Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Favor the Simple Expression

4. We favor the simple expression of complex thought. We are for the large shape because it has the impact of the unequivocal. We wish to reassert the picture plane. We are for flat forms because they destroy illusion and reveal truth. - June 13, 1943 edition of the New York Times, brief manifesto: Mark Rothko, with Adolph Gottlieb.

I think it was around the first couple years I was living down in Raleigh, North Carolina when I noticed almost all local newspapers trying to use as much color as possible. It was the late nineties and by that time USA Today's color had changed the world with color for more than a decade.

Among the local rags to try and switch was the News and Observer. I remember that the Times and Post had switched but the "N&O" changing presses was a big deal.

It might sound weird, but I don't think papers should have switched. Not only because they didn't know how to use color (and still don't) but also because I'll forever be reminded of Rothko's fourth point in his expressionists manifesto. "Flat forms destroy illusion and reveal truth." It's been over twenty years since I first heard that and it still sticks with me each and every time I add shades of gray or color to a picture or illustration. What I figure is that, if you are going to use color, you better goddamn mean it.

Working in black and white is a art all on it's own and shouldn't be bastardized by photos taken in color (or with color in mind). To often newspapers take perfectly good photos in color and print them in black and white without consideration.

I was reminded of this when I was visiting my folks back in Northern Virginia over the holidays after my mother presented me with original copies of early December editions of the Washington Post and Evening Star from 1974. Among the glorious over-sized pages was this picture of George and Barbara Bush riding bikes in Peking, China.

Life may live and breathe in color, but I think memory and recollection fall somewhere else. Is it black and white? Maybe... if it's used right. I dunno. Not saying color can't work. But, do I think we should think is simpler terms when writing on current events? Yes.

Maybe working in black and white would help with that. Sometimes, anyway.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Major League Soccer's Offseason Sucks! Promotion/Relegation!

Promotion/Relegation is indispensable to the sport of soccer. Why?

I'm going to leave that hanging, right there, for a moment.

Hint: It's not the usual reasons discussed. And, yes, the owners of MLS will, probably, never institute Pro/Rel.


This is the reason...

Here it comes...


Were you ever an NBA fan? This is important. Think, think, think.


What about American football keeps older, seasoned veterans from developing a routine of coasting through portions of games and seasons? Answer: The level of violence inherent in the game. You go all-out or risk getting killed.

Why are Major League Baseball players always trying to compete at their peak? Their salary is greatly influenced by their individual performance and giving 100% effort rarely sees them risk major injury.

Now, back to the NBA. Why is the NBA regular season virtually unwatchable for all but the most diehard of fans?

I was an NBA fan growing-up. I was a kid and then college student who loved the game, the greats and the competition. But...I matured, hard to believe, and realized like most sport's fans that NBA players coast for portions of both games and season's. It's a grueling game and a long season. As long as each player proves that he is at least worthy of top twelve status on their team, they will have a spot and a very comfortable living.

It's a closed league. I'm not saying that NBA players step-up to the tip-off consciously thinking "I'm going in the tank for the next twenty minutes of my career." I'm saying, the closed nature of the league, with guaranteed contracts, the elevated risk of injury during the lengthy season, and the fact that it is a contact sport leads to exactly what you see so often in the NBA.

That's why soccer NEEDS Promotion and Relegation. Human beings choose, subconsciously, to coast occasionally when the circumstances allow. It's human nature. Leagues around the world are better and more enjoyable to watch because Promotion and Relegation adds another layer of pressure/motivation to the competition, for everyone involved.

I love what Major League Soccer has done for the professional game in our country. But, I am not naive. It is far too easy for the owners and players of MLS to slowly, year-by-year, institutionalize the very same structural aspects that make the NBA unwatchable so often. They have already begun the journey down that path.

I was and still am a basketball fan. I'm just not an NBA fan anymore.

I don't want Major League Soccer to become the soccer version of the NBA. I think it's inevitable given the business model; but, I'm still hopeful the rich guys can grow a collective pair and give North America the real beautiful game.  

Still Bored? A Sequel to: Fall to Spring it Be!

Read the previous blog post here. Not really necessary.

Not realizing my first attempt at filling Major League Soccer’s SIXTEEN consecutive weeks of naught, also known as the offseason, or more accurately known as THE INSIGNIFICANT BLACK HOLE OF INSIGNIFICANCE, would be so popular, I’ve decided to sequalize.

Disclaimer: While this learned article is worthy of publication in The Journal of Online Soccer FunWishery and strictly adheres to the unimpeachable, universally agreed upon, totally copacetic and infinitely adequate standards set forth in the Journal’s Guide to Writing FunWishery, I hereby state unequivocally and without preposterousness that, regardless of your or anyone else’s opinion, my opinion, contrived, arrived at and singly contemplated using the above unim…blah, blah, blah…standards found in The Journal of Online Soccer FunWishery’s Guide to Writing FunWishery, the Major League Soccer regular season should start in early August, flow through approximately December 20th, take a break for something close to three weeks, or maybe twenty one days, whichever comes first, and then all teams should gather in a city, or two cities, possessing substantial winter warmth and string bikinis for perhaps fourteen days plus seven days, or maybe seven plus seven plus seven days, where all Major League Soccer players will run, jog, walk, juggle, kick and generally move about for the edification of team paraphernalia wearing, Guinness and Whiskey drinking, blabbering, blogging, twittering and instapicturing Fan-Bobslobberer’s, before recommencing the Major League Soccer regular season in early February, or any other month of the year that starts with the letter “F” and ends with the letter “WHY?.” Thus and then, the Major League Futsocbol season will “Spring” to life, erupting in all its fan-glorious Futsocbol hormonal glee, before climaxing in late May, or perhaps early June if it can continue sawing away like a lumberjack cutting deeper and deeper into virgin forest.     

