Thursday, January 29, 2015

MLS Focused USMNT Struggling

Over the year or so we've seen the return of high profile USMNT players to the North America's major domestic league > MLS! In that time the team has hit a rough patch. In fact, it's as bad as the team has performed since sometime back in 2007 - one win in the last nine for the best in the USA.

For an excellent recap of the USMNT last outing, head on over to Graham Parker's Guardian piece: "Five things for the USA to take from Chile defeat."

After the US takes on Panama in a friendly environment, February 2nd - she goes on to face Denmark, Switzerland, Mexico, Netherlands and Germany later on this year. Tough Schedule. But, if ever there was a time to prove it, perfect time for this group to do it.

Matt Lampson is not from this world...

Columbus Crew goalkeeper Matt Lampson is not from a world that you would know. It is a world full of vivid color and a rich palette that makes yours' pale in comparison. We could only hope to experience life at the speed of Lampson, for it would truly be a sight to behold..

He posted this to social media and it deserves to be shared with all of you. The following is Matt Lampson in his own words, at his finest outside of the goal. Embrace the ride that he is taking us on...

Lords of the League: The Two Trophies

Chapter 1:

Dark and evil times have befallen the world. A great, mysterious power has gained control of one of the most powerful relics in all the realms, The One Cup. The Galackseean empire sits patiently amidst the looming Mount Hollee-wood, vehemently defending what they have stolen. Their reign of terror, fear and fascism is one that must come to an end. The closest allies of Galacksee came from the north. Comprised of hideous green monsters, orcs, Sea-at-al had taken control of The Shield. With both The Shield and The One Cup held in the hands of evil, it was clear what must happen. It is for this overwhelming necessity of peace and safety, that a small faction of wise beings in the far off realm of Columbor came together, to unite a world.

A tall slender man wearing tight black pants and a form-fitting white button-up shirt strode into a tavern. He sat down amongst the various peasants, seemingly waiting. The man's eyes shone with experience and zeal, his vision was clear. It was Grogg the green, an aging, stoic and wise wizard, that sensed the need to overthrow the ruthless Galacksee and all of their power. He sat calmly, brooding over everything it would take to return the throne to the rightful place. As he looked up from his pint, two men had swiftly entered the tavern. Grogg expected them, as it was by his request that they were there. The first was a massive figure. He moved with ease despite his size, taking large, strong strides over to the table. His beaver-skin jacket and snow shoes werethe tell-tale sign of his origin. The last of his kind, On-Stand, the last remaining Giant from the realm of Canador stood with patience next to the table. The second man was shifty, almost as if he hid something. His hint of quick, agile movement displayed his once prominent speed. Half the size of On-Stand the Giant, he still carried with him a sense of poise that was vastly respectable. His feathered hair bounced in the slight breeze, a physical trait which was not surprising for those with his powers. Being a Necromancer, Wulff had many powers that kept his physical appearance in perfect condition, despite his age. Grogg was elated to see that his plan may yet have a chance. Regardless of the hardship, effort, and talent required for the ultimate goal, it was with these men that they would choose an army to bring back peace.

The three men sat down, exchanged pleasantries, and began discussing what was needed to achieve their goal. They all had seen the disaster and heartache that the Galacksee had wrought and knew that the realm of Columbor was the only way to bring peace. After hours of deliberation, it was decided that due to their age and failing bodies, the three could not bring back the throne by themselves. Grogg knew that they must unite men from all over the world, from every realm, and they must come together to end the evil reign of Galacksee. They needed an army, but something more unified. They needed a brotherhood, a family, a fellowship...a Crew.

In the blistering cold of Columbor, the wizard, giant, and necromancer began to assemble their Crew. Five warriors from the home realm of Columbor, with four others from the nearby villages of both The Cleve, and Mishigahn were eager to assist in the common goal. The call for peace had reached across the entire world, as men were chosen to fight for the cause of greater good.

The Blondes of Cahlifornyah, dynamic champions of A-Frique, Elves from the land-of-Ice, Austreeyah, and Sweetdon. One very important inclusion was a small, wiry hobbit from a small cheese making shire in the north. And perhaps most surprisingly, the dwarves. The dwarves were essential to the success of the coup. Their level of skill and technique was unrivaled. Although diminutive in size, two dwarves in particular were clear choices to lead such a deserving Crew. A hairy, uncharacteristicly thin dwarf by the name of Parkhurt-Trollslayer was a born leader. His calming demeanor, positive attitude, and potent ambition made him an easy one to follow. The other dwarf is one, it seemed, from legend. It has been said that he had smited the mighty dragon of Port Land with one blow of his foot. His journey to Columbor had taken him from the distant South, from the exotic forests of Good Airs. The most unusual aspect of the man that would most assuredly help regain the Shield and One Cup is that he would feast on chips. Chip, after chip, after chip, no chip would fill the dwarf with satiation.

Grogg, On-Stand the Giant, and Wulff had appointed their Crew. It was time that they assembled them together, in the warm, far-off realm of Lake-Wood, to prepare for battle. They would be tested, pushed, and perhaps even maimed, but it is through a two month crucible, that a Crew will emerge as one to start their journey. And so it began, a season before a season, to prepare a Crew of Warriors alike, to achieve a common goal, and bring glory, peace, and happiness back to Columbor.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Seventh Annual Helltown Beer Game of the Year, This War of Mine

2014 marked a different kind of year for console focused game players as we saw all three of the major players - Microsoft, Nintendo and Sony - release new consoles to as little fanfare in the history of video gaming.

