By Chad Rader
Kansas City, you now can enjoy being in a pennant race.
The talk over the past few days has reflected back to the 80s, perhaps the occasional talk of 1994 or 2003, of when Kansas City was last in a real chase for the pennant. But those were either stricken short, or fell way short on talent.
And no, last year when KC was 4 1/2 out of the Wild Card for a month or so, that wasn't a pennant race. It would be like walking the Plaza outside, window shopping and coming home to talk about your shopping spree.
But this season, the Royals are right in the middle of it. In fact, after Monday night's win - KC's eighth straight - they are in front of it, in first in the AL Central.
Hard to believe, considering on July 22, KC stood 7 1/2 out of first. Even just 12 days ago, the Royals were 5.0 games out, and Detroit had just picked up its third Cy Young winner, David Price, in a trade shortly thereafter.
We were content with fighting through the glorified greyhound race otherwise known as the Wild Card, which Kansas City took the lead in. But Detroit kept finding ways to lose while KC found ways to win.
Yeah, there's a lot of baseball left, and generally the pendulum swings back a bit. How many long winning streaks can Kansas City have in a year?
Now that Kansas City has done the unfathomable and wiped out a large lead in literally no time, its heads up with Detroit. Let's take a quick look at the pros, cons.
Pitching - Yes, its three Cy Young winners vs the Royals. But Anibal Sanchez was just placed on the DL, Justin Verlander exited Monday with a shoulder injury and in case you haven't noticed, Kansas City doesn't have a bad five-man rotation itself.
Advantage: Tie, but Kansas City if Sanchez and Verlander miss time
Bullpen - No-brainer.
Advantage: Kansas City
Offense - Detroit has outscored KC by over 50 runs this season. The Tigers scored six on Monday - and lost. No need to lie to ourselves during a hot streak.
Defense, speed - Kansas City
I'd love to spout how despite a lack of offense, which Dayton Moore grabbed Josh Willingham at a fraction of the cost of the asking price 12 days ago, how the Royals have a playoff-style team. Great pitching, good defense, very good speed. Aside from Pablo Sandoval's three-homer night, do you recall the Giants slugging their way to two World Series titles? Um, not even close.
But let's focus on getting there first. Obviously going for the division and playing a series instead of a coin flip game now is a realistic goal.
If Verlander and/or Sanchez are injured, Kansas City looks to have the advantage down the stretch, especially if BOTH are hurt. If they rebound swiftly, Detroit would seem to still have a bit of an advantage due to having been there, done that. And KC has whimpered to Detroit this season at 4-9.
But that was then, this is now, and if the Royals keep playing like this - and as they did in the second half last season - they may be the hunted instead of the hunters come September. Wouldn't that be fun? Correction - it WILL be fun.
By Chad Rader
Ahhhh … for August.
The weather was great in July, by Midwest summer standards. World Cup fever caught the country up more than ever. The MLB All-Star Game came … and went. And the NBA lobbed up its attempt at a feel-good story with LeBron returning home to Cleveland.
All swell and dandy. But blasé for sports.
Now August rolls around and we can focus on what’s ahead:
Royals – Either you’re in a pennant race, or you’re not. We’ll know soon and can really focus on pitch-by-pitch, or wave adios to Kansas City in the chase for the Wild Card. At least there will be some definite resolution one way or another, as so far, KC has yo-yo’ed in between dropping out completely, or getting Royals fans totally amped for a run to the top. Now we’ll find out definitely in August.
Chiefs – The biggest spectator sport so far has been whether the Chiefs will sign Jamaal Charles (check that off), Alex Smith and Justin Houston to extensions. While important, not really something to behold. Preseason games loom ahead and we can get our blood racing, while we hope Kansas City somehow pulls a rabbit out of the hat for a second WR.
SEC – It’s still hard to really dive into Alabama, Florida, LSU and the rest of the SEC up in the northwest corner of the conference. But for Mizzou fans, excitement still gleams ahead after last year’s title game appearance. MU kicks off on August 30, and with a favorable division schedule, should be in the hunt again for an East division title run.
Big 12 – Can Bill Snyder work his magic again? Who will win in the round-robin format, or just another tie? Can Kansas win a league game? All this and more will be answered, starting in 30 days.
Sporting KC – With Matt Besler signed on board, SKC should keep its griphold atop the East. Granted, the playoffs are a couple months away, but important matchups loom for playoff seeding.