Today’s installment will seek to compare and contrast the pros and cons of a potential Fall to Spring (F-S) Major League Soccer season with the current Spring to Fall (S-F) version.

The first order of business is the making of the dreaded list of applicable “stuff” which is common to both the F-S and S-F narratives of Major League Soccer. The second component of this astonishing Helltown Beer blog post is the insightful evaluation of the “stuff’s” influence on Major League Soccer’s rate of growth/success.

List of “Stuff” (in no particular order and non-exhaustive, though, I’m exhausted)

Business Concerns
Length of Breaks in Schedule
Other Revenue Seeking Teams, Competition, Sports

Let’s start with number one (what a clever idea).


The current season format, S-F, has two weather related issues. The MLS Cup, due to being held at the home of the participating team with the best regular season record, could end up in a very cold, snowy climate. Cold and snow are not much of an issue other than the final, though there is the possibility of some earlier playoff rounds being affected in this manor. Cold and snow should not be an issue at the beginning of the season as more Southern based teams join MLS. The first couple weeks of the season could be played at the home of clubs situated in warmer climates. The middle of the season, the summer months, can be brutally hot in some locales. Scheduling of games in the hottest climates could be moved to later in the evening, but this could pose a problem flexibility wise and for Television.

The F-S format would avoid the heat issues by playing the first couple weekends in the league’s more Northerly cities. The winter issues would be solved, again, by playing the last couple weeks of the fall and first few weeks of Spring down south.

Conclusion: There are ways Major League Soccer can lessen the impact of weather regardless of the season running F-S or S-F. Weather should not be a serious factor.

2. Business Concerns:

This is a potentially very broad topic. Let’s try to keep it simple. The current format poses some significant issues in regards to player movement, as some of the better leagues around the globe play F-S, making buying and selling players from and to those leagues problematic. I will profess to know little about such things, and so, will leave it at that.

Conclusion: I do believe changing to the F-S format would help expedite player movement in and out of MLS, which should, in theory, lead to MLS teams improving at a faster pace. This is factor of some impact.

3&5. Media/Other Revenue Seeking Soccer Competitions, Teams:

S-F format has a number of serious issues, in regards to media/other, when compared to F-S format. The summer months find the mainstream media, and the soccer media, focusing on things like the World Cup, EUFA Championship, high profile teams (Barcelona, Manchester United, etc.) travelling to the States, Gold Cup and other competitions. These competitions draw an inordinate amount of attention away from Major League Soccer at precisely the time the S-F regular season should expect to enjoy the most attention.

Without promotion and relegation, the playoffs and cup final, arguably the part of any professional sports season that should really ignite the media fires, run head-to-head with the most exciting bit of the College football season.

F-S would have regular season games going up against College and Professional Football, not the playoffs. F-S would also bypass the issues of trying to compete with the biggest soccer competitions in the world.

Conclusion: These things are a HUGE issue. They, especially the summer, are a large portion of the season.

4. Length of Breaks:

For most of the teams and players in Major League Soccer the S-F offseason is ridiculously long (see the above description of a black hole). From the first week of November to the beginning of March there are NO regular season games! I repeat, for SIXTEEN weeks there is not a single meaningful game for most Major League Soccer teams.

A F-S season allows ALL teams to play more games during what is typically the best soccer weather in the States, Fall. F-S easily cuts the winter break down to only eight weeks, maybe less, and creates a natural period of time to develop a truly delightful winter tradition. The F-S format also makes for a seven to eight week summer break.

Overall Conclusion: The F-S format keeps Major League Soccer in the public conscious on a virtually year round basis. F-S allows MLS fans the chance to, during the summer months, focus for a few weeks on other competitions and not have those competitions dim the view of their league. While many S-F devotees laud the summer months, I believe the summer months seriously harm the growth of the league in terms of perception, attention, and potential profit. F-S allows for easier movement of players. F-S keeps the penultimate weeks of the Major League Soccer season away from the most popular sport in the United States. As I mentioned in my previous post, MLS playoffs going up against the first few rounds of the NBA and NHL playoffs is vastly superior to what they compete with currently.

This is not an exhaustive look at this issue. I think it’s a good start. Would like to hear differing opinions with some specifics to back them up.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Popular Helltown Posts of 2014

Hope everyone out there had a good year. If not, here's to a better looking one in 2015. While you navigate your way through the end of the holiday season here are some of the more popular posts on Helltown from 2014 (with pen and ink illustrations from the Moleskine of a burnt out ops manager).


Gee, I wish we had one of them doomsday machines
Rick Gethin

"The new owners are not used to losing. They have a history of spending money to field the best team possible. This is starkly at odds with the way MLS is set-up. The salary cap, designated players, etc., are things that we might see leaving the MLS in the not too distant future, due in large part to the influence of these new owners."

New Crew TV Deal, Time Warner
Larry Johnson

"The wrong thing to do is to put up more barriers between you and your customers. On top of that, Cable is a dying industry and some of her last gasps of air are buying rights to live sports. It's surprising to me that this was an option for the Crew."

Win of the Season Hijacked by Supporters
Larry Johnson

"Supporters’ voices are very important to the sport. Right or wrong, good or evil. There is no doubt they are necessary. This particular one though might have had unintended results, however. Be it good will towards an important player in US Soccer history, just showing class or trying to clean up the world view of Columbus, Ohio – the tifo undid just about all of that and shows that supporters are not in lock-step (un-knowingly, it seems) with the winds of change Precourt is trying to introduce."

United States National Soccer Team’s Success Incurably Dependent on the Fusion of Eleven Independent Individuals Functioning as One
Vidda Grubin

"Brazil, for twenty three men, is a dream not far away. Blink and the dream will arrive. But how will it end?"

