Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Mosconi Cup Wrap Up: Managing Expectations and Looking to the Future

By: Markus Noé

Last Friday saw Team Europe put the finishing touches on their sixth consecutive Mosconi Cup win. A truly remarkable feat that the American team has accomplished themselves but that seems like a lifetime ago. This was the 22nd edition of the very popular Mosconi Cup event brought to you by Barry Hearn and Matchrooms Sports.

In the 1990's, 9 ball was still mainly a game played and dominated by the Americans. In Europe, Snooker was still by far the most popular cue sport played and this showed in the early teams that they put together. If you look back at the old videos, Snooker legends such as Jimmy White and Steve Davis made appearances and even enjoyed some success. That being said the Americans dominated the 90's and early  2000's so much that I believe only after this year has Europe finally drawn even or near even according to matches won and cups won.

The reality is during the last 20 years as legends like Earl Strickland, Johnny Archer, Nick Varner and others have begun to decline there really has not been many top players to take their place. Meanwhile the Europeans and the Asian countries have leaped forward. As a Canadian I have said before I don't really have a stake in the outcome of the Mosconi Cup, however as a die hard pool junkie I do crave competitive matches. During the last several years as the Americans have been getting blown out year after year, the fans to my amazement still cry out for players like Strickland and other older legends who have not won anything on the international scene in years.

At first I credited this to simple nostalgia which runs rampant in this sport. However I am starting to believe that the fans are simply not properly informed as to what they are up against in the European side despite their recent domination. For example this years team featured recent World 9 Ball Champions Niels Feijen and Darren Appleton. They follow that up with the 2010 World 8 Ball Champion and potting machine Karl Boyes. Next would be Nick van den Berg who has won various Mosconi Cups along with Euro tour stops and a top 3 finish at this years China Open. Finally you have the rookie Albin Ouschan who did not make the team in 2014 when he finished second to Feijen at the World Championships. Ouschan also captured one of this years major titles by beating John Morra in the final of the China Open.

Now outside Shane VanBoening who we all know has won four U.S Opens, two World Pool Masters and countless other events, who on this team has enjoyed any kind of success recently against international fields? The best I could come up with on the top of my head was Mike Dechaine who placed 4th at the 2014 U.S Open and second at the most recent Turning Stone Classic as well as a solid World Championship appearance. Outside of these two you have Corey Deuel who is a U.S Open Champion, All Japan Champion and winner of other tournaments but that was mostly in the early 2000's.  Next you have Justin Bergman who just played in his second Mosconi Cup.

I am admittedly a big Bergman fan, I enjoy the amount of heart he plays with and how he conducts himself on and off the table. That being said until recently he has been known as a barbox player and perhaps one of the best money players in America. Which is an accomplishment but it is hard to compare that to the Europeans who play in all the major events each year and have sharpened their skills both physically and more importantly mentally. Lastly we have the rookie Sky Woodward who we can argue had the overall best performance of any American this year. However he too is just beginning to come on the scene and at only 22 years old he really is the future of American pool.

I am outlining this not to slight the American team at all, but to have some perspective and realistic expectations. It frustrates me when I am scrolling through my social media accounts and see dozens of comments along the lines of how lucky the Europeans are, and that they get all the rolls. Or that "we need Archer and Strickland back." The simple truth is that the American legends are just that now, legends. Meaning their time has come and gone and it is time for the younger generation to take their place. When it comes to "luck" or "rolls" I have noticed that since I started playing competitively it frequently looks like the better players or teams are getting lucky. That is because when you are not good enough you rely on these "rolls" to win and when the better players get them it is just that much more demoralizing.

All this being said this was by far the most competitive Mosconi Cup I have seen in years with the final score being 11-7. A lot of this is due to the continued development of players like Woodward, Dechaine and Bergman. Also the addition of Captain Mark Wilson these last few years has really seemed to help with character and team building which is imperative for a competition like this. Unfortunately though until players like Bergman, Dechaine, Woodward and other "Young Guns" get more exposure to international events, crowds and have success, I don't see the Americans winning anytime soon. This is nothing to be mad about it is all a part of the natural progression. If you look at any sports team they are not winning the World Series, Super Bowls or Stanley Cups because of one good off season. It is developed over a few years of players getting more seasoning and acquiring new additions.

As a fan, I do feel it is time to expand on this two team event. Because to be honest it is not that interesting to see one team dominate over another each year. With pool being in such a bad way for so many years now the Mosconi Cup has been a bright spot. I fear with one team's consistent domination, eventually it will not be interesting to watch. Let's face it, in my opinion both these teams would be blown out out of the water by a team in Taiwan if they were permitted to play. At one time the Mosconi Cup was an event built and promoted by best on best. In 2015 that is not true anymore; the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan and even England on their own could come up with some monster teams. I even think Canada could have a very competitive team.

In conclusion the accomplishments of team Europe need to be respected more as this domination has not been due to luck. It is undeniable that the the format of the Mosconi Cup is exciting and great for T.V but it is time to expand. 9 ball is now a game played all over the world and how exciting would it be to see it expanded on to include some of the other talented teams that are out there? Also how great would that be for the exposure and promotion of our sport overall?

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