Sunday, August 06, 2017

My Top Five In-Person Sports Moments

I heard the hosts of a sports podcast recently talk about the five most important sports moments they had experienced. I decided to tweak it a little to count only ones I had attended in person. That made it a lot harder to come up with five, because "largest Redskins regular-season comeback to date" isn't quite a memory for the ages. So here they are, in chronological order.

September 14, 1991: Michigan fans know it as "The Catch" but the rest of the country reserves that for a pro moment. Still, Sally Jenkins wrote an entire Sports Illustrated column about it.

November 23, 1991: Desmond Howard does the "Heisman Pose" after a punt return against Ohio State. More than 20 years later, he was the star of a Cheez-It ad campaign about this, so I guess it stuck in the collective consciousness. This was in the opposite end zone, so I don't have as visceral of a memory as the Notre Dame catch.

April 14, 1996: This was the only round of golf I've spectated in my entire life, and it was at least in the top three chokes in golf history.

August 1, 1996: The U.S. women's soccer team wins its first gold medal. Attending the Olympics on a graduate student's income, I could only afford one gold medal event, and I wanted it to be one where the Star Spangled Banner would likely be played. $50 well-spent.

January 6, 2013: It wasn't pleasant, but watching star rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III destroy his knee in the franchise's first home playoff game of the century was definitely a Redskins turning point.

Saturday, August 05, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Playoff-Round Preview

Why is it the playoff round and not the fourth round? Who can say?

Third-Round Review


Celtic made it through, but not without making it interesting. Having your top two strikers out makes it hard to generate goals. It is even harder if, as Brendan Rogers says, there's not enough challenge in the Scottish league to justify recruiting a third top striker. So Celtic settled for a goalless draw at home. before pulling out a 1-0 win on the road. 0.375 for the coefficient.

It was always going to be tough for Aberdeen to make it through, but a 2-1 victory at home gave hope. A 2-0 loss on the road dashed those hopes, but they bow out with 0.25 for the coefficient in this round and 0.625 overall. This is their fourth third-round exit in a row, and it only generated fewer points because this was the first time they entered in the second round.

Playoff-Round Preview


Well, it's down to Celtic, who drew Astana. They squeaked by Astana in the third-round last year, so they should be favored, but not by much. Indeed, Clubelo gives Celtic a 74.7% chance of advancing.

Celtic lucked out, to a certain extent. Of the 20 teams in the playoff round, Celtic has the #14 Elo. Astana is #19. (Maribor, despite being 20th, is seeded, so Celtic could not have faced them.)

I'm not sure whether it's better for the coefficient in the short term to end up in the Champions League, with the bonus points but a really rough group stage ahead, or the Europa League, where the group games are much more winnable. But Celtic really needs the TV money to compete in future years, so Scotland fans should be rooting for victory. Let's say getting through with at least 0.375 for the coefficient will be positive, and dropping to the Europa League will be negative.

Where We Stand


Despite Aberdeen's exit, things aren't looking too shabby. We have 1.750 for the coefficient so far. Last year, we had 2.375 at this point. Having 0.625 less is not ideal, but Celtic ended up garnering 2.0 more from this point forward. If they do that again, Scotland would end up at 3.750 for the year, which would give it its best back-to-back years in a decade.

And, since this is the point to dream, how could Celtic do better? Well, they could sweep the playoff round, instead of splitting last year. And they could luck into a weak Champions League group instead of an incredibly strong one, and do better than three draws.

Consider last year's FC Copenhagen side. They got a win and a draw in the playoff, before being drawn into a group with Leicester City, Brugge and FC Porto, where they went 2-1-3, good enough for third place. That dropped them into the Europa League knockout phase, where they advanced over Ludogorets Razgrad before losing to Ajax (while still notching a win). From the playoff forward, they notched 3.375 for Denmark. So that's the maximum realistic upside, I think.

Another thing playing in Scotland's favor is looking at their coefficient neighborhood, which now includes leagues 22-29. Only Serbia has two entrants left, and they are a full 2 points behind Scotland. Belarus, Sweden, Bulgaria, Norway and Serbia are all out of the Champions League, so they won't get the bonus points for hitting the group stage -- and they could even miss the Europa League group stage.

So going into the group stage ranked 22nd isn't out of the question -- or 23rd if both Celtic and the Azerbaijani champions do well. A loss, however, would see Celtic passed by Kazakhstan and possibly even Norway.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Third-Round Preview


Well, that went about as well as could be expected.

