Sunday, September 30, 2012

Speas, Vargas, Meram Shine in Reserve

Every so often I'll erase the commentary from my mind and just give players + (plus) and - (minus) marks during games. The mark can come from just about anything. On the ball, off the ball movement, a good run, backtracking, good cross, no-nonsense clearance. Hips, shoulders, jaw line, hair, body type, spacing, attitude, energy, communication, demeanor... Anything.

Today's Reserve Match between the Crew and the Union was a good one that ended up a 3:3 tie. Ben Speas, Olman Vargas and Justin Meram were the standout players for Columbus.

I came out of the match more convinced then ever that Olman Vargas is growing into a good Major League Soccer player. He is excellent on the ball and is movement and positioning benefit the whole team not just himself. It'd be interesting to see Arrieta and Vargas up top in Warzycha's 4-1-3-2 (Diamond MF).

The game comes more naturally to him then he probably realizes. He was playing in the middle today and by the 2nd half he was in control of it. Was it not for an incompetent ref getting in the way he probably would have had a 25 yd beauty on goal. One of his greatest strengths is the ability to cut through the middle with pace and with his head up. His effort is off the charts. His attitude is positive. Undersized but has a stout body type. This kid is good.

Taking on defenders and with the ball at his feet, probably one of the 3 best on the team. Meram was silky smooth today, probably the best I've seen him. Also, Meram can win the team games with more minutes. PLAY HIM.

• Warms my heart to see Eric Gehrig out there as team Captain. Part of me wants to see Gehrig start getting time at Right Back. Miranda can't play forever and Gehrig has the best long ball on the team.

• Kevan George was started at Center Back and it wasn't all that pretty.

• Saw Chad Marshall at the Krogers downtown after the Reserve match, told him he had a good game last night. No joke, felt like a kid seeing a hero or something.

• Lucky Mkosana for the Union ran the Crew ragged. Absolutely. He is a Zimbabwean Ivy League graduate currently toiling away in USL Pro. I would expect to see more of him in Philly.

• Aaron Horton came in on as a sub and seemed frustrated. He tried, a couple times, to draw a penalty in the box but was denied. After the match he blew apart on twitter stating “Don’t even love the game anymore," and "I'm done." I'll chalk this up to immaturity for now but it highlights a problem the Crew have... too many attacking players. Horton is caught between playing up top like Arrieta and on the right, like Duka, Renteria, Meram and now Birchall.

• Columbus should really try and retain Emilio Renteria next year (my understanding is his contract is up). The better teams in MLS have talented, MLS ready players on 1st team, 2nd team, top 18 and in reserve. It bothers me that about half MLS teams have a huge drop off after their top 5-6 players. Keeping Renteria would go a long way in fortifying the strength of the overall club.

Crew Rd. 31 Win, Keep Playoff Pace

Last nights game had many faces: boring 0:0 draw - Crew blowout - to heartbreaking loss - finally settled on a somewhat tempered 2:3 Crew win.

Considering the previous meetings between these two, this game was more fluid then expected. Up until the 43rd minute it looked to be a match with nothing in it but Sebastian Miranda was able to whip in a nice cross that found Jairo Arrieta for a goal.

Oddly, with no serious injury, referee Matthew Foerster tacked on 5 mins to the first half. Columbus kept the pressure on and Arrieta again found and controled the ball beautifully for brace in the first half.

An uncreative Union side started charging into the box and drew an important penalty which Danny Cruz put away. Jack McInerney was inserted not long after and started to create problems for Columbus in the back. McInerney put away an effort goal around the 85th minute to tied it up.

From there the Crew aggressively slapped the big read panic button. The ensuing chaos generated a scrum in front of goal where a flick-on from Josh Williams to a Milovan Mirosevic produced a game winning goal.

Further replays would show Mirosevic in an offside position but it wasn't clear if Williams pass hit a Union leg or not.

• At times, Columbus looked like a handful of good players playing disorganized soccer. Hard to know where to go with this game.

• Chris Birchall inserted back into the lineup.

• Arrieta left the game limping. Arrieta is clinical once he gets the ball on his left foot in the box.

• Columbus is beating the teams they should this late in the year but still find themselves trying to claw back into a playoff spot.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Predictions: Crew vs. Union

The Philadelphia Union are in Columbus tonight to take on the Crew. Cool Fall temperatures and a beautiful midwestern sunset will provide the backdrop, 7:30 PM EST game start.

• PHI have drawn last 3 on the road (TFC, NER, DCU)
• Crew near perfect at home in last 10 (8 Wins, 1 Draw and Loss)
• PHI not mathematically eliminated from playoffs, but close
• Crew fighting to get back in, one spot out
• Crew: Have had some recent clubhouse problems

The WinDrawWin "Your Vote" section has been surprisingly accurate since I started recording game predictions, so this week I'll put up the "Your Vote" favorites for the games that matter most to Crew fans:

CLB / PHI... 55% CLB WIN and 29% DRAW
HOU / NE... 68% HOU WIN and 24% DRAW
POR / DC... 25% DCU WIN and 48% DRAW

BET365 has the Crew taking this one 10/11 (fav), 12/5 Draw, 3/1 Union win. Noteable 11/2 odds on 1:1 Draw (13/2 on 1:0 Crew Win).

WV Hooligan thinks that "[the Union] just don’t have the answer to Columbus’ up front." Epperley calls it for the Crew, 2:1. goes mostly Crew. In fact, five of the employees picked them, one bit on Philly. It's been a while since these dudes have favored Columbus so much.

Adam Jardy, Columbus Dispatch (no link, paper subscription): "The past four Crew wins have come on goals in the 86th minute or later, but this is a game the club should sew up earlier."

Columbus needs this win but I'm going with a draw between these two. I don't like going with a boring X but I also don't like how Warzycha coached Crew teams fizzle out at the end of each year.

I'm pretty sure all of German Village heard a sigh last week after I heard about regular gameday players complaining about lineup choices. Regular starter Dilly Duka flat out just went home for a few days. And don't forget Will Hesmer's recent comments about the club deteriorating after the 2008 season and you may have some team watchers a little nervous.

It's by no means a dumpster fire but it is unnecessary noise at a critical time of the year.

