I must be a glutton for punishment. None of the teams that I support are without controversy: the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Bears, and Liverpool FC. While my (American) football and baseball knowledge are a bit limited, my football (soccer) and hockey knowledge is more substantive (or at least I like to think it is). Having watch Liverpool play Chelsea yesterday, I couldn’t help but think of my beloved (and equally detested) Maple Leafs.
Why The Comparison?
What would make me draw a comparison between these two clubs? First and foremost both teams are at a bit of a pivotal moment in their history. Liverpool has been more successful in recent history than the Maple Leafs but they’re also in the midst of a rebuilding stage. They have a lot of talent, but also a lot of youth and inexperience. They’re also having a difficult time coming together as a team. The Maple Leafs, in my opinion, are similar. They’re still missing a few key ingredients – perhaps a true first line center? Maybe a captain? Maybe a goaltender? But there is a lot there with which to work. There may be also an issue with management. The Leafs obviously got rid of Randy Carlyle, but the problem may be higher than him. With Liverpool, Brendan Rodgers is arguable the best player manager in the Premier League but his buying policies and tactical prowess have yet to be well-established.
The Maple Leafs this season have looked pretty complacent. Aside from brief glimpses, there seems to be a serious lack of conviction or desire in any of their games. Solid leadership, from the Captain or from anyone else, is definitely lacking. I’ve mentioned before, when they lose, it’s not so much that they lose, it’s how they lose, as if they’re not putting up any sort of fight. Then some nights they’re great. And it’s this inconsistency that infuriates fans.
Back to the football
Which brings me back to the Chelsea vs Liverpool match. This two match round (home and away game) against the current top team in the EPL, and the likely league champion, made me a bit scared. The result, however, was far from what I expected. After a good performance on their home pitch, Liverpool went to Chelsea for the second leg. I figured the bottom would fall out. A complacent Liverpool would surely get thumped by an opportunistic and skilled Chelsea. I was, happily, proved wrong. What I saw was 120 hard-fought minutes. It was a loss (1-0 in extra time) but there was a determination and energy to Liverpool that I hadn’t yet seen this season. They cared and they worked. Of course a win would’ve been better, but if they can build on that loss, then this season will undoubtedly be a success.
And back to the Leafs
The Maple Leafs need such a game. The team has to come together. I want them to get upset when they lose. Every loss should be an impetus to work that much harder in the next game. The Captain and everyone else needs to learn to consistently play with determination and conviction. No coasting. Shots at one end, blocked shots at the other (do the goalies a favour for once!). If the Leafs can’t do this, who cares about a play-off spot? They’ll surely get bumped out in the first round. So let’s see if they care – let’s see if they can put together a few performances that the players (and fans) can be truly proud of… and we can go from there.
Thanks for reading, and as always, please comment, I’ll do my best to respond.
Economist/epidemiologist interested in the intersection between sports analytics (advanced stats) and intuition.