High School Football – Missouri moved up its season kickoff to August 22, so get ready to grab your chair back and a few bucks and head to the local football field. Blue Springs aims for a three-peat, while Lee’s Summit West moves up to Class 6 and should challenge. Staley and Fort Osage will vie for the Dome in Class 5, and many star players will post big seasons, namely Mizzou commit, QB Drew Lock of Lee’s Summit.
So we’re onto some real action either heating up or kicking off in August. Grab a beverage, kick back and say “Aaaahhhhh” for August.
By Chad Rader
The road would end sooner than later, or at least, any realistic U.S. soccer fan knew that would be the case in the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
But Team USA didn’t let any fan down. Whether a critical die-hard, or a casual fan just picking up the sport over the past three weeks. Even in the last two losses, the U.S. lost by a mere goal, and suspense ran until the final whistle.
Yes, the United States still has a way to go before seriously competing for a World Cup. Its one thing to make the Sweet 16. Its another to contend for the title. For non-soccer fans, we can relate this to a K-State or Mizzou vs a Kansas or Kentucky.
But the U.S. still played within a goal of Germany and Belgium, both alive into the round of eight. (Granted, "within a goal" can be like playing within 10-14 points in the NFL, but still). And as each World Cup progresses, the country becomes more captivated by the sport. As we know, Kansas City represented hugely with its turnout at the P&L District’s watch parties, as presented by Sports Radio 810, Sporting KC, Coors Light and Sprint.
So what does the 2014 FIFA World Cup and the USMNT mean for soccer, and fans in the area? Besides excuses to leave work early to watch the matches, or just a few extra bucks, give or take thousands upon thousands, for the P&L District?
Die-hard, true soccer fan – There will be levels of disappointment from 2014. Giving up the last minute goal to Portugal. Seemingly playing for a draw or penalty kicks from the opening kick vs Germany and Belgium. The play of Michael Bradley will be debated.
But in the end, emerging from the Group of Death, and playing down to the wire will be remembered. If the U.S. got buried 2-0 in extra time vs Belgium, a sour taste would remain. But losing 2-1 and missing on a well executed play in the final minutes will be what’s replayed for years.
Result: Feel pretty good about the nation's upward curve of following their sport; also the upward arrow of U.S. international play
Sports fan who casually follows soccer – Most of the guys at the radio station qualify here. The level of soccer interest increases annually, especially in Kansas City. The FIFA World Cup will be marked on our calendars for the rest of our lives as must-see TV, and it certainly was the last few weeks. Each match continued to get better and better, and advancing to the elimination rounds for two straight World Cups for the first time in U.S. history will be the remnant taken away.
Result: Will pay more attention to soccer ahead, attend more Sporting KC and soccer events
Fan off the street – The last three weeks showed that more than a handful of common fans or young soccer players or neighbors from the ‘burbs care about soccer. Many massive parties were shown throughout the country as well. Plus local get togethers outside of downtown KC congregated – whether at work, at a restaurant or buddies house.
And the ol’ gag of the football fan walking in, seeing soccer on and complaining they hate soccer, or “What’s there to like about soccer?” wasn’t welcomed with 2-3 other affirmations, but instead blank stares in return – or merely continued stares at the TV. That act has got old.
Result: Knowing "hating soccer" isn't cool anymore, learned a few soccer terms and rules along the way
Sure, there was a learning curve to watching the game. I do crack up when people look at the TV like they are looking at a Sudoku puzzle for the first time, and utter “I just don’t understand soccer”. I explain it in about 90 seconds.
- Let’s keep it simple to six items:
o Team with most goals wins – unless its not an elimination game
o Offsides – without thorough detail, simply can’t cherry pick and be ahead of ball and defenders
o Three substitutions, that’s IT
o Time: Two 45-minute halves, a 30-minute OT (with an intermission/flipping of the field), then penalty kicks. For whatever reason, the extra time added seems to be utterly baffling to common fans
o Yellow card, red card: Everyone should know this already
o Corner kick, free kick and penalty kick: Matter of where on the field it happens, and the violation
After that, more detail can be explained. Otherwise, American football or baseball is WAY harder to understand.
Overall, I think from the sports fan to the common person on the street can watch and get into soccer, baseball, football or skeet shooting. But one underlying theme has to be present: Something truly has to be on the line.
I can watch the NHL Finals – if its Game 7 and the third period. Otherwise, what’s there to watch?
Some feel the same about baseball or even the NFL – the playoffs is worth watching, the rest is okay, but not worth devoting three hours towards watching.
For Kansas City, every year that passes, more and more interest rises in Sporting KC and soccer. I’d reckon if SKC made the playoffs and another nice run, the P&L and other areas would be packed even more than last year’s title match.
