Wednesday, April 25, 2018

A Dark Rainy Night or Yoda’s Revenge (A Fictional Story)



By: Vidda Grubin


Rain cut through the black ash rising from the sentinel like smokestacks and chimneys that stood guard over the aging city’s trench coat wearing denizens. Hoods were pulled far forward over foreheads and dark eyebrows as ash turned to drops of airborne sludge upon mixing with the cold persistent rain. Body-length coats, sidewalks and streets were covered and flowing with the sickly-thick remnants of human comfort.

Behind the abandoned church on State St. in the East Franklinton area, a lone figure stood, his thousand dollar leather shoes acting as a dam against the sludge flowing like so much two-year-old’s snot down the crumbling church's rear entrance. He was motionless, having already glanced at the exposed metal-work above him, metal-work which should have been encased in mortar and brick. The missing brick lay on the ground at his feet, the mortar had turned to dust and washed away years ago. He didn’t need to look up again. If the ceiling of the recess was going to give-way and crush him, he simply wanted to be surprised. “Where the fuck are those damn baggers,” he whispered through clenched jaw.

“The baggers are here, you shit-heel,” came a voice from the flood of darkness.

“I was going to leave. I don’t need this cloak and dagger mess. Look at my shoes. I’m going to have buy new shoes.”

Two figures stepped into the recess, while glancing at the shoes of their late night companion. “Who wears Armani’s in weather like this. I mean, besides you.” The two new arrivals laughed.

Armani shoes pulled his trench coat tighter. “Let’s get on with it. I have a fundraiser that I’m late for, and there’s a dancer who wants to meet my wife.”

More laughter from the newest arrivals. “Fine,” said the one nearest Armani shoes, his own coat open from chest to neck, exposing expensive tweed jacket and silk tie. “We have to make this look good, but not too good. I, for one, don’t want to own a damn soccer team. And, I know neither of you do either.”

Armani nodded, shifting to face west, his gaze filled with memories of a childhood spent on the hilltop. “Okay. I think the number 125 puts us where we want to be. High enough to offer Pusscourt and Major League Slime a profit, but low enough that they turn us down. We end up looking like we gave it the old “we care about our city” effort and can wave goodbye to the Crew and get back to hitting on OSU coeds and Ballet Met dancers.

Silk tie rubbed his chin. “What if they accept?’”

The third man, dressed in fifteen dollar galoshes, jeans, a sweat shirt and wearing bifocals, cleared his throat. “Then we own a soccer team.” Armani and Silk tie measured their companion. Neither knew much about their very old and scar-faced partner, just that he had proven his bona fides and was willing to be the silent partner in case their plan to not buy the Crew went sideways.

Galoshes pointed at Armani. “You can rebuild the stadium with more American Steel than has ever been seen anywhere in this country.” His finger slowly moved to point at Silk tie. “You can charge the stadium trust you set up a super high premium for insurance, insurance provided by your own company. And you can slap your company name on another Columbus landmark. Maybe you can both talk that arts and panty design guy into jumping on board. He can design the hippest uniforms and soccer accessories in the world. He’ll sell tens of millions worth.” His arm dropped to his side.

Silk tie laughed. “He could hold a stadium lingerie show and have the models ride in on his wife’s horses.” The three men laughed, a little too loudly. Something moved near the fence at the back of the church property. They glanced that direction.

A man carrying a brown bag staggered through a hole in the fence and began making his way towards the covered entrance at the back of the church. A car horn sounded and car lights came on across the street to the north of the rotting church.

Galoshes stepped out from under the overhang and waved the car lights off. He then strode across to the stumbling drunk and whispered something. The drunk stood up straight and offered Galoshes the brown bag. Galoshes accepted. The drunk turned, disappearing through the fence and into the pissy night.

Bag in hand, Galoshes returned to the two men under the overhang. “Did you make a new friend?” asked Armani.

Galoshes smiled, the wrinkles of his old battered face rearranging into a full fledged grin. “No, I’ve known that gentleman since he was a child. Best soccer coach in the country. I think I’m going to keep him on when I take over the Crew.” He raised the brown paper bag, his hand inside.