Second-Round Review


Celtic dispatched Linfield as handily as you would think -- 2-0 in the away leg, and 4-0 in the home leg. I guess some might have expected even more lopsided scores, but a win's a win, and this was two wins and 0.5 for the coefficient. Also, this guarantees Celtic a place in the playoff round of either the Champions League or Europa League.

Aberdeen unexpectedly struggled to a 1-1 draw at home, meaning they needed at least one away goal to make it through. Midway through the second half, they had none, but they came up with two in rapid succession to progress. 0.375 for the coefficient, and they progress. We could quibble with the dropped 0.125 at home, but let's not.

Third-Round Preview


Celtic face the Norwegian champions, Rosenborg. I have to admit, I like the qualifying better than the group-stage, where 15 out of the 32 teams are not actually league champions. Here, however, you have the Scottish champions facing the Norwegian champions. The Scottish champions got there after defeating the Northern Irish champions, who defeated the Sammarinese champions. The Norwegian champions defeated the Irish champions.

Celtic's Elo is 1596, Rosenborg's 1501. It shouldn't be a blowout, but Celtic should win comfortably. Not getting the full 0.5 for the coefficient would be a little bit of a disappointment, but the main thing is making it through. (Clubelo gives Celtic a 65.3% chance of advancing, but that seems a little low.)

Aberdeen is up against Cypriot side Apollon Limassol, the 3rd place Cypriot club (and cup winners). Aberdeen has an Elo of 1393, Apollon Limassol 1444. Clubelo gives this a 57.5% chance to go to the Cypriots. I have hope that this is Aberdeen's year to break through to the playoff round. So let's say any result that sees Aberdeen advancing is good, and exiting without picking up any points is bad.

Where We Stand


Hey, Scotland moved up to 26th from 27th, so that's something. (Not a good couple of weeks for Kazakhstan.) That was my "best realistic scenario". My best realistic scenario for this round is keeping 26th, which should be even easier since Celtic should deny Norway points by beating Rosenborg. 24th is theoretically possible, but very unlikely. On the other side, a Celtic collapse would be the only thing that would let Scotland slide to 27th or 28th.

The good news is that nobody below 21st place has more than 2 teams left in European competition, which puts things on an even playing field moving forward. Sweden lost its Champions League entrant, so they may be out of Europe sooner rather than later. So I think the best case scenario is having both Scottish sides advance with 0.75-1 point, and a lot of the nations above them having only 1 side left in Europe.

How bad has this year been for Scotland's coefficient? On the one hand, the 1.125 is worse than any comparable side ranked higher than Iceland (33rd). On the other hand, last year (not a bad year!) at this stage, they had 1.875. If they picked up 1.875 this year, they would be...in 26th place (although significantly closer to 25th).

The question going forward...will this be a struggle to keep the second-round Europa League entrance due to the Scottish Cup winner (or league runner-up). (This threshhold is 24th or 26th depending on...stuff.) Or can Scotland put two teams in the group stages and move closer to 18th (which would put the Cup winner in the third round) and higher?

Monday, July 10, 2017

Scotland's UEFA Coefficient: Second-Round Preview

First-Round Review


Well, that was a disaster. I was embarrassed by it, until I realized that I am not really Scottish, so I am not tainted by association.

Let's start with St. Johnstone. They should have been able to beat the Lithuanian runners-up at home, but they lost 2-1. When FK Trakai went down to 10 men in Lithuania, St. Johnstone should have been able to get two goals to win the tie. But they didn't. They should have been able to get one goal, to get 0.25 for the coefficient before exiting. But they didn't. They should have been able to prevent the shorthanded goal to salvage the minimum 0.125. But they didn't. And their manager probably shouldn't have described the Lithuanians as "technically better" after the first leg. But he did.

So, on to Rangers. I was excited when before the match, Rangers' manager explicitly mentioned the importance of doing well in order to raise up Scotland's UEFA coefficient. And then they beat Luxembourg's fourth-best team 1-0 at home. You'd think they could do better, but still, 0.25 for the coefficient and all that. Then they went to Luxembourg and not only lost, but lost 2-0, which knocked them out.

The optimistic (less pessimistic) way to look at this would be to say that Rangers, while fielding a team good enough to get third place, knew that wouldn't be good enough, so they had to blow up the roster as if they had just been promoted. The new group of players didn't have time to gel and got upset by a more cohesive squad.

