Monday, September 29, 2014

Ethan Finlay, Game Log

This is showing all of Ethan's MLS games going back to when he started with the Crew under Robert Warzycha (and Brian Bliss). Last two off seasons he has impressed but it's only till this year that he latched on to a starting role.

The road is never easy for guys like Ethan Finlay. There always seems to be that new midfield signing ready to impress. I've seen it countless times in this league, lord knows. Ethan has done everything he can this year to make his case as a starter in MLS.

Running back down his MLS regular season game log suggests that he sort of came out of nowhere, but to those of us who have diligently attended the mid-morning reserve matches, traveled down to Charleston and Orlando preseason matches... to those Obetz scrimmages in the freezing cold - we know that Finlay is a guy you want on your side.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Crew Win over Impact

Podcast: Red Cards in Helltown - Episode XVI

Host Rick Gethin and Larry Johnson go over the latest. As always, show is recorded all in one take. No bathroom breaks and posted with out any edits. Hope you enjoy it!

• We're back after a week off
• MLS logo / brand changes
• League going back and forth in direction (clubs or single entity)
• Social media can be mostly snark, but Orlando City well received
• Forgettable change
• Creators should not have to explain it / defend it
• Expansion Draft
• Orlando already building

• There are soccer fans in Columbus!
• Attendance, Crew rebrand buzz
• Crew v Montreal 2-0
• Impressive run
• Striker conversation, is there a need?
• Basically 2 solid months of home games
• The road ahead
• Rebrand this year to sell tickets
• Praising Ethan Finlay, top tier contribution
• League look
• Is Portland the "Toronto" of the Western Conference

• Talent teams can mix things up
• DC United, deep dive
• Herb Brooks-ian, shared vision

• José Mourinho's remarkable record
• Bruce Arena fine
• Sacramento Republic USL Pro championship

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Predictions, Thoughts: Crew (H) vs Impact

Columbus is at home again tonight for the franchise's second to last regular season home match. Montreal is on the menu tonight. Dinner is 7:30 PM EST.

CLB: Impressive run, 13 pts in last 6
CLB: Lineup should remain familiar
MTL: Effort levels still there, but team deeply flawed
MTL: Haven't played a meaningful game in a while

% Correct picking Crew results - (Last 10) - Outlet

41% (5) BET365 ... COLUMBUS CREW
38% (3) GOAL.COM ... DRAW
--% (-) WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)

Pulling down Massive Report this week to start including Nate Beckman's picks. Nate is about as on the pulse of the team and league as you can be and regularly posts those thoughts in his regular "4caster" column. As always, bookmark SB Nation's MR for all the latest.

This week see's the Crew as heavily favored as I have seen them in three years. The BET365 line of 8/15 is about has large as it gets in MLS just in general. Win Draw Win shows a large stake on a 2-0 win and voters only going Montreal 8% of the time (as low as it gets).

8 AM, Sept 27, German Village
One of the benefits to they way the Crew play now is that they can hold off below average teams, even if they aren't having their best day. Last week's 1-0 victory over New England was an intense and meaningful. With more of that coming up on the road for the team this match falls prey to the proverbial "trap game" (...and I told myself I wouldn't write that, gah!).

Helping the Crew out, if they do come out flat, will be the possibility that Ignacio Piatti not playing. He's a very, very good player on a Montreal has a handful of good players.

Crew fans will remember Dilly Duka and he is having a great year on a bad team ( has him rated in to quarter). They've also got Hassoun Camara, Andres Romero, and Justin Mapp. Their deep rooted flaw is not those guys, it's depth and players that are suppose to be good but are playing very average. Felipe Martins, Jack McInerney, Patrice Bernier and even Marco Di Vaio fall into the average bucket and shouldn't.

Weather looks great. Clear and mid-70s. Being the time of year this is, you should see loads of nice long shadows and the east stands soaked in a beautiful golden hue. It's magic time here in Ohio.

Friday, September 26, 2014

New MLS Logo Out and About Town

After Major League Soccer (somewhat abruptly) released their logo last week, I've had some time see it outside the gated MLS community in both digital and printed form.

The digital side comes from time playing EA's latest FIFA 15 video game monster. There are a number of changes to that game on the MLS side and the inclusion of the new MLS logo is one of them. From that, I get a pretty good feel for how the new logo will fair on real life kits.

I wrote down some critical initial thoughts last week, but now? Long story short - it seems out of place. That's not that unusual though, their are a number of leagues that feel sort of forced or awkward, but that's also a reason to not change. This new MLS logo now falls in that forced category in the digital world. Not comfortable in her own skin and certainly not particularly noticeable for more more than a shoulder shrug and 'meh' among the thousands of flashing lights in a game like FIFA 15.

[I'm playing a lot of the game right now. More thoughts to come but in the meantime check out my latest here]

Next up is near and dear to me. The printed image. More specifically, the printed image out in the wilds of the sports universe. For this one I'll say it has a similar fate to the digital version. It gets a "what's that" glance than ultimately a shrug and move on.

I'll keep thinking on it but right now I'm finding it to be very disposable. Different. Even neat for a moment, till it fades off into a sea of brand junk.

There is a reason why some of these brands stay the same for so long, even if the image is stale or tired. Ultimately that boring logo earns its keep in familiarity. It might not be the coolest thing ever but people instantly know what it is when they look at it. A useful tool.

This is something the Crew is going through right now as well and I find myself asking the question of whether or not changing it is worth all the hard one familiarity over time.

It's sort of what the old timers say about that old reliable Chevy small block.