That's not to say it's a bad thing. It's actually good. Have we finally reached a day that gaming progress isn't marked by better graphics on bigger and badder TVs? The macro market says "no, we have not." But, while it might not show at the executive summary level, there has been a shift away from that to something more simple.

[I see PC folks nodding their head].

I've been through enough new console events to know that the first year is basically a dud. All the new hardware requires studios that have the money time, and more time, to adjust, learn and expand upon. One of the best things about the last generation was that it lasted so long. Longest in the relatively short history of gaming, actually. So what ended up happening is that developers had the tools and comfort level with the hardware. With that, we got some of the best games in a generation. It's something that this new generation had to teach me, I guess.

With that, my Game of the Year is This War of Mine. A comparatively simple game with a deeply moving and intense narrative. By intense - I mean downbeat. Solemn. Thoughtful. Terrible. Depressing.

Those words remind me of a story I once heard about an art exhibit. It was in a hallway and focused on typography. On one side was words like FAST, RUN, INTENSE, and the like. Active words. On the other side was the opposite. SLOW, WALK, and so on. What the exhibitors were looking for was if the words had any impact on the visitors. Indeed they did. People that were reading one side moved through faster than the other. The impact of simple language at work in a simple setting.

This War of Mine takes a look at war from a civilians perspective. Not a in the hero or godlike warrior form we normally see these days. Just in the for of normal people figuring out how to survive in a war torn city. The gameplay is resource driven. Go out and scavenge for supplies and risk healthy character to help sick ones? Or leave him home to stand guard through the night. This game tells you that there is no correct answer.

This game impacted me in another way, in that I had a employee on my one of my teams from an area, let's say, close to Bosnia. He didn't talk much about the war, nor what it was like. But I do know that he had to leave the US to go back to try and prove that, in fact, he did exist. Reason being, generations of records had been destroyed by a recent war in the region. There was nothing. He felt he was nothing and had to go back to prove he was a person that existed. The day he left I told him I should come out and visit... "visit what," he replied.

This War of Mine is unrelenting and. for anyone that tries it, has you questioning what exactly makes a game. To me, it taps into the incredible storytelling power of games that can hit you like a load of bricks. Not the made of foam type that movies have. The real kind. And each minute of this game has to working that out.

The game is about decisions and not skill / reaction time or big cut screens. This past year has seen games, game writers, artists and developers realizing that you don't need those things.


First up is one I'm still enjoying. It's NBA 2K15. Visual Concepts, Take 2 and 2K have outdone themselves with this series. EA's FIFA might be the glamour title in the world of sports right now but this game... this game. I don't know how many hundreds of hours I have on FIFA over the years but nothing is as jaw dropping as 2K15. It's an amazing technical achievement. I've put a good bit in to the "My Player" function of the game recently and while the story drifts after a bit the gameplay picks it up. It's the summit of sports role playing. And it's beautiful. The vine you see here is of my first NBA start. It took me a couple 10 day deals to make it work but I made it happen. Well worth pulling out the phone to record the vine.

Something else worth mentioning is The Wolf Among Us. It's an episodic game, storytelling based with quicktime elements. Technically, it started back in 2013 but most of the episodes showed up in 2014.Telltale games is the publisher and with "Wolf" has become the sort of go to place for episodic games (currently working with the Game of Thrones property, which is about the top of the top). I picked up "Wolf" because the time (1980s) period and the familiar stories (fairy tales). Expanding upon stories is nothing new (Into the Woods type stuff, the 80s Broadway type) but it's a game with choose your own adventure type elements. It works. Really well. A downbeat game that captures a 200 Cigarettes New York about as good as any piece of modern entertainment has. I'm back and forth on the art/animation but an early scene with a chain smoking member of the three little pigs in a shitty apartment will have you hooked.


Assassin's Creed is a series that I like and had irrational high hopes for with Unity. It is a labored mess but I won't let it tarnish a series that consider to be entertaining (on the major platforms). Unity is the quintessential year one release on a new console. A beautiful mess. I found myself taking loads of screenshots and videos but as you progresses through the game it became a godawful mess. So much pretty and so little meaningfulness.

Right behind that I have Far Cry 4. A game coming on the heels of a game I fell in love with in 3. This year's version fine tuned the story while trying to meet the demands of a media that dumped on the "mighty whitey" narrative of the third game.

Four has it's moments. Well, moment. I guess. The famous Rochan "Advanced Chemistry" brick factory comes to mind. Far Cry has a special place with me but it's one that I keep at arms length. So much filler (that I enjoy immensely) with little else as far as story. As I was playing it, I was constantly thinking of what to write about it. Ubisoft fine tuned the story and offered up a playgound of fun. Maybe that should be a testament to the game. Part of me believes that. But the other part of me thinks that the story was just an expansion upon what was just a bit part in the Uncharted series (albeit a beautiful part).

Far Cry 4, for me, is the game that bridges a lot of gaming gaps in a new console year. It's pretty. Stable. And fun as hell. Just not a lot to sink my teeth into on the story side. The idea and foundation is there, just not the execution. Difficult to explain after spending most of my holiday with this game. It's great, but more needed (?).

Did I mention pretty? Also, it's Far Cry. Ultimately, the previous two editions of this game are superior in many regards but Four has enough to satisfy the old school adventure gamer in all of us.

With that, a good place to stop. Lots of good games out there these days and I play them all year only to dump it all here in a game of the year post. It's unfair really.

Anywho. So much to cover, but I'll leave it. I found a great list over at Kill Screen that I like for year end things. Happy gaming.

