Sunday, August 31, 2014

Podcast: Red Cards in Helltown Episode XIII

• Jermaine Jones "blind draw," New England got him
• Getting that +1 or +2 home game (playoffs) critical
• Guardian piece (link) on Jones
• Steve Goff and Bruce Arena interview, Washington Post (link)
• (the competitive format, MLS speed bump)

• "Montreal shut them down" - Rick Gethin
• Number Nine conversation (Bedell) conversation
• Crew got out possessed in the first half
• ...more Bedell conversation, giving fair shake
• Every minute is an investment in a player
• Berhalter audio, every game is like a final, comments
• Inexperience traveling, midsummer game
• "The perfect Josh Williams game"
• Berhalter audio, individual battles
• Sharpness wasn't there

• Ultimate Parity, LET'S GET TO THE RESULTS!
• LA going on a rampage since Crew
• Sporting being un-sporting
• Some Toronto comments (right before Nelsen got let go)
• Relying on a system, knowing and understanding your process
• Playoff picture, if that's your thing
• Toronto falling has created a cluster
• Colorado epic collapse
• Las Vegas expansion news (link)

• Pro radio man Larry messes up audio during live recording, blames a cat

57:20 HEADLINE(s)
• Sports Business Journal, U.S. soccer growth (link)

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Predictions: Crew Rd 26, Away in Montreal

Crew travel to Stade Saputo to face Montreal Impact this evening, 7:30 PM EST.

CLB: Full travel roster (19), not always the case this year
CLB: On have one win in last 10 away (5 draw, 4 loss)
CLB: Back line questions remain, Finlay, Meram in MF form
MTL: Montreal have conceded at least 2 goals in 7 of their last 8
MTL: Outside of CCL play, season all but over for Impact
MTL: Former Crew man Dilly Duka should be in lineup tonight

Number on far left is percentage accuracy picking result. In parentheses is correct picks in last ten games.

44% (5) MLSSOCCER ... DRAW
36% (4) BET365 ... COLUMBUS CREW
--% (-) WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)
--% (-) MASSIVE REPORT ... (no pick)

Adam Jardy of the Columbus Dispatch writes in today's paper that it would be "shocking" if the Crew lose this one. Over at, Graham Ruthven talks about the Crew going through a "mini revival." Home base hype machine doesn't trust Columbus quite yet, somewhat surprisingly has 4 of the 6 on panel going with a draw.

Over at the betting sites we see that the Crew hold slight edge. has home and away at 13/8 draw at 23/10. Win Draw Win your vote sections likes the Crew here, 44% of the vote (MTL 20%). Large Stake is on 0-1 Away.

Montreal's home record this year is abysmal, as is there overall, but the Crew Away record doesn't exactly sparkle either (one win in last ten). That said, seems to be little question that the Columbus Crew are favorites tonight.

The only question tonight for the Crew is how the team will approach this match tactically in the back. Even with Giancarlo Gonzalez, head coach Gregg Berhalter holds back a little bit on the road. With two big wins in as many weeks at home one wonders if he will approach this one the same way. There's no reason he shouldn't, but there is some risk there of some 'in form' role players regressing. Especially a few of the less experienced ones, as this match is on the road.

For a full preview on the match head over to Massive Report to check out Pat Murphy's conversation with Sofiane Benzaza of Mount Royal Soccer.

Weather looks agreeable, partly cloudy and in the mid to high 70s.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bruce Arena Prior to Game at Crew Stadium, Aug 2014

Continuing my search and share of never used MLS pictures; Above is a photo by Joe Maiorna taken for USA Today Sports. It is a photo that I very much like. Bruce Arena is a larger than life figure to guys like me. He's one of the only guys in the league left that transcends Major League Soccer. For a league that boasts about only engaging 18-34 year old demographic new to the sport (and actively discouraging the rest), there is something about that I like.

"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." - Bruce Arena, in my favorite interview of the year with Steve Goff of the Washington Post.

Arena helped drag the sport out of the post NASL era and put the USA back on the worldwide soccer map. In this picture he is seen strolling the touchline of a stadium that he, at least in some part, has something to do with. Now one of his students, a generation or so on, is coaching the Columbus Crew in Gregg Berhalter.

Did I mention that this is a picture I very much like?

Kei Kamara, or Trade?

So, this yellow shirted gentleman is Kei Kamara. He is 30 years old. He was born and raised in Sierra Leone. He moved to the states when he was 16.

Mr. Kamara is a forward. He has played a number of years in Major League Soccer. He has played for Columbus (appearing in 36 games), San Jose (12 games), Houston (32 games) and Kansas City. Kansas City is the club for which Kamara played the longest period of time, 5 years.

Recently, Kei Kamara has been knocking the ball around England, first with Norwich City for 11 games, and then with Middlesbrough for 25 games. He and Middlesbrough have parted ways. With the exception of Kansas City, it seems Kei Kamara has had a difficult time staying in one place for long.

The Columbus Crew hold the first spot in Major League Soccer's allocation order. If the Crew want Kamara, and Kamara wants to play in Columbus, he is the Black and Gold's to have. But does Kei Kamara fit into what Gregg Berhalter has been building the last nine months? Would Gregg Berhalter and the Columbus Crew be better off trading the first allocation spot to another Major League Soccer team for a different sort of forward?

Rumor has it that Kamara wants to be in Kansas City or Vancouver. Rumors are often flights of fancy born on the wings of angels made out of milk chocolate and caramel. But...let's suppose the rumors are a tad bit more than sweet dreams floating heavenward.