But the confusion still lies in soccer in general. Sporting KC will play an MLS contest, then get into the CONACAF matches, back to an MLS, then an exhibition match vs a European team. Now back to a CONACAF match. Wait, SKC’s top scorer was just loaned overseas. Say what? Yeah, this all still doesn’t add up and makes it hard to follow.
Otherwise, when its on the line, we all watch. And were entertained. And will watch a little bit more, know a little bit more and hopefully for the U.S., win a little bit more too.
Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid Quotes
June 19, 2014
OPENING STATEMENT: “Really, the injuries were all given to you yesterday other than Joe McKnight had a little swelling in his knee so we held him out today. It was good to get the guys through this camp. We added a few things to both sides of the ball and special teams. I thought they handled it well. I was happy with the performance throughout the offseason program. I thought the guys came in in good shape and continued to build on that, and I thought they executed. There was some recall from the season and then the new things we added they took it in and worked hard on it. Likewise with the coaches; I thought the coaches did a good job. All in all, it was a good offseason. We’ve got a lot of work to do when we get to St. Joe and the guys understand that. They are wired that way. They don’t shy away from the work. Once we get up there we will be ready to go. That will be about in a month and I think we are probably all excited to get there, but we probably need to take a deep breath, relax for a minute and then get up there and get going. The time’s yours.”
Q: What’s the difference going into this training camp versus last year?
REID: “Yeah, we’re ahead of that, just the natural progression. That’s a good feeling. We were able to add some more to our packages. The guys weren’t shocked by it. Last year every day was a new day and it was a heavy work load plus the mental art of that and the new scheme. They are quite a bit ahead of that.”
Q: How do you spend the next few weeks before training camp?
REID: “I’m going to try and relax a little bit. I’ve got a place out west I go to. You can visit. We’ll make a splash, you and I – a real big splash.”
Q: Will Sean Smith return to his regular role?
REID: “We will see. There’s competition there and we’ll see how all that works. The other kids did a nice job. (Marcus Cooper) Coop was working in there and did a nice job. Parker did a nice job in the other corner. There’s competition at those positions.”
Q: What is it about Ron Parker that you like?
REID: “Listen, they’ve all got a long way to go. Ron is a tough kid that’s going to challenge every play and that’s the thing that jumps at you. We saw that last year when he was in the game he made plays. It seemed like the ball went his way. He forced turnovers when he had opportunities last year. That’s a plus.”
Q: What have you seen this camp from Sanders Commings?
REID: “He’s one of the ones I really am looking forward to seeing up at camp once we are able to hit. I think everyone is tired of this right here. They want to take a quick blow and then finish up their training and then get the pads on. We’ve done all the short stuff we can do. Now we need to take it up a notch with camp. We’ll definitely take it up a notch and be more physical with each other. Sanders, we sure liked what we saw in shorts, just have to see how it looks with pads on.”
Q: Will we get to see him range a little bit more?
REID: “He can cover a lot of ground.”
Q: During training camp how important is it to have physicality?
REID: “That’s what we do. We prep for that all year to get ourselves ready for the season. It’s worked. I’ve kept doing that over the years.”
Q: What do you think that gives your team?
REID: “It allows you to tackle, that’s a big part of it. Then there is a certain way that you protect your body when you are being tackled. I think that’s important that you learn both of those things. That’s why we do that.”
Q: What has impressed you the most about Demetrius Harris?
REID: “You look at the improvement he has made since last year. He came in as a basketball player so he hadn’t played football since high school. He would say now that he is a football player. He’s transitioned. I’m talking everything from body language to the side of the girth he’s put on, the strength he’s put on over the off-season and how he functions out there as a player.”
Q: Did you give a special speech this year and say keep out of trouble, don’t eat too much, keep working out?
REID: “You hit them all. That was good. You were right on cue.”
Q: What about the guys that are new to the league?
REID: “They hear it often. These are young guys. You give them constant reminders. They heard what you just said.”
Q: What was the assimilation process of Vance Walker?
REID: “He’s playing three positions. He plays all three inside positions. You need six of those guys who play for you in every game. I could set him as a starter, that’s how I look at those six and that’s what we are striving for, that’s what Dorsey is striving for bringing in the competition. He picked things up. He is a very intelligent guy. He picked things up fast. He’s done a nice job.”
Q: What’s your comfort ability level with the offensive line?
REID: “We rotated guys in there. From a coaching standpoint we were able to get as much of a picture as we could without pads on. It’ll be important to get Eric (Fisher) in there and get him going in training camp and re-acclimating him to playing again. I think when you have him in the mix you have a good group right there.”
