
Jorge Moreira (RB): Moreira possesses the talent to be the best RB in the league, but sporadically found himself a liability last season. After years spent with Argentine powerhouse River Plate, the 30-year-old Paraguayan was naturally inclined to push up the pitch since his teams had often dominated the game’s flow. As a result, the Timbers’ conservative style and league’s athleticism caught him off guard, as he had an unfortunate propensity to be out of position early in 2019. However, he mostly adjusted over the course of the year, and his power, crossing ability, and dynamism are crucial to the team.Even with the occasional poor clearance, Moreira is a lockdown starter and few RBs in MLS have his offensive weaponry and pedigree. His loan only lasts until June 30 however, though I’d fully expect the Front Office to lock him down on a permanent deal.
Update: the Timbers right-side defense has been tragic this preseason, and much of that has to do with Moreira’s play. He’ll have to re-adjust or else he’ll revert back to being a liability again
Larrys Mabiala (CB): With his pearly-white smile, cool demeanor, and commanding aerial ability, the big French-Congolese CB is one of the most respected players in the Timbers’ locker room. In a position that is a perennial revolving door of underperforming wreckage, Mabiala has been the one “written-in-ink” starter since mid-2017, and his veteran savvy is integral to the squad’s success. But at age 32, Larrys’ value is not embodied by his individual qualities but more so the partnership he forms with Župarić. His physical presence will always be vital to an otherwise undersized team, however, he lacks the turn of pace and distribution ability that would place him among the elite CBs in MLS. As a result, Larrys and Dario must discover how to paper over each other’s weaknesses by performing to their unique capabilities: Župarić covers ground well and can initiate attacking movements while Mabiala handles physical strikers and cleans up loose balls in the 18. In the end, his consistency will be as influential as any player on the roster. If for any reason he performs below the norm, there is simply not enough quality depth behind him to overcome it.
Bill Tuiloma (CB): Tuiloma is not spectacular by any means, but he’s an ideal player to provide sporadic minutes. The 24-year-old Kiwi is cheap, versatile, and possesses enough technical quality to score the odd banger. It’s a shame a calf injury will rule him out for the next few weeks, as the team could use his flexibility for spot duty at CB, RB, and even defensive midfield. If he recovers fully and Župarić struggles to adapt to the league’s athleticism, expect him to mount a challenge for starting minutes.
Julio Cascante (CB): The Costa Rican CB is best described as a high-ceiling, low-floor player whose ceiling continues to lower year after year. As far as backup CBs go, he’s probably adequate, but the guy went from a fringe national-teamer to virtually off-the-radar since his arrival in Portland. Though his height and build forge a formidable aerial presence, he’s yet to resolve occasional mental lapses and improve his subpar distribution. But Julio’s most maddening characteristic is his inconsistency. Perhaps the best thing you can say about a Cascante performance is that you didn’t notice him. Unfortunately, he tends to stick out for all the wrong reasons. Maybe a little more familiarity with the league will help the 26-year-old raise his level in 2020. I’m not exceedingly hopeful though.
Jorge Villafaña (LB): El Sueño hasn’t been the same player since his departure to Santos Laguna after MLS Cup 2015. Still an excellent crosser, Villafaña really struggled with pacey wingers towards the beginning of the season, although there are some whispers he was often gutting through minor knocks. Even with an uptick of form over the course of the campaign, there is legitimate concern he’s lost a step and will be a liability in the backline. I love the man as much as the next guy, but I’d say the uneasiness is valid. Let’s hope he proves us all wrong.
Marco Farfan (LB): The lack of confidence in Villafaña would be less of an issue if Zarek Valentin were still suiting up in the green-and-gold because Marco Farfan is as fragile as a potato chip. The HG LB is not the most athletic individual, but his technical quality is probably proficient enough to play at this level. Farfan still has to evolve as a 1v1 defender, though he’ll certainly get looks this year if he can manage to stay healthy.
Note: We still need a backup RB. It could be former NYRB, IMFC, and Dynamo player Chris Duvall. 20-year-old Venezuelan Pablo Bonilla is another option, but he’s at T2 for the meantime.