Vancouver and Sporting KC have some interesting forwards on their rosters. Forwards that, on the surface at least, would seem to make a much more comfortable fit with the Crew's existing roster and style of play.

Take for example:

These young men are, in order from top to bottom: Soony Saad, 22-year-old currently playing for Kansas City; CJ Sapong, 25-year-old currently playing for Kansas City; and Darren Mattocks, 24-year-old currently playing for Vancouver.

All three of these footballers are dynamic young strikers. In Saad's case you have a player who left college, University of Michigan, at the age of 19, having scored a freshman record nineteen goals. Soony also lit up his high school senior season with 76 goals.

CJ Sapong played four years at James Madison University. His 20 goals in 103 appearances for Kansas City hint at his fearless attitude inside the opposing teams penalty area.

Darren Mattocks played at Akron University for two years. He helped lead the Zips to a national title his freshmen year. Mattocks scored 39 goals in just 47 appearances for Akron.

Each of these players brings something unique to the field. Saad is a clever striker, who frustrates defenders with quick off-the-ball movement. Sapong is a handful for any Major League Soccer defender. He is strong and disruptive. Mattocks is, perhaps, the finest athlete in MLS. All three possess above average skill on the ball and the ability to read the game well.

All three would be a better fit with Greg Berhalter's Columbus Crew than would Kei Kamara. They are young and would find many contemporaries within the Crew's roster. They each bring something to the forward position which the Crew do not currently get from their stable of strikers. With the exception of CJ Sapong, they have another year or two to develop who they are as players.

If the Black and Gold can work out a deal for one of these young players, and not lose too much of their allocation money in the process, Gregg Berhalter and his staff will still have enough wiggle room going into next season to sign two players of Frederico Higuain's stature.

Allocation money, cap room and an owner willing to add another moderately priced Designated Player in January or February would make the Columbus Crew a force in Major League Soccer.
Snatching-up one of the three young forwards above would be a coup for Gregg Berhalter as the 2014 season rushes to a close. If a trade is possible, Mr. Berhalter should make it...NOW! If the trade deadline has passed, then the Crew should make the same deal the day the season ends or as soon as the impenetrable rules of MLS allow.

*Update: The trade deadline is September 15th.

Edit: In case I wasn't clear, along with the first allocation spot the Crew would have to include some of their allocation money in order to get any of the three young players above.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

More Difficult: Getting Young Players Significant Minutes in Major League Soccer

Or keeping them once they begin to show better than average MLS ability?

Answer: Keeping quality young players, especially those in which you have invested money and first team minutes.

This catch 22 effects the Columbus Crew no differently than any other team in MLS. The better the organization is at finding rough gems and then polishing those gems into a quality Major League Soccer players, the greater the chance the organization will lose that player.

Now, that is no different across sports. Quality is always in demand. But, the consistently competitive (striving for MLS Cup titles, entry into CCL and Supporters Shield trophies) teams, especially those without deep-pocketed owners willing to splash Dempsey/Bradley money on transfer fees and salaries, have one thing in common. They find ways to keep the majority of their talented twenty-something-year-olds in the fold.

The Columbus Crew possess the largest group of Major League Soccer emerging, young, tested and proven talent. The proof is in this season's results, a record of 8 wins 8 losses 9 ties. The proof is in the plus 3 goal differential. The proof is in the 1.4 goals per game average. And finally, the proof is in the collection of young talent which has played significant minutes this year, and in some cases for three years running.

Bernardo Anor--26yr.--Hard working, flexible midfielder who adds the occasional goal

Ethan Finlay--24yr--Dynamic wing/forward who is showing signs of future 15-20 goal seasons

Waylon Francis--23yr--Speedy defensive left back, good on the cross, likes to get forward

Eric Gehrig--26yr--Long time project who is beginning to "get it" Role player, but very valuable

Hector Jimenez--25yr--Right sided mid/defender, good fit for Berhalter's system

Justin Meram--25yr--Another potential 15 goal scorer

Tony Tchani--25yr--Holding mid, manager has kept the faith and is being rewarded

Will Trapp--21yr--Holding mid, good young player with great upside still untapped

Josh Williams--26yr--Tough role player. Still needs to improve decision making and skill set

The Columbus Crew are at Major League Soccer's version of the tipping point. If the Black and Gold can keep the above young players (along with Higuain, Parkhurst and Clark) during this off-season, they will be well on their way to making the 2015 playoffs.

Losing even two or three of the youngsters throws next season into doubt. Keeping all of them and then adding two or three Higuain level players with our available allocation dollars and next year's larger salary cap puts the Columbus Crew in striking distance of Supporters Shield contender.

The Crew's under 26 crowd is a hard won group. They are a group which can play in this league. To lose them now is to trust the 2015 season to unproven youngsters and hoped for chemistry amongst new signings, unproven talent and two or three veterans.

Never underestimate the value of MLS tested players. DC United is a perfect example. United signed a number of MLS veterans in the off-season. It took a couple weeks, but those MLS veterans in DC gelled and now they are in 1st place.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Genius, or Just Like the Rest of Us, Lucky on Occasion?

The man in the photo above is Gregg Berhalter. Mr. Berhalter is the coach and sporting director of the Columbus Crew.

The 2014 Columbus Crew have been enigmatic, even by Arthur Dent's (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) standards. Take for example the three game win streak at the beginning of the season. No, really, take it; because it was, up until two weeks ago, the only real black and gold highlight of the current Major League Soccer season.

That three game win streak was followed by a nineteen game stretch which included nine ties and eight losses. If you're following along and doing the math, the Columbus Crew's record during that nineteen game trek through the dark-matter filled universe was 2-9-8. 2-9-8 does not add up to 42, and so, is not the answer to the question: Life, the universe, and everything.