Previous Helltown Game of the Year Winners:

2014: This War of Mine
2013: Last of Us
2012: Sleeping Dogs
2011: Skyrim
2010: Red Dead Redemption / Heavy Rain
2009: Uncharted 2
2008: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Anfield, Nighttime Game (1981)

Anfield, 1981 - Ian Berry
This picture is credited to Ian Berry, of whom you should run over HERE to learn and see more about. It crosseth my path via "Beyond the Last Man," a good follow on twitter. If I knew who you all were, I'd print this out in large format and frame it for you. Triple mat.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

CBA: MLS Players Digging in on the Impossible

This past week we saw the unofficial kickoff of labor negotiations between MLS and the Players Union with the players taking the lead in broadcasting their demands via social media and interviews with local and national media.

There are a couple articles to check out if you are wanting to get up to speed quickly: Here in Columbus, Ethan Finlay opened up with Adam Jardy over at the Dispatch and in national News, ESPN FC "No free agency in MLS' proposal for CBA, players' union says."

It really only takes two bullet points to sum up what the MLSPU wants.

• Free Agency (ability for teams to bid, player freedom to move)
• Increased minimum player wage

Free Agency is a tricky one for MLS and the single entity structure. League leadership considers it to be one of the cornerstones in the league's foundation and has defended it in court already (which creates more hurdles). The lack of player choice was made in the early days primary as to prevent what is considered to be the demise of the original NASL --> overspending on players.

While important to the players, the increased minimum player wage seems somewhat secondary to the free agency issue. In a recent interview with the Orlando City Sentinel, Tally Hall (veteran MLS goalkeeper) opened up:

“Disappointing to not have the league recognize when we say that unrestricted free agency is something that needs to be in the new deal. It is something that is hugely important to us. As players we are unified behind this idea that what basically every other soccer league has rights to, we think that we also deserve those rights. We’re very passionate about it. We met in Vegas, the player reps came together, had a meeting and we met all day. And I think we've never been more unified as a group, we've never had a more clear kind of mission. So unrestricted free agency being in the deal is one half, and the other is fair compensation for all players, which is not a surprise to anyone."

Along with Hall, Todd Dunivant and Michael Bradley have recently stated that players are more than ready to bunker for a couple months. Unfortunately, that's probably all they have in them and the operator / investors a very aware of this.

The reason the recent meeting between the two sides was short was because MLS essentially walked into the room, dropped off their proposal and left. Leaving the (inexperienced) union to sort out a response.

In order for players to have more freedom of movement it would take over a year to untangle what exists now. The reality is that it's cute that the players want that but they don't have the resources (both in attorney fees and saved salaries) to make that happen.


So, armed with an interesting week of CBA discussion, here is what might happen:

80% LIKELY: Players hold out from regular season games 6-8 weeks for free agency, get a convoluted, bastardized MLS version of it. Likely involving allocation and only two or three teams being allowed to bid for players. Players would still practice and likely hold a few in stadium events, scrimmages.

50% LIKELY: Players loosen up - aren't unified as season approaches. Rosters remain incomplete, a couple stars transfer out and MLS teams get stomped in CCL matches, training camps uneven because of uncertainty, coaches leave - and they agree to increased wages (something like $50k rookie and increased vet wages). League starts on time

5% LIKELY: The nuclear option. Don't budge on demands, willing to fight in court over freedom of player moment and hold out the entire year. Result would destroy the 'middle class' of MLS players but better players could move to other leagues (regionally or overseas) and the bottom half could head over to NASL or USL Pro. NASL might spring for a couple Wil Trapp type players but only room for a handful. It's also possible that players would take a less sum while negotiations are happening and join in with USL Pro or NPSL affiliates


The players should attack the last %5 option there with everything they have. Soccer has made it in this country. It's made it for sometime and still exists in the US even if MLS isn't operating. Something better would arise in it's place. Only good could come from the players standing together to get more rights. Not just for current players for future guys looking to jump in to MLS.

Soccer in the US would be more appealing to good players currently not in the league and of high value in the prime of their career. For that to happen, MLS's stranglehold on the players and, indeed, the sport, has to be loosened. Even if it requires a few (or even unwinding 20 years of) steps back. One league of 24 or 32 teams is not enough to fill the appetite for the sport in this country.

There are many soccer options out there for every citizen in this country, MLS city or not. Restricting the pro game will just leave more fans, and their money, looking elsewhere.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Wahl, Tyson - 2015 Crew SC (Starman)

Doesn't matter the league, there is something about a player that connects the past to the present. Tyson Wahl has become one of those players here in the US. Is that good or bad? I'm not sure. I guess that's for sites like Helltown to figure out, not you. For the time being, you have to live with it either way. Same as me.

Youth Career:
1998–2002... Irvine Strikers
2001... IMG Soccer Academy
2002–2005... California Golden Bears
2004–2005... Orange County Blue Star (21 apps)

Pro Career:
2006–2008... Kansas City Wizards (32 apps)
2009–2011... Seattle Sounders FC (39 apps)
2012... Montreal Impact (11 apps)
2012.. Colorado Rapids (4 apps)
2013– Columbus Crew (43 apps, man...)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

MLS Top Heavy Without the Glamour, Soul or Fun

Looking at the Top 5% vs Bottom 5% tells us that MLS is remarkably top heavy in comparison to other domestic leagues.

The addition of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Sebastian Giovinco to the MLS wage book got me wondering just how far out of whack the top guys in the league are getting verse the guys at the bottom.

You may have heard, maybe not (entirely possible), that the next MLS collective bargaining agreement is being negotiated right now. You probably haven’t heard much, I guess. Nobody has. With players reporting this week to get preseason exams and start training, it seems as if it’s business as normal.

Well, almost normal.

