The streak started in late October. Canelas 2010, an unheralded amateur soccer team, suddenly could not stop winning. It went 10 straight matches without dropping a point, without so much as conceding a goal, a surge that brought the prospect of promotion out of its local league and into the comparative big time of the national third division. It was the sort of run that would, in normal circumstances, bring the professional scouts flocking, marveling at this small-time miracle. Nobody came to see Canelas, though. Nobody could. There was nothing to watch. Though each of those results was officially recorded as a 3-0 Canelas win, none of the matches actually happened. After a scoreless game with Padroense on Oct. 23, Canelas did not play again in 2016. Its players were told they were too violent on the field, too intimidating to referees. They became a team without opponents, one an entire league was afraid to play. "It is unfair,” said Fernando Madureira, the Canelas captain. "We are not a violent team. We play the same as everyone else: We do not want to lose, we run, we fight for the ball, and we give everything on the field.” That is not how the club’s opponents see it. In October, the presidents of the league’s other teams held a series of clandestine meetings. Eventually, all but one decided his team would refuse to play Canelas. Porto’s local soccer association informed the teams of the consequences — a fine of 750 euros (just over $800) for each game missed and a walkover win for Canelas — but they stood firm. "There is coercion, intimidation, and referees do not have the courage to write reports that say what has really happened,” said Manuel Gomes, the president of Grijo, one of the teams that called for the boycott. "These problems have dragged on for years, and they are very serious. We have decided something has to be done.” Their justification came in the form of a smattering of YouTube videos showcasing Canelas’s apparently gratuitous acts of violence — karate kicks, two-footed lunges — from previous games. "In the Super Dragons, there are good guys and bad guys,” he said. "We have drug dealers, killers, but good people, too. Everything we have in society, we have in the Super Dragons.” He is adamant, though, that the group’s members should not be prevented from playing just because they are ultras. "It would be discrimination if you did not let an African, a Gypsy or a Chinese person play,” he said. "So why is it different for a Super Dragon?” Because of the on-field violence? "The videos on YouTube are from two years ago,” he said, dismissing the violence they show. "It is from one game. They repeat it all. The media is only interested because of me, the Super Dragons and F.C. Porto. If we were not here, and the same things happened, nothing would be mentioned.” His interpretation of the boycotts — a second, lasting six games, took place this year — is that they were an exercise in cynical politicking, rather than a moral crusade.
Aaron Judge, a 25-year-old Yankees rookie, finally offered some evidence that he is, in fact, fallible. In the first inning of Wednesday night’s game against the Toronto Blue Jays, he was thrown out trying to steal a base. But aside from that, he continued to pile up numbers at so rapid a pace that it may be difficult for the average fan to keep track of them. The Yankees beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 8-6, yet another come-from-behind victory that was fueled by the team’s primary weapon this season: home runs. The long balls helped them stay close in a game in which they trailed by 4-0 after one inning and by 6-3 after three. Judge, unsurprisingly, produced one of the homers, a two-run shot to center field in the third inning. Judge’s home run was not the only one hit by the Yankees, or even the most important — that designation would go to Matt Holliday’s three-run shot in the first inning, which gave the Yankees a quick start on climbing out of the four-run hole that C. C. Sabathia had put them in in the top of the inning. Holliday’s home run was also the 300th of his 14-year major league career. But Judge’s added to the case that he might just be for real, that the 10 home runs he hit in April to help earn him the American League Rookie of the Month Award, announced earlier on Wednesday, might just be the start of something much bigger. As Sabathia succinctly put it, "he’s scary.” The home run — Judge’s 13th in just 88 at-bats this season, a pace that would put him in the neighborhood of 88 home runs over the course of a 600-at-bat season — was one of three hits he collected, a first for him in a major league game. Judge also scored the run that tied the game at 6-6 in an atypical small-ball rally by the Yankees in the seventh inning. Judge produced a one-out single off a 1-2 changeup, a pitch that might be expected to confound a young player who, in his first big league stint, showed an alarming tendency to strike out. But little has fazed Judge this time around. "Honestly, I just take it one day at a time,” he said Wednesday. "I try to forget what I did the day before. Every day is like opening day for me.” Judge singled to the opposite field in the first inning (and was thrown out trying to steal), homered in the third, popped out in the fifth and singled again in the seventh before striking out in the eighth. Although he has played down most of his achievements so far, he seems at least grudgingly aware of the significance of what he is doing as a player with not even 175 major league at-bats. Asked if he had ever been as hot as he is right now, at any level, Judge grinned and said, "Maybe in tee ball.” His teammates are not nearly so coy. "The only word I can use to describe him is ‘dominant,’” Chase Headley said. "He’s been pretty impressive to be around, and to be a part of it.” Manager Joe Girardi said: "I’ve said all along, if he gets the barrel of the bat to the ball, he’s going to do a lot of damage. We knew he was a good outfielder. We knew he could run the bases. But we wanted that consistent contact because when a man that size makes consistent contact, there’s going to be some damage. It’s hard to measure what he’s done for us in these first 20-something games.”