Steve Clark, A+ Signing
Larry Johnson

"Great distribution, plays Berhalter's system, no personality problems, acts like an adult on the pitch and plays like he wants to be out there. With thin margin for error at the GK spot, Clark is absolutely an A+ signing."

EPL Shoulder Charged MLS off the Ball
Larry Johnson

"Even last offseason the EPL is getting more interest online than MLS regular season in the US. With the increased exposure on NBC it looks like this year, especially in a World Cup year were many EPL players are participating, the top English league will make more gains in the US market while MLS interest drops."

If there is more by Rick or Vidda you would like to read (and I recommend it), best way is to use the Search in the top right nav side of the web version of the this site. Just type in the author's name. Same goes for players / coaches you would like to know more about. Thank you for reading!

Sunday, December 21, 2014

"It’s not your day-to-day club game," Justin Meram, Iraqi International

Justin Meram was recently selected to play for the Iraq National team. He'll likely join the team again when Iraq plays in the 2015 AFC Asian Cup that runs through January. Here is his experience getting called up, in his words, as told to Cody Sharrett of thecrew.com. It's a fairly rare thing, this. Rarer still is a Michigan player with MLS that has been called up for a national team in the Middle East. Particularly Iraq.

"I was kind of nervous at first, getting there and getting used to the language and everything."

"The guys were great. Maybe five or six guys speak English as well as Arabic. The guys helped me out, teaching me more and more of the language. The first session was good. Soccer, football is football wherever you’re at. Playing with them was probably the easiest part for me. Off the field, Yaser Kasim and Ahmed Yasin from Örebro in Sweden — he was teammates with Mohammed Saeid — those two guys are probably who I’m closest with because they’ve spoken English their whole life as well… We have a good understanding of each other."

"It was tough. At first I didn’t think I was going to start, but I had a really good session. It’s a tournament, and you have to put your best team out there. I was very fortunate to be there for 36 hours in Riyadh and start the game after those guys had been training for about 10 days together. It was unbelievable."

"It almost went by too quick, but I still remember the first five to 10 minutes," he explained. "It was very, very tough for me to get used to the style. It’s very hard-nosed, and you’re playing for your country so every game matters. Everyone’s always watching. Everyone [in Iraq] is watching, so it really took me a few minutes. Then I decided, ‘I have to get used to this quickly, or it’s going to be a long night.’ I adjusted great and that was probably the best game I played."

"I took a lot [from the Gulf Cup]. You want to win, but at the same time, those tournaments are to prepare you for the Asian Cup and that’s the prize. That’s the goal for this upcoming January. I’m glad I was able to get my feet wet. I got to know the guys. Everyone is happy I’m around. It’s a good group. I think it was important to get out there, and get used to [international play]."

"It took a lot to understand how international soccer is played. Everyone talks about it, but until you’re actually physically playing it in these countries and these environments, it’s extremely different. It’s not your day-to-day club game, I can tell you that much... Iraq won it in 2007, right? So that’s the goal. 2011, they came up short, so hopefully we can bring joy to our great country by winning the Asian Cup. That would be a dream. That’s first and foremost. We want to get out of our group. It’s a tough group: leading it is Japan, and then you have Palestine and Jordan. We have to get results against Palestine and Jordan for sure, and hopefully get a result against Japan."

"[The fan response] is honestly very overwhelming," he said. "They’re just so happy I chose to play for Iraq and I try to help out as much as I can. If soccer can bring so much joy to them, then half of our job is done. The other half is on the field and getting results. The people are amazing and football is massive in Iraq."

"We know how much it means to the country every time we play."


International experience in Columbus has been light the last few years but we've seen it return a bit with Gregg Berhalter. Meram's experience has already been pretty remarkable, I'm thinking 2015 holds more. The above is gold dust. A player experiencing international play for the first time. One of the many reasons I love this sport.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Measure of Success in MLS

Measuring success and failure is a constant part of my daily life. Did this team succeed in hitting their goals today or did they trip up and fail. In the business world measuring success is not about winning outright in so as much as it is hitting goals. For a practical example, I could say that a 20 person team I have staffed to produce 10 units a person over a 8 hour shift should ship out 200 (or 25 units per hour). In my world, hitting that target is a victory.

What if there were other teams to measure it against. A company across town that produced the same product as me. Would they be doing it at the same rate? If they were more productive, would it be the same quality? Are they using the same materials? Are they paying more?

On the most basic of levels, this is what we are talking about in regards to sporting competition. There can be only one winner in professional leagues across the world but the measurement of success for teams that don't quite get there varies wildly team to team, season to season.

With Major League Soccer we see plenty of trophies that help answer the "my local team didn't win the MLS Cup but did my team have a good year?" question.

Let's do a quick rundown of MLS measurements of success. You've got making the playoffs (10 of 19 teams), winning the conference (East or West), Supporters' Shield winner (team with best record overall) and finally MLS Cup winner. Now - outside of all those things we also have the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions League for teams to achieve. That's a lot of damn things for a league of just 19 teams to earn. Oh, that's to say nothing of the increasingly popular preseason tournaments and mid-season international cups featuring foreign super teams. It's overwhelming really.

How about we strip it down a bit.

MLS sat at 19 teams from 2012-2014. Three full seasons. Gloriously simple since the league plays a Spring to Fall schedule.