Had it not been for a flying Eddie Gaven header against DC last year around this time of year the Crew wouldn't have made the playoffs. Maybe there is something like that in store for the Crew fans tonight.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

"On Pitch" Individual Player Goal Metrics

The information below shows how many goals (both For and Against) are scored while the player is on the field.

Players with under 450 mins (5 games) have been removed.

The Crew "own goal" (Rd.27 v. NE) has been removed.

Goal Difference per 90 mins (GMs on Right)
Team is -0.03

0.90 : Cole Grossman : 5.6
0.82 : Carlos Mendes : 8.5
0.44 : Justin Meram : 9.1
0.19 : Emilio Renteria : 16.1
0.17 : Julius James : 6.1
0.16 : Nemanja Vukovic : 12.1
0.14 : Federico Higuaín : 7.2
0.13 : Joshua Williams : 23.2
0.09 : Dilly Duka : 11.6
0.07 : Sebastián Miranda : 28.3
0.06 : Danny O´Rourke : 15.8

-0.04 : Andy Gruenebaum : 28.4
-0.07 : Eddie Gaven : 29.3
-0.14 : Milovan Mirosevic : 20.8
-0.15 : Tony Tchani : 13.8
-0.15 : Jairo Obando Arrieta : 13.3
-0.16 : Chris Birchall : 12.8
-0.27 : Chad Marshall : 21.8
-0.36 : Shaun Francis : 5.6
-0.37 : Bernardo Anor : 5.5
-0.63 : Eric Gehrig : 7.9
-0.67 : Olman Vargas : 7.4
-0.91 : Aaron Schoenfeld : 3.3

Top and Bottom in Goals For per 90, Team 1.21

1.80 : Cole Grossman
1.68 : Federico Higuaín
1.64 : Carlos Mendes
1.53 : Justin Meram
1.49 : Julius James

1.07 : Shaun Francis
1.06 : Milovan Mirosevic
0.91 : Bernardo Anor
0.81 : Olman Vargas
0.63 : Eric Gehrig

Team 1.23 Goals Against

0.82 : Carlos Mendes
0.90 : Cole Grossman
0.91 : Nemanja Vukovic
1.05 : Emilio Renteria
1.09 : Justin Meram

1.42 : Shaun Francis
1.43 : Jairo Obando Arrieta
1.46 : Chad Marshall
1.48 : Olman Vargas
1.54 : Federico Higuaín

11 (leads team) of Ethan Finlay's 14 appearances have been as a sub /// Sebastian Miranda has been on the field for all but 1 Crew goal /// Only Cole Grossman, Carlos Mendes, Justin Meram and Josh Williams rank in top 10 in each; Goals For, Against and Difference. The first 3 have played less then 1000 mins. Williams has played over 2000.

If you were to rank each of the 3 categories (GF, GA, GD) 1-25 and average them up the team list would look like this:

2 : Cole Grossman
2 : Carlos Mendes
5 : Justin Meram
6 : Emilio Renteria
8 : Joshua Williams
9 : Nemanja Vukovic
10 : Julius James
10 : Sebastián Miranda
11 : Federico Higuaín
11 : Dilly Duka
11 : Danny O´Rourke
13 : Matt Lampson*
13 : Kevan George*
13 : Andy Gruenebaum
14 : Eddie Gaven
16 : Tony Tchani
16 : Milovan Mirosevic
16 : Jairo Obando Arrieta
16 : Chris Birchall
18 : Chad Marshall
20 : Shaun Francis
20 : Bernardo Anor
21 : Eric Gehrig
21 : Aaron Schoenfeld*
23 : Olman Vargas
25 : Ethan Finlay*

*Played less then 450 minutes

If you were to make a line up solely based on + goal data while a player is out on the field, it would look like this:

GK: Andy Gruenebaum
LB: Nemanja Vukovic
CB: Carlos Mendes
CB: Joshua Williams
RB: Sebastián Miranda
DM: Cole Grossman
DM: Danny O´Rourke
LM: Dilly Duka
RM: Justin Meram
AM: Federico Higuaín
ST: Emilio Renteria

Most total goals (For + Against) while player is on the field (per 90):

3.21 : Federico Higuaín
2.81 : Julius James
2.70 : Jairo Obando Arrieta
2.70 : Cole Grossman
2.68 : Dilly Duka

Least amount:
2.29 : Emilio Renteria
2.26 : Milovan Mirosevic
2.19 : Bernardo Anor
1.98 : Nemanja Vukovic
1.90 : Eric Gehrig

For the record: I was threatened (with office scissors) to not post Gehrig's name and numbers with these particular metrics. "Most of these players contribute in many different ways and this is just one," got me out of there alive.

Thanks to Ryan Kramb for suggesting taking a look at goals this way.

I know Matt Bernhardt (Massive Report) took a look at similar metrics last year and if i remember correctly he also looked at successful player combinations. I'm searching for that post and kicking myself for not saving it. Take a look at his Lineup Progression Chart screencast while I look for the link.

Monday, September 24, 2012

A Bunch of Updated Metrics, 2012 Crew

Here are some updated key performance metrics for the 2012 Columbus Crew.

5 game min

2.20 : Cole Grossman
2.14 : Federico Higuaín
2.10 : Carlos Mendes
1.86 : Dilly Duka
1.80 : Bernardo Anor

1.32 : Milovan Mirosevic
1.20 : Julius James
1.17 : Olman Vargas
1.14 : Eric Gehrig
1.00 : Tony Tchani

5 game min

+0.80 : Cole Grossman
+0.60 : Carlos Mendes
+0.29 : Federico Higuaín
+0.19 : Danny O´Rourke
+0.14 : Dilly Duka

-0.23 : Milovan Mirosevic
-0.27 : Chad Marshall
-0.33 : Olman Vargas
-0.38 : Tony Tchani
-0.57 : Eric Gehrig


89.5% : Julius James
89.0% : Chad Marshall
85.9% : Josh Williams
85.1% : Danny O'Rourke
81.9% : Eddie Gaven

80.3% : Milovan Mirosevic
75.8% : Chris Birchall
74.4% : Sebastian Miranda
74.4% : Justin Meram
73.7% : Dilly Duka
72.0% : Federico Higuain