To be brutally honest (fiction is an honest man's escape hatch in a universe gone mad with screaming selfies dripping blood), 2-9-8 is the kind of record that finds a coach floating through the space time continuum known as the National Soccer Coaches Association of America Convention. 2-9-8 coach would be shaking hands, smiling, drinking beer and trying to convince at least one college athletic director that 2-9-8 was due to the stinginess of an aloof, absent billionaire team owner. Luckily, there is always one athletic director (usually drinking alone in his hotel suite while dreaming of division 1 national football championships), who switched from beer to whiskey on the second day of the convention. This particular athletic director is willing to listen to 2-9-8 coach's desperately passionate soliloquy on the next great tactical breakthrough in the beautiful game; because, this particular athletic director is not hearing a word of 2-9-8's desperately passionate soliloquy.

2-9-8, for Gregg Berhalter, was not a firing offense (no NSCAA slobbering for coach Berhalter this winter). Gregg Berhalter is a first year coach in the single entity league known as Major League Soccer. The honeymoon for coaches in Major League Soccer is a minimum of two years. Certainly, 2-9-8 is the stepping stone to being fired during an MLS coach's second year.

But, Gregg Berhalter and the Columbus Crew have done some unique things during year one of the Precourt/Berhalter era. First, they signed up with Time Warner Cable. (I won't get into this, it's not what this post is about, but there must be some beacon at the end of the stinking, rotten TWC tunnel which has yet to be set aflame) Second, Gregg Berhalter and his coaching staff have neglected to use 25% of the available salary cap this year. This decision, and its ramifications, is the motivation behind this post.

Why has Gregg Berhalter and the Columbus Crew decided to forego the chance to add one or two quality players to the roster? The fact that the Crew have been competitive throughout the season, even during the 2-9-8 stretch, casts a disparaging light on the lack of quality additions to the roster.

On an edition of Red Cards in Helltown I called the lack of signings "insulting." I stand by that assessment. It was clear after only 6-8 games that the Crew, under Gregg Berhalter's guidance were making significant progress in many ways. The team had adopted an attractive style of play. The team  was dictating the rhythm and pace of play. The defense and new goalie, Steve Clark, were keeping games close. Many of the young players on the team were showing glimpses of quality. The one thing that was so obviously missing was a proven goal scorer.

From the beginning of the season, the Crew have had the money to bring in a quality striker. $700,000 in salary cap space buys a darn good Major League Soccer goal-getter. Anthony Precourt may have needed to lay out some transfer money, but clearly, a goal every other game sort of player would have turned half of the ties during 2-9-8 into wins, and two or three of the losses would have been ties. The Columbus Crew would be at or near the top of the 2014 Eastern Division standings.

Why has Gregg Berhalter not brought in the type of player who would add to the significant progress he has already helped foster? Is there some sort of genius, Ford Prefect like plan to steal the Major League Soccer equivalent of the Heart of Gold spaceship powered by the Infinite Improbability Drive? I've begun to think...perhaps there is?

The first few months of the season I felt like Marvin, the Paranoid Android. Nothing could cheer me up. Losses and Ties piled atop each other. But, dammit, the stuff Gregg Berhalter was sprinkling on his team was working, he just needed a consistent striker. Where was the damn signing? Why weren't we using the $700,000 in cap space that may as well have been slowly burned two dollars every minute starting in March?

I don't feel quite like Marvin, the Paranoid Android anymore. What's changed? Why do I think the scarf around Gregg Berhalter's neck in the picture above is really a towel? And does he have a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy in his pocket? Has Gregg Berhalter been in possession of The Heart of Gold spaceship all along?

I think...maybe so. Here's why.

During the upcoming off-season two new teams will join Major League Soccer, New York City Football Club and Orlando City Soccer Club. There will be an expansion draft. Only so many players on the Columbus Crew's roster can be protected. If past predicts future, in regards to the rules for the 2015 expansion draft, the Crew will be able to protect 11 players. On top of that, the Crew's home grown players are safe. DP's, Higuain, without a no-trade clause are automatically protected.

Now, take a look at who Gregg Berhalter has played this year. I mean consistently played.

Clark, Parkhurst, Gonzalez (just sold, but significance I'll get to in a minute), Francis, Gehrig, Williams, Jimenez, Anor, Meram, Finlay, Higuain, Trapp, Tchani, Arrieta and now Bedell and Schonfeld.

Not a whole lot of names on that list. Gregg Berhalter chose the players he felt worked best together in his possession/attacking-with-numbers system early on. He has stuck with them.

Let's break the list down and see if Berhalter can protect most or all of these players in the upcoming expansion draft.

Trapp--is home grown, he's safe
Higuain--a DP, if he doesn't have a no-trade clause he's safe
Gonzalez--sold to Serie-A side. Gained a boat load of allocation money, as well as over a million for the Crew's development academy. The importance of this should not be ignored. The leap in Gonzalez's value was not Berhalter's doing, but the timing could not have been better for the Crew's future going forward. It's almost as if the Infinite Improbability Drive was engaged.

That leaves 13 players who have played important minutes for the Columbus Crew this season. Gregg Berhalter can choose to protect 11 of the remaining players. Here's who he will protect. Make your own choices or reply and tell me mine are ridiculous.

One of either Bedell or Schonfeld (Berhalter seems to favor Bedell)

The list of protected players is solid. They have won some games. They have scored some goals. They defend well. This list makes up a slightly above average Major League Soccer team. Most importantly, they play well together within the vision Gregg Berhalter has of the game.