Harry Shipp’s recent comment about Giovinco’s salary is very telling and refreshingly candid “I wonder if Giovinco knows that he will literally make more money in 2 days than some of his teammates will the entire year,” he said. And he’s not wrong. MLS is close to going full “old NASL” (albeit without the glamour, soul or… fun) on us the past couple years after preaching slow and sustainable growth in the previous 16 or so.

I don’t understand why the league is ramping up investment on a handful of players at the top when it doesn’t raise the overall quality of the league, nor give more chances to US and Canadian players (which was part of the founding mission of the league). In fact, sprinkling in international talent tends to only raise the profile of the leagues from wince they came - something I’ve looked at, and still monitor.

Here’s a look at how many times the top 5% of MLS wage earners make over the bottom 5% as of the latest release from the MLS Players Union. To keep things level, I used base salaries as my primary source. Housekeeping on the MLS side - I added only Giovinco and replaced Henry with Altidore (Lampard and Gerrard are not added and only makes it look worse for MLS players).

Reports had Giovinco’s Serie A salary at around $2-3 million per year. His $7 million dollar MLS wage makes him not on the highest paid player in the league but also the highest paid Italian in the world. It’s nuts. And it also highlights what MLS has to pay over market value to bring in a “top” foreign talent. Not sustainable. Not smart. And sort of erratic.

Last up is what if MLS paid the bottom 5% proportionally to the top 5% - the same as these other leagues - what would minimum wage look like...

$52,000 -- MLB
$53,000 -- NBA
$117,000 -- NHL
$140,000 -- NFL

The People You Meet

(The man, the myth, the legend...Ronald McDonald, and some old dude)

Corporate sponsorship opportunities are sometimes like running past "Two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions, on a sesame seed bun."

Learned long ago (after thirty years of planning my running, jumping, lifting, kicking and concussions), if you want to stay fit into your second fifty years, don't think about exercising. Simply place an old t-shirt, favorite sweatshirt, ten-year-old shoes, fraying socks and loose fitting shorts (Underwear not required. Did I just say that?) near the front door.

When you find yourself walking between the TV and kitchen for the third time in ten minutes, turn off the TV. Without even thinking, slip the pile of raggedy exercise gear on your slower-than-molasses-on-a-late-Maine-winter-day body. Walk out the front portal of your domicile. Weather doesn't matter.

Start shuffling. Wave your arms around like a windmill on a Dutch tulip farm. Skip six or seven times, while making believe you and your fourth grade sweetheart are hand-in-hand. Stop. Bend over and touch your toes. Grab your ankle and pull it up behind you until it touches your butt. Start running.

If that pile of crappy clothing sits menacingly near the front door, you are bound to keep your fifty-something body in passable shape.

Been following the above advice for a few years now. It works.

Only minutes ago, I arrived home after such a jaunt. South on Kenny Road to Ackerman. Left onto Ackerman Road. Ackerman Road east to High Street. North on High Street.

Normally I would continue unburdened by anything but my own wheezing and screaming joints to North Broadway. Today I saw a sign.

I'm half-way from Ackerman to North Broadway. I'm passing the McDonalds on the west side of High Street just south of Longview. The sign reads...

"Come in and meet Ron at 5pm"

Ronald McDonald, the real deal, was only fifty feet from my struggling bones. I had to stop in. I had to get a picture with the giant red shoe wearing man who knows the Hamburglar better than anyone on planet earth.

I step inside the home of billions and billions served. Nice people all around. Kids talking to Ron. Moms taking pictures. An attractive young lady named Laurel is overseeing the red haired man's visit.

Laurel eyes me with amused suspicion. I'm clearly not seven-years-old.

"Hi. Was out for a run and saw the sign. Could I get my picture taken with Ron?"

"Uh, sure."

The world is a small place at times. If you float in and out of the soccer world, you quickly realize soccer's universe is a place where seven degrees of separation is two or three too many.

As I wait my turn with the great red-haired man, Laurel and I talk for close to twenty minutes. I'm happy to be in the warm McDonalds, instead of outside running in thirty-eight degree Clintonville, Ohio. Laurel played college soccer at Mt. Vernon Nazarene. Despite the age difference (it's significant) there are common soccer ties, the kind which rise to the surface anytime soccer people in the United States bump into each other.

After a great chat with the kind and wonderful Laurel, it's my turn to meet Ronald. We shake hands and he asks me...

"What's your name?"

"My name's David." I smile. This is great.

"Nice to meet you, David. I'm Ronald."

Pictures are snapped. Laurel is going to email them to me. I have to go back into the cold Columbus, now, night. But, I'm all warm inside. I got to meet Ronald McDonald.

Maybe the Columbus Crew SC and their new owner, Anthony Precourt, could get re-aquainted with Mr. McDonald. The Crew SC has beer, wings, pizza, subs, pacers, trotters and shaving cream locked down. How about some McDoubles and the expanding menu of healthy kid's fare being offered by Ronald and his nemesis, the Hamburglar?

Uh Oh

Friday, January 16, 2015

Throwing Money at a Problem

Godfrey, Toronto
Neat interview over at the Sports Business Journal last week with a large player in the Canadian (Toronto) sports world, Paul Godfrey.
“You can tell when one of your people, especially general managers in sports, start to get desperate. They start throwing money at players you wouldn't normally touch. They get a sense, ‘We haven’t won enough. I could be gone.’ You can almost see their moves coming. They start asking for more money to throw at players that in the first year of their tenure they didn't want — an aging star. When they are desperate, they want to gamble on that aging superstar having a little left in the tank. It’s their form of throwing a Hail Mary. It’s bad, but you see it all the time.”
It's not often you get an executive talking about things like this, publicly. Especially one that's right there in the middle of it in the bizarre world of Toronto sports. The quote above could relate directly to Toronto FC.