70.9% : Jairo Arrieta
70.3% : Tony Tchani*
69.4% : Emilio Rentería
65.0% : Nemanja Vukovic*
50.0% : Andy Gruenebaum**

*Tchani and Vukovic much lower then counterparts
**GKs have lower percentage in MLS

Through Ball, Sucessful Flick on, Lay Off, Successful Cross, Key Pass, Assist

59% Jairo Arrieta
50% Federico Higuain
44% Milovan Mirosevic
41% Justin Meram

29% Chad Marshall
27% Eddie Gaven
26% Dilly Duka
25% Josh Williams
23% Emilio Rentería
21% Julius James
21% Tony Tchani
21% Danny O'Rourke

18% Chris Birchall
12% Sebastian Miranda
3% Nemanja Vukovic
3% Andy Gruenebaum

(Min 450 mins)

FORWARDS (League Rank on right)
1.26 : Federico Higuain (2)
0.75 : Jairo Arrieta (15)
0.55 : Justin Meram (37)
0.31 : Emilio Rentería (113)
0.13 : Olman Vargas (215)

MIDFIELDERS (Position Rank, Right)
0.31 : Eddie Gaven (54)
0.29 : Tony Tchani (58)
0.23 : Chris Birchall (71)
0.19 : Milovan Mirosevic (80)
0.18 : Bernardo Anor (82)
0.18 : Cole Grossman (84)
0.17 : Dilly Duka (87)

DEFENDERS (Position Rank, Right)
0.25 : Nemanja Vukovic (8)
0.13 : Josh Williams (44)
0.13 : Eric Gehrig (45)
0.09 : Chad Marshall (57)
0.04 : Sebastian Miranda (94)
0.00 : Danny O'Rourke (-)
0.00 : Carlos Mendes (-)
0.00 : Julius James (-)

(Min 450 mins, League Rank on right)

1.09 : Justin Meram (38)
0.98 : Jairo Arrieta (47)
0.94 : Olman Vargas (49)
0.94 : Federico Higuain (65)
0.82 : Eddie Gaven (71)

Information is your friend! If you would like info on something along these lines but I didn't list it, please let me know;

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Crew Round 30: Undone

Two goals in three minutes from Ohioan Chris Rolfe is enough to put away the Columbus Crew and damage their playoff hopes. Chicago takes it, 2:1 and steams towards 1st in the Eastern Conference.

Both teams spared back and forth and couldn't create many chances. The game was waiting for a mistake and the Fire's young 'keeper Sean Johnson gave it to the Crew on a silver platter with lazy play in the back. Jairo Arrieta pounced and cleanly put it away for a 1:0 Crew lead in the early going.

The goal woke the home sided up and they turned up the pressure and methodically tested the Crew backline. First on the right, against Josh Williams. Then on the left against Sebastian Miranda. Then finally settling on the middle, taking on Chad Marshall and Julius James. It was here that the Fire found the soft underbelly of the Crew.

Logan Pause connected with Sherjill MacDonald who easily drew out Marshall and Julius James and found Rolfe with a through ball. Rolfe made the one-on-one look like a formality and put it past a charging Andy Gruenebaum.

Three minutes later the Fire again found it easy to play tight around the top of the 18 yard box and Rolfe hoisted a beautiful one up past Gruenebaum.

Columbus didn't appear to come out in there usual attacking fashion and let Chicago apply the early pressure. It took until around the 70th minute when both Justin Meram and Tony Tchani came on for the Crew to start maintaining possession and attack. Olman Vargas even made a rare appearance 10 minutes later to up the Crew chances.

Opportunities were found but disorganized, as the game devolved into the familiar Crew scramble at the end. This chaotic end to games the Crew create have worked against some lesser teams of late but against a better club it fell flat.

• Julius James is looking more like he should be a 3rd option at CB at this point, behind both Josh Williams and Carlos Mendes (currently injured).

• Milovan Mirosevic disappeared during large portions of last nights game. His decision making isn't helping Federico Higuain and Jairo Arrieta get the ball.

• Tony Tchani again came on to be a presence and again was sloppy. It's hard to explain how someone how Tchani plays. It's like there is another layer of reality that he sometimes crosses to and fro that is slightly different then our own. Only he mixes them up. To us it'd be like watching a old VHS tape that's been taped over again and again, to Tchani... that's his reality.

• Interesting the Renteria got the start over Tchani. It doesn't appear that Tchani was too happy about it either: "Why even keep trying???????????" was his tweet a little over an hour before the game started.

• Tchani's maturity has been in question before (see missed Generation Adidas trip to Holland last winter).

• Chris Birchall, who as fallen out of the starting lineup and known more for his humor and smile, expressed similar discontent last night after the game: "Starting to become a little frustrating now".

• The Crew have thrown a lot of new faces into the club halfway through the year. Going back to last year, just about everyone is new. You (the Crew) are going to have team frustrations. One has to think that Dilly Duka's absence was something discipline / team related and has uncovered some cracks that seem to dog Robert Warzycha year after year.

• "They didn't draft me," said Rolfe jokingly after the match. "They had a couple of rounds to draft me, so that's the way it is." (James Coston reported that on his Hot Time in Old Time blog after asking why he does so well against the Crew).

• In 2005 the Crew drafted Marcus Storey and Domenic Mediate over Chris Rolfe... in the future, Columbus Crew, always go with the local guys first. You fight harder for the earth under your feet. Ask any invading army in the history of humankind.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Predictions: Crew v. Chicago

The Crew scurry up to Chicago to take on the Fire tonight, 8:30 PM EST (Seven Thirty, Central Standard Time). Weather should be cool (50s) and clear.

• Chicago has outright won 6 of last 8 (1 loss)
• Crew have nabbed 5 of last 8 (2 losses)
• Both teams a tad guilty of facing bad opponents of late though
• Crew Avg Opponent Rank in last 10: 13.8
• CHI Avg Opponent Rank in last 10: 12.3
• Regular Crew starter, Dilly Duka, is not with the team in Chicago (reason given: family issues reports Adam Jardy, Columbus Dispatch).
• Higuain still in pain reports the "I need to keep working on the rehab and get rid of the pain as soon as possible."
• These two teams have each won their games at home by a score of 2:1 this year.
• CHI beat Columbus in the Carolina Challenge pre-season tournament (neutral site).