Silk tie and Armani’s eyes went wide, lips parting, jaws sagging. Eight shots rang out as the bag caught fire. Armani fell first, clutching his chest. Silk tie splashed face first into the sludge as it flowed into the darkness. The two dead men blocked the flow of filth and were soon covered in slime. Galoshes nodded to himself and mumbled.

“Now, a similar meeting with my friend the Don and some other franchise peckers and USSF lackeys and I can get this party going the direction of it’s original promotional intention. Hate to have to relegate a few more owners, but it's promotion and relegation or bust from here on out.” The old man giggled a little as the car from across the street pulled up with its lights off. Two men got out of the back.

“What do we do with the bodies?”

Galoshes thought for a moment. “Zack, you and Wil put the bodies in the car, take them south of the city and dump them in the Scioto River. Freddy,” another man stepped out of the driver's door. “On the way to float the bodies pick up 3G. I don’t want him wandering around here. He’ll probably find a real brown bag and start talking one and two touch possession strategy with some homeless guy under a bridge.” They all laughed, because it was true.

The men began to drag the bodies to the car. Galoshes glanced one more time their way. Freddy turned, sensing Galoshes attention.

“Hey, Lamar, how long until Brian, Brian and Guillermo are back on board?”

Galoshes smiled. “Soon, Freddy, soon.” And then, under his breath, “All accounts are due. Time to collect.”

The eighty-six year young man turned and walked into the church, his secret sanctuary for the past twelve years. A poker table, cards and chips waited inside with five of his closest friends. Even Edson and Franz were in town.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Run, Jenny! Run!


The story of Soccer in the United States.

By: Vidda Grubin

Read the story in this link to Forbes

https://www.forbes.com/sites/bobbymcmahon/2018/03/31/1-4b-us-soccer-deal-with-statsports-has-potential-to-monitor-the-performance-of-4-million-players/#6f0f2c7d6231

and then continue below.

At pick-up games at the local university, when I was high school age, I was “Runner” to my teammates. Runner, the not so subtle sarcastic reaction to the most obvious aspect of my game.

The university was Ohio State. The players ranged from wildly terrible to good local high school and college players to very good ex-professionals from around the world. This was the late 70’s and early 80’s.

I didn’t like the nickname. Don’t get me wrong, I could run fast and just about forever. But in the context of those games, “Runner” was definitely an insult. Pride and love of skilled sports would not let me wear that moniker for long.

I spent the entire summer before going off to play small college soccer working on dribbling and, more importantly, teaching myself to juggle without staring at the ball. My inspiration for using this training technique was basketball.

One of the first things you are taught in basketball is to dribble without looking at the ball. I surmised that if I could juggle without looking directly at the soccer ball, my touch and vision would improve dramatically. I was correct.

I could already juggle pretty well, but it took every day, an hour plus per day to become proficient at juggling without staring at the ball. The result by the end of the following year was a whole new appreciation for the sport of soccer, and a great deal more joy and success while playing. I was still a “Runner,” but I was a Runner that could play, bitches!

Back in the 80’s there were a lot of suburban kids who were “Runners.” Well meaning coaches, lacking real world soccer skills, tended to rely and fall back on fitness (running) as the answer to most issues with their teams. Three mile runs, six mile runs, twenty full field sprints, followed by a jog around the park were normal in a lot of suburbs back then.

Fast forward to today. Millions of kids in the United States have played, are playing. They watch the best teams and players in the world. They emulate those players and understand a great deal more about the game than me and my peers did at the same age. And yet…

The United States Soccer Federation just contracted to spend a billion dollars on wearable gear that tracks where, how far and how fast players in the states are running during training and games. As much as things change (almost entirely due to the beauty of the sport itself and the kids who love the sport), some things just simply don’t/won’t die. Is this an April fools joke?

Great players are great because they can settle a ball within an inch of their foot, even if that ball was played to them from sixty yards away and there is a defender with an elbow in their back. Great players are great because they can see spaces and movement on the field before those spaces and movement even happen. Great players are great because they can spin a defender with a simple, clever touch and then split three defenders with a perfectly weighted pass to a teammate rushing to goal.

