World Cup 2014 after one week: high drama, beautiful goals, a former Union goalie dancing, and Rip to the rescue


World Cup 2014 after one week: high drama, beautiful goals, a former Union goalie dancing, and Rip to the rescue

[gallery columns="4" ids="1051591,1051592,1051593,1051594"] One full week has gone by and I can honestly say this is the GREATEST WORLD CUP EVER. There have been upsets (like Costa Rica representing CONCACAF in style) and comebacks (like Japan getting Drogba’d). There have been stunning early exits from past champs (thanks for playing, Spain!) and upstart teams making the most of rare World Cup appearances (nice work, Colombia). There have been world-renowned stars doing world-class things (Messi!), word-renowned stars breaking World Cup droughts (Rooney!) and world-renowned stars returning from injury just in the nick of time (Suarez!). There have been breakout stars (Colombia’s James Rodriguez) and unlikely heroes (our favorite German-American John Brooks). There has been the closest thing you’ll see to a buzzer beater in soccer (thanks, Switzerland and Ecuador) and even damn exciting scoreless draws (thanks, Mexico and Brazil). But, above all else, there have been goals. People that don’t like soccer like to point to the sport’s lack of scoring as a reason why – but this tournament is shaping up to be the highest-scoring World Cup ever. And many of the goals have been dramatic and beautiful. Here now is a list of our five favorite goals to this point: 5. USA’s Clint Dempsey vs. Ghana American bias? Perhaps. But the three touches the U.S. captain makes are brilliant and his finish is a perfect one. And don’t act like you didn’t jump off your couch screaming when this goal happened in the first minute of the game. [nbcsports_video src= width=620] 4. Costa Rica’s Oscar Duarte vs. Uruguay There have been a lot of great headers for goals in this tournament but this one is certainly one of the best – not only because it was the game-winner in Costa Rica’s massive upset over Uruguay but because a defender’s foot was practically in his face when he dove for the ball. [nbcsports_video src= width=620] 3. Ivory Coast’s Gervinho vs. Colombia Who doesn’t like a bit of individual dribbling brilliance? That’s exactly what Gervinho did against Colombia, splitting a couple of defenders and dancing around another one before scoring a beauty to the near post. [nbcsports_video src= width=620] 2. Netherlands’ Robin Van Persie vs. Spain Most people would have tried to settle this long ball. Most people are not Robin Van Persie, who opted to fly instead. [nbcsports_video src= width=620] 1. Australia’s Tim Cahill vs. Netherlands The force and precision behind this one-time volley is hard to fathom. One of the greatest goals you’ll ever see. And I hear this guy plays in MLS. [nbcsports_video src= width=620] --- And since this is purportedly a local blog, we should also highlight the goal from Colombia’s James Rodriguez against Ivory Coast because it led to an epic dance party on the Colombia sideline – led by none other than ageless former Philadelphia Union goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon. (Look for the guy right next to James, who then tries to go for a piggy-back ride on him). Also, great call from former Union forward and color man Alejandro Moreno, who’s been calling the Colombia forward James “Don’t call me James” Rodriguez. (You have to listen to it to get it.) [nbcsports_video src= width=620] One last sorta local story: former NBA star Rip Hamilton – our favorite native son from Coatesville – is on his way to Brazil to give one his signature masks to Dempsey, who broke his nose in the last game.  Gotta love that American solidarity.

Ivan Provorov's 8-year-old brother is already really good at hockey

Ivan Provorov's 8-year-old brother is already really good at hockey

Flyers defenseman Ivan Provorov made his NHL debut just four games ago, and while the 19-year-old is surely tackling a lot of new experiences, he has always had his younger brother, 8-year-old Vladimir, by his side.
Ivan was seen at practice today with his much younger, and eye-poppingly talented, brother working on his skills.

This is not the first time Vladimir has been seen on the ice with his older brother. Last season with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the WHL, Vladimir showed off his puck-handling and shooting skills in a video posted to their Facebook page.

There’s nothing like family bonding and having an older sibling as a role model.

Meet the undefeated Vikings, the Eagles' Week 7 opponent

Meet the undefeated Vikings, the Eagles' Week 7 opponent

Who would've thought two months ago, after the grotesque injury to quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, that the Vikings would be the last unbeaten team in the NFL? And who would've thought Sam Bradford would be leading Minnesota into Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Eagles?

Obviously, we're very familiar with Bradford after he helped guide the Eagles to a 7-9 record in 2015. The rest of the Vikings, maybe not so much. This is a team that quietly went 11-5 last season, and not so quietly were a missed 27-yard field goal away against the Seahawks from advancing to the divisional round of the playoffs.

For a team this good, the talent on the roster doesn't necessarily receive a ton of attention, particularly on what is arguably the toughest defense in the entire league. Time to rectify that and take a closer look at what the Vikings bring to the table.