Godfrey is on the outside of the Bell / Rogers / MLSE deal that has reshaped Canada's media world. Elsewhere in the article he would talk about how they messed up the NFL in Toronto (really... how could you mess up the NFL?).

The piece doesn't directly mention Toronto FC but Godfrey does talk about Tim Leiweke's potential replacement.
“You really have to know the culture of Canada and you have to know the makeup of the personalities of the CEOs of both companies. It’s very difficult to parachute somebody in. To drop them on center ice, and say, ‘OK, keep them apart. OK, now, get them to agree.’
It's odd as hell that Toronto has snapped up two of the best US players in the world today, but here we are. We might not ever know exactly how that has happened but Godfrey's comments do shed some light on the sports situation.

Toronto is drenched with sports money. You can trace most of it to hockey but really it's just the fact that the big media guys have decided that working together on the TV side of things gets them the big bucks.

Major League Soccer's roll in all of this is mostly that of semi-passive participant. Toronto FC will sell a decent amount of tickets regardless but struggle on the road. Adding Jozy Altidore and Michael Bradley solve the traveling road show problem (for the league, anyway).

After sitting down with this for a bit, I've decided that Toronto is one strange sports town. It'd be okay if they stuck to hockey, but the don't. Godfrey seems like a good guy but the insight he provides, paints a troubling picture of too much money and not enough talent. One that MLS shouldn't be so willing to trust.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

MLS College Draft Was Today

MLS "superdraft" was held midday, today. Tough to say it's ever been a highlight on the big picture domestic calendar, but this year it seemed to fade into the background even more.

The league is at a sort of crossroads with this player acquisition device, as it evolves. One of the main reasons is that the league wants to see a return on investment in regards to 'homegrown' talent (of which Crew SC once lead, but Berhalter - rightly - put an end to), which runs sort of counter to a college draft. The other reason is due to teams looking at the deep well of talent dangling out there, both in international markets and domestic, at all levels.

Picking from a group of college upperclassmen is sort of a relic of a past time. A time when amateur sports were amateur and the development of a well rounded human being was the primary goal. The only place that exists in a Pure form is on the gridiron. Reason being - no international competition. NBA, NHL and MLS all have players that can compete on a pro level all over the world. The idea that a college draft in an international market could be anything more than a blip on the radar in anything but the NFL is laughable.

With that, MLS, a league that touts itself as a crusader for the future, still holds a somewhat contrived upperclassman draft. And today was the day.

At the top of this post is a rundown of the first round. Highlighted in yellow is Crew SC's pick. I added the blue - that's the players that are arrived from somewhere else on this big blue planet. The far right is the age of the players. Most of whom are too old to be starting a productive pro sports career. At least by global standards.

On the right is Age Distribution of Players in International Transfers via FIFA TMS. What this is telling us is when professional players are most valuable. College players in the United States don't become professional until the age of 22 or so. Global market says that is when they should be hitting their professional prime, not just starting it.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

A Soccer Quiz and Puzzle

Jokers Wild logo.gif
(Title of long running game show created by Jack Barry)

What professional soccer league, ahem, “directs” certain high profile players to certain teams within the league?

What professional soccer league is in the fastest growing soccer nation in the world?

What professional soccer league forbids moderately wealthy owners from spending, via a salary cap, a few extra hundred thousand dollars on players, while simultaneously affording, via designated player rules, monstrously wealthy owners the opportunity to spend wholly disproportionate sums of money on expensive talent and aging superstars?  

What professional soccer league restricts the number of players in its super draft before the draft ever happens?

What professional soccer league has succeeded despite the deck being stacked against it?

What professional soccer league will never have promotion and relegation, but could easily use promotion and relegation to build a top tier of thirty five or more clubs over the next twenty five years, without ever having to relegate a single club during that twenty five years?

What professional soccer league plays a significant portion of its season while the soccer world focuses on the sports biggest spectacles and soccer’s most famous clubs invade that league’s shores?

What professional soccer league has a significant period of time each summer when its best players leave their teams?

What professional soccer league has given more young Americans a chance to chase their soccer dreams than any other?

What professional soccer leagues' teams have to get the okey-dokey from their league's politbureau before signing a player they believe can help their team’s cause?

What professional soccer league do I support, but hate, but love, but hate?

The puzzle: Brush water on the spaces inside the brackets below to reveal the answer. (Be careful not to drown your computer or smart phone)

(_____) (_____) (_____) 

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

NY Mix

Multiple reports out there have marketable-to-USMNT-fans-post-World-Cup-Guy, Mix Diskerud going to new MLS outlet NYCFC today. Midwestern side Columbus Crew SC made a sincere attempt at him last summer. Didn't work out.

Prefer this NY mix better, anyhow. That was any given day. "NYCFC" is about as far from that as you can get. Actually... I think I prefer this one from DJ Red Alert, from last year. It's almost as if he is overwhelmed by his options, while being the only one able to communicate what those options actually are. Catch it around five minutes in, if you are - but if not (like a Norwegian might not be) Here. Enjoy.

Monday, January 12, 2015

It’s a Buckeye Town, Crew SC

For all the top city lists Columbus, Ohio seemingly makes there is one thing that always reminds us exactly what this town is all about.

The Ohio State University.

Over the last decade of living here I have to admit, even I started believing that Columbus was a lot more than GO BUCKS! But all the Short North’s, German Villages Arena Districts in the world can’t overcome what this town actually is. Living here or not, it belongs to OSU and the Buckeye football team.