WV Hooligan, Drew Epperley thinks this is a "three points or bust mission," for the Crew but steps back and calls it a draw; "...with three home games and one roadie to D.C. left to deal with, [the Crew] can get away with just a point too."

Our friendly sweat suited friends standing on the corner outside that bar you never go in think this should fall Chicago's way with 58% of the vote over at WinDrawWin. The odds makers at BET365 also favor the Fire 4/6. Draw is at 13/5 and Crew win at 17/4. Not entirely convincing compared to previous home advantages.

Whenever I pull up the Pick 'Em page at I think of guys too old to be playing high school-ers in some sitcom. Regardless, they favor Chicago in this one, 4 picks out of 6 with two guys picking draw. Hey! 4/6!

Lastly, Adam Jardy (Dispatch subscription) thinks that it'll be tough for the Crew to pull this one out, saying; " will be a challenge to return home with more than one point."

Chicago handled Houston and Montreal pretty easily at home recently so tough to go with Columbus. Higuain is probably closer to 70% then 100 and I still believe Jairo Arrieta is not there either. Eddie Gaven was also in enough pain to get his shin checked out but he is clear to play.

With Dilly Duka out we may see Tony Tchani, Justin Meram or Emilio Renteria coming on to replace him. This could be a blessing in disguise for the visitors because I believe that Frank Klopas is an organized and prepared coach so at the very least this late Duka news will give him more to work on.

Odds are that Tchani will replace Duka and the Crew will try and pull a point out of this one. It's the Warzycha way even though Columbus has improved their attacking capabilities.

Last time these two met in Chicago (June 23rd), Warzycha fiddled around with his top 18 that had not lost in 6 straight games and lost to a shorthanded side (Gonzalo Segares ejected in the first half).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Crew Round 29, 89th Minute Win

Columbus takes all three points at home after some late game dramatics, 1:0.

I was in the south stands so can't comment much more then to say the first 30 minutes of the half looked pretty even. From there, Chivas seemed to settle back a little and tried to control the match from the midfield.

(The game is locked on MLS Live till tomorrow night.)

(Moved to my perch in the upper east stands and had a better view.) Chivas looked organized and didn't look like a bottom of the table team but they did struggle to get the ball into attacking positions. A quick check of the stats says they only were able to get 2 shots off in the 2nd half.

Chivas seemed pretty content to play for the draw, which is weird. The good thing for Crew fans was that Coach Robert Warzycha was not content with a draw. He must have sensed that Chivas was dropping back and made a fairly uncharacteristic sub before the 60' mark (Emilio Renteria for Dilly Duka). Ten minutes later he brought on another that changed the pace of the match, Tony Tchani for Milovan Mirosevic.

Tchani played much more aggressive going forward then Mirosevic and was sharper with his distribution. The Crew started to look dangerous and the team with more to lose. Finally, in the 80th minute Justin Meram was inserted for what looked to be an injured Eddie Gaven.

Subbing three attacking players in against a team who didn't appear interested in going forward proved to be the best course of action. The match was headed for a draw had Warzycha not. Instead the Crew were able to get a goal in the 89th minute. Just about everyone on the team contributed to Justin Meram's goal. Jairo Arrieta, it should be mentioned, took a foot to the face - while he was heading a ball - while flat on his back - for a credited assist.

Tony Tchani really changed the match. He can be frustrating sometimes with his poor distribution but last night he grew into the game quickly, he was a technical and physical presence.

• Crew finally get a shutout after 10 game dry spell. This same thing happened at the end of last year, incidentally (Aug. 5th, 2011 to Oct. 2nd 2011, 10 games).

• The Crew have some nasty habits and/or patterns (be it Warzycha or his staff) late in seasons.

Emilio Renteria has taken his new roll and new position in stride. This is important to the team in so many ways.

Danny O'Rourke was solid. His health is key.

• Nice night for Federico Higuain but you have to wonder about that "injection" Dr. R. Warzycha is talking about. Those things don't heal you, they aleviate the pain while it heals. Keep an eye on that.

• Columbus had some players out there at the end that just wanted it more then Chivas. Namely; Jairo Arrieta, Justin Meram, Tony Tchani and Josh Williams.

• Almost 14k fans on a Wednesday in Columbus. Two teams higher up the table in NY and KC only drew 10k (in New Jersey).

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Predictions: Crew v. Chivas

Chivas are in town tomorrow to take on the hometown Crew. Scheduled for a 7:00 PM EST, just a tad past magic hour.

• Chivas haven't won since the end of last month. 2 Wins, 2 Draws, 6 loses in last 10.
• Early in the season their defense was stout but pretty bad in last 10. LAG, NER, SEA, SJE have all tallied 3+ goals on them (SEA dropped 6).
• Crew have lost last two (both on the road)
• Crew have won last 3 at home but it has been against weak competition.
• Crew still struggling to keep a clean sheet. 0 in last 10.
• The Chivas coach, Robin Fraser, is suspended for this game.

The Crew are favored and no mixed messages. 4/7 Bet365 home Crew win with the betters vote over at WinDrawWin seeing good play on Crew win, 56% (30% draw).

The "Pick 'Em" guys at must be on vacation so I'll go with their last Power Ranking... Okay. Chivas is ranked 2nd to last and Crew 10th. Crew it is then from underpaid and over worked MLSsoccer writers.

I'm a little early for anything out of Drew Epperley (WV Hooligan), Adam Jardy (Columbus Dispatch subscription), Pitch Fest (Hudson Street Hooligans) or Aaron Katzeman but safe to say that they probably have Columbus coming out on top. Keep an eye on those sites for future matches though if you want a good feel for what will happen in the Crew's next match.

This is one of those should win and have to win games that send shivers up my burnt sports fan spine. Objectively, Chivas is bad this year all round but the last month; horrid. Crew win, right?

What makes me nervous is that this game will be a little different for the Chivas Goats as assistant Greg Vanney will be at the helm, filling in for Robin Fraser. Vanney is a winner. Guys like him sometimes have enough to spur on even the worst teams. Couple that with the fact that Chivas leads the all time series with Columbus and hasn't lost in their last three to them and I get nervous.

