Soccer Science: Activation Energy

SEATTLE - MARCH 23: Head coach Dominic Kinnear bemoans his lack of physical chemistry know-how. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

Soccer-Science seeks to bring a scientific focus to the game we love. I apologize for the nerdiness, but such is my fascination with the field. Stick with me through the stuff you may have slept through in school, and please don't come after me like Ogre from Revenge of the Nerds. There will most certainly be some entertainment in the process.

Frustrating. This game was frustrating. I mean, going into the match we all knew what we were up against: a solid Western opponent with a well-known ability to punish opponents' mistakes. They boasted multiple excellent players and one specifically (Estrada) who had caught fire just in time for our visit to the PNW. These Sounders were obviously no pushover.

But we also knew the type of team we had coming into the match. In our first two road ventures we were able to score in opportunistic moments and defend strategically throughout the 90 minutes. The thought amongst many, myself included, was that we could most certainly match any goal total the Sounders could muster. Their defense looked weak and, while our offense didn't look as threatening as theirs, we could perhaps sneak one or two goals.

So much for that.

And, honestly, we cant expect the Dynamo to blaze through the 7-game road trip with a string of 1-nil wins. There are let down games, and times when an opposing player plays out of his mind to win the game. But this game was frustrating (have I mentioned that already?) because neither of those things happened. We didn't play that bad, and none of their players really dominated play. Their quality was apparent, but while the win was "comfortable" (not my words) I would counter by saying it could have easily been 2-2 as expected. Just read the stats for the match.

But as my old soccer trainer used to say - "coulda, shoulda, woulda". We lost. So we should just forgive, forget, and move on...right? Well, thats not my style. Why? Because I would like to talk about this game, for one, and also because our path to failure really reminds me of chemical thermodynamics. And if that doesn't hook you, I don't know who you are!!! (hint: probably a normal, non-nerd).

That stupid deflection and that stupid little shove led to a 2-0 loss for your Houston Dynamo. And, aside from my obviously bitter immaturity, much grieving commenced at the final whistle. Okay, not really. A road loss in the third match of the year isn't a cause of panic. It just sucks. Don't get me wrong, I love when we play Seattle. The matches are rarely boring and usually characterized by hard-nosed play - perfect for the neutral fan. But I'm not, and most of you aren't, neutral. So, while the match was fun for its competitive nature, it was miserable from the Orange side of things.

What led to my (obvious) frustration was the fact that, despite large spells of dominating play at the beginning of both halves, we couldn't capitalize. And other than one snatched-at volley by Bruin, I can't honestly think of any chances of note off the top of my head. It seemed that, despite all of the energy we put into the match, we couldn't get a coordinated attack that resulted in a goal.

And, much to my chagrin, this reminded me of the horrible experience that is Physical Chemistry. For those of you that are smart and stayed away from these types of courses, a general rule of thumb is that if a chemistry course has any adjective in front of it, you should go running the other direction. Organic Chemistry punishes those who made the decision to follow a pre-med track in college. Physical Chemistry does the same, one year later, to those seeking a chemistry major. Analytic Chemistry finishes you off like some 90's era Mortal Kombat Fatality. In short: adjectives with chemistry suck.

For me, Physical chemistry was like Craig Sager's jackets - horrawful. But despite my apparent disdain for the course, its general theme of chemical thermodynamics is oddly appropriate to the match this week. All chemical reactions follow a general path - no matter how favorable a reaction is to occur, there is a need for some energy input to kick-start the process (think dropping a match on gasoline). The "Activation Energy", or hill that needs to be climbed, is low in this case.

Once things get going, they are hard to stop if the reaction is Exergonic, or results in a large release of energy (fire, light, and explosions).

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(Image courtesy of Citrus College, CA)

However, if a reaction is unfavorable, there is a need for a large energy input, only to get a very small net energy release. The Activation Energy is very high in this case. Still, many reactions occurring in your body are Endergonic, or in need of this energy input. Things are obviously working well for you, since you're reading the article right now. So how are you alive right now with all these unfavorable reactions? Well, our clever body is able to "pair" favorable reactions with unfavorable ones. So to make something that shouldn't happen "go", another easy process is put right next to it to drive it forward, energetically.

