Slant Pattern Mailbag

It's time once again that I answer mailbag questions. As always, I receive no mail at the Slant Pattern, so instead, I will be answering questions intended for other sportswriters.

We'll start with a pair of soccer questions intended for Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl. The first is from @prodguy: "In an ESPN interview, Gyasi Zardes pretty much said he didn't think Jurgen Klinsmann deserved to be fired. Did you find that strange?"

Thank you, prodguy. I've been meaning to rant about Jurgen Klinsmann, and you've given me an excuse to do it.

It's not really strange that Zardes said Klinsmann didn't deserve to be fired. In the culture of sport, delivering a paean for the canned coach is about the only form of protest a play can make that's completely acceptable.

But I'd also like to point out that Zardes is not just within his rights, and his comments not remarkable, but he's also correct.

Klinsmann delivered Germany a World Cup bronze in 2006. He also guided the Americans to a semifinal appearance in the Copa American Centanario, IN EFFING JUNE. In case you forget, that tournament included all of South America as well as North American heavyweights. It was a big deal.

Now, after a two-match slump, suddenly Klinsmann isn't good enough to coach the USMNT anymore. Mexico is Mexico. Costa Rica made the quarterfinals in the last World Cup. Starting the hex off home to Mexico and at Costa Rica means the US started with two of their toughest three games right out of the gate. Klinsmann did not make the schedule, and there's no need to pull the fire alarm. The U.S. is qualifying for the World Cup. I guarantee it. This was a stupid, stupid panic move.

It gets better, though: instead of appointing an interim coach, and carefully contemplate their options, the US Soccer Federation (USSF) immediately hired Bruce Arena. Arena, you may recall, coached the USMNT from 1998-2006. He was fired in a panic move after the U.S. crashed out of the World Cup in the Group stages in 2006. USSF head Sunil Gulati said at the time he was seeking "a fresh approach." Now he's been rehired by ... Sunil Gulati, who is still head of the USSF.

The coaching culture is different in soccer than it is for other major American sports. In the major European leagues and beyond, as well as on the national team scene, coaches have a much shorter shelf life. You know how there will be a contingent of angry Internet commentators calling for the head coach to be axed every single time your favorite, say, NBA team loses a couple games or makes a questionable decision? Well, those impetuous guys basically run the show in the world of soccer. I was proud the USSF seemed to rise above that impulsive stupidity, but no more.

@Chelseamatt33 asks: "This increase to 48 World Cup teams is a total disaster. Any chance it doesn't go through?"

I doubt it. Or at least, if it doesn't go up to 48 when they decide in January, it still will happen in the next five or six iterations of the tournament. This is one area where U.S. and non-U.S. sporting cultures do match: the ever-expanding specter of included tournament or playoff teams.

You call it a disaster. I think it's a good thing. I may not like the reasons I think it's happening (more games mean more money), but I'm all for gorging on your favorite sports, so the more important games the better. Even if you think that's a bad justification (and it frankly is), it does pave the way for more Cinderella teams and underdog stories, and that, more than anything else, is what makes sports great. Iceland, darlings of Euro 2016, may not have even qualified in the pre-2016 unexpanded editions of the tournament; they would have needed to go through a playoff.

A Big Ten website called landoften.com is my next destination, where @Buckeyetxgirl asks: "Are any more coaches likely to leave OSU? Will this time off help or hurt OSU's chances to beat Clemson?"

Power programs like OSU will always, as long as they compete for national titles, lose assistant coaches at a precipitous pace. If you meant this year, that might depend on how far their playoff run extends. There's always a long layoff between the last regular season game and bowls/playoffs, so to understand whether the layoff is likely to help our hurt the Buckeyes, I think it's most instructive to look at Urban Meyer's bowl and playoff record. It's 10-2.

Finally, the Chicago Tribune runs a Cubs mailbag, and one Dan McCarthy asks, "If the Royals really asked for Kyle Schwarber in exchange for Wade Davis last year as rumored, why did they settle for Jorge Soler?"

I don't normally include the original writer's response in this exercise, but the writer, Mark Gonzales, wrote simply: "When someone tells me something is off the record, I abide by it." Am I misreading this? Is Gonzales' answer, "I know why, but I'm not gonna say?" Did he just publish the question to brag about having inside scoops? If so, you're awful, Mark Gonzales of the Chicago Tribune.

MY answer is: Soler is 24, Davis is 31, and Davis is now in the last year of his contract, while Soler is still under multi-year control.

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