That aside, the real winner tomorrow night will be the match itself. Fall is here in Columbus and soccer this time of year is magic to me. Give me a crisp 50 degrees and a beautiful sunset and I'll be the happiest man on the planet.

If you see a glowing object in the upper east stands during this game, that's me.

Monday, September 17, 2012

MLS: Eastern Conf Playoff Outlook

Somebody is going to be left out because there are six teams battling for five Eastern Conference playoff spots.

Last week I decided that opponent difficulty was too important to ignore in this league. So, let's first take a look at the average difficulty of each potential playoff team's remaining opponents as they stand on the MLS True Table:

Avg Opponent Rank on Table : Team
14.6 : HOU
13.0 : DCU
10.3 : CLB
9.5 : CHI
9.7 : NYR
7.7 : SPC

Houston and DC have the easier schedules on average. But with only 5 or 6 games left that number might be misleading. Let's take a look at remaining games against TOP 10 clubs.

Against Top 10
0 : HOU
2 : DCU
3 : CLB
3 : NY
4 : CHI
4 : SPC

This kinda leaves the Crew out in the cold as Houston and DC are the two clubs they are trying to catch. It's looking like the October 20 match up between the Crew and DC is going to be a huge six pointer for that last playoff spot.

The Crew do have an advantage in remaining home games. It's gonna be all DC and Crew, right down to the wire.

NYR : 4
CLB : 4
CHI : 3
HOU : 3
DCU : 2
SPC : 2

While I'm at it... Federico Higuain or not, it's intensely frustrating to be writing about a team as talented as the Crew fighting for playoff table scraps. There is no reason for the Crew to be in this position at this point in the season. None. This team should be battling for home field advantage or even the Supporters Shield.

More on this in a month's time, SAYETH HELLTOWN.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Crew Round 28, NY Win

The Columbus Crew jumped on top early but end up losing decisively 1:3 to the NY Red Bulls.

Because of a reported injury to Federico Higuain, Robert Warzycha moved Milovan Mirosevic up from is normal defensive mid roll to a forward roll for the evening. Three minutes in to the match Mirosevic scored and had Crew fans changing their perspectives on life. Night was now day and instead of a kaleidoscope of rainbow colors the visible spectrum of light was now only black and gold.

Six minutes later Rafael Marquez dropped a long pass over Chad Marshall and the Crew backline to Thierry Henry for a goal.

The rest of the first half saw the Crew probing and testing the NY midfield and NY soaking it up.

NY didn't seem too interested in playing through the Columbus MF and was happy dropping long balls over top of it and try to beat the high Crew backline. Nothing came of it but it did loosen up the Crew who, as the match went on, got more and more disjointed.

By around the 75' NY was in full control of the match. Out of that, and off a corner from Henry, Dax McCarty scored (79th minute). Andy Gruenebaum's face collided with the goal post in attempt to make the save and had to leave after laying on the pitch for some time.

The ensuing 9 minutes of stoppage gave Thierry Henry time to line up a gol olimpico on substitute Crew 'keeper Matt Lampson.

Thierry Henry now has 4 goals and 2 assists in two games against the Crew this year.

• I'll take another look at this game but no real standout performances from the Crew. NY focused on Eddie Gaven's side of the field and had no interest or worry in Dilly Duka. They gave Duka yards of space. Anyone who has played sports competitively knows what it is like to be seen as a non-threat or the weakest link. I was really pulling for him to make something happen.

• Not sure where to go with Chad Marshall ($341k) and Milovan Mirosevic ($233k) anymore. Good players who are not performing anywhere near where they should. With Mirosevic it could be that he just doesn't fit the Major League Soccer game.

• Away at NY isn't a great place to start; but 10 games now that Columbus hasn't had a shutout. They had 7 in their first 18 matches this year.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Predictions: Crew v. NYRB

The Columbus Crew are up in Harrison, New Jersey to take on the Red Bull. 7:00 PM Columbus Time, 19:00 Quantico, Virginia.

• NY home record is stellar. They have not lost at home this year - 9 Win, 3 Draw.
• NY have won last 4 at home. 8 Goals For, 2 Against. Have shutout 3 opponents.
• Crew 2W, 1D, 2L in last 5 on the road
• Crew outscored 7 goals to 6 in last 5 road games
• Both teams coming off extended breaks, rested

"The off week last week will help Columbus but I just like the Red Bulls at home too much in this one." Drew Epperley, WV Hooligan.

NY fans confident over at, 76% favor the Red Bulls to win with a likely 2:1 scoreline.

Over at the betting sites we see that NY is favored across the board. Bet365 has NY at 4/5 odds and only 8% picking a Crew victory on WinDrawWin (that's about as low as I've seen it for any team).

Can't find the "Pick 'em" feature for this week.

It's almost 8 AM as I type this and my Dispatch isn't at my door, so nothing from Adam Jardy today either. However, you should check out his work last week on Will Hesmer. It's not exactly motivating. Particularly for the players still on the roster from 2008. It's really great to see news like that though, an independent voice. The Crew (as a franchise) are very insulated by long tenured coaches, folks in front offices and extended media. Even the move from Ohio News Network to Fox Sports Ohio couldn't break this insulation.

Jardy's work on Hesmer will be a touchstone to this season and will linger through the start of next, for sure.

I am looking for the illustration credit for this image, unable to find it. It deserves credit, please email me at ljbaby654 @ if you have any info on it.

New York. It's odd that it's tilting so much their way though. My reasoning for picking NY is more to do with their near perfect home form and the Crew's inability to shut anyone out over the last 9 games. The wins have come but the Crew have faced some real bottom dwellers recently; NE twice, TFC and PHI in that time.

Looking at the Defense: Putting Milovan Mirosevic beside Chris Birchall in central defense will not keep NY from scoring. It'd be wise to put Danny O'Rourke in that spot or Cole Grossman or even Eric Gehrig. The Crew should also move Josh Williams back to the middle along side Chad Marshall if they want to have a shot at keeping 2 goals from going past Andy Gruenebaum.

Up top; I think Jairo Arrieta is carrying a more serious injury to his ankle then he lets on. So keep an eye on that.

