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Dwight Gayle Goodbye to Murray

Aw, Dwight Gayle’s tweet gave me the feels.

There’s a certain level of detachment toward sports and my favorite teams that I have and pride myself on. What you could call jadedness is what I call perspective — watching these professionals and college athletes is a nice diversion from the mundane routines that dominate the 52 Monday through Fridays each year and the spectacles are always better when my team wins, but in the end, these sports are adults playing our childhood games for franchises in a unique entertainment industry. Enjoy the wins, enjoy the talent and skill of these athletes, but don’t beat yourself up too much over a loss and don’t become too emotionally invested on the names on the back of the uniforms.

That mentality is being tested right now.

In fact, it may be approaching a personal crisis level right now. Glenn Murray, the 31-year-old prolific striker whose 31 goals in 2012-2013 helped fire my Crystal Palace F.C. on the path toward the Premier League, left the club today for AFC Bournemouth after four years with the Eagles. The deal, worth 4 million Pounds for Palace and a three year contract with a pay raise for Murray, continues the transition that Palace is making from Premier League upstarts to a consolidated side in England’s top flight. Considering that Murray turns 32 later this month and is on the latter stages of his career, I found the move perfect: he gets one big payday and a better chance for playing time in Eddie Howe’s exciting Bournemouth attack and Palace gets paid a hefty sum for Murray’s age to cut a salary from the books.

But the nostalgia began to pour out of #cpfc social media when the move became official. On Facebook, I watched a 1:51 video of the most memorable goals scored by Murray, according to the club. I flashed a wide smile when the video showed Murray’s headed goal against Sunderland last season, one of the smartest goals I had ever seen. Murray wins a flick-on and the ball goes to winger Yannick Bolasie, who makes a wide run. Murray keeps running toward the box, though, charging toward the center of the box before changing directions and ghosting past the Sunderland defense toward the far post. Bolasie crosses the ball for Murray knock it into the net with a free header.

Then, I pulled up a five minute video created by the Palace communications team and shared by the independent Five Year Plan Fanzine, which showcased all of Murray’s goals from that 2012-13 season. Because of the virtually nonexistent television exposure that the English Championship gets in the United States, this was the first time I had seen the goalscoring prowess of Murray that captured the hearts of Palace supporters. As Murray demonstrated with that Sunderland goal, he’s a wizard — he just knows where and when to apparate somewhere in the six-yard box so he could hammer the ball into the net.

The videos that the communications staffs on sports teams put out normally don’t have an effect on me. They’re there to pump up the fans and inject a level of excitement and energy while they watch a match. (Or, if you’re at home, make you want to buy a ticket to a match so you can bask in the action and the deafening volume of noise in the flesh.) With the way ticket prices have soared in sports in my adulthood, I’m all for letting the fans be excited and making the most of the couple hours they have, especially since this may be their only trip this season to their beloved team’s home.

However, those two videos of Murray’s attacking exploits destroyed the chamber where my sentiment in sport is usually locked up. I began to feel a tinge of disappointment that Murray would no longer be wearing the Red and Blue; the valid, logical reasons for letting Murray go were now unacceptable.

I found myself clinging, wishing Murray could stick around to ride out one more season in the Premier League with my club.

It’ll probably take the rest of this week to accept the reality that he’s gone. And then after I’ve finally come to terms with it, I’ll turn on NBC Sports Network on September 12 for the Palace v. Manchester City preview, see my team warming-up for a few seconds, and then feel a wave of disappointment rise up and overtake my emotions when NBC switches to the warm-up for Norwich v. Bournemouth, with Murray shown running around in the black and red of the Cherries.

But in a way, I’m content with this bit of heartbreak. Thank you, Glenn, for the goals and the memories. And thank you for making me acknowledge that I am human, and that I can care about the individual whose name graces the back of the jersey as much as the club badge that graces the front.

The Frank Lampard Show

20150829_155931Above: Frank Lampard being announced in the NYCFC Starting XI.

When Frank Lampard lined up behind David Villa on the pitch at Yankee Stadium for Sunday’s New York City FC clash against the Columbus Crew, it ended a two year of quest of mine to attend a match that featured the former Chelsea midfielder.