It'll run bad longer than most run at all.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Diamond on Fire

via - Russian poster for THE COLOR OF POMEGRANATES (Sergei Paradjanov, USSR, 1968)

"Critic Gilbert Adair called it 'a diamond on fire'. The filmmakers of the New Iranian Cinema found its director an inspiration. For years, it became a mysterious Holy Grail for cinephiles." [link]

Nobody knows where the art for this poster comes from, but it is good.

"#NEWCREW" Yellow Dot

Yellow Dot
Today we saw the introduction of Yellow Dot.

The Columbus Crew. Columbus Crew FC 96. The MLS outlet in Columbus... (wait). Columbus' MLS team? World's first single entity franchise? Not sure what to call the team anymore. Down is up. Heaven is hell. Everybody is totally, like, "what's going on?". We are all just rudderless fans, writers, journalists, bloggers and / or crazy people right now. Biblical purgatory type stuff now that Yellow Dot has entered our collective conscience.

So many more questions. Do the events of today tell us that the "old" Columbus Crew is dying and a yellow dot grim reaper is on the scene to take it's soul? Does Yellow Dot even believe in the "soul" as we know it in western society? Are we to start the mourning process now? Should there even be a mourning process? Everything is just so sudden.


The Yellow Dot is the design element the Crew is going with to get folks excited about the re-brand.

Sometimes these things hit right, other times they just sort of... happen. This Columbus one is leaning toward the latter. That's certainly not to say it doesn't matter but honestly, in the world of MLS we've seen so many branding changes in recent years. It's become tedious for anyone trying to follow along.

Ultimately, new Crew investor / operator Anthony Precourt bought his right to change this team anyway he sees fit. If "Yellow Dot" is his way of pushing aside 19 years of history just to scribble his name on it... so be it. It's his world now. But let us not let this day go without marking the end of the Crew's direct association with blue collar image. An image hard earned, as represented in the original logo herself. Just as the image of the workers in that logo, they are not important enough to be front and center of anything - even though the do the, uh, Work.

Lay her down easy Yellow Dot. Your dark place in history might be largely forgotten to history - but I'll remember it.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Watch Helltown Play FIFA 15 Tonight (Twitch) [UPDATE]

Watch live video from HelltownBeer on
Follow along as I settle in and get familiar with EA's FIFA 15 and the virtual version of the Columbus Crew tonight. Can't promise it will be pretty, but it will be on!

[UPDATE]: All done for the night. Played with the Crew... and without. Important to say; With all the updates EA provides throughout the year, not many surprises on the MLS player rating front. The game is still insanely fun to play, but not a lot different on the pitch from last couple years. That said, there are a few upgraded menu items. makes an appearance on the menu side, MLS contributor Andrew King has work filling EA menus now, which is... interesting (I'm sure he was informed and get's paid double, har har). EA likes to be a provider of real world content. For those of us that go a ways back it feels strange. Considering what we've seen with the NFL in recent weeks, seems that going with the company line might be the best thing.

More thoughts to come. I'll continue to broadcast for those interested in such things.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Higuaín, 20 September 2014

Crew Charging to the Finish Line

The Columbus Crew put away New England last night in a (satisfyingly) tightly contested match. The victory didn't see the Crew moving much either way on the overall MLS table but it did help them solidify their 5th place spot in the East.

The win also takes the Crew to 2.00 Points per Game average over the past 10 matches. This near term metric tells us that head coach Gregg Berhalter is getting the best results of the season.

Looking at previous years you'll also see that this 2 pts per game run this late in the season over a 10 game stretch hasn't been seen in Columbus since 2008 and 2009. While the league is a completely different animal than it was all those years ago, the meaning of late season MLS results isn't.

Late season MLS is a strange... thing. It's when mid-table teams caught in the muck start pressing down on the gas. There are times they are able to catch a top team coasting (a problem for this league format) or a bad team packing it up for the year (another HUGE problem without relegation). In between there though, are these average team / mid table clashes like this one for the Crew last night. And they won it.

You'll see in year's past where the Crew have fallen off in these meaningful games during an important time of the year for mid level teams (most of the Crew teams since 2010 have been achingly average).


One last thing to point out is the middle part of the year when the Crew were really having a hard time getting victories. As this chart highlights, it was one of the longest (it was the longest when looking at it this way) prolonged time of poor results in this seven year stretch.

Goal scoring was a real issue during that run but what's turned it around is the sudden success and production of the Right and Left Mids (namely; Ethan Finlay, Justin Meram and Waylon Francis getting forward).

The Crew have been top 5-7 in defending all year, even during the sub 1.00 PPG stretch. Last few games have seen production drop from the mid roles but a surprising goal from Wil Trapp and a pretty free kick goal last night from Federico Higuain have kept this run going.

So, the question remains if the Crew can figure it out up top or can the Midfield play keep it going. It will have to be figured out at some point, otherwise we will keep seeing these peaks and valleys.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Predictions: Crew (H) v Revs

Crew game tonight. 7:30 PM EST. Ohio Fairgrounds.

(no games notes of note to note this week)

Number on far left is percentage correct in picking Crew result (last 10).

43% (5) GOAL.COM ... DRAW
36% (4) BET365 ... COLUMBUS CREW
--% (-) WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)
--% (-) MASSIVE REPORT ... (preview only)

This one will be closer than the predictions above suggest. Revs are on fire and the Crew draw last week only came via goal from a non-goal scoring player. Had they not gotten it and lost, all predictions above would be New England.

If Hector Jimenez and Bernardo Anor are in the midfield today the Crew will hold this one together. They got away with not playing them against a poor possession team in Houston - they will not against the Revs.

