Confidence not a problem for Lynch, Huskies

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Confidence not a problem for Lynch, Huskies

By Dieter Kurtenbach
CSNChicago.com contributor

The Northern Illinois Huskies' foray into the world of the BCS might be less than 48 hours old, but that time has been as eventful off the field as it has been beneficial on it.

The Huskies have practiced twice in preparation of the 2013 Orange Bowl, but they have also found time to unveil new uniforms, party, and generate a bit of legitimate, old-fashioned bulletin-board material for their opponent on New Year's Day.

The epicenter of the controversy is NIU quarterback Jordan Lynch, who, before leaving DeKalb, told the Sporting News that FSU hasn't "seen anything like our offense."

Lynch continued: "They're just like us. They're human, too. If you cut them, they bleed... We plan on wearing them down. In the fourth quarter, we plan to have them on their knees, and then just keep pounding away.

The story published Thursday, and after the Huskies' afternoon practice, Lynch stood tall though he was still drowned in a sea of reporters refusing to back down from his comments.

"It's not cocky," Lynch said. "It's confidence."

Lynch's teammates and his new head coach had his back.

"What's he supposed to say?" NIU coach Rod Carey "'Hey, we're just hoping we get a first down, a yard or two?' I mean, come on. That's the confidence. These guys expect that. And we're doing everything we can to make that happen."

As for the practice itself, Carey said that it wasn't as sharp as the team's first in South Florida, which happened Wednesday afternoon. Perhaps the team played better after initially thawing out in the Miami sun. Perhaps that same sun drained the Huskies, leading to the second-day let-down.

"We did good, don't get me wrong," Carey said. "They know how to work, but focus was at times lacking today. I have high expectations for them."

Lynch's comments added some bile to the game, perhaps it was Wednesday night's unveiling of Adidas' specially-made uniforms for the Huskies that had the player's minds elsewhere.

The uniforms were a surprise and were introduced to the squad at its nightly meeting, eliciting cheers, hoots and hollers from the already-excited squad.

The Huskies will wear red pants for the first time, and the new white uniforms featured grey, beveled numbers and a red undershirt with the NIU logo and "Huskies" emblazoned on the sleeves.

That could have been in, or perhaps the Huskies had their minds on what was coming after practice Thursday.

Cheering erupted again at the team's beach party after practice Thursday afternoon. No doubt many of the players were comparing the weather in DeKalb to the bright, sunny, 76 degree day on South Beach.

The new jerseys, the beach parties, the ten-fold media attention it's all part of the BCS lifestyle, one the Huskies are hoping to savor, even if it is ultimately fleeting.

"We worked for this," Carey said. "We wanted this and we earned this."

For Lynch, who is being revered as the Mid American Conference's version of Johnny Football, the downsides of playing in a BCS bowl aren't outweighing the positives.

"Ever since getting off the plane, I felt it starting to kick in more and more," Lynch said. "It's pretty big time. It feels pretty special. It was surreal at first, but it's starting to kick in now and it feels pretty good."

While Carey is no doubt enjoying the "business trip" as well, it is his job to impart perspective, and while he might not be able to speak from much experience Carey was named the NIU head coach a few hours before the Orange Bowl announcement he did his best to reduce the hoopla to a base.

"It's a football game," Carey said. "We're here to win the football game? Otherwise, what would you be playing the game for?"

Notes from the rewatch: A deeper look at David Accam's big game

Notes from the rewatch: A deeper look at David Accam's big game

It's not often that teams win games in MLS by four goals, especially when a red card wasn't involved.

After the Chicago Fire couldn't score one goal against Orlando when the Lions went down to nine men for more than a quarter of the match earlier this month, the Fire put up a four spot against Orlando at Toyota Park on Saturday. The Fire were dominant in every aspect of the game.

David Accam had one of his best games for the Fire and the team had arguably its best performance of the season.

It takes two for a blowout in MLS

There have been 10 games in MLS this season decided by four goals or more. Out of that group, two of those involved red cards (including the Fire's 4-0 loss at Atlanta in March) and two of those were Minnesota's first two games as an MLS team when it was thought they could be the worst team in league history. Blowouts happen in MLS, but the relatively balanced play in the league means both the winning team had to be very good and the losing team had to be very bad.

The Fire may have had its best performance of the season. Nemanja Nikolic said the team was near perfect after the match (in the video above).

Meanwhile, Orlando was without its leading scorer (Cyle Larin) and was coming off a game Wednesday halfway across the country in Seattle. Those factors, plus an overall lethargic showing from Orlando (coach Jason Kreis said his team "didn't have enough energy" at the start of the match) made the Lions susceptible to the beatdown they received.

The expected goals didn't lie

Soccer analytics are still nascent, but expected goals is one of the stats getting more attention. Expected goals track the position of all shots taken in a match and quantify the likelihood of that shot going in. Shots from close are more likely to score so they are worth more expected goals. Each shot's percentage of scoring is added to produce the team's expected goals total.

Often in blowouts, the winning team's expected goals total is lower than the actual goal total because in order to score a large number of goals it probably took a couple low-percentage shots scoring. Teams don't typically create several high-percentage scoring chances in a match. It takes a screamer from distance or a goalkeeper flub to get a high goal total, and the expected goal total won't go up with that as a result.

However, the Fire's expected goal total from Saturday was actually above four. Including the penalty kick, the Fire's expected goal total finished at 4.26, one of the highest totals in the league this year. Meanwhile, Orlando had a miniscule .16 from three long-distance shots.

The Fire scored two goals early and kept creating chances. Nikolic was denied on a close-range volley in the first half and missed an open shot in the second half or else he could have scored more than the one goal.

Without going deeper into the stats, the takeaway is that this game was a blowout, was always going to be a blowout and didn't require particularly efficient finishing from the Fire to be a blowout.

Accam: "I thought I could do anything on the pitch"

Accam's hat trick got the headlines, but he also had an assist on Nikolic's goal. On the assist he showed something he hasn't done often. Look where Accam received the ball on that play:

This is Accam as a playmaking attacking midfielder for one play. He received the ball just past midfield off a turnover, but it wasn’t a classic counter. Orlando had five players behind the ball and he had two Fire players, Nikolic and Luis Solignac, in front of him. He turned, put a move on Antonio Nocerino to give himself the space to set up Nikolic, made the pass and Nikolic finished with his first touch.

Accam's first goal was about positioning. He found a way to get open in the six-yard box, and the backheel was just the exclamation mark to finish the play. His second goal was classic Accam getting behind a defense and being almost too patient to shoot before scoring into an open net.

He showed a little bit of everything Saturday.

Michael de Leeuw tracking Kaka

Just watch Michael de Leeuw, a natural forward, recognize Kaka running into open space and then cut him off and intercept a pass intended for the Brazilian.

Aaron Judge's batting practice homer flies ridiculously far

Aaron Judge's batting practice homer flies ridiculously far

Aaron Judge's batting practice is quickly becoming must-watch stuff.

The 25-year-old outfielder proved that point on Monday, when he absolutely destroyed a baseball onto the Guaranteed Rate Field concourse. 

Just to recap: That ball flew the bleachers and literally one hopped the jumbotron. And while the jury has already ruled that Judge has ridiculous power, this is next-level skill. 

Judge, who's already blasted 26 dingers this season, and the Yankees are in town this week for four games on the South Side. Let's hope he doesn't actually do that when it counts.