How to Watch the 2014 World Cup in Philadelphia, US-of-A: A sincere open-arm welcome to everyone

How to Watch the 2014 World Cup in Philadelphia, US-of-A: A sincere open-arm welcome to everyone

A man kicks a soccer ball on the shores of Beira Mar, in Fortaleza, Brazil, Tuesday. Soccer fans around the world are gearing up to watch the World Cup, which kicks off in Sao Paulo, Thursday. (AP Photo)

There have been a million articles, posts and click-bait stories written in the last few weeks about why this kind of soccer fan is annoying, why you're not a "real" soccer fan, why American fans have copied everyone else, and why Americans JUST AREN'T ALLOWED TO HAVE FUN WITH SOCCER.

(That last one is written by a Brit who covers the NFL, if irony is your thing).

I'm here, to completely, sincerely, and without sarcasm (on the Internet, I know) WELCOME you to watch the World Cup with us "real soccer fans."

Some of my soccer "brethren" will try to look down on you, or condescendingly explain the virtues of a 4-2-3-1 over a 4-1-2-1-1 diamond, or tell you all about the scarf they got from Eric Wynalda in 1992 and why Tab Ramos was their "boy."

Just ignore them. Or engage them. Whichever you prefer. Watch the games. Drink some beers. Study team rosters. Or don't. Buy a scarf. Or don't.

The World Cup comes along every four years, and it falls in the middle of a relatively dead time on the American sports calendar. Unlike some years (I'm looking at you, 2002 Korea/Japan), the games will be on at great times of day to watch (and drink beer), and some of the best athletes in the world will duke it out over a month of action.

Lots of people will give you rules on how to watch the World Cup, or how to "sound like an expert," but I'm not here for that. It's a game, and it's supposed to be fun. The more the merrier.

So, come ye, soccer newbies, soccer diehards, guys who insist on calling it "futbol," and everyone in between.

Tomorrow we'll give you some more hot soccer knowledge, as well as predictions for the tournament. And on Monday, we'll focus on the US-of-A before their first match.

Here's a few links and helpful tips to get the most out of the next month. And if you prefer to ignore them all and just watch on your couch, that's cool too. And if you want to pick the games against other 700 Level readers (and me!) for a grand prize of 5 minutes of fame in a future post, you can do that here.
When do I watch?
The World Cup kicks off Thursday with host Brazil vs. Croatia at 4 p.m. EST on ESPN. There are games pretty much every day until mid-July. The most comprehensive schedule comes from Jonathan Tannenwald of Philly.com. Bookmark it. Visit it often.

Games will usually kick off at either noon, 3 p.m., or 6 p.m. Eastern time on ESPN, ESPN2 or ABC. There is the occasional 4 p.m. kick, and a 9 p.m.-er this Saturday (4 games in one day!).

The U.S. plays Monday at 6 p.m. (Ghana); Sunday, June 22 at 6 p.m. (Portugal); and Thursday, June 26 at noon (Germany).

This was the scene in 2010 outside Fado.

Where should I watch:
If you live in or near Philly, your choices are limitless. Whether it's Fado, The 700 or Tir Na Nog, there's plenty of options. If you're feeling ambitious, try to find a bar or restaurant, or even a Philly neighborhood that's tied to who's playing. If Germany is in action, you might enjoy the chaos that is Brauhaus Schmitz. But the World Cup is such an event that nearly any place with a TV will have fans gathered around, especially those who "call in sick" on a weekday to see their homeland play.

For U.S. games, there are events planned, including a great one for adults and kids at the Piazza at Schmidts organized by the CASA soccer league, the Union and others. And for the final on July 13, Brauhaus Schmitz is shutting down South Street and showing the game on a giant screen.

If you're in the burbs, there are a few options (a favorite for me is Iron Abbey in Horsham), but any sports bar is fine. If you have any suggestions near your 'hood, drop them in the comments.