It's going to be a tough one for Columbus today. Legs will be live with energy after the break and temps will be cool so, if anything, this one will be fun.

You never know, maybe Jersey natives Eddie Gaven and Dilly Duka have some magic for the Crew fans today.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Perhaps It's Fitting, The Cleveland Browns

Perhaps the game the original Cleveland Browns played is dead.

Art Modell died last week.

In 1961, at about the age I am now, he purchased the Cleveland Browns from a group of owners that included the team's namesake and coach, Paul Brown.

"I am cheering at his death, and frankly I don't care if anyone else thinks that makes me a bad person. My father worked his ass off to support us kids (I'm in my 30's now) and this football team was one of the few things that brought joy to his otherwise very hard life. Outside of my grandfather dying, when they announced that the Browns were moving it was the saddest I've ever seen him. For that alone, I will piss on his grave if its location ever becomes public knowledge." - A comment under the Deadspin post "Art Modell, 1925-2012: Grifter, Traitor, Model NFL Owner"

If you go back 16 years before Modell purchased the Browns you find a newly named Cleveland coach, 36 year old Paul Brown.

"A winner never whines." - Paul Brown

Only moving to Ohio in 2006, I realize that I'm an outsider to the Browns legacy. I grew up a Northern Virginia farm boy cheering on the teams in the Washington DC area. But that's not to say I know nothing of Cleveland because Cleveland, to an outsider, is just as much an ideal as it is a place. What ideal, depends on your perspective though.

The Cleveland I know is the cradle of the game of football. The Cleveland I know doesn't have lakes that catch on fire to fuel someone's feeble attempt at socially conscience comedy - they catch on fire because some truly fucking hard work was done there that caused that fire.

Art Modell was born in 1925. Paul Brown in 1908.

The age that both these men grew up in is so vastly different then our own. The Northeast Ohio both of them knew was the one that was big enough to be a regular bidder for the Olympics. It was an age that saw us to the moon on nothing more then something less then a C64 type powered computer and packs of smokes (as opposed to a Xbox 360 and fast food).

The very game of football was forged in Cleveland's backyards and she regularly won every title the game put in front of the city.

To track the playoff appearances of the Browns is the track the manufacturing prowess of this great country post WWII. 1946, 1947, 1948, 1949, 1950, 1951, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1964, 1965, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1971, 1972, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1994... and 2002.

Only during the Ford and Carter presidencies did the Browns struggle, something I find amusing. The Reagan years saw a Mr. Bernie Kosar take the team to new heights. Some might say that the 1980s saw the first screws being removed from the United States mighty midwestern industrial complex.... That General Motors incesent penny pinching was what brought it down, but I say that Roger B. Smith's handling of General Motors during that time is still being (re)written. Yes.

Where was I?

Perhaps it's fitting that Cleveland lost a team in 1995. In a lot of ways it's like some old factory getting shutdown for operations in a far off land, just as many were during that time. As if the football gods wanted to book end what the game was (mud, piss, blood, sweat) before it turned completely into what it is now (domes, fake fields, pass interference, roughing the passer and challenge flags) Perhaps it's a bit of a mistake that the city was able to retain the teams history and restart the franchise in 1999. Perhaps that was just too soon.

What I see from my little corner of manufacturing in Ohio is the tilt and shift away from building things where labor is cheaper and long shipping timelines made sense. I personally see the thirst for domestic manufacturing coming back and have been part of meetings that prove the economic stupidity of moving things away. Now we face a different problem... we have forgotten how to do shit here.

But you know what? We can figure it out.

I recall a conversation I had with my boss shortly after Steve Jobs died. "Take a good look at what's on your desk," he said. "It's not going to change for the next 10 years." As soon as he said it, I nodded in complete agreement. I even jotted it down in my notebook.

A couple days later I brought this profound statement up with my father over the phone. Now, my father helped found what is now known as Skills USA / VICA. It's an organization that trained folks how to DO things. Ask an electrician, bricklayer, mason, pipe fitter, iron worker, welder, machinist... they probably know about VICA. My father ran it from the mid-1960s through the late 1980s.

His response to the comment my boss made about our desktops that I thought was so profound? Dismissive.

"No. Someone else will push things forward. Things will change. This is America, boy."

They will. It is.

I was up in Cleveland this past Sunday for the 13th opening game of the 2nd iteration of Paul Brown's Browns. I witnessed tens of thousands of fans scream their hearts out for a team that has its 3rd owner and 2nd version since the 1960s. An owner that walked into it willingly and seemingly has his head screwed on straight. It's the start of a new day in Cleveland. A fresh new day.

Fort Columbus

Columbus Crew Stadium showed herself well last night as the 23k strong cheered the USMNT to a 1:0 win over Jamaica. In March of this year I wrote about the advantage the USMNT has in Columbus and other cities (with team records / goals) and how the the United States is still looking for its Wembley.

You can find that here: "Yes! Columbus is a Fortress".

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Updated HB Player Score, Crew

The metric I like to track is points earned per game + average goal difference when a player starts. I call it the Helltown Beer Player Score.
The chart above is a visualization of the score. I use a 5 games started minimum so some players are not on the chart. If you would like to see the data you can go here.

Federico Higuain passed the 5 game started mark last week. He is averaging 2.40 Points per Game (1st) and a +0.40 (3rd) average Goal Difference.

+0.80 : Cole Grossman
+0.60 : Carlos Mendes
+0.40 : F. Higuain
+0.38 : Danny O'Rourke

Higuain also carries the Best Goals For average and Worst Goals Against. Here are the players with the highest Goals For per start.

2.00 : F. Higuain
1.60 : C. Grossman
1.60 : C. Mendes
1.50 : Dilly Duka

You'll notice it looks similar to the players with best avg GD. That is in large part due to the Columbus Crew's consistency in defense game in, game out all year. Where things change is in average Goals Against per start.

1.60 : F. Higuain (5)
1.42 : Chad Marshall (19)
1.40 : Bernardo Anor (5)
1.36 : Jairo Arrieta (11)

I felt it important to call out number of games started here (on the right in parentheses) for a couple reasons. The team GA average is 1.19 so for any player (especially a defensive one) as far out of control as he is at 19 starts is not good. Marshall has started 3 shutout games in his 19 starts. Without him in the starting line up the team had 4 shutouts in 8 games.