The Columbus Crew have been covered in a shadow of Scarlet and Gray since the beginning and today is a reminder that nothing has changed. Sure, OSU fans will file into Crew Stadium here in a few months but each start of the season is more just a reminder that one of the reasons MLS plays a summer schedule is because they don’t think they can get anyone to show up while anything gridiron is going on.

It’s funny, in a way, that MLS has decided to sidestep as many other sports as possible because what it’s done is attract the type of fan that is more than willing to drop the team to watch something else. Define “eurosnobs” however you might, but at least most of them love they sport while other sports are going on this time of year.

This past year Crew SC went through a fairly involved process of trying to figure out what the town of Columbus was all about. The brass that owns the team tried to convince everyone that there was so much more. Even the fans jumped in and talked about everything Columbus probably was outside of what it actually is. It is. I mean, sure it is. But if you are having to convince people that a town is something, then it’s probably not that something.

So, as you watch today’s game (‘cause if you live in Columbus, I know you are) just try and convince yourself that Crew Stadium wouldn’t sell out every week if the team’s colors were Scarlet and Gray.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Grossman Signed by Bob Bradley

Duke University player, former Columbus Crew SC draft pick and Helltown Legend - Cole Grossman was just signed by former USMNT head coach Bob Bradley's Stabæk side.

Not many here in Columbus probably remember much about Cole's stay, but I do. He was a bright spot on a bad team during a bad few years. While not earning much praise outside of Helltown, he did find himself picked up by Garth Lagerwey's Real Salt Lake and now former USMNT coach Bob Bradley's side.

Cole was / is a cerebral player that has above average technical skill. He is a US player who could have been easily lost in the "try hard, run fast" section of MLS rosters but he developed something of a winning habit when playing. He never lost a game when starting here in Columbus (the only player with over five games to do so) and held his own out in Salt Lake when Kyle Beckerman was out. Best of luck, Cole.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cauldron So Rich

There is a nice piece on Hollywood producer and new MLS investor Peter Guber over at Sports Business Journal today that got my mind going on LAFC and their ownership.

For those of us over the age of 35 or so will no doubt recognize the name. If not, you were shaped in some way by the movies he served as executive producer on. Films like The Deep, Midnight Express, Flashdance, Clue, The Color Purple, Rain Man, Batman, Tango & Cash and one of my personal favorites Sleepy Hollow (the Tim Burton version in 1999) were just a few touchstones in many lives.

In more recent years Peter Guber has jumped into sports entertainment, media, ownership, investment, etc… at all levels and all types. He started off with the Dayton Dragons about a decade ago (selling it recently, which I think turned into his investment in MLS) and has gone all the way to being Co-Executive Chairman of the Golden State Warriors and minority owner of the LA Dodgers.

The reason I’m bringing him up here is because he’s one of the couple dozen investors of soon to be LAFC. In fact many of the same people involved with the Warriors and Dodgers are coming along with him. While there are many, make no mistake, Guber is THE guy.

In the long SBJ piece it covers lots of things (not hard with a guy like Guber), probably least of which is his part in LAFC but he does have some words that provide insight on why he’s jumping in to pro US soccer:

“I wanted to bring in not just financial capital but intellectual and experiential capital and relationship capital,” Guber said. “I think those three elements are what makes the cauldron so rich. You have people that have run teams. Done ticketing in teams. Managed teams. Been athletes themselves. Been involved in venues. Run big attraction companies. Soccer players. Women. All different ethnicities. A mixture of people that kind of mirrors Los Angeles. And every one of them bringing something to the mix.”

Certainly a Utopian approach (soccer in the US seems to attract this), but it’s one he can afford to do. Not only because of his money and stature (and age, 72) but also because the way pro sports in the US are set up where it is more on the entertainment side of the spectrum then the actual competition on the field. His risk is minimal as far as his investment in MLS but he does stand to come away from it better off a decade or so from now – same as he did with the Dayton Dragons.

No question that sports is going through a boom right now. TV rights deals are virtually doubling and sponsors are falling over themselves to be part of it. At the center of it all is Los Angeles. Guber and his group spent north of two billion on the Dodgers and Steve Ballmer just picked up the LA Clippers for about the same price. Not to be forgotten is Stan Kroenke looking to move the St. Louis Rams back to LA on 300 acres he just bought.

Pro sports ownership comes in many shapes and sizes but cobbling a large group of a twenty some investors / operators is something I’m not too familiar with. Will it work? Competitively, on the pitch, Probably not. But this is L.A. Even things that don’t work can still be profitable. Or at the very least get a return for a couple people. I mean, go watch Tango & Cash (okay, I like it).

Where this type of investment leaves MLS though, is not anywhere much better than they were. LA is a huge market but nothing about the new team says it will be any different than a team in any other MLS city. Getting their own home will be impossible and building a good team will be even harder. What I do like about the approach Guber and co. have is the idea behind it. Getting many people involved to put a new soccer team together. I believe it can happen all over the USA were the USSF to open up and link the soccer pyramid. It might not be a person of Guber's stature but it may just be the next Guber, the one making and producing wonderful films now like he was back in the 80s and 90s, or maybe the next great automaker, or online innovator, inventor, writer, artist, fashion designer... or even a group of supporters and fans that truly connect the community to the soccer team. The want is here. Just needs to be allowed to happen.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Promotion/Relegation Debate is Worth Another Post

A good exchange of comments and ideas with Beau Dure after my last post, The Psychology Buried Within the Promotion/Relegation Debate, has inspired me to attempt to outline a plan for Promotion and Relegation in the United States.