Partly cloudy, mid 70s tonight.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Arena Fine, New Brand, Chivas USA Shutting down. MLS News Dump

Busy news week for MLS so I thought I'd run down some of the items and give some thoughts.

It wasn't a normal MLS amount where players and coach fines are in the hundreds of dollars or low thousands. He was fined a legit amount of $20k. In a Washington Post report Arena said he got an email about it and then read a story up on Sports Illustrated about it.

The offending words:
“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 where the rules are somewhat arbitrary.”
The comment doesn't warrant what is likely a near record MLS fine. Don Garber took this personally and is acting immaturely here - were this a more important league he would be fielding quite a bit of negative press. The WaPo report states that Arena has sought out legal counsel.

Somewhat surprisingly, MLS launched a new league "brand identity" at around 6 AM Eastern today. Odd time for anything. Odder still was the short press conference a few hours later unveiling it, which felt very internal-quarterly-meeting-ish.

The philosophy behind it was mostly lost to those who saw it today. MLS Chief Marketing Officer Howard Handley described it as being designed to be able to "adapt to its environment" and not be static. Neat idea and progressive idea but ultimately means it will change colors (as well as working as a single color).

Another point of interest today was the empty white space in the bottom half of the logo. If you head over to one of the three agency's sites today you'll find out sort of how they will use that space (Athletics). Handley also talks about that area as framing up the action. No doubt it will also be used for featuring sponsors / partners.

All of the ideas (even the kick stand) are fine and the philosophy is an interesting thing to apply to a league identity. Ultimately, though, these elements are normally what go into a single ad campaign and not the parent brand.

RIP 2012-2013
There is actually very recent precedent for what MLS has done. If you remember back to 2012 and when JC Penny brought in high level Apple executive Ron Johnson to help freshen up the brand. Johnson implemented some pretty radical policies and changes, among them was a new logo that replaced a longtime standby. In may ways the MLS logo is exactly the same. The same ideas and philosophies of adapting to change, environment, etc.

It failed, Johnson was removed by the board and the logo returned to the old standby.

Another interesting note about this brand unveiling today as the overall theme of #MLSnext as a meaning of moving ahead or each day being better. This idea, as with the JC Penny brand (or even Nationwide), was either ignorantly taken or completely ripped from PepsiCo and their Pepsi Next campaign.

Pepsi has long been trying (1963) to be the more youthful alternative to Coca-Cola products so over the years they've tried different campaigns to drive this home. Back in the late 1990s they introduced a "Generation Next" tagline that featured songs by the Spice Girls and Ricky Martin (ironically using David Beckham as a spokesman).

One of the most interesting things about this branding project MLS has going on is that the logo reminded me so something I would have done on my way to getting my design degree (?!) back in the late '90s. Tying this all together is Athletics use of  The Chemical Brothers' supremely 90s "Let Forever Be" in their introductory video (bottom of page).

I guess since we've pillaged the 80s, the 90s is fair game. What's funny is the 90s were a modern take on the 70s. We are collapsing in on ourselves. SAVE YOURSELF.

Yes, I have B.A. with a major in Graphic Design (and a minor in Fine Art!) - and you'll also note that had to learn another trade, ie. manufacturing - but it's for the largest retailer of posters and custom framing on the planet. So there is some carryover there. Loving it for the past decade.

MLS seems to be having a hard time finding the right fit for Los Angeles' other team in league owned "Chivas USA." With attendances at all time lows for any MLS team in history, it's not surprising.

Earlier this week Don Garber mentioned that shutting the franchise down for a year or two is on the table and then today made it sound like there may be a buyer out there somewhere. There likely is, just not one the league likes for whatever reason.

The team is broken and MLS has no one to blame but themselves. The business models of C.D. Guadalajara and MLS don't mesh and never will. This also makes the deal with NYCFC and Manchester City a head scratcher. Why would the league enter into a partnership like this again is risky, at best.

LA and other markets like NY or Chicago or the Bay Area or any major city in the US are plenty large enough to host dozens of pro teams. Just not MLS teams.

Perhaps one day MLS will get it but judging from these three items above that day is very (very) far off.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Podcast: Red Cards in Helltown - Episode XV

Rick Gethin and Larry Johnson go over the latest in domestic soccer.

• MLS Commissioner Don Garber signs new 5 year deal
• Good, bad - what we would like, what's missing
• Learning from others (auto industry)
• Chivas USA brand shutting down, LA2 or somewhere else
• California could have full pro leagues by themselves

• Round off previous segment
• Houston recap, thoughts
• Berhalter audio
• Players working their way in the lineup altered style
• Meram bulldogged his way in lineup
• Dwight Burgess "Crew playing keep away" (aka possession)
• Game adjustments (Anor, Jimenez subs)
• Wil Trapp goal, other individual play
• Upcoming schedule
• Emanuel Pogatetz signing, role in roster
• Taking temperature of Crew re-brand
• Crew identity, hard earned but getting changed, hard to build

• Attendance figures not matching turnstile
• Why it matters
• Shameless Sports Business Journal plug
• Playoff race, why the 4th place is a winner
• Playoffs drive us crazy

• Check out more Red Cards in Helltown on SoundCloud!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Predictions, Thoughts; Dynamo v Crew

Columbus Crew travel to Houston, Texas today to take on the MLS team down there. Kickoff is Today, 8:30 PM Eastern and will be televised on CSN Plus, Time Warner Sports Channel Ohio. The name of the venue is BBVA Compass Stadium.