Q: What were you able to gage with Travis Kelce, Kyle Williams and De’Anthony Thomas this week?
REID: “They did the individual periods and the group install periods where we come together as a team and we run the plays versus air. They didn’t do any offense versus defense. It was good. That’s the first step. It was good to get them back out there and moving around. They looked like they were strong and in good shape from what we asked them to do. The main thing was they had no swelling in the joints that they had operated on. That’s a plus.”
Q: Was there any discussion about getting Dontari Poe off the field every so often?
REID: “He’s is a unique guy. You go in and do these conditioning tests and he’s 340 pounds or whatever he is. His body percent fat is zero. He’s goes out and runs these things and is the first guy out front with the big fellas. He’s one of those guys. He’s a unique character. To get him off the field you have to pull him off. He’s not one to tap out. That’s not how he goes. You monitor that the best way you can. We didn’t see a decline in his play as the season wore on. There are a handful of teams that do what we do where you play certain guys a high percent of the plays. We do want to find people that can rotate in there. That is important, to answer your question.”
Q: Did you see any cumulative effect on Derek Johnson playing so many plays last year?
REID: “You didn’t see it but you heard people talking about it. Really, when you study it, evaluate it, I don’t think you see that. At least we didn’t as coaches. We have a little bit of experience with it.”
Q: Regarding Vance playing three positions, have you seen him play the nose on the defense?
REID: “He did a little bit of that against us in that first game against Oakland.”
Q: So you saw a lot of versatility?
REID: “Sure, yeah. I mean he’s got a pretty good feel for doing that.”
Q: Is this it as far as everybody being done even if the rookies can have another week of work?
REID: “This is it.”
Q: Was that your decision or a collective decision?
REID: “No, that’s my decision. They have another week I believe where they can be here but they are going to go down to the symposium and do their thing down there. We’ve gotten enough reps and time out of them. They weren’t included in that collective bargain.”
Q: Did the two extra weeks with the draft make a difference for the rookies?
REID: “That helped plus when all of the veterans leave, the veterans only have X amount of hours they can be in the building. Consistently, the rookies can be in here 10 hours a day. When you let the veterans go, you have the rookies for another three or four hours and we got a lot done. We tried to utilize that time so that we didn’t have to keep them around here with no supervision around and get them back home, relax. They’ve had plenty of reps for what they need here to function in camp. That’s where we are at.”
Chiefs Player Quotes
June 18, 2014
RB/WR DE’ANTHONY THOMAS
Q: How does it feel to be out there with all of your teammates and not just the rookies?
THOMAS: “I just feel great to be out here. I feel like it’s a great group of guys and great coaching. I’m excited just to be here and just execute and get to know this play book.”
Q: Are you getting to know a better sense of how the team will use you?
THOMAS: “Yes, a little bit of everywhere and just going out there and having fun.”
Q: Did they run you into the ground yesterday?
THOMAS: “Yeah, and me just getting used to this weather and stuff like that. I just have to train with it and get better.”
Q: How will you adapt your training to this humidity?
THOMAS: “Just got to keep working hard and keep some fluids in my body.”
Q: What kind of coaching did you get while you were gone with Eric Bieniemy?
THOMAS: “Yes, every day just learning, learning from him. He’s a great coach and I’m excited.”
Q: What kind of stuff did you go over?
THOMAS: “Just looking over what they did in practice and that stuff. I feel like that’s about it.”
Q: Did it help?
Q: How does your offense at Oregon compare to the Chiefs?
THOMAS: “It’s a lot different. I mean it’s the same scenario, but it’s a lot different. I feel like there’s better guys here and better players on offense.”
Q: How does Eric Bieniemy differ from your coaches at Oregon?
THOMAS: “I feel like he just makes us be disciplined and being in the right depth in our routes, getting the right foot work on our runs and stuff like that. That’s what’s going to make us great. Finishing forty yards down the field, finishing twenty yards down the field. You know, just working hard. ”
Q: What’s it been like to deal with quarter situation and not participate in OTAs?
THOMAS: “Yeah, it was tough, but I’m excited to be here now and now I just have to come and compete.”
Q: How much of it is mental and physical?
THOMAS: “Everything. Just going out there having fun, going out there, training hard, and practicing hard. Like I said, what a great group of guys. It’s great to learn from them and be motivated.”
CB RON PARKER
Q: What have OTAs and minicamp been like for you?
PARKER: “OTAs and minicamp have been good to me so far and as a group, I think the secondary, we’ve come in here and worked hard every day and gave it our all. I think everybody is getting better every day.”