This idea of seeing Lampard play in person came up only because the English midfielder was the captain of many of my Fantasy Premier League teams between 2005 and 2012, when he ranked up double digit totals in goals, assists, and clean sheet bonuses over the course of a season to carry my teams. Like his compatriot Steven Gerrard, Lampard starred as the box-to-box midfielder for his club in his prime until the mileage from aging slowed down the legs a step too much for the Premier League.

In this two year attempt to see Lampard play a match, the previous three opportunities I had to see him on the pitch were thwarted by random circumstances.

In 2013, Chelsea was scheduled to play a friendly against Liverpool in Yankee Stadium that would kick off after the Champions League Final between Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. However, the English national team called Lampard up for a friendly that would occur a few days later, so he flew back across the Atlantic to train with the national team. A couple years later, the loan debacle between NYCFC and Manchester City delayed Lampard’s arrival in MLS from the end of the January 2015 transfer window until July 2015.

When it was Lampard’s time to finally land in the States, the normally-healthy midfielder arrived from Manchester in a crate marked “FRAGILE,” which some postal worker in England or the United States failed to heed.

Lampard was scheduled to make his home debut at Yankee Stadium in July against Toronto FC. However, a calf strain suffered in training two days before that match knocked him out of contention for the frenetic 4-4 draw against Toronto FC. (Everyone forgot about Lampard anyway when Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco grabbed a hat trick.) One month later, another injury suffered in training — a left quad strain — ruled Lampard out of that dumpster fire in Los Angeles where the Galaxy defeated NYCFC 5-1. This should have been the first Gerrard vs. Lampard match in MLS, but with no more matches scheduled between the two clubs in 2015 and NYCFC definitely not being a contender for the MLS Cup, the two will have to wait until 2016 for their first duel in MLS.

So when I checked the NYCFC Twitter account an hour before Sunday’s kickoff for the team lineup (sponsored by Coco Joy, because #branding), the first thought that came to mind when I saw the lineup was “Finally.” The sky blue Number 8 shirt that belonged to Lampard sat in the bottom left corner of the Starting XI graphic embedded in the tweeted lineup.

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Lampard played a solid, but nondescript, 60 minutes of game time on Sunday. His track backs on defense weren’t as aggressive as you’d like from a midfielder, which left plenty of space along the flanks for Columbus to exploit with long balls over Lampard and Angelino, the left back who got caught pressing forward by those long balls. (NYCFC had the same problem along the right side with Mix and Andoni Iraola, because defense is shuddered upon in the Bronx.) Lampard also got muscled off the ball a few times due to a slower reaction time, but to be fair to him, it was his first match in almost three weeks.

On the other hand, it’s easy to see what NYCFC wants to accomplish offensively when Lampard, Pirlo, and Villa are together on the pitch. Those three stringed together a number of passes with their teammates to open up the Columbus defense, getting plenty of balls to the byline in the first half for Villa and Mix to cross into the box. Those crosses were often wasted, though, because there weren’t enough NYCFC attackers to overload the box or get in the right areas to meet the ball.

(On a note related to getting players in the right area: the giveaways from Pirlo this match seemed to stem from being on a different wavelength than his teammates. In the LA match, Pirlo was sloppy, just hitting the ball at Galaxy players marking the New Yorkers, but against Columbus, Pirlo played a number of chipped balls that sailed over his teammates’ heads. The problem was his teammates weren’t already running to where the ball would land when Pirlo sent the pass. For all of the dynamic potential the NYCFC attack has, the players still aren’t proactive enough in getting open before a teammate attempts a pass.)

The defensive frailty of NYCFC reared its ugly head again in the 10th minute, though, when Frederico Higuain had a free header off a corner kick to make it 1-0 Columbus. NYCFC almost responded a minute later when Lampard made one of those vintage runs into the box and shot the ball from about six yards out at an open net, but a Columbus defender stuck a foot out to deflect the ball for a corner kick. It would turn out to be Lampard’s biggest opportunity of the game; he pushed up a number of times throughout the game, but his role was mostly restricted to spreading out Columbus with some distribution from midfield.

The NYCFC began chanting for Kwadwo Poku — the man Lampard replaced in the starting XI — in the 28th minute, but those chants quickly morphed into cheers by a screamer of an equalizer. NYCFC right center midfielder Andrew Jacobson received the ball at about 25 yards from net and launched it on net when no one on the Crew closed him down. The swerving shot bounced off the palm of Crew goalkeeper Steve Clark’s hand and into the net.

