I understand the need to tell the story, but not at the rist of losing image quality. I, too, crop in sports shots quite often. I just try to find the point where the image quality remains intact. As for the OOF foreground player, I like it...I think the wider view works and my eye still ends up moving towards the red ball. That is just me and I know it is up to the individual how they want to edit...that is what makes this art so enjoyable...variety of interpretation.
Here is another image of our cat...taken lastnight.
Peek-a-boo by TroyMarcyPhotography.com, on Flickr"]http://www.flickr.com/photos/trulie98/6450333569/
Peek-a-boo by TroyMarcyPhotography.com, on Flickr
THAT is one cool cat bro. Very nice.