Q: What’s it like with the personnel changing and do you think you’ll be able to compete for a spot?
PARKER: “Oh yeah, I always think I’m going to be able to compete for that spot. But with the present opportunity today, I’m just doing whatever the coaches are asking me to do. Whatever they’re asking me to do, I just try to do it to the best of my abilities.”
Q: Have you ever gotten this much work before?
PARKER: “I haven’t had so much opportunity like this to get with the ones, but a little bit last year. I got a little bit of work with the ones and then with my last game in San Diego I started. I felt like that was a little bit of work too. I’m getting used to it and I’m adjusting really well.”
Q: How good was the San Diego game for you?
PARKER: “I think it was a pretty good game for me. I just went out there and played and played my heart out and gave it all I could. I just did the best I could do and just see at the end of the game, I had a good game I think.”
Q: What has the transition from safety to cornerback been like for you from college to pro?
PARKER: “The transition was really cool for me because I played a little bit of corner in high school and I got to the league and they switched my position to corner. I’ve been adjusting really well and doing really well at it. So I think I’m pretty good over there on the outside too.”
Chiefs Player Quotes
June 17, 2014
QB ALEX SMITH
Q: Is there a big difference between what happens in OTAs and minicamp?
SMITH: “I think it’s a continuation of the OTAs. There are less guidelines as far as the hours. Obviously we can be here all day. We get the morning walk through. I think the biggest thing is we all know that this is the culmination of our offseason, so to speak. So I think in that sense, the sense of urgency is just turned up. These are our last three days of practice. You’re trying to end on a great note and really finish off this offseason.”
Q: How did Travis Kelce look?
SMITH: “I thought he looked great. It’s great to see him out here. He’s been working his tail off for a long time now and it’s tough work behind the scenes. He’s been here trying to get it right, so this is just the next step for him. I thought he looked good.”
Q: What about De’Anthony Thomas?
SMITH: “A little bit of a crash course for him, just because of (Oregon) with the quarter system, it’s tough. We’re trying to cram a lot in in three days. A lot of reps, a lot of mental stuff. I’m sure he’ll be spending a little bit these few days (working on that.)”
Q: Isn’t the mental side one of the things that makes this different than OTAs?
SMITH: “Yeah, we have more time for install, so we’re not as crammed on time and we can install. We get the walk through to go through these different looks and then after we get through all of the film. It’s tough in OTAs to squeeze all that in in six hours. So, minicamp-wise, a little more relaxed pace. We really can take our time and kind of zero in on details.”
Q: Is there ever a time that you have enough time to do everything?
SMITH: “Yeah I mean you’re always trying to cram it in and be as efficient as possible and get more time, especially come season because now not only are you focusing on what you have to do, you’re trying to look at their stuff as well.”
CB MARCUS COOPER
Q: Did it become a little more real to you now that Brandon is not here?
COOPER: “You know every day I come out here as if I was the starter. I can’t say that it’s a different feeling or it’s not. Whether Brandon was here or wasn’t I still would still compete as if I was going for the starting job. There’s no big difference.”
Q: What do you feel that you need to do to get that job?
COOPER: “Keep grinding, just getting better every day, keep the deep balls out, be quick at the defensive line, and just keep doing the stuff that we do as the Kansas City Chiefs corners.”
Q: What would you say your weaknesses are as a player right now?
COOPER: “Everything. I’m still learning the position, you know. In the grand scheme of things, I still have to continue to work on everything I do out there.”
Q: Coming in as a possible starter instead of a seventh round draft pick, do you lose your edge?
COOPER: “Oh no. You have no time to lose that. This game’s not for long and you really have to come out there at the top of your peak. That’s what I try to do every day.”
Q: Do you gain an edge with this opportunity?
COOPER: “Like I said, I continue to go in daily, every day as a starter no matter what. There’s no gain. There’s no drop off. I just continue to make the team.”
Q: Collectively, how does the secondary feel with everyone being gone?
COOPER: “We’ve got a good group of guys here. I’m sorry for the guys that have departed. We can’t look at what they’re doing. We have to focus on us and the opportunity to get better as a group.”
Q: Does that create a void in leadership?
COOPER: “No, we still have a couple of our guys here minus Flowers and those other guys. We all have to step up at different times and we all have to come at times. We just all are going to collectively lead and push forward.”
Q: Where were you when Flowers was released?
COOPER: “I had just finished working out here. I found out when you guys probably found out.”
Q: What was your immediate reaction personally?
COOPER: “I can’t get into that. I am just worried about myself and worried about my football shift.”