Thursday, February 28, 2013

2013 Prediction on MR + Eval of 2012 Picks

Last year I did alright with my preseason predictions. 4 out of the 5 playoff teams correct.

The Toronto pick sticks in my craw - but all of the other picks were either within one spot (7) or two (NE) on the table. Quite proud of that actually.

1 : 1 : Sporting KC
2 : 3 : NY
3 : 2 : DC United
4 : 4 : Chicago
5 : 10 : Toronto
6 : 5 : Houston
7 : 9 : New England
8 : 8 : Philadelphia
9 : 7: Montreal

You'll notice that the Crew are not listed. Last preseason I was pretty worked up about the team. I couldn't bare to include them in the list (seriously). "These days I am a pretty big Crew fan so I have removed them from the list and put them on a celestial plain of which I shall write romantically about all year."

However, before it got to crunch time I did mention that the Crew would end up fighting for a playoff spot.


Head on over to Massive Report for a full explanation for my 2013 predictions. I used pretty much the same methodology as last year though. It worked. I'm pretty confident with it again this year.

1 : Sporting KC
2 : NY
3 : Houston
4 : DC United
5 : Chicago
6 : Columbus
7 : Montreal
8 : Philadelphia
9 : New England
0 : Toronto

What this means is that Columbus is looking at the same finish as last year. One thing I'm worried about this year is Montreal. There are a couple indicators that point towards them jumping into the top five (player retention being of most important indicator).

Their performance in the preseason only solidifies this thought. They have the potential to push out a team like Chicago and Columbus from the playoff picture.

More on the Massive Report post:

Now that the schedule is unbalanced it seems like things can be a little more predictable. Once a team has played a couple times the outcome is remarkably predictable. It's surprising to me that Major League Soccer is marching forward with the unbalanced schedule.

Anyhow. Stay tuned to Massive Report tomorrow and Saturday before the Chivas USA opener (that's on past my bedtime). It's going to be a tricky game for the Crew.

The Crew are no doubt a better team but given the time of the game and the fact that the players traveling have been on the road for a solid month...

... could be a tricky fixture. Did I mention that? Oh.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Couple More from Orlando

Andy Gruenebaum right after the 0:1 loss to Montreal. Over on the left are are the Montreal Impact players accepting the tournament trophy.

View of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Looking towards the soccer fields. On the left is the baseball complex. The NY Yankees were playing Atlanta Braves in spring training play while I was there. The 20 years from now me will be attending both events. I see you over there baseball. You and your numbers...

Crew Penalty Kicks

No, this is not a corny regular feature. I'm talking real PKs. I take them out of almost all of my goal metrics because they too often hide deep goal scoring problems. Here's why:

• Since 2009 the Crew have attempted the most PKs in the league, 24. They have converted 20 of them, also the most in the league.

• That works out to 12% of all goals since 2009 (168 goals, 20 PKs). And that, of course, is the highest % in the league since then

• In 2011, 20.9% of all Crew goals were PKs. The 2nd highest rate in league history (2003 DC United 21.1%).

• Every 5th goal in 2011 was a PK. That is double the average rate for that year.

• In 2012 the Crew popped back to only getting a PK goal 1 out over every 15. you have to go back to 2003 to see that rate for this club.

Here' is % of overall Crew goals that were PKs since 2008.

2008 : 8.0 %
2009 : 9.8
2010 : 12.5
2011 : 20.9
2012 : 4.5

The 16 pt drop between 2011 and 2012 is the 3rd largest year to year drop in league history (2004 DCU 19%, 2011 FCD 17%).

The Crew took the 2nd most PKs in 2010 and 1st most in 2011. Which is to say, they were making the playoffs due to fouls in the box (and defensive play) and not quality goal scoring on the pitch.

In 2012 the PKs dried up and playoffs were missed. A contributor. Drop in PKs exposed some problems.

The drop in PKs was related to both change and tactics (eliminating a target up top) and league related PK focus. I appears MLS put a focus on fouls in the box last year. In 2011 there was a PK every 7 games. In 2012 it was one every 9, which means less frequent by almost two games.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Orlando Trip

The 2013 Disney World Pro Soccer Classic wrapped up yesterday as the Montreal Impact took down the Columbus Crew 1:0. Montreal looked far superior just about from start to finish.