Here is how many regular season + playoff MLS games each team has played:

Games Played (Reg Season + Playoffs) - Team
115 - LA Galaxy
113 - Seattle Sounders FC
113 - Houston Dynamo
111 - Real Salt Lake
111 - New York Red Bulls
110 - Sporting Kansas City
109 - New England Revolution
108 - D.C. United
106 - Portland Timbers
105 - FC Dallas
104 - San Jose Earthquakes
104 - Columbus Crew
104 - Vancouver Whitecaps
103 - Montreal Impact
103 - Chicago Fire
103 - Colorado Rapids
102 - Chivas USA
102 - Philadelphia Union
102 - Toronto FC

There you have it, LA is the best MLS team since 2012. Chivas, Philly, TFC are the worst.

Here are Points Earned in MLS Cup Playoffs since 2012 (consider this the playoff table)

Points : Team
24 : LA Galaxy
18 : Houston Dynamo
15 : Seattle Sounders FC
14 : Real Salt Lake
13 : New England Revolution
11 : Sporting Kansas City
9 : New York Red Bulls
8 : D.C. United
6 : Portland Timbers
4 : FC Dallas
3 : San Jose Earthquakes
0 : Vancouver Whitecaps
0 : Columbus Crew
0 : Chicago Fire
0 : Colorado Rapids
0 : Montreal Impact
0 : Philadelphia Union
0 : Chivas USA
0 : Toronto FC

Here is aggregate goal difference since 2012 (including playoffs, of course):

Goal Difference : Team

+70 : LA Galaxy
+39 : Sporting Kansas City, Real Salt Lake
+32 : New York Red Bulls
+30 : Seattle Sounders FC
+14 : New England Revolution
+7 : Portland Timbers
+6 : San Jose Earthquakes
+2 : FC Dallas, Vancouver Whitecaps, Columbus Crew


-3 : Houston Dynamo
-10 : Philadelphia Union
-11 : Chicago Fire
-14 : D.C. United
-20 : Colorado Rapids
-28 : Montreal Impact
-53 : Toronto FC
-103 : Chivas USA

I left it all in there to drive home the differences in team success and failure over the past three MLS seasons.

Now... on to more interesting things; How MLS teams do in the US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions league.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Nothing to the Tin Man


Most-Viewed Club Soccer Match On Any Network in 2014

This is worth noting - much more to this than the all caps headline here (in relationship to MLS) - via press release:



UDN Ranked as the No. 1 Cable Sports Network in Primetime, Outperforming ESPN, ESPN2 and FS1 Among Total Viewers and Adults 18-49. The match, which aired on Univision from 6:55 p.m. – 9:14 p.m. on December 14, 2014, delivered an average of 3.0 million Total Viewers and 1.9 million Adults 18-49.

· This is the most-viewed Liga MX Apertura final since 2006, across all networks.

· This was also the 3rd most-viewed LMX final ever across all networks.

· Univision’s broadcast of the Liga MX Apertura 2014 final between America and Tigres reached 5.4 million Total Viewers who tuned into all or part of the broadcast.

· This is the most-viewed club soccer match on any network in 2014, including English Premier League (EPL), UEFA Champions League, Major League Soccer and other leagues.

· Match drew +113% more Total Viewers and +140% more Adults than the most-viewed EPL match in NBC Networks history (11/22/14, Manchester United - Arsenal on NBC), and bested the UEFA Champions League final on Fox by +55% and +70%, respectively.

· Univision broadcast delivered more viewers than every NHL game airing in the current ’14-15 season on NBC and NBCSN, and 30 of 32 NBA games airing in the current ’14-15 season on ESPN and TNT.

UDN (Univision Deportes Network) ranked as the No. 1 cable sports network in primetime on Sunday, regardless of language, among Total Viewers and Adults 18-49, outperforming ESPN2 by +103% and +117%, ESPN by +42% and +98% and FS1 by +42% and +74%, respectively. UDN had its most-viewed LMX playoffs ever, averaging 438,000 Adults 18-49 per game, besting its prior best playoff average by +21%.

Source: Nielsen, Fast Nationals, NPM, NPMH, L+SD data, LMX final aired 12/14/14, 6:55 p.m.-9:14 p.m. ET.


The highest rated single MLS Cup final on any one network was in the first years of the league when games were broadcast on ABC. The number I have is 1.2 million viewers. More recently MLS Cup finals are getting around 600k viewers on ESPN with a similar number on Univision (without LA that might be a lot lower, which might explain why LA has appeared in 9 of 19 MLS Cup finals).

The growth of almost all pro sports in North America is unstoppable at the moment (save for college basketball, ugh) and with some of the bullet points above it's hard not to say that the impressive, meaningful growth in soccer is coming by way of Mexican soccer and their fans.

Last note here is about player pay. MLS pays the highest individual contracts in North and South America. While it's a big (big) topic to cover, the largest difference in pay comes from the bottom half of MLS. One could argue it's the lack of talent (or type of player MLS wants) in the US. Again, talking much larger topic that is a tricky one to approach.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Podcast: Red Cards in Helltown - Episode XX

Rick Gethin and Larry Johnson return from their travels all around this blue globe with the latest in US soccer as we see it. US Soccer, MLS, CBA... all here and there - and all before noon on a Sunday (whew).

• We're back! Same with LA Galaxy, winning the Cup.
• Garber / Klinsmann, let's hash it out at Lindey's.
• Klinsmann tweet about Champs league players by country link
• MLS stuck in "start-up" mode
• US "Golden Generation" ending?
• Jordan Hamilton (TFC) comments link

• Proper use of MLS Columbus team in Ohio (it's complicated)
• #Crew96 vs #CrewSC
• Roster moves, getting "value"
• Moving Anor (credit Andrew King)
• Josh Williams will be playing with Frank Lampard
• New Icelandic signing will be at every CBJ game
• Arrieta pick was strange
• Orlando decision makers are "new"
• Crew roster at 24-ish, 75% carryover minutes
• 29:35.. A couple important minutes on Williams, Anor and Gehrig

• Brian Straus' SI.com article on CBA
• Controlling costs, 20 years in
• Player movement, how owners spend
• New owners changing league?
• The money is there, just that MLS wants all of it.
• Addressing structural issues with MLS a good place to start
• FIAT 500 is a nice car:)

• Alexi Lalas Mission Statment...
• ... Rick is Jacked!