CLB: Have only won one of their last 11 on the road
CLB: Traveled 18 players, reportedly
CLB: I'm sure there's other news around here somewhere
HOU: Are a team branded as "The Dynamo," have orange and white colors
HOU: \
HOU: *

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

41% (4) GOAL.COM ... DRAW
37% (5) BET365 ... HOUSTON DYNAMO
--% (-) WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)
--% (-) MASSIVE REPORT ... (preview only)

Should be a good one today. Houston trying to game this season by keeping roster small going into next CBA and trying to make a push to sneak into the MLS Cup tournament after the season ends. The Columbus Crew are in an advantageous position right now.

Speaking of the Crew, they have been poor on the road after winning a couple early. The thought was that this was due to inexperience but I just went over where players stood with total appearances last night and some of these guys have mountains of experience, just not as starters (completely different mindset). Would like to see Finlay, Meram and whomever plays up top (Schoenfeld) have a good game tonight.

*I'll never understand why a MLS team in Houston would build a stadium without an open end. I think this every time there is a Houston game on. Head scratcher. That said, looks to be "cooler" for that part of the country today, temps in the 80s with chance of storms. Rain would be very welcome addition to this match. Fall is here in Ohio, really nice out!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Tchani is Crew

Tony Tchani will overtake Josh Williams and Eddie Gaven for third overall in Columbus Crew appearances since 2011 this weekend with 72. Thought it worth noting. Here is top 10 since 2011.

Apps Since 2011, Player
87 Chad Marshall
83 Justin Meram
71 Josh Williams
71 Tony Tchani
71 Eddie Gaven
68 Sebastián Miranda
66 Federico Higuaín
64 Bernardo Anor
62 Jairo Arrieta
56 Andy Gruenebaum
55 Ethan Finlay

Have been following MLS since Tchani entered the league. In particular, his time with Columbus. He's done it the hard way. Preferred status here at Helltown. Also, Meram, Anor and Finlay. Maybe not such a surprise they are getting it together.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Weaker Crew Opposition Drive Updated KRAMB

KRAMB = Points per Game + Goal Difference earned as a starter

It's been a few months since I updated this measurement that Ryan Kramb (M.S., PhD, Chemical Engineering) and I worked out last year, so here it is. The way it works is, well, the bigger the number the better!

PPG+GD : Player, Games Started
2.13 : Tyson Wahl, 8
2.00 : Adam Bedell, 7
2.00 : Eric Gehrig, 11
1.93 : Ethan Finlay, 14
1.83 : Justin Meram, 12
1.74 : Waylon Francis, 19
1.65 : Federico Higuaín, 23

1.48 : Steve Clark, 27

1.47 : Giancarlo Gonzalez, 17
1.43 : Wil Trapp, 21
1.40 : Michael Parkhurst, 25
1.40 : Héctor Jiménez, 15
1.31 : Tony Tchani, 26
1.19 : Bernardo Anor, 16
1.13 : Chad Barson, 8
1.08 : Jairo Obando Arrieta, 13
1.00 : Joshua Williams, 13
0.50 : Dominic Oduro, 6
0.00 : Ben Speas, 6

Under Five Games...
5.00 : Kevan George, 2
5.00 : Aaron Schoenfeld, 1
1.67 : Daniel Paladini, 3
0.75 : Agustín Viana, 4

Taking it one step further, here is a chart showing how each player lands above replacement, which is a way to say team average (when just looking at one, as I am). Still though... The Crew are currently 10th in a 19 team league so, this could be representative of the league as well.

(click to enlarge)
As soon as I made the table on the left I started trying to figure out why there were not any players in the upper left quadrant. It's the place where we would find players in the negative PPG but + GD (vs team avg). What this means is that the Crew have been good at placing the right players on the pitch to start.

Since I've been tracking this in 2011, the Crew haven't made a habit of winning games late after subs come on - but we did start seeing "super sub" type stuff a couple years ago with Robert Warzycha. While that's good in sports that have unlimited subs, it's not something you want to see in soccer. A "super sub" is a player that should be starting. Leave the 6th man or 12th man stuff for basketball and NFL.

Winning late on a regular basis means you're not starting the right guys.


I've got a good bit of data and history on most of these players so I thought it was pretty interesting that guys like Gehrig, Finlay and Meram were up there. Especially Wahl. After matching it up with average opponent difficulty though, the story became a little more clear. What this chart simply shows is that the easier the opponent, the better the result of each player.

[UPDATED: Chart changed to include all players with at least 10 starts, by season since 2012]

Up to this point, this season has been a story of pre and post injury of players like Williams, Arrieta and Jimenez. Turns out the Crew were playing slightly more difficult teams early in the season when Gregg Berhalter's preferred guys were starting.

This shouldn't take everything away from the work that the guys at the top are doing. Their performance has a part in their opposition dropping in the table.

Here is each player's average opponent difficulty. You'll note the best scores are guys playing the weaker MLS sides. There isn't much difference between a Ben Speas and Justin Meram, for example, but there is between Hector Jimenez and Speas. Three full spots when comparing the former with Finlay.

Average Opponent Table Position : Name
13.75 : Tyson Wahl
12.71 : Adam Bedell
12.07 : Ethan Finlay
10.92 : Justin Meram
10.64 : Eric Gehrig
10.63 : Chad Barson
10.53 : Waylon Francis
10.35 : Federico Higuaín

10.22 : Steve Clark

10.17 : Ben Speas
9.96 : Michael Parkhurst
9.92 : Tony Tchani
9.76 : Wil Trapp
9.62 : Jairo Obando Arrieta
9.47 : Giancarlo Gonzalez
8.85 : Joshua Williams
8.81 : Bernardo Anor
8.67 : Dominic Oduro
8.53 : Héctor Jiménez

Ultimately, this is Major League Soccer and the more time guys get the more they will fall towards playing teams ninth on the overall table.