It should have been 2-1 NYCFC at halftime after Lampard and Villa played a 1-2 on the left near the byline. The cross to the center was met by a Mix overhead kick that just went high.

The 15 minutes Lampard had in the second half weren’t enough to make an impact, but when his substitution was announced, he walked off the pitch to rapacious applause — for Poku, the player replacing him. The change didn’t have the desired effect. Similarly to Lampard’s 60 minutes, Poku played a solid 30 minutes where he strung together some passes, but nothing threatening resulted from them.

It wouldn’t be a NYCFC match without a defensive howler that proved to be fatal and this one came in the 83rd minute. A pass to (who I think was) Andoni Iraola rolled off his foot and into the path of a Columbus player, which started the counterattack that led to Justin Meram rolling the ball past NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders and into the netting at the far post to seal the 2-1 win for the Crew.

The goal that defeated them was a soft one for NYCFC to concede, but it was a fitting ending for a team that still hasn’t learned how to defend well five months into a seven month season.

The Milky Buns

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Tustin Milky Bun: Churro ice cream sandwiched between a non-glazed doughnut.

It turns out that there is a way to innovate that elegant dessert, the ice cream sandwich: Place that scoop of ice cream in between a doughnut.

Afters Ice Cream in Southern California (found in Fountain Valley, Tustin, and Chino Hills) gets the credit for creating this $5.00 avalanche of sugar and my sister, who scours the Southern California food scene through Instagram, gets the hat tip for introducing the ice cream shop to me. With the three locations open between noon and midnight, the Milky Bun can squeezed into any routine: the dessert after dinner, the weekly allotted cheat on your exercise and diet plan, or a late night snack.

I visited my first Afters at Tustin after watching the David Price and the Toronto Blue Jays demolish the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim 9-2 last Friday at Angel Stadium. A short ten minute drive south of Angel Stadium via the 57 and 5 freeways, the line for this Afters location stretched outside the door, even though it was about 10:30 pm. Once customers make it inside the Tustin shop, a brightly-lit area with spotless white floors and quotes about ice cream on black walls, they snake through another line that hugs the wall before reaching the team of four working the ice cream dipping cabinet.

The majority of the 16 monthly flavors available went far and beyond the standard fare of vanilla, chocolate, and mint chocolate chip. For August, the Tustin Afters also rolled out churro, cookie butter, and jasmine milk tea flavors. Upon reaching the employees, all you have to do is politely ask for the Milky Bun with whatever flavor ice cream you want and your choice of one topping — think Oreo crumbs or sprinkles, for example — if you really want to make the treat a mouthful.

The long line inside gave me enough time to think things through and I chose the churro ice cream without any toppings for my first Milky Bun. The cookie butter was a tempting second place, but I hadn’t had a churro in forever because theme parks are no longer a part of my life and I’m usually too cheap to buy concessions at a sporting event.

The guy behind the dipper sliced the doughnut on a table behind the dipper, then returned to the dipper to grab a scoop of ice cream, and then plopped that scoop on one slice. The other slice was gently placed on top of the scoop with some pressure to spread out the ice cream, and then the sandwich was wrapped in white tissue paper before being delivered to me while I paid at the cash register. (They’re also supposed to put your name on the tissue paper to avoid mix-ups, but because he either didn’t hear me when I gave my name or because I was a party of one, he skipped that step.)

With nowhere to sit down and eat the Milky Bun inside the Tustin shop or at the strip mall, I returned to my car for the taste test. After I took that first bite, I understood the Aftersicecream.com assertion that the Milky Bun would be “HEAVEN, In Your Mouth.”

The churro ice cream had the flavor of a churro doused in sugar, not the dry and the burnt kind that you see toward the end of the day at a theme park or sports concession stand. But the decision to pair this churro ice cream with a non-glazed plain doughnut made each bite feel like I was eating an actual churro that was smooth instead of crunchy.

Yep. “HEAVEN, In Your Mouth.”

Who needs to pay the $100 admission to Disney World or $40 ticket for a cheap seat at the stadium for a churro when you can just drive to Afters and buy the Milky Bun with churro ice cream?

I woke up my sister — it was almost 11 pm Pacific when I sat down, so we’re talking 1 am Central for my sister — with a string of text messages thanking her for telling me about this place. Upon finishing, I had this understated thought: “That was good.”