Thanks for listening.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Latest

Major League Soccer Offseason. Bored? Fall to Spring it be!

MLS needs 5-6 more Southern U.S. based clubs, (for example: a minimum of one more Florida franchise, a Tennessee club, a Carolina club, a third Texas team, Las Vegas and San Diego). And the Major League Soccer season needs to run from early August to late May/first week of June.

Why? Glad you asked.

Major League Soccer's playoffs need to stop going up against college and professional footballs' most exciting few weeks, Mid-November through Mid-December. Trying to grab mainstream TV, print, and radio attention this time of year is a losing battle at this point in Major League Soccer's development. If the playoffs and MLS Cup final finished before the NBA and NHL finals' series started, there would be very little in the way of headline grabbing, competitive overlap for viewership.

Major League Soccer could start the first three weekends of August play seeing the Southern tier clubs travel north. Winter break would start after the weekend before Christmas. The final two weeks of the fall portion of the season would see the Northern clubs travel south.

Now...the most exciting part!

After a three week winter break, all league clubs could gather in one or two cities like Las Angeles, CA., Las Vegas, NV., Miami or Orlando, FL. The NBA does a July summer league in Vegas, and it gets more and more popular every year. Three weeks of winter training and games in true winter destination cities would provide the league an opportunity to really sell itself and its players at a prolonged, up close, fan-oriented event. Think supporter's summit, bar hops, etc. The possible tie-in events are legion.

The Spring half of the season could start the first or second weekend in February. The first two or three games could once again take place in the league's Southern cities.

This schedule gets Major League Soccer on FIFA's calendar. It leaves seven weeks of the summer open for national team competition and a pre-season summer version of the winter carnival in one or two of the mostest fun Northern MLS cities. As a bonus, there would be no need for the MLS, what the hell are we doing?, All-Star game.

I've not been a fan of changing the schedule...in the past. Now that the league is back in Florida, hopefully in Las Vegas, in Atlanta, etc., I am jumping to the other side. The change makes sense in so many ways.

It may take a few more years and teams to make this possible (maybe a scheduling genius could make it work with only two or three more Southern United States based clubs?), but little things like the rhythm of North American life, weather patterns and maximizing exposure seem to indicate, at least through these rose-colored glasses, a change is needed.

To Copa, or To Cup? That is the Question

(Making a Cup/Copa? From the movie Ghost)
(Is Patrick Swayze the United States, or is Demi Moore?)

Recently, Liga MX president, Decio De Maria unveiled the possibility of a Cup/Copa competition between Major League Soccer clubs and their counterparts in the Liga MX. Read Mark Baber's article Inside World Football.

The view from both sides of the border seems similar, capitalize on the marketability of high profile games between the clubs of two substantial leagues which grow closer and closer to being competitive equals each year. Funny thing though, now, unlike in the past, games between teams such as Pachuca and the Columbus Crew would seem to benefit the Mexican sides more than the U.S. and Canadian based sides. This seems counter-intuitive; but, hear me out.

The U.S. market for all things professional soccer: TV, advertising, sponsorship, ticket sales, merchandising, etc. is growing rapidly. Read David Keyes Soccer is no longer America's sport of the future. And this Nielson article Beautiful Game: Soccer in the U.S. Could be a Win for Advertisers and Programmers Alike

This growth includes the Mexican/Hispanic demographic in the United States. Traditionally, the Mexican American population has watched more Liga MX soccer than MLS, the various South American Leagues, the EPL or European League soccer. This still holds true, in a very overwhelming way. Read Seth Vertelney on GOAL Liga MX is television ratings king in the United States. But with the money and quality of play increasing in Major League Soccer, and more and more young Hispanic and Mexican players finding their way into MLS Academies, read Primetime Sports and Entertainment's How US Hispanic Participation Will Shape American Soccer, it is only a matter of time before the Hispanic-American demographic begins shifting a greater portion of its soccer devotion over to clubs in the United States. Importantly, this shift will mean major $$$ to the United States domestic league.

If I were Decio De Maria, president of Liga MX, I would be doing exactly what he is attempting. I would partner, in any way possible, with the fastest growing soccer league in this hemisphere, and possibly the world, Major League Soccer.

I am not ignoring the real potential for MLS to exploit such a relationship. But, the game is changing. Don Garber needs to carefully measure moves like throwing his teams into multination competitions, this includes the current Concacaf Champions League. Major League Soccer now has a lot to offer wherever it travels.

Major League Soccer is competing with Liga MX for, not only the Hispanic/Mexican soccer fan in the United States, Major League Soccer is competing to be THE professional soccer league in the Americas, and will be increasingly as each new season approaches. Perhaps the most important steps MLS will take in the next few years will be...

1. Improving the on field quality of each MLS club until they are on par with Liga Mx sides.

2. Embracing the Hispanic players and communities throughout the United States as they assimilate into the U.S. culture (whatever that is? ; )

Bottom line, MLS will grow going forward. The question is, how much? Liga MX could be losing viewership going forward. To whom are partnerships like a Liga/MLS Cup/Copa more valuable? Who has more to gain/lose?

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

If Anthony Precourt, Gregg Berhalter and the Columbus Crew SC...

Are serious about turning our beloved Crew into something which transcends anything that has come before on the Columbus sports landscape, then...