I will make an effort to keep this post short and simple, and more importantly, take into account the biggest concern from Major League Soccer's owner/operator's perspective (this is the concern to which almost all arguments against pro/rel boil down. All other concerns simply address the different, and clearly debatable, ways in which a thriving pro/rel system can be structured):

*Protecting the investment the current MLS owner's have put into their league*

If you are a soccer fan in the United States, and you want to see promotion/relegation instituted from top to bottom of our professional leagues, you cannot ignore the owner's concern about their investment. If you do ignore this fact, you immediately give up any semblance of legitimacy when making the case FOR pro/rel.

Also, and this is slightly more of an opinion on my part, but certainly follows logically from the above concern, if the current and future owners of Major League Soccer continue to be the sole arbiters in the decision to choose or reject pro/rel, they will assuredly reject promotion and relegation. Furthermore, it is my opinion that, as the number of teams in MLS increases and the TV, advertising, merchandising and sponsorship dollars grow, there is a decreasing chance of Major League Soccer ever taking part in a system of promotion and relegation.

To bring this point home: Suppose twenty years from now the 35th and 36th teams have been added to Major League Soccer, clearly not out of the question in the fastest growing soccer country in the world. Suppose that television rights sell for 1 billion dollars a year, again, not out of the question. Suppose soccer has, in popularity, surpassed all other sports except football, could happen, might take a little longer.

Why, with all that money and power, would the owner/operators suddenly choose to implement promotion/relegation? Heck, a handful of the teams in the league will have just been accepted. They will have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in their bid to gain acceptance. Given these future facts, the idea that promotion and relegation would even be considered by a league's owners is fantasy, at best.

Keeping the above in mind, what is the most palatable way for Major League Soccer's owners to jump on board the Pro/Rel train?

The most straight forward idea is for MLS owner's, in conjunction with the USSF and leagues such as the USL and the NASL, to come up with a set number of teams for a top division in North America's promotion and relegation system. My feeling is that number is between 35-40 (these are the kind of things which should be debated). This number is high, higher than most soccer geeks discuss, because the United States and Canada are so large geographically, diverse in their populations and there are so many densely populated urban areas throughout.

Once that number is determined, Major League Soccer can go about its business, while slowly and judiciously moving away from single entity as a stand alone league. At the same time, a governing body, which includes players, owners, referees and even fans can be developed to oversee the entire multitiered, promotion and relegation, professional soccer arm of North American Soccer.

In order to move up through the ranks clubs will have to win on the field and meet requirements like minimum stadium seating, owner cash net-worth, etc. at each new level. On top of those requirements, any team winning their way to the top tier must pay a significant one time fee, much like the fee paid currently by teams joining MLS. This fee would go to the new governing body.

As an example of some of the above requirements: For division 3 status a team must have an owner worth a minimum of 100 million dollars, cash, not leveraged assets. A division 3 team would have minimum stadium requirement of 8,000 seats. For division 2 status a team must have an owner worth a minimum of 250 million dollars, cash. A division 2 team would have a minimum stadium requirement of 12,000 seats. For division 1 status a team must have an owner worth a minimum of 500 million dollars, cash. A division 1 team would have a minimum stadium requirement of 18,000 seats.

Suppose that in two years, 2017, there are 22-24 teams in MLS and the two or three lower divisions have been organized with Promotion and Relegation in place. For as many years as it takes to fill out the top tier, teams will only move up from division 2 to division 1. Until the top division reaches it goal of, say 36 teams, no teams move down from 1 to 2. Movement up and down between the lower divisions will commence immediately, as long as teams meet the minimum requirements for moving up within those lower divisions.

Beginning pro/rel in this way guarantees the existing clubs stay in the first division for the foreseeable future. Beginning pro/rel in this way guarantees that only teams which meet minimum requirements can earn their way into the top tier. There could conceivably be many years that the top two or three teams in the second division don't meet minimum off-field requirements and therefore are not allowed promotion. Of course, once the top tier fills-out, years from now, relegation will begin from 1 to 2, more than likely slowly at first due to the minimum off-field requirements being an issue.

For soccer fans who are fans of promotion and relegation, discussing the above minimum requirements, number of teams in each division, and fee to be paid once earning promotion to the first division are the types of things that should be discussed. And all of us must acknowledge and factor into any discussion about Promotion and Relegation the money, time and sacrifice made by the current owners of MLS.

Finally, a major advantage of starting promotion and relegation in North America in this way is its gradual nature. Clubs, cities and fans will have time to grow with the new, and unique to North American sports, structure.

A 2,014 Yard Stare


Sunday, January 4, 2015

2015 Crew SC Roster, Budget Snapshot

Happy New Year everyone. The gears of the 2015 Crew SC (CCSC) season have no doubt started so here is a quick summary of where the team stands at this very moment.


1. New CBA being negotiated now. The push back from the MLS Players Union is minimal and no work stoppage is expected.

2. Roster sizes are expected to shrink from 30 to 25 players. CCSC currently at 24

3. Cap / Budget limit is expected to land between 3,875,000 (+25% over 2014) and 4,650,000 (+50%). New player salaries are not known but one can reasonably estimate salaries based on available information and league tendencies. CCSC are still under 2014 league budget of $3,100,000 (my estimate: 3,078,000).