The Rangers needed a jolt for their first home game of their second-round series against the Ottawa Senators. Turning to Tanner Glass and his physical style, they may have found the catalyst. Glass was a decisive factor in the Rangers’ 4-1 win over the Senators in Game 3 on Tuesday. He hit nearly every Senator in sight without taking a penalty, and he helped set up a second-period goal by Oscar Lindberg that gave the Rangers a four-goal cushion. Glass’s energy seemed to lift the entire Rangers’ lineup as they dominated Ottawa start to finish after losing each of the first two games by a goal. "He is a true professional — the way he trains and the way he prepares,” Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist said. "He does his job really well, and the guys appreciate that. He wants to play with emotion and be physical. It’s huge for the team.” The Rangers played with a fresher and more focused approach in Game 3, much different from the tentative and often inconsistent style they displayed in the first two contests in Ottawa. Glass skated on a line with Lindberg and J. T. Miller that proved hard for the Senators to contain. All four Rangers lines contributed offensively Tuesday. "I bring a little bit of an edge,” Glass said. "I think the guys like that.” Glass spent most of the season with Hartford of the American Hockey League but was summoned to the Rangers in mid-March when they needed a physical player. Glass responded well in limited playoff duty, scoring the winning goal in the Rangers’ playoff opener in Montreal. He played the first three games against the Canadiens, but when the Rangers’ offense sputtered, he was benched in favor of the playmaking winger Pavel Buchnevich for the last three, and the opening games of the Ottawa series. After Game 2, during which Coach Alain Vigneault seemed to lose faith in some of his younger players, he again inserted Glass, who has played 64 playoff games in his career with the Rangers, Pittsburgh and Vancouver. "He never leaves a detail out of his game,” the Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh said of Glass. "You see him diving after a puck, which leads to Oscar’s goal. He blocks a huge shot” from Erik Karlsson. "He wants to do whatever he can to help us win a game,” McDonagh said. Glass, who reached the Stanley Cup finals with the Canucks under Vigneault, said he thrived in the postseason spotlight. "Playoffs are so much fun,” Glass said. "It’s a different element when you’re playing against the same guys every night. I just try to go out there and enjoy it.” The Rangers were also heartened to see Miller, who scored 22 goals during the regular season, finally emerge as a factor in a postseason game. Miller had only one assist in eight playoff games before he electrified the crowd at Madison Square Garden by weaving around several Senators late in the second period before passing the puck to Lindberg on the doorstep for an easy tap-in.
From a business perspective, it was not hard to understand why West Ham United found it impossible to resist the allure of London Stadium, with its agreeably large capacity, vast corporate facilities, proximity to the capital’s centre and Olympic legacy. It seemed to tick all the boxes for a club looking to reach the next level, as long as everyone kept in mind the football team that was going to play there. They would have to feel as comfortable as those sitting in the posh seats. After almost a year in their new home, they don’t. West Ham’s players have played ball in public, obligingly telling the world about what a thrill it is to play in such a wonderfully modern stadium, even though they have suffered some dreadful humiliations there this season. But the truth is different in private, where the brave faces disappear and the grumbling begins. Slaven Bilic’s team feel so uneasy in the new stadium that one senior player describes the Stratford experience as "terrible”. The obvious counter to such complaints is that West Ham have a poor home record because they are a poor team who are led by an average manager. In normal circumstances, that would be enough. West Ham endured enough ordeals at Upton Park to know that a stadium’s power is limited. True, Manchester City have hit nine without reply on their two visits to the London Stadium, Arsenal won 5-1 and even Astra Giurgiu came away with a 1-0 victory that saw the Romanian underdogs qualify for the Europa League, but what’s new? When West Ham were relegated in 2003, they didn’t win at Upton Park until the end of January. There is finite value to be gained from romanticising Upton Park. The atmosphere could be damagingly poisonous, the facilities were tired and the transport links were dismal. It held 35,000 and West Ham made £26.9m in matchday revenue last season. The London Stadium holds 57,000 and West Ham are seeking permission to increase its capacity to 66,000. Supporters with open minds simply had to do the maths to understand the board’s position and accept that this was West Ham’s chance to take on Arsenal, Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur on a stronger financial footing. Those who are less certain can expect West Ham’s vice-chair, Karren Brady, to point to 52,000 season-ticket holders, 10,000 under-16s who regularly attend matches, 36,000 members and a waiting list for season tickets that stretches to 55,000. She is also proud of the club’s rise to 18th in the Deloitte Money League after turning over £144m in 2016. Season ticket prices have been frozen. The numbers are impressive. Yet where there was excitement about new possibilities last August, by October there was cynicism over slapdash summer signings, stewarding and ticketing problems, an increasingly lacklustre atmosphere, violence inside and outside the ground and the awkward sight of large pockets of empty seats during some games. Post-match queues for trains at Stratford have tested even the mildest of tempers, which definitely wasn’t in the brochure. It would all be easier for supporters to stomach if the team were in better shape. There have been flashes of promise – Andy Carroll’s overhead kick against Crystal Palace, the League Cup win over Chelsea in October – but the experience has been disappointing overall. Having challenged for Champions League qualification in their smaller, traditional ground last season, West Ham have flirted with relegation this time. Fifteenth with three matches left, they could still be relegated if results go against them. The London Stadium move was not made with the Championship in mind.