In the chart above you see sort of a normal distribution curve - the guys falling out of it is what you should look for.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

No Pictures. Just Numbers. Sorry, Larry, if I Get it Horribly Wrong

Conservative estimate of next years salary cap: $4.5 million

Portion of $1.4 million in additional cap space which will go to current Crew Players: $400,000

Remaining cap space: $1 million+approximately $3-400,000 Crew not currently using

Taking into account historical trends in Major League Soccer, what will be the most efficient, re: successful, way to use the new cap dollars?

First, protect from the expansion draft:

Pogatetz (if fits with team)
Williams (if healthy, otherwise Gehrig)

Increase the salaries of Justin Meram, Ethan Finlay, Bernardo Anor, Tony Tchani, Eric Gehrig and Hector Jimenez. These bumps in pay should account for the majority of the $400,000 number above.

Spend $6-700,000 of the remaining $1.3-$1.4 million on a mid-twenty-year-old, proven striker.

Spend $6-700,000 of the remaining $1.3-$1.4 million on a mid-twenty-year-old, proven central-mid.

Win MLS Cup!

Gregg Berhalter and the Magic Towel

The above photo is of the Columbus Crew coach and sporting director, Gregg Berhalter, during his short time in charge of Hammarby in Sweden. Note what seems to be a scarf around his neck. Months of in-depth research lead me, Vidda "JibJab" Grubin, to believe that scarf is really a simple towel in disguise.

I have been accused of paranoid conspiracy leanings in the past. Heck, just yesterday I was rudely accused of that very thing during a discussion about SpongeBob SquarePants. Is he simply a well-intentioned adolescent sponge earning his keep flipping crabby patties and spending his free time catching jellyfish with his pink friend, Patrick? Or, is he a yellow-bellied commie sympathizer out to brainwash the youth from "sea to shining sea".

Each episode of SpongeBob begins with a supreme ruler, an evil looking uncle-like captain, who sings: "Who lives in a pineapple..." (think Cuba), "...under the sea" (what does he have to hide?). "He's absorbent and yellow..." (yellow, really? pretty obvious there). This captain guy tells all the kids in America to "...drop on the deck and flop like a fish." (Red, white and blue kids ain't floppers or fish. Damn, that gets me going!).

Anyway, back to Gregg Berhalter and the towel disguised as a scarf. If you have read my stuff previously, you know that I adhere to the rules of universal travel (credit to the late, great Douglas Adams): always carry a towel, keep a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy handy and listen closely to what the dolphins have to say. Gregg Berhalter, I think, has the towel part perfected.

Berhalter's discovery of the universal usefulness of even the most simple of towels dates back to the photo above. My research proves that Gregg Berhalter's time in Sweden found the current Columbus Crew coach with only a towel at his disposal. That towel likely saved his life when things began to go sour. The goals dried up, and losses led to Hammarby's faithful calling for Berhalter's head.
The photo above shows the towel disguised as a tie. The towel couldn't help Berhalter save his job, but it did, with a little help from the Stockholm police, see him safely out of Sweden.
Berhalter was cast into the wilderness. He had to find a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. If he did, he knew he might find the Heart of Gold spaceship with its Infinite Improbability Drive. Notice the towel disguised as a scarf in the photo above.

Somewhere, after his narrow escape from Sweden and during his wanderings around Europe, I believe Mr. Berhalter did find a copy of the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Nothing else explains his miraculous arrival in Columbus, Ohio. Without the "Guide" he never would have known about the magical yellow stadium and its dolphin professed Scioto River Catfish Taco future (see: Helton Janglom's Template for Life. No, really, read it, it's good).

Showing the wear and tear of a lucky vagabond (the look in the above picture, that sly smirk, proves Gregg Berhalter had in his possession a copy of the "Guide." And, again, the towel as scarf), the Columbus Crew's coach was ready to build the next great soccer dynasty. All he needed was to locate the Heart of Gold spaceship.

While his initial attempts to improve the Crew were successful, they soon ran into hard times. After opening the 2014 season with three straight wins, the Black and Gold began a seventeen game run in which they would win just two games. Things were not looking good for Columbus' newest hitchhiker.

I propose that it was during this run of poor form that Coach Berhalter found the priceless Heart of Gold Spaceship. The photo below is proof.
Somehow Berhalter found a way to turn the towel into a shirt. Genius. He must have the Heart of Gold, and he used it to travel to the planet Ablididas. Clearly, he inserted his towel into a run of shirts being made on the planet by its many family owned stitcheries. Possibly the dolphins told him to.

Also as obvious is the fact that Gregg Berhalter decided to stick with the youngsters on his roster. He chose to run-out players like Finlay, Meram, Anor, Jimenez, Trapp and Gehrig week after week despite the mounting number of ties and losses in the middle of the season. Only a trip on the Heart of Gold could account for such an astute decision.
Gregg Berhalter must have gone back in time to the moment in the photo above. He then realized that his mentor and former coach, Bruce Arena, not only had in his possession a copy of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but Arena had somehow completely ingested any number of towels throughout his own travels. (Simply look at the size and shape of the man. There is no other explanation).

Having traveled back in time, Berhalter asked his mentor "What's the secret to success in Major League Soccer?" Arena's reply, "Stick with the youngsters." As Berhalter began to ask what the answer to "Life, The Universe and Everything" is, he was swept into a black hole and had to find his way back to Columbus. The search for his Midwest home was arduous, but short. Columbus is often confused with black holes. Finding a place similar to a black hole, while in a black hole, is not easy.