If Gregg Berhalter had added two expensive players before and/or during the season the Crew would have to leave two of the above players unprotected...and those two players would surely be chosen in the draft. Why? because that list is mostly made up of young players who are just now starting to be above average Major League Soccer players. The kind of players who form the core of a title contending team.

Before the 2014 season started did Gregg Berhalter envision the season playing out the way it has? Did he know that he had young players who would make huge strides as the season wore on? Did he purposely hold onto the Crew's allocation spot? Did he know that Gonzalez would be sold, thus bringing on more allocation money and the kind of payday that will allow the Crew's Youth Academy to build a more dynamic development program? Does Gregg Berhalter possess The Heart of Gold spaceship?

Only Gregg Berhalter knows the answers to the above questions. Three things are certain.

1. The salary cap in Major League Soccer is going to possibly double going into next season.

2.The Columbus Crew are in a position to hold onto the core of the team during an offseason in which two new teams will strip 20 quality players from existing teams.

3. The Columbus Crew have the top allocation spot and a lot of allocation cash.

You really have to give credit to Gregg Berhalter. Only one year in and he has a core of players who can compete with almost any team in Major League Soccer. He has a war chest which is guaranteed to be the envy of most coaches in the league. Two or three quality, mature additions to the group, along with one or two more youthful pick-ups and the Columbus Crew will be a team to be reckoned with for years to come.

Quite possibly, besides the Heart of Gold spaceship, Gregg Berhalter has an army of dolphins at his disposal. With a trusty towel, The Hitchhiker's Guide and some black and gold clad friends he may just find the answer to the question: Life, the universe and everything. It's supposed to be 42, but I don't think it is. I think the answer will make itself known to the first person to discover the true meaning of Major League Soccer without going completely bat nuts crazy.

Oh, buy my novel, Helton Janglom's Template for Life. It's on Kindle. It's got soccer, poker, kids, craziness and not a little bit of Columbus between the covers. I keep writing these blog things for free. I'm poor and I need the money. Buy the book, you ungrateful wretches.

Good Day!

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Podcast: Red Cards in Helltown - Episode XII

Rick Gethin and Larry Johnson sit down for an hour to talk soccer, MLS and the Columbus Crew. As every week, recorded live and left un-edited.

• Tim Howard "retired" from international play
• Batotelli news, Liverpool
• Premier League results
• Tim Leiweke leaving MLSE
• How much more could 100m spend get you in MLS

• Giancarlo Gonzalez transfer to Palermo
• Impact on final nine games
• Crew gaining momentum
• New badge to look like Hanover 96
• Berhalter's way, style bearing fruit
• What does "turning the corner" mean?
• Finlay and Meram are on fire, rare thing with Crew
• More players playing well than players playing bad
• 33:33 Berhalter audio

• MLS standings, Toronto sinking
• Crew have say on PHI, NE making playoffs
• The Crew are in
• Quick look at the West
• Supporters' Shield race

• Intentionally Vague: The MLS Rule Book piece - link
• Don Garber audio ("emerging league")
• Garber "emergence of our system"
• Wacky rules brings criticism
• Garber "no insidious plan"

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Predictions: Crew Rd 25, Home v Houston

Big news today as reports have Giancarlo Gonzalez getting transferred away from the Columbus Crew, effective immediately. More on that to come but for now, Houston is in town tonight. Kickoff is 7:30 PM EST.

CLB: Gonzalez being out will have impact
CLB: 8 pts, +2 goal diff in last 6 games at home
CLB: Arrieta will probably start up top
HOU: 0 pts, -15 goal diff in last 6 away games
HOU: USMNT star Beasley likely to start tonight
HOU: Home form returning but still not a very good team

Percentage on the left is accuracy picking (WDL) 2014 Columbus Crew matches.

Adam Jardy writes that "anything less than a win will be a disappointment for the Crew."

"Houston Dynamo are finally showing some signs of recovery, having won two of their last three MLS games," says Graham Ruthven. See's this one as a 1-1 draw.

We've got the Crew in a landslide this week. 5 for a Crew victory, 1 draw.

Largest margin in favor of the Crew thus far this season, 68% going their way. Houston only getting 8%. Wonder if this changes with Giancarlo news.

No preview (as per standard for the site now) and only one vote in the readers section, it's for the Crew to win 1-0.

Even 1/1 odds today for the home side (5/2 draw, 13/5 away).



--% WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)

--% MASSIVE REPORT ... (no pick)
Stay tuned to MR for the latest in Crew news on Gonzalez.

Going to be a calmer, more business as usual feel to the match tonight after the big show last week against the LA Galaxy. Houston never really draws many fans but crowds have been better this season.

No doubt that the Crew should be favored in this one but it's certainly not as much as the predictions above indicate. Houston likes to lurk in the standings and look to be game for a late season push. After going a couple months with pretty much no points, over the last three weeks they have beat DC and beat Philly.

Questions for the match today revolve around Giancarlo (looking like he is in Italy), Ethan Finlay (can he keep up this ridiculous form) and whomever plays up top (need a goal from a forward today).

So this one will be closer but the Crew should still be the ones with 3 points when it ends.

Looks to be on the warm side tonight, possibly damp as well.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Finally, Finlay

Non-Penalty Goals + Assists per 90 (with more than 900 mins played)
1.06 Fabian Espindola (DC)
0.95 Robbie Keane (LA)
0.90 Clint Dempsey (SEA)
0.87 Joao Plata (RSL)
0.85 Ethan Finlay (CREW)
0.84 Maximiliano Urruti (PDX)
0.80 Luke Mulholland (RSL)
0.79 Gyasi Zardes (LA)
0.77 Bradley Wright-Phillips (NY)
0.76 Luis Silva (DC)
0.75 Thierry Henry (NY)

I've been tracking this for a few years now and it's been a while since the Crew have had a player find their way towards the top of the NPG+A per 90 minutes played this late on in the season. What Ethan Finlay has done is certainly notable from a league perspective but for folks that have watched the team closely in recent years it has a distinctly more satisfying feeling.