Alan Pulido
Carlos Vela
(pictured above: left and right)

are the kind of attacking players they should be breaking the bank
to offer Black and Gold jerseys

Spending the kind of money needed to grab hold of young attacking quality, such as the two above, must carry with it the real possibility of seeing a return on investment. As I mentioned in my previous post  Berhalter Spotted in the Heart of Gold Spaceship Mexico is a logical and prudent direction to look for the kind of players who can both greatly improve the quality and marketability of the club.

There are thousands of Mexican ex-pats living in Columbus. Anyone who has gone to a Crew game in the last few years knows that the number of those ex-pats showing up to games on Hudson Street is a small sliver of the overall Mexican and Mexican-American population in our town. 

If Anthony Precourt and Greg Berhalter want to extend the reach of the newly rebranded Crew, they have to begin including ALL the soccer fans in Columbus. The only meaningful way to achieve this is player personnel. These players would cost millions. You're looking at $1.5 million/year for each of these players. But they are the kind of players who have a damn good chance of selling enough tickets and jerseys to more than cover the financial risk.

The ball is in our owner's end of the field. The television money is beginning to skyrocket. There will be a new Collective Bargaining Agreement before the 2015 season kicks off. NOW is the time to make this sort of move. Engaging  Columbus' futbol loving Mexican-American residents (and just for the heck-of-it, let's make some front office moves that open doors for the soccer fanatic Somali residents who call Columbus home) would be a game changer of epic proportions. The resulting cosmopolitan feel to a night in Crew Stadium would be sublime.

PS: I realize Vela's transfer fee would be silly big.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Crew SC Protect, Expose, Make Moves Ahead of Expansion Draft

This draft is strange animal. The purpose of it is to help along new teams without having to field an existing team before entering the league (even though Orlando City SC did have a team). In theory, it's suppose to help maintain the level playing field that the league wants - while behind the scenes it helps control cost of starting up a fully professional "top division" team from scratch (more at bottom).

Whether this mechanism works on the competitive level is up for serious debate. Recent expansion teams in Toronto, Vancouver, Philadelphia, Montreal and even Portland (save for one year) have been mid to bottom half teams since they joined. In fact, one could make the argument that the expansion draft dilutes a limited pool of players and drags the overall quality in the league down... is probably a topic worth exploring further, in another post.

On the financial front, it's been a cost saver for expansion teams because they don't have to give up anything for MLS level players. There are league granted "allocation funds" given to teams that have players plucked but it costs little else. With the next two waiver drafts coming up along with a number of picks in the college draft, new teams can have full rosters in no time for basically nothing. They don't even have to flip the bill for developing any players. Magic.

Every existing Major League Soccer team had to submit their "protected" list of 11 players yesterday as required by the expansion draft rules. Both Orlando City SC and New York City FC get to pick ten players each from every exposed list of players from each team.

Before the draft even started, Gregg Berhalter and Company got to work trying to get something in return for valuable players that they were not going to protect. That ended up coming by way of to of the longest tenured guys in Josh Williams (sent to NYCFC for reported more than the would have received from the draft) and Bernardo Anor (to Sporting KC, no word on what the Crew got in return).

GK Steve Clark
D Waylon Francis
D Michael Parkhurst
D Emanuel Pogatetz
MF Tony Tchani
MF Hector Jimenez
MF Romain Gall
MF Ethan Finlay
MF Justin Meram
MF Federico Higuaín
F Kei Kamara

Exempt: GK Matt Lampson (HGP), D *Ross Friedman (HGP), D *Matt Wiet (HGP), D Chad Barson (HGP), CDM Wil Trapp (HGP), MF *Matt Walker (HGP), D Ben Swanson (HGP) and MF Mohammed Saied (new signing)

A couple notes: First off, it gives you an idea of what the starting line up might look like. Second off; this draft blows your 18 to smithereens (where Williams and Anor would have been).

Next up is who the MLS Columbus did not protect, along with a quick player rating (out of stars ✪) and some notes by yours truly:

Ben Sweat, 23 (LB) ✪✪✪
Admittedly didn't see as much as I should have (Crew closed scrimmages save for the one in Dayton) but I liked what I saw when I did. He's better with the ball than your average college left back, confident and makes good decisions. You can tell when a player knows what he's doing, and he's one. Too early to tell if he is starter quality but I think an expansion side is just what the doctor ordered with a player like Sweat. He needs game time.

Ben Speas, 23 (CM) ✪✪✪
In three years in Columbus, Ben has proven he can play in MLS. In fact, I should probably put him above Sweat, but I'm leaving it as is. He could easily be a four star guy. Maybe he is. There is something about him that keeps him right on the fringe of starting under two coaching staffs now. I've seen two sides of the player. One fully engaged in the action and another, towards the end of this season, where he was letting the game happen around him. In my heart of hearts, I want him to get picked up by NYCFC so he can start along side Josh Williams. Don't care what the scouts or advanced stats might say about the two. If you have both of them starting you will finish in the top half or they will die trying to get you there. What more should you ask for in MLS.

*Agustin Viana, 31 (LB, CDM) ✪✪✪
There is enough MLS footage out there to tell you that Viana is league ready. What he lacks in speed he makes up with in skill. Too often MLS teams look at speed. Viana didn't fit Berhalter's wing back role and was overlooked as a central defensive mid off the bench behind Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp. Also had a couple injuries. He's out of contract with the Crew and not likely back either way but would be a solid pick up for anyone.

Brad Stuver, 23 (GK) ✪✪
I'd give Stuver two and a half stars if I could figure out the alt-code. I think a lot of the same things about him as I do with Sweat. These guys need game time. Stuver's performance against Indy Eleven this year (in a blowout loss, but that's were you get the best looks at GKs) was inspiring. He also played well with Wilmington Hammerheads to close out the USL Pro season, including two late season shutouts against league leaders Sacramento and Orlando.