For sure, to do all those amazing things listed above, the great player has to be fit, but a fit player who cannot do those things is only a “Runner.”

I learned my lesson. I had the drive and love of sport to improve. Even in my late twenties, while playing open amateur league soccer, I was still finding ways to get better. Racquetball courts are amazing.

If there are any kids out there that read this, learn to juggle, then learn to juggle without looking at the ball, then find a racquetball court and pattern juggle.

For instance: play the ball with the right foot off one wall so that it comes off the wall and over your head, as you turn, play the next touch left footed off the opposite wall so the ball comes off the wall and back over your head. Now start making up your own patterns, and use every possible body part. Have fun, bitches!

All the best,
Vidda Grubin
Former “Runner”
And The Ghost

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Fee-Fi-Fo-Fum, I Smell a Corporate Stew, It’s MLS, And It’s Grinding You

Illustration by: Arthur Rackham, 1918
From: English Fairy Tales
By: Flora Annie Steel


By: Vidda Grubin

When a corporation owned by many investors, who also own the corporation’s individual franchises, has a franchise underperforming in terms of profitability, steps are taken to find ways to save money where there are inefficiencies, while simultaneously finding new revenue streams and improving existing revenue streams. If changes have no material effect on profitability, then franchises are usually closed or moved.

Maximization of profits for modern professional sports leagues in North America is married to signing of monetarily significant national broadcasting contracts and national sponsorship deals. And the ultimate goal is to maximize the profitability of the corporation, thus enriching the owners of said corporation.

A hypothetical: The best way to maximize profitability for the owners of the franchises of Major League Soccer, who also collectively own the corporation, is to have a greater won/lose discrepancy between franchises at the top of league standings and franchises at the bottom of league standings.

Overall losing teams would more than likely experience revenue contraction from reduced ticket sales, weaker merchandise sales and less valuable sponsorship deals. Yet, if having a handful of so called “Super Teams” or dynasties increases the value of national broadcasting contracts enough that it more than offsets the potential loss of revenue experienced by the underperforming franchises, then helping create these “Super Teams” would make financial sense.

If the above scenario is generally true for corporate run Major League Soccer in North America, then it would stand to reason that taking steps to ensure that the above situation takes place would be a priority for the owners of the league.

Underperforming franchises (in terms of ticket sales/merchandise sales/local sponsorship deals/etc) can ultimately be moved, while not effecting the profitability for the owners of the corporation. Franchises, despite consistent losing records, that continue to make good profits for their owner through ticket sales, merchandise sales and local sponsorship deals will not need to be moved.

Let’s apply this hypothetical to the Columbus Crew SC and it’s role as a franchise within Major League Soccer. Could the Crew franchise be a “Super Team,” which significantly boosts the league’s ability to sign more lucrative national contracts? Is the Columbus franchise capable of being a franchise which makes significant money for its owner from ticket sales, merchandise sales and local sponsorship deals, even in losing years?

While the Crew were losing consistently in the years prior to 2008 (missing the playoffs from 2005-2007), the assumption would be that the team was losing revenue as ticket sales lagged, along with merchandise sales and local sponsorship deals struggling. (to be fair, I do not know this to be the case) As a test of the market for Major League Soccer in Columbus, putting a winning product on the field should have, theoretically, improved the local revenue streams. The effect Columbus as a winning franchise would have on national revenue streams for the corporation as a whole could also, possibly, be measured.

The fact that the Crew had three winning seasons in a row starting with 2008’s championship season and saw little movement in ticket sales, local sponsorship deals and merchandise sales was a red flag for both the franchise owner (at the time the Hunt family), and more importantly, the corporation, Major League Soccer. 2011/12/13 saw a drop in on field performance and ultimately a sale of the franchise to Anthony Precourt and Precourt Sports Ventures. The years 2014 through 2017 saw another general uptick in on-field performance with the one exception of 2016’s losing season and missing the Major League Soccer playoffs.

So, if the Columbus Crew franchise did not help increase national revenue streams (television/online/sponsorships) for the corporation and did not see significant increases in local revenue streams even during winning seasons, the case is certainly made for the corporation to move the franchise for the potential enrichment of both the corporation itself, Major League Soccer, and the franchise owner, Anthony Precourt.