Working on a post over at Massive Report that will try, among other things, to tie together the potential relationship between this tournament and how teams will finish this year. It's a tricky thing, that. Fans seem to dismiss this, the "mouse cup," but I've spent a great deal of time watching it this year and think the performances will play out in the end.

Players and coaches are taking it seriously. Lots of first team players and regular season intensity. The tournament deserves at least the respect the participants have put in to it.

After having enough of watching streaming matches online, I headed down to Orlando to check out things for myself for the final day of games, February 23rd. A full slate. Four matches.

After the match Andy Gruenebaum and Josh Williams thanked each (a dozen or so) fan for making the journey down (or out) to Orlando to watch the club play.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Podcast + Crew Highlight Video

New podcast is up over at Massive Report. Again, Matt Goshert, Chris LaMacchia, Rick Gethin and Mr. Justin Bell do all the work. Matt asks me to join during the 3rd segment to talk about my "Of Stone Block and Clay" post. It's really great to get to join in with them, also great just to talk some soccer.

Tonight, spent some time chopping up the Crew's preseason goals during the 2013 Disney 'Classic'. The Crew have outscored the competition 8 goals to 2. Granted, it might play out that Toronto and Philly are weak MLS sides... Here:


Finley kicking Frei in face :30

Finley working around keeper :40

Ethan Finlay brilliance follows...

Marshall hurt 1:45 Eddie hangs back to check on him. It's actually a sort of emotional moment for me. Both these guys have seen a good deal, not just in black and gold, but also red white and blue.

New signing's brilliance 1:50

Finally, Josh Williams Goal... 2:07 (convert that Williams goal to memory, true believers. As soon as he struck it he was on his way over to assistman Higuain before it was in the net. Know how many times I've seen a defender one time a ball 6" from the ground for goal? The guy is special.)

Song I used is "Gumball Machine Weekend" by Yppah. Good stuff.

Winter is almost over. The 2013 MLS season is nearly upon us... prediction is coming. Stay tuned here an at Massive Report.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Stone and Clay

New post on Massive Report about preseason results.

I'm tracking all the numbers but wanted to approach it in abstract (it's where I'm going to wind up in the end anyway, but still fighting the good fight).

It's been a productive preseason for the Crew but I think there is a big difference between the readiness of the 2nd team and 1st team. I'm going to keep banging away on the value of returning players. In the Massive Report post I look at it from another perspective. Why?

What's missing in the US is anything and everything outside of hustle, hard work, industry, desire and athleticism. The US has those qualities in spades. What we don't have is creativity. Intelligence. A sense of the world around us or a respect for it.

When reading up on Andrea Pirlo, his transitions from team to team are like artistic movements. Purpose and reason. I don't see many outside these borders quantifying his genius based on physical measurables. How fast is his 40? What about his vertical jump? Imagine asking those questions of Cavallini, Pisano, Ghiberti, Pellegrini and you get what we are missing.

Listen closely next time to any non-American calling a game. They use the same descriptive words used to describe art or an artist. Creativity, open space, skill, beauty, movement. A US voice, like Gus Johnson, describes it more like a battlefield in Afghanistan.

I've always kinda thought that the best US voice for soccer would be a veteran NBA basketball announcer. Because the sports are similar, they use descriptive terms close to those in soccer all the time.

Anyhow, neither here nor there. I don't have the answers but am trying to figure it it. What I do know is that until we figure a few things out we are going to have to be content with a Brian McBride or Clint Dempsey every 10 years or so.

My last post deals with specific numbers that show which group of players is having the best offseason. I will have a full report next week.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Here's a preview of upcoming match with Orlando City with preseason Crew “first team / second team” observations.

Even with three games yet remaining it’s easy to say that the Crew have had a successful preseason. With five games behind them they have won four. Their last game, a 4:0 dismissal of the Philadelphia Union, was enough to calm some nerves heading into the start of the season.