Once back in Ohio, Berhalter stuck with his youngsters and has been rewarded with more goals, entertaining soccer and a chance to continue building a soccer dynasty in Columbus, Ohio of all places.
The photo above confirms my theory. Notice the out of out-of-character smile, the towel as tiny Crew badge and the bit of weight Coach Berhalter seems to have put on (all clear signs of someone having swallowed their first towel).

(Photos in this article courtesy of and various Swedish websites)


Monday, September 8, 2014

Crew Sign Austrian Defender, Cap Space Estimate

The Columbus Crew announced the signing of Austrian Defender Emanuel Pogatetz today. No official details on the deal but on his personal website it is was noted that he will be top five defender in salary (that tidbit seems to be taken down).

Not a lot of mystery to players these days. Outside of the amount of video and access online, you also have armies of video game ratings and analysis.

Pogotetz is a solid defender and has been brought in to fill the hole that Giancarlo Gonzalez left when he successfully transferred to Palermo last month. He's not as young as Gonzalez or will he fetch a future transfer fee, he will, however, keep goals from happening better than most replacement level MLS defenders. He also brings a mountain of experience to the team.

His exact salary isn't known but we can estimate it to be in the $300k range. Pogotetz was out of contract so it's reasonable to assume there was not transfer fee (allocation) involved. With the addition, the Crew are likely return to around $400k in free cap space (that's 2014 MLS cap space, anyway. Reports, as well as my estimates, have the 2015 cap space increasing modestly to $5 million from the $3.1 it is now).

A player like this is a good signing for a MLS team. Depending on his adjustment period he should be adding a degree of toughness to the Crew back line. He's certainly got a couple good years in him and is a couple steps above current options if looking less immediate and more 12-18 months.

In other words, a player like Pogatetz keeps you out of the bottom of the league.

Finally, now that the Crew have filled the hole Gonzalez left they should be moving on to Forwards.

Sunday, September 7, 2014


The announced attendance figure at Crew Stadium this afternoon for their 3-0 win over Chivas USA was 17,043, which works out to be about 85% of the 20k capacity. There wasn't anywhere near that amount at 1 Black and Gold Blvd today.

Recording a Tickets Sold figure that doesn't match with what's actually in stadium isn't unique to the Columbus Crew or even MLS, in particular. A couple years ago the Boston Red Sox were announcing a record string of sellouts that turned out to be completely bogus (and embarrassing).

While "announced attendance" is reportedly tickets sold, it clearly isn't the turnstile number. The latter is very important, as a sizable percentage of team revenue comes from parking, merchandise, concessions, etc. Over the years the Crew haven't been the best at getting ticket buyers to the stadium. Inexpensive package deals and group sales may be the primary culprits, but he primary driver is likely only known to the head of sales.

Sometimes low, but most of the time it's way over what is actually at the stadium. The difference between "announced" and turnstile only becomes an issue when they are clearly not anywhere close to matching up. It needs to be tightened up.

I've been to sellout Crew games as well as games where only a few thousand show. Games at 85% capacity are assigned seating type events - not "Larry can pick his spot in the upper deck" games.

Most Crew games fall in the estimated 12-15k variety.

Podcast: Red Cards in Helltown - Episode XIV

David Burgin joins Larry Johnson and host Rick Gethin on this week's podcast.

• We dig into what happened in Toronto, firings, poor results
• It will just take a couple wins for them to stay in it
• Missing Defoe
• MLS Commissioner on Promotion / Relegation
• "A very shallow pool"
• Soccer people are not "I watch all sports, people"

• We all assume Crew beat Chivas (which they do)
• Berhalter's playoff goal 49 pts (via Jardy and Dispatch)
• Philly, New England key
• David talks about how much one player can impact
• Kraft swooping in to get Jones
• Organizational distractions
• Players with MLS experience
• Wil Trapp's future, "crossroads?"
• Manchester City Trailist in Columbus
• Bedell's play, one touch back to the midfield

• Eastern Conference table
• NY vs Sporting KC
• Toronto is the dark horse
• Intense time of MLS calendar, competitively
• Western Conf look
• Colorado... guh
• Klopas frustration
• Player apathy
• Henry fire

• USL Pro / MLS Reserve relationship
• Spreading the money, thin

Predictions: Crew Home vs MLS Team

Columbus Crew host the league owned LA team today at 3:00 PM EST, 12:00 PM EST.

CLB: Trapp, Tchani suspended (yellow accumulation)
CLB: Look to bounce back after disappointing loss
CLB: Still looking for consistent production from forward position
MLS; (nothing notable)

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

42% (4) GOAL.COM ... DRAW
35% (4) BET365 ... COLUMBUS CREW
--% (-) WV HOOLIGAN ... (no pick)
--% (-) MASSIVE REPORT ... (no pick)

The Crew come into this one as heavy favorites against a team whose future is very much uncertain. Bet365 has the home side 4/9 favorites, Win Draw Win likes this one as a 1-0 win with only 14% of the user votes going the visitors way.

Adam Jardy's preview for the Dispatch isn't quite as confident on the Crew side as it was last week when the team took on a poor Montreal saying they have "take care of business against the worst team in the West.", on the other hand, picked the Crew across the board.

Even without regular starters in Tony Tchani and Wil Trapp, anything less than a win today will raise some serious questions as the opposition is in comparatively complete dysfunction.

Weather looks pretty good, clear and warm.

The Cable Snapped, or Innoncence Lost??