Midfielders:
Diego Valeri (CAM): When all is said and done, I hope MLS fans and media take a moment to appreciate just how good Diego Valeri was. Since 2015, we’ve witnessed impressive names take home the Landon Donovan MVP award including Giovinco, Villa, Josef, and Vela. Sandwiched in between those names you’ll find Diego Valeri. Only the ninth MLS player to reach the elusive 70G, 70A Club, Valeri took the Timbers from a hapless expansion side to a perennial playoff contender. And from my admittedly biased perspective, I don’t think he gets enough credit for doing so. But don’t take it from me, take it from Albert Rusnak, who accurately captures the true essence of the Maestro in this interview. For the miracles performed on the pitch, his importance and presence in the community are just as admirable.
However, times are changing for Valeri, and it’s best exemplified by the fact we almost lost him over a contract dispute this offseason. By taking a TAM deal, Diego not only affirmed his commitment to the organization but allowed them to make moves to best ensure he doesn’t retire with only a single major MLS title to his name. I’d expect the Timbers staff to exercise more load management with him this campaign, but by no means does that change his status as a pillar of the club and community. Build the statue.
Sebastian Blanco (LM/RM): Sebastian Blanco is one of those guys who never seems to score a bad goal. The fiery Argentine may not be the face of the franchise off the pitch, but the decision to extend his DP contract over Valeri is a hint towards Blanco’s importance on the field. After posting his second consecutive double-digit assist campaign, Blanco’s quality across all attacking midfield positions is unquestioned. That said, 2020 is a pivotal season for the Timbers’ oldest Designated Player. Soon to be 32, the clock is ticking on Blanco’s heyday, and he’ll certainly aspire to outperform 2019’s underwhelming tally of six goals from 106 shot attempts. Now surrounded by a wealth of complimentary attacking pieces though, I’d expect a rejuvenated Seba come March. Bet the over on six goals.
Diego Chara (CDM): If there’s anyone who can conquer the inevitability of fathertime, Diego Chara is the guy. Soon to be 34-years-old, Chara’s performance metrics — involving areas such as speed and distance covered — reached all-time highs last year. His importance to the club over the past decade cannot be overstated, and we were all ecstatic to see him finally partake in an MLS All Star Game last season. The Colombian possesses a pillowy first touch, an immense soccer IQ, and a fearless presence in the middle of the park, and there simply will be no replacing him when he finally does choose to retire. But to be honest with you, I think he’s still got a few more Best XI caliber seasons in him. He just ages like a fine wine.
Andrés Flores (CM): Hell, I’m just gonna copy and paste exactly what I wrote last year because it’s still just as applicable. Andres Flores is like a Toyota Camry - solid if unspectacular. He doesn't have the sexy style that will garner all the attention, but when push comes to shove and you need to get from point A to point B, he’ll do the job (at a very low price too!). Look for him to assist in spot-duty once he returns from injury, but his most important contributions will likely be found in the little things off the pitch.
Cristhian Paredes (CM): At only 21 years of age, the full Paraguayan international started over 30 matches the past two seasons and has also emerged as the surefire midfield partner to Diego Chara. After a 2018 campaign that saw a significant adjustment period, Paredes looked far more composed in 2019, adding late-runs into the box into his arsenal midway through last season. However, no longer on loan from Club America, Paredes will face more organizational pressure to be a day-in, day-out starter this campaign. His ranginess and ability to break up play are unquestioned, but he needs to become a bit cleaner on the ball and more confident playing out of tight spaces. That said, there’s a reason the club has invested more capital into the promising midfielder: he has the potential to be a significant contributor for years to come.
Marvin Loría (LM/RM): In the next few seasons, I’d wager Marvin Loría will become the poster child for the Timbers youth development structure. With a comparatively underdeveloped and shallow Homegrown talent pool, Portland picks up guys like Loría out of foreign youth programs to develop through the Timbers pipeline. The 22-year-old Costa Rican international showed significant promise last season, and he can play a true inverted winger role - a unique style in terms of this roster. While he may see time at LM and CAM, I love him cutting in from the right, as he can deliver bangers like this and allow Jorge Moreira to bulldoze forward. At a league minimum salary, Loría provides the cheap and talented depth which makes this attack’s outlook so promising. I can’t wait to see what strides he makes this season (once he returns from an underpublicized/undisclosed injury).