Let’s say you were asked to participate in a Twitter poll and, should you win said poll, you would have the chance to play in the Super Bowl or the World Series? For any sports fan, this would seem like a no-brainer and an opportunity of a lifetime. But now imagine professional athletes having to participate in a Twitter poll in order to earn a place into an event? Initially, it might seem a little silly to ask people who have devoted their lives to a pursuit to subject themselves to what is a essentially a popularity contest. Lo and behold, though, the LPGA has traded its credibility for publicity, and thus lowered itself, by asking four professional golfers to participate in a Twitter vote for a sponsor’s exemption in the ShopRite Classic taking place next month in Atlantic City. The four women? Golf Channel’s Blair O’Neal, India’s Sharmila Nicollet, Scotland’s Carly Booth and Bolivia’s Susan Benavides. Of these players, Booth is the most accomplished with two wins on the Ladies European Tour. O’Neal won Golf Channel’s Big Break series and has capitalized on her popularity in the golf world as a personality, often playing on sponsor exemptions and recently making the cut in the LET Dubai tournament in December 2016. Nicollet is the second Indian-born golfer to earn status on the LET and has won 11 professional events on Women’s Golf Association of India circuit. Benavides plays on the LPGA developmental circuit, the Symetra Tour, and is the best golfer to hail from Bolivia. These women were selected for the poll by MVP Index, a sports social media tracking firm co-founded by Jordan Spieth’s father, Shawn Spieth. Sponsor exemptions are always tricky business. Typically, depending on the event, the main sponsor of a golf tournament will be allotted two exemptions to award to whomever they please, be it an amateur or professional. Not everyone will agree with the exemptions given, but often that’s the point: to stir controversy and interest in an event because of the polarizing figure. This is why the PGA Tour events continued to invite the fallen star of golf, John Daly, to play in events, despite his often withdrawing halfway through the tournament or shooting embarrassingly high scores. One could certainly make the argument that more deserving players could have been selected as candidates for the exemption. When I examined this poll, I did not see players who were undeserving, though. What I saw was a completely unlevel playing field in terms of how many Twitter followers each of the ladies have: Nicollet with roughly 357,000, O’Neal with 77,000 followers, Booth with 35,000 and Benavides with 7,000. In addition to this poll, I saw a shameless attempt by the sponsors of the tournament to capitalize on the social media presence of female golfers without any regard to the false hope they’re setting in place for those with a smaller following. Take Benavides for example, who initially wrote in for a sponsor exemption. "I would have much rather just be chosen that way,” she said in an interview with the Guardian. "When I was told about the Twitter poll, I knew I was the one with the smallest following, and Twitter is not big at all in my country so I knew it was going to be hard. But, hey, it’s a chance to play in an LPGA event. How or why would I say no?” ShopRite Classic executive director Tim Erensen went to MVP Index in search of female golfers on social media who have a strong social media presence in order to conduct the poll. He described this as "thinking out of the box” to the Golf Channel, and said that this poll could help generate new people to be interested in the game of golf. "For the naysayers, if we get 10 million new eyeballs exposed to our event, that’s not only good for the winner of our contest, but for the 143 other players in the field.” But let’s cut through the baloney. None of the ladies in the poll struggle in the looks department. They’re all uniquely beautiful, and all have a strong fan male base.