It was so good that I drove the Afters shop in Chino Hills the next day for another serving of this unique ice cream sandwich.

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The Chino Hills Afters is located in the middle of a large suburban shopping center, so it could accommodate the line without people having to stand outside the door. The walls were black with more ice cream quotes, including “Ice cream is my religion,” but the lighting covered the spectrum of colors; there was a club vibe here. I knew this would be my last outing to Afters that weekend, so I stuck with what I knew to be best: churro ice cream and no toppings, but switched the doughnut to a glazed doughnut.

The glazed doughnut jacked up the sweetness of the Milky Bun, but also made it a little messier to hold onto and finish. It was worth all the effort, though.

My poor body, taking so much damage overall for the sake of my taste buds.

Like the guy at Tustin, the Chino Hills employee asked for my name. When I arrived at the register for the exchange of dollars for dessert, a pleasant surprise accompanied the treat: the white tissue paper had “BRYAN” written in black sharpie across the front. She spelled my name correctly without even asking me to spell it out for her.

I don’t get bothered when people spell my name as “Brian” instead of “Bryan” — after all, the feminine equivalent is “Brianna,” not “Bryanna,” and it’s not worth the effort to get angry over a spelling variant — but it always makes my day when someone guesses, assumes, or somehow deduces that I spell my name with a “Y.” Because of that spelling miracle, that churro ice cream Milky Bun I ate in the middle of a Chino Hills shopping center WAS THE BEST DESSERT I EVER HAD (on this trip).

The Milky Bun doesn’t need any extra help to be a superb food experience, but it’s always the little things that make something more enjoyable than it already is.

British Invasion Averted

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The clash of titans ended before the combatants could even come to blows, as a quad injury suffered in training felled the titan in blue.

Major League Soccer and ESPN were ready to make Sunday’s match between the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York City F.C. a showcase piece for the league, because it would mark the first time that two midfielders from England’s Pyrite — sorry, Golden — Generation, LA’s Steven Gerrard and NYCFC’s Frank Lampard, face each other in the United States’ domestic league. The original start time of 2 pm Pacific Time was pushed up to Noon Pacific to accommodate east coast viewers. The matchday program distributed at StubHub Center featured a yellow and blue cover with “The British Invasion” splayed on top, with Gerrard and Lampard standing in front of the Union Jack. Lampard had even been quoted for circling the date of the #LAvNYC fixture on his calendar as soon as he found out that Gerrard signed for Los Angeles.

Not to take away from Robbie Keane, Gio Dos Santos, David Villa, or Andrea Pirlo, of course. But hey, Lampard and Gerrard were the cruxes of their English clubs and many Fantasy Premier League teams in their heyday.

After all that hype, the quads sidelined Lampard from even making the bench. After years in Chelsea where he rarely suffered any major or recurring injury, Lampard has broken down like a Ford Pinto since belatedly arriving in America in July. The health woes now plaguing Lampard in the States are just salt in the wound for NYCFC and MLS; the notorious contract situation/loan that sent Lampard to Manchester City for the entirety of the 2014-15 Barclays Premier League season blocked the English midfielder from linking up with NYCFC in March for the start of the MLS regular season. If karma acted like it should have, Lampard’s problems should have occurred while he was on his extended stay in Manchester, and then rediscover full health once he crossed the Atlantic.

But the presence of Lampard on the pitch may not have had an effect on the outcome of the match anyway. The lethality of the Galaxy attack exploited the sieve that is the NYCFC defense en route to a 5-1 victory for the reigning MLS Cup champions and the club’s 1000th regular season goal in MLS — the first time a team has reached that milestone number in the league. The ease with which the Galaxy thrashed NYCFC in the second half summed up the best of LA and the worst of NYCFC this season: LA is balanced, but is excellent in player quality from back to front, while the top heavy imbalance in New York means there are days where the attacking prowess can’t keep up with the alarming rate that the defense concedes goals.

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It was New York who started the game as the aggressor, forcing a couple corner kicks early on before taking up a possession game that blunted the Galaxy attack, but didn’t create any legitimate NYCFC scoring chances, for about 25 minutes. After that point, LA found its footing in the game and should have been up 1-0 in the 27th minute, when Keane lunged for a shot in a goalmouth scramble and hit the crossbar. A Galaxy goal was ruled out a couple minutes later, but LA finally broke the deadlock when Gyasi Zardes bulleted a free header into the net in the 36th minute. NYCFC had its last legitimate chance of the match when Kwadwo Poku broke into the box and passed it to Tommy McNamara, who could only shoot it high from six yards out.