All of this is theoretical. A similar argument could be made that having all teams look and perform identically, with little differentiation in league standings, would be the most profitable way to sell the corporation’s product, and thus lead to signing highly lucrative broadcast contracts. Another argument would be to attempt to create a situation where success circulates from franchise to franchise throughout the league.

As the ultimate goal of a corporation is to make money, the more the better, it does make sense for Major League Soccer’s owners to find the most profitable recipe. What ingredients go into that recipe? Are fans and communities the meat and vegetables or just a spice which can be removed and replaced with something a little hotter? Specifically, as relates to the Columbus Crew, there is a legitimate argument to be made that lack of local ownership, a very meaty ingredient, has been a heavy burden on the franchises ability to be delectably profitable through both winning and losing seasons.

What matters most to league/franchise owners? The bottom line and future billions? Or working as closely as possible with the local communities and supporters who make the corporation’s franchises possible? A truly successful corporation would focus its attention on community and people, while stirring their stew with a sturdy and fiscally responsible spoon.



Monday, February 12, 2018

"This Girl" Kathy Carter

Flashback to half a year ago and 90% of soccer fans in this country had no idea who Kathy Carter was. All that changed, however, after she announced her candidacy in the latter half of 2017 for US Soccer President and subsequent "This Girl" piece by Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl.

From that piece:

“I never saw the girl in my life [before this week]...I’m sure a lot of people are going to support us to put this girl there,” Rapaglia concluded. “If I was in the position of Sunil, I’d want a friend of mine to take my place. I’d want a guy who could do the job... She played soccer. She’s not just a housewife.”

That's 76-year-old Sal Rapaglia, a long time friend of Don Garber, Chuck Blazer and Sunil Gulati and decades-long president of the New Jersey and Eastern New York Soccer Association. The defacto birthplace of all we know about the modern soccer landscape in this country.

Now, I don't know Carter. Nor will I ever know her. But I did grow up very close in time and place to where she did.

That place would be Northern Virginia. A land that seems to separate itself from the rest of the country as far as importance, at times. For those that don't know, it's where families earn there way in government or closely affiliated via agencies like the CIA, FBI, FEMA, or your run of the mill federal government employee, senator, congressman or contractor. Not to mention the home base of the most concentrated wealth on the planet (well, one of the most).

All this is to say - it's a mostly affluent area. But I also want to say that, at least in the time she grew up in, it was a more rural, hard working and family based area (...go there now and you will find the likes of Beau Dure and Jason Davis, for example).


I know this because I grew up there. Anyone that's been to my little place here in Columbus knows that I have a picture of my father shaking hands with Ronald Reagan in the oval (he worked with all presidents - LBJ through Clinton - for vocational education programs as an alternative to college for high school age kids).

With all this - comes expectation. It's interesting because I thought of this more recently because of the LDNR Nike ad campaign where about a minute in you get a row/crew member talking about "failure" among others who we know have it much harder (I'll leave the dynamics of having a financial safety net vs. having nothing to Nike to explain). But that point I'm getting at remains, just on different levels.

Carter was expected to do well in her career and she did. All the way to the highest levels of Soccer United Marketing. The organization that controls the media rights to just about all soccer-related things in North America. That's great.

But where is she now? After being propped up by Don Garber, and the rest of the investors in MLS, she lost the election. Not only lost but saw those same people that put her in the race abandon her in the third round of voting in order to put the nail in the coffin on the "change" candidates. And, frankly, that sucks.

In the end, Kathy Carter will be fine. My understanding is that she will move back to her high ranking position with SUM and go on her merry way. But that doesn't mean that she won't feel a bit of a severe sting that those who backed her bid for President jumped ship when shit hit the fan.

Was she ever a real candidate? Was Don Garber wanting to vertically integrate everything SUM and MLS into the upper levels of the USSF?  Or was she just a small pawn. Simply used to make sure that power remained with those squatting on the soccer landscape since the 1994 World Cup.

While there are many things that will stick with me after this most recent and most contested US Soccer presidential election, it's her place in it that will remain the most interesting. Also, possibly, the most sad.