Andy Polo (RM): Not many people in the Timbers fanbase understand why Andy Polo is still on the roster, let alone competing for starting minutes. In 2,860 MLS minutes, the Peruvian winger has only managed a dismal one goal and three assists - a statline that is considerably worse than ineffective wingers of the past including Kalif Alhassan, Sal Zizzo, and Franck Songo’o. He’s not an outright liability, and occasionally puts in a shift defensively, but he essentially exists solely to occupy space. Now entering his third season, Polo’s best string of matches came as the third CM in a 4-3-2-1 just before the 2018 World Cup. He’s since gathered looks in preseason as a #8 in a 4-3-2-1 and showed flashes but is still incomplete. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Tomas Conechny (CF/LM/RM): The 21-year-old Argentine enters the 2020 campaign a relative unknown, and though the club thought enough of him to exercise his full-time purchase option from San Lorenzo, his fit on the squad has yet to be fully discerned. Rumored to be one of the better headers-of-the-ball on the team, he showed occasional creative sparks in late-game situational appearances but has yet to prove he deserves starting minutes. We hear quotes akin to “he doesn’t yet know how good he can be,” but it still isn’t obvious that a particular position suits him well or if he even possesses a skillset that allows him to be a difference-maker at this level. For all intents and purposes, he’s likely to end up Diego Valeri’s understudy even if Conechny has yet to show the same precision and danger at a playmaking second-forward role. As a result, it remains to be seen if the high-rated prospect grows into a significant piece of the puzzle or if his lack of positional clarity ultimately hampers his development.
Dairon Asprilla (RM): Dairon Asprilla plays at an all-star caliber level if one of two things are true: the Timbers are on the verge of postseason elimination or he’s playing on T2. If neither of those two things are true, he’s often more useless than a turn signal on a BMW. Some wonder if he possesses compromising pictures of Wilkinson or MP, otherwise there’s very little to explain why he’s one of the longest-tenured Timbers - especially considering he’s been in-and-out of the doghouse almost every year. Word out of training suggests he’s been one of the best players in camp, but we’ve been down this road before - if it’s not Oct. or Nov., Asprilla often looks lost on the pitch.
Sidenote: 99% of Dairon’s shot attempts get thwarted due to his foolishly long windup, but when he does get a hold of one, they stay hit.
Eryk Williamson (CM): The HG midfielder (by way of D.C.) found starting minutes in spot appearances last fall, and he looked competent if unremarkable. For T2, Williamson often occupied more advanced positions, but I think he projects best as a ball-shuttling #8 in this squad. In particular, I can see him fitting into Andy Polo’s old role as a CM next to Chara and/or Paredes in a 4-3-2-1, as his passing and combination play provide a diverse look from the other two. Overall, Williamson finds himself in a decent situation to get game action this year, and I’m interested to see how he develops and grows in confidence in 2020.
Renzo Zambrano (CDM): Another international brought through the T2 pipeline, Zambrano is essentially Diego Chara’s backup at the #6. Since George Fochive left following the 2015 season, the Timbers have struggled to find a suitable defensive backup in the central midfield. Renzo is now that guy. The 25-year-old Venezuelan appeared in 10 matches last season and struggled immensely in fixtures against Colorado and Atlanta, but showed flashes of positivity in thrashings of Houston and Vancouver. 2020 will require more consistency from Zambrano who doesn’t possess the same physicality or power as Chara - but then again, few do. As a result, if I were Savarese, I’d try to mold Zambrano into a fulcrum/anchor type midfielder in the form of a Uri Rosell or Scott Caldwell. He’s a capable passer, and if he simplifies his game to shield the backline, he’ll be an asset to the team. If not, he’ll likely over-extend himself, and his midfield partner will be forced to work more tirelessly to maintain solid defensive shape. Renzo is likely the first option off the bench whenever Chara or Paredes are unavailable, so his growth is critical to the team’s success this year.