And if you like your couch (as I do), there is nothing wrong with putting your feet up and screaming by yourself in your living room.
Who should I watch?
Obviously you'll be interested in the USA, and/or the country of your family heritage, or the place you studied abroad, or the place where your favorite takeout food originated. But there is something to watch in every single match, even if you're rooting for the team with the jerseys you like best.

The "Can't Miss" teams to watch would probably be the United States, Brazil, Portugal, Germany, Spain, Italy, the Netherlands and Argentina. Chile, Uruguay and Belgium are up there too. No one is going to blame you if you skip Nigeria-Iran, but you never know where the highlight of the tournament will come from.

If you want some entertaining previews (some of which might go over newbies' heads), you can't go wrong with Grantland's Men in Blazers. Otherwise, you could do worse for general info on the tournament than this comprehensive preview from SB Nation, or this "guide for people who don't watch soccer" from SI.com. And of course, there was the preview last week from our own Evster.

If you are a newbie and want a little primer on some of the terms you'll hear over the next month, this piece might be a big help.

Kids play soccer at Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday. (AP Photo)

Should I watch at all?
If you don't like soccer, give the World Cup a chance. If you don't like sports, then you're probably not reading this anyway. And if you just really don't want to ever be caught dead watching soccer, then go play golf for the next month or something.

Plenty of people will tell you that you shouldn't watch the World Cup as a kind of protest against all the chaos and corruption that is behind it, and all the money FIFA will be raking in. Brazilians themselves, the most soccer-mad people on Earth, have been protesting the event.

Listen, FIFA is horrible and nearly every FIFA executive is a complete and total crook and criminal, as John Oliver lays out well in this video (it's worth your time, I promise). I hate that by watching it, and watching an ad for Budweiser, I'm sorta-kinda helping with the very real problems the World Cup is creating in Brazil, and in turn, places like Russia (2018) and Qatar (2022).

But I really like soccer. And I really like drama. And I really like America. So I will watch the games AND be morally outraged at what is going on with FIFA, OK?

But I WILL NOT drink Budweiser. Take that, FIFA.

Seriously though, welcome to the World Cup, whether you're a Union season ticket holder or don't know a touchline from a touchdown. The next month is going to be a lot of fun.

I promise.

 

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

Wideouts Rueben Randle, Chris Givens among 8 players cut by Eagles Sunday

The Eagles released Rueben Randle and Chris Givens on Sunday, ending the brief and disappointing Eagles careers of both veteran wide receivers.

The two receivers were among eight players released by the team on Sunday evening.

Randle caught five passes for 26 yards in the preseason and Givens caught one for 19 yards.

The Eagles tried to bolster their receiver corps by adding the two receivers this offseason, signing Randle to a one-year, $1,025,000 contract and Givens to a one-year $760,000 deal.

Randle got $500,000 guaranteed and Givens $180,000 guaranteed, so the two moves will count $680,000 against the Eagles’ 2016 adjusted salary cap of $161,570,362.

The moves leave the Eagles with eight wide receivers: Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor, Dorial Green-Beckham, Josh Huff, Paul Turner, Marcus Johnson, Cayleb Jones and David Watford.

Barring any other personnel moves, Matthews, Agholor, Green-Beckham, Huff and Turner appear headed for the final 53-man roster.

Randle’s decline is fairly astonishing.

Two years ago with the Giants, he caught 71 passes for 938 yards, and last year he caught 57 passes for 797 yards and eight touchdowns. He had four catches of 40 yards or more in 2015, fourth-most in the NFL. In four seasons in New York, he caught 188 passes for 2,644 yards and 20 TDs.

Yet the Giants had no interest in re-signing him. Now the former second-round pick’s career is in jeopardy at the age of 25.

Givens, a fourth-round pick of the Rams in 2012, was with his third team in two years this summer. His once-promising career could be over at the age of 26.

Most notable among the six other players released was offensive tackle Andrew Gardner, who started 11 games in an Eagles uniform.