Instead of going into halftime tied 1-1, LA led 1-0 at the break and didn’t look back when the second half kicked off.

The rampage began in the 53rd minute, when an unmarked Keane received a pass on the right side of the pitch, dribbled it into the box for a one-on-one with NYCFC goalkeeper Josh Saunders, and chipped the ball over Saunders to make it 2-0. Dos Santos scored a nearly identical goal in the 67th minute to make it 3-0, but the breakaway chip came from the center of the box. Three minutes later LA scored a goal that the NHL’s Kings would be proud of: Dos Santos passed the ball to Gerrard on the right side of the box, whose shot aimed at the far post instead deflected off Sebastian Lletget and redirected straight into the net to make it 4-0.

Pirlo was subbed off by NYCFC in the 75th minute for striker Patrick Mullins. Pirlo, whose giveaways in this match were more glaring than I expected, received a warm applause from the crowd as he walked off the pitch. The sub made an impact four minutes later, though: Mullins, who appeared to fall over himself in the box from my line of sight, drew a penalty that David Villa scored for the consolation goal.

In a case of ball don’t lie, or just plain generosity from NYCFC, the Blues returned the goal to LA a minute later. Robbie Rogers had some space in the left wing to send a low cross to Keane, who had an easy tap-in from six yards out to grab the brace and make it 5-1.

It should have ended 6-1 when Gerrard had a breakaway down the right a few minutes later. The crowd anticipated his shot, but Gerrard didn’t oblige and selflessly squared it to the left for Keane to try and score the hat trick. A NYCFC defender tracked back to block Keane’s pass back to Gerrard for a tap-in and the threat ended. Oh well, it’s not like LA needed the extra goal, anyway; the +17 goal differential LA owns is top of MLS.

At the rate LA is going, they look like the team to beat — and no one else in MLS looks poised to do so. Granted, the NYCFC defense makes any Bundesliga defense look like Chelsea’s, but there really isn’t much of a weakness from top to bottom on that LA squad. As the guy seated next to me pointed out (more on him later), the signing of Dos Santos to bolster the already-dangerous attack spearheaded by Keane just destroyed the balance and tipped everything in LA’s favor.

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This was the third NYCFC match I’ve attended this season and this club has conceded 3+ goals in each match. The table would read Played: 3, Points: 1, Goals For: 6, Goals Against: 12. As the guy who sat next to me at the stadium noted (again, more on him later): NYCFC is entertaining because they’ll either squeak by with a 4-3 win or 4-4 draw, or get destroyed in a manner that LA accomplished on Sunday.

I’ve been to two NYCFC games since Lampard joined and he’s been injured both times. Third time better be a charm.

This was the second match I attended at StubHub Center. The first match was Landon Donovan’s final regular season home match, when the Galaxy drew 2-2 with the Seattle Sounders, but I don’t remember much about the atmosphere other than the outpour of love for Donovan. To rectify that, I paid more attention to the atmosphere on Sunday and while it is good with respect to volume and near-continuous singing, I hope the supporters sections eventually broaden the scope of cheers beyond chanting “L-A GALAXY” so often.

I sat next to a former New Yorker of five years who moved to Los Angeles six months ago — escaping that dreadful blizzard-filled winter — for a job transfer and the better weather. (The only drawback: he’s now in a cross-country relationship with his girlfriend, who still lives in New York.) He’s a Thierry Henry fan, so he supported Arsenal and New York Red Bulls when Henry played for each club. However, now that Henry is retired, he’s taken the same approach I have to MLS: enjoying the league as a neutral and watching matches to appreciate how the quality of the game has grown in the United States, especially over the last two years. He does plan to give the future Los Angeles Football Club, scheduled to open MLS play in 2017, a chance to earn his support, though, because the stadium will be close to where he lives.

On my way out of the stadium, two Chelsea supporters saw me wearing my Crystal Palace shirt at the stadium, yelled “Palace!” and gave me two thumbs up. Let’s see if they feel the same way after Palace takes the points from Chelsea this Saturday. (Kidding. Sort of.)