2015 Estimated Player Salary -- Name, Age, Birthplace

750k -- Federico Higuain 30 Argentina
380k -- Emanuel Pogatetz 31 Austria
300k -- Michael Parkhurst 30 USA
250k -- Kei Kamara 30 Sierra Leone
180k -- Tony Tchani 25 Cameroon
175k -- Steve Clark 28 USA
160k -- Waylon Francis 24 Costa Rica
160k -- Wil Trapp 21 USA
150k -- Ethan Finlay 24 USA
150k -- Kristinn Steindorsson 24 Iceland
125k -- Ben Swanson 17 USA
100k -- Justin Meram 26 USA
100k -- Mohammed Saeid 24 Sweden
90k -- Tyson Wahl 30 USA
80k -- Hector Jimenez 26 USA
70k -- Ben Speas 23 USA
52k -- Aaron Schoenfeld 24 USA
52k -- Romain Gall 19 France
52k -- Kevan George 24 Tobago
52k -- Chad Barson 23 USA
52k -- Matt Lampson 25 USA
52k -- Brad Stuver 23 USA
52k -- Ben Sweat 23 USA
48k -- Adam Bedell 23 USA

• Median age: 24
• Median Wage: 100k

Further Comments:
Working on surprisingly few unknowns considering the league and players are negotiating a new agreement but there are a few "ifs" here and there.

IF - rosters shrink to 25 then CCSC are fairly set going into the new year. I would expect a few players to be shuffled around in the next two months, though. On that list would be Ben Speas, Chad Barson and possibly Justin Meram and either Brad Stuver or Matt Lampson.

IF - the salary budget number jumps even just the league's normal 5%, CCSC are in really good shape.

IF - the salary budget increased more than 25% then I might be underestimating Finlay and Meram's pay jump.

As things stand right now I don't expect there to be any surprises to the starting lineup. I do think Kristinn Steindorsson was brought on to be CCSC's Left Midfielder if he gets acclimated to the league. I believe Mohammad Saeid was brought on to help bolster the midfield but could become the man to come in for Higuain, bumping Speas down the CM bench or moving him to depth on the wings.

Closing Thoughts:
With the roster above CCSC will enter 2015 in good shape. I wouldn't expect them to finish any lower than 5th in the East or 10th overall in the league. That said, I do not think they are anywhere close to the Supporters' Shield or winning the MLS Cup.

Weaknesses include the lack of a real right wing back and more depth up top in a scoring role - A weakness that was hidden due to spectacular years by Ethan Finlay and Justin Meram. I also think the team is weak at center back. I would expect both starters to miss time to general wear and tear this year and there isn't much behind them so far (or really anything with no Josh Williams or Eric Gehrig). Tyson Wahl is the only option right now *when* one (or both) go down.

The offseason holds a lot of surprises, to be sure. We'll see how things go - but for now, not a bad starting point.

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Psychology Buried Within the Promotion/Relegation Debate

Never in the history of American Soccer has there been such a profound ideological divide amongst people who share a deep passion for the beautiful game. The current debate, easily witnessed and joined, can be found growing deep roots in the rich soil of soccer forums, message boards, blogs, and websites.

Comparing the promotion/relegation debate to the abortion debate would be, at the very least, a gross insult to a complex human sentiment. Yet, the debate within the North American Soccer Community bears some striking similarities to the fight to safely reduce the number of abortions in the United States.

Words such as “idiot,” “wrong,” “stupid,” “dim-witted,” “brain-dead” and worse are often tossed around when people on both sides of the pro/rel debate argue their side. In this post, I will make an effort to explain the source and motivation which leads to the promotion/relegation dispute spewing such venom.

A good starting point is the incredibly simple nature of our sport. Given a serviceable round object and at least two people, the game of soccer can sprout anywhere: in a gym, on the playground, in a basement, an alley or the street. Soccer is a sport of both the people and the person.

We try to challenge ourselves: how many juggles can we get? We try to best our opponents: a simple step-over or touch through the defender’s legs sees us on our way to goal.

There is a sense of the primordial ooze about our sport. The heart races, the knees and shins sometimes bleed. Dirt and grass stains seep into our very being.

We start at an early age, a simple single-celled organism: kick the ball, laugh, chase. We slowly, over the years, become a mosaic, an Escher painting: unpredictable, challenging, provocative.

These things are the core of our sport. We never shed these things. They may be buried deep inside when we reach adulthood; but, they continue to fan the flames of competition, even at the highest, most organized levels of our sport.

So, how does this simple yet powerful aspect of our sport manifest itself in the ideological divide between proponents and opponents of the promotion and relegation debate? Plainly stated, there are those who wish to protect themselves and the mature version of our sport from the uncertainty crawling to the shore from the thick and wicked pool of primordial ooze. And then, there are those who wish to gather up the beautiful game and dive into the primordial ooze.

One side cannot stand the constant stress of random chance, and so, struggles to find order, codifies the un-codifiable and builds barriers between the game and the ooze.

The other side wants to let the ooze run free, and so, demands that all involved compete in the primordial soup. From teams, to fans, to towns, to owners, this second group wants the very essence of our sport, the people and the person, on display in every way possible.

I count my self in the second group. There is already enough in our American culture that is codified, walled-off and protected. Banks write banking legislation to protect themselves from the downside of competition. Politicians manipulate so that they have safety nets to land softly and richly after terms run out. Owners of NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL teams quash competition in order to shelter themselves from the very competition they profess to admire. The players in these sports compete, but the owners do not take part. They build dams to hold back the primordial ooze. Players risk injury, the end of an already short career. They uproot their families year after year. Owners sit in luxury boxes and count money, knowing that failure will be rewarded with better draft picks, an easier schedule, a move to another city and layer after layer of protection from the very things they are selling to their customer.

Our sport is an escape from the mundane. All those involved should be constantly evolving from simple organism to Escher complexity, always in search of the playground, the step-over, the alley, the gym, the next level.

Slipping, sliding back is part of the complexity. Don’t be afraid. Embrace the ooze.