Gardner, who had also spent time with the Dolphins and Texans, started eight games at right guard and right tackle for the Eagles in 2014 and was the Eagles’ opening-day starter last year at right guard. He suffered a Lisfranc injury in his left foot during a Week 3 game against the Jets at the Meadowlands and missed the rest of the season.

Also released was a member of last year’s draft class, sixth-round pick Randall Evans out of Kansas State. Evans spent most of his rookie season on the practice squad but was activated for the Pat Shurmur season finale against the Giants at the Meadowlands and got into the game on special teams.

The Eagles also released veteran defensive tackle Mike Martin, who played in 46 games for the Titans the last four years, including five starts. Also released were long snapper John DePalma and cornerback Denzel Rice, the latter of who played in five games last year and got 20 defensive snaps in the season finale against the Giants last year.

The Eagles also placed linebacker Joe Walker (knee) and defensive end Alex McCalister (calf), two rookie seventh-round picks, on season-ending Injured Reserve.

Teams have until Tuesday to reduce rosters to 75. The Eagles’ roster is currently at 73, and they have to reduce it to 53 by 4 p.m. next Sunday.

The Eagles finish the preseason on Thursday night at the Linc against the Jets.

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

Best of MLB: Josh Donaldson mashes 3 home runs to lead Blue Jays past Twins

TORONTO -- Josh Donaldson had his first career three-homer game, Troy Tulowitzki also went deep and the Toronto Blue Jays beat the Minnesota Twins 9-6 on Sunday to complete a three-game sweep.

Donaldson hit a solo homer off Kyle Gibson in the second, then delivered a go-ahead, two-run blast off Pat Light (0-1) in the seventh.

Dozens of fans tossed hats onto the field to celebrate the home run hat trick after Donaldson, the AL MVP in 2015, hit a solo shot off Alex Wimmers in the eighth. Groundskeepers and even the Blue Jays mascot helped clear the hats away.

Donaldson's fourth multi-homer game this season and the 10th of his career also marked the 17th three-homer game in the majors this season.

Jose Bautista had his first three-hit game of the season for the AL East-leading Blue Jays.

Minnesota lost its season-worst 10th straight. The Twins have lost seven straight in Toronto.

Scott Feldman (7-4) earned the win by getting two outs in the seventh. Jason Grilli worked the eighth and Roberto Osuna finished (see full recap). 

Pirates win 8th straight on road, sweep Brewers 3-1
MILWAUKEE -- Ivan Nova threw six sharp innings before leaving early because of a hurting left hamstring and the Pittsburgh Pirates hit three solo homers to rally past the Milwaukee Brewers 3-1 on Sunday for their eighth straight road victory.

John Jaso and Gregory Polanco each homered in the sixth off Brewers starter Chase Anderson (7-11) to complete Pittsburgh's first sweep at Miller Park since 2004. Starling Marte added a solo shot in the eighth.

Nova (4-0) retired 10 of his final 11 batters after allowing Jonathan Villar's solo homer in the third. He scattered three hits and struck out four before being pinch hit for in the seventh.

Tony Watson pitched a clean ninth for his 10th save in 13 opportunities (see full recap).

Archer strikes out 10, Rays hit 3 HRs in 10-4 win vs Astros
HOUSTON -- Chris Archer struck out 10 in seven innings, Corey Dickerson hit a three-run homer and the Tampa Bay Rays beat the Houston Astros 10-4 on Sunday.

Matt Duffy and Nick Franklin also went deep for the last-place Rays, who have homered in 21 of their last 24 games.

Houston, in the hunt for an AL wild card, had won three straight.

Archer (8-17) gave up three runs and four hits with two walks. With his strikeout of A.J. Reed in the sixth, the right-hander joined David Price and James Shields as the only Tampa Bay pitchers with multiple 200-strikeout seasons.

The Rays jumped out early against Doug Fister.

Fister (12-9) allowed four runs and seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, the fourth time in his past seven starts he has permitted four or more runs (see full recap). 