Forwards:
Jeremy Ebobisse (ST): Since Niezgoda and Mora’s arrival, some fans and media have denounced the organization for burying the 23-year-old American on the depth chart and hindering his development. Here’s why I think that’s an overly-sensationalized viewpoint:
  1. As Wilkinson has correctly identified, Ebobisse will miss a good chunk of the early season for Olympic qualification, and with Niezgoda’s injury history, there needs to be other legitimate options to start upfront (i.e. not Dairon Asprilla).
  2. In 2018, Ebobisse entered the season ‘stuck’ behind two DP-type strikers in Fanendo Adi and Samuel Armenteros. Guess who emerged on top? Ebobisse. There will be multiple competitions, two-striker formations, and rotations that allow him to earn quality minutes.
  3. This idea that the organization is almost trying to sabotage his development is an outrageous claim. Ebobisse was the only player on the squad to play in every match last season and only finished behind Chara, Blanco, and Valeri in terms of total minutes played. Granted, he played a fair few matches at LW (not ideal, but he wasn’t outright terrible), but the team did have its best stretch of success with him and Fernandez on the pitch together.
But the one factor people must acknowledge is this: Ebobisse still hasn’t developed the it factor that other MLS strikers have - at least not yet. When Fernandez arrived, his ruthlessness was a stark contrast to Ebobisse’s often less-goal-hungry runs and occasional lack of clarity in the final third. Jeremy is a decent finisher, even with a few missed sitters, but he’s still not consistent enough with the direct runs off the shoulder that separate good from great. He’ll hopefully continue to develop a wider range of skills, but he’s not yet the guy to put this team over the top.
Predicted Starting XI:
Primarily: 4-2-3-1
Other likely options: 4-3-2-1 or 4-4-2
Best Case Scenario:
A top playoff seed and a challenge for either the Supporter’s Shield or MLS Cup. Savarese effectively implements tactical flexibility, Niezgoda and Mora combine for 20+ goals, and Cristhian Paredes takes the next step forward in his development. While Župarić locks down the defense, one of Valeri or Blanco mounts a Best XI campaign, and Diego Chara makes a second consecutive All-Star Game appearance. Sprinkle in a Cascadia Cup alongside a harmonious relationship between the Front Office and Timbers Army, and you have a damn successful year.
Worst Case Scenario:
Pretty much the opposite of what you see above. Niezgoda can’t stay healthy while the core pieces’ form collectively falls off a cliff. Those in the Army who hold a personal vendetta against Merritt Paulson blow a trivial issue out of proportion causing a full-on revolt from the supporter’s group. Savarese proves to be an average coach with exploitable flaws, and the team fails to qualify for the playoffs in a competitive Western Conference. Significant spending, no tangible results. A wasted year.
Realistic Scenario:
Well, either of those two scenarios could qualify as realistic. But like all Timbers seasons, it’s most realistic to be somewhere in between. There’ll be stretches of outright panic, and there’ll be other times where we all convince ourselves the Timbers will win MLS Cup. Some of the signings hit: let’s go with Župarić - while other signings underwhelm due to extenuating circumstances: probably Niezgoda (and his glass skeleton). The team finishes in the middle of the pack - a team that no one wants to face in October - but one that is equally liable to beat themselves.
Prediction:
Even for someone as pessimistic as I am, I won’t predict the worst-case scenario. Nevertheless, I can’t shake the discouraging feeling that the Timbers will squander its immense talent again. A disappointing 6th or 7th place finish is in store after another taxing roller-coaster season. However, I’ll go out on a limb to say Portland does win a Cascadia Cup or USOC - some sort of silverware that convinces everybody the obvious flaws can be overcome in 2021. Blanco has a great 2020 season. The other pieces show flashes brilliance, yet can’t quite string together enough consistency to let the attack fire on all cylinders. Savarese will keep his job but enters the 2021 campaign on the hotseat. It’ll be another case of “close, but not close enough.”

Online Resources

Official Links: Website | Twitter
Local Coverage: Oregon Live | Stumptown Footy
Best Twitter follow: Chris Rifer
Best Read: Jamie Goldberg’s article on Fernandez didn’t age well, but it’s extremely important to understand his tragic life story.
Subreddit: timbers

#RCTID

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