*Eric Gehrig, 26 (CB, RB) ✪✪
Playing or not, Gehrig is the quintessential team guy. That's, by far, his number one attribute. In all honesty, I hesitate to put something like that down as a label for a player this day and age. Not a sports show (especially on the MLS site) goes by without pundits mentioning how much heart and grit a guy plays with. It annoying and used so much that it minimizes the meaning when a someone actually has those things. Gehrig has mostly been role player in his four years with the Crew with the exception of the back end of 2014, where he helped propel the team into 3rd place in the East.

Tyson Wahl, 30 (CB, LB) ✪✪
Like Gehrig, contributed greatly towards the end of 2014. Even, it appeared, kept a major team signing in Emanuel Pogatetz on the bench. Plenty on Wahl. Durable, probably the first word that springs to mind. He seems to find good teams, good coaches. Something to be said for that.

*Jairo Arrieta, 31 (F) ✪✪+
Before last season, Arrieta was a four or even a five star player. Something happened along the way and I'm not quite sure what. I do believe there is another couple productive years for Jairo but I feel sort of bad for him this year as Berhalter decided to go with Adam Bedell and Aaron Schoenfeld over him. I put a little + up there because he's the perfect player for a team to pick up (expansion or otherwise). He's still on the outer fringes of the Costa Rican national team and looking to impress.

The rest:
Kevan George, 24 (CDM, CB) ✪✪
Aaron Schoenfeld, 24 (CF) ✪✪
Adam Bedell, 23 (CF) ✪
*Daniel Paladini, 30 (CDM, RM)
*Kingsley "Fifi" Baiden, 23 (CDM)

*Currently out of contract with the Crew SC.

To fully understand why something like this exists in the world of soccer means you have to accept that a team can buy their way directly into the highest tier vs starting from the lowest tier and working their way up. Some might say that the top divisions buy their way in via best players, which is true, but those players still have to perform and you are also talking about a very small percentage of teams. The other 99% of clubs are grinding their way.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Berhalter Spotted in the Heart of Gold Spaceship!

Photo: From the Magnificent Douglas Adams Book

Ever since the Columbus Crew Soccer Club's disastrous finish to the 2014 season, the Crew's coach, Gregg Berhalter, was thought to be lounging somewhere in the offices of Crew Stadium sipping on leftover draft beer. Rumors were spreading in regards to Coach Berhalter's utter despondency over losing to the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Finals. There were even whispers linking the sporting director to Frankie Hejduk's barber.

The Helltown Beer Blog can confirm that none of the above is true (well, maybe the barber thing has some validity, but don't expect Gregg Berhalter to equal Frankie Hejduk's length or style by first kick 2015). The real scoop is Coach Berhalter and Josh Wolff have been using the Infinite Improbability Drive, which powers the Heart of Gold spaceship, to travel unnoticed to far-flung places such as Sweden and Egypt. Armed with nothing more than towels, smiles and exceedingly cheery dispositions, the two Crew coaches have signed Mohammed Saeid and hope to ink Omar Gaber.

These two recent developments, following on the heels of Kei Kamara's re-joining the Crew, help solidify Gregg Berhalter as one of the top minds in Major League Soccer. The Columbus Crew SC, with new owner, brand and marketing in hand, want to break attendance records, win championships and establish the Black and Gold as a sophisticated worldwide entity. Finding where the true soccer nuts in Columbus hibernate, barely noticing the old hardhat wearing Crew, was critical.

For almost twenty years the Columbus Crew front office milked the tried and true suburbanite soccer families of Central Ohio. The ebb and flow seen on the attendance front was easily predicted. 

Turning the thousands of Crew averse sleepy soccer nuts into Black and Gold SC fanatics, while continuing to reach out to the core fan base, apparently, required the Herculean efforts of Anthony Precourt, Gregg Berhalter and a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to International Soccer (not to mention The Heart of Gold). These latest moves, by one of Major League Soccer's best young managerial minds, are quite clever and may pay super-sized dividends long into the future.

Kei Kamara, Mohammed Saeid and Omar Gaber are all quality soccer players. Kamara is an MLS proven commodity, while Saeid and Gaber are young internationals who complement Gregg Berhalter's rapidly developing Crew squad. The icing on top is the fact that these signings have the power to tap into the large and soccer passionate international community in Columbus.

Kamara, Saeid and Gaber, as well as Justin Meram, now playing for the Iraq National Team, give the Columbus Crew a unique international flavor. Kamara grew up in Sierra Leone, having moved to the United States at the age of sixteen. Saeid, born in Sweden and a veteran at the age of 24, brings European pedigree to Columbus. Gaber, Egyptian and having national team level experience, will be the first Egyptian to play in Major League Soccer...if he signs. Meram, born and raised in the U.S., is the unique case of an American citizen playing for a Middle Eastern country.

Columbus boasts a large Somali population. This group of recent immigrants is quite crazy for the soccer. Through Ohio State University, Columbus can also boast a growing and varied international population. Finally, there are a substantial number of people living in Columbus who count Mexico as their country of origin. Maybe coach Berhalter should look to a our neighbors to the south for the Crew's next addition? 

Whether they be home grown, European, African, Middle Eastern, or Mexican, Gregg Berhalter finding and signing young talented players from a diversity of locales can only help win games, and perhaps just as important, bring thousands more Columbus, Ohio citizens out to see the ever more sophisticated, worldwide entity known as The Columbus Crew Soccer Club.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

LA Wins '14 MLS Cup

Bruce Arena ]$20k[ anerA ecurB

STEVEN GOFF: It’s a forgiving league because you can start slowly and turn it on before the playoffs, right?

BRUCE ARENA: That has often been the case.

STEVEN GOFF: Do you plan to make any significant roster moves before the Sept. 15 deadline?