The Cable Snapped, or Innocence Lost
By: Vidda “JibJab” Grubin
September 7, 2014 (Amended January 16, 2017)

{The below is an update of a piece I wrote over two years ago. Given the trajectory of Major League Soccer, I thought a redo was in order.}

The cable snapped…twang…quietly. The auditory nature of the “twang” made sense, the cable was made out of Twizzlers. The kids picked up the scatted pieces of red deliciousness quicker than a soccer mom, or dad, can peel an orange.

The game was over and Tommy and Timmy had somehow found a way to tie Twizzlers around their two dirt and grass-stained soccer balls. After circling the individual balls in sugary goodness, the two friends got the idea to tie the balls together with the remaining stretchy lengths of candy.

Gabbi, the goalkeeper for the under seven Squarepants Middleburg Youth Soccer Association team, had shouted “See how far you can stretch the balls apart.” Her declaration of childhood ingenuity was met by a raucous cheer from the rest of the Squarepants team.

Tommy and Timmy began pulling, slowly, the two balls apart. Time seemed to stand still as the small group of six and seven-year-olds (scraped knees, runny noses and bed hair) leaned closer. One or two attentive parents joined the time altering fun.

Six inches apart, seven, eight and then…twang…quietly. The picking-up and eating of the Twizzlers was accompanied by shouts of “Don’t eat that!” and “Gross!” Not a single child present remembered the game which had ended only five minutes earlier.

One particular dad remembered. He was busy waving his hands wildly at the 13-year-old referee. Words were coming out of the crimson faced father’s mouth. Something about offside and something about the Squarepants’ opponents, The Fiddlesticks, deserving to win. The 13-year-old ref stared, slack jawed, at the wild-eyed father. And then, the 13-year-old walked away, while mumbling “Wow” under his breath.

Like that Fiddlesticks father, North American soccer has finally made it to the edge of reason. North American soccer’s version is the billion-dollar, sports as big time business precipice. Major League Soccer has pushed the beautiful game up the rocky slope. There have been casualties along the way. The Tampa Bay Mutiny come to mind. There have been near disasters. Paul Caligiuri almost having to play more than a single season in Columbus, Ohio may have destroyed what little credibility MLS clung to in its infancy.

Don Garber, Major League Soccer’s billionaire owners and wanna-be owners want to push our sport over the edge and into the rainbow, unicorn and pot of gold filled valley below. The LeBron James, Mark Cuban, Jerry Jones, Tom Brady and Derek Jeter filled valley.

For many soccer fans, myself included, the trip up the mountain has been fun, a kind of affirmation of the bullied child’s life and dreams. For many soccer fans, like myself (somewhere between 45 and 60 years old), the thought of riding the unicorns and digging in the pots of gold is both quiver-inducing and nauseating.

We want to see the world’s greatest players on our Columbus Crew, Chicago Fire, New York Red Bull, Seattle Sounders and L.A. Galaxy. We want to watch youngsters born and raised in the United States command Messi-like respect. But we grew up with a chip on our shoulder. We carry that chip proudly. That chip helps define our soccer minds. That chip is as big as a boulder taken from the mountainside as we climbed higher and higher. That chip is made of taunts like “Soccer is for sissies. Why don’t you move to France if you want to play that commie sport? Soccer will never be big in the United States.”

Despite the rocky past, we cherish Saturdays at the park with our children. We look forward to a Thursday evening beverage remembering the ferociousness of a shot, the creativeness of a pass shared with the handful of lucky travelers who played the game alongside us in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. Our sport was our special secret, only the chosen few knew what made it shine.

Now, North American soccer is about to leap into a world of cocky, self-assured prominence. There is no room for hard-won boulders. What are we supposed to do with all those boulders? So many un-answered questions.

Will there still be room for size four soccer balls wrapped in Twizzlers? Or, perhaps more importantly, for the adult equivalent of size four soccer balls wrapped in Twizzlers, hidden coolers of beer dragged triumphantly from beneath team benches, flung open, contents emptied in a glorious celebration of the local team, it’s fans and caretakers winning the right to play at the next level?

You know, those boulders might just come in handy. Strap them on. Wear them proudly; because, there is one universal truth about our sport. The more human beings who feel a direct connection to the ball, the field of play, the teams, the players, coaches and fans, the greater the magical players become, the more vivid the magical moments shine.

We and all those who came before us, and our children after, those who slogged through mud puddles, spent hours juggling into the night, used trashcans for goals and cracked shins created the opportunity for the handful of businessmen who started Major League Soccer. It is our boulder to carry, and that boulder is shared with hundreds of millions around this beautiful planet.

Those who think they “own” the sport of soccer in this hemisphere must earn their place among us. There is nothing stopping them, the United States Soccer Federation and Major League Soccer, from regionalizing soccer (the blueprint is already in place at the youth level) in this country from the very bottom to the very top. There is nothing stopping the USSF and Major League Soccer from implementing a standardized set of criteria/rules for promotion and relegation within each region. There is nothing stopping the USSF and Major League Soccer from beginning promotion and relegation in the lower divisions and promotion only into the top tier, MLS, when teams in the second tier win their way in and meet the set criteria for top level play.

Would Major League Soccer want twenty years before a single team is relegated from the top tier? So be it. Give them twenty years. Do they want 7 or 8 teams per region, per level and five or six regions? So be it. This is a large country and close proximity of regular competition brings us all greater joy. Would Major League Soccer still want a championship among the winners of each region? So be it.

In a weird way, it is our burden, those wearisome boulders, which may reconnect the frayed and snapped cables of North American soccer. It is all of us who bear their weight who must bring, kicking and screaming if need be, USSF and MLS back into the beautiful game’s wide open soul.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Bedell's On Target Accuracy

Adam Bedell's lineup inclusion is due in some part to circumstance. Through Dominic Oduro's departure, Jairo Arrieta's form and nagging injuries and the team being generally thin at the Forward position that Bedell has gotten his chance.