Quarterback: Sam Bradford

As we've been saying around these parts for the past year and a half, if you put a team around Bradford, he can win. That's not exactly a glowing endorsement of the former No. 1 overall pick, although it is true. The Vikings offense may be ranked 30th, but Bradford has the highest completion rate in the NFL at 70.4 percent and is second in the league with a 109.7 passer rating. This isn't even a matter of him having great weapons either, although wide receiver Stefon Diggs and tight end Kyle Rudolph are pretty good. Behind a stellar defense, Bradford doesn't have to put the entire team on his shoulders, which explains why he hasn't thrown an interception and has only been sacked eight times in four games. Based on what we've seen of Carson Wentz and the return they got in the trade with the Vikings, it's hard to fault the Eagles for going in the direction they chose. Clearly Bradford can win though.

Strength: Efficiency

This might seem like another backhanded compliment, and to a large degree it is, because the Vikings' offense isn't very good. Yet to their credit, the unit has kept mistakes to an extreme minimum. The Vikings have committed one turnover this season, which is incredible when you think about it. The Eagles are the only other team with fewer than four giveaways, and the combined record of teams with no more than five is 39-18. It's a truly remarkable stat, and just goes to show if the defense can't create turnovers, the Vikings are going to be almost impossible to beat.

Weakness: Ground attack

The Vikings offense isn't particularly dynamic at any position or area, but the unit ranks dead last in the run. Even when Adrian Peterson was healthy, the seven-time Pro Bowler was averaging an anemic 1.6 yards per carry in two games this season. The combination of Jerrick McKinnon and Matt Asiata haven't fared a lot better, rushing 93 times for 273 yards — a 2.9 average — with three touchdowns. Injuries along the offensive line haven't helped matters, with starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith both landing on the reserve list already. Nonetheless, the Vikings have never quite figured out how to run the ball in 2016, which has been without a doubt this team's greatest shortcoming.



Strength: Pass defense

What came first, the chicken or the egg? It's nearly impossible to field a lockdown secondary without a great pass-rush, and what the defensive line lacks in name recognition, it certainly makes up for in production. Three Vikings players are tied for the clubhouse lead with 4.0 sacks, including Everson Griffen, who's heading for double digits for the third straight season. Only two teams have made more visits to the quarterback, so they are rock solid up front. Of course, only three teams have more interceptions than the Vikings, so they are equally as dangerous on the back end. Xavier Rhodes is quickly gaining a reputation as a shutdown coverman, creating opportunities for a group of corners that that includes Terence Newman (yes, the guy who played for the Cowboys eons ago) and 2015 first-round pick Trae Waynes. Then there are playmakers at linebacker and safety, too. Eric Kendricks, brother of Eagles linebacker Mychal Kendricks, has six pass breakups and a 77-yard interception return for touchdown, while Pro Bowl safety Harrison Smith does a bit of everything with 6.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, 12 interceptions and four pick-sixes in his fifth season.

Weakness: None

Having said all of that, it's not like the Vikings are weak against the run. Because they're so dangerous to throw against, opponents do tend to keep the ball on the ground. Minnesota has faced the second-most rushing attempts in the NFL, yet the unit is ranked fourth in yards (77.8 per game) and yards per carry (3.7) allowed. On almost any other team, that would probably be the strength of the defense. Here it's a complement.

X-factor: Danielle Hunter

We could spotlight any number of players on the Vikings defense, but somebody we haven't mentioned already would be Hunter, who is quickly becoming one of the NFL's bright young pass-rushers. The 2015 third-round pick is proving his rookie campaign with 6.0 sacks was no fluke, as he's tied for the team lead with 4.0 already this season. That's in a situational role by the way, not as a starter. Hunter is behind Griffen and Brian Robinson on the depth chart, but he makes the most of his opportunities. Any defense that is three deep on the edge is a defense that concerns quarterbacks, and thanks to a shrewd pick in last year's draft, the Vikings now boast just such an attack.



Everybody knows about Blair Walsh and the missed 27-yard field goal that prevented the Vikings from advancing in last year's playoffs. That's not indicative of Minnesota's special teams though. Cordarrelle Patterson is one of the most dangerous kick returners in football, while Marcus Sherels is gaining such a reputation on the punt return side as well with two touchdowns on the year. And after a shaky start to this season, Walsh has turned things around and is a fine kicker with plenty of leg, so there really isn't any weakness here either.



Mike Zimmer (third season, 23-15)

Enough can't be said for the job Zimmer has done with the Vikings, prior to this season and in 2016 especially. Any other team might've been in shambles after a season-ending injury to their quarterback, particularly of the freak variety Teddy Bridgewater suffered in training camp. Sure, the Bradford trade is helping keep things afloat, but much of the credit for the transformation that's happened in Minnesota falls on Zimmer's defense anyway. As we've seen in years past, most recently with the Broncos in February, a team doesn't necessarily need a prolific passer to win the Super Bowl. As unlikely as it may have seemed two months ago, the Vikings are legitimate contenders, and while they have some tremendous talent on both sides of the ball, which is a credit to their front office, Zimmer deserves a ton of credit for putting the pieces together.