Interesting soccer jerseys I saw at StubHub Center: a teenager in an Andi Weimann Derby County shirt, FC St. Pauli, Hull City, and Southend United. There were a boatload of Liverpool, USMNT, Chelsea, and Italy jerseys, too, for obvious reasons.

The bacon wrapped hot dog at StubHub Center is to die for. Incidentally, my life expectancy went down a couple weeks after eating that hot dog.

Global Sport

A family of four from Melbourne, Australia reminded me how technology has made the world smaller — and not just because they flew on a wide-body airplane across the vast Pacific Ocean to arrive in America for a holiday.

This family and I were seated in the last two rows of a Boeing 737 flying from Boston Logan International Airport to Los Angeles International Airport on Friday morning. The father was a bald man wearing a black tank top, jorts, and a gray beard—think Jamie from Mythbusters in beach gear—the mother was also dressed for the beach with a white tank top and jorts. I don’t remember how the youngest daughter looked like, but her teenage older brother dressed like the skaters who attended my high school: long blond hair, a black Vans shirt, and jeans. The Australians had just finished a three week vacation in the States and were flying to Los Angeles for their connecting flight back to Melbourne. What struck me about them was the main motivation behind spending so much time in a country nearly 8000 miles away from home.

Ice hockey.

Yes, despite Australian Rules football, rugby league, and cricket dominating the sporting scene in Australia, there is a niche community in this warm country that somehow discovered the frigid national sport of Canada and plays the game. The son is a member of that community, but he and his family share a grander dream for his hockey game: to see him earn a scholarship to a university to play college hockey.

So the next step toward achieving that goal is shipping the son off to Massachusetts in September to attend high school and play competitive high school hockey. To prepare their son for the transition, the family — after taking an initial week-long detour at Disneyland for the daughter — spent two weeks in New England to tour the campus of the high school he’ll attend and the part of America he’ll live in for the next four years. That’s a lot of bravery on the part of the kid and his parents to accept such a huge gulf in distance between each other before the kid reaches adulthood.

I forgot to ask why this family got into to hockey and the part of the conversation where I asked how they initially discovered the sport got lost in the translation of our different dialects. But this family’s embrace of hockey — I’m guessing they always called it “ice hockey” in acknowledgement of the existence of field hockey — is a reminder of how advances in transportation and communication have made the spread of ideas and games so easy, regardless of the originating location. If you need another example of this phenomenon to sooth some of your skepticism, click here.

Sometime in the next decade, it would be great to tune into ESPN during their broadcast of the NCAA Frozen Four and listen to Steve Levy discuss the tale of a player who left his family and home in Australia for the colder climes of New England before he was even 15 years old. How he overcame the obstacle of adapting to a different culture while honing his hockey skills and reaching his potential in the college game. I just ask that Levy also fit in a few seconds to explain how this family discovered hockey and why they grew to love a game that was created so far away from home.

Palace Preview

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Personal prediction on where Palace will finish: 11th.

It’s odd going into a season where there are expectations placed on Crystal Palace.

Talk of finishing in the top ten again, a sustained Cup run, the quality to “compete with any team below the tier of the top four,” or even snatching a Europa League spot has popped up in articles and been debated to death on Twitter and on fan forums. On Saturday, all that talk of hypotheticals will only intensify after Palace travel to Carrow Road to face those familiar newcomers, Norwich City, and everyone can overreact accordingly to the first of 38 results charged to Palace this Premier League season.

I’m trying to stay grounded, even though the Eagles are poised to soar again this season because of the quality of players that manager Alan Pardew has brought in this summer. But with Everton relieved from Europa League duty, I think Everton and Palace will end up switching spots from last year’s season table. Regardless of what I think, the upcoming season should be deemed an ultimate success if Palace just secure survival for a fourth successive season in the Premier League. The tidal wave of money coming from the next contract of broadcast rights for the Premier League can give CPFC 2010 a boost toward addressing the club’s infrastructure and academy (as pointed out by Matt Woosie here on The Eagles Beak), long-term concerns that can consolidate Palace’s position in the Premier League as well as any of the signings that have just flown in.

That being said, it’s nice to have a sense of confidence that this team has the potential to secure safety and more. As much as I love Palace securing the marquee names of Yohan Cabaye in midfield and Chelsea’s Patrick Bamford on loan in attack, I’m more enamored with the depth that the squad finally has all over the pitch.