I don't think she knew anything outside of what she was trying to accomplish in this election. Whether it was due to the right place, right time or working her way to the top of soccer in this country. The fact remains, the people she likely calls friends more than co-workers dropped her.

While I don't think that SUM has the best interests of the sport of soccer for all people in this country at heart - I do know that her returning to her office in the coming weeks will be a tough one - and nobody will be shedding a tear for her. Especially those disenfranchised with the whole setup of American soccer.

Most of the other candidates that put everything into the election have communicated a lot with soccer fans one way or another since the elections. Eric Wynalda seems exhausted by the whole experience, while Kyle Martino and Hope Solo seem to want to continue the fight (be it for professional gain or personal vendetta).

Carter? She simply left an incredibly powerful quote on twitter from Nelson Mandela.

"As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."

Take from that what you will.

My hope is that she was able to see a whole new soccer world here in the United States. One that is inclusive and removes financial barriers to success and not one that is simply a business operating on profit for the relatively exclusive few that can afford it.

All the best to Kathy Carter.

Not sure how good the Fairfax Flyers were but I'm pretty sure the Round Hill Hobbits would have given you a good fight.

Monday, February 5, 2018

Crew add Ricardo Clark

MLS veteran Ricardo Clark signed with Columbus recently via free agency. Clark is about as steady as they come in regards to playing in an MLS midfield. He is a well rounded, consistent performer and who remains injury free (dare I say, one of the most consistent players I've ever seen in MLS).

Ricardo played most of last year in a non-attacking central mid role, tucked somewhere between a central defender and attacking mid. Gregg Berhalter's system might see him playing alongside Wil Trapp, as an insurance policy behind Federico Higuain (who likes to take some time off each season, especially with the World Cup this year) or out wide behind Mike Grella.

As far as salary, being a longtime MLS player has seen his wages jump up to $370k or so. I suspect that through free agency he was signed for considerably less (possibly in the 250-300 range).

Looking at wages overall? Crew looks about in line with last year (possibly a little less, with the departure of Meram).

Crew have three more slots to fill if they so choose.

TEAM TEMPERATURE

- Columbus is a playoff team, as far as talent and coaching, but don't expect amazing runs of form.

- Things in Austin are being extended so the drama around the team will continue well into the season. How that affects the group? Who knows.

- So much depends on Gyasi Zardes goals and how invested Higuain is. This season will be long and meandering with the World Cup, this team will be looking for a breakout performer.

------------------------------

Goalkeepers (3): Jon Kempin, Logan Ketterer, Zack Steffen

Defenders (8): Lalas Abubakar, Harrison Afful, Alex Crognale, Connor Maloney, Jonathan Mensah, Gaston Sauro, Milton Valenzuela, Josh Williams

Midfielders (11): Mohammed Abu, Artur, Ricardo Clark, Niko Hansen, Federico Higuain, Mike Grella, Hector Jimenez, Cristian Martinez, Pedro Santos, Eduardo Sosa, Wil Trapp

Forwards (3): Adam Jahn, Edward Opoku, Gyasi Zardes

Friday, February 2, 2018

Larin broke free, Finlay didn't

Player careers are short. As observers of the league, we tend to look at longevity as a whole and not drill down to an individual player. It's natural. Remeber Ethan Finlay and his two magical years with Columbus? For fans, everything is okay for because Pedro Santos came in and replaced him.

Finlay had a break out year in 2014 when he was basically on a league minimum contract ($66k). 11 Goals and 7 Assists in less than 2000 minutes put him near the top of any mid-fielders in the league making 5x that amount. MLS rewarded him with a raise for the next season by bumping him up to $142k, which was still far below other players producing what he was.

2015 saw Finlay top his previous season in terms of production with one of the best in team history. 12 goals, 13 assists and helped take Columbus to a home game in MLS Cup final. His reward, another raise. This time to $250k. STILL well under what others with similar output made. During this time we saw Finlay get National Team call-ups.

It's here that trouble came.