The pessimistic (more pessimistic) way to look at this is that a perfectly-good third-place squad got blown up for no good reason. While that squad certainly would have been good enough to beat the fourth-best side in Luxembourg, this group of overpaid imports is not going to cut it.

Time will tell, but not in the Europa League, because that door is closed for another year.

Second-Round Preview

That leaves Aberdeen and Celtic.

Aberdeen opens things up on Thursday against Bosnia-Herzegovina's Siroki Brijeg. Aberdeen's Elo is now 1381, and Siroki Brijeg's is now 1236. Siroki Brijeg's went up for advancing from the first round, and Aberdeen's tumbled based on the St. Johnstone and Rangers results pulling down everybody in Scotland. clubelo.com lists Aberdeen as 72.7% favorites to advance. So let's say that a win and a draw, worth 0.375 for the coefficient is the target.

Celtic starts on Friday against Northern Ireland Champions Linfield. Friday is an unusual date for a Champions League match -- most will be played on Tuesday (hence why I'm rushing to get this post up). But the match was rescheduled to avoid "marching season" in Northern Ireland, which has its own set of sectarian tensions that will cause the police to have their hands full.

Speaking of sectarian tensions, Linfield is a traditionally Protestant club, and Celtic is traditionally Catholic. So while it seemed like Linfield might get a big payday from Celtic fans traveling over to see their club, Celtic told their fans to stay away. This is the sort of thing that fascinates me about European soccer that you don't get by following American sports.

Anyway, clubelo.com puts Celtic as 98.1% favorites to advance. Anything less than the full 0.5 will be an embarrassment. Though Scottish clubs are getting used to embarrassment, I think there will be enough continuity to manhandle Linfield.

Where We Stand


I said that 27th place would be the "extreme negative scenario".  Here were are in 27th. A good showing by Norway could drop Scotland down to 28th, even if the Scottish teams are perfect in this round. At this point, we have to hope that both Celtic and Aberdeen stay alive into the group stage and climb back up as other countries inevitably have some teams knocked out.

If everything breaks Scotland's way, they could be in 23rd at the end of the second round, but 26th with both clubs alive is the best realistic scenario.

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

Google Local: Rocketing to 500K

Well, it took about two more weeks to hit 500K photos. Nothing magic, just the bunch of pictures I've accumulated over the past few months starting to gain traction.

This Dollar Tree (Chantilly, VA) from April cracked 30K photos and is now #4 overall. Fun fact: I had a raging ear infection when I took that picture.

Four more photos topped 10K.
This Dollar Tree (Crofton, MD) from May is now #12.
This Harris Teeter (Bowie, MD) from June is now #13.
This Dollar Tree (Bowie, MD) from June is now #14. If I cared more about this project, I think I would spend a day driving around and taking pictures of Dollar Trees.
This Michael's (Vienna, VA) from June is now #15. The fact that I am getting pictures to 10K views in about a month tells me I shouldn't have much problem breaking the million view mark. Halfway there!

Also, those latest ones aren't as bad as some of the other popular photos.



Monday, June 26, 2017

Google Local: 400K Photos and Some Free Music

I seem to be getting the hang of increasing my photo views on Google Local (take lots of interior photos, especially of Dollar Trees), so I have hit 400K already. I was pleased that Google recognized this by give me "points" for each photo, and the number of points I had achieved got me to a level where I got three free months of Google Play Music. I was more pleased before I discovered that last month they had a promo of four free months for doing nothing.

Let's look at some photos that have reached milestones rather than going through all of the top photos.

This photo of Michaels (Bowie, MD) from December 2016 hit 50,000 views and remains my number one photo for some reason.

Four new photos have cracked 10,000 views.

This photo of a Safeway (Reston, VA) from May 2017 is now #8.
This photo of a Wawa (Gambrills, MD) from May 2017 is now #9. This is actually one of my better photos (not that that seems to help with views). Also, I had a feeling when I took it that I would get lots of views.
This photo of a Safeway (Herndon, VA) from May 2017 is now #10.
This photo of a Dollar Tree (Sterling, VA) from April 2017 is now #11.

I guess I can add Safeway to Dollar Tree as a reliable source of views. (I have two Safeway pictures from this month that haven't taken off, though.)


I had decided to try taking pictures of food to see if they would get views. The answer seems to be (based on two examples), not more than pictures of interiors.

I'll leave you with a final mystery. Here are three pictures of Targets.


All are from May 2017. Despite the fact that the one on top is the most recent, it has received 7,624 views, while the other two have received 158 and 231. I don't think it's in any way better or more representative than the other two