A strike force of Bamford, Connor Wickham, Glenn Murray, Dwight Gayle, Fraizer Campbell, and Marouane Chamakh — I don’t know which one of these guys is leaving anymore — isn’t potent in the sense that someone from that list will grab 15-20 goals, but they’re all good enough for the wealth to be shared. I see Palace continuing the scoring-by-committee set-up from last season, with Bamford leading the pack with somewhere between 10 and 13 goals. If/when Bamford doesn’t stick around next season, I have faith that Pardew will develop Wickham this season to take over as the 10-15 goal guy for the 2016-17 season.

The strikers won’t reach their potential without good service from midfield, but luckily the midfield was the strength of last season’s Palace squad — so Pardew upgraded it again. Cabaye finally gives Palace a legitimate passing threat to spread out teams like West Brom, whose organized defense stymied Palace. Whether or not the opponent is heavily organized in the back, the thought of Cabaye distributing the ball to Jason Puncheon in the hole, or Yannick Bolasie and Wilfried Zaha on the wings (before they cut inside, ideally), is mouthwatering. Chung-Yong Lee provides an additional option for set pieces by plugging him in anywhere in the midfield and Bakary Sako provides solid competition for Bolasie on the left wing. If the team needs to go into siege mentality, some combination of Mile Jedinak, James McArthur, Joe Ledley, and Jordon Mutch can shield the defense. Ten names were dropped here and — barring long-term injuries or extended poor form — it’ll be fascinating to watch how Pardew juggles the riches of the midfield on a week-to-week basis.

On the other hand, the defense, which kept only three clean sheets in the league in 2015, was not handed an additional centerback. To be fair, the club only conceded 2 goals in five out of 19 league matches played in 2015; the bend, but don’t break, perspective on the Palace defense should be a little easier to accept this season with the improvements up front. The thin depth on defense is where I hope the club gets lucky again on avoiding the injury bug. I love Damien Delaney, Brede Hangeland, and Adrian Mariappa, but I want to see Joel Ward and Scott Dann start every match alongside some combination of Delaney/Hangeland and Pape Souare/Martin Kelly. Even without injuries, this line will get exposed, but Dann’s leadership in the box and Ward’s consistency bring reassurance that the damage won’t be too much of a hole for the attack to overcome.

It’s a sad irony that as Pardew is starting to figure out Julian Speroni’s long-term successor in goal, Speroni suffers a hand injury that keeps him out of the net for four weeks. I didn’t watch any of the preseason fixtures, but it’s comforting that the battle to be Speroni’s (temporary?) replacement for that month is between Wales international Wayne Hennessey, who commanded the box well when I saw him play against Fulham at the end of the 2013-14 season and Swansea last season, and the purchased-for-potential Alex McCarthy, who already has Premier League experience under his belt with Reading. It’s sad to see Speroni out, but it’ll be exciting to watch the competition for the future play out. May the best goalkeeper win, because he’ll probably inherit Speroni’s shirt come August 2016.

All these names of players that would likely make the 25-man squad were mentioned to reiterate the key word: depth. Palace had depth in numbers when Ian Holloway went on his ill-fated spending spree a couple years ago, but this summer, Palace finally landed in that golden intersection of depth in numbers with depth in quality. This is a club that somehow retained its core from the promotion squad and its best players onward (I’m looking at you, Dann and McArthur), sprinkled in five enhancements to the squad, finally retained a manager who shares a long-term vision with CPFC 2010, and still took care of its roots in the community that is South London. On paper, this is the best Palace squad seen in decades, if not ever. I don’t know if Palace will meet the lofty expectations of another top 10 or a Europa League spot, but I do know that they’ll always be thrilling to watch over the next nine months. Soak it all in — every Palace goal, every poor refereeing decision against Palace, every “Glad All Over” in Selhurst, every poor throw-in to the opposition, every blazing counterattack led by Bolasie or Zaha, everything — each week and enjoy the ride.

The First Bulls Title I Saw Since 1997

To avoid melting into a smelly puddle because of a stupid heat wave taking over the east coast, I went to my gym last night to use the treadmills. A row of 12 TVs sits in front of the three rows of treadmills in the gym; I avoid watching TV when working out because it’s dizzying. When I took one of the few open treadmills left in the back row, I looked up and realized I’d have to break my no-TV stance that workout.