Next up is a USL Pro side Orlando City that has handful of Major League Soccer level talent lead by Luke Boden (trialed with Chicago Fire this offseason), Kevin Molino (3 G, 7 A), Jamie Watson (5 G, 3 A), James O’Connor and Dennis Chin (a 6’3” forward who lead the league in goals last year with 11). Also listed on the 2013 roster is Tony Pulis, son of the Stoke City boss of which some worship.[updated: not listed]

This core group of players only lost one game last year in regular season play (17 W, 6 D, 1 L), easily the best record in the league with a +1.33 goal differential. No other team in the league was even close.

City, the unofficial host of this tournament, tied the Philadelphia Union 1:1 in the first game (goal by Chin) and lost to Toronto FC this past Wednesday on a 0:3 scoreline that deserved to be closer than it looks (City was better the 1st 60 minutes of that match).

The Crew have handled both common opponents in this tournament, beating Toronto 1:0 and Philly 4:0. This suggests that the Crew should have little to no problem with Orlando.

The Crew should handle them but which Crew crew will do the handling? The answer might surprise you. Might not.

A few weeks ago I took a good look at the advantage teams have that are able to return players from the previous year, preferably minute gainers. With five games gone in this preseason I can definitively say that the Crew have benefited from the players returning from last year’s team.

To compare how players have been performing this 2013 preseason I broke them up into four groups.


From there you can further shuffle into sub categories: 1st Team / With 2012 Crew, 1st Team Not. 2nd Team With and Not With. All totalled, 8 groups of players to compare.

The best performing group this offseason are 2nd Team Players / With 2012 Crew. They are averaging a +1.23 Goal Diff. Right behind them is the WITH 2012 CREW group, +0.92 GD.

The two underperforming groups are the players that were not with the 2012 team. It’s not surprising that the With 2012 / 1st Team players are performing below average as there are only 5 of them (a story which deserves its own post).

It’ll be interesting to see what the 2nd Team / With 2012 could do against other 1st teams this preseason, or perhaps a combined 1st and 2nd team of all players returning from last year, but it will not happen. Head Coach Robert Warzycha has made it pretty clear who the starters will be this season.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Talk on MR Podcast

I joined Matt Goshert, Chris LaMacchia, Rick Gethin and Justin Bell at Hendoc's for the Massive Report Podcast yesterday where we talk Crew. Really good group of folks who know what they're doing. Give it a listen. I jump in around 40 minutes with my bumble.


Monday, February 11, 2013

5th Annual Helltown Game of the Year

Time seems to be getting marked here at Helltown by this award I give out. 5 years on, it lives.

United Front Games and Square Enix London Studios developed this one. Poster by Tyler Stout.

I've found that with games often times it's when you play the game, where you are in life or maybe the time of year. Same with music and movies. Sleeping Dogs hit me right.

The two standout elements are environment and music. There is also some part of it that hearkens back to Shenmue save for the violence. It is lovingly meant to be akin to what the Hong Kong film industry churns out; Tom-Yum-Goong, Infernal Affairs (all of them), PTU and Full-Time Killer are the only movies I'm remotely familiar with but it doesn't take watching them to get it.

There is a lot going on in this game. I'm still taking in the soundtrack. It's absolutely immense.


Another couple very good triple A games this past year are Far Cry 3, Max Payne 3 (still playing) and NBA 2k13 (FIFA players, fire that up and start asking questions of EA. NOW). Far Cry, in particular, deserves a call out. I wish the story continued down the path of insanity. There was a moment in this game, perhaps when having ritualistic sex in the sacred temple with the leader of the of the local island peoples, I thought... my word. The game really goes for it. It is to be admired.

Frustrating game of the year goes to Assassins Creed 3. Grr. There was so much this game gave me personally but just plowed through it all. The opening of this game is epic. You start as an Haytham Kenway, a memorable character, learn to love his aristocratic arrogance. All the pieces are here and it is, by far, the best representation of the east coast I've yet seen. I could live in the sandbox for sometime (I did). Damnit! I want to give this game of the year. It just get's 'jumpy'. Not just in story but in gameplay.

"Journey" for PS3 is a beautiful example of game making. It's 2-3 hours of walking towards a mountain. Play it. Love it. Say "EEPP" to strangers that will help you on your way.