As a team, after shutting out 6 opponents in their first 15 games the Crew haven't blanked anyone in there last 9.

Looking at Points Earned per Game is about as true and clean a metric you can track, especially in Major League Soccer where lineups rotate quite a bit. Below are the players getting the best results. I'm going to move the minimum to 10 games, which makes these guys even more key to getting a positive result:

2.10 : C. Mendes (10)
1.92 : D. Duka (12)
1.85 : D. O'Rourke (13)
1.82 : J. Arrieta (11)
1.65 : Josh Williams (20)

Team average right now is 1.56. Here are the folks significantly enough south of that:

1.08 : Tony Tchani (12)
1.33 : Nemanja Vukovic (12)
1.37 : Milovan Mirosevic (19)
1.42 : Chad Marshall (19)

If you take a step back and look at the season so far you see a rough early start (lots of player rotation in starting lineup) - then a mid part of the season where defending was excellent and results started to improve even without key players, to now... which is a post a traumatic event with a new expensive and productive signing.

If the Crew are to have a shot at making more noise late on this season and hopefully carry it into next, they need to take the defending from the middle part of the year with and meld it with smarter attacking play.

I think with some better play in the defensive midfield and continued offensive production up top this Crew team will have continued success over the final seven games.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Crew Round 27. Money Talks in Loss

The Columbus Crew hot streak of six unbeaten was cooled off by a New England club who hadn't won any in their last ten.

The Gillette Stadium turf made this a difficult watch from the outset but 1st year New England coach Jay Heaps had this team ready to go. His team was fully motivated and fearless in their approach to the Crew.

The Crew, on the other hand, seemed lethargic and borderline disinterested. The Revs deserved a goal in the first half but it didn't happen. Plenty of chances, but poor finishing from the rebuilding Eastern Conference club.

The Revs got the goal they earned in the 53' (Congolese new boy Dimitry Imbongo) off some sloppy defensive play in the 18 yard box. From there the Crew still couldn't seem to get in the mood. 20 minutes of soccer balls skipping off the turf passed before Chad Marshall fumbled a headed back pass over the head of a charging Andy Gruenebaum and directly into his own net.

The final 15 minutes saw only one flurry of activity from the Crew and Federico Higuain's indoor soccer shoes. Game over. 0:2 Revs.

For the 2nd straight week Columbus started their "A" team. By that I mean; the highest paid. The only player in the top 13 on the club not to get a look is Olman Vargas. From there, the only players making over $100k to sit out where the injured Carlos Mendes and recently fined Julius James.

Last night's Crew "A" team values out at $2.2 million dollars* in annual guaranteed salary. New England's starting salary came in at under $1 million. Those numbers probably don't compute if you are a regular Crew club watcher.

Coming off a crowded August schedule Crew Coach Robert Warzycha banked on squeezing one more ounce of magic against a very weak side. It didn't work. In fact, the plan failed miserably.

20/20 hindsight, but you know what team could have given Crew fans something to cheer for and for less then half the cost ($900k)?

GK: Andy Grunebaum
RB: Eric Gehrig
CB: Josh Williams
CB: Danny O'Rourke
LB: Nemanja Vukovic
DM: Cole Grossman
RM: Justin Meram
CM: Eddie Gaven
LM: Ethan Finlay
CF: Aaron Schoenfeld
ST: Ben Speas

Plenty of excuses for the Crew last night... Heavy legs, bad playing surface, normal distribution of data. Fact remains thus: Championship teams with special players don't lose games like last night.

Disappointing not to see Williams in starting lineup.

* No official word on Federico Higuain's salary. I used $350k, which is the hit the Crew will take to salary cap next year with him on the roster.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Opponent Difficulty, Crew Players

"Imagine Druids cavorting at Stonehenge, and you'll get the idea. They danced in the spaces where the big blocks were not. They didn't run right at them (or, if they did, it's no surprise that their religion died out)." - Steven Goldman, Baseball Between the Numbers.

One of the things that's got me scratching my head is the absolutely ridiculous start Federico Higuain has had in Major League Soccer. It's literally video game-y. More specifically, the kind of numbers you see when an experienced FIFA 12 player drops the CPU difficulty. Do that - and every cross Sebastian Miranda makes drops perfectly for a Ben Speas who is suddenly averaging 2 goals and 1 assist (to Olman Vargas) per game.

I generally consider the quality of Major League Soccer sides to be negligible but after watching enough games like last night's San Jose destruction of Chivas USA, I've started to change my thinking. Perhaps opponent difficulty in the real MLS world is something that should be weighted more heavily when measuring player performance. Perhaps MLS opponent difficulty is more like difficulty level on a video game then I previously thought.

Below is the average opponent's rank on the most current MLS True Table (pts pGM, combined table) when a particular player is starting.

5.5 : Julius James 2
6.6 : Cole Grossman 5
6.7 : Justin Meram 9
8.0 : Bernardo Anor 5
9.0 : Chris Birchall 12
9.5 : Tony Tchani 12
9.6 : Nemanja Vukovic 11
9.6 : Joshua Williams 20
9.8 : Kevan George 4
9.9 : Eric Gehrig 7
9.9 : Dilly Duka 11
10.1 : Andy Gruenebaum 25
10.3 : Carlos Mendes 10
10.3 : Eddie Gaven 26
10.4 : Jairo Obando Arrieta 10
10.5 : Emilio Renteria 15
10.6 : Sebastián Miranda 25
11.0 : Danny O´Rourke 12
11.0 : Aaron Schoenfeld 3
11.1 : Chad Marshall 18
11.3 : Olman Vargas 6
12.6 : Milovan Mirosevic 18
14.7 : Ethan Finlay 3
15.0 : Matt Lampson 1
15.8 : Federico Higuaín 4

Interesting takeaways here come in comparing players of the same position. Like, Meram's 9 starts with a 6.7 opponent team rank compared to Dilly Duka's 11 starts and 9.9. or Chris Birchall and Tony Tchani's opponent difficulty compared to Milovan Mirosevic and Danny O'Rourke.

Take a look now at Higuain, my reason for performing this exercise. The teams he has faced in his 4 starts average nearly 16th on the table (out of 19). It sheds light a little bit on why he has had the early success.