2016 was the year things fell apart in Columbus. Kei Kamara, who was the difference-making player that propelled the Crew to the final, wanted more money. Running parallel to that was rumors about Finlay exploring options abroad. It made for a bad season in Columbus, arguably the second worst in team history. To his credit, and without the services of Kei Kamara, Finlay chugged along and finished the season with 6 goals and 9 assists.

We'll never know if Finlay signed a 2 year deal in 2016 or if it was a one year deal with an option, but his wages only jumped to $290k in 2017. What was clear is that Finlay wanted more. He wanted to be paid what he was worth.

In the rest of the world, a player striking fire like he did means other clubs will start circling for his services and open their checkbooks, but in MLS there is a barrier to that. Teams can't bid on players like they can elsewhere. Finlay's rise was right on the front of new financial rules like TAM and GAM. For him, it's unfortunate. But even with those rules, you have a tricky contract qualifier called a "player option." Meaning, another team can swoop in, pay a little bit of allocation and keep his wages low. In a nutshell, that's what happened when he was let go to Minnesota halfway through the 2017 season.

Year: Mins - G - A - Wage
2014: 1898 - 11 - 6 - $66k
2015: 2790 - 12 - 13 - $143k
2016: 2462 - 6 - 9 - $250k
2017: 2262 - 4 - 4 - 290k

Finlay is about to turn 28 years old. He has another one or two years ahead of him, yes, but he missed out on capitalizing on two of the best seasons of his career. He doesn't get to go back to 2014 and 15. Because of MLS rules he has missed out on tens of thousands of dollars, possibly hundreds.

Finlay is no Pedro Santos. They have different skills, different players. Does Finlay have deficencies in his game? Of course, but based on production alone, Finlay was worth close to double what he was paid in 2016.

CYLE LARIN

This brings us to Larin. The number one "SuperDraft" pick in 2015 set a scoring rookie record that year for Orlando City (17 goals in less than 2000 minutes). He followed that season up with another 14 goals and 3 assists in 2016. No new contract came and he was still making less than $200k. Like Finlay, word started to spread that he wanted out and that he had options overseas. But because of the way MLS works, it's not very valuable to sell him off. MLS keeps most of the fee and Orlando is stuck losing a relatively rare talent for not much in return. So what usually happens? Nothing. The player is stuck.

Larin decided to take another route. Force his way out.

With only a "team option" keeping him in Orlando he took it upon himself to go meet with teams overseas that had interest. Going as far as taking pictures with a Besiktas jersey on. Orlando cried foul and claimed that he couldn't go because of the "option" held on him for the 2018 season. The problem here for Orlando (and MLS) is that the rest of the world does not recognize a team option. You are either signed to a contract or not.

MLS considered going to the mat to keep Larin but were ultimately frightened away by the very real prospect of losing the argument on the validity of player options. Imagine for a moment - what if that did happen. It would completely change the landscape of player contracts in MLS.

So the league let him go and in return for the trouble gave Orlando 100% of his transfer fee. This, reportedly, ruffled the feathers of the other MLS franchises a great deal, but MLS took the lesser of two evils (for them).

The lesson here is a rough one for players outperforming their contracts in MLS. They've got you.

SOLUTIONS

The increase in allocation money has loosened things up a bit, but that does not help players necessarily earn what they are worth when they are hitting a hot streak in their short careers. Pluck a player out of Columbus and they are still beholden to whatever contract they have, including the option.

The solution to this problem is to let teams keep most (if not all) the fee a foreign team is willing to pay. The "homegrown" rule change last year allowing MLS teams to keep all the fee is a baby step, but not nearly good enough.

The barriers in place need to be removed. The incentive for players to outperform their contracts needs to be there.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Meram to Orlando

Justin Meram was sent to Orlando City this afternoon for over a million in allocation dollars and an international slot in 2019.

Drafted in January of 2011, Meram was the most tenured player on the Columbus Crew (continuously, Josh Williams signed the summer previous but left the team for a couple years).

Meram will be greatly missed by the folks here at helltown.

Best of luck, Justin.

Captain Trapp, Jan camp over

Wil Trapp wore the armband last night in a 0-0 draw between the US and Bosnia and Herzegovina that marked the end of this year's January Camp. Columbus GK Zach Steffen and new Crew signing Gyasi Zardes also featured in the friendly.