From reserve games to preseason grinds, Finlay is doing it the hard way. To some of us - that is the only way. The best way.

Here are some other players over 0.60 NPG+A per 90 over 900 minutes. There are a lot of good players here:

0.73 Obafemi Martins (SEA)
0.72 Jermain Defoe (TOR)
0.71 Cristian Maidana (PHI)
0.71 Brad Davis (HOU)
0.68 Justin Meram (CREW)
0.68 Diego Valeri (PDX)
0.67 Blas Pérez (DAL)
0.67 Chris Wondolowski (SJ)
0.65 Fabian Castillo (DAL)
0.63 Luke Moore (TOR)
0.63 Tesho Akindele (DAL)
0.61 Federico Higuain (CREW)
0.61 Lamar Neagle (SEA)
0.60 Harrison Shipp (CHI)
0.60 Chris Rolfe (DC)
0.60 Pedro Morales (VAN)
0.60 Landon Donovan (LA)

Monday, August 18, 2014

Win of the Season Hijacked by Supporters

The table was set by new investor / operator Anthony Precourt when it was announced that the team would honor Landon Donovan before the match.

While Donovan has never played for the Columbus Crew he has made more than a handful of memories for local fans through his heroics with the men’s national team. Many of the same fans cheering him on during all those dos a cero matches though, wanted to make it clear that those deeds have nothing to do with these deeds in league play.

The ceremony before the match was, of course, attended by Precourt but also former teammates (and one would assume, friends) of Donovan, Gregg Berhalter and Frankie Hejduk. In fact, in all likelihood the idea probably came from Hedjuk. It was as classy as an on-field presentation could be and the star of the show even appeared to tear up.

(finest kind)
Into the match we jumped. With the first tifo raised in the Nordecke gone I breathed both a sigh of relief that it wasn't something calling Donovan out specifically. Not because I don’t think the supporters should have stayed away from the eyebrow raising thought of honoring a player on another team but because I could see what the Crew, as an organization, is trying to do. At least, what I think they were.

Columbus isn't seen as a destination city. A great place to live, yes. A great place to raise a family, yes. Many, many other things and I have enjoyed my time here - but one thing it is not is a place for a male 20-something professional athlete that has a bit of cash in the bank.

On top of that, the Crew have a recent history of mistreating players and being generally poorly run. Perhaps it can be traced back to 2010 when the team was broken down. Was it the right thing to do? Lots of different answers to that. One thing we can answer is the way it happened didn’t go over well with players.

Events don’t happen in a bubble where other players don’t pay attention. Soccer, unlike other US sports leagues, is unique in that good-to-great players have dozens of options not just a couple. So when a city gets a reputation (even if it isn’t that bad of one) from a front office or coach or bad facilities it causes a player to put it down the list of places to go. You see this everywhere, not just in Columbus.

(side note: There’s probably a metric I could create of which players on rosters have decided to play for a team vs which ones are there because they are the only place that would have them. (I’m not doing that.))

So, when Precourt and the Crew announced they were honoring Landon Donovan pre-match - it was a nice thing to do. Intentionally done to erase some of the wrongs in recent years or just done out of gentlemanly behavior, it was fine.

And it matters.

What also matters is how the fans react to it. And react they did a few minutes before the match ended by raising a tifo painted last year that reads “New Heroes” with a stylized image of Jurgen Klinsmann. Those keeping track of the drama between Klinsmann and Donovan got the purpose of it. It was where most impactful tifos come from; that deep dark obsessive place in supporters’ hearts.

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.

That’s not to say that it was wrong though. The other purpose of supporters is to give the team it’s shape. To represent the city. After what happened I’m thinking that the new front office might have a different view of things and that metropolitan image Precourt talked about doesn’t stick for a reason.


The Crew ended up beating LA 4-1 in one of the best games I’ve seen the team play since I started writing about them four years ago.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Podcast: Red Cards in Helltown - Episode XI

Rick Gethin and Larry Johnson go all Crew, Premier League, soccer news and MLS for one hour, non-stop. On that... we do record as if the show is live, no bathroom breaks.

• Talking Barclays Premier League
• Reviewing results
• Thoughts on big teams, structure
• Tottenham, Yedlin "MLS'd"
• We Follow Futbol Promotion and Relegation Survey (link)

• Pride ourselves on being balanced
• Andy Loughnane hire, good
• Loughnane soundbite
• The word 'turnaround' jumps out to Rick
• "Postcourt, Precourt"
• Stadium naming rights, segregation of duties
• Going beyond fans and supports (politicians)
• Crew whup up on a LA Galaxy A-team
• Outstanding soccer, gushing over the Crew
• Finlay Amazing
• Controls in the process

• Heading results, Sporting KC beating up on TFC, Dallas, San Jose
• No excuse for Toronto losing by multiple goals
• Eastern conference playoff picture

• FCC changing their thoughts on blackout governance
• How might it relate to the Crew

Saturday, August 16, 2014

PREDICTIONS: Crew Host LA and Landon Donovan

The LA Galaxy take on the Columbus Crew today over at the fairgrounds. Kickoff is 7:30 PM EST, 4:30 PM PST.