And this is what the Dynamo were missing. The Activation Energy needed to put the ball into the net was very high. A combination of the road trip, raucous crowd, and a talented opponent made goal-scoring very unfavorable. However, we countered this by "pairing" this goal-scoring to a more favorable act of holding the ball and bossing play (at least for the beginning stretches of each half). While this seemed like it would counteract the difficulties of scoring, we were unsuccessful. The Activation Energy needed to score was simply too high, and our attempts at energetic pairing was too disjointed.

Fashion Faux Pas of the Week

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(Image courtesy Brookstone.com)

Okay. No one is ever going to argue that this device is "fashion", but it is still some pseudo-hipster attempt at being nostalgic and ironic in all the wrong ways. I was shopping in Wal-Mart when I came across these bad boys. They were so horrendous, apparently, that I could in no way find them online. But I did find a "high end" version of them online at Brookstone, with bluetooth connection. Essentially the "Off the Hook!" handset takes all that has been great about the improvement of cellular devices over the past 30 years and says...hey, we've been going about this all wrong. Why not connect your small convenient iPhone to a large, bulky, old-school phone? Mad Men is cool and old school at the same time, so this should be, too. Right?

No. I repeat, no.

"It's even hands-free--just tuck it between your neck and shoulder the way they used to back in the day!"

I'll let their absurd explanation of the product speak for itself. All I can say is that I will, quite literally, smash one of these if I see someone walking down the street talking on one. Then I will immediately hand them the $25 I just cost them, because I'm a decent person.

Reviewing Hunger Games

I watched the Hunger Games this weekend, partially because I didn't have much else to do and partially because I read all three books over a week's period last month and have been somewhat obsessed since. (foot in mouth moment: this came after calling them a poor mix between Twilight and The Condemned to my girlfriend) So, for a quick review, I thought the movie did a pretty good job. For those that haven't read or watched anything Hunger Games-related, its set in a post-civil war, totalitarian, futuristic America where 12 districts offer up a boy and girl to compete in a televised 24-person death match. A kind of bread-and-circuses attempt at population control, if you will.

Well, the heroine is the poorly-names Katniss, who volunteers for the Hunger Games in place of her 12 year old sister, Prim. With the help of a drunk Woody Harrleson and a fabulous Lenny Kravitz, she attempts to make it out alive. Shenanigans (read: brutal murder) ensue.

Anyways, the movie followed the book pretty well. The big difference was the switch from 1st person (book) to a movie following Katniss with the help of cut-aways to the game organizers (who manipulate the proceedings) and the TV announcers (who describe subtleties that could no way be explained otherwise). But it was done well, and provided a good start for a trilogy that is sure to make silly money over the next 3+ years.

One minor objection: no real spoiler here, but you may want to skip it if you haven't seen/read Hunger Games. After blowing up the Careers' stash of goodies by the river, Katniss comes back and (leaving out bigtime spoiler stuff) finds Rue, her small friend. Rue asks "did you blow up the pile", regardless of the fact that Rue had no way of knowing the pile was booby-trapped, since Katniss only just figured it out after watching Foxface skip between mines. The previous plan (in the book) was to ruin the stuff in some way, either by throwing them in the water or setting them on fire. Bombs weren't considered because they weren't a conceivable option. Yes, its minor, but I'm just saying...

Apropos Hip-Hop Video of the Week

"Bonfire" - Childish Gambino

I'm tentative about posting the actual video on the site. To put it lightly, Childish Gambino curses with a frequency that would make Louis CK blush and with creativity that would make Bill Shakespeare jealous. Its something to marvel at, even if it is ridiculously offensive if you are sensitive to any curse word...ever.

Did I mention Gambino is actually Donald Glover, Comedy Central comedian, and "Troy" from Community? Yeah. Makes things much weirder, and yet infinitely cooler. Check out his stand-up, or watch an episode of Community if you don't have a terrible affliction to seeing Joel McHale's douchebaggery on display (note: I may seem too harsh on Mr. McHale. However, upon meeting him at E!, where my cousin works, he pulled no punches in lambasting my music taste when I was barely a teenager. So I think I have some right).

Anyways, "Bonfire". This song hits hard and makes no apologies for its unbelievable absurdity, but it lights a fire under the listener through a militaristic beat and caustic lyrics. Our team would do well to bump this in the locker room before the next match.

Quote of Note: "Its a Bonfire, turn the lights out, I'm burning everything you (expletives) talk about"

Honestly, our players should read every single publication from this week about how "comfortable" the match was for the Sounders, and how weak our attack looked. Then move on. We could use a little more Activation Energy when we meet Chicago in three weeks.

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