My gem of the year is a 2003 game Xbox game called 'Freedom Fighters'. I was looking for a Red Dawn type thing and came across that. Save the USofA from Russians? Squad based action? Good stuff.

2012: Sleeping Dogs
2011: Skyrim
2010: Red Dead Redemption / Heavy Rain
2009: Uncharted 2
2008: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare


I'm not a TV person. I haven't been for quite sometime now. I keep thinking that will change. Games replaced it however many years ago. Outside of soccer/Cavs/Browns, if my TV is on it's because I'm playing a game. More creative and interesting things going on with games then what I see on TV, I reckon.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The More Most Dangerous, MR Post

It's very possible that the 2nd darkest side of soccer statistics to be appearances and goals. You hear it all the time, 18 apps and 6 goals or whatever. Wikipedia uses this as standard - Year : Team : Apps : Goals and most people take that as measurement of quality.

Now, a step beyond that is the ABSOLUTE darkest side of statistics : Prediction. Lots of mathematical engineers have grabbed hold of the sport and clubs seem to buying in to it. More often then not these folks use their powers for evil then good. They can't seem to help themselves with the data they have. Check Zach Slaton's MLS playoff piece for an example of prediction gone horribly wrong.

"The Most Dangerous" post at Massive Report deals with the characteristics of an attacking player an those who have exhibited them. It's more of an evaluation. A measurement of who has performed well and who might not of. Evaluations don't predict the future - they measure the past and you can learn from that. That's what I've done with that post over a Massive Report.

One thing that got shorted due to the nature of the post is most dangerous by position. Here is that:

1 : Josh Gardner : 2011 : 20th Overall
2 : Josh Williams : 2012 : 24th Overall
3 : Andy Iro : 2010 : 26th Overall
4 : Sebastian Miranda : 2012 : 27th Overall
5 : Chad Marshall : 2010 : 28th Overall

Interesting how doing nothing much to the back line in the last three years would have yielded this line up. For a club that likes to remind fans of limited resources it's curious how much could have been saved by eliminating unnecessary change. Rule one in business and sports - yet one that continuously gets broken.

Eddie Gaven fills three of these spots so only going to use one of him.
1 : Eddie Gaven : 2012 : 7th Overall
2 : Justin Meram : 2012 : 8th Overall
3 : Dilly Duka : 2011 : 15th Overall
4 : Bernardo Anor : 2011 : 16th Overall
5 : Adam Moffat : 2010 : 17th Overall

Meram, who is more a forward but is proving to be a versatile MF piece, Duka and Anor have proven to be MLS level players and have won actual MLS games (whaaa, known entity that you can plan around? My word, man. Get a hold of yourself. Crazy talk). For whatever reason they are not trusted. Once Anor returns from injury I hope to see him getting starting minutes. He'll give you the the same production at $50k any new signing at $200k gives you.

1 : Jairo Arrieta : 2012 : 1st Overall
2 : Emilio Renteria : 2010 : 2nd Overall
3 : Guillermo Barros Schelotto: 2010 : 3rd Overall
4 : Andres Mendoza : 2011 : 4th Overall
5 : Steven Lenhart : 2010 : 5th Overall

Forward players in any league know they are walking through a revolving door. I think the Crew could have hung on to Renteria because they can afford him and also should have hung on to Steven Lenhart. Along with Arrieta the Crew would be much more settled and experienced. Again, unnecessary change. Hard not to be critical when the club is slipping down the table every year.


All of the players in the 15 above have made the playoffs except my number one guy. That sort of takes me back to the beginning of this post. These are measurements you should only find in the shadows of the sport. Shine a light on them and watch them scurry.

These type attacking stats should only be taken as one tiny piece of a much larger puzzle.

The Arrieta illustration was fun to work on. Lots of yellow. And here is the landing page at Massive Report at this moment.

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Crew Have A Vision, The MLS Cup

A couple weeks ago Columbus Crew President and General Manager, Mark McCullers, said it - and now the team head coach is as well.

The Columbus Crew are going to win the MLS Cup.