CLB: Only 3 teams in MLS with negative goal diff at home, Crew is one.
CLB: Big crowd expected
CLB: Arrieta might be back in XI today.
LAG: 13 from last 6 games +9 goal diff
LAG: Robbie Rogers back in town today, left back
LAG: Might see new signing Alan Gordon tonight

Percentage on the left is accuracy picking (WDL) 2014 Columbus Crew matches.

52% COLUMBUS DISPATCH ... DRAW (no lean)
Beat writer Adam Jardy doesn't go to far either way this week. Does think it would be a big win if the Crew could pull it off. Did you not see what was going on in US news last week? Pick up a paper, it's important.

Key bullet point from Graham Ruthven; "The Galaxy usually hit their stride at this time of the season, and that's what they are expected to do against Columbus." Like LA 1-2 tonight.

Five like LA, one like the Crew. Their predictions have been improved this year, lead by Matt Doyle's trailblazing "go with the home side" method last year.

45% like the away side today (21% home). There is also a medium stake on a 0-1 away win.

Not a whole lot of MLS activity on after the World Cup.

35% BET365 ... LA GALAXY
Rare away favorites at Crew Stadium today 11/10. Crew falling behind odds on the draw (11/5) as well (13/5).



--% WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)

--% MASSIVE REPORT ... (no pick)
Pat Murphy has his scouting report ready for your review here.

The Galaxy always packs them in here in Columbus but in a bit of a twist this year the Crew have decided to turn this match into a big top circus event. Let's run down the list:

• We've got a press conference announcing a new team president two hours before kickoff. Crew head coach Gregg Berhalter is an attendee.

• ...followed by a ceremony honoring Landon Donovan for his time with the USMNT, I think?

• The match (you know, like, the sport of soccer? Like the actual game that few in the US tend to write about but instead write about how US SOCCER IS HERE, MLS IS GROWING, WHAT IF LEBRON PLAYED, ATTENDANCE!, [INSERT CITY] DESERVES A MLS TEAM, AMERICAN YOUTH LIKE SOCCER... I could go on. Same stuff I've been reading since the 80s).

• Postgame fireworks.

That's everything I've got, anyway. The Crew need to be careful today, the best time to catch a Bruce Arena coached team in early in the season. Now is the last time you want to do it. This one has a chance to get ugly if Berhalter and company are not fully prepared. By prepared I mean looking to absorb LA's attack, especially early in the match. Wouldn't mind Crew wing backs (whomever they are tonight) to stay at home.

Weather looks perfect today, really nice.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Updated Crew +/- Per 90

Haven't updated +/- Crew numbers for a while. Partly because there hasn't been too much to cover but also because this season has been driven by who is available (vs a coach having to make tough decisions).

We are 23 games in though and through all the muck we are starting to see which players are rising to the top with this metric (there are many, this is just one).

Goal Difference per 90, Name, Mins
+0.21 Justin Meram 854
+0.09 Ethan Finlay 975
+0.08 Jairo Arrieta 1108
+0.07 Hector Jimenez 1214
+0.00 Tyson Wahl 496
-0.06 Giancarlo González 1440
-0.08 Josh Williams 1123
-0.11 Federico Higuain 1683
-0.11 Wil Trapp 1586

-0.13 Steve Clark 2070
-0.13 Bernardo Anor 1379
-0.13 Tony Tchani 2042

-0.14 Waylon Francis 1321
-0.14 Eric Gehrig 628
-0.19 Michael Parkhurst 1861
-0.25 Chad Barson 721
-0.61 Dominic Oduro 593
-0.88 Ben Speas 513

Players under 450 Minutes

+2.81 Álvaro Rey 32
+0.87 Aaron Schoenfeld 103
+0.80 Kevan George 112
+0.30 Agustin Viana 300
-0.20 Adam Bedell 442
-0.69 Daniel Paladini 131
-10.59 Fifi Baiden 17


• I think it's reasonable to ask questions about Parkhurst's role. It's clear he should be playing but his sometimes shift to right back is for a reason. Note; Barson. When Williams returns I'd like to see him back at CB and Parkhust at RB. Keep it simple, get points, be done with it.

• Jimenez is missed. You usually see guys with a lot of minutes drifting to the middle but not him. It's very possible his injury absence is driving a number of other player's numbers.

• Would like to see Viana some more. Not sure why he's not getting more time. His WhoScored ratings are off the charts (for a Crew player).

• I'll look at this again at year end along with going over my KRAMB metric (a players PPG + Goal Diff when starting). I don't expect a whole lot to change here with a dozen weeks left.

Here are the extended stats for the players over 450 minutes.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Crew Fall to TFC, 7 Year Low in Rolling 20 Game PPG

Pretty good game between the Crew and Toronto last Saturday. Seemed like the ball whipped up and down the pitch with plenty of good chances for both sides. In the end, it was the team with the better players that won (- that'd be Toronto and their wage bill that is three times the size of Columbus).

With the loss the Crew reach a rare place on one of my longer Points Per Game (PPG) metrics. Looking at rolling 20 game results the Crew only have 18 pts in last 20 after this TFC loss. That puts them below a point for only the second time since I started recording Crew results (or 2007, let's call it the Modern Crew Era).

Here's a high level chart that shows rolling 20 game results...

Columbus is still in the 2014 "playoff picture" but trying to tell that to a long time Crew fan that was there 6-7 years ago is like saying the team is still able to "reach average" on the season.