The TV directly in front of me was tuned to ESPN Classic, broadcasting the second half of Game 6 of the 1993 NBA Finals, when the Chicago Bulls defeated the Phoenix Suns 99-98 to secure the first three-peat for the Bulls in the ‘90s.

I’ve never seen any part of that game replayed outside of John Paxson’s title-clinching three pointer. Even though I knew the result, I went into watching the game as if it was live, trying to make memories of something that happened 22 years ago because I was too young to remember it the first time around.

The Bulls held a 10 point lead with about seven minutes left in the third quarter when I started my workout. The first thing that stuck out is the magnitudes of improvement that video quality has seen over the last two decades. I didn’t need the highest quality of video to appreciate how sharp the Bulls looked with their red uniform and black shoes combination — the intimidation factor is timeless. (Yes, even with Horace Grant wearing those awesome white goggles.) On the other hand, the basketball/sun/comet hybrid running from left to right across the Suns’ jerseys, like a sash, looked so dated now, even with the gruff Charles Barkley bullying the boards in those colors.

I didn’t think of plugging in my headphones until after I saw the NBA on NBC logo flash from an extended break, so I missed my opportunity to hear that immortal theme song. Thank God for YouTube.

When I started running with the game, it looked like the Bulls were going to run away with the game and the championship. Michael Jordan was hitting every one of those catch and shoot fadeaways and Scottie Pippen was all over the court for defensive duty and offensive rebounds. A young-looking Phil Jackson, with a full head of pepper-colored hair and matching beard, looked untroubled whenever the camera panned to him on the bench.

It looked especially too easy when the Bulls executed the same inside-out attack three times to perfection in the third quarter, which netted three three-pointers nailed by three different shooters. A Bull would penetrate the Suns defense to get in the paint and — instead of shooting — would zip the ball back to a Bull standing behind the arc for an open three. Paxson made the first of the trio with a three from the same spot he’d later hit the game-winner, then B.J. Armstrong got in the act with a three from the baseline, and finally Trent Tucker — a reserve I never heard of until that moment — got the inside-out pass at Paxson’s spot and nailed the three in the closing seconds of the third quarter

The Bulls took an eight point lead into the fourth quarter and just collapsed offensively. The Suns made the paint impenetrable and then took to tearing the Bulls in the paint on the other end of the court. Barkley continued to bully the frontcourt for offensive rebounds and second chance opportunities, Kevin Johnson (who knew he’d be the Mayor of Sacramento decades later?!) found gaps to drive to the net, and the Suns took care of the free throws the Bulls gifted to them through shooting fouls. Despite all the success the Suns were having, Danny Ainge (who knew he’d be the GM of the Celtics decades later?!) and Dan Majerle were pretty quiet in that quarter.

This was rock bottom for the Bulls: the 10 point lead that I saw when I started running evaporated into a four point deficit with under two minutes left in the game. Pippen, Grant, and Cartwright each accumulated five fouls. Worst of all, Jordan was the only Bull to generate any offense up until that point in the fourth quarter — nine points.

Phoenix should have sealed the game at this point, but after establishing that four point lead, the Suns couldn’t buy a basket. They missed all six of subsequent shots they took; they wouldn’t make any more.

Jordan took an inbound pass after cross court to cut the Suns’ lead to 98-96 with about a minute to go. The Bulls defense forced another Suns turnover with just under 15 seconds left in the game and took a timeout for Jackson to draw up a play.

That play? Another inside-out attack, of course.

Jordan inbounded the ball from the Bulls bench, had that teammate pass the ball back immediately to him, then dumped the tossed the ball to an open Pippen standing at at the top of the arc. Pippen drove to the paint, dumped the ball to his left to an open Grant, who one-timed the ball back to Paxson behind the arc.

Swoosh. 99-98 Bulls with three seconds left.

I put my hands up in celebration in the treadmill, didn’t feel like an idiot at all — I knew I looked like one, though — then ended the workout. In one hour, I saw the Bulls win a title for the first time since 1997. The Bulls scored only 12 points that quarter, 75 percent of them by Jordan, but the last 25 percent that Paxson chipped in was just enough help for Jordan. The context behind that Paxson three is incredible and I can’t believe it took me this long to learn the history of that game and championship.

Fitting that a three pointer was the shot that sealed the first three peat.