Really ambitious predictions from high ranking and high profile Crew employees. Prediction of MLS Cup Champs? My goodness. It is really kind of bizarre, to be frankly honest. Imagine if this had been said by a club/team in the NFL, MLB or even NHL. Heck. Imagine it coming from other MLS clubs at this point. It's well beyond confidence. It's beyond brash. Man.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

TV Guide, Black-hearted Destrier

It's really great that MLS is making more and more preseason games available online. New traditions are being created right before our eyes in Orlando, Arizona and Charleston with these mini tournaments. Once a little bit of time passes these things might matter and even migrate into the regular season (see Cups and English football). It's pretty exciting to see.

I listed out the games that the Crew will be playing this month over at Massive Report with some preseason notes about what to look out for.

The artwork was driven by the obvious. An old TV Guide seemed a natural fit for Ryan Finley. He's off to a good start in the preseason, looks comfortable up top. There's a classic Madmen look about him and he seems to have a bit of an edge to match it. I'm hoping it sticks around, to be honest.

Iain Macintosh wrote a piece titled: WHY ALL OF ENGLAND SHOULD LOVE ANDY CARROLL yesterday. It's short, but great.

"I’ve always liked Carroll. There is something rather glorious about the sight of him in full flow. When I watch him thundering into the penalty area, his hooves pounding the sludge like a snorting, black-hearted destrier, something deep within me stirs."

Some might say that here in the US we don't have any sort of identity like that in soccer, but I think we do, we just seem to misidentify it. Maybe, in a way, the same way that England likes to hide from Andy Carroll.

Soccer, more than any other sport, takes on the shape of her people and culture. The attitude that shapes the world view of Americans flows through the veins most of us, whether we like it or not. It's best described by someone better than I but the better side of it is one that's found in movies like Saving Private Ryan or, well... from the same time period in both film and historical context - Chicken Run.

Facing death and the impossible with a crooked smile, resourceful intelligence and a live forever confidence. That's the kind of player I would like on my team. The Crew have a few, would like to see more.

Monday, February 4, 2013

"Being Awesome"

Here's a pic taken by Jeff Griffith-USA TODAY Sports that otherwise might not see the light of day. It's one that I've been wanting to use for something neat over at Massive Report but can't find the right topic. Perhaps it's a story about a rising star putting in thankless work during long training days - with many others (Ben Speas) - down in Florida which might not get the most page hits of all time. Perhaps it's a bit much to write and not come off as hero worship. Regardless of that, here it is. In all it's found object glory.

I sent this picture to a friend and asked, "What's Josh Williams doin' up there?" Without hesitation I got the same response I've gotten since the beginning of last year when he first started seeing regular time...

"Being awesome."

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Trip, Disney Pro Soccer Classic

Trip booked! Looking forward to being in Orlando on Feb. 23rd to catch a full day of games. Six of ten Eastern Conference MLS teams will be in action that day.

Columbus Crew
DC United
Montreal Impact
Philadelphia Union
Sporting Kansas City
Toronto FC

Orlando City of the USL Pro division and NASL's Tampa Bay Rowdies will also be attending. Orlando City is one I'm really looking forward to if their roster is anything similar to last year. They have about 4 MLS level players that I know of. I've written about them, here.

The tournament basically spans the month, Feb 9 to Feb 23rd. The 8 teams will be split in to two groups then play a final on the 23rd. Each team will get four games in.

A big difference for the Crew this year is that the team will be able to get seven preseason matches in against MLS talent. It is very positive that Columbus is getting MLS matches in this year. Last year the filled in with a matches against Malmö, a Swedish side that likes traveling to the US, and an U17 US National team.

Looks like a mess of these games will be streamed. Looking forward to the trip and a break from 20 degrees and snow.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Duka for Oduro, It Is Done. Balchan.

Dilly Duka and Dominic Oduro have swapped sides... A romance that had been rumored for sometime. It'll be interesting to see if Major League Soccer stepped in to make this deal happen. Ultimately, it's a couple talented players caught in the middle between a bunch of lunkheaded jocks trying to run professional sports teams.

Not to be lost in the Duka / Oduro deal in all of this is a player Chicago had to release in order to make room for Duka in Chicago. Rich Balchan. Former Crew player and witness to Kirk Urso's passing last year. You've got to imagine that it's been a remarkably difficult year for both but they are are talented players and will be successful at their next stop. I wish both of them the best in the future.