BRUCE ARENA: No, we are fine. I don’t know what you can do at this point — even though, the way things have been happening [in MLS] lately, God knows what could possibly happen.


A few months back The Washington Post's "Soccer Insider" Steven Goff interviewed Bruce Arena in the wake of New England being awarded, via blind draw, Jermaine Jones. Whether it was timing, luck, or Arena letting off some steam about not getting Sacha Kljestan - Goff caught Arena at his very annoyed Brooklynite best.

Arena would go on to give this infamous quote: “Because they are children and there have to be adults in the process, and we didn’t have enough of them. I think we are back into the old days in the league when the rules are somewhat arbitrary. Hopefully we will get that straightened out in the offseason.”

Arena likely knew that Jermaine Jones is be the proverbial "game-changer" and he wanted something similar out in L.A. with Kljestan. Turns out Jones was a guy that did bring a team back from the dead in New England to go nearly unbeaten in there last 13 games to, as Goff puts it; "..turn it on before the playoffs."

The reason I'm bringing this back up now is because Arena just did another longer form interview with Sports Illustrated's Grant Wahl where is tune has curiously changed.

As soon as you follow the link to the piece you are greeted with a grinning ear to ear, slightly past magic hour photograph of Bruce Arena and an opening from Wahl:

CARSON, Calif. — Bruce Arena is bullish on America: On MLS, on the development of young soccer players and on the future of the sport here.

What follows is 4,000 words that might as well have been about the professional looking photo at the top of the page --- A confident, successful man in focus with calming afternoon hues blurred behind him as he is about to play an important match --- is my assessment of both the piece and the photo.

However, the other side of this piece that I see is that of Arena as a post third-largest-fine-in-league-history man.

Don Garber, MLS commissioner, had a busy year. Taking on prostate cancer and navigating the World Cup chief among them - but it was also taking on the two USA National Team coaches in Bruce Arena and Jurgen Klinsmann.

The tool Garber employed in trying to getting Klinsmann in line was a public lashing. The result wasn't all the successful and mostly left Garber with egg on his face. With Arena the punishment was easy, as he is employed by the league and Garber is his superior. Fine him $20,000. Amazing how suddenly attitudes and approach change after that.

Late on in Sports Illustrated's December 4th Arena interview, Grant Wahl asks him about the difference between East and West Coast mentalities that I think explains how a fine can change a man from Brooklyn.

SI.COM: What does an East Coast mentality mean to you?

ARENA: I think you have a work ethic. You’re honest. You say what you think. What I’ve found: Athletes and coaches are confident, arrogant people. That’s why they’re good at what they do. They’re elite people in their profession, so they have confidence. We often run into people that object to things we do and say, because they’ve never been in that environment and they have thin skin, and they can’t deal with criticism and all of that.

SI.COM: What is your life like out here?

ARENA: It’s pretty good. I get to see the Pacific Ocean every day. I have grandchildren living around the corner. I like the weather. I like the culture of L.A. I like basically everything here. It’s a great community. It’s obviously pretty diverse. Just a different way of life.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Soccer, Intolerance, Beauty, Brutality, Dreams

A comment left by a regular reader, Kyle, of the Helltown Beer Blog got me thinking. Kyle's comment on my post The Middle East and Safety at the 2022 World Cup pointed out the difficulty inherent in writing about soccer when the sport so intimately wraps itself around and weaves itself through the social, political and cultural aspects of our often agonizing world.

As if to prove the tapestry of soccer and life are ever intertwined, earlier this season I wrote about The Columbus Crew's Justin Meram, Do Over! And then, Presto!, Justin was offered the chance to play for his father's country of birth, Iraq, at the end of the Crew's 2014 season.

This triumvirate of stories, Qatar 2022, Justin Meram and his breakout season and Justin Meram being called up to the Iraq National Team, blend together with almost every possible color and texture of the human existence.

A young man, Justin Meram, who plays the sport of soccer and is a United States citizen is offered the chance to play for the national team of a country, Iraq, which is torn apart by war, both cultural and physical. The United States is intimately involved in the war in Iraq.

Iraq's region of the world, the Middle East, is a region in turmoil. The struggle between those who seek tolerance and freedom, and those who wish to continue a long tradition of intolerance and repression rages throughout the Middle East.

Qatar is part of the Middle East, a very small part in terms of land mass and population, but a very large part in terms of wealth. And yet, despite this wealth, the rulers of Qatar cling to the long tradition of intolerance and repression.

I wonder, what was Jutin's reaction to the call-up? And what was the discussion like between father and son when Justin Meram was offered the chance to play for his father's nation of birth? For a glimpse of what may have transpired read this story from www.clickondetroit.com and Kelly Haapala. While there is no mention of Meram's interaction with his father, Justin's own excitement tells you a lot about what playing for Iraq means to him.

Justin's story is an example of the positive product that can emerge from the collision between soccer and life. But there are factions: violent, intolerant and influential factions throughout the Middle East which make Justin's story both inspiring and a cautionary tale.

It is the very culture in much of the Middle East which allows intolerance and systematic rape, murder and torture to continue on such a horrific scale. Qatar is not an outlier to this vicious intolerance. And yet, Qatar has been awarded the beautiful game's most beloved competition.

I hope Justin Meram can continue his dream of playing soccer for his father's home country. I also hope that World Cup 2022 is taken from Qatar. Our beautiful game's greatest and most visible moment should not have the remotest chance of being used to glorify, justify, and legitimize a culture which practices such hate and brutality.

The most difficult aspect of taking in and processing Qatar, the World Cup and Justin Meram's dream is the fact that this triumvirate are not mutually exclusive of each other. Dreams and beauty exist even in the darkest of moments.