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

Calming presence behind plate, A.J. Ellis provides offensive spark in Phillies' win over Mets

BOX SCORE

NEW YORK -- A.J. Ellis’ first game as a Phillie certainly went a lot better than Carlos Ruiz’s first game as a Dodger.

Ellis’ first hit with his new club helped the Phils salvage one game of a weekend series with the New York Mets on Sunday afternoon. The Phillies won it, 5-1 (see Instant Replay), behind a solid start from Vince Velasquez, excellent bullpen work and Ellis’ big hit, a tie-breaking, two-run double in the top of the seventh.

The Phillies had lost the first two games of the series by a combined score of 21-5. Their pitchers gave up eight homers in the first two games.

On Sunday, Velasquez and a quartet of relievers held the Mets to seven hits, all singles.

Ellis joined the Phillies just 24 hours earlier after being traded from the Dodgers on Thursday. He had been with that club his whole career.

Ruiz, of course, had been with the Phillies his whole career.

Ruiz’s first game with the Dodgers did not go nearly as smooth. The veteran catcher had trouble handling the pitches of closer Kenley Jansen in the ninth inning Friday night and that contributed to the Dodgers blowing a one-run lead and losing to the Chicago Cubs in 10 innings.

Leaving the Dodgers was difficult and emotional for Ellis. He was able to bury himself in the game Sunday and came away feeling pretty good.

“It’s just great to be playing baseball again,” he said, standing in front of his locker, a blue Dodgers equipment bag (that will soon be swapped out for a Phillies bag) at his feet. “You kind of lose yourself in the competition and then just play again.

“Regardless of what’s happened in the last four days, it feels good to drive in runs, feels good to help put your team ahead and help contribute to a team win.”

During his 24 or so hours with the Phillies, Ellis has immersed himself in learning a new staff of pitchers. He caught starters Jerad Eickhoff and Jake Thompson in the bullpen before Saturday’s game and warmed up several relievers during that game.

On Sunday morning, he arrived at Citi Field, saw his name in the lineup and immediately began prepping to catch Velasquez, the hardest-thrower on the Phillies’ starting staff.

Velasquez bounced back from three poor outings in which he gave up 19 runs in 17 1/3 innings and held a hot Mets lineup to a run over five innings. The only negative was that Velasquez could not pitch deeper into the game because his command was poor and needed 103 pitches to complete the five innings.

Nonetheless, Ellis, who was the personal catcher for Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw in Los Angeles, liked what he saw of Velasquez.

“His pitch count got elevated the first two innings and he was able to grind through the last three,” Ellis said. “The stuff is electric. He has so many weapons, so many options. When he keeps growing and keeps polishing that gift up, it’s going to be really, really special.

“So I’m excited to be able to continue to work with him, excited to work with him and (pitching coach) Bob McClure and (No. 1 catcher) Cameron Rupp, kind of talk to them about things, things he sees, things we see, and together we can build a plan for him going forward in his career.”

Two things are going to help the 24-year-old Velasquez reach his potential.

First is good health. He’s had arm problems in the past and there remain concerns about his long-term durability. That’s why the Phillies are closely monitoring his workload as this season winds down.

Second is command, control, economy of pitches – whatever you want to call it. Velasquez needs to be more efficient. Too many times he’s left games in the middle innings because of a high pitch count.

“Definitely,” he responded when asked if lowering his pitch counts and working deeper into games was the key to his improvement. “It’s going to help the longevity, it saves the bullpen, it helps out everybody. Not just on my end, but the whole team in general.

“And,” he joked, “then I can also work on my swing by getting some more at-bats.”

Despite the high pitch count, Velasquez walked just one. He struck out seven. He is up to 129 innings for the season. That includes five innings in a rehab game at Double A Reading. The Phillies will look to keep him at about 150 innings for the season. That could be three, four or five more starts, depending on how long the right-hander lasts. He’s averaged just over five innings in his starts this season.

“I think that would be the right move,” Velasquez said of the 150-inning target.