While the play of the Crew has been attractive (tho, not as much so over past couple months) there is no way to sugar coat the results side of the Crew. With no additions (so far) during the summer transfer window, the Crew are banking on the league's easiest schedule in order to finish in a respectable position.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Podcast: Red Cards in Helltown Episode X

Rick Gethin, David Burgin, Justin Bell and Larry Johnson sit down for an hour to go over soccer things. Mostly MLS and Crew this week with some John F. Kennedy thrown in.

• Landon Donovan retirement, thoughts from the room
• Importance to the US Soccer, MLS (overshadowed)
• Did he take it to the level(?)
• Donovan moments, best American player discussion (Justin doesn't think so)
• Jermaine Jones, MLS

• Mix Diskerud, almost. We jump way in.
• Right fit? What are the needs
• "Vessels for MLS get excuses out, reasons out"
• "..we're like one leg of the table..."
• Limits of Berhalter, focus on many things
• Where is Asher Mendelsohn
• Romain Gall signed
• Toronto FC match comments
• Larry presses the wrong buttons!
• Berhalter audio (at min 30:00)
• Enertaining game
• What to do with Arrieta

• MLS standings
• Same old story for some of the playoff bubble teams
• "don't do nothing"
• 13 min "media scrum" telling
• Did this result matter more?
• Expansion draft
• Bobby Warshaw piece, JFK's "We Choose to go to the Moon" speech.
• Stay or go, best situations

• DC United, Sunderland partnership
• NYCFC and Red Bulls coexisting

Saturday, August 9, 2014

PREDICTIONS: Crew Rd 23, Toronto in Columbus

Toronto and Columbus lock horns tonight at Crew Stadium. 7:30 PM EST.

CLB: Ethan Finlay and Federico Higuain are men in form
CLB: Crew still looking to find consistent home results (8 pts last 6)
CLB: "Kirk Urso Memorial Night"
TFC: DeFoe and his 11 goals taking a couple weeks off
TFC: Only have lost once in last 6 away
TFC: Micheal Bradley will be out there making things tough

Percentage on far left is picking Crew results (WDL) only. The number in

"..expect a little extra from the Crew - and perhaps a little magic too." - Adam Jardy, beat writer.

"The Columbus Crew seem to have found their groove," says Graham Ruthven. Likes Crew 2-1 this week.

45% (6) MLSSOCCER ... DRAW
4 picking draw, the other two Crew. A little surprising how little respect TFC getting this week.

45% (4) WIN DRAW WIN ... DRAW
Rare pick for a draw this week, both Your Votes (48%) and Stake (1-1).

41% (6) GOAL.COM ... DRAW has always made me feel uneasy, like I'm getting a virus each visit. Few weeks in a row now and no preview for Crew matches. The little activity on there Reader's Pick section see's this on even.

36% (4) BET365 ... COLUMBUS CREW
Home team, per normal. Evens (1/1), 23/10 draw, 14/5 Toronto.


Toronto had a good run pre-World Cup but during and since have re-entered the MLS muck that almost all sides find themselves in this time of year. Playoffs though right? High-five.

--% WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)
Drew Epperley doesn't do predictions anymore but he does have some info on upcoming CBA talks, which will be changing the face of the league.

--% MASSIVE REPORT ... (no pick)
Go check out what Patrick Murphy, hardest working man on the beat,  has for the Scouting Report this week.


I have none I want to get in to as far as this weeks match goes.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Diskerud Bubble Burst

Jozy Altidore, Sacha Kljestan, Brek Shea, Jermaine Jones and Mix Diskerud have all been linked with Major League Soccer teams as the August 6th deadline to sign players currently contracted drew to a close. All of them high profile USMNT team players and all of them likely looking for a big deal similar to the gaudy one's Micheal Bradley and Clint Dempsey received over the last 12 months.

Kljestan, Jones and Diskerud were the closest it seems. Jones may still actually be in play because he isn't under contract, but he isn't getting anywhere near the reported couple million he was seeking. According to Bruce Arena's comments today, Kljestan appears to be a casualty of MLS rules and regulations and Diskerud... we'll get to Mix in a minute.

...but first: Why wouldn't these players poke around MLS for a exorbitant deal should be the question. The league set the market for players with Bradley ($6.5m in wages) and Dempsey ($7m) when they paid premiums to pry them away from foreign clubs and the other guys want a piece of that as well.

Their combined wage makes up nearly 10% of all salaries in MLS and if you look down the list of other USMNT players (or fringe) you see that they are getting market value. Edu, Johnson, Wondolowski, Zusi, Besler, Gonzalez... these are all guys making around that $600k level.

Mikkel Morgenstar Pålssønn "Mix" Diskerud

Late last night Taylor Twellman reported that the Columbus Crew offered Mix Diskerud double his current salary. Most believe would have pushed the figure up to around $0.6 to 1.0 million. The same amount the rest of the USMNT band makes - save for Dempsey and Bradley - and herein is the problem for some of the younger USMNT players.

Mix, along with Altidore and Aron Jóhannsson, are a completely different breed of US International. They are young, talented and will likely feature in upcoming tournaments. This $0.6 - 1.0 million dollar range that MLS likes to tout as overpaying - is more what they are worth right now (or will be on their next contract), on the open market. MLS's decision to actually overpay for Dempsey and Bradley made sure of that.

Mix Diskerud
Diskerud became a big fan favorite here in Columbus. His happy Norwegian attitude and good looks got him noticed by a handful but that turn and assist he had at Crew Stadium last year against Mexico, well. Swarm of native Ohio bees to honey right there.

After the deal finally failed to connect late last night after months of courtship, Investor / Operator Anthony Precourt expressed his disappointment with not being able to get him. Early today Head Coach and Sporting Director expressed the same. Hard not to feel for the organization. It would have been a huge get.