But even when considering the level of opposition, 3 goals and 6 assists in 378 minutes is way out of control on the awesome scale of awesome. No doubt this pace will slow against some better teams, the question is how much.

He should reach his 5th start this week and therefore crosses the first Helltown hurdle. In doing so, even if he stands there for 90 minutes staring at the football lines at Gillette Stadium he will still be tops in the league in Goals + Assists per 90 minutes for players over 450 minutes.

Next hurdle will be the 900 minute mark (league leaders on right) which he could hit on October 7th against Kansas City. And by then, I have to say again, if he just stands on the field with no other goals and assists, will still be at 0.90 per game. Good enough for 13th best right now. My goodness.

For those looking, here is updated Goals + Assist per 90 totals for the Columbus Crew 2012 season to date.

G+A p90 : Name : Minutes

2.17 : Federico Higuain : 373
0.75 : Jairo Arrieta : 839
0.47 : Justin Meram : 767
0.35 : Eddie Gaven : 2305
0.34 : Emilio Rentería : 1336
0.33 : Tony Tchani : 1084
0.30 : Aaron Schoenfeld : 298
0.27 : Nemanja Vukovic : 1002
0.25 : Chris Birchall : 1092
0.21 : Dilly Duka : 844
0.18 : Bernardo Anor : 493
0.18 : Cole Grossman : 500
0.17 : Milovan Mirosevic : 1556
0.15 : Josh Williams : 1794
0.14 : Olman Vargas : 658
0.13 : Eric Gehrig : 712
0.11 : Chad Marshall : 1606
0.04 : Sebastian Miranda : 2194

0.00 : Andy Gruenebaum : 2205
0.00 : Danny O'Rourke : 1063
0.00 : Carlos Mendes : 769
0.00 : Ethan Finlay : 426
0.00 : Kevan George : 426
0.00 : Julius James : 275
0.00 : Matt Lampson : 135
0.00 : Tommy Heinemann : 5

When putting this post together I came across a Steven Goldman quote atop this post from Baseball Between the Numbers in which he tries to describe how they look "around the numbers, beyond the numbers, and quietly tiptoeing past the numbers".

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Crew Round 26. Win 4th Straight

With a goal in extra-time the Columbus Crew send Montreal Impact home with severely damaged playoff chances. The Crew, on the other hand, are back in a playoff spot on the table for the first time since the end of June.

Some exciting play in the midfield but chances from either side were sparse. Columbus saw less of the ball but were direct and sharp when they did have it.

Things between the two clubs didn't change much from the 1st half. Play was fast and you could tell that both clubs might have at least one goal in them. Turns out they had 3.

Marco Di Vaio started things off when he patiently put away a ball from 6 yards out in the 73'. Sanna Nyassi provided the excellent run down the left deftly splitting a charging Chris Birchall and backpedaling Sebastian Miranda. Nyassi crossed it to Felipe Martins who pushed it on to Di Vaio.

The lead didn't last long, a few minutes later Federico Higuain found Chad Marshall's head on a free kick taken just off the left hand corner of the box.

Around the 80th min you could really tell that some of the 30-something old legs of the Montreal players were turning to concrete.

Just as it did in Philadelphia midweek, when the game moved into extra time things loosened up quite a bit. Both the Crew and Impact knew that 3 pts are needed to jump into the playoffs. In the end (93') it was Federico Hiquain (again) providing a cross against the run of play to a well positioned Emilio Renteria.

It's been a while since the last time the Crew have had this much success over the course of 5 games (since May 2010). And With another win or draw on Wednesday can top 10 game stretches not seen in some time.

What is really telling is that twenty game positive form is not far off. Back in May 2012 the Crew were averaging 0.95 points per game over a 20 game span. That's the worst 20 game form the club had seen since the end of 2007.

Since then the Crew have won 9 of their last 16. The club is marching back to the winning ways of 2010... If things continue we may even see 2009 numbers matched. '09 saw a stretch of 20 games with only 2 losses. August '09 was the last time the Crew saw 5 wins in a row.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Predictions: Crew v. Montreal

Montreal travel down to Columbus to take on the Crew tonight. 7:30 PM EST, 12:30 AM, Kettering, England and 7:30 PM in Front Royal, VA.

• Two "in form" teams, playoff implications
• Montreal has won their last five, beating good teams... DC, SJ, NY.
• Montreal has had 4 of last 5 at home, however
• Montreal Away record = poor. 2 wins in 13.
• Crew have 3 wins, 2 draws in last 5.
• Crew last 3 wins against below average teams (TFC, NE, PHI)
• Crew missing regular LB / CB starter Josh Williams (suspension)
• Crew have only lost 3 at home this year (7W, 2D, 3L)

Looks like the betting sites clearly favor the home team (that would be the Crew).

Drew Epperley at WV Hooligan; "This one will be a midfield game but in the end it feels like a draw." Drew also says, "Montreal and Columbus headline a busy holiday weekend." First time I've seen the Crew headline any of the league watchers sites this year.

The folks over at are leaning Crew. 4 for Crew, 1 Montreal, 1 Draw.

Adam Jardy (Columbus Dispatch), who has been accurate with his predictions, is leaning Montreal because of fatigue. "Montreal" he says, "is rested and riding a five-game winning streak. It will take some magic for the Crew to overcome..."

A lot will depend on how "up" for the game the Crew will be. Montreal and Columbus have already met twice this year and split home wins. Neither game really registering on the excitement scale of, well... excitement.

The reason I mention is because Josh Williams brings a lot of energy each time he plays. In fact, he actually controls most of the possession for the Crew. 250 total passes, 11% of all Crew passes for the month of August (positive results). His absence might play a part as to the amount of energy we see from the side.

The weather could become a factor tonight as well. It's humid as all right now, muggy. Feels like NC up in here. 80% chance of rain later today so the surface will be fast and the temps cool-er (we hope).

The Crew absolutely should be able to win this one but the result depends on team energy. By the time the 20th minute rolls around, ask yourself this question...

"Are the Crew playing on their front foot?"

YES: Crew Victory
NO: Crew Loss
I CAN'T TELL: Crew Draw or loss