Even with Aaron Schoenfeld returning from his loan stint with and impressive goal scoring run in Dayton, Bedell still manages to get time. It's possible that Schoenfeld may actually start to get a start or two in the future but the situation has me asking questions.

The big one: Is it really just circumstance that Bedell is in there?

I don't get to see practices (nobody does, really), nor do we have reserve games any more where we can see players like Bedell play. We don't even get to see scrimmages anymore. The Columbus Crew, well, keep things pretty closed up these days. So to answer the question of why a player might be playing takes a couple things (we'll get 2 "whys" deep here, for all you six sigma people).

1. Faith that the coach is doing the right thing by playing him via practice.

2. Said player gets time in regular season games and/or public friendlies, has good stats.

Since number one is unreliable (yes, even coaches like Berhalter are susceptible to it, especially the longer the relationship with a player, it's natural), we have to go with number two.

Bedell, with 632 crossed my first imaginary line of 450 minutes (five 90 minute games) and is now working on my next, more important line of 900 minutes. He's in that 5-10 game zone of "is this real or a trend" that I've observed.

If we take a quick look at Non-Penalty Goals + Assists (NPG+A) of all the forwards in the league over 450 minutes played we see that Bedell falls just under what we might call a replacement level player (average forward MLS guy).

click to enlarge
Since it would only take one more goal or assist to put Bedell at 0.43 he is right on the edge of changing peoples attitudes towards his production. He's not there though and there are a lot of players that are only that last step away from jumping up a level.

Digging just slightly deeper, is shot creation and accuracy (not looking at chance creation right now, where he does have 7 key passes logged this year). Bedell is doing ok in one, good in another.

While he isn't getting as many chances has we might like per game (52nd overall of Forwards over 450) he is making them count when he does take them (13th overall in Shots on Target per game).

SOT per Game : Name
2.14 Clint Dempsey
1.99 Bradley Wright-Phillips
1.97 Robbie Keane
1.79 Kekuta Manneh
1.77 Deshorn Brown
1.61 Chad Barrett
1.58 Fanendo Adi
1.58 Dom Dwyer
1.57 Jermain Defoe
1.54 Marco Di Vaio
1.54 Joao Plata
1.44 Chris Wondolowski
1.42 Adam Bedell

That's a pretty good list of players. Here's how that looks up against all Crew Forwards since 2010...

1.58 Emilio Renteria 2010
1.42 Adam Bedell 2014
1.38 Andres Mendoza 2011
1.32 Emilio Renteria 2011
1.23 Jairo Arrieta 2012

Adam Bedell isn't getting all the chances he needs (some of this due to team tactics) he is placing them on frame at a higher rate than most of the other forwards and this is likely what Berhalter see's and likes - but here we are at the end of this post now and we are left with why he doesn't have at least one more goal?

"Luck?" A simple moment of brilliant goalkeeping (a blast in DC comes to mind that Bedell had)? One more goal and he jumps to the league average for MLS forwards with 3.33 goals per shot on frame (3.15). As it stands though, it's taken Bedell five shots on frame to get a goal. Too many.

There is a case to be made that Berhalter's faith in this particular player will be rewarded. There are enough signs that Bedell can become a productive Forward, but he isn't quite there yet - even when he does get there, you need something better than just productive to be a good team.

As it stands, Bedell (as a player in a forward role) is doing pretty much what is asked on the shot taking front. He's getting chances and putting them on target. There are other figures that point to the Crew need a better possession / holding / passing forward but that's a post for another day. Bedell is what they have now.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The SuperDraft is Dead, Once More for Ryan Finley

Do you know how many top 10 MLS "superdraft" picks have played over 1000 minutes a season since 2011? How about the number that have performed above replacement at their position since then? Have any been signed for a bigger payday with a different club - here, or overseas?

Ryan Finley, 9th pick in the 2013 MLS SuperDraft by the Columbus Crew, returns to Crew Stadium this weekend. He isn't the answer to any of the questions above, but none of the draft picks meet the qualifications in my first paragraph. The MLS draft is silly.

I like Ryan Finlay. He's a breed of player that MLS relies on while at the same time takes for granted. A "do your part, stay in line, don't ask questions" type of college kid. The league would prefer them to be like one of those generic enemies in that latest video game military shooter. Fodder. Dempsey filler, perhaps. But Finley sort of dares to step out a bit.

Twenty some games in, playing on his second team, trying to get the dozens of fans fired up along with teammates on a league owned franchise. Dash of fire. Hint of passion. He wants to be somebody and in a league filled with nobodies, that's more than good enough for me.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Crew Passing ('13 vs '14)

We are far enough into the 2014 season to get a good feel between Gregg Berhalter's Columbus Crew and Robert Warzycha's. While I'm noticing plenty of differences, not many stand out as differently as passing statistics.

Just about any fan that has watched the Crew for the past few years can tell you the team passes and posses the ball more. This also leads to said fan to say the team is more enjoyable to watch. While the overall trend in the world is to do such things, it is still a part of the game that hasn't quite made it to MLS save for a handful of teams (Crew being one that is trying).

Passing can tell you a lot about the way a team plays. How many is usually a quick and easy way to know what a team likes to do. If you dig a little deeper you can find out where the passes are coming from and to what degree of success they happen.

Drilling down on passing is not what I'm doing here today, just taking a look at how the volume of passes has changed verses last year. I knew there was a difference, but had not idea it was this much. So, it gets a mini post were I get to play with charts and learn how to post them.

Here is passing totals by round vs last year.