But say they did get him? Then what. What about next year? Would we be seeing Diskerud in local Papa John's pizza commercials? Hanging out at Hendocs or 4th Street? Local lasik TV commercials? Could MLS and the Crew keep affording to increase his salary, along with his contemporaries, for another four years?

Rushmore was my life. Now you are!

That's bullshit!


What do you really think is going to happen between us? You think we're going to have sex?

(Max looks shocked.)

That's kind of a cheap way to put it, don't you think?


Not if you've never fucked before, it isn't.

The Crew pursuit of Mix is reminds me of a moment in Wes Anderson's Rushmore when Rosemary Cross decides turn to Max, who had be trying to win her over since he first set eyes on her, and ask what he might do if he did actually have her.

In this exchange it's the fans, Precourt and Berhalter that are Fischer. Columbus was their Rushmore but it changed to Diskerud. I found it really strange the way an entire organization became so intensely focused on one player.

(Miss Cross moves towards Max with her hand outstretched. Max retreats backwards, banging into desks and chairs. Miss Cross stops.)

Please. Get out of my room.

(Max walks out of the room and stands in the doorway.)

(Miss Cross turns away and goes back to taking down her maps from the wall. Max watches her for a minute.) 

(Max leaves.)

"The supporters of Columbus Crew might not be the biggest by shire numbers – but please go check what they write, and how they critique. Are they not the most cunning of all the MLS supporters - as we speak?" - Mix Diskerud on BigSoccer (or someone pretending to be him for a few years now, either way... here's how the whole thing ended).

Every Other Soccer Fan in the United States

"What a game! Major League Soccer is making huge strides."

"The all-stars played okay."

"What do you mean, okay? They attacked, created two wonderful goals and beat Bayern Munich, probably the best club team in the world."

"Don't get all excited. Bayern didn't start three or four of its top players. Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben didn't even enter the game until there was twenty minutes left."

"Wait a minute. Just the other day you were singing the praises of Manchester United when they beat the LA Galaxy 7-0. You wouldn't shut up about how bad Major League Soccer's level of play is compared to the top leagues in the rest of the world."

"That's not the same thing. Manchester United took the game seriously. Bayern was looking for a nice easy scrimmage. Those MLS thugs don't seem to know the difference between a game that matters and a training exercise."

"Let me get this straight. Your saying that if an MLS side gets thrashed by a Euro side, it's sure proof that Major League Soccer is complete crap. But, and this is a doozy of a double standard, if a Major League Side beats arguably the best team in the world, it's a fluke, the Euro side didn't take it seriously, or the oldie but goodie, the Euro side played mostly bench players?"

"Obviously, you just don't understand soccer. These discussions with you are so infantile."

"Really, you don't see the pathetic need to pump your ego full-to-overflowing with Euro-Snobbery?"

"You just don't get it."

"Yeah, actually, I think I do. I believe, I believe, I believe...You're Full of Shit."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Steve Clark, A+ Signing

Steve Clark came in to Columbus as a relative unknown here in the US but most expected good things from him. From the looks of it, he's done just that.

Before we get cooking; Not going to dig too deep into things (shot locations, expected goals, etc) but will touch on some key points. First off is basic passing. Gregg Berhalter prefers to play possession out of the back. What the table below shows is that Clark leads (as of last week) the league in passing accuracy while making the 3rd most passes per game.

All these guys have played in over 900 minutes.

Pass per GM
Steve Clark
Eric Kronberg
Nick Rimando
Clint Irwin
Jon Busch
David Ousted
Bill Hamid
Chris Seitz
Luis Robles
Raúl Fernández
Zac MacMath
Stefan Frei
Donovan Ricketts
Jaime Penedo
Tally Hall
Bobby Shuttleworth
Joe Bendik
Sean Johnson
Dan Kennedy
Troy Perkins

Again, because it bears repeating, the Crew like to roll the ball out or play back through Clark to switch fields. What's not available to me is how often 'keepers play it deep specifically (off foot or long throw) but a general observation tells me Clark is good when throwing long.

Up next is going to be a dump of a little bit of every thing goalkeeper. Important to note that none of these stats below include penalties taken or saved (I feel that is making poor an already misleading Save % stat).

This table is sorted by % but also includes how many shots, saves, goals against total and average per 90 minutes (through yesterday).

Goals Against
Goals Against Avg
Jon Busch
Bill Hamid
Jaime Penedo
Donovan Ricketts
Nick Rimando
Raúl Fernández
Stefan Frei
Eric Kronberg
Steve Clark
Luis Robles
Joe Bendik
David Ousted
Clint Irwin
Troy Perkins
Chris Seitz
Bobby Shuttleworth
Sean Johnson
Tally Hall
Zac MacMath
Dan Kennedy

There is a lot to pull for this chart like how Eric Kronberg has only faced 53 shots (a testament to the defense in front of him). Another note is how well Bill Hamid seems to be doing.

Clark's save percentage is slightly above replacement - and that is good. He's absolutely made some amazing saves this year.

After watching Clark now for 22 league games I gotta say that his best strength is working, communicating and organizing moderately complicated back line system and working well with two Internationals (Parkhurst seems like an easy going guy but the wrong guy behind him and I'm sure we'd know). On top of that there have been some lineup changes of late.

The Crew did a risky thing by letting long term 'keeper and fan favorite Andy Gruenebaum go (Andy has played well in his 450 mins this year) but it was something that as time passes will be a good thing as far as getting new faces and attitudes heading up the franchise.

Looking up and down this MLS 'keeper list I see some pretty bad performers, that contribute to some poor results. You absolutely cannot overlook a good 'keeper.

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.