The match was more or less a frustrating end to the three week-long "camp cupcake." Younger players were expected to be featured but head coach Dave Sarachan seeming opted to go for what he thought would be a win by using older, more experienced, ones.

Up top, it was CJ Sapong (29), who had a good MLS season last year, was replaced by a seasoned Juan Agudelo (25) were not able to add much to the match.

In the midfield, we saw some younger players, but only one could be really considered a "young player" in Tyler Adams (18). The other four are well known MLS commodities. On the wings, Sarachan went with decidedly non-wing like players in Jordan Morris and Gyasi Zardes. In the middle of the pitch we saw Christan Roldan (22) and Wil Trapp (25).

In the back it there were two under the age of 25 in Matt Polster and Walker Zimmerman paired with two 30-year-olds in Ike Opara and Justin Morrow. Bill Hamid got the start in goal.

It was a messy game because the lineup was lumpy. Trapp held things together in the back but because of the relatively poor play of Jordan Morris and Zardes the US never approached anything in regards to possession.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, for their part, played pretty good. It was a "C" team missing guys who are currently mid-season overseas.

January camp is used to be a sort of primer for the MLS season. Players are selected from as many MLS teams as possible for exposure with the goal of putting a couple in the net against a weakened side playing far from home. By this measure, the USMNT failed.

Later today we will see MLS roll out a new plan for their Miami franchise. USSF/MLS picked today because, in a perfect MLS world, I think they wanted a result from the team of MLS-ers the night before to help with momentum. They didn't get it.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Crew sign Valenzuela, 19

Columbus signs Milton Valenzuela, a 19-year-old left wing back from Argentina, as the 3 official Designated Player after buying down Jonathan Mensah's wages with allocation money.

Being a younger player, Valenzuela will only cost the Crew something like $250k in terms of a budget number, but I expect his actual wage to be somewhere near double that considering the transfer fee is being reported at around $1.3 million.

Valenzuela's resume is highlighted by starts on the U20 Argentina team. Other than that, details are fairly limited. In the game world, EA FIFA likes his potential (77 rating), but more or less an average player at the moment. FM Scout has him listed in top 100 wonderkids as far as left wing backs are concerned.

Projected Crew Starters
Zardes
Meram - Higuain - Santos
Trapp - Artur
Valenzuela - Mensah - Sauro - Afful
Steffen

That's a fairly strong MLS starting lineup, with strength and balance all over the field. I expect the play between Santos and Higuain alone to make Columbus enough of a force to pull them towards the top of MLS (top 8, if I may be so bold).

ZARDES NEEDS TO DELIVER

The big question mark right now remains with the production of Zardes. He'll need to produce more than 10 goals in order to get this team into the MLS elite. Last year the East has four teams with over 60 goals. Columbus fans are familiar with the output of a number of players. Optimistically, you expect 25-30 or so from Justin Meram, Federico Higuain and Pedro Santos with means you'll need at least 10 from Zardes to get to 40 and have the rest of the team (namely; Mike Grella) to fill in the remaining dozen goals to make the Crew a viable playoff team.

DEFENSE

Again, this team has a nice balance to it. If Gaston Sauro is healthy, I can see Columbus putting up a few more shutouts than last year. So, while Ola Kamara is gone, they may make up for the lack of scoring by stopping their opponents (particularly if Zack Steffen continues to improve, and of course, stay).

CREW WAGES

I'm estimating it to be about in line with last year; $6.3 - 6.5 million. What this means is that the team is just about complete in building its Spring / Summer roster. There's room for another pretty good player, perhaps to challenge Zardes up top, but I don't expect it to be much of anything.

The team is already covered if Justin Meram moves on because of the Grella signing. That said, if Meram were to go I expect Gregg Berhalter to go shopping.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON VALENZUELA

Columbus were / did get gutted at the left back position in the offseason (Jukka Raitala and Waylon Francis are gone via various expansion related things). Valenzuela has a huge opportunity here to grow into that role. The idea of a young Argentinian playing a wing back role is exciting and different (for MLS) but there are lots of question marks. "Unproven" being the big one.